Shallow, superficial, self-involved, sprawling, segregated, smoggy, history-free and earthquake-prone, nipped and tucked and lifted and peeled, the place where the only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light….
Seasoned Angelenos have heard it all before, so you might as well get all that off your chest before you settle into what is, for most of us, a pretty good SoCal life. There's the weather: Year-round, this is one of the most temperate spots on the globe, thanks in part to some shady water deals a century ago that keep this former desert lush with green, and thanks in great part to a natural body of water, the Pacific Ocean, which requires no such diversion to give Angelenos—particularly those west of Robertson Boulevard—a literal breath of fresh air. And for all the legitimate griping about the freeway sprawl and the historical lack of sensible transit planning, the independence and freedom afforded by the automobile still makes it the most popular way to get around (and not just here in L.A., all right? Show me an American downtown and I'll show you a ring of plush, sprawling suburbs connected by highways).
And what a place to get around: An hour's drive from Downtown L.A. can put you on the ritzy beaches of Malibu, or the snowy peak of Mt. Baldy, or Orange County's suburban übermall, South Coast Plaza. Within a reasonable drive from just about anywhere in L.A. are mountains to hike, waves to surf, world-class concerts and theatre to catch, architecture and museums to take in, international cuisine to sample, walking nightlife districts to prowl. On a typical drive through the ex-urbs and mini-malls, industrial parks and tree-lined boulevards, you might see a coyote and a cross-dresser, a stretch limo and a homeless man with a hand-lettered sign. You'll see folks of all races, sometimes even mixing with each other.
It can all be a little overwhelming—which is maybe why we who live here eventually learn to weave our way through the traffic snarls to more welcoming places, whether it's an apartment, a theatre, a yoga class, a pool hall, an AA meeting, a church. Community is possible in this spread-out industry town—indeed, in this "city" of endless adjacent suburbs, it's not that hard to develop an authentic sense of the small-town neighborhood. If New York is the city that never sleeps, L.A. is the place where sleepy side streets feed straight to the fast-lane freeway entrance, and vice versa.
The challenges that face those who pour into the city every day seeking work in the region's most durable homegrown industry are much the same as those that face any new Angeleno. To help you get oriented, we offer this introductory primer to life in L.A., with actor- and performer-directed advice where applicable.
Finding A Place
Where do you want to live? Near the studios, near the beach—near the freeway so you can make a quick getaway? L.A. is such a vast territory it helps to narrow your search to a few areas you feel are the most attractive, convenient, and/or affordable (see "Neighborhood Guide" for further recommendations on where to live, with complete map on page 17-A). For specific statistics on crime, median income, etc., refer to www.losangelesalmanac .com. This site breaks down most of L.A., neighborhood by neighborhood, and contains lots of useful information.
The Los Angeles Times (www.latimes .com/classified/rentals) and The Recycler, a cheap weekly with copious classified listings available at most local convenience stores, can be good places to start looking for rental listings—though because the papers are widely distributed, apartments listed in them go quickly. If you see something that interests you in the paper, call immediately and set up an appointment to look at the place at your earliest opportunity. Chances are, the apartment will be rented by the end of the week, if not within a few days.
Another popular option is to register with a rental listing service such as Renttimes (www.renttimes.com, $49 for three months) or Westside Rental Connection (www.westsiderentals.com, $60 for two months), which provide you with a wealth of decent listings for the fee (see listing on this page). If you don't find a rental from the list you bought, or if you rent from another source, the service is required by law to return all but $25 of the fee you paid, as long as you request the refund via registered mail within 10 days of the end of the contract. Lastly, driving around an area you like may be time-consuming, but it is another great way to seek out apartments that may not yet be flocked with potential tenants.
You will probably be required to fill out a rental application with your personal information, current and past employers and landlords, Social Security number, bank account numbers (place a password on your bank account if you don't want the landlord snooping), and credit account numbers for credit reference. You may also be required to provide proof of monthly income or other information that shows your ability to pay rent. The landlord may charge an application-screening fee of up to $30 to cover the cost of checking your information. If the landlord obtains your credit report, he or she must give you a copy if you request it.
You will then enter into either a periodic rental agreement (month-to-month, for example) or a lease (for six or 12 months, for example). In the case of a lease, you are legally required to make rent payments until your lease expires. The benefit of a lease is that the landlord cannot raise your rent while the lease is in effect, and you cannot be asked to leave except for reasons such as damaging the property or failing to pay rent.
It is also important to find out whether the city in which you wish to rent has a rent control ordinance (Los Angeles does) and what the specifics of that ordinance are. Some cities, for example, allow the landlord to increase the rent by only a certain percent each year and limit the landlord's ability to evict tenants. A great resource for more information on renting apartments is The California Tenants Handbook, published by the state's Department of Consumer Affairs. Call (800) 952-5210, or view the text online at www.dca.ca.gov/legal/landlordbook.
