New York may be the city so nice they named it twice, but west coast rival Los Angeles enjoys more nicknames than a cranky NY cab driver could shake their fist at. The City of Angels, La La Land, Tinseltown, Plastic Fantastic, City of Flowers and Sunshine, even The Big Orange… LA has had many a moniker bestowed upon it over the years. What can this Californian cultural hotspot offer a visitor beyond Hollywood glamour?
While we now know it as the pop culture capital of the western world, the City of Angels has a rich and varied history. Mexicans largely populated LA in the early 19th Century (hence the aforementioned nickname – Angeles is the Spanish word for Angels), but following the Mexican-American war, California was incorporated into the USA in 1850 – including Los Angeles.
Exportation of oil and citrus fruits put LA on the map in the late 1800s, but along with a surprising impact on the aviation industry, it was the birth of the movie business as we know it in 1908 that really made the city. Ever since the famous Hollywood sign was turned on in 1923, visitors from all over the world have flocked to LA to sample some of the glitz and glamour for themselves.
The LA skyline is famously dominated by smog, but the city enjoys a subtropical climate all year around. This is California, after all. Summer in LA is usually warm at worst, and often very hot, especially from July to September.
Winters do not suffer the snowfall that we associate with east coast cities, but temperatures do drop somewhat, and rain is fairly common. However, thermometers virtually never reach freezing in LA, so the city remains a warm weather retreat for the most part.
Where to Stay
The Bates Motel set is still standing in Hollywood, but the experience of previous guests suggests it may be safer to look for alternative accommodation. Downtown is the cheapest district, but don’t be fooled by the name; this isn’t the centre of the city. There are plenty of fine eateries in downtown LA, but it’s primarily a business district, and the furthest possible spot from the beach.
Hollywood and West Hollywood are ideal if you are visiting with family as they are safe by day and night, and also useful if you do not have wheels – LA’s limited public transport options are most prominent in these regions, and they should station you within walking distance of many tourist attractions.
Beverly Hills is also great for families, but further from Hollywood and less accessible without a car. Public transport does run in this area, but not too frequently. Beverly Hills is also the sleepiest part of LA by night – the lights largely go out by the time the sun goes down.
Santa Monica and Marina Del Ray are gorgeous beach districts, but pretty far from Hollywood and home to very little public transport. Try to avoid Venice Beach, as this is one of the more dangerous areas in the city by night.
As you may have gathered from the instructions above, you’re going to need to hire a car to really get the best out of your time in LA. The city is not pedestrian-friendly, and fairly spaced out.
That said, driving in LA is no picnic – the infamous 405 freeway is regularly backed up, and the average LA commuter spends up to 95 hours each year waiting in traffic.
Thankfully, the public transport options are improving. Trains and buses are available, especially in the heart of Hollywood, but the further out you go the less frequent the options become, and you may have to change two or three times to reach your destination. Plan your visit carefully in advance, and make sure you base yourself somewhere it will be easy enough to achieve all your targeted tourist locations.
Culture and Attractions
Whether you’re looking for shopping, museums, theme parks, beaches or waterparks, LA has you covered.
There are dozens of museums in the city, albeit well spread out. Notable among these attractions are the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center and the Heritage Square Museum. If you’re on a family holiday there are countless parks and beaches to choose from, as well as three zoos and two aquariums. Of course, there’s also Hollywood.
Whether it’s snapping yourself sitting within the famous sign in the Hollywood Hills, taking a stroll down the Walk of Fame and star-spotting, taking in the attractions at fabled theme parks such as Disneyland and Universal Studios, taking a seat on a bus to view the homes of the stars or touring the countless movie and television studios while the latest blockbusters and must-see series’ are being filmed, LA is truly a wonderland for any screen junkie.
If you can’t bear another movie-related activity, LA also caters for music and sports fans. Famous venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, Staples Center, Hollywood Palladium, Viper Room and Rainbow Bar and Grill attract huge concerts, sporting and entertainment events such as WWE wrestling, and any number of famous faces looking to eat and drink.
The aforementioned Staples Center also hosts home games for the city’s basketball teams, The Clippers and The Lakers, as well as women’s team The Sparks. The Clippers and Lakers share an intense rivalry despite the latter being significantly more successful, so tread carefully if a local asks which team you follow!
LA Galaxy is the most star-studded franchise in America’s fledgling soccer league, having boasted names like David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Robbie Keane among their ranks, and the Dodger Stadium is host to six-time World Series baseball champions the LA Dodgers. If watching men fumble with odd-shaped balls if more your thing, head to the Memorial Coliseum to take in the LA Rams, a well-travelled franchise that relocated to the city for the 2016 NFL season. LA also boasts two professional Ice Hockey teams, the Kings and the Ducks.
Many major American cities are fiercely protective of their culinary trademarks, and nobody would dare suggest that LA could dream of matching New York or Chicago for quality pizza, but there are a number of foods that the city prides itself upon.
You’ve doubtless heard of LA’s famous tacos, but local city Pasadena claims to have invented the cheeseburger, and you’ll find no shortage of purveyors throughout the City of Angels. LA also has a substantial Japanese community, ensuring that excellent ramen is often available, especially in the western district of Little Osaka.
Thai food is also increasingly popular, and street food is becoming more and more prevalent. Especially those delicious tacos.