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Los Angeles Travel Guide
Millions of visitors arrive each year in Los Angeles eager to experience for themselves the epitome of the American Dream: to find the self-indulgent living soap-opera lifestyles, experience firsthand the images that are strangely-familiar thanks to the 'big screen', and walk in the footsteps of the stars. The fantasy worlds of Disneyland and Hollywood, the famed extravagance of Beverley Hills and Malibu, and the sun-soaked beach culture are just some of the attractions within this 'City of Angels'.
Los Angeles is not really a city but rather a sprawling metropolis constituting more than 80 smaller city areas woven together by a daunting network of traffic-congested freeways without a clearly defined centre. LA is just one of these cities with Downtown at its heart, and lying outside the city limits is the surrounding conglomeration of cities that comprises LA County.
Los Angeles offers a dazzling variety of attractions and world-famous amusements. Downtown is a mixture of cultures and local communities: the traditional herbalists of Chinatown's Bamboo Lane; Little Tokyo with its sushi bars and Japanese gardens; and the narrow Latino-influenced Olvera Street. Los Angeles County is endowed with a rich diversity of backgrounds and is a mix-and-match of people from 140 countries speaking 96 different languages, of those who have left home to seek acceptance for ideas or unconventional lifestyles not tolerated in the more conservative parts of the country, and would-be stars with dreams of fame and fortune. West Hollywood is the focal point of gay and lesbian culture, and the posh beachside resort of Santa Monica and body-builders at Muscle Beach, as well as the childhood fantasy of Disneyland are all a part of the diversity, although not always a harmonious one. There are exciting museums, cinemas featuring every conceivable production, swanky boutiques with the latest fashions, comedy clubs, poetry readings and coffee house recitals, and music of every kind played in various venues throughout the city.
Underneath the huge 'Hollywood' sign on the crest of the Hollywood Hills, the high energy and pleasure-seeking atmosphere, bold billboards, sexy sun-bronzed people, bright lights and fancy cars are images of a city that everyone loves to hate; but whether one likes what one finds or not, Los Angeles must be experienced at least once in a lifetime.
The city of LA sprawls over such a large area that getting around without a car can be frustrating and time consuming. The complex network of freeways connecting the sprawl can be intimidating, especially for those not used to driving in big cities, but with a map or good directions, hiring a car is the best and most popular way to see LA. The city was designed with the automobile in mind and is more driver-friendly than most big cities with wide streets and plenty of parking. If possible, visitors should avoid rush hour traffic, which is heaviest from 7am to 10am and 3pm to 7pm, when freeways often come to a standstill. Many, however, are equipped with HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes for those cars carrying more than one person - an attempt to curb vehicle emissions, these lanes tend to move more quickly. LA is one of the cheapest places in the country to rent a car. It is also possible to get around by bus, but frequent transfers and long distances can make this slow and impractical, and it is not recommended for late-night travel. The Metro rail system has three lines, which cover only a small area of LA, but it is frequent and efficient. Taxis are also available, but they can be expensive due to the long distances.
United States of America Contacts
United States Tourist Office:
United States Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7499 9000.
United States Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 688 5335.
United States Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6214 5600.
United States Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 431 4000.
United States Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 668 8777.
United States Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 462 6000.
British Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 588 6500.
Canadian Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 682 1740.
Australian Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 797 3000.
South African Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 232 4400.
Irish Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 462 3939.
New Zealand Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 328 4800.
Laws vary from state to state, including speed limit, fines and punishment. The age at which you may legally buy and consume alcohol is 21 years.
Visitors entering the country under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) must have a machine-readable passport (MRP) that has a bar code on the photo page. Travellers under the VWP must have passports that include biometrics if they wish to enter the country without a visa, which means that passports must contain unique personal data such as fingerprints or iris details. All passports must contain a digital photo image in order to travel visa-free. All visitors to the USA have a photograph and two fingerprints taken by an inkless scanner on arrival, including those travelling visa-free under the Visa Waiver Programme. As part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), all travellers travelling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean region are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. If departing from the USA, a valid passport is required by immigration authorities. All visitors who do not need a visa, under the US Visa Waiver Programme, need to register online three days before travel. This allows the US government to screen all visitors before travel. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.