No, this is not a guide about culture or tourism. It’s about the literal answer to the question: what is Los Angeles? Is it a city? Is it a county? Is it a region?
I know what you outsiders are probably thinking: “Duh, Quack, it’s a city. Hence… the ‘City’ of Los Angeles.”
Apparently to the Southern Californian local, the truth is a confusing matter. There are many different named neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area that are part of the City of Los Angeles, and many more that are independent cities, and it’s often unclear into which category these neighborhoods fall. Hence, the lazy and ignorant Southlander* may often claim that Los Angeles isn’t a city at all, but rather a collection of independent cities that make up a metropolitan area. Some others might claim that “Los Angeles” refers to the County of Los Angeles and not a city, unbeknownst to those who use the term. And yet there are even more who are just reluctant to admit they’re Angelenos.* The confusion runs deep, and often people are too lazy or indifferent to bother to remedy their misconceptions. Frankly, for all practical purposes, this is a pointless issue – but by golly, people should know what city they live in!
Myth 1 – Los Angeles is a small / non-existent city. When people talk about Los Angeles, they are referring to the greater metro area, which is huge.
Truth 1 – Yes, people may be talking about the metro area when they refer to LA, but do not be mistaken! – Los Angeles is in fact a city. It also refers to a metro area. And still yet, it is a county! Behold numbers:
City of Los Angeles population – 3.8 million (2nd biggest in USA)
County of Los Angeles population – 9.8 million (1st biggest in USA)
Metro of Los Angeles* population – 17.8 million (2nd biggest in USA, also includes the Counties of Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura)
Behold a map of Los Angeles County:
You see, the City of LA is a big city, and yet, there are places in the County of LA that are not the city. There are also neighborhoods in the big red defecating rabbit that are included in the city, but are known by their own names. Allow me to present to you an incomplete chart for your convenience:
|Places that are Los Angeles||Places that are not Los Angeles|
|Los Angeles||East Los Angeles*|
|West Los Angeles*||Santa Monica|
|North Hollywood||Culver City|
|Van Nuys||Beverly Hills|
|Venice||Marina del Rey|
Myth 2 – Everywhere in Los Angeles County is Los Angeles.
Truth 2 – I realize this might sound a little like Myth 1, but hear me out: for all practical purposes, the neighborhoods listed above are all pretty much a part of the same city sprawl, and any local lazy enough can just tell people they live in Los Angeles regardless of where they actually live. Therefor it’s tempting to assume that the entire county can be included in this vast slab of concrete, and can thus be labeled as “LA.” False. One must remember that “Los Angeles” not only applies to a city, a county, and a metro, but also a feel and a state of mind.
I have oft heard this exchange while returning to LA from road trips:
Person 1 – “Are we in LA yet?”
Person 2 – “Well, we’re in LA County.”
Yeah, thanks. Because that’s what was being asked. There is a lot to Los Angeles County that isn’t even close to being in the spirit of Los Angeles. While you are technically right when you say you’re in Los Angeles as soon as you cross the county line, it couldn’t be more misleading of a truth. This is akin to saying you’re in Fresno as soon as you backpack into Kings Canyon National Park.
Regardless of whether you use the term “Los Angeles” to refer to the city or the county, you cannot discount the spirit of Los Angeles. Behold the following locations in Los Angeles County.
Myth 3 – Los Angeles has many beaches.
Truth 3 – Look again at the defecating rabbit. Look at how many times it touches the ocean. Hint – the ocean lies at the rabbit’s paws and at the base of it’s pile of dookie. The part of ocean touching the dookie isn’t a beach, it’s an industrial wasteland known as the LA Harbor. The paws contain maybe three beaches. That’s it. Three.
Myth 4 – All of the LA Metro has the LA Spirit that makes Los Angeles… you know, LA.
Truth 4 – What is the Spirit of LA? Is it the boulevards lined with palm trees? Is it the glitz and glam of the film industry? Perhaps it is the sound of gunshots at 2:00am.
Let’s not forget – the giant slab of concrete we call the Greater Los Angeles Area includes many more counties than just Los Angeles. As was said before, therein lay the Counties of Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Ventura, and while Ventura and Orange Counties, being places with beaches and palm trees and disgusting amounts of wealth, have an aura of Los Angeles (reluctant as its natives are to admit), the other counties make up something called the “Inland Empire.” This is a region that, while sharing urban contiguity with Los Angeles, can most definitely not be mistaken for such.
The Inland Empire boasts not of stardom, palm trees, and beaches, but rather of drug use, bored teenagers, really hot summers, pollution, and endless suburban sprawl. The IE is where people went when Los Angeles ran out of space, and there they set up lovely chain stores and outlet malls for your convenience. You could leave LA headed east and still be driving through three hours of Inland Empire before you actually hit open road.
(I just went to search for a picture of the Inland Empire, but I have had absolutely no reason to take one. Apparently beef jerky stands are a higher priority for me.)
…and last but not least, for all you out-of-state folks:
Myth 5 – California is Los Angeles.
Truth 5 – Up yours.
* Glossary of terms:
- Southlander – a resident of Southern California
- Angeleno – a resident of Los Angeles
- Metro of Los Angeles = The Southland = Greater LA Area
- East Los Angeles – may also refer to the area around East Los Angeles, some of which may be part of Los Angeles
- West Los Angeles – may also refer to he area around West Los Angeles, some of which may not necessarily be Los Angeles
- Inland Empire – the part of the Greater LA Area east of LA County, or maybe also including East LA County
It’s really quite simple people. Right? Right??