Why a travel guide to just Southern California? Because many visitors, especially from overseas, will want to take in both Los Angeles and San Diego, or LA and Santa Barbara, or take in a visit to Palm Springs, too. With the new budget flights from Zoom Airlines direct to San Diego from the UK, San Diego becomes an important gateway into Southern California, with maybe LA as a side trip.
The Rough Guide to Los Angeles and Southern California is written by JD Dickey, who lives on the west coast and has worked on other Rough Guide destinations including the USA, California, Washington DC, Seattle, and Oregon and Washington.
So how far does Southern California go? As far south as San Diego, but not on into Tijuana. That’s a shame, as lots of guides include the Mexican border town which is easy to reach from San Diego. To the north it takes in Santa Barbara, and the Los Angeles chapter covers as far as Malibu, but the towns in-between like Ventura and Oxnard don’t get a mention. That’s a pity too, if you’re going to call it a guide to Southern California.
In this book, Southern California takes up only 30 pages out of almost 500: 15 on San Diego, five on Palm Springs and seven on Santa Barbara, including maps and some large photographs.
Inside, the author is rather dismissive about some of the fun things in LA, like Universal Studios. In one paragraph this is dismissed as “more like a trip around an amusement park than a visit to a film studio.” Most visitors are probably well aware that Universal Studios is an amusement park, and a very good one, too. Disneyland fares a little better, but there’s still a tired tone from the author who maybe isn’t best-suited to writing about family fun places that millions of people enjoy every year.
Disneyland is one of the 21 things not to miss, listed at the front of the book, which also include such attractions as San Diego Zoo, the Pacific Coast Highway, Griffith Park, the Whisky-a-Go-Go club, the Queen Mary and, at number one, the Malibu Creek State Park. Now here the author does get enthusiastic, about the movies filmed here and the wildlife you can see today, including bobcats, eagles and cougars.
The “Contexts” sections of the Rough Guides are always good, with recommendations for movies and books about the destination. Los Angeles is fertile ground, of course, and probably the only place in the world where there are books about movies and movies made of books about the place. From Charles Bukowski to Evelyn Waugh, from Hollywood Babylon to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, there are pages of mood movies and scene-setting books to get your teeth into before you visit.
Good, too, are the pages of practical information at the front, the lengthy listings of hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs and shopping, and the in-depth history section at the back. It’s easy to forget that this part of the USA does have a long and fascinating story to tell, well before the movie studios arrived.
Despite the flaws, this is still a good and thorough guide to Los Angeles. Just don’t expect all of Southern California, too.