Now that Florida State is beating a 28 point underdog away from Pasadena, I thought I’d make a post for the Florida State fans who don’t know much about Los Angeles.
"Los Angeles may be the most photographed city in the world, but it’s one of the least photogenic. It’s not Paris or New York. In New York, everything is sharp and in-focus, as if seen through a wide-angle lens. In smoggy cities like Los Angeles, everything dissolves into the distance, and even stuff that’s close-up seems far off."
-Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)
I love Los Angeles. I moved here after I graduated from FSU in 2003, and except for a few years in NYC, have considered myself a fully indoctrinated Angelino. One thing that I have figured out, however, is that Los Angeles can be a tough tourist visit. It doesn't have an immediately identifiable beautiful skyline like New York or Chicago. It is spread out and there isn't some historic core where 90% of all your attractions will be, like Philadelphia or Boston. The truth is, I don’t think describing it as a city fits very well, either in fact (LA County is made up of 51 different municipalities) or in functionality as it seems more like a series of towns all with its own unique personality and culture. As economist and erstwhile cultural critic Tyler Cowen put it, Los Angeles is one of the most beautiful cities in America, but not for the reasons we traditionally call a city beautiful. That doesn't mean a trip to Los Angeles can't be a phenomenal visit. You just either need a local, or you need to do a bit more homework before you arrive than in most other cities.
For those of you planning on visiting our fair city, here is a great breakdown of the areas you might stay and some things to consider when planning your visit. I’ll also answer any additional questions in the comment section on specific hotels, restaurants, and things to do. Hopefully other LA Noles can chime in. By the way, the documentary that I quote above is excellent, and captures a good idea of what it feels like to be in LA, you can find it in full on YouTube here.
The home of the Rose Bowl where our team will win its 3rd crystal football. For most people, I would generally recommend NOT staying in Pasadena. It is beautiful, but it is very suburban, and the night scene is extremely tame. Unless you want to go hang out with the nerds at Cal Tech and ask them about the greatest college football prank of all time. If you are looking for more of a quite family atmosphere or don’t want to deal with the high amount driving required to truly experience LA, then you could enjoy Pasadena. While you are there, spend your time in Old Town Pasadena. It’s the walking historic core with most of the restaurants and coffee shops. Also, do take a drive through the neighborhoods surrounding the Rose Bowl. Some of the most beautiful homes in Southern California. More in the comments below if interested.
Ten years ago I would have told you there is no reason to visit Downtown LA ever. But that was before its complete revival. There are some really great hotels, MOCA, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the new Grand Park, LA Public Library (jaw dropping atrium), and some solid nightlife and hotels. Much of the revival is from the under 35 crowd, as many of the empty office buildings were turned into starter condo lofts in the last decade. The new LA Live area surrounding Staples Center is really well done. You have the Grammy Museum, plus a ton of sports bars and improving shopping. Also in downtown, you are close to USC if you wanted to go find some college bars/life.
Hollywood / Los Feliz / Silver Lake-
Hardcore Westsiders will whine about me saying this, but Hollywood has the best nightlife in LA. Great hotels, bars, restaurants, and clubs. You can also go do the usual tourist stuff (Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood Walk of Fame) but seriously, this stuff is overrated and will take you an hour before you are bored. The Hollywood and Highland complex is connected to the Dolby Theater (formerly Kodak) where they host the Oscars, but seriously, this is the first place every tourist heads. Being in Hollywood is all about the nightlife. A little further east is Los Feliz which use to be the hipster community, but now is completely gentrified with great places to eat and drink coffee. A little further east from there is Silverlake, which Forbes Magazine named the most hippest hipster neighborhood in America. Enter at your own uncool risk.
West Hollywood / Beverly Hills-
This is the "I saw it on TV" section of town. If you want to eat where they ate in Entourage, get coffee where they did in Curb Your Enthusiasm, and do some celebrity spotting, this is where you want to stay. Lots of great hotels, food, bars, coffee shops. If you are looking for all the best places to eat, it is this area of town, hands down. You’ll want to hit up the Sunset Strip for "mainstream" bars, but talk to a local to find cooler spots. This will also be your best shopping if you want that. You have Robertson Blvd shops for cool and trendy, Rodeo Drive area for upscale, and Melrose Ave for vintage and grungy. There is also the Beverly Center, a massive luxury mall right in the center of it all. Also, for any gay Noles, West Hollywood along Santa Monica Blvd one of the liveliest gay neighborhoods in the US.
Santa Monica / Venice Beach-
This is pretty far away from Pasadena, but if you are coming from the week and want to experience true feel of SoCal, stay in Santa Monica or Venice Beach. Santa Monica is a laid back city. The nightlife is great, the restaurants are great, and it is full of young tech entrepreneurs (a rather annoying moniker, "Silicon Beach", has taken hold, in counterpoint to Silicon Valley). Venice is hipster meets beach. It’s full of artsy creative, but the bars can be pretty fun, especially for singles. If you watched Showtime’s Californication, this is where Hank Moody lived. Of course, you have the beach as well, but in January, even in LA, it’s going to be a bit too cold (though you will see surfers out with wetsuits).
These are the basic areas that I think you’d want to stay. It is all going to depend on how much of LA you want to see and how much you are willing to drive. Remember, LA is spread out, way more than any other major city in America, and the public transportation system, once the greatest in the world, is now not even worth mentioning.
I’ll check the comments as long as this post is up if anyone has any specific questions.