3.5 square miles out of 4,751.
How did such a tiny place grow to represent an entire area the size of a small country? If you add on Beverly Hills (5.7 square miles) and maybe Downtown Los Angeles (5.8 square miles), even if you were able to completely cover every inch of those 3 places. You would still have 4,736 square miles to go.
You see, Los Angeles isn’t just a city, it’s almost a hundred cities side by side (literally). When someone says “Los Angeles”, in most cases what they really mean is Los Angeles County… even if they don’t realize it.
The City of Los Angeles (503 square miles) is just one of 88 cities (not to mention unincorporated areas) in LA County. Places like Beverly Hills or Santa Monica, for instance, are NOT part of the City of Los Angeles, they are separate cities in LA County. So if you think that Beverly Hills or say, the Santa Monica Pier, are synonymous with Los Angeles, even when YOU say “Los Angeles”, you mean Los Angeles County.
Pasadena, Glendale, Burbank, Long Beach, Inglewood, Compton? All cities in Los Angeles County with their own local flavor and separate local governments, while unincorporated areas like East LA are governed by the county.
Tacos in East LA, which is NOT part of the City of LA, or a city itself, it is an unincorporated area.
Ribs at Bludso’s BBQ in Compton, a completely separate city in LA County.
A good way to picture this is to think of Manhattan (22 square miles). Many people think Manhattan is a big place, it would be easy to live there, or maybe say Brooklyn (69 square miles), and never even need to leave. Now think of what it’s like to live in the 4,751 square miles of LA County and you will understand why everybody drives.
In fact eight major U.S. cities, including Manhattan, fit into just the area covered by the City of Los Angeles, while LA County is over 215 TIMES the size of Manhattan and contains over 10 million people. Pretty much every city and nearly every neighborhood in LA County is unique in some way, even when the architecture is similar, the people in a given area make that area different from all others. It’s no wonder that so many people have such conflicting views of Los Angeles. It would be very easy to visit, move or even live here your whole life and rarely ever leave the bubble of your immediate surroundings.
Even if you explored 100 square miles out from your neighborhood, you really haven’t covered very much ground. Which is why I can also understand how, even with all the evidence to the contrary, clichéd views of Los Angeles still persist. The reality is just too daunting, too overwhelming to comprehend. It’s much easier just to simplify it into a single stereotype and move on.
Before I moved here, even I found it much easier to mumble something about Hollywood and fad diets when the subject of Los Angeles came up than it is now to come to terms with the fact that, even if I tried, I couldn’t even cover all of the regional Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley in my lifetime.
I’ll never cover all of Koreatown, Little Bangladesh, Thai Town, Little Armenia, Historic Filipinotown, Little Tokyo, Little Osaka, Little Ethiopia, Tehrangeles and Long Beach Cambodia Town. I’ll never eat at every Mexican food truck on Whittier Blvd or every Indian restaurant in Artesia.
How did that tired old notion of Los Angeles being a “cultural wasteland” get programmed into my head again? I’m sure I don’t remember.
I’ve lived in and explored Los Angeles for almost a decade now and I’ve done my best to document as much of the food culture in LA in photographs as I can, and will probably continue to do so for as long as I can.
After a decade, I still haven’t even scratched the surface.