For many it’s a real-life movie set.
Cruising the Sunset Strip. Driving past the intersection of Hollywood and Vine. Stopping at Mann’s Chinese Theater. Seeing Rodeo Drive.
Palm trees the size of skyscrapers. Celebrity’s names imbedded in a sidewalk. Beautiful lifeguards patrolling the beaches.
The Los Angeles Dodgers. The Lakers. Dodger Stadium. The Coliseum. The Rose Bowl. The Olympics. Universal Studios. Disneyland. Endless Summer.
Is this all real, or does Los Angeles need to pinch itself?
L.A. likes to dress herself up for the benefit of others. When the world is watching, she has her hair perfected in a Beverly Hills salon, puts on her most elegant cocktail dress and accents everything with stunning jewelry.
This is the image she likes to present, which is why she spotlights her celebrities at movie screenings, award shows and sporting events.
Yet behind all this polish sits a city less bathed in celebrity sunshine. Like every major metropolis, L.A. has its share of problems. It’s just that here, people cover them up for the outside world and act as if they don’t exist.
Critics claim L.A. to be too plastic, too superficial. It is (as are some of the people’s body parts). But so what? The problems are largely issues for the locals and, well, let them be the ones to deal with it.
Is everyone “beautiful” here? Well hardly, but it seems that way. Just turn on the TV and check out LA’s Hottest Weather Girls.
This is, after all, a City of Angels.
Celebrities In LA!
Yes, they are here. Movie stars, TV personalities, sports figures, power agents and studio directors are as much a part of the landscape as the Hollywood sign.
Problem is, celebrities tend to hide like bugs, so seeing them is hit or miss at best.
Occasionally, they wander down Rodeo Drive on one of their high-priced shopping sprees or get dinner at a place like the Ivy in Santa Monica. Infrequently, they show up at bars when the general public is there but are hidden in the VIP room by management.
They also cruise the beach in Santa Monica, the Sunset Strip, Melrose Ave, the Improve on Monday nights, occasionally Hollywood Blvd. (admiring their star on the Walk of Fame perhaps), and turn up in some of the most unlikely places, like the sawdust-covered Chez Jayz by the Santa Monica pier or Patrick’s Roadhouse on Pacific Coast Highway just south of Malibu. (Tourist note: the TV show “Baywatch” was filmed just north of Patrick’s.)
It’s often possible to stumble into a photo shoot or an actual movie being filmed on a street.
These occur on a regular basis all over and while it’s impossible to know when and where, they are usually good for one or more celebrity sightings.
One place they are guaranteed NOT to be seen is on the route of any of the “Maps of the Stars Homes” sold up and down Sunset Blvd. Despite the reassuring words of the persistent sales people, these maps are years out of date and offer nothing more than a pleasant drive around some of Los Angeles’ finest neighborhoods.
Another option is to attend a TV show taping. Ones seeking audiences pass out invitations on Venice Beach. Others, like The Tonight Show, require standing in line outside the studio (arrive by 2 and note the NBC Studios are in Burbank, not Hollywood).
Finally, what you see is maybe not what you get. LA is full of celebrity look-alikes, who make a living pretty much living as a star.
The Neighborhoods & Nightlife In L.A.
Hip dance clubs are a big part of L.A.’s diverse nightlife.
From beach bars to fetish clubs. It’s all here in L.A.
One of the city’s greatest attributes is its diversity. It is possible to see a name band one night, hang out in Johnny Depp’s pad the next and sit in a beachside dive the following evening.
This makes the bar scene more confusing than the freeways. The pubs and clubs in Los Angeles number into the thousands. Some are tiny neighborhood haunts while others are massive dance clubs. There are theme bars, restaurant/bars, sports bars, upscale and downscale pool bars, jazz clubs, large and small band venues, Irish and English pubs, Mexican cantinas and French cafes.
Navigating through this maze requires identifying what type of club suits an individual’s tastes.
For hard-core partiers, the South Bay is the place to go. The beachside bars in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach are full of the sunburned and thirsty, all soaking up the cheapest cocktails in Los Angeles.
For rock bands, the Sunset Strip is unparalleled.
