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We’re staying in the Golden State for our next installment of Great American Cities, as we head from NoCal to SoCal to visit Los Angeles.
Name: Los Angeles is actually Spanish for “The Angels,” but there’s a lot more to the name than just a simple translation. We’ll get to that in the Year Founded section.
Location: Located in southern California about 342 miles (551 km) south of San Francisco, Los Angeles is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, mountains, valleys, forests, and desert.
Nicknames: The city is commonly referred to as simply “L.A.” Thanks to the meaning of its name, it should come as no surprise that it’s also often called the “City of Angels.” Thanks to the fruit that grows in its warm climate, some call it “The Big Orange.” Another funny nickname is “La-La Land” – meaning it’s a fun and not serious place. The famous neighborhood of Hollywood has its own nickname – “Tinseltown.”
Year Founded: In 1769, a Franciscan priest was leading a European expedition through California. The plan was to establish civilian settlements to support the military ones. On September 4, 1781, a Spanish civilian settlement was founded called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles (the Town of Our Lady Queen of the Angels). The name was later shortened to simply Los Angeles and it became a part of the US state of California in 1850.
Population: LA is the 2nd most populous city in America – behind New York – with an estimated population of 3,884,307 as of 2013. It’s a very ethnically diverse city, with people from over 140 countries speaking 224 different languages. In 1940, 86% of the population were non-Hispanic whites, but that number is only 28% these days. The diversity of the city can be seen in its many neighborhoods – Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Koreatown, Little Ethiopia, and so on.
Transportation: The traffic in LA is notoriously bad, with a study showing the average traveler in the city spends 72 hours a year stuck in traffic! This is because most people drive everywhere in Los Angeles; according to a 2005 survey, only about 10% took public transportation. There is an extensive bus system, though – which is the 2nd busiest in the country – as well as a subway and light rail network. As most people have their own vehicle in LA, taxis are hard to come by and are more expensive than in other big cities. Cycling is an option, but there are not many bike lanes, the city is huge, and some areas are not exactly safe.
Famous Places: The most famous place to visit in LA is definitely Hollywood, home to the American entertainment industry. What started out as a small community grew into the largest and most popular film industry in the world. It is now #3 behind India’s Bollywood and Nigeria’s Nollywood, both obviously named after the original. Popular attractions there include the Walk of Fame, Mann’s Chinese Theater, and the Hollywood sign.
Another popular place to visit is Venice Beach, which has an incredibly interesting boardwalk. Take a stroll past the famed Muscle Beach to see guys pumping iron, catch some funky street performers, do some window shopping, or wine and dine at the many bars and restaurants.
As it turns out, a lot of the most popular tourist attractions in the area are not actually in LA. Disneyland is in Anaheim, Rodeo Drive is in Beverly Hills, many of the famous studios are in Burbank, and so on.
Culture: The culture of LA is all about being creative – there are more artists, writers, filmmakers, actors, dancers and musicians living and working in Los Angeles than any other city at any time in history. Of course, the film industry is vitally important to the city, and it hosts the annual Academy Awards honoring the best of the best.
The City of Angels is also big on the performing arts, with more than 1,000 theatrical productions each year. Although it definitely takes a backseat to the film industry, the music scene is also an important part of the past and present of LA. Throughout the years, countless singers and bands became famous after starting out here. Famous venues to see a concert include the Hollywood Bowl, Greek Theater, and Los Angeles Music Center.
You’ll also find a wide variety of museums and galleries here, including the famous Getty Center which is thought to be one of the best art museums in America. You can also visit the Museum of Natural History or the Japanese American National Museum.
As mentioned above, the city is home to a diverse range of people. As such, you can also experience cultures from all around the world in LA.
Sports Teams: Los Angeles is very much a sports city, with teams in every major professional sport minus football (the LA Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995):
While they have LA in their name, the Angels actually play in nearby Anaheim. That city is also home to a pro hockey team – the Anaheim Ducks. Dodger Stadium is the 3rd-oldest ballpark in the country, and the team has won six World Series. The Lakers are one of the most successful and popular basketball teams of all time, from their many championships with Magic Johnson to more recent success with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
Travel Experience: I’ve been to LA twice – once with my sister and parents when I was young and again in 2013 with friends. On the first visit, we did most of the touristy stuff and visited my uncle in nearby San Diego. Last time, we were in town primarily to catch our favorite band Phish play a show at the Hollywood Bowl. It really is a great venue, and we were happy to finally see a show there.
Since we’re not really into celebrities, we skipped the Walk of Fame and decided instead to hike up to the Hollywood sign. It’s not too difficult of a hike, and the views you get from the top are incredible.
As we were in town on my birthday, we went out for dinner and drinks with friends. From one of the best burgers ever at Stout to some delicious Japanese cuisine at Crazy Rock’n Sushi, we thoroughly enjoyed the culinary scene of LA.
Being huge fans of live music, we had to get out there and check out the famous Sunset Strip – home to many of the city’s legendary venues. We saw one band play for a while in Whiskey A-Go-Go and then headed to the Viper Room for one more.
With the rest of our time in LA, we took a little vacation out at Venice Beach. We hit the boardwalk, laid out in the sand, and sampled some of the area’s restaurants and bars. One night, we caught a highly entertaining burlesque show in an old speakeasy. No photos were allowed, though, so you’ll just have to go and see for yourself!
We also got out of the city for a few days and headed to the Joshua Tree National Park for hiking and camping. All in all it was a great week in the LA area, and we’ll definitely be back again some day.