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Los Angeles Travel Guide

Los Angeles or LA, as a city, epitomizes the very definition of “suburban sprawl”. This much-glamorized metropolis and center of the world’s mass culture is made up of scores of distinct neighborhoods and municipalities, and hundreds of scattered strip malls, shopping complexes, fast-food joints, and theme parks – all patched together by a network of freeways covering hundreds of miles that are log-jammed at almost every hour of the day.[1] And perhaps most maddening of all is the lack of any real core to the city. But some see this as the unique allure of Los Angeles, rather than the social, architectural, and cultural mess others view it. Along the same divide, some like to think of Los Angeles as a glittering giant, a mover and shaker in the financial world, a haven of sunshine and golden beaches, and as a glamorous place where a movie star can be spotted at the supermarket or a television celebrity at the local car wash. Others, on the other hand, see it as a crumbling urban centre, as a mass ghetto gloomily covered in the world’s worst smog and rife with crime[2] and ethnic divisions, and as a ticking time-bomb that is constantly pestered by forest fires and on the cusp of death every waking minute as it stands at the convergence of countless major fault lines.

Whichever is your view, nobody can dispute that Los Angeles’ redeeming aspect is its paradise-like surroundings with the Pacific Ocean and its stunning coast, palm trees and oases-like urban swimming pools, and the backdrop of snowcapped mountains. And let’s not forget its glitzy atmosphere with its chic restaurants and vibrant nightlife, funky strips and colorful promenades, and boutique shops and art galleries.[3] But most importantly, Los Angeles is the place everyone is somehow familiar with. Thanks to Hollywood and the entertainment industry, LA has been popularized for years, the setting of millions of blockbuster films shown around the globe; this fact single-handedly draws millions of tourists each year to see first hand what they have seen second hand on the tube or at the cinema all their lives.

Most of Los Angeles is located in a flat basin, enclosed within and around the Santa Monica, Santa Ana, San Gabriel, and Verdugo mountains, and trapped by the Pacific Ocean to the west. The city’s landscape also features rolling hills, mountain ranges, coastal cliffs, rocky canyons, and rugged parks.[4]

Districts and Neighborhoods
In the vast, flat basin that is Los Angeles, there lacks any clear divisions between its various districts and neighborhoods. If you travel from one end of town to another, you’ll see every imaginable social extreme, from the most luxurious beachside properties to the worst inner-city ghettos found anywhere in the U.S. The basin is bordered by the mountains to the north, the ocean to the southwest, and the desert to the east. The growth of once geographically isolated communities dotting this expansive basin has created today a collection of decent-sized communities that together form a gigantic metropolis.[5]

Los Angeles’ core, if it has one, is downtown. It is located at the center of LA’s basin, towered over by office blocks like Bunker Hill. You’ll find everything here from avant-garde art to the dereliction that is Skid Row. Downtown LA has historically been the cultural and social hub of the region up until the early 20th century. The masses used to come here to be entertained and the city’s elite, real estate moguls, bankers, politicians, power brokers, used to congregate here. The introduction of the automobile has led to the decline of this city center, but it still serves today as LA’s financial headquarters. In downtown, you’ll find modern art museums, immigrant enclaves, old movie houses, and an increasing number of skyscrapers and high rises as well as pockets of decaying Victorian relics and 1920s Art Decos. The district on the whole lacks any sort of vibrant nightlife or excitement found in the tourist areas of LA’s Westside.[6]

The district of Mid-Wilshire is found just west of Downtown LA, built in and around the strip of Wilshire Boulevard. Mid-Wilshire is famous for its Art Deco architecture and the shopping strip of Melrose Avenue. But most people often bypass the district for the sexier and more alluring Hollywood in the north. Nevertheless, Mid-Wilshire remains an important tourist zone of LA.[7]

North of Mid-Wilshire is the famed Hollywood, a must for any visitor of LA. Its streets teem with movie legends and myths, and the glamour of its heyday in the early 20th century is still visibly noticeable despite the presence of swarming artists, bohemians, and street performers. Millions of tourists each year flock here to visit old movie palaces and the ever-popular Hollywood “Walk of Fame”. But those who are less interested in faded cinematic glory may like it better in the trendier West Hollywood just west of Hollywood where tey’ll find a haven of designer boutiques, pricey Zagat-rated restaurants, and elite art galleries. North of both Hollywood and West Hollywood are the Hollywood Hills, dotted with mansions atop bluffs looming over LA, a must if you want prime panoramic views of the city or if you are otherwise in the mood for star-gazing at the massive Griffith Park and observatory.[8]

