Though nearly every corner of Los Angeles has shown up in movies and TV, visitors rarely grasp the sheer size of this megalopolis. The city alone is 470 square miles encompassing over 80 neighborhoods. Include the entire Los Angeles County, and there’s 4,000 square miles and nearly 300 cities, districts and other areas to explore. Deciding what to see and where to go can be daunting. A well-organized travel plan – and a full tank of gas – are essential for seeing as much of the city as possible. Here are five neighborhoods with the best bang for your buck.
The city center has been built and rebuilt over the past 200 some years and it shows in its eclectic layout. It’s both the central business district and a tourist and entertainment destination. It features the city’s historic origins clustered near Olvera Street Market, and avant-garde architecture like the Disney Concert Hall. Museum lovers can tour the Museum of Contemporary Art or the Japanese-American National Museum, which is located in the Little Tokyo District. The sprawling Staples Center and LA Live entertainment complex hosts sporting events, conferences and music acts. For stunning views of downtown, head up to the Standard Hotel’s Rooftop Bar, which has featured in countless films.
A 20-minute drive east of downtown, Pasadena is home to the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl, which also hosts a massive monthly flea market. There’s more shopping – and plenty of bars and restaurants – along Colorado Blvd in Old Town Pasadena. Science fans can get a rare glimpse of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories. Art fans can visit the Norton Simon Museum, tour the Gamble House or check out the collections at the Huntington Library, which also has a 200-acre set of gardens that is one of the area’s most popular attractions. Pasadena is also a good jumping off point for hiking in the Angeles National Forest.
Los Feliz is a neighborhood in transition, where old-money mansions meets new-wave hipsters. The two main drags along Vermont and Hillhurst are chock full of vintage stores, restaurants, coffee shops and stalwart Hollywood classics like the lounge act at The Dresden and the Tiki-Ti, a Polynesian-themed tiki bar. Along and above Los Feliz Blvd are rows of mansions and estates that have been home to Hollywood celebrities since the 1920s. Further uphill is Griffith Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country. Visitors there can get wild at the LA Zoo, see at show at the Greek Theatre, see the heavens at the Griffith Observatory or hike through the hills. It’s also one of the best places to see the Hollywood Sign.
The famed neighborhood of mansions and shopping is yours to explore – and it won’t cost you a dime. Stroll along Rodeo Drive, the epicenter for bling, with around 100 boutiques packed into a three-block stretch between Santa Monica Blvd and Wilshire Blvd. Head down Wilshire Blvd for more high-end stores and opulent hotels. Cruise the streets between Santa Monica Blvd and Sunset Blvd for views of the more modestly-wealthy houses. The most opulent mansions are usually higher up in the hills and hidden behind thick hedges, but there is one mansion you can see – the Tudor-style Greystone Mansion, a historic Los Angeles landmark icon and movie location.
No visit to Los Angeles is complete without a trip to the beach. Venice has a three-mile stretch of sand, complete with surfers, beach volleyball and the weightlifters of Muscle Beach. The Ocean Front Walk is a carnival disguised as a boardwalk, with street performers, drum circles, hustlers and some of the most colorful characters in the city. For a less hectic option, stroll along the Venice Canals. For shopping and nightlife, head down Abbot Kinney Blvd, which hosts an impressive array of boutiques, galleries and restaurants.