Admit it: When you hear "Los Angeles" you think movie stars, traffic jams, sunny and 70 degrees and the occasional major earthquake. And you're right on all counts! But there's more: As the epicenter of the second-largest metropolitan area in the country (population: 13 million, with 3.8 million in the city limits), L.A. has something for almost everyone, unless you love cold, snowy winters.
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With more than 250 distinct neighborhoods, Los Angeles has near-endless options for shopping, dining and nightlife. Foodies cannot possibly grow bored here: Highlights include Thai Town in Hollywood, where "spicy" elevates to new heights, and the sophisticated restaurants on Beverly Boulevard and downtown, including Mo-Chica, where owner/chef Ricardo Zarate won a Best New Chef award from Food & Wine. There's even a chili dog joint — Pink's, in West Hollywood — where people wait hours in line to eat.
It also has ample golf courses and, surprisingly, isn't too far from several legitimate ski resorts.
Yes, the traffic here is horrific, and yes, the sprawl is threatening to consume both Nevada and the Pacific Ocean. But for a city of its size and diversity, L.A. has a surprising array of natural diversions, including miles of beaches (some kept mellow by state park designation), the 655,387-acre Angeles National Forest and, within a manageable drive, Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks.
L.A. has a world-class zoo, aquariums, must-see art museums like The Getty, several orchestras (the Philharmonic plays at the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall), along with dance troupes, live theater and historic architecture (for example, in West Hollywood, where the time-lapse of vintage architecture — from Spanish Colonial to Art Deco — earned the 'hood recognition from the National Trust for Historic Preservation).
L.A. also has many pedestrian-friendly enclaves. Claremont and Santa Monica have been honored as bicycle-friendly communities, and the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition is rapidly organizing more neighborhoods. Regional subway and commuter rail lines link to an extensive network of buses, and voters approved tax levies that will send $40 billion to public transit over the next 30 years. Aggressive emissions controls have even improved L.A.'s notorious air pollution — one reason L.A. County residents enjoy good health, with a very low rate of death from cancer and low incidence rates for hypertension, obesity and smoking.
Downsides? Earthquakes, wildfires, windstorms and coastal erosion snag headlines but, on a more day-to-day practical level, people gripe about high unemployment, the housing bust and the threat of violent crime (driven mostly by gang activity).
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