The secret to having a good time in LA
We're staying in Inglewood. Inglewood! I don't know much about Los Angeles, but I know you don't really want to be staying in Inglewood.
The year is 1998. I've only fairly recently watched the "gangsta" movie Boyz n the Hood and Inglewood looks to this green tourist like it's straight out of Boyz n the Hood.
It's a flat, featureless suburb full of cracked concrete streets and squat Californian homes.
I'm checking pedestrians to see if they're "packing heat"; I'm expecting to hear the crackle of gunfire.
There's a group of us hunkered down in a cheap youth hostel, drinking beers at eight in the morning, laughing nervously at the place we've found ourselves in.
The accommodation was organised by the company that sorted out our employment visas, the same lot who will send us on to Colorado the next day to begin work at the ski resort of our choice.
Today, however, we're in LA.
Or Inglewood, to be more precise, the suburb closest to the airport, and seemingly furthest away from anywhere we'd actually like to visit.
There's a couple of guys who reckon they're going to get a taxi to Hollywood, and some others who think they're going to walk to a beach, but the rest of us are happy to hide within the hostel's walls drinking cheap bottles of Budweiser and dreaming about the mountains.
I've heard people who don't have many good words to say about LA, and right now, I'm with them.
A few years later: I'm back in the City of Angels. No more Inglewood for me - this time I'm staying in the heart of Hollywood.
I'll be right near the stars, I'm thinking. I'll be in the thick of the action.
And, within half an hour or so, I'll be chronically underwhelmed.
Apparently this is the LA I'd missed out on the first time: a bunch of average buskers, some tacky tourist stores in among the sex shops, and concrete - hot, shimmering concrete that just seems to stretch on forever. I'm not just underwhelmed, but bemused.
This is a city that has inspired so many people, a city people flock to to chase their dreams, a city where so much has happened, and so many fascinating people have lived. But all I'm seeing is open-topped "star tour" trucks and guys dressed as Darth Vader.
However, there's something I don't yet know about Los Angeles: it's a city that takes a while to grow on you.
For all of its brashness and glamour, this is a place that takes its time letting you in, allowing you to find its charms amid the shimmer of hot concrete and the bluster of wannabe stars.
Since that Hollywood stay I've been back to LA plenty of times, and I've finally grown to love it.
I've discovered Santa Monica.
I've discovered you can rent a bungalow down by the beach and live the Californian dream, surfing in its cool waters, lying on its golden sands, eating tacos from beach shacks and drinking good beer.
I've learnt you can follow the ocean down to Venice Beach and find all sorts of things: muscle men hefting weights, Mexicans kicking footballs, hippies spruiking hemp T-shirts, hipsters on bikes.
You can do karaoke at Whalers Bar. You can eat Tahitian food at Hinano Cafe.
I've discovered Los Feliz, the hip little neighbourhood with the boutique shops, the craft beer stores, the cafes and the proud achievement of not being Hollywood, Beverly Hills or Santa Monica.
I've been to Dodger Stadium. I've sat in the Californian sunshine eating Dodger dogs and "rooting" for the home team.
Best of all, however, I've delved deep into the Sunset Strip. Most people wouldn't travel to LA for the history, but for me, there's living history on the Sunset Strip.
This is the home of the Chateau Marmont, the infamous hotel of the stars. It's the site of the art deco Sunset Tower, former residence of John Wayne, among many others. It's where you'll find the Viper Room, The Roxy, Whisky a Go Go, and Rainbow Bar and Grill, each notorious in its own way.
The secret to having a good time in LA, I've found, is to allow time to find the part that appeals to you, the part that inspires you like it's inspired so many. It's there - but the trick in this sprawling expanse of homes and highways is to uncover it.
For me, the best of LA is not around a pool at a youth hostel in Inglewood.
It's not at a theme park or in Beverly Hills.
It's on the Sunset Strip, in the famous old hotels and the notorious bars and clubs of this curved, hilly stretch of road. It's in the shabby, faded glory of years gone by.
And it was worth the wait.
Have you visited Los Angeles? Were you underwhelmed or did you love it? What other destinations have you visited that grew on you over time? Post your comments below.