Los Angeles, also known as L.A. or the City of Angels, is without a doubt the biggest and most populated city in California. As such, it should come as no shock that this huge metropolis offers visitors much to see and do, with several districts containing sightseeing, restaurants, nightlife and accommodations galore.
Metropolitan L.A. is home to over 17 million people from all over the world, making it the second most populated city in the United States, with parts of the city spread over Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Bernardino County, Riverside County, and Ventura County. For this reason, Los Angeles serves as an important culture center and business, media, and international trade hub. Specifically, it is the center of the television, motion picture and recording industries. It goes without saying that the city is sprawling. Driving through it north to south, from the Sylmar district to the Port of Los Angeles, can take close to an hour and a half or longer once traffic is factored in. Furthermore, the L.A. metropolitan area includes several smaller cities, such as Anaheim, Burbank, Long Beach, Pasadena, Riverside and Santa Monica, which are worth visiting in their own right.
Outside the city, L.A. has much for visitors to behold as well, as it is surrounded by massive mountain ranges, sprawling forests, beautiful Pacific beaches, and nearby desert.
Districts of L.A.
To further describe Los Angeles, the city can be broken down into several districts, which are as follows: Downtown, Eastside, Harbor Area, Hollywood, San Fernando Valley, South Central, Westside, and Wilshire.
As far as areas visitors may want to see, Downtown tops the list as L.A.’s central business district and home to the Grand Avenue cultural corridor, which is filled with trendy hotels, bars, shops and restaurants. Equally funky is Eastside, located just north of Downtown and east of Hollywood. Next is Harbor Area, home of the United States’ largest seaport and a launching point for trips to Catalina Island, another must-see. Hollywood is world-famous as the place where movies are made, and the San Fernando Valley is the suburban area where those who make the movies live, with the more prosperous movie-makers living in Westside, an affluent area within the city limits. Then there is Wilshire, home to the city’s historic architecture, in the form of the Miracle Mile District, as well as the Farmer’s Market and The Grove shopping areas, Koreatown, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CBS Television City, and the famed La Brea Tar Pits.
As large as Los Angeles is, it is equally as diverse, with an immigrant population that equals roughly half the city’s population as a whole. Some groups are more prevalent than others. For instance, it has the third largest Mexican population in the world, behind Mexico City and Guadalajara, both in Mexico, and it is home to roughly a dozen other large immigrant populations, each with their own enclave neighborhoods containing restaurants, shops, and places of worship just waiting to be seen. Some of the more prominent of these areas include Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Tokyo, Little Osaka, Thai Town, Historic Filipinotown, Little Armenia, Little Ethiopia, and Persian Square. Additionally, there are also a multitude of gay-friendly areas, which include West Hollywood, Silver Lake and parts of Westside.
While English is the dominant language in Los Angeles, Spanish is also widely spoken, and is good to know when visiting, as L.A. has one of the largest Spanish-speaking populations in the world, with many business signs and billboards in some parts printed in both English and Spanish. Many other languages are widely spoken in L.A. as well, such as Armenian, Chinese (both Cantonese and Mandarin), Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Russian, and Vietnamese.
With all of this diversity and culture, it’s no wonder L.A. has many historic and cultural sites for tourists to behold, starting with Olvera Street. As the historic center of Los Angeles, Olvera Street is a site worth seeing. It gets its name from the pueblo established there, and contains the city’s oldest building, which is open to visitors. Next on the list is the Japanese American National Museum, which opened in 1992 in Little Tokyo. The Getty Center, also called the J. Paul Getty Museum, is well worth a visit as well, as it provides spectacular views of the Santa Monica mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and the area’s beautiful buildings and breathtaking rose gardens. This museum, widely regarded as the finest in the country, also offers an extensive art collection that one would not want to miss.
If modern art is your thing, be sure to check out the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). It has two branches Downtown, in addition to another at the Pacific Design Center on Melrose Avenue, all of which feature rotating exhibits. To see more traditional art styles, visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Since its inception in 1965, LACMA has collected art works that span both history and geography while representing Los Angeles’ uniquely diverse population. As such, it features collections of Asian, Latin American, American, and European art, in addition to a new contemporary art museum on its campus, BCAM, for a total of 100,000 works.
For a look back at L.A.’s ancient history, check out the Page Museum at La Brea Discoveries, the site of paleontological excavations of saber-tooth cats, mastodons, giant sloths, bison, Dire wolves, the American lion, camels, and horses. The on-going site of excavations from the tar pits, Rancho La Brea is one of the world’s most famous fossil locations, known for having the largest and most diverse collection of extinct Ice Age plants and animals in the world. Visitors can learn about how Los Angeles was between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago while watching volunteers dig up bones every summer. For a taste of more recent history, check out the Japanese American National Museum, which covers the Japanese American experience with a special emphasis on the concentration camps of World War II.
