Los Angeles Travel, California, USA

Los Angeles Downtown at dusk, California, US America

Los Angeles downtown seen from the Griffith Observatory. Photo by Mike Peel.

Visiting Los Angeles

La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles, California, America

La Brea Tar Pits. Photo by Joe Mabel.

Truly one of the most grotesque, must-see cities of the world; you may well hate it but if you’ve ever seen a Hollywood movie you have to experience LA at least once.
As well as Hollywood and the first ever Disneyland, the city also houses some top museums, art galleries, fantastic ethnic restaurants and a plethora of designer stores to keep fashion wannabes occupied for days. It is also within range of some of the USA’s great beaches, from the poseurs’ paradise of Venice Beach to the upmarket sands of Malibu.
Cruise Beverly Hills, stroll Venice boardwalk, gawk at Hollywood Boulevard’s concrete hands, fight off the anacondas at Universal Studios, get wrecked in the Hotel California (actually the Beverly Hills Hotel). . .and so on.

‘I love Los Angeles. . . Everybody’s plastic, I love plastic. I want to be plastic.’ Andy Warhol.

Downsides

• Though the public transport system is good, you’ll need a car to get around the urban sprawl to all the top sights and that means negotiating a nightmare tangle of congested freeways and erratic direction signs. Walking around the shops or the beach is fine but elsewhere you’ll feel like a freak.

• Despite improvements in recent years, smog alerts are still relatively common in the hot summer months.

• About 10, 000 quakes rattle the region annually – fortunately minor ones.

• Crime is not as bad as the movies might suggest, just be sensible about when and where you go.

Los Angeles weather

Best: Spring and Autumn, tho’ winter’s usually OK too.
Worst: July/August (hot, humid and frequently smoggy).

Main Attractions

Hollywood

Hollywood (a district in LA, as opposed to West Hollywood which is an entirely different town in the county): Reached by bus #4 or 220, Hollywood remains a mecca for film fans even though the major studios have shifted out.

Get hands on experience of the stars in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, filled with celebrity hand prints and which hosts film premieres and Academy Awards ceremonies.

A further 2, 000 or so celebrity names embellish 2. 5 miles of pavement along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, that should keep you busy.

Real movie sets can be seen during a Universal Studios Hollywood Tour (up in the hills) and at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.

The closest you’ll get to a real star is probably at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (with a mausoleum to Rudolph Valentino, amongst others), though posing for a photo by the waxwork doubles at Madame Tussaud’s should fool your buddies.

Beverly Hills: take a tour to see the houses of the rich and famous in this glitzy suburb, or just cruise past the giant palms and bizarre styles in your rental before having a drink at the Beverly Hills Hotel or window shopping in ultra-chic Rodeo Drive. Melrose Avenue is the street for better prices and wilder gear.

Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles, California, USA

Rodeo Drive on a strangely quiet afternoon in Beverley Hills. Zombie hour? Photo by Axion23.

West LA

Head out to Mid-Wilshire for the Museum Mile which includes the LACMA County Museum of Art (eclectic collections including Rodin, Dutch Masters and ethnic curiosities) and the tar-struck prehistoric critters from the nearby La Brea Tar Pits in the Page Museum.

Nearby West Hollywood is the centre of the local gay community and you’ll also find Sunset Strip for the hottest nightlife.

Downtown: Centred round The Plaza, central LA will seem strangely familiar to any movie fan. The backdrop to hundreds of films, this is the financial district but also the oldest quarter with some great ethnic restaurants and some excellent architecture.

Check out the ‘Mexican Village’ market on Oliver Street and the excellent MOCA Museum of Contemporary Art, housing Franz Kline, Mark Rothko and many interesting up-and-coming artists.

Take care here after dark as plenty of homeless descend on Skid Row and the surrounding streets.

Little Tokyo: Downtown’s Japantown is considered a National Historic Landmark District and is the epicentre of the city’s vibrant Japanese population. Along with top restaurants, there are tranquil Japanese Gardens and the fascinating Japanese American National Museum which traces the history of the links between the two countries.

Entertainment: Sunset Strip is the epicentre of the city’s wild clubbing scene and also where the next-big-things in rock often cut their teeth.
Top classical music is performed at the superb Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown, and don’t miss the open air summer concerts in the Hollywood Bowl.

Venice Beach

Venice Beach gathering, Los Angeles CA, US best beaches

Venice Beach, Los Angeles. Photo by Theory23.

Venice Beach: great for exercising and wacky people watching, including muscle builders and colourful mutants, Venice Beach encompasses a massive stretch of rather plain beach as well as some cute canals and excellent walking trails going both north and south.

