Los Angeles Travel Guide

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Mural downtown

Mural downtown

Brad Kincaide

Los Angeles is a city of dreams, fashion, and Hollywood. It is the quintessential 21st century American city with attractions and activities that can only be found in Los Angeles. Los Angeles restaurants, Los Angeles hotels, and all Los Angeles activities are in a class all their own. The city embraces and absorbs everything in its path - from culture to food to people – and makes it its own. It reflects and (to some) warps it back in a manner that is uniquely Los Angeles

Flip through the pages of just any popular Los Angeles travel guide and the word "dream" will be appear over and over and over again. Yes, Los Angeles is America's Dream Factory and the creating of that fantasy rubs off on the citizens who actually live here. Take the base of the American spirit that anything is possible, add in the belief that life is like a movie, and add lots of sunshine – you can reinvent yourself and anything really is possible. No matter your nationality, you too can travel halfway around the world to win an Oscar, live in Beverly Hills, or come  penniless from a small Austrian village and become governor of the state. 

The city has everything, whether you're jet setting, roughing it, or anything in between. Los Angeles is cosmopolitan, quaint, crazy, quiet, sophisticated, down-home, and everything in between. There is wealth as well as poverty, sometimes only blocks away. You can have and see it all.

Geographically, Los Angeles County really encompasses hundreds of suburbs and other cities. The city of Los Angeles itself encompasses the "downtown" area, much of the urban vicinity to the west and northwest, and a narrow corridor extending south of the center. However, many famous locations such as Beverly Hills and Santa Monica are actually independent cities on their own and not legally part of L.A. But of course, outside of city politics, no one really makes that distinction. So, while we’re really crossing legal boundaries, we just call most of it all Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is all about the neighborhoods (some, as mentioned, are technically cities) – many are world famous – BEVERLY HILLS, HOLLYWOOD, UNIVERSAL CITY, MALIBU, SANTA MONICA, VENICE, BURBANK, SAN FERNANDO VALLEY, PASADENA, CENTURY CITY, SOUTH CENTRAL  (now SOUTH LOS ANGELES), as well as MARINA DEL REY, SOUTH BAY, WESTCHESTER, & EL SEGUNDO. Also included are the equally famous streets, such as SUNSET BLVD, MELROSE AVE, OLVERA ST, RODEO DRIVE, SANTA MONICA BLVD, and MULHOLLAND DRIVE. And these are just the well known ones – there are literally hundreds of other cities, places, and streets equally interesting.

The question is where to begin?

BURBANK/SAN FERNANDO VALLEY

The obvious place to start is with the entertainment related locales. Popular Los Angeles activities for tourists such as tapings and studio tours are plentiful in these areas. Let’s begin in the  northeast and work our way south. 10 miles north of downtown is GLENDALE & BURBANK. Not as well know but that’s where the inside work of entertainment is. Glendale is home to DreamWorks Animation and Nickelodeon Animation studios (no tours) and hundreds of small production studios, special effects and prop houses. As we move to Burbank, NBC’s West Coast HQ’s & Disney’s main HQ’s are there (both on Olive St.). A block away is Disney Animation and Disney Channel’s building. The Disney HQ features the 7 dwarves “holding up” the roof – the lot also houses a small studio. It is closed to the public but you can photograph from the street. The Tonight Show is taped at the NBC studios. There is a queue out front on taping days starting by early afternoon.

If you look up to the mountain range, you'll see the back part of Griffith Park, where the Griffith Observatory and the Gibson Amphitheater (an outdoor event venue) are located. A few blocks further west is the WARNER BROS. STUDIO – you can’t miss the mammoth advertising – it is also a working studio and there are tours. I believe you have to call ahead to reserve (unlike Universal Studios). As you continue along Ventura Blvd., there are other studios (mostly TV) that are discreet in appearance such as the CBS STUDIO CENTER where there are always dozens of sitcoms being taped there (Seinfeld was there). You can get free tickets – sitcoms usually tape Friday nights. At that point, you can swing south and no more than a few miles away is UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. No great detail needed here, as it’s internationally known.

