Thanks to Hollywood, perhaps no city anywhere on the planet will be so instantly familiar to first-time arrivals as Los Angeles. From its wide, sandy beaches to its mountain vistas, palm trees and signature skyline, you've seen L.A. before, but nothing you've seen on television will prepare you for the real thing. Yes, you will see bleached blondes and BMWs aplenty, and yes, it really is 70 degrees and sunny most of the year, but there's a lot more to L.A. than botox and sunglasses.
L.A.'s downtown isn't really the true city center anymore, but it's a thriving business center by day and an emerging arts and entertainment district at night. The area between Sunset and Wilshire Boulevards, westward to the Pacfic, is the heart of the modern city and is most often called L.A.'s Westside. Most tourists will find the L.A. they've always envisioned here, whether it's shopping in Beverly Hills, checking out the record shops and music clubs of the Sunset Strip, tracing the walk of stars in Hollywood or skating up and down the beachfront promenade between the Santa Monica Pier and the quirky Venice boardwalk.
Outside of the core city, there's plenty more L.A. has to offer. Pasadena is an old streetcar suburb with its own first-class university and downtown entertainment district. There is Burbank, considered the "real" Hollywood, home to studios like Disney, Warner Brothers, CBS and NBC Universal. Culver City, home of Sony Pictures, has recently been redeveloped into an attractive entertainment and nightlife center. Santa Monica is L.A.'s city on the beach, sitting high atop a bluff affording it palm-fringed views of green mountains, blue ocean and kaleidoscopic California sunsets. And further up Pacific Coast Highway is Malibu, the playground of Hollywood's elite, and probably the only place on Earth you really could walk into an Oscar winner while filling up your gas tank.
Still not enough? Within 40 miles of Downtown L.A. are ski resorts, fantastic hikes with mountain and desert views, ethnic neighborhoods representing dozens of nationalities (including the nation's largest Taiwanese, Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Mexican, Guatemalan, Persian and Armenian communities), miles and miles and miles of sandy beaches and, of course, Disneyland.
Look beyond the celluloid facade and the much-maligned freeway traffic, and you'll see Los Angeles is a world-class city and a fantastic travel destination.
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