Scenic Drives in Los Angeles: Drives in the City of Angels

Los Angeles freeway lights
photo courtesy of Shawn Park, Flickr

Driving in LA has always been a glamorous way to explore the city. Here, "scenic" means "where the scene is at," and there's no doubt that Los Angeles has its fair share of drives featuring LA-centric landscapes. Hotels, restaurants, clubs, historic architecture and, of course, LA's diverse population line the city streets for the curious visitor. These scenic drives offer spectacular sights at night, when the lights of the city cast a spotlight on the bustling energy LA has to offer. So hop in the car, pump up the bass and cruise the streets of LA.

Sunset Strip from Crescent Heights Boulevard to Doheny Drive (1.5 miles)

The Vehicle: A decked-out Cadillac Escalade with tinted windows, spinning rims and a sound system loud enough to let the car next to you share your musical taste.

The Story: No other road has the multiple personalities of this less than two-mile stretch on Sunset Boulevard. In a matter of blocks, you’ll see a cowboy saloon, trendy boutique hotels, more than a few tattoo parlors, and giant billboards covering the sides of buildings. And the foot traffic is just as eclectic as the scenery. Headbangers stuck in the '80s wander outside of dimly lit clubs, future starlets nosh on tiger prawns at posh sidewalk eateries, and posers strut with artificial limps and excess “bling.” The Strip is the ultimate cruising destination, a place where every night has the potential to turn into a David Lynch movie.

Reasons to Pull Over: Live music at the Whisky A Go Go (made famous in the '60s by bands like The Doors), The Roxy, the Viper Room or House of Blues® Sunset Strip; and top-name comedy acts at the Comedy Store or the Laugh Factory.

Hollywood Boulevard from La Brea Avenue to Vine Street (1 mile)

The Vehicle: A MINI Cooper — a small and maneuverable import with a style that gets noticed.

The Story: This stretch is the source of much early Hollywood lore. Leading men in pin-striped suits sipped martinis in dark lounges and producers discovered young actresses on street corners. Today, it’s still a tourist center and hotter than ever, thanks to major renovations. Attractions such as the Hollywood & Highland Center, a massive entertainment and shopping complex, and the Dolby Theatre (home of the Oscars®) have injected energy into the area. But the street still retains a gritty sense of charm with its odd stores selling movie souvenirs and its cast of eccentric characters — from sidewalk rappers to pierced punk rockers. At TCL Chinese Theatre, an eclectic mix of costumed super heroes and movie characters keep crowds entertained. And Hollywood Boulevard is also home to some of the town’s hottest nightspots, the kind that are so cool they don’t have a sign on their entrance, just a line outside the door.

Reasons to Pull Over: Catch the newest blockbuster (or check out the hand and footprints of the stars embedded in the concrete throughout the courtyard) at TCL Chinese Theatre; look for James Dean’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (or a host of other famous stars); or attend a taping of the Jimmy Kimmel Show next to the historic El Capitan Theatre.

Wilshire Boulevard from Downtown LA to the Pacific Coast Highway (16 miles)

The Vehicle: 1956 Cadillac Convertible — a classic car for a classic drive.

The Story: Cruising the Fifth Avenue of the West can be an all day affair — if you do it right. Wilshire is undoubtedly the backbone of LA, spanning 16 miles from Downtown to Santa Monica and leading you on a treasure trail of the city’s historic, cultural and architectural roots. A drive down Wilshire, one of the most densely populated roads in the city, will take you through several distinct neighborhoods with a variety of ethnic populations and past nearly every architectural style of the 20th century, from Victorian to Gothic to Art Deco. Your tour begins Downtown, amid some of the tallest and oldest skyscrapers in the city, and ends with stunning views from the Pacific Coast Highway. Along the way, you’ll pass the hustle and bustle of Westlake and Koreatown, the sleek condos of the Miracle Mile, the cultural gems of Museum Row and swanky Beverly Hills shopping.

Reasons to Pull Over: Get up close to a saber-toothed cat at the La Brea Tar Pits; visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and its newer addition, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM); people watch at the Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel; check out Westwood Village and the Hammer Museum.