The second most populous city in the United States, after New York City, Los Angeles is the unofficial capital city of the West Coast. Claimed by the Spanish in 1542 but not settled until the late 18th century, Los Angeles passed into American hands just over 170 years ago and grew exponentially from then onwards.
Particularly after the beginning of the 20th century, the start of the US film industry in Hollywood, the fame and fortunes of Los Angeles increased even more. Even the Hollywood Sign in the hills north of Hollywood is famous. And that’s just one part of Los Angeles.
Elsewhere, aside from the affluent homes, celebrities’ hand and footprints, and famous faces lurking around town, the greater Los Angeles area is a fascinating and frenetic city to explore. Head west, and you’ll get to the Pacific Coast itself. Famous beaches at Santa Monica and Venice make for a simultaneously lively yet laid-back place to discover.
Map of Los Angeles
1. Hollywood · 2. Downtown · 3. Venice Beach · 4. Santa Monica · 5. Beverly Hills · 6. West Hollywood · 7. Westwood
It’s all these different areas that make liberal Los Angeles what it is – a conglomerate of cultures. LGBT mixes with Hollywood elite; surfers and beach bums mingle with alternative subcultures and cool creatives.
Getting around to see it all in action is easy thanks to a metro system and a vast network of freeways. And though the price tags for places to stay in Los Angeles are pretty high, there are some bargains to be had in the city.
Famous around the world for being the home of cinema, Hollywood has been drawing starry-eyed travelers for decades with its glitzy film premieres and big attractions such as the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theater.
The iconic Hollywood Hills in the north of town are home to the Hollywood Bowl concert venue and Universal Studios. Take a trip to West Hollywood, and you’ll find the stylish Fairfax District with its museums, and the quirky Melrose Trading Post vintage market.
Connected by the 101 Freeway as well the Red Line Metro, and with its location right in the middle of Los Angeles, Hollywood itself is well placed for exploring the rest of the city.
Accommodation in the middle of the neighborhood is surprisingly affordable, with a selection of hostels on offer alongside more high-end options, while the Hollywood Hills are where you’ll find a wide range of five-star hotels – and the iconic Hollywood Sign.
The area of Downtown L.A is amazingly diverse. Set to the southeast of Hollywood, this is where visitors to this sprawling city will find areas like Little Tokyo, with the Japanese American National Museum, the nearby Arts District, and the Fashion District. Even Chinatown with all its incredible eateries can be found just to the north of the Downtown area.
Downtown is well connected, with a number of metro stations and lines serving the area, as well as Union Station – which is perfect for those arriving by Amtrak train services.
It may be a convenient place to stay in Los Angeles, but the hotels here don’t come cheap. However, there are a few budget-friendly hostels in the area. Downtown is also home to El Pueblo de Los Angeles, the site of the original settlement from which Los Angeles grew following its founding in 1781.
Venice Beach is possibly one of the most famous beaches in the world. Merely visiting here is a highlight of seeing Los Angeles.
Just to the north of LA International Airport, and around 15 miles west of the Downtown area, Venice Beach is famous for its namesake – the Venice Canals. These were built in 1905 as part of a plan to develop a “Venice of America.” Today, this historic district is well worth an afternoon stroll.
Elsewhere, you can talk a walk up (or down) the Venice Beach Boardwalk, where you’ll find a multitude of shops and street performers, making for a lively atmosphere. Of course, it wouldn’t be Venice without the world-renowned Muscle Beach, an outdoor gym where oiled bodybuilders lift weights and lounge around.
While there are a few budget-friendly options in Venice Beach, you’re going to find a lot of high-end offerings here, including a few historic B&Bs and boutique hotels.
North of Venice Beach lies Santa Monica, connected by the Expo Line light railway as well as the Big Blue Bus. This cool, classic town is where to head if you enjoy a laid-back life by the sea.
The four-mile long Santa Monica State Beach boasts the bustling Santa Monica Pier right in its center; it’s even got its own amusement park, Pacific Park, complete with attractions for all ages.
The pleasant Palisades Park edges the beach, a grassy fringe of walking trails and cycling courses. Hire bikes from rental shops on the beach and pedal along the paved path known as The Strand, running along the ocean for 22 miles south to the town of Torrance.
Make the most of Santa Monica and stay at one of the many luxury hotels that dot the seafront. There is a selection of shopping opportunities to be found along Montana Avenue, where you can also enjoy long lunches at numerous gourmet restaurants.
Everybody has heard of Beverly Hills; this is truly where the rich and famous of Los Angeles live. One of the smaller districts within the larger, and very affluent, Westside region of the city, Beverly Hills is split into two areas, roughly bisected by the northeast-southwest Santa Monica Boulevard.
To the south is where you’ll find most – if not all – the hotels, luxury offerings like the Four Seasons, the Marriott and the Hilton – though there are a few budget guesthouses for the wallet-conscious traveler.
To the north are the ‘Hills’ themselves, where you’ll find no hotels – only very nice houses for the very well-off. You could go on one of many Star’s Homes tours, or you could just make use of the area without celebrity spotting.
You can stroll around the leafy Beverly Gardens Park, go and marvel at the iconic storybook style Spadena House, or for those with young kids in tow, check out the Zimmer Children’s Museum.
Known by locals as WeHo, the area of West Hollywood is popular for its energetic nightlife and cool comedy clubs. Hugging Beverly Hills in the west, and neighboring both the Hollywood Hills and Hollywood itself, West Hollywood is famous in its own right for the Sunset Strip.
Making up a section of the Sunset Boulevard, Sunset Strip is the mile-and-a-half stretch that runs between Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
West Hollywood is also well known for its colorful LGBT scene and has even been labeled ‘Gay Village’ due to its openness to LGBT culture and communities.
You can spend time strolling around 3rd Street, delighting in the aroma from the array of independent coffee houses, check out fantastic bars and restaurants, and admire the cool interior design in this area. Accommodation in West Hollywood is mainly centered around Sunset Boulevard, with a lot of luxury lodgings on offer.
Westwood is sandwiched between Santa Monica and Beverly Hills; it definitely features as much prestige when it comes to affluence and famous residents. The Playboy Mansion is located here, after all.
Westwood is also the location of the University of California, Los Angeles – also known as UCLA. The fact that this famous institution is here means there are students in the area, which means good eats and fun things to do.
Head along the Westwood Boulevard towards UCLA to find a whole lot of things to eat and some interesting sights, too.
Elsewhere, there’s the Hammer Museum – filled with cool modern art, the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, and even the impressive Mormon Los Angeles California Temple.
This is a cool place to stay, though there aren’t a great many lodgings to choose from; expect a handful of mid-range and high-end hotels and boutique offerings.