Here are 20 things you need to know before landing in La La Land.
1. The Hollywood sign was never meant to be
Erected in 1923, the original sign – "Hollywoodland" – was an advertising gimmick for an upscale property development. It was only intended to stay up for 18 months, but – minus the 'land' – it stayed until 1978 when its rapidly decaying letters were deemed doomed by the city. Along came Hugh Hefner to the rescue; a brand new sign was erected, and Hollywood was forever saved. It's interesting to note, however, real estate has always been the star-studded suburb's economic driver; not the film industry.
Welcome to Hullywod, circa 1978 Photo: Wikipedia
The original Hollywoodland sign. Photo: The Hollywood Sign/Facebook
2. Fake signs are deliberately meant to deter you
Sometimes locals are fond of removing signage or adding their own authentic-looking "private property", "no trespassing" or "no parking" signs to streets and beaches so the humble visitor will be forever deterred from seeking out that wonderful beach, or hike, or viewpoint. David Geffen has, rather famously, gone to the length of painting a fake four-car garage on the Pacific Coast Highway-facing side of his Malibu house so that anyone who parks there will receive a fine.
Locals sometimes put up their own signs. Photo: Alamy
While such methods are usually not legit, the closure Hollyridge Trail – the best hike to the Hollywood sign – is a win for some residents, with the city making it officially closed to the public in March 2017. The only way you can access the trail is via horseriding at Sunset Ranch Hollywood Stables, located in Beachwood Canyon.
3. LA used to be in Mexico
A Mexican mariachi band plays during Cinco de Mayo Photo: Alamy
The US won control of the state of California in 1847 during the Mexican-American war. But it won't take a visitor too long to realise that Mexican and Californian culture is well intertwined and Mexican workers underpin the hospitality industry; without them, kitchens would seriously collapse.
4. You are wasting your time (and money) doing 'Hollywood Hills' tours
There's no value for money in the 'Hollywood Hills' tours. Photo: Alamy
Don't listen to the touts on Hollywood Boulevard – these tours are nothing but expensive scenic drives in open-top buses. Hire a car and do it yourself instead (it'll be cheaper).
Celebrities invest a lot of money in keeping people from prying into their properties, so the chances of an entire busloads seeing anything? Nopety nope nope.
5.There are barely any seasons
It's stinking hot in summer, in the middle of autumn it can be stinking hot, in spring fairly hot, and even in winter, it's warm and sunny. It's funny to see Angelenos, perhaps a little unnecessarily, wearing jumpers and even coats, huddled around heaters on rooftop bars at night during December/January.
6. There are secret underground tunnels beneath Downtown LA
Downtown was the centre of illegal goings-on during Prohibition. It's here the speakeasies were located, and where corrupt city officials are rumoured to have smuggled alcohol throughout its 18 kilometres of underground tunnels. Named the "former highway of the LA underground", the tunnels are now mostly inaccessible, largely due to the threat they have had, or will pose, during earthquakes. Some parts of the tunnels are accessible, but privately owned so the best way to see them is to book a tour through the new Hotel Indigo.
7. You'll finally understand what all those songs are about
I am not going to pretend I know how many songs are written about California, or Los Angeles, or the Pacific Coast Highway, but it's a LOT, and when you hear them, there, you'll have a better understanding of why they've been written – particularly the Mamas and the Papas iconic California Dreamin'. It's practically piped through the air.
8. It is a city serious about its food
The Grand Central Market in LA. Photo: Alamy
Although tacos may rule; LA is a serious foodie city. It has some of the best Thai food you'll find outside Thailand (try Jitlada and Night + Market). Korean, Italian, French and of course, Californian are all major players. Head to markets like Grand Central in Downtown, the original Farmer's Market at The Grove, the new EATaly or any of its famed farmers markets to sample its varied cuisine. High end restaurants such as Bestia and Trois Mec are quintessential LA dining experiences.
9. It's a melting pot of cultures
There's a huge intersection of communities in this city. Stay at The Line hotel in Koreatown and you can hit up Korean restaurants and karaoke bars. Nearby Little Tokyo has Far Bar, one of the best "Japanese" bars in LA. Over in Thai Town, restaurants open til the wee hours where chefs dine at the end of their shifts and Thai supermarkets accommodate the city's huge Thai population, which is adjacent Little Armenia – the Kardashian's motherland.
10. LA's hoods are vastly different
The other Venice canals, LA. Photo: Alamy
The three hottest suburbs in Los Angeles right now are Silver Lake, Echo Park and Los Feliz, where you'll find unique boutiques, coffee shops and new restaurant and bar openings. Down at the beach, boho Venice and upscale Santa Monica have their own distinct character. West Hollywood is massive for the gay community and houses Sunset Strip, whose faded rock'n'roll history can be found on every corner.
11. Angelenos are super friendly
Not everyone's a movie star or an aspiring movie star. In fact, this couldn't be further from the truth. Most are just hard-working, down to earth, regular people who're only too happy to stop you in the street to compliment you on what you're wearing.
12. Nobody walks in LA
If you're not already on top of this, Los Angeles is a huge sprawling city with a population of 13 million. Getting from A to B via walking is impossible. Going from West Hollywood to Hollywood, for example, on foot takes hours. Be resigned to catching Ubers, Lyfts, public transport or driving everywhere. And allow plenty of time to reach your destination.
