Los Angeles is a city that needs no introduction. A mere mention of the name conjures up images of streets gilded in sunshine and crisp, blue skies propped up by palm trees… plus glitzy red carpets and a disproportionate amount of good-looking people.
But, there’s much more to the city than what you see in movies and TV shows, and this list of LA fun facts is here to illustrate that.
So, before you head there for yourself, be sure to read through this list of weird facts about Los Angeles that are guaranteed to make you see the city in a whole new light.
Here are some of my favorite weird facts about Los Angeles!
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1. By 1930, Los Angeles produced a quarter of the world’s oil
People often associate Los Angeles with the film industry, but it was actually another industry that built this city. Historically, it was oil that played a major role in Los Angeles’ development.
Yup – it was Edward L. Doheny and Charles A. Canfield who first unearthed this oil field, the historic first well of which is now…. a glamorous swimming pool parking lot.
This proved to be an auspicious start because the resulting oil boom generated 45 barrels of oil per day, and within 4 years, there were 500 wells and LA was leading the country in oil production. Within four decades, LA would be producing a quarter of the entire world’s oil.
2. The film industry moved to LA to flee Thomas Edison’s patents
Were it not for stringent intellectual property rights and a cutthroat business style employed by Thomas Edison, the West coast probably wouldn’t have become the entertainment and film mecca it is today.
In fact, Hollywood probably would have been a farming community. No joke.
As the Saturday Evening Post explains, land was bought and named Hollywood back in 1886 by Harvey and Daeida Wilcox, but their main aspiration was farming figs, rather than film production.
Unable to find success, they eventually divided and sold the property.
Originally, they had envisioned Hollywood as a sober, religious community, like a ‘Christian utopia.’ But, on the other side of the country, things were brewing that would change Los Angeles forever.
During this time, Thomas Edison, a renowned inventor, was busy turning the East Coast into the world’s film capital.
Armed with his multitude of patents (including one for the kinetograph, AKA the first, ever video camera), he opened America’s first movie studio, Black Maria in West Orange, New Jersey.
As competition arose, Edison demonstrated his acumen to squelch it. After weaponizing his patents, any movie made during this time had to go through Edison… and so, to flee this monopoly, filmmakers looked west, where judges were less entrenched in Edison’s game, and even the ones who ruled in Edison’s favor found it impossible to enforce penalties.
So, as for why filmmakers flocked to LA and Hollywood back in the day, I guess we have Thomas Edison to thank for that.
3. Los Angeles’ ‘HOLLYWOOD’ sign originally said ‘HOLLYWOODLAND’
Los Angeles’ ‘Hollywood sign is such an iconic landmark and tourist attraction that it’s hard to imagine it ever looked any different, but back when it was built in 1923, it originally read HOLLYWOODLAND.
The reason? According to Fodor’s, the sign was originally intended to advertise a segregated housing development. It wasn’t until 1949 that the ‘LAND’ portion was taken down.
4. Los Angeles has the most diverse population of Buddhist sects in the world
Calling Los Angeles diverse is an understatement. However, even those fully aware of LA’s diversity would still be shocked by this piece of Los Angeles trivia!
The Los Angeles Almanac describes what makes Los Angeles’ population of Buddhist sects the most diverse and varied in the world.
It’s reported that there are 184 Buddhist centers in Los Angeles County and approximately 91,700 adherents, a unique distinction that can be traced back to the early 20th century, when Japanese immigrants erected the first Buddhist temple in 1905.
5. There are 11 miles of tunnels under Los Angeles
Ah yes, phyiscal proof that there is so much more to LA than meets the eye.
In fact, as the Los Angeles Times reports, there are 11 miles of tunnels running under the city, and their origins are pretty remarkable.
One tunnel for instance was used to transport prisoners from a jail to a county courthouse while others were used to traffic mobsters, murderers, and over one billion dollars in cash money.
These days, the tunnels have been repurposed by LA’s metro system and even government officials looking to get from building to building more easily, using golf carts and sometimes even casually jogging through them. Huh, the more you know.
