San Diego, California
In a city where nothing seems to be more than 30 years old, the latest trends command more respect than does tradition. People flock to this historical vacuum in an effort to live like the stars—and what better place? Bring your sense of style and an attitude; both are mandatory in this city of celebrities. Cruise through the city and watch the sun set over the Pacific in Santa Monica or stay to see the stars; either way, it’s one heck of a show.
Five major freeways connect California’s vainest city to the rest of the state: I-5 (Golden State Freeway), US 101 (Hollywood Freeway), the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH or Route 1), I-405 (San Diego Freeway), and I-10 (Santa Monica Freeway). I-5, I-405, I-110 (Harbor Fwy.), US 101, and the Pacific Coast Hwy. all run north-south. I-10 runs east-west. I-5 intersects I-10 just east of downtown and is one of the two major north-south thoroughfares. I-405, which goes from Orange County in the south all the way through L.A., parallels I-5 closer to the coast and separates Santa Monica and Malibu from L.A.’s Westside.
For years, LA's downtown area was a no-go zone, but the urban heart of the city is enjoying a renaissance as many top restaurateurs and boutiques set up shop. Monterey Park is one of the few cities in the US with a predominantly Asian-American population. The University of Southern California (USC), Exposition Park, and the districts of Inglewood, Watts, and Compton stretch south of downtown. South Central, as this area is called, suffered the brunt of the 1992 riots, is known for rampant crime, and holds few attractions for tourists. The predominantly Latino section of the city is found east of downtown and is comprised of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, and Montebello.
Sunset Boulevard has virtually everything L.A. has to offer the food- and fashion-conscious. The Sunset Strip, the hot seat of L.A.’s nightlife, is the West Hollywood section of Sunset Blvd. closest to Beverly Hills. The region known as the Westside encompasses prestigious West Hollywood, Westwood, Bel Air, Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, and Venice. A good portion of the city’s gay community resides in West Hollywood, while Beverly Hills and Bel Air are home to the rich and famous. West L.A. is a municipal distinction that refers to Westwood and the no man’s land that includes Century City. The area west of downtown and south of West Hollywood is known as the Wilshire District.
Eighty miles of beaches line L.A.’s coastal region. Long Beach is the southernmost. North across the Palos Verdes Peninsula is Venice, followed by Santa Monica, Malibu, and Zuma Beach. The San Fernando Valley sprawls north of the Hollywood Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains. The basin is bounded to the north and west by the Santa Susana Mountains and Route 118 (Ronald Reagan Freeway), to the south by Route 134 (Ventura Boulevard), and to the east by I-5. The San Bernardino Valley, home to about two million people, stretches eastward from L.A., south of the San Gabriel Mountains. In between these two valleys lie the affluent foothills of Pasadena.
Exploring the Hollywood area requires a pair of sunglasses, a camera, some cash, and a whole lot of patience. Running east-west at the foot of the Hollywood Hills, Hollywood Boulevard is the center of L.A.’s tourist madness. Thousands come daily to the home of the Walk of Fame, famous theaters, souvenir shops, and museums.
With so much to see in Los Angeles, it can be overwhelming. We've narrowed down a few of the best to see. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.
When coffee loses its impact, yet the road stretches on to California, the fiery chili pepper of New Mexico may be just the thing to jolt you awake and rekindle your dying flames. Chili pepper is used to flavor many popular dishes and salsas in the southwest, and is likely available at your next roadside stop. The pepper’s spicy flavor comes from the chemical capsaicin, which is found not in the plant’s seeds, as many believe, but rather in the pod’s membranes and the soft tissue that supports the seeds. The chemical is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation to prevent mammals from eating the pods. Unable to taste capsaicin, birds eat but can’t digest the seeds, thus helping with their dispersal; mammals, who can digest the seeds, taste the heat and avoid chilies entirely. Though human taste-buds certainly respond to the spicy chemical, the proper preparation of chilies in cuisine provides a pleasant culinary heat. In the summer, farmers’ markets brim with chili peppers of all kinds. All told, New Mexico produces about 100,000 tons of chilies each year, the most of any state in the US. Most common is the New Mexico green chile, with a 6 in. pod and a firm, crisp texture; other varieties include fat, orange habañeros, skinny red de arboles, and the stubby, green jalapeño. The habañero is the undisputed king of heat. Its orange variety has eight times the heat of a regular jalapeño. Its juice can actually blister bare skin. When a pepper’s fiery flavor hits your tongue, the best remedy is milk or yogurt.
