Thanks to Hollywood, most people on the planet have at least heard of Los Angeles. The City of Angels, Tinseltown or just “La-La Land” is the home of the world’s movie and entertainment industry, the palaces of Beverly Hills, Sunset Strip, the original Disneyland, the Dodgers and the Lakers and a beach culture that inspired California’s modern surfing boom in the 1950s. Yet first-time visitors should expect some surprises, beginning with the vast size of the place, hard to absorb until you actually get here, which can make picking where to stay decidedly difficult. LA is only America’s second biggest city in terms of population, but stitched together by an intricate network of freeways crossing a thousand square miles of widely varying architecture, social strata and cultures. Beyond the skyscrapers, downtown LA actually has an historic Mexican heart and is a traffic-clogged sixteen miles from the hip ocean enclaves of Santa Monica and Venice Beach – and thanks to high crime and gangster rap, South Central LA and Compton have become bywords for violence and gangs such as the Crips and the Bloods. West from downtown, Hollywood has streets imbued with movie myths and legends – and adjoining West LA is home to the city’s newest money, shown off in Beverly Hills and along the Sunset Strip.
Suburban Orange County, to the southeast, holds little of interest apart from Disneyland, a few museums and a handful of libertine beach towns. On the far side of the northern hills lie the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys, or simply “the Valley”, where tract homes and strip malls are enlivened by occasional sights of interest, many of them in genteel Pasadena.