CENTURY CITY

About 10 miles west is Century City. It used to all belong to Fox but they had to sell it – allegedly to pay off debts from the production of Cleopatra. You can see glimpses of the Fox lot (no tour) and on the AVENUE of THE STARS is the famous “Nakatomi” building from DIE HARD (now known as the Fox Plaza). AVENUE of the STARS is also the west coast headquarters for most cable companies and ABC (no tours). Nearby in Culver City is Sony & MGM (no tours and not much of a back lot).

Now, you can overlay the next-level tourist destinations while you’re visiting some of the entertainment related sites.

DOWNTOWN

Downtown is recognizable for the tallest building on the west coast – the Library Tower, and many iconic buildings seen in countless TV shows and movies – including the round glass tower Bonaventure Hotel (TRUE LIES), the Arco Towers and the Wells Fargo Building (LA LAW). Even the streets in the area are often featured as they rise up and down on different tiers so that, for example, film chase scenes in a confined area can achieve a different look with every new shot. The Museum of Contemporary Art is here as is the new Frank Gehry Walt Disney Symphony Hall. Other architectural showpieces are the Italianate Renaissance-style Biltmore Hotel facing renewed Pershing Square, the Beaux Arts-style Central Library, and the Mission-style Union Station, which captures the heyday of train travel.

You can also catch the ANGEL'S FLIGHT cable car here, although it doesn’t really travel very far. LA DOWNTOWN is slowly evolving into more residential but for a huge massive metropolitan area, it’s essentially deserted past 6 PM and on the weekends. As it’s tilted towards financially related companies, they do tend to keep banker’s hours in DOWNTOWN.

There are some hidden (night) clubs and other hangouts for artists but you have to know where to look. Most places that are open after the financial district is shut down are located on the south and east sides of downtown. Try the clubs and restaurants on 4th and Main- many are open until past midnight. Also the Weiland Brewery in Little Tokyo (First and Central Sts). The Original Pantry is open 24/7 (Ninth and Figueroa Sts). The bars are not hard to find. Check out 626 Reserve @ 626 S Spring; The Broadway Bar, next to the Orpheum between 8th and 9th Sts, and the Golden Gopher @ 417 West 8th St.

There are also dozens of great high-end business Los Angeles hotels in the area – if you’re conventioning here, staying downtown is the most convenient with the best hotels. If you’re doing the usual LA tourist thing, there’s no particular reason to stay in a downtown Los Angeles hotel. It’s really far from most of the action, though the Metro Rail has shortened that distance somewhat. For people from other countries or cities, they usually think of downtown as the hub of the city – in LA, unless you’re at a convention or you have financial business – downtown is nearly an hour to two hours away from everything else during rush hour commute and frankly, the LA commute is easily one of the worst in the country, if not the world.

DOWNTOWN SOUTH

Going a few blocks is the Convention Center. While the Convention Center is nice, the blocks are VERY, VERY long around here so keep in mind once you’re at the convention center, you need a car or a cab to get out of there. Just a block or so northwest from the Convention Center is the Staples Center, one of L.A.'s premier venues for sports and concert events.  The Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers of the NBA call the Staples Center their home, as well as the Los Angeles Kings hockey team.

For the adventurist, you can visit the Wholesale/Latino district a few blocks east. During the day, it is teeming with life, south of the border music, and crowded with food and color. It’s an amazing contrast to the sterility of the area around the convention center or the serious suits in downtown. There are some streets you swear that you are in Mexico City or Guatemala. You are expected to speak Spanish but everyone is friendly in the shops and restaurants if you’re a gringo :- ) … this is probably not a neigborhood to wander around along at night – like any big city at night but it’s great fun and good eating during the day.

The Fashion District is noteworthy as it is the second largest behind NYC. Also worth a visit are the Textile and Flower Districts.

Further south is USC and the Coliseum.

CHINATOWN/LITTLE TOKYO/OLVERA STREET/CIVIC CENTER

Ocean Seafood in Chinatown is absolutely amazing. Yang Chow is a hang for the City Council folks. The three huge malls are chockful of bargains and all are within walking distance of the Chinatown Gold Line train station, behind the old Little Joe's restaurant. Get out of your car and walk around: Olvera Street, Union Station, Chinatown- there is much to see.

