Los Angeles, America’s second largest city and the West Coast’s biggest economic powerhouse, was originally settled by indigenous tribes, the Chumash and the Tongva hunter gatherers, who occupied the area around 8000 B.C.

Portuguese sailor Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was the first European to explore the region in 1542, but it was not until 1769 that Gaspar de Portolá established a Spanish outpost in the area. The outpost expanded in 1781, when a group of 44 settlers of European, African and Native American backgrounds traveled from northern Mexico to establish a farming village on the banks of the Rio Porciúncula River. The Spanish governor named the settlement El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula (The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciúncula).

Spanish missions were soon established in the area, including Mission San Fernando, named after Ferdinand III of Spain, and Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, founded by Junipero Serra.

In 1821, Mexico declared its independence from Spain, and all of California fell under Mexican control.

Gold Rush

In 1846, the Mexican-American War broke out, and two years later California was annexed by the United States. The timing was unforeseen, as rich deposits of gold were discovered in the Sacramento Valley in 1848, igniting the Gold Rush. The following year hordes of gold prospectors flocked to California who depended on beef and other foods from farms in the Los Angeles area.

In 1881, after years of America’s expansion, as America was spreading its democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent, Southern Pacific Railroad completed a track into Los Angeles, linking the city with the rest of the United States. This sparked a flurry of land speculation, and civic boosters were soon tempting winter weary Easterners with promises of lush orange groves and boundless sunshine. 

But oranges and people need water, so L.A. looked to the Owens Valley, some 200 miles away, to satisfy its thirst. After years of backroom deals, bribery and other shenanigans, superintendent William Mulholland opened the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913 with the words, “There it is. Take it.”

Hollywood Is Born 

D.W. Griffith was among the first directors to film in the Los Angeles area, attracted by the mild weather and low wage, non-union workers. In 1913, Cecil B. DeMille hired a barn in the suburb called Hollywood for film making. In the following years, the film industry in Los Angeles boomed, making the city the center of the entertainment industry.

Oil Industry Moves In

Edward Dohen, notorious for his involvement in the Teapot Dome Scanda, hit a gusher near downtown Los Angeles in 1892, and within a few years more than 500 oil wells were pumping across the L.A. basin. 

Los Angeles continues to grow

In the early 20th century many Japanese migrated to South California. So did many Mexicans. Furthermore, from the time of the First World War large numbers of African Americans came to live in Los Angeles.

In the early 20th century Los Angeles continued to boom and by the early 1920s it had overtaken San Francisco in size. By 1924 it had a population of 1 million. The Biltmore Hotel was built in 1923. Also in 1923, the famous Hollywood sign was first erected. Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel was built in 1927. City Hall was built in 1928. Union Station was built in 1939.

By 1939, the city’s population topped 1.5 million. The city proudly played host to the Summer Olympics in 1932, and again in 1984.

However, like the rest of the world Los Angeles suffered during the depression of the 1930s. During World War II, almost 100,000 workers were employed in shipbuilding and warplane manufacturing around the Port of Los Angeles. But the rapid growth of the multi-ethnic metropolis brought considerable tensions: During the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots, violent mobs of U.S. servicemen brutally attacked Latinos. Racial unrest exploded again in the 1965 Watts Riots, and was at the center of the 1991 Rodney King beating and the Los Angeles Riots that followed. 

Natural disasters also disrupted the calm in Laos Angeles: The 1994 Northridge earthquake killed 57 people and caused more than $20 billion in damages. Other disasters, such as the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, the 1971 Sylmar earthquake and the 2018 Woolsey wildfire, have ravaged the city. Yet Los Angeles soon recovered.

Many famous buildings were erected in Los Angeles in the late 20th century and early 21st century. Watts Towers was built in 1954 by Simon Rodia. Theme Building was erected in 1961. US Bank Tower was built in 1989. The first light rail line opened in 1990.

In the late 20th century, the manufacturing industry in Los Angeles declined. However, service industries boomed. Tourism became a flourishing industry in Los Angeles and today it is also a thriving financial center. In the late 20th century the Hispanic population of Los Angeles grew dramatically, while the percentage of white non-Hispanics fell.

In the 21st century Los Angeles continues to thrive. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels opened in 2002. Walt Disney Concert Hall was built in 2003.

In 2017 the population of Los Angeles was 4 million and the entire metropolitan area was home to over 12 million people.

The sprawling city of Los Angeles, in Southern California, has long been known internationally in the film and entertainment industry, particularly for Hollywood, a place that has drawn aspiring actors and actresses from across the country for over a century. Today, LA is a culturally diverse city with a reputation for being the creative center of America. Visitors will find a thriving culinary scene, incredible shopping, outstanding museums, and fun family attractions.

Sunseekers coming to enjoy the warm climate and beaches will find plenty of things to do and interesting neighborhoods to explore. Upgrades to the public transportation network in recent years and the addition of a Metro Bike Share in downtown LA have made getting around and sightseeing easier than ever. For families, nearby Disneyland and Universal Studios are key destinations that often warrant repeat visits.

1. Griffith Park and Griffith Observatory

Griffith Park, in the eastern part of the Santa Monica Mountains, and covering an area of 4,210 acres, is the largest state park in California. It is home to the Los Angeles Zoo, the Griffith Observatory, a planetarium, a Greek theater, a riding center created for the 1984 Olympic Games, golf courses, tennis courts, hiking trails, and other attractions. Walking trails and scenic drives through the mountains offer views over the city and beyond.

