People either love it or hate it—but no matter what, Los Angeles makes no excuses and changes itself for no one. And you've got to admire that. Made up of dozens of communities, there is not one single experience that can sum up the life and heartbeat of this city. But what can be noted about Los Angeles by both tourists and locals alike is the hustle-and-bustle lifestyle, the vibrant and unique neighborhoods, and the extreme diversity that sets it apart from any other city. From the eternal sunshine and Hollywood glitz to all the small communities with their own distinct cultural personalities, this City of Angels will forever be many things to many people.
While not exactly in the center of town geographically due to the sprawling nature of the city, Downtown Los Angeles is still teeming with activity. There are cultural hotbeds like Olvera Street and Chinatown that are just minutes away from Los Angeles landmarks like the Bank of America Building and the Walt Disney Concert Hall . And if you have a hankering for more art and culture while Downtown, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is a definite must-see.
The big sign just about says it all: Hollywood is glitz, glamor, and unavoidable. While many people are critical of Hollywood, they still can't help but satiate their curiosity by visiting this busy area. The center of things is, without a doubt, Hollywood Boulevard, location of world-famous tourist spots including Grauman's Chinese Theater , the Hollywood Walk of Fame , and the Kodak Theatre where the Oscars are now held annually.
The Miracle Mile/Hancock Park area is another of L.A.'s historical neighborhoods. Here you will find Wilshire Boulevard's Museum Row . The museums are contained within Hancock Park , a small but peaceful oasis in the center of hectic urban activity. To venture into the far distant past, stop by the La Brea Tar Pits ; and to immerse yourself in a famous museum, the LACMA: Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a popular attraction on Miracle Mile.
Ritzy West Hollywood is home to one of the city's most famous (or infamous) attractions: the Sunset Strip . Here you'll find most of the city's hippest clubs frequented by up-and-coming actors and socialites, as well as some of the city's finest hotels and shopping, including the upscale Melrose Avenue Shopping District . West Hollywood is also the center of the city's gay and lesbian community, and it puts on one of the flashiest and most exhilarating annual Halloween parades in the state.
Beverly Hills & the Westside
This world-famous city with its world-famous zip code is synonymous with wealth, status, and celebrity. The understated elegance and grace of the residential neighborhoods are balanced out by Rodeo Drive , which offers some of the finest—and most expensive—shopping in the world.
Santa Monica & Bay Cities
Back in the heyday of Route 66, Santa Monica was the end of the line. Today, this beachfront community offers the best in entertainment for all ages on its famous Santa Monica Pier . You can enjoy some carnival-style food and games or take a ride on the ferris wheel for a breathtaking view of the city and shoreline. When you're ready for some shopping, the active Third Street Promenade has a diverse directory of stores and eateries.
The motto of the coastal community of Malibu is "27 miles of scenic beauty"—and that just about describes it best. The main attraction here is the drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, which takes you past beach after beach on one side of the road and million-dollar hilltop estates on the other. Make sure you have plenty of film and sunscreen. Even at night, the stars just seem brighter.
Venice, just south of Santa Monica, is the city's home to all things eclectic and many things downright bizarre. This small, artsy beach town offers one of the greatest collections of cafes, bars, galleries, antiques and one-of-a-kind shops around. Weekend afternoons on the boardwalk are definitely a memorable experience for any visitor to the city.
San Fernando Valley
On the other side of the Hollywood Hills sits "The Valley," as known by locals. It features a seemingly endless sea of suburban cul-de-sacs, strip malls, funky shops and restaurants. Hollywood makes its presence known in the cities of Burbank and Universal City, which are home to Warner Bros. Studio and Universal Studios . There are two things you can always count on in the Valley: the earthquakes always feel stronger, and the temperature is always 10 degrees hotter.
South Central & Compton
Although the South Central neighborhood of Crenshaw gained worldwide publicity as the center of the infamous 1992 riots, this area is rich in history and culture. South Central is also home to famous Los Angeles landmarks such as the Watts Towers , the historic Shrine Auditorium , and Exposition Park . Within the famed Exposition Park is the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum , the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County , the California Science Center , and the IMAX California Science Center . It has also long been a place of culture and diversity, as evidenced by the African American Cultural Center .
