Los Angeles is perhaps the most vibrant, surprising and beautiful city in the world – surprising in that it is hardly a city at all, but rather a vast collection of “micro-cities” and communities (Downtown, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Pasadena, the many canyons, the San Fernando Valley, Venice, Santa Monica, Malibu, Topanga, Long Beach) linked by an equally vast network of freeways, for which it is (in)famous.
The third largest economic center in the world (after Greater Tokyo and New York) and the second most populous city in the United States, Los Angeles is as diverse ethnically as it is geographically. Without a majority population, Los Angeles is home to people from 140 countries speaking approximately 86 different languages.
Frequently touted as “the city of the future,” with its unique expanse of highly diverse but connected neighborhoods and its mix of cultures, Los Angeles is often overlooked for just how beautiful it is topographically.
From the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains, the Hollywood Hills and the vast areas of unspoiled and protected natural land, to the 75 miles of coastline – and the gems of architecture, which include the Art Deco Hollywood Bowl, the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Music Hall and Richard Meier’s spectacular Getty Center – Los Angeles, or the “City of Angels,” is a seductress that keeps drawing you back. So read our list of the top ten reasons to visit and discover why you should make Los Angeles your next vacation destination.
10. Griffith Park in the Center of the City
Griffith Park is the West Coast’s answer to New York’s Central Park. With over 4,000 acres, it is America’s largest park, comprising mostly protected urban wilderness. It houses the L.A. Zoo, The Gene Autry Museum, The Greek Theatre and the beautifully-restored Griffith Observatory, where Rebel Without A Cause was shot.
Residents and tourists with young children flock to the train museum, Travel Town. Climb onto restored steam locomotives and ride a miniature train around the grounds. Since 1948, the pony rides at the park have attracted families with animal-loving children. The guided ponies walk around a free ring that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Sporty visitors can rent bicycles in the park to try their hand at the various hillside trails. Swimming, tennis, golfing and hiking are also available. More adventurous types can even rent horses by the hour – and there are trail rides in other canyons, from Beachwood, near the heart of Hollywood, to the wild and mountainous expanses of Topanga and Malibu Canyons at the city’s edge.
Photo credits: Eric Allix Rogers/Flickr
9. Revitalized Downtown
Hipsters have turned Downtown Los Angeles into one of the coolest neighborhoods in town. Once-dilapidated bank buildings are now fashionable loft apartments, and architectural gems, such as the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, draw visitors from all over the globe.
The Standard (Hotel) Downtown’s rooftop bar has been featured in countless movies and offers stunning views of the surrounding skyscrapers. It’s the downtown spot of choice for the city’s young starlets in the making. For concerts and fine-dining, check out the L.A. Live complex with the Grammy Museum, Nokia Theatre and Conga Room.
8. Scenic Drives
[Also see our travel article “Road Trip: Los Angeles to San Francisco“]
Los Angeles is all about the automobile and it is filled with gorgeous drives that let you feel like a native-born Angeleno. Start at the eastern edge of Sunset Boulevard, near Downtown, and head west towards the ocean – a drive of about 20 miles.
You’ll pass gentrified, trendy neighborhoods like Echo Park and Silverlake, then move on to the famed Sunset Strip, between Crescent Heights and Doheny Drive, home to equally famous nightclubs like The Whiskey and The Viper Room.
Keep driving west until you see the Pacific Ocean and Gladstone’s Restaurant, one of L.A.’s favorite seafood restaurants, located directly between PCH and the breaking waves.
Mulholland Drive is a spectacular curvy road running the length of the Hollywood Hills to the 405 Freeway and beyond. It is literally the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains, with breathtaking city, valley and ocean views – and glimpses into celebrity hilltop mansions. Designated scenic overlooks are located along the road allowing for easy stopping and photo taking.
Photo credits: Gladstone’s Restaurant
7. Theme Parks For Families
The entire family can have fun at one L.A.’s theme parks. Built in 1955, Disneyland is the “happiest place on Earth” and the original flagship to all the Disney theme parks. Located in Anaheim, visitors enjoy amusement rides for all ages, meet characters from favorite Disney and Pixar movies and experience musical entertainment.
Families with teenagers will enjoy the wildest thrill rides at Six Flags Magic Mountain. A favorite, The Superman: Escape from Krypton roller coaster, is the fastest in the world at 100 miles per hour in a mere 7 seconds. Guests who dare to ride it hit true zero gravity at the top of its track.
Universal Studios Hollywood takes visitors behind the scenes of a real movie studio with an action-packed tram ride through the studio itself. Meet the shark from Jaws and ride a bike with ET. Older children can brave the roller coaster rides, such as The Simpsons and Jurassic Park-The Ride.
Photo credits: Disney Parks News Rooms
6. Cutting Edge Art Scene
When New Yorker Jeffrey Deitch, formerly of Deitch Projects, took the helm of the Museum of Contemporary Art, or MOCA, in Los Angeles in 2010, he not only resuscitated the near-bankrupt institution but sealed the city’s reputation as America’s new art capital.
After the rise of art schools in the area, such as the highly prestigious California Institute of the Arts (which was named in 2012 as the best art school in the nation by Newsweek), UCLA and Art Center, their graduates now stay in L.A. rather than trek to Manhattan.
Los Angeles-based artists are no longer regarded as regional artists, but rather leaders in the international art scene. Artists like Sharon Lockhart, Sam Durant and Doug Aitken exhibit their work at galleries like Blum and Poe and Regen Projects.
Art galleries are found all over the city, but Culver City is the epicenter of cutting edge and emerging artists. Galleries, such as Roberts and Tilton, and Royal T, have large expansive warehouse-like spaces to show international artists, such as Murakami and Ed Templeton. The area features open gallery nights for the public.
The Broad Contemporary Art Museum within the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA, offers compelling exhibitions of contemporary art. Open since 2008, LACMA has featured projects from famed artists, such as Los Angeles resident Chris Burden and Bruce Nauman.
Photo credits: Roberts and Tilton Gallery