Hollywood is the spot for dancing in the mega clubs, yet it also houses some of Los Angeles’ hidden haunts. The “blacked-up” crowd favors the “in” spots on the Sunset Strip, plus a few places in Santa Monica and Hollywood.
Santa Monica offers a combination of it all, kind of a one-stop-shopping spot for bars.
There are other places to find a crowd, of, course. The Mayan, a massive dance club with elevated cages, is located in downtown Los Angeles. Sagebrush Cantina, a Valley and Hollywood favorite on Sunday afternoons, is in the remote area of Calabasas (home of Justin Bieber tho it’s best to avoid him; once, I took a seat on a beach in Hermosa Beach and his bodyguard told me to move because Bieber wanted to sit there. I told him to sit on it if you know what I mean).
Many tourists wind up wandering Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. This is a pleasant way to spend an evening and it has a good combination of cool pubs and hot clubs.
Other than the beaches of Orange County and the South Bay, Los Angeles is largely a night scene, most people going out after 10. Drink ’em if you got ’em is 2 a.m.
There is no smoking inside any of the bars, or even restaurants. Smokers must go outside to take a puff, which accounts for the groups of people gathered on the sidewalks.
Arrival and Orientation In L.A.
Seen in hundreds of movies and on TV shows, LAX is the gateway to the city.
Coming to LaLa Land is not as simple as arriving at the airport and heading into the city. In fact, there is hardly a city in which to head. Instead, there are 86 communities, each with it’s own personality and crowd. There’s Brentwood and Burbank, Hollywood and Hermosa, El Monte and El Segundo, Long Beach and Laguna Beach, Santa Monica and Santa Ana.
Where to go and how to get there are two major obstacles facing many visitors.
Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX, is the starting point for LA. It’s white-legged landmark, formerly the control tower but now a space-aged restaurant, has been shown in hundreds of movies and is as much a part of the landscape as the Hollywood sign.
It’s a good idea to have accommodations locked up in advance. Getting a room “on the fly” is possible, but can be very time-consuming due to the vastness of the city.
This is a diverse area, and where one chooses to stay could have a direct affect on his/her impression on the city. Those looking for the “Hollywood scene” are best advised to stay in Hollywood, along Wilshire or Sunset Blvd, Santa Monica or, for a seaside treat, Malibu. The Beach Boys-seeking set are better served in the South Bay cities of Manhattan, Hermosa or Redondo beaches or Santa Monica. Marina del Rey is a convenient midpoint.
The L.A. Freeways
The most visited landmark in L.A. are its freeways.
For many tourists, the Los Angeles freeways are a live version of Friday the 13th. They are simply a horror.
Five-plus lanes of traffic, sometimes zipping along at 70 mph yet a moment later stopped like at a red light, different freeways coming up every few miles heading off in some other direction and helmet-less motorcyclists flying between the lanes of traffic. “How do Angelenos deal with this every day?” they ask.
One can tell the tourists locals from the locals not just by the car they drive but how they drive. Tourists proceed cautiously at every freeway interchange, have their rental car map unfolded and do a lot of pointing. Locals do not let the fact they are in a car interrupt their intended agenda. They drive with one hand on the wheel, the other on their cell phone with a Thomas Guide – an L.A. street map the size of a mid-sized town’s phone book – in their lap. That’s because they don’t know the location of any street outside of their own area and only figure out how to get there en route. As a result, they are always at least a half-hour late to any appointment. (“Traffic,” they will say when they arrive and everyone will understand and then talk about their own traffic woes.)
Despite this intimidating appearance, the freeway system is remarkably simple to navigate. The 405 – locals designate freeways by their number, not their name such as the San Diego Freeway – bypasses the busy central city and serves as a western perimeter route. The 110 cuts through downtown and the 10 goes east-west from downtown to Santa Monica.
There are several other freeways, but for most visitors they are just a jungle of names and numbers. Locals have no problem taking the 60 to the 605 to the 105 to the 705, but some tourists are so intimidated they don’t stop until they reach Sacramento.
Survival on the freeways requires adhering to a couple of rules. One, stay off the freeways between 7-9 in the morning and 4-7 p.m.. Second, steer clear of the 5, the 705 and the 101 whenever possible; they are nightmares and are assured to get you to your destination with the utmost frustration.
