10 People on the Moment They Became 'Real Angelenos'

when people realized they become real angelenos
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Coming by way of Milwaukee and growing up in a suburb on LA’s outskirts didn’t exactly make me feel like a full-fledged Angeleno. It wasn’t until I got an apartment out in West Hollywood and unwittingly attended a Hollywood Hills party where everyone was an actor but me that I truly felt like I was having an Angeleno moment. Throughout that night, different people asked me about my film and TV roles, and all I could say was that I was once an extra in Spider-Man. My role? One of hundreds of people chaotically running away from a gigantic, inflatable globe that was about to steamroll us. I was paid in bear claw pastries for that scene.

Everyone has something different to say on what makes someone a true Angeleno, such as it takes “x” number of years to gain that badge of honor, or that you’re now solely using Waze as a means to cut through the city. What it might really boil down to is that enlightening moment when you realize you’re in the thick of it all, or that you finally get it. We talked to LA transplants hailing from different cities throughout the US about that moment when they crossed over and became an LA native.

When I had my own secret route

“The first time I really felt like an Angeleno was the magical week a year or so in when I realized not only did I know my way around the city without a GPS, but that I had been using my own 'secret' route for getting through rush hour faster. So yes, naturally, my Angeleno legitimacy revolves around traffic.” -- Liza, 29

When I actually knew where everything was

“When I first moved to LA I was completely terrified of the city. During my first week here, a ‘freshly severed human head’ (yes, I remember the headlines vividly) was found in Griffith Park. I took this as a metaphor for what my time in LA would bring. Luckily, I was dead wrong. As someone who lives for movies, living in LA over the past five years has brought nothing but constant inspiration and opportunity. And I specifically remember the first time my fear transformed into excitement: my first hike up to the Hollywood Sign in Griffith Park. Arriving at the top, directly behind the famed sign, it was a brand new vantage point of the city. The sprawling, sparkling, smoggy city that nearly overflowed into the baby-blue ocean suddenly struck me as my own. I could name the different neighborhoods and landmarks and my memories attached to each. I didn't feel like an imposter or a tourist. This was the place I belonged.” -- Anna, 26

When I asked Renée Zellweger to take my photo

“If I had to point to one moment, my LA baptism took place about a year after I moved here. It was during a hike in the late spring/early summer of 1997 in Runyon Canyon. I was dating a guy from the East Coast and wanted to show him the views. We walked from my apartment to the canyon and I noticed a fit woman passing us as she ran up the canyon. I looked again, and I realized that it was Renée Zellweger, who was one of the hottest actors in town thanks to Jerry Maguire. I didn’t say anything because, you know, only tourists and out-of-towners ooh and ahh, right? When we got to the top, I wanted a picture of the views (but mostly with the guy because he was a looker). Renée, who was sweaty and stretching before her descent was the closest person to us. She looked horrified as she saw me approaching my disposable camera. But I spoke up and asked, ‘Hey, do you mind taking a picture of me and [the guy]?’ Her demeanor changed immediately, and she cheerfully asked, ‘You guys want the Hollywood sign or Griffith Park in the background?’ When we turned to go back down the hill, the guy said, ‘You know she looked like... ’ I interrupted. ‘It was.’" -- Christine, 46

When I grew serious roots in this town

“It took me just under a decade to become an Angeleno. Originally from Texas, I didn't grow up imagining myself in California. For some reason I always assumed I'd move to New York. But after visiting LA briefly during my last year of college, I immediately knew I belonged here. With a film and television degree in tow, I drove out to LA in late 2006 with a few thousand dollars and a couple loose connections. I spent a few years working for a film studio, trying to make friends, meet women and find my way.

"After a few years I had found a niche in the concert community and even ended up working for the band Thirty Second to Mars and lead singer Jared Leto. By 2010 I had switched career paths from film/television to tech and landed a long-term relationship with a beautiful LA native. You could say at this point, 4 years into a life in LA, I was starting to feel at home. It began to look like I would be here for the long haul.” -- Bryan, 34

When my friends started asking me for LA advice

“There isn't a precise moment I realized I became an Angeleno, but I think when I try to crystallize it, for me it comes down to the fact that recently I realized that now I'm a person people can go to to ask about LA. When I moved out here from New Zealand I asked anyone and everyone I could for advice and I got so much help. That said, I also learned a lot through trial and error, like when I thought it would be a great idea to let those guys ‘fix’ my car after they offered to in a Trader Joe's parking lot. By the way, in case you're wondering, there is not -- as far as I'm aware -- a legitimate panel-beating service that is run out of a Trader Joe's parking lot. But recently I've had a few people from back in New Zealand or other places come to me for advice and I realized I've donned that mantle -- the one of someone who knows my way around this great city and can pass on what I've learned. And I'm always happy to. I love this place, and now, 10 years on, it's home.” -- Florence, 33

When a surfer boy flirted with me

“I'll never forget the first time I felt like I didn't belong. It was my first day of college; I got lost and it was 100 degrees out. I called my best friend crying and said, ‘It's 100 degrees and everyone here is dressed for fall in New York and I'm sweating in shorts and a tank top. What's wrong with these people?!'