6. Los Angeles was the first city to measure the speed of light
I know this sounds crazy, but according to The Sun, Los Angeles is the first city to ever measure the speed of light.
This story goes back to 1926, when venerated scientist, Dr. Albert A. Michelson devised an ingenious plan to bounce light between distant points and measure the speed of light with unrivaled accuracy.
Baldy Mountain was one of these peaks, and as the first accurate measurements of the speed of light, these proved to forge the way for Albert Einstein.
For good measure, Einstein would go on to praise Michelson, recognizing that without his work, ‘[his] theory would today be scarcely more than…speculation.’
I suppose game does, in fact, recognize game.
7. The Capitol Records building in Los Angeles has been sending out encrypted messages since 1956
Hollywood has been a beacon for the entertainment industry for years. And, as the Los Angeles Times illustrates, in 1956, it became a literal beacon for artists looking to carve their name in history.
On April 6, 1956, the tower sitting on top of the Capitol Records Building began to blink an encrypted message in Morse code.
H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D. Though I’d imagine the people they’re trying to attract are probably not fluent in Morse code.
But it still warrants an ‘A’ for effort.
8. Santa Monica’s Pacific Wheel is the world’s First and only solar-powered Ferris wheel
The Santa Monica Pier is a world famous attraction that sees millions of visitors every year.
With a dozen rides, midway games, oceanfront specialty dining options, and seaside shopping, the most iconic gem of all might just be the Pacific Wheel.
Well, a little known fact about this wheel is that it is in fact the world’s first and only solar-powered Ferris wheel. Not too shabby, eh?
9. Los Angeles is one of only 2 megacities in the world that has (Wild) big cats living in its city limits
Another interesting fact about Los Angeles is that over 100 mountain lions reside within the city limits, giving new meaning to the term concrete jungle.
As the National Park Service specifies, LA is one of only 2 megacities in the world with (wild) big cats living in its limits, and while they mostly reside in remote, open areas, it’s not uncommon for them to pay a visit.
PS: In case you’re curious, the only other mega-city with this unique honour is Mumbai.
10. LA was originally “EPDNSRDLASERP”
… Short for “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de Los Ángeles Sobre el Río Porciúncula”, which was the city’s original name during its foundation in 1781.
11. There’s a private clubhouse for Magicians
It’s called the Magic Castle, and it’s the official clubhouse of the Academy of Magical Arts.
… It’s also tremendously exclusive – with entry only available for members and their lucky guests.
12. The average driver in Los Angeles spends five days in traffic per year
If you don’t like traffic, you probably won’t like Los Angeles. And, while that isn’t necessarily a secret, this piece of LA trivia about traffic will still shock you.
According to CNBC, it’s estimated that Los Angeles drivers spend an average of 119 hours a year stymied in traffic.
This comes out to five days, which is a full workweek. For context, think about it as a sizable portion of what most Americans are afforded annually for vacation. Zing.
Even more shocking, based on the median hourly wage, it’s estimated the average delays in commuting result in $1,010 lost each year in productivity.
Even worse, this extra time requires extra fuel. 21 unnecessary gallons are used per driver, which is a waste of $166 billion, or 3.3 billion gallons of fuel.
13. Palm trees aren’t native to Los Angeles
When you think of Los Angeles, you likely think of movies, beaches, sunshine, and of course palm trees. However, the history of palm trees in LA may surprise you.
In fact, according to KCET, palm trees aren’t indigenous to the region. Just like many people living there, these trees are transplants.
While there is one species of palm native to the region (Washingtonia filifera), the most famous and iconic are imported.
In fact, in 1931 alone, the forestry division planted over 25,000 palm trees.
14. The city of Los Angeles uses goats to prevent wildfires
Goats are an unlikely resource for Los Angeles. But, as NPR describes, they serve a necessary utility in the city.
And, while they may not necessarily realize what they’re doing, they’re certainly doing their part by grazing on invasive grasses and dried brush year-round, thereby helping prevent wildfires.
