From SF to LA, Jen Kay, photographer & art director compares the two cities

*All images by Jen Kay

She might not be from California, but she embodies the California cool girl perfectly. Jen Kay, photographer & art director, by way of Connecticut, just recently relocated from San Francisco to Venice, Los Angeles, after living in the City by the Bay for ten years.

Jen caught our eye with her dreamy images of golden sunsets, afar travels and an incomparable collection of perfectly fitting vintage Levi’s.
When Jen is not working with clients such as Gal Meets Glam, Airbnb or Jenni Kayne among many others, she’s out with her husband exploring California or designing her new home. We met with Jen at one of her favorite LA spots, Gjusta Bakery, and wanted to know which team is she on. Team SF or Team LA? Which city wins the brunch battle and which has the sweatier workout? And you don’t want to miss Jen’s 12 hrs in LA recommendations. Read on…

 

Jen soaking in the first moments in her new home in Venice. 

Ok, first things first. You are actually from Connecticut, but to us, you are quite the California girl. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to live in the Golden State?

I am, at heart, an east coast girl. I grew up spending my summers in a small beach community off of Eastern Long Island in New York, and I consider this my true home. Warm weather and beach lifestyle have always resonated with me and growing up I always had a countdown to when we would be heading out to the beach every summer. When I moved to California, I couldn’t wait to leave the cold winters behind. With that said, I have a tough time with how much I miss my family back east, so I spend a lot of time flying back and forth. I guess I’d consider myself somewhat bi-coastal.

I originally moved to California with a guy. I left him, but didn’t want to leave the Golden State…I loved it too much! My now husband is a Laguna Beach native and knows California very well. He has expanded my love for California even further with all of the places he shows me. I love that part of him, and it’s the first thing we ever connected on when we met.

“In San Francisco, Layers are a must in the evening”, recommends Jen.

You lived for ten years in SF, and just last December moved to Venice, LA. Why the city switch?

We had a lot of reasons for leaving SF. The biggest reason for me was the draw of the creative scene in LA. I was feeling a little burnt out on being surrounded by the mostly male-dominated tech industry and craved being in a city that had more creative energy. That’s not to say that it doesn’t exist in SF, it’s just so much stronger in LA or NY in my opinion.

The weather was also really starting to affect me negatively. For someone who loves summer so much I was having a hard time with the fact that SF doesn’t have one. It’s one of the coldest places in the country in August, and the constant fog was depressing me.

My husband was also looking into buying businesses that were located in Southern California, and it was more beneficial for him to be in LA as well. Even still, I cried a lot when I left and really questioned if I was making the right decision. San Francisco is a wonderful city with so much to offer; it will always hold a special place in my heart. Now that I am feeling settled, I really do adore LA and don’t think I’d ever go back (to SF).

Ok, we want to know it! Are you team SF or team LA?

If I’m honest, I’d have to say team LA. I feel a little like a traitor here, but the lifestyle is just so much better. I wake up to bright sunshine every morning and walk in a tee shirt and sandals to go grab a coffee or breakfast. My little bungalow house is near a lot of my friends, and I love that they just stroll over and pop in for a hello. I have a dutch door and leave it open almost all day long and have been meeting so many friendly neighbors because of it. These are little things, but to me, they really matter. We have a lot more space here, and I love being able to entertain more – both in our house as well as in our back patio. The community vibe in Venice is really nice, it feels like a small town in a lot of ways. LA is a big city with a lot of people, and there is quite literally something here for everyone. I find that so incredibly exciting; I don’t think I could ever get bored here.

Of course, I lived in San Francisco for almost ten years for a reason – it’s truly magical and enchanting! There is a lot to offer and so much beauty in close proximity. I think the downfall is how unaffordable it is for most. In my opinion that puts a roadblock up for young creative talent to move there and that is what makes a city vibrant. You have to have a six-figure salary to have a good life in SF, so that cancels out a lot of young people trying to get started. Not to sound like a broken record but the weather is just so bad in the summer. When it’s nice it’s nice, but that is always so fleeting, it doesn’t last much longer than a few days, and it’s never ever warm at night. Last summer I swore that I couldn’t do another summer there and I’m glad I stuck to that!

