Travel Guide to California

Los Angeles County

A place for big dreams, art and reinvention

by jacqueline yau

“Тhere is something to be said for having even unrealistic dreams,” says celebrated Whiplash and La La Land writer/director Damien Chazelle. “Even if the dreams don’t come true—that to me is what’s beautiful about Los Angeles. It’s full of these people who have moved there to chase these dreams. A lot of those people are told by people around them that they’re crazy, or that they’re living in la la land.”

The City of Angels is the land of reinvention. Los Angeles County attracts seekers, dreamers, hustlers and wannabe actors/screenwriters/directors. Most come from somewhere else and are looking for a better life. Persistent optimism and self-expressiveness permeate the air.

Thanks to the Beach Boys harmonizing about California girls, beach party movies of the ’60s and TV shows like Baywatch, many people think of Los Angeles as palm trees swaying in warm breezes, endless beaches and bikini-clad women. But LA is far more complex. It’s a mix of old and new, from cuisine to culture to ideas. The creativity and diversity of the region are reflected in some 100 museums focused on the odd to the divine, the vibrant global street art and the constant evolution of the food scene.

The Nation’s Largest County

As the most populous county in the nation, with more than 10 million residents, Los Angeles County comprises 88 cities with around 200 languages spoken within its 4,751 square miles. Geographically, the county is larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

The entertainment industry is an integral part of the local economy, annually contributing $47 billion to the region. For decades, the name Hollywood has been synonymous with the movie business, but today most studios have moved into neighboring suburbs such as Burbank and Culver City.

Some of the better-known areas in LA County aren’t even cities but rather districts or neighborhoods within Los Angeles, such as Hollywood, Silver Lake and Venice. In contrast, Beverly Hills, home to the most expensive residences in the world, and West Hollywood, a welcoming oasis to a diverse community of gays, Russians and musicians, are cities but are completely surrounded by the city of Los Angeles.

Over seventy miles of beaches run along Los Angeles County’s southwest border. Malibu, an exclusive seaside community, has some of the most alluring stretches of sand in the area. To the north, hikers and mountain climbers explore trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. To the east, the San Gabriel Mountains rise up to more than 10,000 feet above sea level.

City & Town

Los Angeles, the second most populous city in the nation at close to 4 million people, dominates the county. Writer Dorothy Parker once quipped, “Los Angeles is 72 suburbs in search of a city.” Now, LA’s several hundred neighborhoods form a rich cultural stew. Meander around Chinatown, Little Tokyo, the Art and Fashion Districts, the Latino enclaves around Echo Park, Hollywood’s Laurel Canyon, Little Armenia, Thai Town or Melrose District where hipsters shop.

When in LA, do as the celebs do. Go shopping at cool indie shops featuring local labels and fashionable imports along Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Need an outfit for an awards show? Head over to Decades on Melrose Avenue, a vintage couture store where many stylists choose red-carpet gowns for their star clients.

Hungry? Eat at The Griddle Cafe, a Sunset Boulevard institution known for its gigantic pancakes. Or chow down on a creatively topped hot dog (some named for celebrities) at Pink’s famous corner stand at Melrose and La Brea avenues. Watch a Lakers or Clippers pro basketball game, or an LA Kings NHL hockey game, at the Crypto.com Arena to see stars, both on the court and in the stands. End the day sipping a cocktail at Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, where celebrities meet their agents and studio execs.

insider's tip

LA’S MURALS provide a keen sense of its UNDERGROUND ART SCENE as creativity covers once-blank walls through the city. LA Weekly calls Los Angeles a “city of 1,000 murals,” saying its “urban sprawl creates the perfect canvas.” The Weekly highlights 20 of the city’s most groundbreaking murals, which range from celebrations of Latino culture to interpretations of film heroes: laweekly.com/20-of-l-a-s-most-iconic-murals

Perhaps the best way to see some of the city’s most daring murals is with LA ART TOURS: laarttours.com


Conceived originally as an outdoor billboard promoting a housing development called Hollywoodland in 1923, the Hollywood sign sits on the south side of Mount Lee in Griffith Park—long a symbol that this is a place where dreams can come true.

The first movie studio, the Nestor Motion Picture Company, opened in 1911 in Hollywood on the northwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street. It was absorbed by the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, which later became Universal Studios. By the 1920s, 80 percent of the world’s films were shot in California.

Learn more about Tinsel Town’s history, and experience its memorabilia at The Hollywood Museum. Or participate in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences events and get swept up in the pre-Oscar buzz.