Because average rent for a one-bedroom in L.A. starts at around $750, opting for a roommate may be the best way to find an apartment in a great area at the most affordable price, and chances are it will already be semi-furnished. If you know from the get-go that this is the path for you, and you aren't arriving in L.A. with a living companion in tow, you might want to start by looking for someone who already has a place to share.
If you are arriving here as a complete stranger in a strange land, a number of good resources can help match you up with a sane and considerate human being within a few weeks. Services like Roommate Matchers (www.roommatematchers.com) will charge you $49 for three months and can provide you with profiles and sometimes photos of people with rooms to rent or people looking for apartments.
You can also check newspapers, such as BSW, and bulletin boards, such as the one at Actor's Equity Association (5757 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 1, L.A.), or place your own attractive flier in a well-trafficked coffeehouse.
It's also important to remember that, like many big cities in the United States, Los Angeles unfortunately has its share of crime. When choosing a place to live, it's a good idea to take a good look at the neighborhood, especially at night. Police helicopters circling the area are usually a sign that there are problems, such as gang activity. Also observe whether most of the houses/apartment buildings have bars over the windows. Chances are that burglaries and intrusions are a problem in this area. No matter where you live, you might also consider paying for renter's insurance to protect yourself from loss or damage from theft, fire, or natural disaster.
If you are very concerned about safety, you might consider living in the second story or higher of a building. You might also look for a building that has security doors at the entrance and underground parking or assigned parking. Parking can be a real problem in some areas of Los Angeles, especially in Venice, Hollywood, West Hollywood, and the Fairfax District, where many structures do not have off-street parking. If you are concerned about walking a long distance from your car to your apartment at night, you might look elsewhere to live or make sure you get an apartment with an assigned parking space.
Car theft and vandalism are particularly rampant in this city and can happen just about anywhere. The least expensive and easiest way to prevent someone from stealing your automobile is to get the Club, a locked metal device that fits over your steering wheel when you are parked. It's available in most automotive stores for around $50. Likewise if you have a bicycle or motorcycle, always lock it up and use an excellent lock—not a chain metal one, which thieves can easily break.
None of these tips are meant to scare you off, but if you're going to call L.A. your home, you need to be aware of the forms that criminal activity can take here—and of the common-sense precautions you can take to lessen your chances of becoming a statistic.
Craig's List www.craigslist.org, an excellent free online bulletin board
Roommate Access www.roommateaccess .com, paid service, nationwide
Roommate Matchers www.roommatematchers.com, (323) 653-7666, online and in-person service, $19
www.roommateclick.com free online search; contact services, $5.95-99.95
Easy Roommate www.easyroommate.com, online service, $29-49
Yahoo Classifieds www.yahoo.com, free online service
Rental Times www.renttimes.com or (323) 653-7666, online and in-person listing service
Apartment Source www.apartmentsource.com, (800) 313-9738, free online search; contact services, $7.95-79.95
Westside Rental Connection www.westsiderentals.com, (800) 736-8005, online and in-person service
Homestore.com www.homestore.com, free online listing service
LA Homefinders.com www.lahomefinders.com, online listing service, $49.95
www.apartments.com free online search service
Yahoo Classifieds www.yahoo.com, free online service
Pets and People Homefinders www.pets-people.com, (310) 398-6683, online and in-person service for pet-friendly rentals, $71
Pets R Welcome www.petsrwelcome.com, online service for pet-friendly rentals, $50.
Los Angeles isn't really a city but a string of interconnected city centers and suburbs, so there's no practical way to negotiate its terrain without a set of wheels. We've known a few resourceful actors, usually in a temporary crisis, who've managed to piece together their very own transportation system that included buses, bicycles, or bummed rides. But this town is crazy-making enough with a car, let alone without one. Bottom line: You won't get far here without a car.
Yes, L.A. has a functioning bus system that's relatively safe, clean, affordable, and more or less reliable, and it's good for work commutes if you've got regular hours and a lot of reading to do. Single fare is $1.35, plus 25 cents per transfer; a typical route will require at least one transfer, so carrying around exact change for $1.60 is advisable; there's a special night fare of 75 cents, 9 p.m.-5 a.m. Certain freeway express bus zones charge an extra fare, so be prepared with extra cash and change. If you're taking the bus regularly, a pass is a good money-saving option; weekly, semi-monthly, and monthly passes are available. For information, check out www.mta.net, or call (213) 626-4455 for route information.
And while you may have heard about L.A.'s new subway "system," don't count on Metro Rail's anemic routes to solve your practical transportation needs. With just 60 stops—in places like North Hollywood, Universal City, Hollywood, Downtown L.A., East L.A., South L.A., and Long Beach—the subway makes a nice outing for a leisurely urban day trip, but that's it. Rates are the same as for buses.