Slightly east and north of downtown. To be honest, L.A. Chinatown is much better seen in the movies – in reality, it’s 4 or 5 drab looking streets with a few touristy looking Chinese gates and arches. There are very few actual Chinese people in Chinatown. They have nearly all moved east to Hacienda Heights/Rowland Heights. So, with the exception of the Dim Sum in the Empress Palace, don’t not eat here unless you think TV-dinner quality fried rice is exotic. There are some amusing trinket stores and other gewgaw stores but it’s pretty much nothing. Chinatown is really more Vietnamese than anything – so if you love Vietnamese noodles, you can’t go wrong with many choices.

Japantown is not much better. L.A. offers hundreds if not thousands of excellent Japanese restaurants – some internationally famous - ironically enough, in Japantown, there’s not much to recommend. There is, however, the Japanese American National Museum, which features several exhibits on the Japanese American immigrant experience. 

On Olvera Street, the historic Latino/Hispanic community is probably a more worthwhile stop than Chinatown or Japantown. It is a bustling community of colorful shops, restaurants and street vendors. El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument encompasses 27 buildings of historical or architectural significance. You can also tour the 1818 Avila Adobe, the city's oldest home.

The world famous CITY HALL is in this area. On the freeway and one exit north is Dodger Stadium.

KOREATOWN

As you go further west along OLYMPIC BLVD, you will run into Koreatown, it’s not contiguous but it’s a working community – again full of people doing business, shopping and eating. If you love your kimchee and BBQ – you really can’t go wrong. There are several huge malls with many shops and giant supermarkets. Most of the signs are in Korean but that hardly matters.  This region of L.A. also features several types of establishments popular with Koreans and Korean-Americans, including bars/lounges, karaoke houses, dance clubs, and trendy coffee shops.

Eagle Rock

East of Burbank, but just west of Pasadena, lies the quiet neighborhood of Eagle Rock. Home to Occidental College, Eagle Rock is a working class neighborhood, filled with a wide variety of restaurants and shops. The restaurants in Eagle Rock range from the famous (Casa Bianca Pizzeria) to the health conscious (Auntie Em's) and most restaurants in the area offer affordable prices. In addition to food, Eagle Rock offers up many boutiques and clothing stores. These stores can be found down the two main streets in Eagle Rock (Colorado Blvd and Eagle Rock Blvd). In addition, many craftsman style homes can be found throughout the neighborhood.

PASADENA

East of Burbank is Pasadena. The world class Ritz Carlton is there, as well as the Rose Bowl and the famous Rose Bowl flea market.  There's no way can you take it all in a day; but a stroll through "Old Town" on Colorado Boulevard is worth the time. Most of the restaurants in Pasadena are excellent.   The Norton Simon Museum has the largest collection of Rembrandt etchings in the world; other artists with significant representation in the collection include Tiepolo, Zubaran, Degas, Van Gogh, and a magnificent collection of Southeast Asian art.  The museum was completely redesigned by Frank Gehry and Associates in the late 1990's.  Also notable is the New Museum of California Art.  The world famous Art Center School of Design (notable for being one of the centers of cutting edge automobile design in the world) is in the hills above Pasadena.

SOUTH PASADENA, SAN MARINO

Really old money; fabulous neighborhoods; and home to Cal Tech (the world famous California Institute of Technology), and the HUNTINGTON LIBRARY, MUSEUM and GARDENS.  Founded by Henry and Arabella Huntington, the Library has enormous holdings including a Gutenberg Bible, some of the first folios of Shakespeare,  and its most famous literary exhibit, the Ellesmere Chaucer manuscript of the Canterbury Tales.   The Huntington Museum has a magnificent collection of 18th Century English canvases including Gainsborough's "Blue Boy", Reynold's "Pinkie", and Reynold's portrait of "Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse".  The extensive botanical gardens include the Japanese Gardens, Zen Garden, Tea House; Rose gardens; Cactus Gardens; Australian Gardens; Shakespeare Garden.  The Huntington Tea Room also serves the best high tea in Southern California; reservations are recommended, especially in the spring when the rose gardens are in full flower.  Also, the camellias in bloom in February/March are extensive, and spectacular.

GLENDALE/BURBANK

In Glendale, there are several huge malls including the Glendale Galleria, as well as North Brand Street, which features hundreds of shops and restaurants. There’s also a great only-known-to-local chicken eatery – ZANKOU CHICKEN in Glendale (as well as Pasadena, Van Nuys, and West L.A.).   Glendale's Forest Lawn Cemetery (the original location) is here, with impressive sculpture and art installations, as well as chapels.

