The greater Los Angeles area is served by six commercial airports and more than 10 private ones. Los Angeles International (LAX) is the largest, with the greatest percentage of international flights. The other local airports are scattered in or near the Los Angeles sprawl; in this city, it's a given that people spend good time on the roads. Depending on one's final destination, it may be more convenient to fly to Long Beach (LGB), John Wayne/Orange County (SNA), Bob Hope/Burbank (BUR), LA/Palmdale (PMD) or LA/Ontario (ONT).
Amtrak stops at Union Station in downtown L.A. There are frequent long-distance connections up and down the west coast (to San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and points in between), as well as service to Texas, New Orleans and Chicago. Metrolink is an extensive regional rail service with a hub at Union Station as well.
Five different bus stations are served by Greyhound, with varying access to connecting services. Private coach bus services shuttle visitors to and from the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego and Las Vegas. Major highways into Los Angeles include Interstates 5, 10 and 15, U.S. Route 101, and California Route 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway).
Compared to other large cities around the world, public transportation in Los Angeles lags behind. Many visitors find that they benefit from renting cars, with large car rental facilities available at the airports. Traffic delays, however, are notoriously extreme, and the intricate system of freeways can be intimidating.
L.A. is working to improve Metro rail, its subway (underground) and light rail (above ground) system, which currently operates on seven different lines. The areas best served by Metro include Downtown, Hollywood, Long Beach, East L.A., Chinatown, Koreatown and Pasadena.
From Union Station in downtown L.A., Metrolink provides regional train service. There are several stops in greater Los Angeles before continuing to the north, south or east (depending on the line).
Los Angeles also has an extensive bus system — some cities within the county operate their own lines, too — but travel by bus can be slow, even before accounting for traffic. To speed up bus travel, Rapid buses make fewer stops and are routed to avoid some of the worst congestion.
Many people come to L.A. to bask in the scene associated with Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Typical stops may include the Hollywood Walk of Fame — where the contributions of actors but also directors, producers, writers, musicians, radio personalities and even fictional characters are immortalized on the sidewalk — and Grauman’s Chinese Theater, a historic cinema in Hollywood where celebrities are invited to etch their names and handprints in the concrete surrounding the entrance. Visitors also often procure tickets to watch a television show being taped; game shows and talk shows are the easiest to come by.
Within easy driving distance are famed amusement parks, some with their own Hollywood connections or hearkening to the area’s agricultural past. Beaches are natural playgrounds and come with their own sports.
Los Angeles offers cultural contributions beyond celluloid, boasting many art museums and top-notch venues for all kinds of music. L.A. also boasts some of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture, which was at its height in the 1920s and 1930s.
An unusual experience in the midst of this bustling town is the La Brea Tar Pits, where thousands of fossilized pre-historic birds, mammals, insects and plants have been uncovered.
Los Angeles serves up an enormous range of food options. Upscale restaurants in every genre, catering to the dealmakers of the entertainment industry, will never go out of style. Vegetarians, vegans and devotees of California cuisine also have hundreds of choices. Eateries capitalizing on the latest food trends make their marks as well — although how long raw foods or macrobiotic cooking will remain en vogue is unclear.
Gourmet food trucks, decked out to cook and travel, snake through the city after posting their locations on real-time, on-line maps (many also keep the public updated via websites and Twitter). The trucks often specialize in one kind of cuisine or even one particular item, and their devotees are hooked on the hybrid of street food and high-end cooking.
Longstanding restaurants in the L.A. community may reach iconic status just by sticking around and providing comfort food — three prime examples are Pink’s Hot Dogs (since 1939), Philippe's (1908) and the In-N-Out burger chain (since 1948).
Due to the large populations of immigrants craving their “home cooking,” Los Angeles has some of the best ethnic food scenes in the United States, usually tucked away in utilitarian storefronts. Newspaper columns, food blogs and internet reviews can help to uncover them.
Because Los Angeles is sprawling, the nightlife scene is far more decentralized than the scenes in other cities. Hotel bars are considered the nicest places to sit and have drinks. The Sunset Strip features several popular hotel bars; others are located downtown. A traditional “pub crawl” is difficult to put together in such a car-focused city, but the “Cahuenga Corridor” in Hollywood brings together many bars within walking distance of each other.
Although Los Angeles is an all-day-all-night kind of place, with many eateries open 24 hours a day, bars must conform to state law and close at 2 a.m.
Hollywood, the Sunset Strip, and downtown L.A. have the best options for clubs. Bar/clubs and lounges are also gaining traction in the Eastside district of Los Angeles (also known as East Los Angeles), comprised of the Echo Lake, MacArthur Park, Silverlake and Los Feliz neighborhoods.
Hostels and short-term apartments are available for the truly budget-conscious. For other visitors, hotel rooms in the Los Angeles area range from basic and inexpensive to sumptuous and posh — at chains and boutique hotels alike.