If you're coming to L.A. from out of state, it's best to come here with a reliable car, as it's typically going to be cheaper to buy in most other states, not least because of the lower sales tax. And don't hesitate to get a California driver's license and register the vehicle here; the law gives you 10 days to do the former, 20 days to do the latter. We've heard too many stories of folks keeping their out-of-state plates for months, even years, often under a parent's name, and then getting hit with a pricey ticket when the ruse is discovered in a routine traffic stop or fender-bender—a fine that is then added to your overdue state registration fee.
The license will cost you $12; registration will vary, based on the age and value of the car, anywhere from $30 to $300. A smog check will be required, which can run as much as $90—though if you have an older car, you may be in for some repairs to get up to California emissions standards. Some people have the title of the car made out as a "gift"—typically your parents can help you with this—worth a mere few thousand dollars. This can lower the car's valuation in the eyes of the state, and thus make the registration fee a fraction of what it might be otherwise. Registration and license are available through the Department of Motor Vehicles; for locations and information, call (800) 777-0133 or visit www.dmv.ca.gov.
California law also requires that you have a certain minimum level of car insurance coverage, and depending on where you live, not to mention your age and driving record, your insurance payments can add up to a big chunk of change—some people pay more for insurance than they do in car payments.
If you're looking for a car in Los Angeles, a good place to start is with websites such as www.lacarguy.com, www.carsdirect.com, etc. and in The Recycler. But there's no getting around the legwork; you'll need to give yourself a few weeks to shop and/or check out cars from private owners. If you're a member of AAA, you can take advantage of a car-buying program in which good deals are recommended at AAA-approved used-car dealerships; call (800) 709-7222.
Once you're behind the wheel, the adventure begins. The first thing you must do is drive to a local bookstore and buy a Thomas Guide. This indispensable, almost sacred text will run you $20 for L.A. County, closer to $30 to add a county (L.A. plus Orange, or L.A. plus Ventura). Trust us on this one: Yes, Internet maps and directions are a great innovation, but we still swear by the Thomas Guide for the most thorough, reliable information.
Know that many L.A. drivers are aggressive and self-centered, and that when it rains they drive even more poorly. It behooves new arrivals to remember their high school courses in defensive driving and to avoid distractions at the wheel—pull over if you need to use that cellphone, please!
Signing up with a temp agency (see accompanying list on page 8-A) is always a good way to get placed in entertainment offices, from the studios to agents, managers, or publicists. It's an opportunity to observe the business firsthand. Another benefit to temp work is the flexible schedule: You can work around classes and auditions. Many temp agencies in this town are actor-friendly. Some require an initial registration fee, which you usually make back with your first job, which is most often guaranteed. It's a good idea to register with multiple companies, as many temp jobs last only a few days.
Other entry-level industry jobs include being a reader in a casting office, where you read the lines opposite the actor auditioning. You'll probably need to know someone in the casting office to get a plum job like this. But if you're lucky you'll get to witness the competition and see what makes casting directors tick.
If you're a fast reader (in the silent sense), you can consider doing coverage for a production company as a script reader. You would be assigned to read manuscripts and make critical comments for use by the company's development department. This is a great job with a flexible work-at-home schedule, ideal for aspiring screenwriters to get an idea of scripts that are circulating. The only catch is that it can be very hard to land a paid position starting out; you may have to do it for free for a while—it's a little like acting that way. The best way to get into this field is to contact local film production companies—listed in such guides as LA 411 and Creative Directory—and local agencies to see if they need intern or office help in their development or literary departments. Smart interns may find themselves taking some reading material home on weekends, and one thing leads to the next.
You could also get on a set by serving as a production assistant. The pay isn't great and the work can be strenuous and plebeian, but what better way to gain some on-set savvy? Production assistant positions vary from running for coffee to assisting the production in a significant way; it depends on the production and the people in charge. However, it's rare that any production company won't be generous to an individual who has a calm, focused attitude and works hard. You can find job notices for P.A.s in the Casting section of BSW every week.
But if you need to make some serious money, and the first-look deal with Paramount just hasn't come together like you thought, live the Hollywood cliché and wait tables. Just by going to a few nice restaurants in town, you'll see that the main criterion for getting a waitering job is much like that of snagging an acting gig: your look. You can more easily find work as a waiter if you're neat and attractive. While experience helps, it doesn't seem to be top priority in all cases. So if you can get the work, why not get it at a restaurant near a studio or industry hangout? Of course those spots, like a series regular on a sitcom, are highly sought-after and competitive. You could also check hotels and caterers who hire waiters for industry banquets.
Likewise, tending bar, which can also be quite lucrative, is a tough nut to crack in L.A. First, there just aren't as many bars here, compared with, say, New York. Starbucks Coffee is the closest L.A. equivalent, however, and it's got lots of positions to fill. Second, it seems that you have to know someone to recommend you to get a job behind the bar—in that sense it's like getting an agent or getting a read with a casting director. If you have no experience or contacts at bars already, you might consider taking a class. A list of local bartending schools is available at www.rwm.org/ rwm/cal_bat.html. Many of the schools will help you find work as a bartender in hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and industry events, including awards banquets.
