Los Angeles is a huge county, but I limited my explorations to Santa Monica, Hollywood, and Downtown Los Angeles.
Santa Monica is a beautiful city on the coast in the west of the county. The HI Santa Monica youth hostel was an excellent place to stay: clean and bright, with a backpackers' kitchen, dining area, courtyard, television room and laundry room.
The weather in Santa Monica is sunny and cool, occasionally interrupted by patches of fog. Santa Monica's seafront has a busy, colourful pier, and the beach is crowded with people. The meandering path along the sand to Venice Beach is busy with cyclists and roller-bladers, and shops and stalls along the route offer a variety of artwork and alternative clothing.
For a bit of culture, The Getty Center is easy to get to by bus, and admission is free. Its museum exhibits western art, and it's all set in buildings of modern architecture up in the hills over Santa Monica. The views are so impressive that I spent most of my time outside, taking photos from the balconies.
The public transport network in Los Angeles makes it very easy to travel from Santa Monica to Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles.
Hollywood is a place I was looking forward to visiting, but arriving on Hollywood Boulevard to see construction work, a string of tourist shops, Mann's Chinese Theatre and very little else, came as a surprise. With a brand as strong as Hollywood, I really expected to see a concentration of tourist attractions and sights right in one place. In fact, there seemed to be little of the movie industry left, and it seemed to have contributed little to the famous street other than the Walk of Fame. Hollywood Boulevard isn't a destination to rush to unless you really need to see the famous handprints outside the Chinese theatre, or the stars on the Walk of Fame.
For those who want to be a little closer to the magic of Hollywood movies, Universal Studios is easy to get to from Hollywood Boulevard. Universal City has its own subway station on the clean and efficient MTA Red Line. Universal CityWalk is a colourful area that offers shops and restaurants, and is free to enter. But CityWalk is pretty much a giant entrance area for the main attraction: Universal Studios Hollywood. If you want to enter the theme park you'll have to pay.
Downtown Los Angeles is an odd place. I met people in Los Angeles who said they try to avoid Downtown whenever possible.
Apart from a couple of small pockets of tourists visiting places recommended in the travel guides, Downtown Los Angeles seemed bereft of outsiders. Maybe it was just an illusion caused by the city being so big and spacious, but whole streets seemed deserted in the middle of the day. The majority of people I encountered were poor beggars who would spin creative, self-contradicting stories in their attempts to lighten me of a few dollars. Many of them became quite hostile when I didn't buy into their lie. It all seemed so strange set against the towering, glistening skyscrapers owned by multinational banking corporations.