 

Let’s do a quick city battle…

The better brunch – I feel conflicted here because I have lots of fun memories at Outerlands and the food is insanely creative (in SF)… but at the end of the day I really love hanging out and eating on the patio at Gjusta in Venice.

The cooler tourist attraction – SF wins this. GG Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Land’s End, Marin Headlands, I could go on forever. The natural beauty of San Francisco is insane.

The better coffee shop – I like my husband’s coffee the most but LA wins this one – I have five amazing ones within a five block radius of my new house.

The stronger cocktail – I will sincerely miss the Barbarita cocktail at Leo’s Oyster Bar in San Francisco. I have yet to discover my favorite LA cocktail.

The harder workout – LA, no question here.

The better avocado toast – LA wins again! Great White has a mean avocado toast.

The more fashionable style – Oh, LA for sure! There’s no shortage of bad fashion in LA, but there is SO much good fashion as well. I’m so inspired by girls I see on the street here. SF is a lot more on the comfort / practical side.

The more travel-worthy day trip within one hour distance – SF wins this one in a landslide victory. You can’t beat wine country.

The cooler urban hike – This was one of my favorite parts about SF. SF wins here. We used to walk 10+ miles throughout the city every Sunday.

The more magical sunset (we know, this is a tough one). – Wow, these questions make me feel SO conflicted! SF has a more beautiful backdrop, but the light in LA is so beautiful and golden. LA!

 

Your new neighborhood, Venice, is California as it can be. What do you love about it, what makes you happy there?

I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in a place that I’ve lived. I haven’t been here very long, but our new lifestyle is everything I have dreamed of and more! Venice is so charming – the sun is always shining, there’s a lot of creative energy, there’s amazing food, and the culture is really diverse, fun, and young. You get a bit more bang for your buck in LA vs. SF, so we were able to really upgrade our living situation. Perhaps the best part is that all of my best friends from New York have moved out here over the years and we are now all reunited.

I’ve been so busy with work lately that if I can be bored on my days off, then that is truly a blessing! My favorite thing to do is go on a walk to the beach with Zack, have a leisurely brunch, and a glass of wine.

 

 

Where should we go for a weekend getaway?

Loaded question!! I think Mendocino is magic, Big Sur is breathtaking, Napa is fun for the avid wine drinker, Laguna Beach for some beach time and ocean swimming, Montecito/Santa Barbara for some R&R.

A hotel, you cannot wait to stay at?

I’ve already stayed here but can’t wait to go back – Treebones!!!

Gjusta has been Jen’s favorite breakfast spots since moving to LA.

Ok, we have only 12 hours in Los Angeles, what should we do … Where do you take your out-of-town guests?

Griffith Observatory is fun and has a really beautiful view. There are endless amazing restaurants – Scopa, Gjusta, Gjelina, Felix, Sqirl, Butcher’s Daughter just to name a few. I love love love The Eames House; it’s great for architecture lovers. Hiking to the Hollywood sign is fun and iconic. Having a beach day or cruising around Malibu is lovely.

I still have so much to discover so I will be adding to this list in the coming months 😉

Best kept California secret…

I think that Laguna Beach is it. It has way more to offer than what you’ve maybe seen on the TV show. It’s one of the most magical spots I’ve ever been to. The first time Zack showed me around I was unusually quiet, so he finally asked me, “What’s wrong? Do you not like it here?”. I was just so overwhelmed by how beautiful it was that I had no words, I felt like a little kid walking around in wide-eyed wonderment.

 

What do you love most about California?

“I could never pick one thing, but I can say that California is a place of freedom, welcomed self-expression, joyful energy, and unique character. To me, it’s alive, exciting, and so gorgeous. I don’t think one could ever fully discover California; it’s like a bottomless treasure chest. I really can’t imagine living anywhere else :)”

 

For more of Jen’s adventures in LA and aboard follow her on Instagram

*As told to California Weekend 

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