Another job that can mesh with an actor's often unpredictable schedule is substitute teaching, which offers flexibility and variety on a long- or short-term basis. A teaching credential is not necessary; however, the L.A. Unified School District requires prospective substitute teachers to enroll in the 40-hour Teacher Training Academy. Call (800) 832-2452 or visit www.lausd.k12.ca.us for more information.
Finally, a segment of L.A.'s population works as full-time extras. You can make decent money regularly appearing as a background performer in films, television, and commercials. It's even (for the time being) a way to get into the Screen Actors Guild. Because extras work necessitates its own community, there are some important things to remember. This is the only area of the industry in which an initial registration fee to be considered for parts is condoned. You register with extras casting companies, and they keep your picture on file and hire you whenever your look is appropriate for a project they are casting. There are also calling services, which act as agents in seeking extras work for you. These services generally require a monthly fee, and while they're by no means necessary for finding extras work, some extras casting directors do rely on them to book extras. Back Stage West also lists many calls for extras on major projects, as well as smaller productions, for which there is no fee to register or submit.
You don't need a headshot or an extensive resumé to get extras work. All you need are your measurements and a 3x5 color photo of yourself against a plain white background. It doesn't have to be professional, only a simple snapshot accurately representing how you look now—so don't fall for photographers telling you that you need expensive headshots to do background work. Some extras companies will take a photo, usually digital or Polaroid, for a minor fee; it really shouldn't be more than $20-25 for commercials.
The industry standard registration fee for legitimate extras casting companies is less than $25. This cost usually includes the photo fee because SAG extras cannot be charged any registration fees to get work, only a photo fee. There are numerous companies claiming to cast extras that charge exorbitant fees, list false credits, and rarely or never call you for work though they claim to guarantee work. These are generally the companies advertising in general newspapers with a wide readership or posting fliers on telephone polls with a phone number for you to tear off. These companies make a lot of promises and never deliver.
There are many things to know about being a background performer—or "atmosphere," as extras are sometimes called—and many things to avoid to keep from being scammed, such as knowing that anyone who will sell you SAG vouchers is not legitimate. The most comprehensive resource and guide to the extras community is the annual publication Extra Work for Brain Surgeons (Hollywood OS, $27.50); also worth a look is Back to One: The Movie Extras Guidebook (Back To One Publications, $24.95). Another good resource guide is the book Survival Jobs: 154 Ways To Make Money While Pursuing Your Dreams, by Deborah Jacobson (Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub, $19).
If you're interested in doing extras work, you should know that it is not very glamorous. Background performers are often treated like cattle. The hours can be long. The pay is not very good—usually minimum wage for non-union extras. While an extra occasionally gets upgraded to a speaking role—which is rare but does happen—you are probably not going to get "discovered" by being an extra. It is also not recommended that you include your background performances on your resumé as you build your acting career. Theatrical and commercial agents and casting directors are not going to be impressed by such credits; training and speaking roles are what count as you progress. However, being an extra affords an aspiring actor a quick education in on-set procedure and protocol.
Once you've sorted out the challenges of living here, you'll want to take advantage of the perks of living here, too. Don't believe the hype: Los Angeles is a world cultural center, a bona fide international mecca for artists, intellectuals, philanthropists, and assorted movers and shakers—and not only those attracted by, or springing from, the town's dominant film/TV industry. Theatre and the performing arts thrive here, as does a rich nightlife of live music, restaurants for every palate, and hopping dance clubs. There are world-class museums, architectural tours, botanical gardens, and hiking clubs. And for the inveterate shopper, L.A. has no shortage of malls, specialty boutiques, couture showrooms, used record stores, bookstores, or thrift shops.
There isn't room to give a complete list of options. For listings of local entertainment events, nothing beats the L.A. Weekly (free, Thursdays, distributed citywide; the website, www.laweekly.com, is not as handy as having a copy around). The L.A. Times Thursday weekend edition has a good supplement, too. But these will only give you a weekly snapshot of events; for newcomers looking for a bigger picture, we've selected our own eclectic, subjective list of must-do-at-least-once L.A. activities, locales, and diversions:
The world's greatest outdoor concert venue has cheap seats—as low as $1, ladies and gentlemen—and you can bring a picnic in a cooler, like a sporting event. Upcoming concerts include the L.A. Philharmonic, conducted by the boyish Esa-Pekka Salonen, doing Stravinsky, Sibelius, and Debussy's La Mer (July 24); the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, led by the voluble John Mauceri, joining Noche Flamenco for a spectactular "España! with Fireworks" (July 25-27); an evening with soprano Sumi Jo and the L.A. Philharmonic (July 29, 31); "The Movie Music of Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard," hosted by Lee and featuring Blanchard, Chaka Khan, and Dianne Reeves (July 30); a Tchaikovsky fireworks spectacular with the L.A. Phil (Aug. 1-2); a concert reading of My Fair Lady with John Lithgow, Melissa Errico, and Roger Daltrey (Aug. 3); Jack Johnson and Ben Harper (Aug. 4), and daytime "SummerSounds" concerts of international music (weekdays through August). For more info, check out www.hollywoodbowl.org.
