Ah, the one and only City of Angels! Los Angeles is known for trademarks like the Hollywood Sign and Disneyland, a self-confident, work-hard-play-hard culture, suggestive areas like Beverly Hills and Venice Beach, and major boulevards and roads like Rodeo Drive.
So tag along to find out what this 10-million-soul of a city bustling under the Santa Monica Mountains is all about!
Los Angeles is known for its many landmarks
If you want to know how harsh it was to settle on the items that would make this section, just lose yourself in the endless selection of runners-up!
1. Hollywood Sign
You might not be aware that L.A’s best-loved symbol read “Hollywoodland” for its first 16 years of existence. Its purpose could hardly be more Angeleno: real estate developers had it put up in 1923 to advertise a hillside development.
Originally intended to be torn down after 18 months or so, the Hollywood Sign quickly became a logo of sorts to the nascent film industry. It bravely resisted, though by the 1970s it was basically in shambles for lack of maintenance and had to be rebuilt anew in 1978.
2. Hollywood Walk of Fame
While the Walk of Fame features almost 2,700 stars honoring folks in the movie, TV, music, radio broadcasting, and theater industries, you should probably double-check if your idol has been awarded one to avoid being let down.
Why? You won’t find superstars like Whitney Houston, Al Pacino, and Bruce Springsteen there, for various reasons. One of them is that awardees must pay a $50,000 fee upon acceptance! That means artists are no longer eligible when they die. Prince, for example, turned the honor down twice before passing — so much for his star.
3. Griffith Observatory
The land where Griffith Observatory sits, Griffith Park, was donated to Los Angeles by industrialist Griffith J. Griffith, who wanted to make astronomy accessible to everyone. That’s why admission to the monument has always been free of charge.
Thanks to its elegant Art Deco architecture and the breathtaking city views it provides, the Observatory appears in a bunch of movies — including La La Land.
Pro tip: in case you feel like watching the sunset there, head uphill 2h+ in advance, or you’ll be stuck in traffic like I was.
Disneyland is not merely one of the most popular tourist attractions within greater L.A. It’s also the second most visited amusement park on Earth — behind, ironically, Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
This is the O.G. of Disney Parks, though. It’s the only one to have been completed during Walt Disney’s lifetime. Yet back then it had just 18 rides, against today’s 53.
5. Walt Disney Concert Hall
Opened in 2003, the crazily shaped concert hall designed by starchitect Frank Gehry was almost single-handedly responsible for Downtown’s rebirth.
Oddly, some of the metal panels on the façade that were originally shiny had to be dulled, as the sun reflected on their surface and created hotspots in neighboring apartments and on sidewalks that could reach 60°C (140F)!
Runners-up: Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Getty Center, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), The Broad, La Brea Tar Pits, Capitol Records Building, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, LAX, L.A. Central Station, L.A. City Hall, Memorial Coliseum, Staples Center, The Beverly Hills Hotel, Stahl House, Eames House, Ennis House
The culture of L.A. is loud and unapologetic
Granted, Los Angeles is known for its movie industry, the most powerful on the planet. Yet precisely because Hollywood is the lifeblood of the city — in one way or another, four items on our list are about it —, here we’ll be focusing on somewhat subtler aspects of the city’s culture.
6. Car Culture
The car, the ultimate American thing ever invented, found the home it dreamed of in L.A.: a vast expanse of relatively flat terrain that slowly but surely developed toward the sea. Fads like racing, hot rodding, and low-riding are an integral part of the Angeleno cultural heritage.
But of course that’s not 100% positive: L.A.’s infamous for its terrible traffic and used to have notoriously smoggy skies despite its flawless weather year-round. Luckily, the smog situation improved substantially in the last 20 years.
As a port town, Los Angeles has attracted immigrants since the late nineteenth century. Yet the city’s rising importance since the advent of the movie industry cemented it as a prime hub for foreign immigrants arriving in the U.S.
