USA California 

A Guide to Los Angeles

Situated in a flat basin on the southwestern coast of California, Los Angeles, movie capital of the world, conjures up images of wealth, luxury and glamour, belying its sleazy past as a haven for gamblers, drug dealers and prostitutes. Instead, it now epitomizes the ‘American Dream’.

In the sprawling conurbation of cities like Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Hollywood that is Los Angeles, there are a myriad shopping malls, art galleries, museums, concert halls, theatres, architectural delights, Universal Studios, a zoo, planetarium, observatory, botanical gardens and rugged mountainous areas to be explored. There is no focal point in this enormous city which is nevertheless easy to get around by public transport or car. Motor along the 50-mile Mulholland Drive on the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains for panoramic views of the city and San Fernando Valley.

Santa Monica, sited on a high cliff overlooking the bay, has beaches, the oldest pier (now an amusement area), and beautiful Palisades Park stretching 1.5 miles along the cliff’s edge with panoramic views.

The Getty Center in the Sepulveda Pass in the rugged Santa Monica Mountains houses collections of European paintings from the Renaissance to Post-Impressionism, sculpture, antique French and English furniture, tapestries, chandeliers, illuminated manuscripts and treasures from the Byzantine, Ottoman, Romanesque and Gothic historical periods.

The Museum of Tolerance in Beverly Hills highlights racial discrimination and the Holocaust, the latter section exhibiting a chilling replica of a gas chamber - lest we forget. There are also the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Culture, the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, five museums dotted along Miracle Mile on Wilshire Avenue, including an unusual one with millions of fossils found in the La Brea Tar Pits, and the Japanese American National Museum in a former Buddhist Temple.

Interesting architectural buildings include the Beverly Hills Spanish Colonial City Hall, its elegant tower topped with a tiled cupola; the First Interstate World Center in downtown, 1 017-ft high, the tallest building; the attractive Grand Union Station, a jumble of Spanish Mission, Moorish and Streamline Moderne styles of architecture close to El Pueblo, the oldest part of the city which is a Historic Monument. Hollywood Bowl is in a natural amphitheatre in the hills, the summer home of the Philharmonic Orchestra.

For seriously rich shopoholics, the designer boutiques on Rodeo Drive, Wilshire Boulevard and 2 Rodeo are proof that the retail god of fashion is alive and well.

The opulent, palatial mansions of the movie stars are above Sunset Boulevard in the hills which were devastated by runaway wildfires in October 2007.

Sunset Strip in Hollywood is disappointing, maybe best seen at night when its tawdriness is hidden by neon lights. Shabby Hollywood Boulevard boasts marble stars of over 2 000 movie celebrities in the Walk of Fame.

But what most visitors will explore first is Universal Studios, 415 acres of movie theme park. Take a Studio Tour tram ride through an earthquake, a flash flood, an avalanche, cross a collapsing bridge, meet King Kong, Jaws and more.
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