L.A. City or County?

If you’ve been a tourist in Los Angeles, you may have traveled from the iconic Venice Beach to the famed Santa Monica Pier. Did you know that in that short 1.5-mile walk or bike ride, you’ve technically departed Los Angeles city? Turns out, Santa Monica is a separate incorporated city in Los Angeles County.

There are plenty of examples that make up L.A. County’s diverse patchwork, such as the independent city of Beverly Hills or the unincorporated Marina Del Rey. While the distinction might not affect your travel experience, it comes in handy when residents explain what part of “Los Angeles” they’re from (or if, like me, you enjoy studying maps).

So how do you know if the place you’re visiting is a neighborhood, city, or county? To start, here’s an incredibly detailed map of L.A. communities and neighborhoods, complete with the ability to zoom in and out as well as area descriptions. 

In practice, say your friend lives in Little Tokyo; what does that mean? Little Tokyo (neighborhood) is in Downtown Los Angeles (community) within Los Angeles (city), which is a part of Los Angeles (county). How about if your friend lives in Malibu? That’s simpler: Malibu (city) is a part of Los Angeles (county).

Careful, though, if you tell an L.A. County resident that they’re “not technically” from L.A. city. For example, on the border of Orange County, Cerritos is still in L.A. County, and implying anything to the contrary would likely make a native sputter with indignation.

The L.A. County website is a trove of fascinating information, including pages devoted to geography & statistics, history, and more. The L.A. city website is an excellent resource for practical L.A. city information such as park directories, emergency services, and so on. I’m also a big fan of Lonely Planet travel guidebooks to learn about a new place. 

What are your go-to travel resources to figure out the lay of the land in a new city or area?