Further north in Burbank downtown is even greater shopping – another huge Media Center Mall, Ikea and near the Burbank Airport – another massive mall with dozens of stores.

On the other side of Glendale is GRIFFITH PARK (a gift to Los Angeles from Silent Movie producer and director Col. D.W. Griffith) – where you can find an oasis of green. There is a Gene Autry museum which focuses primarily on the art and the history of The West, and has recently merged with the Southwest Museum (which has one of the most comprehensive collections on the American Indian outside of the Smithsonian); some kids attractions and best of all – Griffith Park Observatory. If the skies are clear and the smog not too bad, it’s definitely worth a winding road drive to see both LA from a great vantage point and of course, the setting for countless movies (TERMINATOR, BOWFINGER, et al).   Griffith Park also has miles of wonderful hillside hiking trails.

SILVER LAKE, LOS FELIZ, AND ECHO PARK

For those who want to explore the hidden L.A., nearby are three cities with artisan communities with hip movie stars, offbeat shopping, fun nightclubs and great restaurants.  These three communities have been undergoing a sort of reinvention, resulting in rapid growth and a lift to their respective reputations.

HOLLYWOOD

As you continue west, you reach Hollywood. The real Hollywood is a down-on-the-luck town way past its prime, especially during the day. Other than its famous few blocks, for those that do not want to see behind the “curtain,” it’s best to stick to famous streets. Up in the hills are some still-famous restaurants and it’s a fun (if hidden) drive to the Hollywood Reservoir. At night, there are some 30-40 clubs in the area. Pick up a copy of the LA WEEKLY to get an idea of what’s going on.  

As you exit the freeway, the Hollywood Bowl is hidden in the hills to your right and a few blocks away is the famous CAPITOL RECORDS round building (which resembles a stack of records). At that point you are at the famous HOLLYWOOD & VINE. A few blocks to your right is the (Grauman’s) Mann’s Chinese Theater and the Hollywood WALK OF FAME. They also added a new mall and the now-famous KODAK THEATER where the Academy Awards are now held. The JIMMY KIMMEL SHOW also tapes across the street.

A couple blocks south is HOLLYWOOD HIGH SCHOOL. Going south to Melrose Avenue, if you turn left, you will soon hit PARAMOUNT. The gates are instantly recognizable but no tours are available.  There are also many other TV studios in the area but from the outside, they pretty much just look like office buildings. If you turn right on Melrose and then turn left on Fairfax, you can see CBS TELEVISION CENTER (more TV show tapings).

The Hollywood Forever Cemetery is also here, on Santa Monica Boulevard, with the graves of such luminaries as Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, Tyrone Power, and Marion Davies (the pristine white marble mausoleum on the island in the lake, is dedicated to the DOURAS family, which was Davies real name); and many others.  During the summers, the Cinespia film society holds outdoor film screenings, projecting cult classics onto the Davies mausoleum as filmgoers picnic on the expansive adjacent lawn.

What about the Eqyptian Theater? The Pig and Whistle? Musso and Franks? Micelli's Restaurant? All within walking distance of the Hollywood/Highland subway stop? One can travel via Red and Gold lines to South Pasadena, Hollywood, Pasadena, Universal Studios, downtown, etc.

HOLLYWOOD HILLS

Above West Hollywood and further west, this is where the famous and rich houses in the hill start. A daytime driving activity for those so inclined.

WEST HOLLYWOOD

One of the first upscale gay communities, it is not really so defined now. People of all persuasion call it home – but only if you’re wealthy and stylish :- ) The famous Sunset Strip is in the area. Not surprisingly, it is full of great restaurants and star watching (Wolfgang Puck’s original Spago’s is here).

MELROSE AVENUE

South of West Hollywood is the segment of Melrose Avenue made famous. It really just runs from about 3rd Street to Fairfax – full of one-of-a-kind-shopping, it is less unique than it once was but still fun to check out. A few blocks south on Fairfax is the Farmer’s Market (Next to CBS TV Center noted above) along with L.A.’s latest upscale mall – the Grove. A few blocks south is the La Brea Tar Pits and the LA County Museum. There are also more 3-star/4-star restaurants in the area (not on Melrose itself) so pick up a ZAGAT guide to see what fits your bill. Again, everything from a $3 lunch to $300 lunch is in the area.

