Michael Residents of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area fancy cultivating a long tradition of absolutely hating everything about Los Angeles. Except we don't subscribe to such prejudice and travel down there every once in a while. Also, when Americans say "Los Angeles", they actually don't mean the downtown district, but an eclectic conglomerate of suburbs forming a gigantic metropolitan area home to some 20 million people. Every single one of these neighborhoods is completely different and no person with integrity would lump them all together and rate them as a whole.
For instance, we really enjoy staying in Venice. You might have heard of "Muscle Beach", where the early Arnold Schwarzenegger kept toning his body at the outdoor gym on the beach way back when in the eighties. Nowadays, hardly anyone is pushing weights there anymore, but we rented bicycles and rode along the beach almost all the way up to Malibu. In Figure 2 you can admire Angelika on her beach cruiser, which is similar to a dutch bike with an extra wide saddle and a comfortably mounted handle bar for cruising along the board walk at the beach. They charged a whopping $20 per day for it! Just to compare: Rental cars in the Los Angeles area are about the same price. By the way, check out the basket in front of Angelika's cruiser in Figure 2, you can see a backpack with a rather unassuming "Y!" logo. Don't tell anyone, but that's the secret giveaway of someone working at Yahoo. Recently, someone approached us in an elevator in Las Vegas because of it.
The Venice boardwalk displays an interesting mix of tourists, stranded runaways, dubious characters, and homeless people. In winter, the area is pretty much dead, but during the summer months the hustle and bustle until late at night is quite appealing. On the beach, every Joe Schmoe owning a drum can join the Drummers of Venice Beach and hammer away for hours to hot rhythms. Booth dealers sell all kinds of nicknacks, from henna tattooes to painted skulls. The stores along the boardwalk also offer a broad array of merchandize, from tourist shops selling t-shirts with tintillating imprints, to tattoo parlors, or doctors who write marihuana prescriptions for $40, to hash pipe supply shops.
The area isn't exactly squeaky clean, and LAPD, known for not being timid, is always present to step in every once in a while when a crazy person causes a disturbance, but violent outbreaks are rare. Apparently, there's been muggings in the dark alleys near the boardwalk, but we've never ever encountered anything of concern. Sure, every once in a while, you have to step over a crazy homeless man who thinks it's a good idea to lay down flat in the middle of the sidewalk, or some lunatic starts screaming for no apparent reason, but we're somewhat used to that level of crazyness from living in San Francisco for almost 20 years.
Then there's the posh neighborhood of Venice that instilled its name: The district with those small canals that are supposed to look like the waterways in Venice/Italy. Unfortunately, you'll only find vacation homes of the super rich there, which are vacant most of the time, which contributes to the ghost town appeal of the neighborhood, although the houses are built in style and show tasteful interior design as well.
What's really great about Los Angeles is its variety of absolutely top notch restaurants. Although the streets aren't super clean, even the smallest hole in the wall eatery is subject to regularly recurring checks by the health department to make absolutely sure that food preparation and serving comply with an astonishingly strict code. On top of that, every restaurant has to display the grade ("A" through "C") obtained during the latest inspection boldly in its front window (Rundbrief 03/2009). I've never seen a grade other than "A", though, I presume no self-respecting resident of L.A. would enter premises rated lower.
And the food creations are indeed nothing short of spectacular. Especially in the sushi category, you have to know: Sushi restaurants in the Bay Area around San Francisco are about ten times better on average than their counterparts in Germany. What's sold as sushi in Germany wouldn't even pass the quality requirements for dog food over here! Then, if you drive down to Los Angeles, you'll be surprised to find out that the sushi creations down there are again ten times better than in the Bay Area. German tourists would inevitably sustain a permanent sushi shock! If you think now "Oh god, now the old miser has completely lost it, my super expensive Japanese restaurant in Munich serves excellent sushi", then I recommend you watch the documentary "Jiro -- Dreams of Sushi" and learn that serving world class sushi requires much more than just slicing fresh fish (which you can't even get in Munich). You read it here first.
This amazing multitude of dining options creates a fierce competition between the restaurants, resulting in highly critical patrons who will start complaining immediately if dishes that are not 100% satisfactory. That's a great incentive even for the smallest establishment to excel, because if they don't, it doesn't take long until the word gets around on sites like Yelp and they'll be forced to shut down because of slowing business.
No doubt international cuisine is equally top-notch in such a melting pot of nations. Whether it's the tiny sandwich deli around the corner or the spanish bodega in a small alley, or a German-infused sausage heaven named "Wurstküche", where the barman pours a microbrew named "Zwickl" imported from the German city of Bayreuth: There's always something special about a place to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack.