Los Angeles isn't so much a city as a collection of cities, all pieced together like a crazy quilt. The best of LA is that glorious stretch right along the coast. Of course, there are some wonderful attractions in the interior areas -- museums, parks, gardens, amusement parks. Go ahead and enjoy them, then come back to the coast to relax and play.
We'll get onto Pacific Coast Highway (variously called Highway 1 or PCH), and explore the coast, starting in Malibu, and heading south to Long Beach.
Malibu isn't all tanned, toned beautiful people on sandy beaches. It's wilderness too. Yes, wilderness snuggling up to Los Angeles, the second largest metropolitan area in the nation.
If you head to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, you'll encounter 150,050 acres of pristine rugged beauty.
The recreational area is actually a joint venture of national, state, and local agencies along with private property owners. It's an amazing collection of parks, trails, archeological sites, and campgrounds. For the most scenic drives in Los Angeles, try Topanga Canyon Road, Las Virgenes/Malibu Canyon Road, or Kanan Dume Road.
Malibu is justifiably famous for its beaches -- 21 miles of some of the best Los Angeles has to offer. Beach activities include swimming, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, wind surfing, bicycling, beach volleyball, and more.
For a taste of Malibu history, head to the Adamson House and the adjacent Malibu Lagoon Museum. The house, built in 1929, is most noted for the extensive use of Malibu Potteries Tiles. You'll also enjoy lovely views of the Los Angeles coast from this location.
Malibu has attracted celebrities since the 1920's, and gawking at the homes of the rich and famous is still a popular activity. Drive along Malibu Road and/or Pacific Coast Highway, which parallel the beach, to do your share of the gawking.
Santa Monica began as a Los Angeles seaside resort in the 1870's, and it still retains some of that flavor, with its tree lined streets, colorful characters and numerous amusements.
In the center of the action is the Santa Monica Pier, which features the Playland Arcade, the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, and Pacific Park, an amusement park located on the pier. You'll also find a lovingly restored 1922 carousel housed in a Victorian styled hippodrome, a National Historic Landmark.
Santa Monica has miles of white, fluffy beaches. Take a walk south of the pier on the Ocean Front Walk to enjoy the beach and stake out your patch of sand. To the north of the pier, Palisades Parkprovides a palm-lined slice of greenery where you can sit and take in a view of the beach. It's the perfect spot for enjoying the sunset.
If you're feeling more athletic, head to Muscle Beach. If your mood is more cerebral, try the Chess Park. Both are located south of the pier.
Art and culture are everywhere in Santa Monica. In addition to galleries and museums, you'll see public art all around you. There are sculptures and murals painted on buildings everywhere you turn. Museums include the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the California Heritage Museum, the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum, and the Museum of Flying.
Venice is a place that prides itself on its funky weirdness. It began ambitiously in 1905, as an attempt to recreate a piece of Italy in Los Angeles.
The visionary behind it all was one Abbot Kinney, a tobacco magnate, who dredged the swampland and built a network of canals, complete with gondola rides and amusement parks. Today, three canals are all that's left of Kinney's creation. But the affection for way-out ideas remains.
Venice is home to a wide variety of artists, poets, writers, musicians and performers. In fact, art is everywhere in Venice, in the form of public murals, art studios and galleries. Street performers of all sorts are a common attraction.
Most of the action in Venice centers around the Venice Beach Boardwalk, which fronts the three mile sandy beach where people watching is one of the major activities.
The area has recently undergone a major renovation to improve upon Venice's (not unwarranted) reputation as a place that's not entirely safe. The change has been dramatic, with cleaner and safer facilities, including a new children's play park, new benches and street lights, new walkways and landscaping.
There are plenty of funky shops to browse through, and the beach offers a variety of recreational activities, including basketball, handball, shuffleboard, paddle tennis, and bodybuilding at Muscle Beach.
Marina del Rey's claim to fame is its harbor -- the largest man-made pleasure craft harbor in the world. Just about any water sport you can think of is available here, particularly swimming, surfing and boating. You can rent a pedal boat, kayak, powerboat or sailboat. Boat charters are available for sunset cruises, deep sea fishing or whale watching.
Marina Beach (nicknamed Mother's Beach) is popular with Los Angeles families. The calm waters of this lagoon beach are suitable for small children, and the beach also features volleyball courts and a children's play area.
The cities along South Santa Monica Bay are all about the beach. This is where the Los Angeles beach culture began. Folks don't come here to see the sights; they come to swim, surf, play beach volleyball or laze around in the sun.
