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Los Angeles, California Travel Guide

Los Angeles is one of the most famous cities in the world.  With close to 29 million annual visitors, it’s also the top California travel destination.  It is located on the southern coast of California about 75 miles (120km) north of the Mexican border and 400 miles (600km) south of San Francisco. The original name of the city was "El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles" or "The Village of Our Lady the Queen of Angels", but the name was shortened for obvious reasons.  On this page you will find information to guide you in planning your LA vacation.

Los Angeles landscape

Los Angeles is situated on an irregularly shaped coastal plain about 30 to 60 miles across. It is bounded on the west by nearly 60 miles of Pacific Coast beaches and ocean cliffs. The San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains form a 2500-meter high wall to the east. The Santa Monica Mountains define its northern limit and the Santa Anna Mountains define the southern.

Los Angeles natives inhabit the entire plain, from the local hills to connecting valleys to the slopes of the mountain ranges. The city now covers over 1000 square-miles composed of dozens of interconnected communities. High-rise buildings only exist in a few isolated clusters. From nearly every vantage point, you can gaze across miles of low rooftops with palm trees towering above.

Los Angeles Freeway © Corel
In order to commute between these widely dispersed neighborhoods, Los Angeles has constructed a remarkably efficient road system of broad streets, avenues and 10-14 lane wide freeways.

Los Angeles is composed of many interconnected communities

Unlike most cities, Los Angeles does not have a distinct urban center.  It is a collection of individual communities, each with a uniquely different character.  In order to commute between these widely dispersed neighborhoods, Los Angeles has constructed a remarkably efficient road system of broad streets, avenues and 10-14 lane wide freeways. These roadways enable people to quickly navigate across the vast metropolitan complex at most times; however, avoiding the freeways between 7 to 9 AM and 4 to 6 PM, when millions of cars clog the roads during the rush hour commute, is recommended.

Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the studios

Hollywood is the historic home of the old movie studios, and Beverly Hills is still the home of the movie stars. Here you can drive along the western terminus of historic Route 66 on Santa Monica Boulevard. You can stroll along famous Hollywood Boulevard and the Sunset Strip. In nearby Burbank, you can visit many modern movie and television studios. There are many tour operators who will take you to see the homes of the stars.  Though often times you’ll only be able to peer over a through a secure gate.

Beach Communities

When visiting Los Angeles, it’s worth your while to travel to multiple beaches because each has a different atmosphere and draws a different group of locals.  Along the Pacific shore, Malibu, Santa Monica, Marina Del Rey and Palos Verde are high-class residential beach communities. Venice Beach, on the other hand, is known for bikini clad roller bladers, muscle-bound weight lifters and an odd assortment of slightly off-beat characters. Long Beach is a thriving seaport with a vibrant commercial district and oil wells. Laguna Beach houses a large artist's community.

Also, Los Angeles is a major destination port. Many people come all over the world to enjoy the cruises from Los Angeles sailing over seas.

Downtown L.A.

Downtown Los Angeles is certainly a commercial district, but it is no more the urban center of the city than many other neighborhoods. Near the downtown area are ethnic neighborhoods with large Asian populations called, Korea Town, China Town and Japan Town. Nearby are several predominately Afro-American neighborhoods and many predominately Hispanic-American neighborhoods.

Los Angeles is served by four major airports

Los Angeles has four major airports: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Burbank-Glendale Airport, John Wayne Airport and Ontario International Airport. In addition, the Orange County Airport is less than one hour from the city and San Diego International Airport is within a two-hour drive.

Top LA attractions

Here are a few of the top attractions that every traveler should see.  For more comprehensive information about the attractions in Los Angeles, visit our L.A. attractions guide.

Hollywood Hills with Hollywood sign © Corel
Hollywood is the historic home of the old movie studios, and Beverly Hills is still the home of the movie stars.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame is the famous sidewalk composed of terrazzo and brass stars honoring celebrities of the past and present.   There are over 2400 covering fifteen blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and 3 blocks of Vine Street.  Following the stars is a great way to give yourself a free tour of this famous part of the city.

The famous Hollywood sign is easily the most recognizable landmark in Los Angeles.  The sign was originally erected in 1923 to promote a housing community called “Hollywoodland”.  Over time the sign fell into disrepair and decay until efforts were made to preserve the sign in 1978.  Today, everyone who travels to Los Angeles on vacation looks for the sign is a integral part of the landscape. 

You can get a fantastic view of the Hollywood sign from Griffith Park.  The park is home to the Griffith Observatory, the LA Zoo and other attractions.  It is a popular destination for locals who want to hike, picnick, swim or partake in other activities to enjoy the outdoors. 

The Hollywood Bowl is one of the best outdoor venues in the country for taking in a concert.  The natural amphitheatre is the stage for the LA Philharmonic.  Throughout the years, music icons such as Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald have graced the stage.  A visit to the Hollywood Bowl is a good option for those traveling on a budget.  Tickets for the Philharmonic start as low

The Los Angeles area is the nation’s second best destination, after Orlando Florida, for Theme and Amusement Park lovers.  This is where you will find Disneyland (the smaller cousin of Disney World), Disney’s California Adventure, Universal Studios, Magic Mountain and Knott’s Berry Farm. 

As the second largest city in the United States, Los Angeles naturally has a wealth of attractions and activities for every tourist.  And though we cannot cover them all here, we hope that this LA Travel Guide brought you to a good starting point.  Please read our other LA pages for more information – LA AttractionsLA Shopping and LA Accommodations.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © S. Greg Panosian
Photo Description: Griffith Observatory, a national leader in public astrology and one of California's most popular attractions, sits 1,130 feet above sea level and overlooks the Los Angeles skyline.