They’re so effective that Los Angeles continues to renew its contract with Environmental Land Management to keep their hooves where they are.
So yeah, the city of Los Angeles is, quite literally, at the mercy of goats. It’s a good thing they don’t realize the power they have.
15. Car chases are a citywide pastime in Los Angeles
If Pamplona has the running of the bulls, Los Angeles has car chases. Without a doubt, observing car chases have emerged as something of a citywide tradition.
Los Angeles Magazine outlines this bizarre history, which started on January 3, 1992, when a rerun of Matlock was interrupted to report breaking news.
Darren Michael Stroh, a 22-year-old unemployed electrician from Oregon had stopped for gas and picked up a hitchhiker.
12 miles later, his car broke down. He then retrieved an emergency sign that read HELP.
David Scott Baker, a 26-year-old boat builder from Washington State, tried to give his Toyota a jump but was unsuccessful, and returned to his Nissan afterwards.
In turn, Stroh inexplicably retrieved 12-gauge shotgun from his trunk, killed Scott, and asked the hitchhiker if he wanted to come with.
What ensued was a spectacle. News helicopters trailed the car, people watched with bated breath all over the city, and truly – the chase footage it produced was unprecedented.
Eventually, Stroh ran out of gas, and he was surrounded and killed. The following morning, the ratings declared a victory of the event, and over the following decade, car chases would become a symbol of the city (lest we forget the O.J Simpson’s low speed chase in 1994!), and indeed watching them has become a past time for many LA residents.
16. The Hollywood Walk of Fame has 2600 Stars
This iconic LA attraction can be found along Hollywood Blvd from Gower to La Brea and on Vine Street from Sunset to Yucca, commemorating famous names who have made significant contributions to the entertainment industry, although anyone (yes, even you!) can nominate someone by filling out a form.
And bonus fun fact, if you want some guaranteed celebrity spotting in LA, you can even attend a Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony for free!
18. The California Roll was invented in Los Angeles
The California Roll is, at this point, a staple of any Sushi menu. However, as you might guess from its name, the origins of this roll don’t go back to Japan.
As the Britannica Encyclopedia explains, the California Roll was first introduced in the 1960s by chef Ichiro Mashita. The location?
A restaurant in LA’s Little Tokyo called Tokyo Kaikan.
The idea was to replace tuna, which he elected to do with a mix of avocado and crab (to give it a seafood flavor boost).
And, to make the dish attractive to Americans, he replaced the outside nori with rice, essentially turning it inside out.
Little did he know he would be creating one of the most popular sushi dishes in the world, all thanks to our collective 5-year-old palettes.
19. Los Angeles is the birthplace of the Internet
If you’re reading this, then you have Los Angeles to thank. Because, as Los Angeles Times reports, on October 29, 1969, the Internet was born there.
And, while there are many milestones that were significant in the development of the Internet, Los Angeles’ is truly the genesis.
This day marked the first message ever transmitted between the first two computers connected on a new network design.
An operator attempted to type ‘LOGIN’ and send it to a sister computer in Menlo Park, California. However, he only made it to ‘LO’ before it crashed.
This bug was fixed and within a year, the ARPAnet linked 10 computers nationwide.
20. San Fernando Valley and Hollywood tried to secede from Los Angeles in 2002
Essentially, these areas felt neglected. They felt they didn’t receive sufficient attention, representation, or services from the city of Los Angeles, and so perceived secession as the only way to get their due.
However, due to a significant majority that didn’t want to see their city fractured, the movement for secession was overwhelmingly voted against.
Moreover, in the time leading up to the vote, the movement had lost steam and ran into considerable financial trouble.
Still, some grouse that these areas haven’t received any more attention than they did before the vote, while others say that it brought about big change.
Without the necessary base of support, they were out of luck. Though it’s interesting to imagine what could have been: a fragmented Los Angeles.
Did I miss any of your Los Angeles fun facts?
Let me know in the comments! I’d love to add more to the list.