West of the Downtown and the Hollywood area is the wealthy “Westside” – West Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Westwood, Bel-Air, Brentwood, and Culver City. Whereas West Los Angeles is home to the city’s nouveau riche, Beverly Hill’s Rodeo Drive offers the trendiest and most expensive shopping experience. Westwood’s movie theaters often play host to premieres and movie screenings. And few people miss out on visiting the picturesque UCLA campus or LA’s showpiece in Brentwood, the Getty Center. Less hyped is Culver City, to the south, home of eccentric small-scale museums and just as eccentric architecture.[9]

Further west all the way to the coast, you’ll find Santa Monica and Venice – the clichéd portrait of Southern California with its palm trees, smooth white sands, and west-coast lifestyle of surf and sun. Stroll the Third Street Promenade, the Venice Boardwalk, and Santa Monica Pier and you’ll understand what this lifestyle is all about.[10]

In the east, you’ll find South Central and East LA, not often visited by tourists because of their respective reputation for crime and violence. Both districts, however, offer scattered sights of architectural, cultural, and historic interest like the Watts Tower, the USC campus, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.[11]

In the north are sprawling suburbs in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, both popular areas for dining, shopping, and cultural activities. This is where you’ll find Burbank, home of working movie studios and the famed Universal Studios theme park in Universal City. In Glendale, you’ll find the Forest Lawn cemetery and the historic town of Pasadena. And further north is the Santa Clarita Valley, home of Valencia’s Six Flags Magic Mountain and its assortment of thrill rides and roller-coasters.[12]

More appealing to outdoor nature lovers are the areas around the Santa Monica Mountains, where regional and state parks galore are waiting readily to be explored by foot or by car, especially via the scenic Mulholland Highway. Nearby, you’ll find the Pacific Palisades, an exclusive enclave of the wealthy. And northwest along the coast is Malibu, just as private as Pacific Palisades and a residential area where celebrities hide out in their multimillion dollar beach estates.[13]

In the deep south of Los Angeles County is the residential and industrial LA Harbor and South Bay, both featuring spectacular ocean scenery and lined with unpretentious beachfront communities like Long Beach and San Pedro. At the southwestern edge is the Palos Verdes Peninsula, whose ocean vistas make its real estate among LA’s priciest.

Just outside of the Los Angeles County is Orange County with its more accessible beach options and ostentatious attractions: Anaheim’s Disneyland and Buena Park’s Knott’s Berry Farm.[14]

The Greater Los Angeles area including the nearby Orange County is filled with endless sights and attractions, the more prominent ones are listed below:

Bowers Museum of Cultural Art
Disneyland Resort

Antelope Valley
Antelope Valley Indian Museum
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

Hotel Bel-Air

Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills Hotel
Museum of Television & Radio
Peninsula Beverly Hills
Regent Beverly Wilshire
Rodeo Drive
Sunset Boulevard
Virginia Robinson Gardens

Getty Center

Buena Park
Knott’s Berry Farm

NBC Television Studios
Warner Bros Studios

Catalina Island
Casino Building

Century City
Museum of Tolerance

Culver City
Hayden Tract
Museum of Jurassic Technology

East Los Angeles
El Mercado de Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles
Bradbury Building
Bunker Hill Steps
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
City Hall
Disney Hall
El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument
Flower Market
Geffen Contemporary
Grand Central Market
Japanese American National Museum
Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
Olvera Street
Staples Center
Theater District
Union Station

Capitol Records Tower
Cinerama Dome
Egyptian Theatre
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Griffith Park and Observatory
Hollywood and Highland
Hollywood Bowl
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Hollywood Sign
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Los Angeles Zoo
Mulholland Drive
Pantages Theatre
Paramount Pictures Studio
Warner Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Park Racetrack & Casino
Randy’s Donuts

Long Beach
Aquarium of the Pacific
Queen Mary

Getty Villa
Malibu Lagoon State Beach

Marina del Rey
Fisherman’s Village

Ambassador Hotel
Brown Derby
Farmers Market
George C. Page Museum
Getty House
La Brea Tar Pits
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Miracle Mile
Museum of Holocaust
Petersen Automotive Museum