On the other hand, the Pasadena Freeway (the 110; this one is called by its name) from north of downtown into the historic city for which it is named makes for a fantastic afternoon drive. Designed as a scenic route, it was the first freeway in Los Angeles and curves gently through beautiful territory.
Traffic in Los Angeles is often more hype than reality. Locals perpetuate the myth to keep more Midwesterners from moving here. (That being said, see “Sig Alert,” below.)
Never, though, ask more than one Angeleno for directions. You will get as many different answers as people that are asked. This is because everyone has a their own “best way” of getting to the same place which, if actually true, does not explain why so many cars are always stacked up going in the same direction.
Driving In L.A. – The Surface Streets
Simply called “streets” or “city streets” in most other metropolitan areas, here they are “surfacs streets.” They are blessed by some, cursed by others. Some are magical (Sunset Blvd.), some majestic (Mullholland, Pacific Coast Highway), others seemingly never-ending (Sepulveda, which stretches the entire length of the county).
Since a car is a necessity in LA, it’s important to have good music while sitting in all that traffic. On the FM dial, 106.7 is the alternative rock station 100.3 is the dance station, 95.5 is a Southern California tradition playing traditional hard and soft rock and 101.1 cranks oldies rock.
L.A. Public Transportation
Like most American cities, public transportation is virtually nonexistent in Los Angeles and Orange county.
Buses run bizarre zig-zag courses, train travel is limited to basically one east-west and north-south line (downtown to Long Beach) and even getting from a hotel to a transportation spot often requires catching a taxi or calling Uber/Lyft. There is a Metro system of trains, tho good luck figuring it out, tho there is now a line running from downtown Santa Monica (50 minutes on the Expo Line) so at least they are trying. Two lines (not just one, mind you), ends a mile short of the airport. There is a connecting line but in the bizaare way of LA public transportation, it can’t operate until one of the rail lines is open.
Using public transportation to bar-hop is not an option. It’s best to pick one area, say Santa Monica, and do the PubClubbing there all night. Santa Monica does, on the other hand, have a clean and efficient public transportation system called the Big Blue bus, which runs throughout that city and from UCLA in Westwood to LAX.
The Beaches In L.A.
Wide beaches and cool surf make for fun in the Southern California sun.
Endless Summer. Surfer girls. Giget. Surf City.
If any one element best defines the Southern California lifestyle, it is that of the laid-back beach life. Surfing, bikini-clad girls and fun, fun, fun ’till daddy takes the vacation away are here in abundance.
Southern California’s continual sunshine, wide beaches and carefree attitude have spawned a seaside scene where well-tanned and perfectly-shaped people exist to ride the waves, rollerblade up and down the beachside bike path and sweat it out one of the hundreds of beach volleyball courts.
Tourists tend to watch from a distance at Santa Monica and Venice beaches, but the real scene is in locals-heavy South Bay and Orange County. This is where Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo in the north, and Huntington and Newport in the south, hug the Pacific coastline and its residents make full use of the facilities nature has so generously provided.
At night, the beach bars rock in the same laid-back style.
Giget, by the way, does exist and lives in the South Bay.
California sunsets are among the best in the world.
In direct contrast to the sun-drenched activities of the beach are the bright lights of the “Hollywood scene.”
Focused on and around Sunset Blvd., in Hollywood and parts of Santa Monica, this is largely the nocturnal crowd. In other words, they only come out at night.
Suntanning and bike riding along The Strand are replaced by power lunches and gym workouts or sleeping well into the afternoon with the shades drawn in order to rest up for another night out at the clubs. The style depends on the person, either the high-powered movie executive, real estate mongrel, starving actress/model on one scale, or rock band member/fan or novelty store employee on the other side.
Regardless of their income, background or professional aspirations, their dress code is similar. That is to say black, black and more black.
The bars of choice are either classy drinking establishments, rock ‘n roll palaces or dance clubs. Or all of the above.
Don’t Go There – Places To Avoid In L.A. For Safety
While there are some definite places to visit in LA, there are also places to avoid.