Reached by bus #33, 333 or 436, this is the main city beach. The sands may be bland but the beach bums are anything but, while beautiful people parade the curving walkway or dazzlingly bring customers drinks in restaurants as they wait for their break.
Head to Abbot Kinney Boulevard for ultra hip shops.

Griffith Park

One of the country’s largest parks, covering an area of over six square miles, Griffith Park offers a green alternative to the congested city centre. By day, the views from this Art Deco Griffith Observatory on Mount Hollywood are superb.
The observatory itself – which featured in Rebel Without a Cause – hosts excellent displays related to science and space and has a sublime café. The park is also home to the Hollywood sign, on the flank of Mount Lee. Originally built in the 1920s to advertise a new housing development, the 45-foot high letters have become an icon for the film industry.

Take a drive up Mulholland Drive for the best views of the sign and also to see how the other half live – this is home to some of the world’s priciest pads and has inspired everything from the film of the same name by David Lynch to paintings by David Hockney.

Interesting places in LA suburbs or nearby

Santa Monica beach, LA, California, USA

Santa Monica beach. Photo by Downtowngal.

Santa Monica: one of the most attractive seaside towns in the Los Angeles suburbs with pleasant architecture and a calm, friendly atmosphere and massive beach.

Short Trips:
Disneyland: the first and best Disneyland is half an hour south of downtown – if the traffic is willing. Children love it and so do some big kids, but be prepared for long queues for rides unless you go in the evening.

Universal City: another great theme park but movie-based wherein you get attacked by Great White sharks or giant anacondas while being quietly chauffeured past tranquil lakes; run by Universal Studios it’s an hour north of LA.

Getty Centre: Bus #761 takes you out to the staggeringly modernist and free (tho’ car parking is not) Getty Centre in the Santa Monica mountains, the one-billion-dollar designed Richard Meier arts centre whose dramatic views are only marginally less spectacular than its contents, from Louis XIV furniture to works by Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Man Ray.

Malibu: home of the seriously rich with some superb beaches it’s worth a drive along the coast road for the views and also the best place round LA for surfing. Malibu Lagoon is also a bird sanctuary with some excellent nature trails and walks.

Santa Barbara: Two hours north west of LA up the Pacific Coast Highway (busy and not especially scenic on this stretch), affluent Santa Barbara has some excellent beaches (though no surf), stunning, low-rise, adobe-village architecture and a typical laid-back Californian vibe.

Catalina Island: Southwest of LA and reached by boat from the Harbor Area, Catalina Island lies some 20 miles off the Californian coast. There are good beaches, hotels, superb hikes and mountain bike trails on an island where cars are restricted, most people get around by golf buggy.

Safety

Los Angeles and San Gabriel Mountains, California, USA

Los Angeles Downtown and the San Gabriel Mountains. Photo by Eric Chan.

Most of the places you’re likely to be visiting will be perfectly safe by day, while even after dark you should be fine in a car (though road rage is rampant during rush hour).

Walking, however, is less recommended; take care after dark in Hollywood, Venice and Downtown, while crime hotspots include the areas of East LA, Compton and Watts which can be dodgy at any time.

Major Festivals and Events:
1st January, Tournament of Roses, Pasadena
February, Chinese New Year, with Giant Dragon Parades down North Broadway.
June, Gay Pride Parade, Santa Monica Blvd.
July/August, International Surf Festival, Redondo Beach.
September, LA County Fair, Pomona.
November/December, Griffith Park Holiday Light Festival, with a mile long light parade through the park.

Public transport

Despite its reputation for being the city of cars, public transport is used by 12% of commuters, one of the highest percentages of any US city.

The bus system is extensive and efficient, subway and light rail systems cover most areas and the Metrolink extends to the suburbs and outlying areas. Day passes are good value and allow unlimited access for that day. Check the Metro Trip Planner for more maps, passes, timetables, parking and more.

Walking. . . though the car is king, you can take guided hikes around sights of special architectural interest with Los Angeles Conservancy Walking Tours.

Accommodation

Los Angeles has experienced overbuilding and over-pricing in the last few years but the crunch has seen a new reality surfacing in the city so prices are lower than ever. Choose your hostel/hotel well, taking into account your transport situation. i. e. if you have a rental car, ensure there is secure parking. If you’re on foot, ensure there is public transport nearby and if you want to spend time on the beach then that’s the place to park your head!

Food

With one of the most diverse populations in the USA, ethnic cuisine is in no short supply and you can sample food from virtually every country on earth in Los Angeles, á la Blade Runner. Organic cafes, vegetarian food and archetypal US diners also abound. This is where Teppan Yaki was invented – now adopted by Japan, Spago rules, while city centre diners serve crab croissants and champagne for breakfast, cheap.