Los Angeles Travel Guide

USA  #5 in Best Nightlife Scenes in the USA
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Los Angeles Area Map

Neighborhoods

The city of Los Angeles, bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, is made up of more than 100 neighborhoods. Citizens from about 140 different countries – who speak more than 224 different languages – live in the city, which creates a network of ethnically diverse towns. Plus, the varied landscape throughout LA allows travelers to tailor a visit to their interests: There are beaches, parks and mountains in addition to the cosmopolitan city.

Downtown LA, situated in the center of the city, is a business hub home to several banks, department stores, government buildings and financial institutions. The area has been experiencing a renaissance of sorts with more and more restaurants and nightlife venues opening. Plus, accommodations here are generally more affordable than those found by the ocean. One of the area's most impressive sites is the Walt Disney Concert Hall (designed by architect Frank Gehry and home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic) on South Grand Avenue. Just southwest are the GRAMMY Museum and the STAPLES Center, where NBA, WNBA and NHL teams play and musical acts perform. Next door, the Los Angeles Convention Center boasts more than 850,000 square feet of exhibition and meeting space.

On the outskirts of downtown are the largely residential neighborhoods of Silver Lake, Echo Park, Westlake, Angelino Heights, Chinatown and Koreatown. These areas can be seedy at night but some spots are worth a stroll: Chinatown, for example, is filled with dim sum eateries, relaxed dive bars and buildings boasting Chinese-influenced architecture.

Of course, LA's most popular neighborhoods are those associated with movies, glitz and glamour. Located northwest of downtown, Hollywood – home to Paramount Pictures Studios, the longest operating film production studio in the neighborhood – is a must-see for any star-gazer. Stroll along the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame – located along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street – and see the names of more than 2,500 entertainment icons (fictional stars, too) that have earned a spot along the walk. On the walk is another legendary Hollywood locale: TCL Chinese Theatre (originally Grauman's Chinese Theatre). The theater's famous Chinese pagoda-like facade and regal interior are iconic in Los Angeles film culture. Another renowned venue (just a block north of Hollywood Boulevard) is the Dolby Theatre, which hosts the Academy Awards every year.

Sitting snug between Hollywood and Beverly Hills is West Hollywood, the epicenter of LA's LGBT community – the neighborhood is where the annual gay pride parade is held each June. West Hollywood features plenty of lively restaurants and nightlife spots, such as The Abbey Food & Bar and Whisky A Go Go. When looking for somewhere to hang your hat, you'll be pleased to find that hotels here are more affordable than those found in nearby Beverly Hills.

This trendy neighborhood is also home to one of the busiest stretches of Santa Monica Boulevard, as well as the Sunset Strip – probably the most iconic and entertaining thoroughfare in all of LA. A bit reminiscent of the Las Vegas Strip with its massive billboards and neon lights, the Sunset Strip is a great locale for celebrity-spotting and people-watching. Many of LA's notorious music venues (like The Roxy Theatre and The Viper Room) can also be found on the Sunset Strip.

The Miracle Mile (which lies just south of West Hollywood and southeast of Beverly Hills) is where two of LA's most popular museums reside – the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum. And just north of the museums in La Brea sits the highly touted Farmers Market, filled with vendors hawking their best produce, flowers and handmade crafts.

West of Hollywood is where the Fresh Prince made his name and many celebs make their beds. The super-chic, ultra-posh and overly pricey residences in Bel Air and Beverly Hills are home to stars like Katy Perry, Sandra Bullock, Taylor Swift and Jack Nicholson. Aside from drooling over the lavish facades of celebrity homes, Beverly Hills is the place to go for retail therapy. When it comes to shopping, it doesn't get much better than Beverly Hills' designer boutique-lined Rodeo Drive. The street boasts nearly 100 retailers – including everything from Tiffany & Co. and Burberry to Prada and Valentino – prime for window-shopping and store-browsing.

Lodging-wise, some of the best hotels in Los Angeles can be found in Beverly Hills. But beware; since they're located in such a ritzy part of town, rooms will cost a pretty penny.

This neighborhood is located just west of Beverly Hills and houses the city's sprawling University of California, Los Angeles campus, including the university's three museums – The Fowler Museum, The Hammer Museum and The UCLA Film and Television Archive. The four-star W Los Angeles also resides here, and various shops and restaurants can be found along Westwood Boulevard, the area's main thoroughfare.

Situated by the 405 freeway and west of Westwood, Brentwood is home to the famous Getty Center, a 24-acre art museum renowned for its American and European art, sprawling grounds and provocative architecture. A few restaurants and coffee shops are available as well on the neighborhood's San Vicente Boulevard.

If you're not in Los Angeles for Hollywood, you're probably here for the beach. With 72 miles of shoreline, there's plenty of sun and sand for everyone. LA's coast is arguably the most popular part of the city thanks to fewer bouts of smog and a more laid-back atmosphere than seen downtown or in Beverly Hills.