East of downtown is high on this list. This is gang-heavy Watts. Carson, Compton, East Long Beach, Inglewood, anywhere along the 105 freeway east of the 405 and on either side of the 110 between downtown and the 105 are to be avoided.
Basically, if there are bars on the windows, it’s a good idea to find your way to the nearest freeway, pronto.
On the average, scientists inform us, Los Angeles experiences hundreds of tiny earth shimmers each day. Unless you are a seismograph needle, however, you will not feel any of them.
In fact, actual shaking tremors are infrequent and while so-called experts have for years predicted “The Big One” will hit and destroy the city that, thankfully, has yet to happen.
Occasionally, a minor tremor does hit the area, though these shake up tourists more than the actual landscape. If the ground at your feet starts to shake yet you witness locals continue to try and order a cappuccino from a waiter, don’t panic. If there is a big jolt, however, follow the stampede to someplace away from falling objects.
The Language, LA-Speak
Not surprisingly, Los Angeles has a language only a local can understand. To help, here are some key words and phrases.
• Dude. Beach in origin. Can mean any number of things, depending on the tone of the word. It could be a greeting, a verbal high-five or a question. Also used to start a statement or question, as in “Dude, can you believe the talent in here tonight!?”
• Freeway. The intricate system of non-toll roadways that traverse Southern California. Called intestates or highways in the rest of America.
• Gridlock. Standstill traffic. Example: “We’re stuck in gridlock.”
• G.U. Geographically Undesirable. Used to describe a place or person more than a half-hour’s drive away.
• Power lunch. Hollywood term to designate a business luncheon, usually with a high-powered studio executive to (hopefully) sign a deal.
• Santa Anas. Warm and powerful desert winds that paralyze inland areas and the Valley and make for hot days and Caribbean-warm nights at the beaches.
• Sepulveda. The longest road in the city and focus of mass confusion for tourists, primarily because they cannot pronounce it and thusly can’t explain to locals when asking for directions. Sometimes becomes fabled Pacific Coast Highway. Proper pronunciation is See-pull-vee-da.
• Sig Alert. Similar to gridlock. Only worse. No one knows the origin of the term, but if you see or hear the words, head in the other direction.
• “That’s about a 4.5.” Locals describing the latest earthquake using a measuring system known as the Richter Scale. Anything below a 6 is nothing to panic about.
• The Valley. Area just north of Los Angeles that basically has a life all its own. Encompasses Burbank, Studio City, Universal City, Van Nuys and other towns. Requires long commutes on the freeway system to reach; as a result, trips to the Valley are infrequent for those living in Los Angeles. In return, Valley people feel the same way about Los Angeles.
The L.A. Weather
Who can argue with sunshine and palm trees (here in Manhattan Beach)?
Let’s just say that roses grow here in January.
For anyone who has experienced the fog of London, the chill of Chicago or the summer heat of New York, Los Angeles will seem like a slice of weather heaven.
The area is bathed in sunshine 325 days a year and the temperature is so moderate locals suffer when it moves outside of the 72-78F range. Nights do cool off considerably, especially in the coastal areas, so a light jacket or sweater is recommended year-round.
Seaside, there is always a cool breeze blowing, even on the warmest of days which, incidentally, rarely exceed 85F degrees. (Inland locations and the valleys in particularly can be quite warm, however, and summer days at Universal Studios or Magic Mountain can be taxing.)
Few visitors are aware of the fact that Los Angeles is a desert. Rain is hardly a thought from April through November.
L.A. Time Zone
Los Angeles is GMT -8.
When to Go – Best Times To Visit L.A.
It’s Endless Summer, right?
Well, almost. The prime months are in the Spring and Summer, although Fall and Winter are pleasant, as well. The “rainy” season runs from mid-January through March, although the actual amount of rain changes on a yearly basis.
The beaches are most crowded in the typical summer months, and the longer days make it a much more active time. About the only month to avoid is June. This is when the warming ocean temperatures mix with the air temperature to create a layer of fog that basically lasts the entire month. This is known locally as “June Gloom.” By July 1, however, it’s a thing of the past.
Next stop on the LA Party Bus: Hollywood!