New Beverly Cinema
You can rent videos any night of the week. To see vintage and contemporary film classics on the big screen, check out this indispensable revival house, right in the center of town, where you can catch a double feature for the friendly price of $5. Coming up: A Louise Brooks double feature, Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl (July 23-24); Fellini's Roma and Satyricon (July 27-29); The Dancer Upstairs and Missing (July 30-31); Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany's (Aug. 1-2); Scarface and Carlito's Way (Aug. 3-5); Raising Victor Vargas and Sweet Sixteen (Aug. 6-7); Dr. Strangelove and Lolita (Aug. 8-9); Valley Girl and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Aug. 10-12); Touch of Evil and The Lady From Shanghai (Aug. 13-14). For more listings, check out www.michaelwilliams.com/beverlycinema, or call (323) 938-4038. 7165 Beverly Blvd., L.A.
One of the Southland's local treasures, a lush botanical garden and a first-class museum (and a private research library). In the tony Pasadena-adjacent neighborhood of San Marino, 1151 Oxford Rd. (626) 405-2100. Admission: $12.50. (For another botanical option, try Gardens of the World, a 4.5-acre cultural park featuring Japanese, English, French, and Italian gardens. 2001 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. (805) 557-1135.)
But of course—this internationally renowned destination, nestled in the mountains near the intersection of the 405 and the 10 freeways, is free (parking is $5), and is worth the visit just for the view of the city from Richard Meier's sleek marble campus, and for a stop in Robert Irwin's peculiar garden, no matter what exhibits are up (right now it's 1960s photographs by Winogrand, Eggleston, and Arbus, and a must-see show of illuminated manuscripts from the Renaissance). 1200 Getty Center Dr. (310) 440-7300. www.getty.edu.
Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum
Two museums for the price of one ($7.50 admission), with comprehensive exhibits from the real West and the showbiz West, from Buffalo Bill Cody to Clint Eastwood. 4700 Western Heritage Way. (323) 667-2000. www.autry-museum.org.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology
A small and beguiling meta-museum run by artists, with a mix of authentic and parodic exhibits that reward bemused attention. $4. 9341 Venice Blvd., Culver City. (310) 836-6131. www.mjt.org.
Arguably L.A.'s most strange, wondrous, and inspiring indigenous monument, this homemade assemblage of reinforced concrete and colorful found objects was the life's work of Simon "Sam" Rodia, an Italian bricklayer who spent his off hours constructing this Gaudi-esque icon of outsider art. Spend as much time as you can here; you'll start to feel you're visiting the last outpost of a lost kingdom, or your money back (admission is $5). 1727 E. 107th St., Watts. Call (213) 847-4646 for hours.
The full name of this idyllic curiosity is "the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake & Shrine," created in the 1950s by the Indian guru Paramahansa Yogananda. It's got a meditation chapel with a Dutch windmill, an urn containing ashes of Mahatma Gandhi, and plenty of leafy walking paths to take your own spiritual journey (really—these folks leave you alone, unlike the Scientologists). 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114.
Sunset Junction Street Fair
Your chance to check out L.A.'s hippest neighborhood on its hottest weekend is coming up, Aug. 23-24 in Silverlake. Sunset Boulevard between the 3600 and 4200 blocks is shut down for two days, and admission is $7. There are rides, vendors, food, and world-class live music, this year's roster including Circle Jerks, Guided by Voices, Dandy Warhols, Isaac Hayes, Phoebe Snow, and Roger Daltrey. (323) 661-7771.
Pasadena City College Swap Meet
There are several others—one at the Rose Bowl, one at Fairfax and Melrose—but this is the one to see. It's the first Sunday of every month, as early as you can get there, at 1570 E. Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena (cross street is Allen).
Hollywood Farmer's Market
Every Sunday morning, from early morning through the afternoon, the blocks between Vine and Ivar, Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards, host this most casual and freewheeling of the farmer's markets. Good fresh produce and a distinct patchouli vibe prevail.
West Hollywood Halloween Parade
Santa Monica Boulevard between La Cienega and Doheny Drive—unofficially "boy's town"—shuts down on Oct. 31 for an extravaganza of inspired plumery. A must-see, whether you're gay or straight.
Edge of the World Theatre Festival
Each fall L.A.'s small, scrappy, "edgy" theatres mount a two-week festival of full-lengths, one-acts, solo shows, and special performance events. The next one will be held all over town, Oct. 4-19. www.edgeoftheworld.org.
No, we're not talking about a time of day (though the smog-enhanced sunsets can be gorgeous—rumor is a particularly colorful evening sky inspired Jimi Hendrix to write "Purple Haze"). We're talking about the best way to get a sense of the expanse and variety of Los Angeles: by following a single street, Sunset Boulevard, from Downtown to the sea. Start at historic Olvera Street (where it's technically called Cesar Chavez Boulevard) and head West, through Echo Park, Silverlake, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, and finally, the beaches of Malibu (where Gladstone's Seafood isn't a bad stop). In one afternoon you'll get a powerful cross section of this city's huge economic, ethnic, and architectural diversity.
