Thanks to the Beach Boys harmonizing about California girls, beach party movies of the’60s and TV shows like Baywatch, many people think of Los Angeles as palm trees, endless beaches and bikini-clad women. But LA is much more complex. It’s a mixture of the old and new, from cuisines to culture to ideas. The creativity and diversity of the region are reflected in the over 100 museums dedicated to the odd to the divine, vibrant global street art community and constant evolution of the food scene.
Los Angeles County: A place for dreams and reinvention
The City of Los Angeles is also the land of reinvention. Henry Rollins—journalist, punk legend, radio host, spoken word artist and actor—once remarked, “For me, returning to Los Angeles annihilates the memories of where I’ve just been by having an astonishing speed.” Los Angeles County attracts seekers, dreamers, hustlers and wannabe actors/screenwriters/directors. Most come from somewhere else and are looking for something better. A persistent optimism and self-expressiveness permeate the air.
History of Los Angeles
Los Angeles County is one of the original counties of California, created at the time of statehood in 1850. The county originally included parts of what are now Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties. As the population increased, sections were split off to organize San Bernardino County in 1853, Kern County in 1866, and Orange County in 1889.
The Nation’s Largest County
As probably the most populous county in the nation, with over 10 million residents, Los Angeles County comprises 88 cities with an increase of than 100 languages spoken within its 4,084 square miles. The county is larger compared to states of Rhode Island and Delaware.
The entertainment industry is a built-in the main local economy, annually contributing $47 billion to the region. For decades, the name Hollywood has been synonymous with the movie business, but today, most studios have moved into neighboring suburbs such as for instance Burbank and Culver City.
A few of the better-known areas in LA County aren’t even cities but rather districts or neighborhoods within Los Angeles, such as for instance Hollywood, Silver Lake and Venice. In comparison, Beverly Hills, home to probably the most expensive residences in the world, and West Hollywood, a diverse mélange of gays, Russians and musicians, are cities but completely surrounded by the town of Los Angeles.
Seventy miles of beaches run along LA County’s southwest border. Malibu, an exclusive seaside community, has some of the very most beautiful beaches in the area. To the north of the town of LA, hikers and mountain climbers can explore trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. To the east, the San Gabriel Mountains rise up to more than 10,000 feet above sea level.
City & Town
Los Angeles, the 2nd largest city in the nation, dominates the county. Writer Dorothy Parker once quipped, “Los Angeles is 72 suburbs in search of a city.” Now, well over 100 neighborhoods in LA form a rich cultural stew. Meander around downtown LA’s Chinatown, Little Tokyo, the Art and Fashion Districts, the Latino enclaves around Echo Park, Hollywood’s Laurel Canyon, Little Armenia, Thai Town or Melrose District where hipsters shop.
When in LA, do since the celebs do and start the afternoon in downward dog at Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga studio in Santa Monica. Go shopping at Fred Segal, an LA institution noted for cult beauty and makeup brands. Need an outfit for an awards show? Head to Decades on Melrose Avenue, a couture vintage store where many stylists choose red-carpet gowns because of their star clients.
Hungry? Eat at The Ivy, a Beverly Hills institution noted for its casual chic atmosphere and the steady flow of celebrities lunching there. Or chow down on a Chili dog at Pink’s in Hollywood. Watch an LA Lakers basketball game at the Staples Center and see stars on the court and in the stands. End the afternoon sipping a cocktail at Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, where celebrities meet their agents and studio execs.
Conceived originally being an outdoor billboard promoting a housing development called “Hollywoodland” in 1923, the Hollywood sign sits on the south side of Mount Lee and Griffith Park—long a symbol that this can be a place where dreams can come true.
The first movie studio, the Nestor Motion Picture Company, opened in the fall of 1911 in Hollywood on the northwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street. It had been absorbed by the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, which later became Universal Studios. By the 1920s, 80 percent of the world’s films were shot in California.
Learn more about Tinsel Town’s history, and experience its memorabilia at The Hollywood Museum. Or take part in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences events and get swept up in the pre-Oscar buzz.
The Great Outdoors
Despite its car culture rap, Los Angeles County offers lots of outdoor activities. Rent a bike along the Santa Monica Pier and ride down the path that parallels the ocean, through Venice and on to Marina del Rey before doubling back. Pack a picnic lunch and hike Echo Mountain in Altadena or the Arroyo Seco trail system in the San Gabriel Mountains. Sign up for rock-climbing instruction, take a surfing or stand-up paddle boarding lesson from one of the many surfing centers in Santa Monica.
Explore the county’s many and varied beaches, from the iconic to the little known, but bring a sweater. In the summer, moist marine air is pulled inland and forms a misty cover till it burns off by the afternoon. Start in Malibu and show your stuff at the iconic “Surfrider Beach” at Malibu Lagoon State Beach and explore tide pools and caves at Leo Carrillo State Park. Perhaps watch filming in progress at Malibu’s Point Dume State Beach, often featured in movies such as the Iron Man series (2008-2013), and it appeared in the last scene of Planet of the Apes (1968). Or look out for California gray whales during their migration from December to mid April. Next, wind your way down through Topanga Beach and stop over for a volleyball game at Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades. Then hop over to Venice and the Strand on Manhattan Beach to people-watch.
Check out fossils of saber-toothed cats and mammoths that roamed the LA Basin during the Ice Age at the Page Museum at the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits. Or if the kids are tired of trying to spot stars on the ground, take them to the Griffith Observatory. Featured in many movies including Rebel Without a Cause (1955), the observatory is set on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, with a view of the Hollywood sign and greater LA below. In addition to visiting the exhibits and events held Tuesday through Sunday at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium and Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater, go enjoy the monthly, free public star parties held at the Observatory from 2:00 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. Budding astronomers and their families are encouraged to try out different telescopes and talk to amateur astronomers about the sun, moon and planets.
Or for something different, head to Long Beach and tour the Queen Mary, a retired ocean liner that sailed on the North Atlantic from 1936 to 1967 and is now a hotel, historical landmark and entertainment venue.
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