Due to the fact of its being geographically large and extremely scattered, Los Angeles is sometimes accused of not being a city: "I think it is very wrong to call Los Angeles a 'city of many centers' - I only wish it was"
said Panos Koulermos an internationally recognized architect, who found it unfair to call the extremely huge Los Angeles, a city. Even though, LA still keeps its glamor, combining the cool pop ambiance of a culture that worships media along with the hopes of millions of Mexican immigrants who came looking forward to realize their simplest dreams, a mix which has the power to contain the vast extended city into a place of a special nature.
It needs a while to absorb the multi-layered LA in one visit, and it needs a few notes to be kept in mind as well:
- LA is a car-oriented city. It is not designed for walking, except for special neighborhoods (Downtown, Koreatown..etc) or special promenades. If you don't have a car, you can use the bus which covers the whole metropolitan area very efficiently. All you have to do is google where you want and check out your way and way back here: www.metro.net time tables are highly accurate. You can buy a bus pass for a month, from self aid machines at Union Station
- LA is generally safe on evenings or nights out on weekdays. Safty depends on the neighborhood; Highland Park area for instance is known for street gangs, so if you are exploring, make sure you don't get lost
- Marijuana is legal in California and very popular in LA
- LA is generally expensive, but you can always find what suits your budget
- You are in celebrities city, if you are moving around a lot, meeting and chatting with random people, then you are always likely to meet a celebrity or find yourself talking to someone who turns out to be the write of ER series!
- It is a major advantage if you speak Spanish in a city where Mexican and South American -legal and illegal- immigrants form a noticeable percentage of its population
- Flip flops (Arabic: شبشب) are the national costume in LA. Everything and everyone is very casual except for the few bank blocks in downtown where you can find people formally dressed, otherwise it is shorts (even in winter) and flip flops. Dont bring your suit to LA
- The weather is somehow Mediterranean but dry, it gets extremely hot under sunlight in July
- The time difference is 10 hours and flight is minimun 18 hours. So even if you are used to travelling you will have at least 2 days of jet-lag and unstability. Hence, you might like to plan an average of two weeks visit
Where to start?
Flying to LA ranges between 4K EGP and 14K EGP, depending on how you plan it. Egypt Air provides a one stop flight for a high price. European airlines provide 2 stops flight (one in Europe and the other on east coast) which are cheaper, but the best trick is to book 3 month in advance from Cairo to NY (this could be as low as 3500 EGP), then book your NY-LA flight via a domestic airlines only a week before you travel (Virgin America is highly recommended), this shall cut your whole round trip flight expenses to some 4500 EGP.
Before you start, make broad lines of what do you need to explore; beaches, cinema studios, celebrity neighborhoods, art galleries, is what you will find best in LA. You are into a somehow "plastic" culture where everything is new and bright. Even museums, you should be targeting something like the "Museum of Jurrasic Technology", which is an interesting one by the way.
You can buy a Mobile phone line (or cellular phone as known in the US) for around $50 with valid minutes and sms for 1 month. AT&T is the most popular and best operating in Southern California, but T-Mobile and Verzion are also quite good. (310) is the code is considered the most elite code, available for Westwood and Hollywood areas.
Travelodge is found in many locations, but it is cheaper to search craigslist and find a sublet for rent. Accommodation in LA is probably the most expensive --along with NY-- across the US, but you can always find a share that fits within your budget.
You can rent a car and enjoy your tour guided by google and iPhone. You can join the famous very touristy tours that take you to on an exposed buses to explore the pop neighborhood, or you use public transport and costume your own personal sightseeing.
The article below gives a glimpse of how does LA feel like if you intend to tavel on a medium/low budget without renting a car. Since this is Los Angeles, so, you can google any name of a place or street and get further information on it.
Los Angeles is composed of large neighborhoods that are connected together with long boulevards and highways. Each area has its own spirit and specialty. Below are major neighborhoods and counties:
Located on the Pacific ocean, Venice hosts a special collection of contemporary architecture houses. A very friendly neighborhood for walking, where you can enjoy your walk on Abbot Kinney and Main street which has many of the most wonderful -and most expensive- cafes and restaurants in the city. Small boutiques that sell very authentic items are also popular, just make sure you don't buy and old used pair of shoes for 400$ where the seller claims that it used to belong to Clint Eastwood.
Venice beach is a hippie, wind surfers and skateboarders destination. Extending along the neighborhood with its promenade, the beach is a mixed placed where on weekends, it gets very loud and crowd and stages are set for special performances or boxing matches.
