Los Angeles: The weird and wonderful tours around the City of Angels

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10 September 2013

We know: you're as tempted by the open-topped bus tours as any self-respecting celeb home spotter. But just as the city itself is a whole lot more than the Hollywood sign, the tours in LA go way, way beyond star maps and tall hedges. Whether your tastes run to literary Los Angeles, noir classics or South Central gangs, here are the best modern safaris in the City of Angels.

The Tragical History Tour
A tour of spots where famous names drew their last breath? Morbid, maybe. Fascinating, definitely--especially with movie clips, 911 calls and actual crime-scene photography accompanying the two-hour adventure. From the house where Bugsy Siegel was gunned down to the bungalow where Marilyn Monroe overdosed (or did she?), it’s a light-hearted look at Hollywood’s dark side. 

The Cinema Buff’s Tour
Once the city’s chic heart in the 1920s and ’30s, by the ’60s LA’s Downtown district was in steep decline and the sophisticates had moved on. But you can still see its faded beauty—and signs of renewal—on the Los Angeles Conservancy’s various walking tours through the area. Our pick: a stroll along Broadway, also known as the Theater District, America’s largest concentration of grand pre-World War II movie palaces. The neon temples to film hosted the likes of the Marx Bros and Charlie Chaplin, and you can take a peek inside a couple with your tour guide.

The Street-Art Tour
Explore LA’s downtown art district—a semi-industrial spot that has recently exploded with world-class street art and more than a few foodie hot spots—with an actual graffiti artist and expert. Hear about the Freewalls project, spot living landmarks and even try your hand at some tagging. Feeling independent? Take a self-guided walk with their downloadable map that reveals more than 25 pieces of graffiti and the story behind them.

The Gangland Tour
Set up by an ex-gang member, the idea behind LA Gang Tours is to create jobs for residents of the infamous South Central district—and give tourists the thrill of seeing spots name-checked in Notorious BIG and co. Hear how notorious gangs such as the Cripps and Bloods began, bear witness to struggling neighbourhoods and even see where the 1991 Rodney King riots began on this not-for-the-faint-hearted tour.

The Vintage Venice Tour
An illustrated guide to the past and present of one of LA’s most famous enclaves or, as the guide puts it, “the most amazing city you never knew”. Wander from famous Venice beach to its canals, hear about its history, pioneers and gossip, and see old photographs, paintings and video clips of long-gone roller-coasters, piers, hippies and movie locations along the way.

The LA Noir Tour
If you’ve ever wanted to step inside a Raymond Chandler novel or see the city of James Ellroy’s LA Confidential, this is the tour for you. Hear all the sordid events of the first half of the 20th century that inspired writers and filmmakers to create a whole new genre—noir—in this riveting tour of LA’s criminal past.

Naomi Jaul


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