Last but not least is the Museum of Tolerance, (MOT), a multimedia experience designed to examine racism and prejudice in the United States and worldwide. Sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, it focuses mainly on the history of the Holocaust.
Parks and Recreation
For outdoor lovers, the City of Angels has much to offer as well, starting with Griffith Park, a former ostrich farm that is now the second largest park within a city. As such, it makes a great place for picnics, hiking or just relaxing in the sun. The hiking trails lead up to Mulholland Drive, which provides fantastic views of the city. For those traveling with children, Griffith Park offers several options, such as the L.A. Zoo, the Autry western museum, pony rides, and Travel Town, a free exhibition of old and model trains with trains rides for children. Entertainment options for adults include a golf course, a driving range, horseback riding, The (Space) Observatory, and a Christmas light drive in December.
Speaking of Mulholland Drive, this famous road is worth a drive, as it is the setting for many a Hollywood rom-com and first kiss, and provides great views of the city.
Next on the list is Exposition Park, a former agricultural park turned exposition and armory in 1909. It now houses a history and art museum. Also located in the Exposition Park area is the newly-opened Grand Park, an integral part of Downtown redevelopment.
For concerts and conventions, L.A. offers plenty of venues. These include the Hollywood Bowl, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live, the Staples Center, the L.A. Convention Center, and the L.A. Fair, which offers a taste of rural and fun attractions for the whole family.
Pro sports fans will happy to hear that L.A. has many teams and arenas to watch them play. These include the L.A. Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, the L.A. Lakers, the L.A. Clippers, the L.A. Kings, an NHL team; the L.A. Sparks, a women’s basketball team; and baseball’s L.A. Angels. Hockey’s Anaheim Ducks play nearby, and the city’s two soccer teams, Chivas USA and the L.A. Galaxy, which features British soccer star David Beckham and USA World Cup star Landon Donovan, play at the Home Depot Center in Carson.
Shopaholics will love the fact that Los Angeles has a plethora of stores of all types to feed their addictions. The city is well-known for its diverse and unique shopping destinations, starting with shopping malls such as the Hollywood & Highland mall, a popular place to gaze at the Walk of Fame and Mann’s Chinese Theater; the Grove, located near Farmers’ Market; Westside Pavilion, Westfield Century City, and the Beverly Center, a multilevel mall with a great view of L.A. from its food court.
For boutique shopping, check out Larchmont Boulevard, which caters to the wealthy residents of Hancock Park, and Melrose Avenue, which offers high-end stores and celebrity presence. For more affordable merchandise, check out Broadway in Downtown, which caters to the region’s many working-class Latinos and offers a lot of brand name merchandise at discounted prices.
As a matter of fact, when shopping for a particular product, Downtown is the place to be, as there are entire districts in the area dedicated to one type of item alone, i.e. flowers from the Flower District, art in Gallery Row or the Artist District.
After a hard day of shopping, one might be famished for a good meal. Not to fret, as the Los Angeles area is one of the best places in the U.S. for food, where one can find anything one craves, from traditional American diner culture, such as Mel’s Drive-In in West Hollywood, to organic cafes, cheap taco trucks, elegant eateries and everything in between, including authentic cuisine that represents the cultures of the city’s many immigrants, now also available in vegetarian and vegan options. Other dietary restrictions are also catered to in L.A., as Jewish Chinese food and kosher Mexican or Italian food are all not difficult to find in the predominantly Jewish parts of Pico Boulevard.
The newest arrivals on the L.A. food scene are the gourmet food trucks, some of which serve high quality food, i.e. Grill Em All, which serves gourmet hamburgers; Nom Nom, which serves Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches; Kogi, which serves Korean-inspired tacos and burritos; and Manila Machine, which serves Filipino food.
The neighboring cities of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood also offer numerous dining options. And if you go during the right time of year, you can indulge in a selection of specially priced three-course menus from L.A.’s best eateries during the dineL.A. Restaurant Week, a two week dining extravaganza.
For an after-dinner nightcap, L.A. has a plethora of bars and lounges to pick from, the nicest being located in area hotels, or on Sunset Strip. Some of the more popular upscale nightspots include Chateau Marmont, Skybar at The Mondrian, Tower Bar at the Sunset Tower, and The Rooftop Bar at The Standard. In general, Hollywood and the Sunset Strip are considered the nightlife centers of L.A., although Downtown also has some popular nightlife offerings, such as The Golden Gopher, The Edison and the bars and clubs at L.A. LIVE, most of which close at 2 a.m., with last call at 1:30 or 1:45 a.m.