LA CIENEGA (North of WILSHIRE)

Another fabled LA street, the portion extending north from Wilshire Boulevard is also referred to as Restaurant Row. Here you’ll find the Beverly Center and the internationally famous sushi restaurant, Matsuhisa – along with dozens of other amazing restaurants. The Ivy is a few blocks west. Frankly, the food is not that great but if you want to eat where the movie power brokers eat … be warned – you will not get a table M-F during regular lunch hours unless you’re somebody important.

There are also many 5-star hotels in the area.

BEVERLY HILLS (WEST of LA CIENEGA)

It’s a cliché but it’s also all-true: the streets are filled with Bentleys and Ferraris. There are drop-dead gorgeous women who are walking a French poodle wearing a diamond collar worth more than most people. It’s all fake but very real. Rodeo is only a few blocks long and perhaps not as ritzy and unique as before but still the embodiment of the leisure life. There is of course, more shopping everywhere including a Barney’s across from Rodeo. There are less discreet 5-star hotels right on Wilshire (PRETTY WOMAN) and more discreet 5-star hotels closer to the mountain range – too many to name. The Merv Griffin Beverly Hills Hilton is nearby – where the Golden Globes are held every year.

Above Santa Monica Blvd are where the mansions start. Buy a star map to catch some older star homes.

WESTWOOD (further West)

Westwood Village is UCLA – a sprawling yet beautiful campus which houses the Anderson School of Business and the world famous UCLA Medical Center.  The charming Westwood Village shopping and business district in front of the campus is full of restaurants and shopping, theatres, and the expected student friendly shops and venues.   Westwood is also home to the Armand Hammer Museum of Art, which houses Armand Hammer's collection, including Rembrandt's JUNO and the works of several French Impressionists.   Marilyn Monroe is entombed amongst hundreds of war veterans in the mausoleum at the Westwood Cemetery, not far from the corner of Westwood and Wilshire Boulevards.

BEL AIR/HOLMBY HILLS

North of Westwood is Bel Air and Holmby Hills (where the Playboy Mansion is). You can’t see much from the street, but a short drive into the maze of hills will reveal multi-million dollar mansions, several of which are gated off from the street.

BRENTWOOD

Brentwood sits just across the 405 Freeway from Bel Air, and is traversed by Sunset Boulevard on it's path to the beach.  The most important feature is the Getty Museum complex which sits on an acropolis on the side of the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking West Los Angeles.  The museum is easily accessed from Sepulveda Boulevard, either by bus, by taxi, or by car (parking is available; reservations are no longer required).  The museum complex is a masterpiece of modern architecture by Richard Meier FAIA.  The museums most notable holdings include one of the best collections of 18th Century French Furniture outside of Paris, Baroque masterpieces, a nice collection of Dutch Masters, a good collection of illuminated manuscripts, one of the most extensive collections of early photography in the world, as well as representational medieval altarpieces, and even one of Van Goghs paintings of Irises.  The Getty institute houses the largest art history library in the world, and is available to researchers upon approval of credentials, and security clearance.

SANTA MONICA

West of the 405 Freeway is Santa Monica, a huge sprawling city itself of immense economic diversity with its own neighborhoods.

For teens and tourists, the mall, the famous Santa Monica Pier and the boardwalk are big draws – for other LA natives – not so much. But natives will tolerate the 3rd Street Promenade, an outdoor mall, as it’s one of the few areas of Santa Monica with nice restaurants, shopping, movies and free parking. For shopping, Santa Monica has little hidden pockets like Montana Avenue and others for those who are willing to venture off the beaten path.  Santa Monica has some world class resorts, spas and hotels near the beach.