You can stroll or bicycle the length of these beaches on some 22 miles of paved pathways. Or enjoy the plentiful shops and eateries, all with a very laid back Los Angeles atmosphere.
All three cities have a municipal pier, where you can fish or just enjoy the view. The Manhattan Beach Pier also houses the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium, which includes a mini-reef tank, a shark tank, and a touch tank.
At the Redondo Beach Marina you can enjoy harbor cruises, romantic gondola tours, sport fishing, diving and whale watching excursions. Explore the harbor and coast in a kayak, wave runner or sail boat. You'll also find a variety of restaurants, shops and entertainment in the area
The Palos Verdes Peninsula is one of the most rugged unspoiled sections of coastline in Los Angeles County. The main attraction here is the natural beauty of the place. There are precious few motels or hotels, and no amusement parks.
The most famous landmark in Palos Verdes is the Wayfarers Chapel, a stunning glass construction designed by Lloyd Wright, son of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The chapel is a spiritual center operated by the Swedenborgian Church, which offers self-guided walks through the gardens and the sanctuary.
To soak in the natural beauty, head to Point Vicente Park & Interpretive Center. This is a prime spot for watching passing whales during the winter and spring. Abalone Cove Shoreline Park offers spectacular views of the Los Angeles coastline and the island of Santa Catalina. There are beaches, trails, and an ecological preserve.
The South Coast Botanic Gardens cover 87 acres built on what was once a landfill. You can enjoy lectures, flower shows, concerts, special programs and bird walks. Or just take a stroll through the gardens. There is an entrance fee.
The port town of San Pedro offers eight miles of waterfront, with a variety of boating, cruising, shopping and sightseeing activities. Board the Catalina Express for a visit to the "island of romance," or enjoy a harbor cruise.
If you long to take a vacation cruise, The Port of Los Angeles is where you want to be. You'll find just about every major cruise line offering vacation cruises to various destinations. You can enjoy a stroll and watch the cruise ships come and go at the newly developed Cruise Ship Promenade.
To get around the waterfront, hop aboard one of the newly restored and replicated Red Cars. The Red Car Line operated throughout the Los Angeles area for sixty years, until its demise in 1961. Today, the trollies use a historic Red Car route to connect attractions along the San Pedro Waterfront. It's a fun way to see the sights.
Ports O'Call Village is a shopping complex designed with the look and feel of a New England seaside village. There are 15 acres of shops, restaurants and attractions. Meandering cobblestone streets and a harbor boardwalk provide plenty of opportunity for a pleasant stroll.
At the 370 acre Cabrillo Beach Recreational Complex, you'll find a variety of activities at theCabrillo Marine Aquarium Marina, and Beach. Or head to the high ground at Angels Gate Park for breathtaking panoramic views of the Los Angeles coastline and Santa Catalina Island. Don't miss theKorean Bell of Friendship, housed in a lovely Korean style pavilion.
You'll find a number of museums and historic sites in San Pedro, including the Banning Residence Museum, the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum, the Fort MacArthur Museum, the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, the Point Fermin Lighthouse, and the World War II era cargo ship, S.S. Lane Victory.
Long Beach is one of California's largest cities, and (together with neighboring Los Angeles) boasts one of the busiest ports in the world. The major attractions in Long Beach are, fittingly enough, centered around the harbor area.
The Aquarium of the Pacific is one of the largest aquariums in the United States, with more than 12,500 animals from over 550 species. There are 32 major exhibits covering the three Pacific Ocean regions: Southern California/Baja, the Tropical Pacific, and the Northern Pacific. Their newest exhibit, Shark Lagoon, features more than 150 sharks you can touch. (Not to worry, the dangerous sharks are kept strictly out of reach.)
The Queen Mary is Long Beach's top tourist attraction. Built in 1936, she was the world's largest ocean liner in her day. Today, the Queen Mary is a museum and a hotel. Several different types of tours are offered, because you won't be able to see the whole thing in one shot. This ship is huge! Restaurants from fast food to gourmet are available on board.
The most popular shopping destination is Belmont Shore, a charming community with a mixture of shops. Or try Shoreline Village, a marina and shopping complex with that popular New England fishing village look. You'll also find sailing lessons, boat charters, a carousel and arcade, and equipment rentals, including surrey carts, inline skates, scooters, jet skis and other types of watercraft.
Other attractions include the Museum of Latin American Art, the Long Beach Museum of Art, theEl Dorado Nature Center, and Rancho Los Alamitos Historic Ranch and Gardens. Head toNaples for gondola tours of the canals. Or board the Catalina Express for a trip to the island of Santa Catalina.