Los Angeles is a city of dichotomies. It is a place revered and hated for its image–the town where the most beautiful people in the world flock to, but with a seemingly ugly personality lurking below the surface. Is it a city that breaks dreams and thrives on the vanity, vapidity, and egotism of its inhabitants or one filled with art, culture, food, and diversity that even this vast metropolis can barely contain. No matter what emotions The City of Angels evokes, it certainly deserves a deeper look.
Los Angeles truly embodies the term “urban sprawl” with a plethora of neighborhood pockets. The scale of the city can be overwhelming and a daunting task to navigate. The freeways are a labyrinth of lanes and Angelenos that don’t measure distance in miles, but the time of travel as affected by rush hour throughout the day. Public transportation is sorrowfully underdeveloped but improvements to the rail system are continually in the works. Each of these neighborhoods offers a unique perspective and experience.
So many tourists head to Hollywood thinking the streets will be lined with gold, and celebrities will be abundantly visible on every corner. Unfortunately, Hollywood is more grunge than glitz and you are more likely to stumble over a bum than an A-lister. West Hollywood has a nicer facade and a very LGBTQ friendly atmosphere. Catching a show at the Whiskey or Roxy is undoubtedly a better idea than a trip around Hollywood and Highland for a true Hollywood outing.
The beach cities reach from Malibu in the north to Manhattan, Redondo, and Hermosa in the South Bay. Malibu feels the most isolated and is unquestionably an expensive and exclusive neighborhood. A day lounging at Zuma Beach and then lunch and shopping at the Malibu Country Mart is a perfect itinerary. Venice and Santa Monica also offer variations of high-priced and high-class living interspersed with a grungy/artsy vibe. The canals in Venice are worth a walk through, as is a trip down Montana Ave. in Santa Monica for more shopping and cafes.
The Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades is also a lovely excursion for both the art and prime location on Pacific Coast Highway overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The South Bay offers fantastic beaches and a fun plethora of bars and restaurants for daytime drinking. Moving inland, Beverly Hills maintains a reputation as a beautiful and well-manicured destination filled with expensive restaurants, shops and cars. The Beverly Hills art show is worth a trip if you happen to be in town on the right weekend.
Downtown is undergoing a bit of a renaissance with numerous galleries, bars and hotels popping up in what many once deemed a cultural wasteland. This area of the city feels like a true downtown business district with skyscrapers, high rises and loft living.
The East Side, including Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and Echo Park, is similarly undergoing a gentrification process. For better or worse, these cities now offer fantastic activities for anyone visiting LA, and is marked by the perennial hipster, found in its largest concentration. Interspersed throughout are fantastic ethnic neighborhoods that should be seen for a true taste of LA’s most delicious and well-priced cuisine. Koreatown, Chinatown, Thaitown and Alvarado Street are all high on the list. Many Angelenos love 2 things more than most, a good hike and a good brunch. Spending time outside in LA year-round is a relished privilege and there is no better way to combine love for sunshine with a local’s obsession for fitness.
Runyon Canyon is the most popular trail for its people and celebrity watching. Unfortunately it is jam packed with people and dogs and parking can be a nightmare. A few better options are Franklin Canyon in Beverly Hills, Solstice Canyon in Malibu, Topanga State Park between Malibu and Calabasas and Griffith Park. After a morning of light but fulfilling exercise, sitting in the sun over food and drinks for a couple of hours is a must here.
Often seen as classless and solely image obsessed, LA conversely offers world-class activities outside of the beach, fitness, shopping and eating. Concert venues including the Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theater are beautiful open air amphitheaters that take advantage of the city’s enviable weather. The Walt Disney Concert Hall is one of Frank Ghery’s seminal designs. The Annenberg Space for Photography is a hidden gem offering free entrance to a fascinating rotation of photography exhibits. The newly opened Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in Beverly Hills also presents a great opportunity for artistic indulgence. Greystone Mansion is a treasure filled with beautiful gardens, ponds and city-wide vistas. Like Greystone, The Huntington in Pasadena is perfect for a day of strolling around gardens, but also offers a library and art collections. The Griffith Observatory is an essential stop for the beautiful views and great classes/lectures in the planetarium.
Museums including LACMA, The Getty, The Museum of Tolerance, MOCA, and Natural History Museum are sure to offer a varied abundance of art, history, and culture that any visitor would crave. Los Angeles is a sprawling epicenter of experiences that reaches far beyond the movie business. It takes a bit of effort to delve deeply into all that the city has to offer but so well worth it.
By: Kate Mayer