"I'll also never forget two months later, when I was lying on a little-known beach in Malibu with my girlfriend doing our homework, our Wednesday ritual. We were discussing a recent house party we attended in the Valley where the kegs sat in an empty pool amidst the wannabe pro skaters trying to show off when we were approached by a Malibu-native surfer boy named Lucian. He asked me where in LA did I go to high school and if he could get my number. If I had a dog, that would've been when I said, ‘I don't think we're in Jersey anymore, Toto.’” -- Jill, 31

When I realized it was love at first sight

“It didn’t take me long to realize LA was my city. I was coming off a 6-year bender as a New Yorker and the prospect of a life without snow, humidity, or public transportation seemed enticing. While there was never an “a-ha!” moment, I quickly realized that I, like Randy Newman, loved LA. This town has always felt like a hidden gem to me, and exploring its blend of cultures and quirks has been one of the great pleasures of my life. Within a few months of moving here I had befriended a transplant actor who, unsolicited, insisted that I ‘give LA at least two years before you decide you hate it.’ He looked at me a little confused and with a hint of pity as I told him I had already made up my mind and that I was head over heels for LA.” -- Jakob, 30

When I walked for miles through LA

“I've lived in LA for a little more than six years, and although there have been many times that I have felt like I live here, I've only recently felt like an Angeleno. A crucial component to this feeling, I find, is to return for a time to where you had come from originally -- and to feel how California and LA have changed you.

"Moments where I feel the most like an Angeleno occur when I go hiking. Go figure, right? LA has beauty that comes alive from a distance. I’ve sat and stared for sunrises and sunsets, through dense fog and oppressive heat. I can look out and recognize particular buildings, neighborhoods and thoroughfares.

"And like with any good relationship, there are layers of knowing LA. Some of us only ever drive here, which is quintessential Southern California. But to me, a city is only as reputable as its Metro authority. Experiencing both of these versions of LA, walking miles at a time even to reach my destinations, has made this city more dynamic to me. My love and appreciation for the nuances has evolved, according to how I’ve allowed myself to change and adapt here.” -- Malcolm, 29

When I found my best friends

“I had been to LA a few times prior to moving here, but those visits were limited to Santa Monica, which in reality is its own unique enclave separate from ‘LA.’ The first real impression of the city that I had was when I came here to visit USC, where I would eventually attend law school. I have a distinct memory of driving out from LAX on the 105 to a friend's Downtown where I was staying during my visit, and looking out over the sun-baked LA basin, and immediately being imbued with a sense of both belonging and opportunity; the vastness of it plus the palm trees set against the distant mountain landscape went right to my head. I got to my friend's place and immediately got super stoned on medical pot and as trite as it may seem, it put the hook in me.

"Once I actually moved here and settled in, I immediately felt profoundly comfortable. This is a place more than anywhere else, I feel, that a person can find their niche. The city itself isn't so much a city as it is 20-odd neighborhoods located adjacent to one another. As such, there is no dominant culture; there is no sense, like in New York City, that people are proud of how difficult it is to live there, or, in San Francisco, that it is some center of innovation (usually expressed in a detached, pretentious way). I think LA, in many ways, gets a bad rap, as a superficial and narcissistic place; while it certainly has those elements, I have found a community of friends here who are thoughtful and considerate, and I don't think my story is unique in that regard.” -- Breck, 30

When I couldn’t wait to fly back to LA

“As any native New Yorker will tell you, you are conditioned to hate LA right at birth. Well, every city that isn't New York, but, for some reason, there is a special [level] of hatred for LA. Despite living in Boston for college and moving around the Bay Area for several years, I dreamed of being the prodigal NY son, triumphantly returning to the land of great pizza, bagels, and Italian delis. Never in a million years did I ever think I would be going on my eighth year in LA, which I proudly call home.

"The exact moment that LA felt like home was during a particularly harrowing week at work. It had been my second year (fourth in total) back in LA, and, as a consultant, I regularly traveled out of the city for work on Monday mornings and returned on Thursday early evenings. For the fourth week in a row, maintenance issues on the second leg of my return flight again threatened to keep me from returning to my regular LA routine, which included Thursday night dinner with a friend near LAX, a Friday night out exploring some new area of LA, a run along the beach path with my Saturday morning running club, a dinner with close friends on Saturday night, and then some errands on Sunday before heading back out early Monday morning. Whatever god that controls airplane departures smiled upon me that evening and we left only 15 minutes late. Perhaps it was the anticipation of wanting to get back, but, on that return flight, I found myself reflecting on how happy I was with the community and life I built in LA.” -- Chris, 37

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Jean Trinh is a Thrillist contributor who thinks LA is the best. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.