L.A. Feature_Overview

40

Los Angeles: America's Dream Machine

LOS ANGELES _ Basking in a sunny, semitropical climate, and blessed with a diversity of cultures and conceits, this singular city mixes and matches settings, scenes and styles like no other. It is America's dream machine in living Technicolor. Rich in history, celebrating today, hinting at tomorrow.

Here is a city facing an ocean, encircled by mountains, where in a day, a weekend or a week you can meander from world-famous amusements to a wealth of museums, hip hop from pop to high culture, or view what's in vogue in the arts and entertainment. Here you can glimpse the stars in the heavens and the stars in Hollywood, shop for the latest fads and fashions in bargain centers or boutiques catering to every whim and budget, taste an exotic array of ethnic flavors, or simply bike, rollerblade or veg out at the beach.

What becomes most evident as one wanders from wacky wonders to delightful diversions is that Los Angeles' surprises cannot be described in one phrase, or absorbed in one day. Nor can it be experienced in one community, be it the beach or Beverly Hills, Downtown or Hollywood, museum row or the Valleys. To appreciate and enjoy the Los Angeles area, one approach is think of it as five distinct regions: Downtown, Hollywood, the Valleys, Westside and the Beaches. Each is a vacation destination on its own_a distinct experience as diverse as the cultures and lifestyles it celebrates.

Downtown is where Los Angeles began in 1781 by a mix of settlers under the Spanish flag. Today, historic remnants of early settlement remain around El Pueblo de Los Angeles and its Olvera Street. The area's tradition as an ethnic gateway continues nearby, in the sights and sounds of Latinoflavored Broadway, Chinatown and Little Tokyo. In addition to the taste of Japan, Little Tokyo offers the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, with a sunken garden oasis, and the Japanese American National Museum, appropriately housed in a converted Buddhist Temple. For additional taste of Asia, Koreatown is a few miles west.

The city's burgeoning performing and visual arts scene

can also be experienced Downtown_at the Music Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and in the artworks that enliven the plazas, parks and walkways of the area. Pedestrian-friendly Bunker Hill winds to the city's magnificently restored Central Library. Also of

architectural interest Downtown is a parade of postmodern office towers and the many landmark structures of the historical theatre district. For bargain hunters, the

jewelry, toy, garment and flower districts provide a variety of shopping opportunities.

Just south of Downtown, Exposition Park is home to the Memorial Coliseum (of 1932 and 1984 Olympic fame), the Sports Arena, and a cluster of museums focusing on science, aerospace, natural history and African-American culture. Across the street is the 150-acre campus of the University of Southern California.

Hollywood is both a real community northwest of downtown and a general term for the moviemaking community which is scattered across the region. The "real'' Hollywood offers visitors plenty of movie excitement and history, particularly at the famous Mann's Chinese Theatre.

A few blocks away is Farmers Market, a favorite of locals as well as visitors, for gazing and grazing. Other hangouts include hip Melrose Avenue, Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood and of course, Hollywood Boulevard, with its Walk of Fame stars in the sidewalk, and its fanciful

theaters, offbeat museums and eateries.

For another diversion there is Griffith Park, whose

4,000 acres contain, among other things, The Greek Theatre

for outdoor concerts, an observatory and planetarium, the Los Angeles Zoo, Travel Town with its miniature railroad, and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage. There is even a 30acre Equestrian Center where you can rent a horse and ride.

A glimpse of moviemaking is offered at Universal

Studios Hollywood. Steps away, Universal's CityWalk,

represents a stylized replica of L.A. architecture, with unique shops and restaurants. Studio tours are also offered at Paramount Studios in Hollywood and Warner Bros. and NBC in nearby Burbank.

The Valley region actually covers three distinct

valleys. The sprawling San Fernando Valley offers many shopping and dining options in Burbank's Media District, along Ventura Boulevard and in downtown Glendale.

North is the Santa Clarita Valley, home to Six Flags Magic Mountain and the new water park Hurricane Harbor.

Nearby are the real mountains of the Angeles National Forest, which offer hiking, camping, skiing and some of the West's most breathtaking vistas.

To the east, the San Gabriel Valley is known for Pasadena. Home of the Rose Bowl and the Tournament of Roses Parade, the city also contains a wealth of museums

(including the Norton Simon Museum), historic homes and neighborhoods, and the cutting edge institutions of Cal

Tech, the Jet Propulsion Lab, and the Art Center College of Design. All welcome visitors, as do the nearby Huntington Library and Gardens, Descanso Gardens and the L.A. County Arboretum.

The Westside's melange of comfortable neighborhoods,

convenient shopping and casual lifestyles have made communities such as Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Brentwood famous. Even if only to browse, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills invites strolling. So do the nearby Beverly Hills streets

with their bountiful boutiques and trendy bistros.

A few blocks away, Century City offers a range of shopping experiences and prices, as well as a theater, cinemas and eateries. The same mix is offered in nearby Westwood Village, but with a definitely younger disposition, given its proximity to UCLA. The campus itself is an attraction, given its museums, art galleries, theaters and sporting events. The more sedate Brentwood shopping

district, along San Vicente Boulevard, also sports a welltraveled jogging trail to the beach.

The Mid-Wilshire District features an area that is fast becoming known as `museum row.' The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is perhaps the best known, and includes an eyecatching Japanese Pavilion. Within walking distance is the

Craft and Folk Art Museum, and a host of other museums

exploring cars, miniatures and the prehistoric discoveries

of the La Brea Tar Pits.

The beach is Los Angeles' sand-covered piazza, its

great public place, be it for basking in the sun in a quiet cove in Malibu, or biking or rollerblading along the strand.

This beachside path leads from Santa Monica, and takes in the street performers of Venice, the day sailors of Marina del Rey, the virtuoso volleyball players on Manhattan Beach and the surfers and fishermen off Hermosa and Redondo. The narrow 22-mile stretch celebrates like no other place the Southern California lifestyle.

Farther south, San Pedro features a maritime and marine museum; a Ports O' Call that actually edges a working harbor, and Worldport LA, the largest cruise ship terminal on the West Coast. Indeed, each beach city has its special attraction--Malibu's Getty Museum; Santa Monica's trendy Third Street Promenade and Bergamont Station, the center of contemporary art galleries; Ocean Park's meandering Main Street; Venice's art galleries; and South Bay's suntanned ambiance.

Color it all with a mix of cultures, and you get an evolving, always engaging Los Angeles, a city like no other.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.