On the contrary, the venice canals place is extremely quite all the time, make sure you visit and take pictures of the beautiful houses overlooking it.
Connected to Venice via Main street (take bus 333 from Main street), Santa Monica is a cool place with lots of tourists around. Main street stretches in Santa Monica with lots of Yoga and outfit shops so make sure you take that nice walk. The promenade on 3rd street (if you are on 333 bus, get out at Ocean and 2nd) is one of the very few in LA, with brands' shops on each side, street performances in the middle and variety of places to eat in. Barnes and Noble is found of 3rd and Whilshire with free wi-fi and cozy starbucks inside. One block away on Whilshire, you will find Hennessy Ingalls, the best book store found in North America for architects and artist.The Santa Monica public library also has nice art books collection.
Santa Monica beach extends on Ocean Blvd. Make sure you don't miss the Santa Monica pier walk, where you can treat yourself with a good lobsters meal. There are usually beach concerts on weekend evenings.
Hikers and outdoors fans should check Patagonia store at Santa Monica Blvd.; offeing striking deals on hiking gear and shoes
Santa Monica stretches to host plenty of wonderful houses, architectural offices, and a community college campus.
If you are in Santa Monica on Ocean Blvd. you can take the Metro bus number 2 from Ocean blvd and Santa Monica Blvd. which goes all the way east on Santa Monica Blvd to West Hollywood. You can then get off at San Vicente st.
West Hollywood is known for art galleries, furniture stores and design shops. If you got off the bus at San Vicente then you walk down it north until you find the Pacific Design Center, a complex for art galleries, furniture and fabric. The MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) at PDC usually hosts special installations. From the PDC you can walk all the way along Melrose Ave and enjoy the eclectic mix of stores and houses. The Buddha tree store on Melrose, is a rich place for spiritual and energy books and souvenirs. Regen gallery is another interesting place that you need to check, so is MAK center and Schindler house which is possibly the oldest building in the area.
West Hollywood is amongst the most liberal places in LA, with a noticeable population of gays and many gay-lesbian bars. If you are not comfortable being around one, make sure you don't enter pubs/cafes that have rainbow flags on top of them. Some places don't put the flag, so if you care, then you just need to double check where you are, to avoid any inconvenience.
Sunset Blvd is parallel to Santa Monica Blvd, if you walked south on San Vicente you will reach the beginning of the "Sunset Strip"; the most popular zone on Sunset Blvd. with lots of galleries, strip bars, expensive restaurants and hotels. Don't miss The Book Soup book store with its special art collection. Many celebrities live on the mountain side of Sunset Blvd, so ..don't be surprised !
Don't over estimate it. In fact, Hollywood is not among the nicest neighborhood in LA; remarkably less clean with noticiable act of drug dealing on the street. What is the first thing that you need to do? Check the Hollywood Blvd with celebrities' names engraved on the side walk, it is very trivial trying to find the star of your favorite celebrity. On the 2 sides of the hype area of the Blvd there are shops on both sides, selling special Halloween costumes and cheap souvenirs (2 tshirts for 10 dollars or less!). Hookah (or شيشة) is a very popular item for sale, so is tobacoo and marijuana. Take a photograph with the fake spiderman, or the guy who looks typically like Johnney Depp, or the girl who desperately clonned herself to become a fake Marlin Monero, or Angelina Jolie. Don't be surprised by the amount of people who came to this Blvd looking for chance to be seen by a producer or a director who will make their dream come true.
There is somewhere called Space 15 Twenty which is a small and interesting urban mall that has a book store, small restaurant a Levis shop and American Outfitters. It is located at Cahuenga Blvd just off Hollywood Blvd. The walk around that block is interesting with exotic bars and cafe.
In such touristy area, stay away from trouble, don't talk to strangers and avoid false guides.
A very special downtown, that was built over the small houses that belonged to early 1900s and were replaced by skyscrapers. It is interesting when you hear old people talking in a nostalgic tone, remembering the good old days when this downtown full of houses and trees. Most of the trees are left though, the nice park on 1st and Spring street is a nice place where street market is held every Thursday. The downtown public library is a famoud destination that you should visit with low expectations, so is the MOCA of downtown (the museum didnt recover from the financial crisis and the level of art curated has become quite cheesy), but the MOCA store on South Ave has a nice souvenirs collection. Across the street from MOCA lies the shiny reflective piece of Frank Ghery, the Disney concert hall, with its magnificent interior and wonderful garden. The garden is quite peaceful and offers nice photo shots for LA downtown. The old concert hall is right next to the old one, reminding us of how things change with time. From your place in the concert hall, you can see a nice yellowish church standing freely 2 streets apart, this is "Our Lady of Angeles" church, with its must seen interior and campus.
