Friday, March 18, 2011

Los Angeles

So, I spent about four full days last week "up in L.A." and while writing this story I got to thinking about "what is L.A." and how to do I sum it up in one post rather than writing 10 different stories? Let's try this!

First off, if you've never been to Los Angeles, your image of what L.A. is geographically is probably much smaller than what people in California refer to it as. There are really two L.A.s when people talk about the place. The first is Los Angeles CITY, which contains areas like Hollywood, South Central, the San Fernando Valley, San Pedro, and West L.A. There are other independent cities mixed in (and completely surrounded by the city of L.A.) such as Beverly Hills, Culver City, and West Hollywood. These cities all combine with outlying unincorporated areas to form Los Angeles COUNTY. The combination of the Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and Ventura counties make up what is often referred to as the "L.A. area". This giant megapolis covers about 4,900 square miles (12,500 km2) and is home to around 18 million people. It's big! You can spend months traveling around and not even come close to seeing it or understanding it all. What I'm sharing here is only scratching the surface of what L.A. is.

Back in the early 90s, I attended the University of Southern California (U.S.C.) to get my Master's degree. U.S.C is located about five minutes from downtown Los Angeles (yes Virginia, L.A. has a downtown) so I'll start from near there. Just up the street from the school is the Staples Center where the two L.A. basketball teams (the Lakers and the Clippers) and the L.A. Kings ice-hockey team play. Over the years, they've really built up the surrounding area with tons of shops, restaurants, and hotels. This photo is looking north on Figueroa Street towards downtown:

The next stop on our abbreviated tour is the Our Lady Of The Angels catholic cathedral, which is located next to the 101 freeway on the northern end (of the center) of downtown. It has a not-very-church-like exterior and the interior kinda' feels more like a concert hall than a church but it's a definite must-do if you're on an architectural tour of the area.

One of the newer highlights of downtown L.A. is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which was designed by Canadian-born but L.A.-based Frank Gehry. Gehry is probably best known for the similar-styled Guggenheim Museum in northern Spain. I have no idea how the quality of sound is for concerts but the exterior is awesome to see because it is such a radical design. The majority of the structure is made out of stainless steel and has no straight walls. It's also a must-see and only a couple of blocks from the cathedral.

As you move out west from downtown, you come to the internationally-famous neighborhood of Hollywood. For many people, the word Hollywood is associated with images of movie stars, movies being made in the streets, and possibly a beautiful area. Well, it is occasionally like that but not normally. Most of the famous people live in the hills west of Hollywood and most movies and TV shows are made in the suburbs. What makes it a great place to visit are things like the Kodak Theater where the Academy Awards are held:

...and Grauman's Chinese Theater, which is famous for the hand prints and signatures of celebrities that can be found in the concrete in front of the theater.

Hollywood is full of fun things to check out. Probably the most famous is the Walk Of Fame where the (honorary) city of Hollywood has given many celebrities a star on the sidewalk. It's fun to walk around and find and take your photo with the stars for people you like. The area in front of the Chinese Theater is also full of celebrity-look-a-likes. I saw Tom Cruise, Catwoman, Spiderman, and even Darth Vader when I was there.

No visit to the area would be complete without getting your photo in front of the famous Hollywood sign. The sign was originally built in 1923 as a temporary advertisement for a nearby housing development that was being built. It originally said "Hollywoodland" but the "land" part was later removed when a renovation was done to make the sign more durable and permanent. This shot was taken near the Lake Hollywood Park, which is about as close as you can legally get to the sign (hint hint!):

Going a little bit farther west along Mulholland Drive from the Hollywood sign, you come to one of my favorite view points in L.A. Located just above the Hollywood Bowl (the seating for which you can see to the left of my head in the photo) all of downtown, Hollywood, the 101 freeway, and much of the west side is visible from this spot.

I couldn't resist putting a photo of some L.A. traffic in this post. The area is famous for its traffic and rightfully so. I remember when I moved out to L.A. and sat in my first 11:30pm-on-a-Saturday traffic jam. Anyone who's lived in L.A. can vouch for the experience. Still, one thing I can say after traveling around the world, southern California drivers are generally excellent. I know there are a ton of people that will roll their eyes at that statement but where else do you have people driving 75 miles per hour well in dense traffic situations? Also, my guess, is that a higher percentage of people use their turn signals here than almost anywhere else I've been, save Japan. This photo was taken on the 110 freeway heading south in downtown L.A. at about 6pm Saturday night (and, no, there wasn't an accident or any other blockage):

Finally, what I love best about L.A. besides the weather is that you have this massive urban area that's on the edge of the ocean. No matter how crowded L.A. feels, I challenge you to not feel relaxed at one of the many beaches. One of my favorite spots in all of L.A. to see the ocean and great views is this cliff side in Palos Verdes, which is in the southwest corner of Los Angeles county. From this spot, you can see almost all of the coastline of L.A. county, the tall buildings of Century City and downtown L.A., and the snow-covered mountains beyond the city. (If you look hard enough in this photo, you can see one of the Goodyear blimps flying just off the coast.)

If you can't tell from this story, I love L.A. The mix of cultures, people, weather, recreational activities, and scenery make for an amazing place. It may, at times, be a little crazy, but like family, there's just something that you love about it even though you sometimes hate to love it.

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