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Los Angeles: beyond the myths and legends

What you see is never quite what you get in Tinseltown. Everyone from aspiring film stars to California sun-seekers come looking for glitz, glamour and golden age Hollywood. But there’s more to Los Angeles than you imagine – and sometimes the facts are stranger than the fiction.  

1. Myth: “everyone drives in Los Angeles”

It’s true that, after just a day in LA, you’ll feel as though everyone drives everywhere (in a Prius). But residents love hiking too. Swap Manolos for walking shoes, take to the trails and look across the mega-mansions. 

- Runyon Canyon

A hiking high point. The downside is how busy it gets and not just with people. Look out for anyone with a clutch of dog leads – they’re often professional walkers for pooches of the stars.

- Echo Mountain & Corral Canyon

If the glossy sheen of LA gets a bit much, try the raw landscapes of Echo Mountain and Corral Canyon. Keep an eye out for Corral Canyon Cave where Jim Morrison supposedly snuck off to write music.

- Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook

Forget the muscle men of Venice Beach and climb to Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. This becomes an outdoor gym where locals work out with the City of Angels as their backdrop. 

- Solstice Canyon 

For a hike with a bit of everything, head for Solstice Canyon. It has waterfalls, resident hawks and the eerie Robert’s Ranch House ruins.

Don’t forget... Take paper with you on the Wisdom Tree Hike in Beachwood Canyon and join the hundreds of walkers who leave little notebooks of wisdom in the boxes here.

2. Myth: “you need megabucks to shop here”

If you don’t fancy recreating that Pretty Woman moment in the Rodeo Drive boutiques, delve into the pre-loved store scene instead. 

When walking Topanga Canyon, make a sartorial stop at Hidden Treasures. This eclectic vintage store is offbeat and on-trend.

Decades carries some eye-watering price tags as much of what’s on the rails comes straight from celebrity wardrobes. So it’s a good idea to visit in sale season.

If you’re in Los Angeles on a Sunday, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Jet Rag has a weekly budget-boosting yard sale and Melrose Trading Post pitches up at Fairfax High School. The flea market outside the Rose Bowl happens every other Sunday and it’s best to arrive early for the pick of the antique bunch.

3. Myth: “it’s all about movies”

While Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and Elizabeth Taylor were taking Hollywood by storm in the 1950s and ‘60s, there was another movement happening in Malibu: surfing. Despite more and more movie and music icons swapping Beverly Hills for the coast and taking houses here, it’s kept its small town feel – with an alternative, arty (and occasionally anarchic) edge.

Search out the perfect point break with a private surfing lesson – there are plenty of outlets along the coast offering classes. Or stick to dry land and simply soak up the surfing culture. Be sure to look out for the ‘Dora Rules’ graffiti that pops up on beachfront walls, if the authorities haven’t covered it that day. It’s a tribute to local surfing icon Miki Dora.

Don’t forget… It’s worth exploring inland to see more of Malibu Lagoon State Beach. Aside from the often-seen surfers, it’s home to hundreds of lesser-spotted bird species.

4. Myth: “nothing lasts”

You only have to take a touristy ‘star homes tour’ to learn how often iconic houses are torn down and rebuilt in Beverly Hills. And it can feel a bit like a city with no history. Yet just a short Gold Line trip takes you from Downtown LA to Pasadena – a quaint town with old-world alleyways, 19th-century heritage buildings and an arty undercurrent.

There are grand, historic mansions like Castle Green, Gamble House and turn-of-the-century Tournament House. If you’ve been inspired by recent sci-fi blockbusters like Arrival and Gravity, you can see behind the scenes of Mars Rover creator, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Plus Julia Child hailed from Pasadena, so there’s a strong foodie spirit too.

Shangri La Hotel

Best hotel in Los Angeles

There’s really just one choice if you want to combine the pull of Hollywood with the beauty of the California coast: Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica.

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