Palos Verdes Peninsula
Wayfarers Chapel

Gamble House
Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
Norton Simon Museum
Old Town Pasadena
Rose Bowl

San Pedro
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
Los Angeles Maritime Museum

Santa Monica
Museum of Flying
Santa Monica Pier
Third Street Promenade

South Central
California Science Center
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Museum in Black
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Pepperdine University (Old)
Rose Garden
Watts Tower
William Clark Memorial Library

Universal City
Universal Studios Hollywood

Six Flags Magic Mountain

Muscle Beach
Venice Beach
Venice Boardwalk

West Hollywood
Pacific Design Center
Sunset Strip
Whisky a Go Go

West Los Angeles
University Senior High School (“Uni”)

Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts
Los Angeles California Temple
UCLA Hammer Museum
Westwood Village

General Phineas Banning Residence Museum

Los Angeles was officially founded in 1781, but its history began more than two hundred years earlier when Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo anchored his ship off of present-day San Pedro. The early settlers in the area were Spanish, Mexican, African American, and Native Indian. They farmed the land. In 1825, the territory of California was formed out of Mexico after the latter gained independence from Spain. Two decades later in 1848, Mexico lost the Mexican-American War, signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and handed California over to the United States. The first orange trees were planted in Southern California in 1853 and helped the state become the “Orange Empire of the nation” within a decade.[15]

In 1876, the first railroad arrived into Los Angeles via the Southern Pacific Railroad. Just four years later, the University of California was founded, followed a year later by the publishing of the first newspaper issue from the Los Angeles Times. Between 1880 and 1900, the city’s population exploded, multiplying from 10,000 to 100,000.[16]

In 1902, the Electric Theater, the first movie house, opened, triggering the beginnings of the motion picture industry in Los Angeles. Two decades later, the completion of an aqueduct running through the San Fernando Valley and funneling water from the Owens Valley more than 230 miles away ensured a steady water supply for the city and its citrus crops. Los Angeles grew like a wild fire as a result, sprawling in every direction and assuring automobile manufacturers of an important market.[17]

In the ensuing decades, oranges and oil remained an important part of the city’s development, but it was Hollywood that put it on the map. Unfortunately, the end of the Cold War hit the city pretty hard, resulting in cutbacks in defense spending, including the derailment of the once-strong aerospace industry.[18] The surge in unemployment in the early 1990s sparked an increase in crime, and the resentment triggered the 1992 Rodney King riots in protest over the acquittal of white cops charged with excessive violence. The 1994 Northridge earthquakes, as well as the floods and fires that plagued the city during this same period plunged Los Angeles into a dark period of anger, resentment, and intolerance.[19] Hostility against Latino immigration brewed, giving birth to legislation that denied illegals access to health care and education, and limited Affirmative Action programs. [20]????

Today, Los Angeles has recovered somewhat. Its once thriving aerospace industry, however, has faltered and other manufacturing industries have succumbed to a changing economy. Still strong though are tourism, motion picture and television production, and international trade.[21] And as always, the port of Los Angeles and Long Beach continue to handle the most cargo in the entire country[22], a gateway to more than $150 billion of cargo each year, [23] infusing the local economic with millions. [24]

Baker, Christopher, Judy Wade, and Morten Strange. California. New York: Macmillan General Reference, 1994. ISBN: 0671879065.

Dickey, Jeff. Los Angeles, 3rd Edition. Rough Guides, 2003. ISBN: 1843530589.

“History of Los Angeles, California.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Los_Angeles,_California>

“Los Angeles, California.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_angeles>

“Port of Los Angeles.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_of_los_angeles>

[1] Dickey, iii
[2] Baker, 111
[3] Dickey, iii
[4] Id. at v
[5] Id. at iv-v
[6] Id. at vi
[7] Id. at vi-vii
[8] Id. at vii
[9] Id.
[10] Id. at viii
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] Id.
[14] Id.
[15] Baker, 113
[16] Id.
[17] Id. at 113-14
[18] Id. at 114
[19] Los Angeles
[20] History
[21] Baker, 115
[22] Dickey, iii
[23] Port
[24] Dickey, iii

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