Just drive west and you'll hit one—but if you want to get more specific than that, the most popular L.A. outlets are zany Venice Beach (take Venice Boulevard to the end and look for parking), and the charming mini-theme park of Santa Monica Pier (two blocks south of Santa Monica Boulevard at corner of Ocean Avenue and Colorado Boulevard) Further north is the beautiful Will Rogers State Park (Pacific Coast Highway near its intersection with Temescal Canyon Road).
There's no Central Park here, but there is the sprawling Griffith Park, one of the largest anywhere, that straddles the Hollywood Hills from Los Feliz to Burbank. There are too many activities and amenities to list here; check out the website www.ci.la.ca.us/RAP/grifmet/griffith.htm (catchy name, huh?). Elysian Park, near Dodger Stadium, provides excellent walking trails and picnic areas. And Runyon Canyon, on a steep gorge north of Franklin Avenue (at Fuller), offers some of the best city views around.
Missing Persons was wrong: A lot of people walk in L.A. That is to say, they drive to a parking structure, get out of their cars, and then walk around. Usually you can build an entire night or shopping day around these locations. There's Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica (Third Street between Wilshire and Broadway), Old Town Pasadena (on and around Colorado between Marengo and Pasadena), Westwood (seen better days, but still a respectable college-adjacent hang, off Wilshire Boulevard south of the UCLA campus), Universal Citywalk (a faux "street," but hey, the kids love it, and it has its own exit off the 101), West Hollywood (basically Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards between La Brea and La Cienega), and, perhaps most gratifying, the city's newly beating heart, Hollywood (fanning out from the intersection of Hollywood and Highland, up and down Vine, Cahuenga, Wilcox, etc.) Making strides as more family-oriented destinations are downtown Burbank (roughly between 1st and 3rd Street north of the 5 Freeway) and downtown Glendale (Brand Boulevard between Colorado and the 134 freeway). Smaller and quainter is Larchmont, a stretch of shops in Hancock Park (on Larchmont between Beverly and 3rd Street). Another underrated redeveloped center is downtown Long Beach (take that 710 to the end).
Time was this wasn't much worth the visit. But there are a variety of must-see places here, which we've broken down into a few areas: For the BUNKER HILL walking tour, you can start at Temple and Grand for a look at the stark new Cathedral; walk down Grand toward the silver shiny building and take in Frank Gehry's stunning new Disney Hall, at the corner of First; keep going south on Grand and check out the Museum of Contemporary Art (current exhibition is selections from the permanent collection); go still farther south and you can stop for a rest at the Watercourt. Farther south, down the hill to Fifth Street, you'll hit the Biltmore to your right—check out the architecture and the high tea there—and the Central Library to your right. Walk northwest to Fifth and Figueroa and check out the Bonaventure Hotel, another popular film location with a rotating restaurant at the top. For the LITTLE TOKYO walking tour, you can start at the corner of 1st Street and Los Angeles and head East. There are Japanese restaurants for every budget and taste along here and in Japanese Village Plaza; we recommend Shabu Shabu and, for authentic karaoke, the venerable Oiwake. The Japanese American National Museum is worth a look, as is the large satellite campus of MOCA, the Geffen Contemporary. When you hit Alameda, you're near the border of the artist loft district, which may be why the hangout/restaurant Weiland's Brewery does so well. You'll find CHINATOWN on North Broadway, north of Sunset; dim sum at Ocean Seafood is a must. Further south on BROADWAY is a heavily Latino shopping district where the main attractions are at Fourth Street: On the southeast corner is the historic Bradbury Building (take one look at its interior ironworks and you'll recognize a dozen film locations, especially Blade Runner), and on the southwest corner is Grand Central Market, a lively sawdust-floored market where you can find exotic produce and such choice delicacies as hog maws and cow tongues. (L.A. Conservancy, at www.laconservancy.org, gives the definitive tour of this former financial district.) No Downtown trip would be complete, though, without a walk through the garment district's Santee Alley (it's bounded by Santee Street and Maple Avenue on east and west, Olympic Boulevard and 12th Street on the north and south), where they can get it for you wholesale. Bring cash.
