For the uninitiated, Los Angeles seems to be divided into an infinite number of neighborhoods and cities lumped together under the blanket term: Los Angeles. It takes a bit to get a feel for where all of these cities and neighborhoods are, but if you take it slowly, it’s really not that complicated.
The first big distinction to make when trying to get a mental picture of southern California in you head is the difference between Orange County and Los Angeles. Los Angeles is farther north, Orange County to the south. Riverside and San Bernardino are two more major areas, even farther south and east, than Orange County.
Los Angeles has a downtown with big buildings, is home to Hollywood, Santa Monica and most of the major movie studios and has a more urban feel to it than Orange County. The OC, as it’s known since the teenage soap opera popularized the area, is built more out than up and has a suburban feel. Strip malls are the business location of choice and industrial parks are set off, away from stores and restaurants.
Riverside and San Bernardino are even more recent developments built in the flat desert east of Los Angeles.
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You’re probably already familiar with most of the Los Angeles neighborhoods you’ll need to know from pop culture references. As a general rule of thumb, if you recognize the name of a neighborhood from a reference in a rap song about how rough the neighborhood was, it’s probably a depressed area with housing projects and residents living at or just above the poverty level. (Note: House of Pain songs do not count.)
Los Angeles is divided east/west by the LA River, a manmade culvert that funnels rain out to the ocean. East Los Angeles cities and neighborhoods include Pasadena, Glendale, Eagle Rock, Glassell Park, Boyle Heights, Echo Park, Highland Park and others. Pasadena and Glendale are technically their own cities, however with populations of 146,000 and 205,000 respectively.
The rest of the city can be divided into coastal communities and inland areas. Malibu, Santa Monica, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach are all on the coast near Los Angeles. Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar are all Orange County coastal communities that you might want to visit.
Inland areas in Orange County include Mission Viejo, Irvine, Costa Mesa, and Anaheim, the home of Disneyland, while populated inland areas in Los Angeles include Pasadena, Glendale, Burbank, Altadena and Beverly Hills.