The drama of Los Angeles’ history would make a great movie, an irony which is not lost on the inhabitants of the entertainment capital of the world.
The first Europeans passed through Los Angeles during 1542 in a Spanish voyage organised by a Portuguese-born explorer. Two-and-a-half centuries later, in 1781, Los Angeles was finally colonised by the Spanish but just 40 years later it was seized by Mexico during the Mexican War of Independence. In 1848, more than three centuries after it was first discovered, Los Angeles was purchased by the United States as part of a Peace Treaty and finally became American territory.
At the end of the 19th century oil was discovered in LA, and by 1923 the city was producing a quarter of the world’s petroleum. This oil wealth attracted the aviation and movie industry, and shielded the population from the worst of the Great Depression. By the 1930s the city numbered more than one million and was the epicentre of the motion picture industry.
Today the city is home to four million residents, one in every six of whom works in a creative industry. As well as being home to more artists, writers, filmmakers, actors, dancers and musicians than any other metropolis in the world, LA is a global centre for business, trade and technology, and is ranked as the world’s third richest city. LA is also a stepping stone to the nearby desert states of Nevada and Arizona, and an entry point to Mexico and Central America.
The performing arts play a major role in LA's cultural identity and the city is synonymous with film stars, movie making and music. Home to Hollywood, the heart of global entertainment, LA plays host to the annual Academy Awards and features more than 1,000 music, theatre, dance, and performing groups within its city limits.
Start your tour in downtown LA at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and a masterpiece of modern design by architect Frank Gehry. Its twisted steel exterior entrances the eyes, while the hall’s near perfect acoustics enchant the ears. Then head to Hollywood Boulevard and take in a movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. With 200 celebrity handprints, footprints, and autographs imprinted on the theatre's forecourt, you can while away the hours quite literally following in the footsteps of your favourite film icon.
However, there is much more to the ‘City of Angels’ than celebrity. Take a hike into the Hollywood Hills for a close-up with nature, or travel the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu before heading deep into the wilderness of the Santa Monica Mountains. For entertainment of a different variety, amuse yourself on the white sands of Venice Beach. Once a 1960s Beatnik hangout, today you can marvel at street performers or chuckle at the posturing bodybuilders of Muscle Beach.
The city also has more than 800 museums and art galleries: explore the delights of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Petersen Automotive Museum, and the A+D Museum, all of which can be found on Wilshire Boulevard’s ‘Museum Row’.
LA has a multitude of ethnic cuisines to choose from, including Mexican, Italian, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Thai. Upmarket eateries can be found in the celebrity-centric restaurants of Beverly Hills, Hollywood and West Hollywood, while excellent quality mid-range restaurants and cheap eats can be found in most neighbourhoods.
Nightlife in LA is every bit as impressive as you would imagine. Start your evening at a West Hollywood martini bar or a rooftop lounge in the Valley before progressing to a European-style super club, packed with ϋber-cool Angelenos. For something a little less polished try a Santa Monica beach bar or Sunset Strip music joint, followed by a late finish at one of Hollywood’s numerous rock clubs.
Around 800km from LA –a short distance in American terms – lies the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. This stunning natural phenomenon is 446km long and reaches 29km at its widest point. Take a scenic helicopter or fixed-wing flight along the rim, or enjoy the adrenaline rush of rafting, hiking or running through the 1,800-metre deep canyon.