Today, it’s one of the few cities across the nation to have a non-white majority. Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Armenian, Ethiopian, Iranian, Japanese, Bengali, and Thai enclaves dot L.A.
8. Staying Fit and Healthy
As proof of L.A.’s obsession with fitness, the city can claim the title of birthplace of bodybuilding. Devotees started practicing it in the mid-1930s at the original Muscle Beach, located on the sands of Santa Monica.
When it comes to wellness trends, though, bodybuilding is not the only field where Angelenos are OGs. Los Angeles ranks second among the best cities for vegans in America, behind Portland.
9. Outdoor Living
It’s not totally surprising that Angelenos are such fans of outdoor activities: L.A. is a city to see and be seen. What’s more, with only 35 rainy days a year and winter temperatures averaging 20°C (68F), why would you even stay inside?
10. Los Angeles Lakers
With 17 NBA titles, the Lakers are tied with the Boston Celtics as the two most successful basketball teams. Legends like Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and LeBron James have worn its purple and gold jersey.
The Staples Center in Downtown L.A. is the Lakers’ temple. The team moved to the city from Minneapolis in 1960 and, following a few tough first seasons, went on to become locals’ favorite basketball squad.
11. A Trendsetting Cuisine
Since Angelenos are obsessed with the new new thing, it’s no wonder they’re forever on top of culinary trends too. That’s especially true in an era when more and more people want to eat healthy, which has always been an L.A. point of pride.
Here, the city’s incredible multiculturalism proves to be a powerful asset. If fusion cuisine wasn’t born in L.A., it was definitely perfected there. (So were Cobb salad and French dip sandwiches, for the record.) Awesome Mexican, Thai, Korean, and even Ethiopian eateries aren’t to be missed out.
12. A Vibrant Art Scene
It might not be as self-serious about art as New York, I reckon. Yet Los Angeles is known for the several cultural movements that have been born or flourished within its borders.
San Pedro, where the port of Los Angeles is located, is one of the best districts to get a good grasp of L.A.’s artsy vibes. It’s home to fantastic street art, as you can see above, countless galleries, and a monthly art walk.
13. West Coast Hip Hop
Compton-bred hip hop was huge throughout the 90s. The rivalry with East Coast hip hop, epitomized by the feud between Tupac and Notorious B.I.G., was partly to blame.
Still, it never ceased to produce occasional masterpieces such as Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
Runners-up: Los Angeles Dodgers, Surf culture, Celebrity culture, New York vs. L.A. rivalry, the Finish Fetish
Los Angeles is known for its iconic districts
I suspect that the only reason why L.A. isn’t typically dubbed a “city of neighborhoods” like Baltimore and Boston is that Los Angeles County is actually a maze of autonomous cities interspersed with patches of unincorporated territory. Yet almost every region within the metropolitan area has a unique personality.
14. Beverly Hills
The exclusive, palm-tree-lined streets of Beverly Hills have been housing a great deal of L.A.’s elite almost since the inauguration of the historic Beverly Hills Hotel in 1912. From Pretty Woman, to Clueless, to Totally Spies!, Beverly Hills has been widely referenced in pop culture.
What’s ironic about it, though, is that most Beverly Hills residents live in the quadrant south of Sunset Boulevard called the Flats. By the way, in case window shopping is your thing, go ahead and book a guided tour of celebrity homes around town!
Venice has a network of man-made canals that justify its name. Yet the neighborhood’s best-known attraction is the boardwalk along Venice Beach.
With its performers, fortune-tellers, and a steady community of oddballs crowding the promenade, Venice can come across as a little rough around the edges. But that’s always been part of its charm.
16. Santa Monica
How romantic the Santa Monica Pier feels! Except it’s overrun by tourists 24/7, so it’s probably easier to bump into an Angeleno in Tokyo instead. The beach is a whole nother story, though.
Boasting a wide stretch of clear sand and easy access from most parts of town, it’s the one place to go on a sunny day (i.e. every day).