13. The freeways are unavoidable and terrifying – at first
One of LA's mega seven-lane freeways. Photo: Alamy
It doesn't matter how you paint it, driving on the right hand side of the road on those mega seven-lane freeways for the first time could facilitate a nervous breakdown. Like the famous quote in Bret Easton Ellis' ode to Los Angeles, "People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles", and yes, you are likely to sit in the right hand lane which provides the easiest access to an exit. But as you'll soon realise, LA's notorious traffic slows everything down making the whole experience a little less terrifying than you first thought.
13. And you don't have to drive
Despite what you may hear, the public transport system in Los Angeles is not to be feared. Yes, it might take a smidgen longer to get there, but it's actually extremely efficient and regular and armed with a mobile phone, not beyond comprehension. The metro will take you from Hollywood, to Laurel Canyon or Universal Studios, to Downtown and Chinatown. Now you can go all the way to Santa Monica too – and with LAX on the green line, having to hire a car may not be so necessary.
Buses are also useful; you can catch them to places the metro does not reach such as the hipster enclaves of Silver Lake and Echo Park.
14. And to that end – parking everywhere is a costly nightmare
Everybody drives in Los Angeles. Therefore everyone needs to park. Think you can avoid that valet fee? Forget it, you'll only zap precious holiday time looking for a space. Decent hotels can charge $US50; cheap ones let you park free. It's not just hotels charging valet fees – it's restaurants, too, so you'll need to factor these costs in to your trip.
15. Nobody notices celebrities
Chateau Marmont – usually good for a celeb or two, and therefore has a no-photo policy. Photo: Alamy
The reason why I've never seen a celebrity outside of the Beverly Hills Hotel (Dr Phil!) and Chateau Marmont (Entourage's Kevin Connolly) is because they are masters of disguise. And most of them know how to blend into the general population. Also, locals don't draw attention to or make a fuss over them, so the only people likely to react to a celebrity sighted in public is you. Which is not cool.
17. LA is the creative capital of the world
Jim Morrison's famous mural in Venice. Photo: Kylie McLaughlin
And it reaches far, far beyond Hollywood – the Eames Chair, Mickey Mouse, and the electric guitar were all born here. There are more artists, writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians living in Los Angeles than any other city in the world. The fashion industry is huge. Architecture is also a major player. Check out the latest contemporary art gallery, The Broad or LACMA to the Getty Centre or just gaze at the endless number of murals found on every corner, sparking an Instagram selfie frenzy off streets like Abbott Kinney in Venice.
18. It only takes an hour to drive to one of the world's best coastlines
Venice Beach. Photo: Alamy
It would be a major crime to visit Los Angeles and not see some of its coast. Whether it be a short stint to Venice or Santa Monica or a cruise north along its famed Malibu coast, its fat stretches of sand and blood-orange sunsets that occur on an almost daily basis will steal your heart.
19. The Golden Age of Hollywood is alive and well
The Beverly Hills Hotel is famous for playing host to Hollywood royalty over the years. Photo: Alamy
Classic old Hollywood is alive and well and you can experience it at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The real Hotel California is a lavish, five-star time capsule where the staff have worked for 20 years. Elizabeth Taylor is said to have spent 12 honeymoons here and the newly renovated bungalows are inspired by guests such as Taylor and Frank Sinatra. Sinatra's Bungalow 22 includes his favourite bar and a grand piano. Staying here will set you back between $US5500-8000 ($7000-10,190) a night – so you might prefer to dine at The Polo Lounge, a former Rat Pack haunt, where a star spotting or two is almost guaranteed.
20. And in stark contrast, new Hollywood is shedding its bad reputation
The Tao restaurant, Hollywood.
Behind the tacky Walk of Fame – with its souvenir shops and wannabe actors in superhero garb – Hollywood is reinventing itself with enormous success. The area is drawing locals and visitors alike with new rooftop bars and on-point restaurants. Starting with hip French hoteliers Mama Shelter and most recently across the road at Dream Hollywood hotel, whose complex includes Tao, an ostentatious new restaurant to see and be seen (Instagram yourself in front of its purpose-built art on its outside wall), and Alvin Cailan's (of Eggslut fame) new pizza venture Luchini. On Sundays, wander through one of LA's best farmers' markets along Selma Avenue.
See also: Qantas' first Dreamliner takes off to LA
Dream Hollywood is a swanky new hotel that's modern, playful and luxurious. Drawcards include a rooftop pool and bar, designer gym, and a So-Cal menu of healthy meal options. If that wasn't enough, the complex includes restaurant Tao, Luchini Pizzeria, and Beauty & Essex, a large nightspot and dining space found behind a secret door to a "pawnshop". 6417 Selma Ave, Hollywood, dreamhotels.com
Across the road, Mama Shelter's spacious and colourful rooftop is one of the most popular in town, and its restaurant is often booked out. The French-branded chain made its debut in Hollywood a few years ago, and is just as popular with locals as it is visitors. Its rooms, while not as lavish as Dream's, are more affordable and fun. Downstairs, bar number two is a nod to old US diners and is often humming until the wee hours of the morning. Check out our review here; mamashelter.com
In Downtown LA, The Ace hotel occupies a unique piece of Los Angeles history in the old United Artists building, and its adjoining theatre is not to be missed. Read our review here.
Qantas flies their new Dreamliner service from Melbourne daily; other daily services fly from Sydney and Brisbane; qantas.com