They call it the City of Angels, but as I looked out over the rolling hills of Los Angeles, and into the horizon, all I could see was pollution.
Admittedly, my first impression of LA was not a good one. With an incredibly underdeveloped public transport system, most of the city’s problems stem from the excessive traffic on its roads. After a four hour drive in rush hour from the airport to our hotel, we set out to explore.
The first and most strikingly obvious features of the city are in Hollywood, though there’s no need to worry about an expensive tour guide or a sight-seeing bus as the ‘Map of the Stars’ is given out free to tourists. Hiring a car is the best option, and driving through the central LA belt and the Beverly Hills circle gives way to the multitude of homes to actors, singers and other celebrities. Catching a glimpse of actual celebrities however, is unlikely. The homes of more illustrious stars – those such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Eddie Murphy – are well concealed behind tall hedges and iron gates.
A visit to Universal Studios Hollywood should be a priority on any tourist’s to-do list. Incorporating the Hollywood theme of LA with the theme park feel, the tour takes you from explosions on action scenes, through the set of Desperate Housewives’ Wisteria Lane, and onto the island jungle of King Kong. Alternatively, a trip to the Grauman Chinese theatre, home of the Oscars, is another half-day out, with the star-studded ‘Walk of Fame’ emblazoned across the path by the theatre.
The Hollywood sign, located on Mount Lee in the Santa Monica mountains, is worth seeing up close. However, to see it in all its glory, be prepared for a more strenuous trek. As we attempted to overcome the challenge, we had to abandon our car halfway up, as the path become narrower and steeper, and walk the rest of the way to the top. On the way, we stopped off at the rustic and long-standing Hollywood Methodist Church to explore, and for the first time since arriving, I began to really like LA.
As I moved beyond central Los Angeles to the hillier, more semi-rural areas, I felt as though I was moving out of LA and into California. Visiting both Monterey and Shadow Hills gives way to the realisation that LA in its entirety, unlike other great American cities such as New York or San Francisco, is not a simple mesh of tall buildings, blocks and man-made glory, but has instead sprawled out somewhat messily over decades of development. As opposed to its very man-made feel at the centre, moving out to the hills and heights of Los Angeles revealed all its imperfections in architecture, layout and development. And yet, it felt real.
It’s such a pity that this isn’t reflected in ‘mainstream’ Los Angeles, the central belt of celebrities, tourists and chain stores which seem to be the main focus of the city. A City of Angels it may certainly be, but you’ll have to travel far beyond its centre and out to its fringes to find the logic behind LA’s namesake.
Photo by Paul Reiffer