For a yummy pick-me-up, skip the coffee and order an açaí-infused smoothie. The açaí (ah-sah-ee) berry grows on the açaí palm tree, native to the swamps of Central and South America. Brazilians mix the pulp of the berries, which are round, dark purple, and about 1 in. in diameter, with granola or with other fruit to make juices. Studies have proven açaí to contain high levels of antioxidants, which improve the body’s defense system against diseases like heart disease and certain cancers. So, naturally, the health-conscious population of Southern California has jumped at the chance to pour another beneficial ingredient into its fruit-and-granola diet.
‘‘The Main Street of America’’ was always much more than simply a route heading West. In its day Route 66 also nurtured an entire set of businesses that housed, fed, and supported hundreds of thousands of Westward migrants over several decades. Since 1985, the year when Route 66 was decommissioned and replaced by Interstate 44 as the main artery leading from the Midwest to California, many businesses along the road have fallen into decline. In rural areas establishments have been abandoned, while in urban areas buildings have been threatened by new development. But in the face of these difficulties, courageous and dedicated souls have undertaken the task of preserving Route 66. All along the route you will find preservation projects supported by a variety of different organizations and people, from the federal government right down to individual Route 66 die-hards. Preservation projects can operate with various strategies. Sometimes buildings are preserved as they originally were, but fossilized like museum exhibits. Elsewhere they have been converted to new uses. Another, and more difficult option, is to convert a disused building back to its original use. It’s not just buildings that are the focus of preservation efforts; in areas where a very old piece of the road still exists the asphalt itself is being preserved and saved from being tarred over.
In L.A., shopping isn’t just a practical necessity; it’s a way of life. Rodeo Dr. may be too much for the average budget traveler’s wallet, but you can’t brag that you’ve shopped L.A. without taking a trip down the ritzy strip. The downtown Fashion District is home to designers, wholesalers, retail stores, and guys hawking “Gucci” bags from suitcases. The hub of the shop-until-you-drop spots is the Westside.
L.A.’s live-theater scene does not have the reputation of New York City’s Broadway, but its 115 “equity-waiver theaters” (under 100 seats) offer dizzying, eclectic choices for theatergoers, who can also view small productions in art galleries, universities, parks, and even garages. Browse listings in the L.A. Weekly to find out what’s hot. L.A.’s music venues range from small clubs to massive amphitheaters. The Hollywood Palladium seats 3500; mid-sized acts head for the Gibson Ampitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza. Huge indoor sports arenas like the Staples Center double as concert halls for big acts. Few dare to play at the 100,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Sports Arena; only U2, Depeche Mode, Guns N’ Roses, and the Warped Tour have filled the stands in recent years.
Exposition Park and the often dangerous city of Inglewood, southwest of the park, are home to many sports teams. The USC Trojans play football at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum which seats over 100,000 spectators. It is the only stadium in the world to have hosted the Olympic Games twice. Basketball’s doormat, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the recent NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers play at the new Staples Center, along with the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and the city’s WNBA team, the Los Angeles Sparks. Elysian Park, about 3 mi. northeast of downtown, curves around the northern portion of Chavez Ravine, home of Dodger Stadium and the popular Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. Single-game tickets ($6-200) are a hot commodity during the April-October season, especially if the Dodgers are playing well.
With the highest number of bands per capita in the world and more streaming in every day, L.A. is famous for its (often expensive) club scene. Coupons in L.A. Weekly and those handed out by the clubs can save you a bundle. To enter the club scene, it’s best to be at least 21 (and/or beautiful). While the Sunset Strip features all the nightlife any Jack and Jill could desire, gay men and lesbians may find life more interesting a short tumble down the hill on Santa Monica Blvd. Still, many ostensibly straight clubs have gay nights; check L.A. Weekly. The free weekly magazine fab! lists happenings in the gay and lesbian community.
In the US, good table manners means quiet eating. Loud chewing, talking with food in your mouth, or slurping are seen as rude, and burping or flatulence is not seen as complementary to the chef. Servers at sitdown restaurants usually expect to be tipped 15-20%.
Dress in the US tends to be more modest than in Europe. Toplessness, particularly in women, should be avoided. Many establishments will require a customer to wear a shirt and shoes. The most acceptable forms of public affection are hugging and holding hands; kissing in public will usually draw some glances. Although most cities are tolerant of homosexuality, gay or lesbian couples should be aware that they may receive unwanted attention for public displays of affection, especially in rural areas. Also, note that many American will say “see you later” without really intending to make future plans.
One of the most offensive gestures in the US is extending your middle finger at someone. Known as “giving someone the finger,” this gesture is considered not only rude, but obscene. On the other hand, a “thumbs up” gesture is a sign of approval and a widely recognized signal for hitchhiking, which Let’s Go does not recommend.