The Beginner's Guide to Los Angeles

New to Los Angeles? Find out from Los Angeles native Joy Hepp the very best places to check out in the Sunshine State’s largest city, including Universal Studios, a cruise down Sunset Boulevard and the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel.

As a teenager growing up in suburban Los Angeles, I always wondered why kids from other cities often looked at us with such curiosity. Didn’t everyone spend the occasional Friday night cruising the Sunset Strip or attend junior lifeguarding camp in Malibu?

It wasn’t until I moved away from home at age 18 that I realized just how unique my hometown is. While the city is known for the glitz and glamour of the movie industry, its home to so much more—beautiful beaches, multicultural cuisine, internationally renowned museums, and miles of gorgeous coastline.

With 3.8 million inhabitants in L.A. proper and 14.8 million in the greater urban area, Los Angeles is a bona fide megacity.

Within its boundaries are enclaves for every lifestyle and interest—surfers and their laidback ilk inhabit beach cities like Venice and Santa Monica, Hollywood execs and businessmen gather near Beverly Hills and Westwood, while hipsters and artists congregate near downtown and surrounding neighborhoods like Silverlake and Echo Park.

Angelenos may be divided geographically, but we’re united in our appreciation for great local weather. The average temperature is about 19C and we get around 35 days of precipitation each year. Who wouldn’t want to live here? 

After 10 years of travelling the world, I’m back home discovering my city all over again.

Here’s my guide for beginners to experience quintessential Los Angeles:

Go Cruising

Unlike Paris, New York, or even Mexico City, Los Angeles is not a city easily explored on foot. We Angelinos love our cars. We write songs about them and create television shows about them.

L.A. can be a bit jarring for a seasoned pedestrian, but have no fear! Just go with it. You can actually learn a lot about the city while sitting in traffic.

One of the best ways to find the city’s essence is to take the 30-mile trip from East L.A. to the ocean via Cesar Chavez and Sunset Boulevard.

I suggest starting out with the house guacamole appetizer and aguas frescas drinks at Moles La Tia in the historic Boyle Heights neighborhood. The diverse enclave maintains architecture made popular by its earliest Jewish, Mexican and Japanese immigrants.

Your venture west will take anywhere from two hours to all day, depending on traffic and your desire to stop and explore a slew of places along the way.

My favourite places are Amoeba Music, a two story record store and music geek fantasy land in Hollywood, and the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel, where everyone from Marilyn Monroe to the Duke and Duchess of Winsor have taken up residency.

Your journey will also take you past the University of California Los Angeles Campus, where you can stop to peruse the international exhibits at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, or walk along the campus’ well-manicured lawns. Of course, no trip down memory lane would be complete without a jaunt down the Sunset strip where nightclubs like the Whisky A Go Go, The Viper Room and The Roxy Theater still attract rockers and their acolytes.

Most importantly, Sunset Boulevard leads to Will Rogers State Beach in the Pacific Palisades. This marvelous stretch of sand and sea is part of the California State Park System and a popular location for television shows and movies.

Back when Baywatch was still in production in the late ‘90s, I caught a glimpse of David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson in their skimpy red bathing suits. Nowadays, you can just enjoy the sand and surf.

Live the Hollywood Life

If you don’t have time to tackle  the  entire megalopolis in a single weekend, one of the most fun, all-inclusive experiences is a trip to the Universal Studios, Hollywood.

Not only is the theme park located within walking distance of convenient public transportation, but  one of its most popular attractions is a tram tour of real life Hollywood sets and studios from movies like Jaws and the Bates Motel from Psycho

The promenade leading up to the park, Universal City Walk, is home to a 19-screen movie theatre with an 8-story IMAX screen, a bowling alley, and several quirky toy stores.

Planning a day around a theme park may be a bit juvenile, but I’m still an L.A. teenager at heart.