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Introduction to Los Angeles, California

by Max LentMax Lent

Los Angeles doesn't really exist as city.  It is a decentralized accumulation of communities that seems to never stop growing.  Standing somewhere in the downtown of Los Angeles you could be more than 50 miles away from its loosely defined edges.  It is smoggy, often dirty, and its infrastructure appears to be in a state of moldering decay.  Its freeways are impossibly crowded making travel time a significant for tourists and residents.  It can be dangerous and ugly.  Most of Los Angeles is a stucco facade, not unlike a temporary movie set.  Yet, it is a wonderful mosaic of cultures, climates, and topographies unlike I have seen anywhere else in the world.

Many people in L.A. are not who they appear to be.  Everyone seems to be an undiscovered scriptwriter, actor, director, or producer who is only working as a lawyer, dentist, waiter, cop, or programmer until they break into the film industry.  

Like all large cities, L.A. is layered.  There is the layer that is myth.  All over the world, people believe that they know L.A. from what they have seen in movies, read in books, or heard about from relatives.  There is the layer that the tourist sees and there are the other many layers that residents see.  My introduction is from the perspective of an expatriate resident.

Many of L.A.'s major tourist attractions are listed on the Los Angeles Attractions page which is a subset of the Los Angeles Information page.  If you are a short-term visitor you may want to skip directly to the attractions page and see the major tourist sites.  Most of what people want to see in L.A. is widely dispersed and requires a great deal of travel time. 

Favorite L.A. Area Places


  • The Brand Library.  When I lived in Los Angeles, the Brand library had one of the best collections of photography books in the region.  Not only did I enjoy using the library, I enjoyed visiting the library.  Its Moorish/Indian architecture makes it one of the most architecturally interesting libraries I've ever visited. 
  • The Gamble House. The Gamble house was built by Green & Green Architects.  It is the archetypal California Bungalow and it is one of my favorite houses.  Don't just look at the exterior of the house, take the tour.  Seeing stained glass entrance from the inside an experience you are unlikely to forget.  You may also wonder why so many modern tract houses look so awful when they could be using 90 year old designs that are superior in every way.    

Botanical Gardens

  • The Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden at UCLA.  I had the privilege of working with Dr. Mathias on several projects and I am particularly pleased that UCLA named their botanical garden after her.  During the many years that I worked at UCLA in various departments including zoology, sub-atomic particle physics, and parasitology my labs were often below ground or windowless.  During lunch hours and breaks, I walked through the UCLA botanical garden and admired the plants and wildlife that live there.  My favorite plant is the Dawn Redwood near the bottom of the ponds.  It is said to be the tallest Dawn Redwood in North America.   


  • The San Gabriel Mountains.  I lived in Azusa, CA during my high school years and every moment that I wasn't in school I was hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains.  I would walk from my home in Azusa up Highway 39.  The amount of time I had available determined where I would leave the highway and hike up a canyon.  Hitch hiking enabled me to go further into the mountains to explore the east and west forks of the San Gabriel River.  The farther into the mountain canyons I hiked, I was amazed by their beauty.

    A nice drive up San Gabriel Canyon might include driving to Crystal Lake, if the road is open.  On your return go east on the East Fork Road and then south on Glendora Mountain Road to Glendora California.  (MSN Maps)

    Today, you can't drive all the way up highway 39 to the Angeles Crest Highway at the crest of the mountains, but the drive up San Gabriel Canyon is still beautiful.  If you decided to park and walk up the west fork of the San Gabriel River, you will notice that the population density rapidly falls off as you walk farther away from the parking lots.  Be careful to look where you walk.  Rattlesnakes are abundant in southern California mountains.

    If you want to hike the San Gabriel Mountains I suggest visiting the Hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains and the Angeles National Forest for current hiking condition information.  My favorite hike in the San Gabriel Mountains is starts at the end of the east fork road and continues up the north fork to Iron Mountain.  The terrain is rugged, not well traveled, and can be dangerous, but its remoteness makes up for the effort of the hike.

    Another way to enjoy the San Gabriel Mountains is drive the Angeles Crest Highway Route 2 from La Canada to Wrightwood. (MSN Maps)  Allow half a day for the drive and plan to drive back via San Bernardino to Los Angeles on Interstates 15 and 10.  You may want to stop at the Mt. Wilson Observatory along the way.  The Angeles Crest Highway offers spectacular views of the high desert and the Los Angeles basin (when the air is clear).  Pack a picnic lunch and have your picnic from one of the hundreds of overlooks.  If you don't take a picnic take a snack and plan on having a late lunch or dinner in Wrightwood.  The Wrightwood site lists numerous restaurants.  

    Links to more information about the San Gabriel Mountains

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