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One of the most vibrant and diverse cultural capitals of the world, Los Angeles is more than just a city. In fact, there are 88 cities in L.A. County alone, representing an amazing diversity of cultures, styles, economics, climates and diversions — many overlapping in the sprawl that makes up the L.A. of public imagination. To experience it well (and affordably) requires savvy planning and a good map.
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Having a car is ideal, even if it means navigating the area’s famously clogged roadways. But if you don’t want to spring for a rental (or don’t drive), L.A. has a widespread light-rail system that is accessible for wheelchair users and connects with myriad buses. Between that and judicious use of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, you’ll be able to reach many key spots without breaking your budget.
Things to do
Note: Due to the pandemic, museums and other venues mentioned here may require advance online ticketing, masks and/or proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Be sure to check current rules before visiting.
If you like to walk, strolling through L.A.’s neighborhoods is a fantastic way to get a taste of different parts of the city. Manhattan Beach offers one of my favorite shoreline walks, but lots of first-time visitors seek out the wilder scene at Venice Beach, with its drum circles, fortune-tellers and many flavors of California eccentricity. When you’ve had enough, head north; once the roller skates are replaced by baby carriages, you’re in the more serene Santa Monica.
And don’t forget L.A.’s world-class museums.
The original Getty Villa (17985 Pacific Coast Highway), featuring the art collection of oil-industry magnate J. Paul Getty, shows off classical Greek and Roman antiquities in a re-created Roman country home, with a garden and reflecting pool. About 14 miles away, off the 405 Freeway, the main Getty Center complex houses the museum’s European and American art collections, but the stunning architecture, grounds and 360-degree views are reason enough to visit. Both museums are free, although you still need to reserve timed-entry tickets online — and parking is $20.