Restaurants/bars (a sampler platter)
For the view and the retro décor, Yamashiro, 1999 N. Sycamore Ave., Hollywood; for the green tamales, the historic El Cholo, 1121 S. Western Ave, L.A., and 1025 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; for the karaoke, Dimples, 3413 W. Olive Ave., Burbank; for the Friday night car show, Bob's Big Boy, 4211 Riverside, Toluca Lake; for the ancient lounge-act Marty & Elayne, the Dresden Room, 1760 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; for the timeless atmosphere, Formosa Café, 7156 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; for the rude waiters and cocktails, Musso & Frank, 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; for the crowd (not for the food), El Coyote, 7312 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; for hot dogs, think Pink's, the corner of Melrose and La Brea; for the health-conscious, there's the organic Urth Caffe, 8565 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, and the organic-Italian Puran's, 142 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; for the health-unconscious, there's Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles, 5006 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles; for hip, atypical Mexican food, there's Alegria in Silverlake, 3510 Sunset Blvd.; for authentic sushi, there's Noshi Sushi, 4430 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles; for great Thai food and excellent service, House of Chan Dara, 310 N. Larchmont; for elegant cocktails, try the Standard Downtown, 550 S. Flower St., and in West Hollywood, 8300 Sunset Blvd.; for the scene, Bar Marmont, 8171 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; for tasty lunches and a coffeehouse/ postcollegiate vibe, nothing beats Highland Grounds, 742 N Highland Ave., Los Angeles; though it's now a chain, some still swear by Jerry's Deli (the bowling alley has "rock and bowl" Friday nights), at two major locations, 8701 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, and 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; for an old-style American eatery counter, try the Apple Pan, 10801 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A.; for a strip club that's not too creepy, there's Cheetah's, 4600 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; to repent on Sunday morning, don't miss the pricey-but-hearty "gospel brunch" at House of Blues, 8430 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; for a fluorescent-lit deli with surly waitresses, you can't beat Canter's, 419 N. Fairfax Ave., West Hollywood; for its historic French dip and 10 cent coffee, check out Philippe's, 1001 N. Alameda St., Downtown; for dim sum, in addition to the above-mentioned Ocean Seafood, there's Monterey Park's much-lauded Ocean Star, 145 N. Atlantic Blvd.
Like the great outdoors? L.A. has some great outdoors (even in the current heat). Here's where you can hook up with like-minded folks interested in exercise and recreation that doesn't involve walking on a treadmill with a Walkman.
Dockriders A bike club that meets Sunday mornings at Dock 52, Fisherman's Wharf in Marina Del Rey at 13485 Fiji Way. www.dockriders.com
James Dilley Preserve Hiking Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, 20101 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach. (949) 488-0287.
Frontrunners Track Club P.O. Box 691772, West Hollywood, CA 90069. (323) 460-2554. www.lafrontrunners.com.
Guided Hikes and Mountain Cycle Rides The Nature Conservancy at the Irvine County Open Space Preserve, 3142 Irvine Blvd., Irvine. (714) 832-7478.
Hike-a-Trail Sponsors thousands of outdoor activities each year. www.hikeatrail .com.
L.A. Bike Tours Offers beginner rides to Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach/ canals, and a Beverly Hills Family Tour. Advanced rides head to the Hollywood sign/Griffith Park, Santa Monica mountains, Getty Center, and a two-day trek from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. 6733 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood 90028. (323) 466-5890, (888) 775-2453.
L.A. Leggers A running club. P.O. Box 761, Santa Monica, CA 90406. (310) 577-8000. www.laleggers.org
L.A. Soccer League (818) 548-6420. Contact: Chris Fries. firstname.lastname@example.org. ca.us
Los Angeles West Side Women's Soccer Contact Judy in the recruitment office. (323) 651-1331
Sierra Club The local chapter hosts regular outings for members and non-members alike. Introductory membership is $25. www.sierraclub.org. (213) 387-4287.
Southern California Walkers Contact Elaine Ward, (626) 441-5459.
Walkers Club of L.A. Contact Carol Ferris, (818) 243-8818
People do read in L.A., even without mass transit, and they don't just read scripts. There's the excellent radio show "Bookworm" (Thursdays, 2:30 p.m., KCRW 89.9 FM), a handful of good local bookstores (Dutton's in Brentwood, for one) in addition to the obligatory megastores. And there are the following book clubs:
The African Violet Meets 10 times per year (January-October) on the third Sunday of each month at 4 p.m. Contact Danielle at MsCherokee98@ aol.com.
Circle of Friends Started by one person, through word of mouth the circle was developed to—currently—13 members. Contact jmejus4u@ yahoo .com.
Infinite Journey Book Club A group of professional women, ages 27-37, who love to read literature by African-American authors. Meets the third Friday of each month at 7:30 p.m. to discuss selected book of the month. They also plan other activities such as family outings, picnics, parties, vacations, and book signings. Membership is by invitation only. Contact Angela Harvey at email@example.com or (323) 296-4066.
Page Readers Group This book club has been meeting since 1994. www.pagesreadersgroup.com.
Roundtable Book Group Located in the Los Angeles/San Gabriel Valley area. Founded in 1996 it currently has 25 members. The reading selections are varied and the club attempts to include titles from the major literary genres—fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, biographical, as well as international authors. Contact MuseNews1 @aol.com.
Tabahani Book Circle Dedicated to increasing literacy in the African-American community, Tabahani members read at least one book every month written by an author of African descent, as well as participate in reading to children at the A.C. Bilbrew Library in L.A. They also host literary events to expose others to the works of African-American authors. Contact tabahani@ weaveaweb .com.