Long Beach & the South Bay
Long Beach is a fairly large city in its own right and is a neighbor to the well-known district of Orange County. Aside from a plethora of shopping and dining options, this beach community is perhaps best known for the Queen Mary , a Titanic-esque ocean liner now permanently docked here and open for tours. They also have many outdoor activities for tourists to take advantage of, as well as museums and beaches that all can enjoy.
The South Bay is made up of smaller beach towns and quiet neighborhoods such as Hermosa Beach , Redondo Beach , Manhattan Beach and Palos Verdes Estates.
Pasadena & Points East
Pasadena is one of the most prominent communities in the entire state of California. Old Town Pasadena provides one of the greatest clusters of bars, shops, cafes and restaurants in the entire L.A. area. The city is also known for the Norton Simon Museum , which is the largest collection of art owned by one man, and the Rose Bowl . And every New Year's Day, this not-so-sleepy town becomes the focus of the entire world for the annual Tournament of Roses Parade .
East L.A., as evidenced by its name, forms the eastern edge of the city and is a great example of a neighborhood rich in cultural expression.
LAX & Inglewood
LAX is one of the largest airports in the United States when it comes to the sheer number of people passing through its hallways. The airport is the main feature of the otherwise sleepy, suburban neighborhood of Westchester. This pocket of quiet, tree-lined streets and neighborhood schools and churches is a refreshing oasis in an often-frenetic city.
Inglewood features a wide variety of restaurants, music and sports venues. Here you will find the Hollywood Park Racetrack and The Forum arena, an entertainment hot spot.
When it comes to dining and drinking, anything that one can possibly dream up can be found in Los Angeles. Celebrity-only seating on the West Side is countered by family-style seating in Silverlake, and cuisines from Ethiopian to Polish are all here somewhere. With so many choices and a limited time frame, here are some highlights that should not be missed.
After a prolonged period of economic hardship, downtown L.A. went in for a facelift, replacing the old shabby buildings with new businesses and recreation centers. One of the establishments that helped the downtown comeback is R23 , which quickly gained a reputation for serving unbelievable sushi. Another downtown hot spot is the Water Grill , which offers upscale seafood for the international dining set. If you're looking for a unique and entertaining experience without the sky-high prices, enjoy a meal at Shabu Shabu House Restaurant —a form of Japanese cooking where servers bring out plates of fresh meat, and the customers cook it themselves in hot pots. And for a more casual but earth-shaking good time, check out Epicentre , which is designed to look like a cafe, post-earthquake.
La Cienega & Beverly Hills
When dining in this celebrity "hot zone," be sure to bring your high-limit credit cards and your best evening attire. Some great options include Chaya Brasserie for a legendary mix of Californian, French and Italian, and of course, the world-famous Spago Beverly Hills headed by Wolfgang Puck. La Cienega Boulevard offers L.A.'s famed "Restaurant Row," which features The Stinking Rose for all your garlic desires, and the highly favored Fogo de Chao Churrascaria for some Brazilian fare, and many other local favorites.
Hollywood & Melrose
A small step away from the big money of Beverly Hills, these hot spots offer a warmer and hipper version of the same scene. Musso & Frank's Grill offers American cuisine with Old Hollywood style. Joachim Splichal serves the highest of haute cuisine at Patina , and West Hollywood's Asia de Cuba features Asian-Cuban fusion in a dining room decorated all in white. Also in West Hollywood is perhaps one of the finest Moroccan restaurants in all of Los Angeles, Dar Maghreb , which is more than just dining—it's an unforgettable experience. If you're in the Griffiths Park area near Glendale, have lunch at the Trails Cafe , which serves vegetarian food and has killer pastries. Finally, for lowbrow gastronomic pleasure that should not be missed, wait in line for the oldest Hollywood tradition: a chili cheese dog from Pink's .
Santa Monica, Venice & Malibu
The beachfront neighborhoods of Santa Monica, Venice and Malibu offer the full range of dining options, from earthy-hippie cuisine in Venice to star-studded glamor in Malibu. When not gazing into the deep blue Pacific, be sure to focus your attention on Babalu for down-to-earth Caribbean cuisine, Chez Mimi for one of the most romantic French experiences you will have this side of Paris, and Geoffrey's for fresh cuisine with a heart-stopping view of the California coast. For some of the best coffee in the area, head to Montana Avenue's Cafe Luxxe . Wolfgang Puck's Chinois On Main is a wonderful dinner choice, as well as The Lobster for some delightfully simple but sophisticated seafood dishes.