There is so much to Southern California that it makes you dizzy just thinking about it.
When most people think of this region, it's Los Angeles that first comes to mind. The two-county metropolitan area (Los Angeles and Orange Counties) sprawls over nearly 6,000 square miles, and includes 122 incorporated cities. Many of them are firmly embedded in the American imagination: Malibu, Santa Monica, Hollywood, Beverley Hills, Newport Beach. Actually, each of these communities has its own separate character and history...they just happen to have grown up very, very close to one another.
Still, they share the same sun, surf, and shopping image so strongly associated with Southern California. And there is much truth to that image, but there's also much more. There are actually wilderness areas within this huge megalopolis; there are important manufacturing and high-tech companies, and some of the best theaters, restaurants, symphonies, and museums in the world.
This eclectic character extends along the coast in both directions from Los Angeles. To the south, San Diego offers many of the same amenities as Los Angeles, in a more compact (and some would say, more appealing) package. To the north, the coast is dotted with smaller communities like Ventura and the toney, well-preserved Santa Barbara, one of the most popular destinations among Southern Californians themselves.
Inland, beyond the mountains that surround Los Angeles, the area's reputation for contrast continues. The Mojave Desert—not much more than an hour from downtown Los Angeles—is a parched and silent region of austere beauty. Yet even here, there is contrast: the golf courses, spas, and restaurants of toney Palm Springs.