The list below is by no means comprehensive—there are way too many gay/lesbian clubs, organizations, and events to list here, but hopefully the resources listed below will be enough to get you started.
Bears L.A. Sponsors tons of events all over Los Angeles. P.O. Box 4614, Valley Village, CA 91617. (323) 850-8958. www.bearquake.org. firstname.lastname@example.org
Gay Days West Ongoing events all over Los Angeles. www.gaydayswest.com.
Gay Men's Chorus L.A. The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., Ste. 235, West Hollywood, CA 90038. www.gmcla.org. (323) 467-9741.
Gaywired.com Lists tons of events specific to Southern California.
GLAAD 5455 Wilshire Blvd, Ste. 1500, L.A., CA 90036. (323) 933-2240.
Great Outdoors Great Outdoors is a nonprofit, all-volunteer gay and lesbian organization dedicated to the enjoyment of outdoor recreation. P.O. Box 39470, L.A., CA 90039-0470. (213) 694-2160.
L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center 1625 N. Schrader Blvd., L.A., CA 90028. (323) 993-7600. www.laglc.org.
The acting coach Howard Fine once said, "If you want to be an interesting actor, be an interested actor." Following is a list of charitable organizations about which you can get interested—and which will no doubt be interested in hearing from you.
American Red Cross-Burbank 1001 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, CA 91506. (818) 842-5295.
Anti-Defamation League of Southern California 10495 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., CA 90025. (310) 446-8000.
Boy Scouts of America 1325 Grandview Ave. Glendale, CA 91201. (818) 243-6282.
Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles 4650 Sunset Blvd., L.A., CA 90027. (323) 660-2450.
The Children's Nature Institute of Southern California Volunteer to lead nature walks for young children at any of more than 40 sites in L.A. and Ventura counties, weekdays or weekends. Volunteers must attend a training course. Minimum commitment of one walk per month. 1440 Harvard St., Santa Monica, CA 90404. (310) 998-1151. www.childrensnatureinstitute.org.
Food for Body and Soul Meals, music, and an ecumenical worship service for the homeless and hungry of Glendale. Begins at 1:30 p.m. every Sunday. 138 N. Brand, Ste. 303, Glendale, CA 91203. (818) 242-4700. E-mail: email@example.com
Four Brown Hats Four Brown Hats Entertainment works in all media producing socially relevant productions while maintaining a strong cultural integrity and combining it with economic viability and community accountability. FBHE is committed to maintaining artistic excellence and making it accessible to a cross-section of the community. P.O. Box 31430, L.A., CA 90031. (323) 225-2919.
Free Arts Free Arts brings the joyful and healing power of the arts to abused and neglected children, and families in crisis in Southern California. Free Arts trains volunteers to work hands-on with victims of abuse. Dance, drama, writing, music, painting, and other avenues of creativity encourage them to channel emotions, release anger, and develop positive methods of communication. 11965 Venice Blvd., Ste. 402, L.A., CA 90066. (310) 313-4278.
Girls and Gangs of California The mission of Girls and Gangs is to provide support and advocacy for girls in the Los Angeles County Juvenile Justice System through program services that increase their self-esteem, self-determination, and chances for their successful reintegration into the communities while raising public awareness of their needs and potential. (310) 399-7910.
Glendale Humane Society 717 Ivy St., Glendale, CA 91204. (818) 242-1128.
Habitat for Humanity 1200 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 510, L.A., CA 90017-1908. www.habitatla.org.
International Medical Corps A global humanitarian nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives and relieving suffering through health-care training and medical relief programs. 11500 West Olympic Blvd., Ste 506, L.A., CA 90064, (310) 826-7800
Los Angeles City Volunteer Corps 200 N. Spring St., City Hall-Mezzanine Level, L.A., CA 90012. (888) 227-3452. www.makeadifferencela.com.
Meals on Wheels P.O. Box 7001, Santa Monica, CA 90406-7001. (310) 394-5133.
The Los Angeles Free Clinic The Los Angeles Free Clinic's mission is to serve as a community-based organization that identifies health-care and human-service needs of people who cannot or will not receive care elsewhere. 8405 Beverly Blvd., L.A., CA 90048. (323) 653-8622, ext. 1617.
Odyssey Health Care of Los Angeles Odyssey Health Care is looking for volunteers to work with terminally ill patients and their families. 1055 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 875. L.A., CA 90017. (213) 481-0009.
Peace Corps of Los Angeles 2361 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 155, El Segundo, CA 90245. (310) 235-7444.
Reading to Kids Reading to Kids is an organization composed of volunteers helping to provide children with an enthusiasm for reading and a brighter future. It organizes monthly reading clubs on the second Saturday of each month near Downtown L.A. www.readingtokids.org. 1600 Sawtelle Blvd., Ste. 210, L.A., CA 90025. (310) 479-7455.