VENICE BEACH

South of Santa Monica is Venice Beach/Muscle Beach. It’s not so much a cliché but people who live and hang there are there to play their part in the LA movie of life. It’s something everyone, at some point, should experience. Parking is difficult. Venice also has a nice Farmer’s Market on the weekends with great breakfasts. You can also drive around the canal area to see some excellent Post-Modern homes as well as Frank Gehry’s house – along with his fun design of the ad agency Chiat/Day Mojo on Main Street.  On the weekdays Venice is frequented by one-man shows of all types. You have rappers, musicians and street-magicians all along the boardwalk performing for tips. (You can generally see some of the same acts on the 3rd street promenade in Santa Monica on the weekends.) The boardwalk sports shops as well, sunglasses, convenience stores, tatoo parlors and eateries of many different stripes. There's even a bar, The Venice Bistro, just south of Rose on the boardwalk. There's a nice ambience there where you can watch the passers-by while knocking back a couple of cold ones. (They also have excellent cheese fries.)

MARINA DEL REY

Just south of Venice is the waterfront jewel of Marina del Rey, home to the largest man-made, small boat harbor on the west coast.  Nowhere else in L.A. can you stay closer to the water, dine at some of the finest reaturants, find parks and fitness paths and still be able to take full advantage of the water's proximity.  Tuesdays through Sunday there are public harbor tours; weekends offer harbor dining and dancing cruises. Take in serenic sunset views; enjoy community sailboat races and the romance that the harbor has to offer.  Summer months offer free open-air concerts on Tuesdays (Classical) and Saturdays (POP).  

PACIFIC PALISADES

North of Santa Monica is the luxury coastal residential area called Pacific Palisades.  Though mostly made up of million dollar plus homes there are a few attractions for out of towners.

Will Rogers State Historic Park. In the early 1930s, Will Rogers was the most popular and highest paid actor in Hollywood.  From his start in vaudeville theater with a trick roping act, he rose to world-wide fame as a columnist, philosopher, radio personality, and movie star. During the 1920s, he bought land in Santa Monica, where he developed a ranch.  Eventually, the Rogers’ owned more than 300 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean, in what is now known as Pacific Palisades.  The ranch became the place where Will Rogers could relax with his family and friends, pursuing his favorite pastimes of riding and roping.  At his untimely death in a plane crash in 1935, Will Rogers’ ranch consisted of a 31-room ranch house, a stable, corrals, riding ring, roping arena, polo field, golf course, and hiking trails.  When his widow, Betty, died in 1944, the ranch became a state park.

The Getty Villa Museum has now re-opened, just north of Sunset Boullevard in Malibu on Pacific Coast Highway. Parking is still limited but you do need to call well in advance for parking reservations, however if you go to the website at 9:am the day you wish to visit you may be lucky enough to find a reservation available.  The Getty Villa houses the Getty's ancient Greek and Roman Collections; and is a re-creation of the Villa de Papyri in Herculaneum, including the gardens.  There’s even a bus line there – it’s definitely a half-day event and almost a full day (if your museum visit is brief) but the view on a sunny day is worth it.

MALIBU

Way north of Santa Monica. The beaches are excellent and if you have a convertible, fun to drive through the canyons to hook up with the 101 in Las Virgenes, just West of the San Fernando Valley, but most of the community is hidden from view and it’s mostly residential so if seeing expensive homes is your thing – then pay a visit to Malibu – otherwise, it’s a quaint seaside community with not much to do or really see.   

EL SEGUNDO/HAWTHORNE/TORRANCE (South Bay)

LAX is next to El Segundo and if you enjoy an oil refinery on the beach, here’s your chance to be reminded of what LA needs to put its 10 million cars on the road. Hawthorne is also the new location of the hip Japantown – though it’s not all that touristy and it’s not all in one contiguous clumping, you’ll find great Japanese/Asian shopping and restaurants scattered throughout the area. You can continue along Highway 1, which goes back towards the coast to check out some of the upscale beach communities of MANHATTAN BEACH/HERMOSA BEACH & REDONDO BEACH. If you continue south, you’ll soon enter another very upscale beach town of PALO VERDES and the even more exclusive PALOS VERDES ESTATES – multi million dollar on cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Further south is LONG BEACH – home to the LONG BEACH Grand Prix.

BEACHES

While the movies and TV shows show you differently, once you’re pass the age of high school and definitely college – most people in LA do NOT go to the beaches. During the summer, the only people who tend to go to the beaches (besides boys and girls being boys and girls) are people without pools. Yes, people will jog along the beach in the morning in Malibu but once the sun comes out, the best beaches are pretty sparse.