Hotels usually reflect the character of their neighborhoods: Beverly Hills and Bel Air have luxurious options and the matching price points, including the long-treasured Beverly Wilshire and Hotel Bel Air, respectively. Business travelers usually elect to stay in the downtown area, with favorites including the Millennium Biltmore Hotel Los Angeles, the Kyoto Grand Hotel and Gardens and the Omni Los Angeles Hotel at California Plaza.
Hollywood itself, mirroring the pull this neighborhood has for tourists, fame-seekers, stars and stars-to-be, offers an unusual mélange of super-budget, budget, mid-range and luxury accommodations all in the same district.
Famously shaped like a bowl, Los Angeles lays low on a hilly coastal plain bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the south and west and the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains to the north and east. Sprawling 467 square miles, L.A. is equal in size to about 20 Manhattans or 10 San Franciscos. Known widely as the “King of Sprawl,” the urbanized area of Los Angeles actually has a greater population density than that of New York City—though, admittedly, the size of its urbanized area is only half that of New York’s. And rather than city grit, some of Los Angeles’s densest parts are suburbs. Angelenos depend greatly on their cars, made evident on the traffic-choked Interstate 405. At the turn of the last century, Los Angeles’s population boom had reached a zenith, and it became clear the city’s only water supply—the Los Angeles River—could not support its people. In 1907, thirsty city voters approved a $17 million bond to construct the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a great engineering feat completed in 1913. Powered by gravity and siphons, water rushes 338 miles from the Owens Valley in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. A light rail transportation system was installed around the same time, 1911, though today’s freeways ultimately replaced the system. Millions of cars and other vehicles emit toxic pollution, causing smog to be trapped by neighboring mountains over the city. With one of the worst smog rates in the country, Los Angeles has made marked strides in improving air quality since strict vehicle emission standards were imposed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s. And then there are the earthquakes. Sitting atop a series of faults, Angelenos tremble at the thought of two earthquakes from modern history: the Sylmar Earthquake of 1971, which caused 64 deaths and $500 million in property damage; and the 1994 Northride earthquake in San Fernando Valley. Registering a 6.7 on the Richter scale, the tragedy caused 61 deaths, 6,500 serious injuries, $20 billion in property damage, and the temporary shutdown of the freeway system after major bridges collapsed.
The practically perfect climate of Los Angeles attracted motion picture producers in the early 1920s, just as the industry was taking root. Drawn by L.A.’s sunny year-round disposition and diverse options for filming locations—from ocean beaches to deserts and snowy mountains—producers set up camp in Hollywood and Culver City, to the west and south of L.A.’s center. “The Jazz Singer” was released in 1927, the first talking picture ever made, and on the heels of its success, “talkies” took over the entertainment industry. By the late 1920s, five major and two minor studios had captured the market, including MGM, RKO, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Columbia, and Universal. These seven studios controlled the industry through the 1950s. Ushering in Hollywood’s golden years, aspiring actors/actresses, screenwriters, directors, musicians, set and costume designers, and more creative types all flocked to Hollywood for a piece of movie magic. Hollywood soon became a synonym for the entire industry, and by the 1930s, the town was producing more than 400 films yearly. However, the last decades of the 20th century saw the rise of corporate mergers and the decline of studios. Today, entertainment conglomerates have absorbed the major studios, while thousands of small independent enterprises do business on a film-by-film basis. Paramount Pictures remains the only studio still located in Hollywood; take a guided tour to see its famous back-lot sets. Though Hollywood’s glitter has faded by many regards, a $1-billion revitalization is in full swing. Visitors today can catch a glimmer of old Hollywood in places like Musso & Frank Grill—founded in 1919, it’s Hollywood’s oldest restaurant. Or bask in Hollywood history at the Hollywood & Highland complex, home to the Kodak Theatre and the Academy Awards; visit Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, with its celebrity footprint impressions on the forecourt; and, of course, take a leisurely stroll down Hollywood Boulevard’s storied Walk of Fame.
“California cool” is almost synonymous with Los Angeles. Depending who you ask, the term evokes a L.A.-gear-hued rainbow of possibilities. For some, Los Angeles is a clubby mecca crawling with celebrities and gawkers, a constant dichotomy of “nobodies” and “somebodies.” Others equate the scene with the surf breaks off Malibu, dotted with bikini-clad bods and surfer dudes. Still others soak up the aura of the New Agers, chasing Zen with alternative medicine, herbal remedies, and yoga. And here, where swimsuit season is year-round, fitness is practically a way of life. Most everyone finds at least a little truth behind the skin-deep stereotypes of La-La Land Valley girls—just ask anyone who’s ever cringed through the clueless boardwalk folks questioned by Jay Leno on his popular “Jaywalking” segments. And though Hollywood glitterati rules part of the city’s psyche, much of Los Angeles’s spirit lives and struggles among the layered contrasts of its wildly diverse population. Indeed, anything-goes L.A. can be split along many lines. Notably, its soundtrack consists of almost equal parts English and Spanish speakers. But to free-spirited locals, the meshing of such high diversity is all part of the appeal. Because at the end of the day, the lapping waves of the Pacific Ocean can wash away almost anything in the breezy Los Angeles psyche.