There is a variety of eating places in downtown, thanks to local Mexican food and hot dogs which starts from as low as $2 (you can actually get it cheaper, but..don't risk it). There is a nice collection of Mediterranean restaurants at the alley between 7th and Broadway
Walking down Broadway Blvd is like moving to Cairo or Alexandria downtown, with people selling cheap out fits, batteries, and lots of miscellaneous stuff, including jewelery. Most signs are in Spanish and so is the language that seller speak. Avoid stopping for ATM cash if you are there. Crossing 1st street from Broadway, you will be on Spring street, where you can walk north crossing a large collection of art studios galleries.
Downtown has been developed for reuse almost 5 years ago, before that time, you couldn't go to downtown in weekends since it was completely deserts except for homeless people who still exist but are not a threat as they used to be. Now most buildings are rented, city loft and luxurious apartment made the downtown alive, where people can go out at 10 PM to walk their dogs.
The first Thursday of each month is the art walk for downtown LA, where people gather together and go visit art and architecture studios and galleries, some places host movies or performances. It is a lively evening where people are out until mid-night, and where also there is a lot of smoking and drinking so consider this if you are walking alone late.
Ask about downtown night tour that starts at 1 AM and ends by sun rise.
You can also check the USC campus, and the Dodge stadium which is nearby, and if you reached that far then you might take a look at the science center. If you have a kid then beware that you are subject to spending the whole day inside.
You can catch the 333 bus from Spring and 6th, this is the only bus that will take you to West LA. Its final destination is Santa Monica through Venice. If you are heading to Hollywood or West Hollywood, you would rather take the metro red line from Union Station. Union Station is wonderful building that hosts the train station of LA. It takes you to all destination around the US and you can also take the monorail (Metro Gold line) to East LA or the Metro Red or Blue line for South-West. Book your ticket from the booth found. You can also check this interesting article in the LA Times.
East LA - Highland Park and Pasadena:
The monorail trip from Downtown to the east is quite interesting, you can get down at each station to explore and get back (using the same ticket). China town is what first hits you, its name tells its story, worth seeing with its few art galleries and the famous building for the architecture firm. Two stations after than comes Mount Washington, with the Museum of South West, which is the oldest in the west coast. You will be surprised at the similarities between old authentic patterns, pottery and jewelery that was made by the old American natives and some patterns from our sahara or country side regions. Above the hill where the museum is (1.8KM) there is somewhere called a "center for self realization" a wonderful peaceful place with spectacular view, typical for meditation. The road is very steep so the trip up can talk to over 2 hours walking, there is no public transport to get up, but the people living in the neighborhood are very friendly, and can offer a ride if you are on the way. The way down is easier but still long. The area is full of houses that belong to screen play writers, musicians, artists and public figures. The station after than is Highland Park, remarkable for authentic Mexican food, explore carefully and avoid the gangs who can easily notice that you are a stranger as long as you don't look south American.
Pasadena is the end of the trail. A small nice city which has a little bit of a history more than LA and where you can find things that you can actually call, old. It is cozy and typical for walking. Don't forget to explore Caltec campus.
What else to do in LA?
- Attend a music concert, whether a rock one in Hollywood or Whilshire area or a classical thing in downtown. Tickets start at $15.
- Go to beaches which differ from each other, Manhattan, Hermosa, Hunington, Malibu and Laguna are very nice but you might need more than 2 buses to get there, so if you can get a car on those days that will be better. The water is extremly cold, people rarely swim, they mostly go for taning and water surfing. One day surfing classes start at 100$ for 2 hours, but you can always negotiate with the trainer and break it down to 80 or 70
- Explore the surrounding starting Pasadena and going up to Santa Barbara or down to San Diego which could be done on a one day trip, all you have to do is to take the train early from Union Station. You will be amazed by the vast spaces nothingness that you will be crossing up or down, funny enough is that most of this vast desert is private properties. You can buy a mountain in California. If you are a hiker you need to be aware of these facts as camping in a private property is problematic
- Visit Warner Bros or Universal Studios. Universal is fun for kids while Waner is the place where you can have a photo of you on the famous couch of f.r.i.e.n.d.s cafe and sneak a peak at the new movie releases and learn about snow that is made originally from potatoes powder! Book your tour online, and studios location is accessible by bus.