ORANGE COUNTY

To the locals, ORANGE COUNTY people do not think of themselves as ANGELINOS and vice versa. But of course, to the visitor, it’s just all just one mass of humanity connected in a geographic basin.

ORANGE COUNTY cities (for the most part) are bedroom suburban communities and the upscale communities out number the poor ones probably 10 to 1.

Of course, the most famous city in Orange County is undoubtedly Anaheim with a little tourist destination called DISNEYLAND. There’s not much more that needs to be said about Disneyland except just a few tourist hints. Presuming you have a car, your best bet is to stay at a Disney hotel property – you get extra privileges though their Anaheim hotels are older. If you’re not staying at a Disney hotel – there is NO NEED to stay in Anaheim. Get a map and look around. Disneyland is smack-dab in the middle of a city with grids as streets – you will have zero trouble driving there in the morning as long as you don’t need to get on the freeway so it’s fine to stay in a neighboring city where the same rate might you get a much better hotel. Do NOT think you have to stay in a motel nearby. DISNEYLAND is nothing like DISNEY WORLD in terms of distance. There are also thousands of restaurants in Anaheim and the cities around there – no need to eat at the park for every meal.

DESERT

And for those with much more time, in wintertime, there is the resort community of PALM SPRINGS (also outlet shopping).

In spring or fall, there’s JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL FOREST and YOSEMITE (summer also) and of course for those who have the urge to drive 4 hours (at top speeds :- ), there’s LAS VEGAS (of course, not really California).

TRANSPORTATION

If you’re here for more than a day, you will need a car. Unless you are seasoned Angelino (as local residents are known) visitor, or have a savvy travel agent, there are very, very few parts of the towns I listed above that you walk to. The only taxis are at the airport and at hotels. If you need a taxi, you must call for one. And it can be very expensive since the city is vast. There is a metro system in LA, called the METRO RAIL, which does take you from downtown to parts of Hollywood and up to the Valley. It’s pretty limited but acceptable if you’re downtown and you’re only in town for a day or two.

There is some LIGHT RAIL and many buses but unless you’re savvy, you will save so much more time having your own car.

Not so. You can travel from the airport via the FLYAWAY bus ($3) to Union Station, where you can catch a Gold Line train to Pasadena, or just stay downtown and use the subway to get around. You don't need to be a savvy Angelino to go without a car for a days at a time. Driving means you miss the quaint Mission District in So Pas (train stop), and are forced to endure the parking madness in Old Town Pasadena (two train stops to choose from).

Because LA drivers are used to having thousands of cars at their sides everyday, they are actually pretty good drivers (unless it’s raining). They realize that people sometimes need to merge three lanes because that’s the only exit to the next freeway. Keep in mind that all the freeways essentially merge back up together so don’t panic and yes, there are certain parts you do not want to exit at night – true of almost all big cities. Just carefully map out where you want to go.

Keep in mind that commute hours M-F start at about 5:30 AM and end around 10:30 AM and start back up at 2:30 PM to 7:30/8:00 PM. So plan carefully what you want to do and where you want to go. In almost all cases, there’s really no such thing as a “reverse commute” anymore but in some spots, you’re okay.

Hint: You can get just about anywhere from the Valley to Orange County on LA's surface streets. And, you get a true sense of the city. It is highly recommended by this Angeleno!

DRIVING

With the above in mind you might want to know that Los Angeles is the ultimate car city.  There are a few sayings out there describing how  Angelinos and southern Californians in general, are obsessed with the automobile.  They say in L.A. there are only two methods of transportation: car and ambulance.  Well, we can say that there are a few others as well but we can establish with certainty that Los Angeles is the home to the biggest amount of cars ever imagined a 100 years ago when the car was to be a toy-for-show for the very wealthy.   L.A. is made up of freeways; they cover the entire sprawling mess of a metropolis.  On a normal business day, about 12 million cars move around the L.A. metro area- no other urban area in the world matches this phenomenon which contributes to a variety of things from excess pollution to beautiful sunsets.

But for those who are adventurous enough and have the time and want to see more of LA, there is nothing better than driving through large parts of it to get a flavor of the city.