Malibu

This exclusive neighborhood can be accessed by driving 33 miles west of LA along the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway. Because of the stellar waves that crash on its shores, Malibu is where the die-hard surfers head for the best ride. Beaches here – such as Los Angeles County's largest beach park, Zuma Beach – are technically public, but many are shielded by private communities and offer limited access for the everyday visitor. The "Our Malibu Beaches" app (free to download on iPhones, iPads and iPod touches) is helpful in offering maps, providing directions to beach accessways and identifying fake signs.

Malibu also boasts some of southern California's most sought-after real estate and a posh atmosphere with quaint boutiques and eateries. Several celebrities call this neighborhood home, including Tom Hanks, Ellen DeGeneres and Cindy Crawford.

Santa Monica

When it comes to exploring the coast, most people head to Santa Monica because it offers up sand and surf, and it also features some of the city's favorite sites. The Santa Monica Pier – complete with games, food and rides – is popular with the young and young-at-heart. The open-air Third Street Promenade is worth a stroll to see its quirky boutiques and quaint cafes. And if you can feel your wallet burning a hole in your pocket, this neighborhood overflows with primo shopping venues. Santa Monica is sandwiched between Malibu and Venice Beach just 16 miles west of downtown LA.

Venice Beach

To the south of Santa Monica is Venice Beach. This formerly run-down neighborhood is now one of LA's most popular areas. Along the shore, Venice Beach's notoriously quirky personality thrives, with scantily clad bathers occupying the boardwalk and tie-dye T-shirt vendors' calls echoing in the air. This is the place to have your fortune told, enjoy a local musician's tunes, find the perfect vintage souvenir and even star-gaze, as celebrity sightings are not uncommon. The colorful graffiti murals along walls and buildings are also a particularly interesting sight. Inland, a series of canals and foot bridges wind around the trendy eateries and unique boutiques of Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey

Built in the 1950s, Marina del Rey is the world's largest man-made small boat harbor. Stroll along the marina (south of Venice Beach) to admire the expensive yachts and sailboats that float in and out of the inlet. The promenade that surrounds the marina is also home to a few restaurants and cafes, as well as luxury hotels like The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey and the Marina del Rey Hotel.

Sandwiched between Marina del Rey to the north and Los Angeles International Airport to the south, the Playa del Rey area is primarily residential, catering to families and younger, active Californians. Meanwhile, the marshy Ballona Wetlands, also in this neighborhood, feature a plethora of plants, plus endangered wildlife species like the least tern and the Belding's savannah sparrow.

Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach

Neighbors Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach are the quintessential southern California beach spots. These shores are packed with beach bums enjoying the sun, whether they're playing volleyball, paddleboarding or surfing in the Pacific, or just soaking up some rays. A pedestrian-only pathway connects the three beaches, so walkers, joggers, rollerbladers and bikers often populate that stretch. Plus, eateries abound just a few blocks off the sand.

The piers at Manhattan and Hermosa beaches make for good spots to fish or snap photos as the sun sets. Manhattan Beach is known for its cameos in TV shows and movies, such as "The OC" and "Point Break," as well as for its popular breakfast joints like The Kettle and Uncle Bill's Pancake House. Hermosa Beach hosts national and professional beach volleyball tournaments, the Endless Summer Cruisin (a classic car show), a few art festivals and some concerts. Finally, Redondo Beach boasts its own marina and a small shopping mall. These sandy strips are situated a few miles south of Playa del Rey.

Long Beach

Nicknamed the "Aquatic Capital of America" thanks to its mild year-round climate and calm sailing waters, Long Beach is where water sports enthusiasts flock. Travelers fond of boats can rent their own, take a gondola tour or hop on a Catalina Express ferry to visit Catalina Island just off the shore. Keep an eye out for the massive cruise ships, which dock in the Port of Long Beach. Visitors can also walk along the boardwalk, where various eateries and shops reside, but don't plan on lounging on Long Beach's sands. The city's physical beach isn't much to write home about.

South of Long Beach in Orange County are even more beachside towns: Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. These neighborhoods are also home to some good hotel choices but staying here would put you a little far from the action in downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood.

To see where all the movie magic is made, head about 10 miles north from downtown LA to the San Fernando Valley (known locally as "The Valley") and the neighboring towns of Studio City, Universal City and Hollywood Hills. The best attractions in these areas include Griffith Observatory and Griffith Park (where you'll find some of the best views of LA), the popular-with-families Universal Studios Hollywood and the Hollywood Bowl, an outdoor concert venue that hosts a variety of musical acts. Meanwhile, North Hollywood – or "NoHo" – bursts with independent theaters and small boutique shops.  

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