The Griffith Observatory is one of the city's most interesting experience based attractions, and it is all free to the public. On the grounds are exhibits and telescopes. The main highlight is a look through the Zeiss telescope, used for viewing the moon and planets. You can use the telescopes free each evening the facility is open. Also on-site are solar telescopes used for viewing the sun. The park and observatory are named after Griffith J. Griffith, who donated the greater part of the parkland to the city in 1896 and willed funds to the city for the creation of the observatory.

2. Hollywood

A suburb of Los Angeles, Hollywood is a destination in itself, with its own unique history and iconic sites. The attractions in Hollywood are closely associated with the film industry and the glamour of the silver screen. The hillside Hollywood sign, Hollywood Boulevard, the Walk of Fame, and the Chinese Theatre can easily fill a day or two of sightseeing. If you are lucky, you might even spot a celebrity or two.

3. The Getty Center

On a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Getty Center, designed by Richard Meier, is a huge complex measuring 0.75 square miles and set on 110 acres. The unique building and the beautiful grounds provide the perfect setting for this impressive museum. Collections include European paintings, drawings, sculpture, and decorative arts, as well as 19th and 20th century photography.

The Getty Center is one of two locations of the J. Paul Getty Museum, created by the late oil magnate, J. Paul Getty. The Getty Villa, set in a recreated Roman country house, deals with art from the Stone Age to the end of the Roman Empire.

4. Santa Monica

Santa Monica is a unique destination that is both chic and laid back, with a population that ranges from surfers, skateboarders, and yoga devotees to techies and business people. The beautiful stretch of golden sand along the coast and the famous Santa Monica Pier, with its iconic Ferris wheel, are what most tourists come to enjoy, but you can find a variety of experiences in this beachfront city next to LA.

Shoppers will find a range of options, from quirky and vintage stores to high end boutiques. For a little activity, check out the 26 mile bike path along the waterfront or wander along the Third Street Promenade to see street performers and do some shopping and people watching.

Getting to Santa Monica is now much easier since the opening of the new Expo Metro line, connecting downtown LA to Santa Monica.

5. Venice Beach

Venice Beach deserves its reputation as a place to see and be seen, making it perfect for people watching, although the area definitely has its own unique vibe. This stretch of golden sand and the Venice Beach Boardwalk are always thronged with people walking, cycling, rollerblading, and jogging.

Eclectic shops and street performers of all kinds line the walkway. The Skatepark, also just off the beach, is frequented by some of the area's best skateboarders, and nearby are a number of creative art installations. At the appropriately named Muscle Beach, people pump iron in the hot California sun.

Food stalls selling everything from shaved ice to kettle corn and funnel cakes make you feel like you are walking through fair grounds. You can also find some good restaurants here. This is not a typical family beach, but it is well worth a visit.

6. Long Beach

Long Beach is another community in the Los Angeles area where you can easily spend a day exploring. Bordering LA to the south, about 20 miles from downtown, Long Beach extends along San Pedro Bay. Things to do here include a visit to the historic Queen Mary ocean liner, now converted into a hotel and museum; the Aquarium of the Pacific; and exploring the unique shops at Shoreline Village. You can also catch the Catalina Express from Long Beach for a trip to Santa Catalina Island.

7. Universal Studios Hollywood

This Park is known for its mind blowing rides based on blockbuster movies, but it is also a working movie studio and an attraction everyone can enjoy. The highlight for most people is the ever changing selection of rides, which range from simulators to roller coasters. Favorite movie and TV-themed rides and sets include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Walking Dead, The Simpsons, and Transformers. To save time standing in long lines consider purchasing a Skip the Line: Front of Line Pass at Universal Studios Hollywood. This handy ticket gives you one time fast entry to each of the park's rides, attractions, and shows, as well as behind the scenes access to select attractions.

When you are tired of the rides, you can check out CityWalk, a three block entertainment area, with shopping, dining, and theaters. Another option is a guided tour of the studios to explore behind the scenes of some of Universal's most popular movie sets. The VIP Experience allows you opportunities to see the sets and areas not open to the general public.

8. Disneyland Resort

Just outside Los Angeles, Disneyland is California's premier family vacation destination, attracting visitors since the 1950s. Disneyland Park, with rides and experiences in elaborately created theme sets, is what most people picture when they imagine Disneyland. The Disneyland California Adventure Park, created during one of the expansions, holds even more action and adventure, with seven lands based on movie themes.

Beyond the rides and Disney characters wandering the streets, the resort also offers a full complement of features and services for a complete vacation. Hotels, restaurants, shopping, and all kinds of entertainment options are available at Disneyland Resort.

9. Petersen Automotive Museum

Car lovers will not want to miss the incredible assortment of vehicles at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Spread over four floors are a mix of permanent and temporary exhibits featuring more than 300 cars and motorcycles, ranging from perfectly preserved items from 1886 right through to concepts for the 21st century. The museum underwent major renovations and is now one of the most modern institutions of its kind.

The exterior façade is an eye catching architectural masterpiece. For an additional fee, you can sign up for either a 90 or 120 minute guided Vault tour, which provides additional insight on rare and unusual cars.

Griffith Park and Griffith Observatory
The Getty Center
Santa Monica
Long Beach
Universal Studios Hollywood
Disneyland Resort
Petersen Automotive Museum
Venice Beach
Santa Monica
Santa Monica

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