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Introducing Los Angeles
Welcome to LaLaLand! A land of sunshine, promise and wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. Squeezed into a 1,000-square-mile basin encircled by picturesque mountains and the Pacific Ocean, this vast urban megalopolis is home to movie stars and Mickey Mouse, richly endowed art museums and surfer dudes. LA (locals never spell out "Los Angeles") is balanced on the cutting edge of cool, where restaurants, cars, pets, and people blister in and out of fashion in the blink of an eye. Tinseltown is also a master of illusion with a pedigree stretching back to the dawn of the Hollywood movie era. Behind the palm trees and the power lunches, there are earthquakes, mud slides, and grinding poverty -- all part of the deal, and they lend LA an uncompromising edge far more realistic than the vicariously reported low-life dabblings of the Hollywood set.
Despite all that, the statistical likelihood of being caught in a major earthquake is remote. You are far more likely to suffer financially from valet parking, a legalized form of daylight robbery in a city that is landscaped by the combustion engine, where everybody drives everywhere.
Since 1781, when LA was founded by missionary farmers, the Downtown area has moved only a couple of blocks from the original site. Bounded by freeways, it remains the hub of the city, a highrise corporate ghetto where all eyes are focused on the burgeoning Pacific Rim market over the horizon. Beyond Downtown is Los Angeles County, made up of 88 incorporated cities and dozens of individual neighborhoods. On paper, it all looks like a cultural melting pot with the largest Hispanic and Asian/Pacific populations, and fourthlargest African-American population in the United States. In reality, many neighborhoods are anything but a melting pot, and racial and ethnic tensions are always just below the surface.
Cut a broad swath west of Downtown to the Pacific shore at Santa Monica, and you will find the majority of the city's top sightseeing attractions, shopping, dining, and entertainment opportunities. Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and West LA are the fickle heart of LaLaLand, where star-struck celebrities come out at night to watch each other in Spago or the Sky Bar, at the Viper Room, or the Improv. Of course, if you go and look for them, they are never there. The only way you can be sure of spotting celebrities in Tinseltown is to get a ticket for the Tonight Show.
However, if genuine stars are in short supply, there is nothing to prevent you from hamming it up in a dozen familiar-from-the-big- (or small-) screen locations, from Union Station (Blade Runner) and the Griffith Park Observatory (Rebel without a Cause) to Malibu (Baywatch, The Rockford Files). LA is definitely the place to indulge fantasies. Rent a limo for an evening out, wear sunglasses around the clock, hobnob with Goofy at Disneyland, and dress up for window shopping in Beverly Hills, then flounce into the Regent Beverly Wilshire (the Pretty Woman hotel) for a cocktail.