MULHOLLAND

A street that runs on the top of the LA mountain range – on one side – LA, the other side, the San Fernando Valley. You can drive it during the day and later at night to see the sky (if it’s clear) and the bright lights of both “cities” below. It’s best to travel in a westerly direction. As you past West Hollywood, it starts to become almost rural – drive that part during the day, as it can be treacherous at night.

MELROSE or SUNSET BLVD

For those who want to genuflect on the city that is LA. Start in the “poor” part of town in the SILVER LAKE (currently experiencing a resurgence) area and go west on either street and watch as the city and the street becomes richer and richer. Melrose is the shorter drive. If you keep going on Sunset, eventually you wind up near Malibu.

HIGHWAY 1

Both daytime drives - The best drive is to either go south from Newport to San Diego or north from Santa Monica to Highway 23 which can then take you through the LA mountains (you’ll be amazed this FOREST is only 15 minutes away from 20 million people) until it reaches the 101 and you can loop back east towards “civilization.”

AIRPORTS
 
Los Angeles & Orange County (OC) are served by five airports: LAX, Burbank, Orange County (John Wayne Airport), Ontario, and Long Beach. www.lawa.org, http://www.ocair.com

LAX is the international airport and gets the most domestic long distance flights so you may not be able to avoid it. It’s like every other major US airport. Lots of carriers but also lots of people and maze to get a rental car and exit the airport. If you’re here in the US and your preferred destination is LA, if you can – Burbank is a great airport and much easier to get in and out of than LAX. It’s really only about 15 minutes from downtown (most people forget that). SOUTHWEST AIRLINES has a lot of Burbank flights.

LONG BEACH & ORANGE COUNTY because of sound restrictions have much more limited flights and tend to cost more. Long Beach airport is only about 15 miles south of LAX & 20 miles north of OC Airport (John Wayne Airport). So it’s not a bad way to go if Disneyland/OC is where you’re headed. Don’t dismiss it straight away.


OC Airport is a mini LAX. With sound restrictions, not a lot of flights so it tends to cost more to fly directly to OC Airport plus there are lot of corporations near the airport so fares are more business oriented. Geographically, I think Long Beach airport is actually closer to Disneyland than the OC airport though people naturally presume you should land in the same county where you are going. So, don’t feel you have to fly to OC Airport.

Ontario is only a good choice if a) you intend to stay in the “Inland Empire” area or b) you’re landing and leaving on a weekend. Traffic to and from Ontario during M-F is a nightmare in hell on a hot day. It’s really only about 40 miles from downtown LA but it can be a 2-3 hour drive during commute times. So, if you must land on a weekday, land and be out of the airport after 10:30 AM and your flight must leave in the morning or at the latest 2:00 PM … unless you enjoy a 3-hour 40-mile drive.

LA (and OC) is the great American city of the 21st century. It’s is built on dreams and the dream factory. In some places, it is miles wide and only an inch deep, but sometimes, a little fantasy is a good thing. Have fun! 

WEATHER

LA tends to confuse people because it can get up to 80-85 degrees in the middle of winter so people presume summers must be blazing - strangely enough, it's not that much hotter during the summer. Maybe up to 80 on average and up to 95 degrees on average during most heat waves - in fact, during most years, I'll bet New York gets more 100+ days than Los Angeles ... and rarely is it ever humid.

It's not that smoggy anymore ... okay, most of it is blown and settles in RIVERSIDE COUNTY (east of LA) but in LA, it's quite nice now. The beaches tend to be a few degrees cooler and with a breeze but not a huge difference, unlike SF. About the only way to really tell is that it cools down much faster at night during winter so between November and March 1, bring a sweatshirt if you're near the beaches - otherwise, you can pretty much see why people move to LA and never leave.

Part or or all of this text stems from the original article at: www.visitmarina.com

Contributors

February 09, 2007 change by rfujitani (3 points)

September 03, 2006 change by jjxxviii (2 points)

November 29, 2006 change by jhyatt (1 point)

April 10, 2009 change by travelnut23 (1 point)

May 20, 2008 change by mcburton

May 21, 2008 change by juco

February 19, 2006 change by hemphillbrett

March 09, 2007 change by giorgio

May 12, 2008 change by marinagal

November 17, 2009 change by godofthunder1982

December 20, 2007 change by karrychang

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