Movies, books, and songs to capture the essence of Los Angeles and get you in the mood for travel

Movies and TV Shows

Sunset Boulevard (1950)
High drama ensues when a wealthy, aging film star (Gloria Swanson) hires an obscure screenwriter (William Holden) to brush up her comeback vehicle. Rich black-and-white settings (a Fifties-era Paramount picture, opulent mansion) and concepts (a star's insatiable ego, the prevalence of "the business") haven't lost any relevance.

Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)
Silly romp in which a suicidal homeless man (Nick Nolte) turns life inside-out for a Beverly Hills couple (Richard Dreyfuss, Bette Midler) and their kids.

Grease (1978)
Timeless classic in which summer lovers Danny (John Travolta) and Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) reconfigure themselves to conform to the realities of life at Rydell High.

L.A. Story (1991)
Steve Martin's wacky romantic comedy lovingly parodies the quirks and foibles of chaotic, car-happy L.A.

The Player (1992)
Robert Altman's atmospheric ensemble thriller about a studio executive being blackmailed by a rejected screenwriter. Inside references and political Hollywood intrigue portray "the business" as cutthroat and unforgiving. Luckily, it's just a movie.

Mulholland Drive (2001)
David Lynch's dreamlike mystery shows L.A.'s oddities, layered with surreal textures and quirky personalities. The movie is pure fantasy, but it captures the city's mysterious, ephemeral essence.

Books

Ask the Dust, by John Fante (1939)
A young screenwriter comes to terms with his budding career, set against the backdrop of a love-hate relationship with a Mexican waitress. Paints a vivid picture of thirties-era Bunker Hill, then a ritzy neighborhood-turned-slum.

The Black Dahlia, by James Ellroy (1987)
The great L.A. crime writer's noir novel about the investigation of the torture and death of a beautiful aspiring actress. Depicts gritty landscape of postwar Hollywood.

The Loved One, by Evelyn Waugh (1948)
Before Six Feet Under came The Loved One—Waugh's hilarious send-off of the Los Angeles funeral industry. His satire of blithe American attitudes toward sex and romance, of British expats in Los Angeles, and of Hollywood is still scathingly relevant.

The Pleasure of My Company, by Steve Martin (2003)
Novella chronicling the daily ordeal of a mildly autistic ex-programmer in Santa Monica—and illustrating that extreme neurosis can exist in sunny Los Angeles, too. Just as poignant, and arguably funnier, than Shopgirl, Martin's first novella.

The Slide Area: Scenes of Hollywood Life, by Gavin Lambert (1959)
Narrated by a screenwriter, these short stories provide evocative descriptions of Hollywood, the Pacific Palisades, Malibu, and other distinctive L.A. spots.

Music

Compilations:

Sounds of Summer
This 30-song collection is seminal Beach Boys: as much carefree California lifestyle as tuneful, harmony-slinging surfer sounds. The great surfing songs are here, as is "California Girls," "Fun, Fun, Fun," "Sloop John B.," and the surprisingly pensive "Don't Worry Baby."

Red Hot Chili Peppers Greatest Hits
Featuring Anthony Kiedis' soaring, sliding vocals at their most gorgeously introspective, delivering lyrics about angst, drugs, suicide, and more drugs. Can't get much farther from the Beach Boys.

Loneliness Knows My Name
L.A. singer-songwriter Patrick Park is a Bob Dylan folk lyricist for modern times.

More Adventurous
The older that progressive LA-based band Rilo Kiley gets, the more assured they sound. Their 2004 album is a smooth mix of wistful tunes as adept with an organ sound as with a drum set. For a rawer version of Jenny Lewis' velvetine lead voice, try Rilo's first album, Take Offs and Landings.

Best of The Doors
Jim Morrison's early demise makes this compilation all the more amazing for its intelligence, ferocity, and rebellion.

Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1
This album features L.A.'s most famous songwriter and his piano.

Singin' in the Rain
It doesn't really rain in L.A., but who can forget Gene Kelly's exuberant dance with a lamppost during an unlikely Hollywood downpour?

The Graduate
Some of Simon & Garfunkel's best-known songs on this quintessentially California soundtrack, accompanying the notorious pairing of Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in (where else?) L.A.

Ride the Lightning
Thrash metal band Metallica pioneers a loud, if artfully layered, sound.

Roy Orbison: 16 Biggest Hits
For those who recall Julia Roberts being snubbed on Rodeo Drive, there's a good chance Roy Orbison will conjure the Los Angeles sunshine as portrayed by Roberts' latter-day Cinderella with "Oh, Pretty Woman."

Classic Songs:

Ranging from cheery pop melodies to grungy rock and mellow ballads, here are ten of our favorites:

1. "Hotel California" by the Eagles
2. "I Love L.A." by Randy Newman
3. "California Girls" by The Beach Boys
4. "Moonlight Drive" by The Doors
5. "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses
6. "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John
7. "Santa Monica" by Everclear
8. "City of Angels" by 10,000 Maniacs
9. "Californication" by Red Hot Chili Peppers
10. "Zoot Suit Riot" by Cherry Poppin' Daddies

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