17. West Hollywood
Do you want proof that WeHo is one of the gayest cities in the U.S.? Well, take a look at its flag. About 40% of its population identifies as LGBT. Also, when I say “city”, I mean it: in 1984, an unlikely coalition of LGBT folks, Jews, and seniors joined efforts to incorporate it and keep the area under rent control, which was being discontinued in the rest of L.A.
While tiny — its area is smaller than 2 square miles (5 square kilometers), which is, however, ten times larger than the Vatican —, WeHo is home to Sunset Strip, long the epicenter of L.A.’s rock and club culture.
Sure, L.A. has traditionally either turned its back to downtown or treated it as an open wound. Skid Row, the biggest tent city in the country, dominates its easternmost section, whereas, to the west, Bunker Hill’s Financial District would normally be no man’s land come nightfall.
But we both know how cheap rents work as a magnet for up-and-coming artists. So over the past two decades, Downtown has been one of the hippest neighborhoods in L.A., complete with a cool underground nightlife scene and a monthly art walk.
Runners-up: Malibu, San Fernando Valley, Long Beach, Bel-Air, Culver City, Echo Park, Redondo Beach, San Gabriel Valley
Roads in L.A. have distinctive identities
It’s only natural that such a spread-out city that worships cars would have lots of prominent thoroughfares. But Los Angeles is known for something quite peculiar in that respect: roads with a life of their own, not far from cities within the city.
19. Rodeo Drive
Bulgari, Burberry, Cartier, Hermès, Jimmy Choo, Prada, Rolex Tiffany’s,… These are just a few of the 100+ high-end boutiques you’ll find here.
Interestingly, though, all these shops are packed into a three-block stretch between Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards of this world-famous Beverly Hills road.
20. Hollywood Boulevard
Home to numerous L.A. landmarks such as Madame Tussauds Hollywood, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Dolby Theatre (where the Oscars have taken place since 2002), and the bulk of the Walk of Fame’s stars, Hollywood Boulevard truly needs no introduction.
Yet although nowadays this is one of the key roads Los Angeles is known for, Hollywood Boulevard wasn’t always this glitzy tourist spot. In the 70s (when else?), as both studios and residents fled to the suburbs, a (fabulous) freak scene took over the area. Revitalization efforts would only start a decade later.
21. Mulholland Drive
I guess we couldn’t possibly leave out a road so suggestive David Lynch titled his intriguing tribute to L.A. after it. Winding around the Santa Monica Mountains, Mulholland Drive is famous for its unobstructed views of the city, as pictured above.
That’s likely why many Hollywood stars, including Jack Nicholson, built their humble places here; some of the costliest houses on Earth have Mulholland Drive as their address.
22. Sunset Boulevard
For much of its westernmost section, Sunset divides flat L.A. on one side and hilly L.A. on the other. During Hollywood’s Golden Age, when living up the hills wasn’t really a thing, this is where stars built their extravagant villas. If you’ve watched the musical or the classic movie named after the Boulevard, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Then, starting in the 1950s, Sunset Boulevard became increasingly devoted to nightlife (yup, Sunset Strip developed around it), which remains its main business as of now.
23. Wilshire Boulevard
The history of Wilshire Boulevard might be bigger than its present. We wanted to add it to our list chiefly because it was one of the major factors behind L.A’s seaward expansion. By the end of the 1800s, the town was still centered on its colonial plaza, like a typical Spanish pueblo.
The road that would turn into L.A.’s commercial core for the best part of a century from the early 1940s was arguably the first in America to be laid out primarily for cars. And that’s how L.A. invented the suburbs!
Runners-up: Santa Monica Boulevard, Melrose Avenue, La Cienega Boulevard
The second-largest city in the United States is also one of the entertainment capitals of the world. So you can’t go wrong in L.A.: having fun is almost mandatory. After all, Los Angeles is known for being serious about a business many other places take for granted!
Oh, and after you’re done exploring Southern California, you should absolutely head north and check out the tons of amazing attractions San Francisco has to offer. Then, tell us in the comments which city you’d visit first!