The Great Outdoors

Despite its car culture rap, LA County offers lots of outdoor activities. Rent a bike along the Santa Monica Pier and ride down the path that parallels the ocean, through Venice and on to Marina del Rey before doubling back. Pack a picnic lunch and hike Echo Mountain in Altadena or the Arroyo Seco trail system in the San Gabriel Mountains. Sign up for rock-climbing instruction, or take a surfing or stand-up paddle boarding lesson from one of the many surfing centers in Santa Monica.

Explore the county’s varied beaches, from the famous to the little known, but bring a sweater if you go early or plan to stay late. In the summer, moist marine air is pulled inland and forms a misty cover until it burns off by the afternoon, and temperatures drop with the sunset. Start in Malibu and show your stuff at the legendary Surfrider Beach at Malibu Lagoon State Beach. Explore tide pools and caves at Leo Carrillo State Park. Malibu’s Point Dume State Beach is featured in movies such as the Iron Man series (2008-2013) and it also appeared in the final scene of the original Planet of the Apes (1968), however, it is currently closed due to storm damage. Look for California gray whales during their migrations from December to mid April. Next, wind your way down through Topanga Beach and stop over for a volleyball game at Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades. Then hop over to Venice and the Strand on Manhattan Beach to people-watch.

Family Fun

Check out fossils of saber-toothed cats and mammoths that roamed the LA Basin during the Ice Age at the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits. If the kids are tired of trying to spot stars on Hollywood Boulevard, take them to Griffith Observatory. Featured in many movies including Rebel Without a Cause (1955), the observatory is set on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, with a view of the Hollywood sign and greater LA below. View exhibits and events on Tuesday through Sunday at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium and Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater, and attend free public star parties monthly at the Observatory from 2 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. Budding astronomers and their families are encouraged to try out different telescopes and talk to amateur astronomers about the sun, moon and planets.

Visit the California Science Center that houses the Endeavour, which traveled 123 million miles, the final ship to be built in NASA’s Space Shuttle program. View space capsules from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo-Soyuz missions. Special exhibits include “Mission 26: The Big Endeavour,” which features photographs highlighting some of the spectacular scenes witnessed during space shuttle Endeavour’s flight over California and the 12-mile, 68-hour journey to its new home at the science center. Enjoy the many touch-friendly exhibits such as the Space Shuttle Endeavour Simulator Ride which takes passengers on a mission to fix the Hubble Telescope—Endeavour’s actual first mission.

5 Must See, Do

HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME Launched on Hollywood Boulevard at Vine Street in 1958, this constellation of coral-pink terrazzo and brass sidewalk stars honors motion picture, TV, radio, recording, live theatre and sports entertainment legends. Among the first honorees were Burt Lancaster and Joanne Woodward; in 1994, Sophia Loren became the 2,000th  star. Today there are more than 2,700 stars, with typically two added monthly to the 15-block stretch of the boulevard. Millions of visitors come every year to find their favorite actors, directors, musicians and other entertainment luminaries. walkoffame.com

SANTA MONICA PIER Savor a Will Rogers Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae, ride a vintage carousel, view the area from the Ferris wheel (a movie celebrity in its own right) and explore the amusement park on this century-old pier. Snap a selfie by the End of the Trail sign on the pier for the legendary Route 66, which ends its 2,450-mile journey here. santamonicapier.org

OLVERA STREET Known as the birthplace of Los Angeles, this section of LA was the town center during the colonial era under Spanish and Mexican rule through most of the 19th century. Some vendors are the descendants of the original merchants in this marketplace, established in 1930 to preserve and bring back “old Los Angeles” and its customs. Absorb the scent of tacos and sounds of mariachi music amid the street stalls and old structures. Browse lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) masks, Day of the Dead figurines, piñatas and other souvenirs in this block-long Mexican marketplace located in Los Angeles Plaza Historic District. olvera-street.com

VENICE BEACH BOARDWALK This 1.5-mile pathway parallels the Pacific Ocean and is a never-ending carnival of LA’s most outrageous characters. Stroll past vendors and street performers trying to impress you with their breakdancing or juggling. Others may dress up as if every day is Halloween. When you’re ready for a break, visit a restaurant or juice bar, or simply walk down to the beach and soak up some sun. And if you need souvenir T-shirts or trinkets, or an affordable painting or photograph, you’re bound to find it here. visitveniceca.com

SEE IMPROV, SKETCH OR STAND-UP COMEDY So many great comedians came out of the clubs of Los Angeles, and you can still catch rising stars honing their craft or legendary veterans trying out new material. Notable clubs and improv troupes include The Groundlings, Hollywood Improv Comedy Club, Laugh Factory, Upright Citizens Brigade and The Comedy Store. thecomedybureau.com discoverlosangeles.com/blog/comedy-clubs-los-angeles



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