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L.A. is home to some of the kindest and most outgoing people in the world until they realize you're not an agent.
—The Onion: Our Dumb World
Danny Madigan: Where are the ordinary, everyday women? They don't exist because this is a movie!
In real life, California is the most populous state in the USA. Home to places like Mt. Shasta, Monterey Bay (not Monterrey, Mexico), Yosemite National Park, the rural Central Valley and its massive farmland, the Silicon Valley centered in San Jose and Palo Alto. You'd think Hollywood would for once portray its home state exactly as it is, right? ...right?
Wrong. On TV and in pop culture, California has exactly four cities, each one downgraded to a few stock sets.
They are as follows:
South Central: Basically, Gangstaland. Made famous by Boyz N the Hood, the Gangsta Rap scene, and San Andreas, South Central is forever known in the hearts of concerned parents and rap aficionados alike as a hellish battleground between rival gangs. Like some of the other Hollywood Atlas examples, South Central's plight really happened. Recently, the Los Angeles government tried to rename the neighborhood "South Los Angeles" due to the negative connotations associated with South Central. (Seeing as how we're still calling it South Central, it didn't take.) The two most well-represented 'hoods in South Central are Watts (part of Los Angeles) and Compton (an independent city). Which one appears in a movie or TV show depends on whether it was made before or after the early '90s (before, and it's Watts, as the riots of 1965 were still in the audience's memory; after, and it's Compton, thanks to N.W.A. — and since this is a family website, no, we are not saying what "N.W.A." stands for). See also East Los Angeles, a.k.a. the Eastside, a.k.a. South Central WITH HISPANICS! Which, incidentally, is becoming increasingly true of South Central itself, due to immigration.
Hollywood/Los Angeles: The place where it all happens. If a major movie or TV show doesn't take place in the Big Applesauce, then it happens here. In movies, it's a given that New York and Los Angeles must be the first two targets on any terrorists' or aliens' hit list. Used as a commentary on Hollywood, it's either the setting of deconstructionist work about how harsh the industry is, or the setting of a fluffy comedy piece about how great it is. Either/or. As something of a side-trope, in Real Life, Los Angeles boasts some of the most affluent neighborhoods in North America. Beverly Hills, Bel-Air, and Holmby Hills form what is called the "Platinum Triangle" of adjoining wealthy communities. Yeah... If you have a series where dramatic conflict centers on purchasing crystal goblets or handblown glass flutes, chances are it takes place here. See It Came From Beverly Hills. Helpful tip, should you be from West Philadelphia and you get in one little fight and your Mom gets scared; she could send you to live with your relatives here.
San Francisco: Anchor of the Bay Area, the second largest urban area in California. San Francisco itself is known for its extreme liberalism, cable cars, high homosexual population, and its steep "stair streets" which make the perfect place for Hot Pursuits. Obviously, TV pokes fun at this. Occasional sub-trope: Marin County--Suburbia, San Francisco-style! Lots of hills, redwoods, hot tubs, fern bars and aging hippies. It's worth noting that San Francisco is actually only the fourth largest city in California, but few non-residents even know this (after all, who cares about San Diego, the second largest city, and San Jose — no one even knows the way to San Jose).
Orange County: A vast stretch of Suburbia that make up the southern part of the greater Los Angeles area. Orange County is known for its conservatism, affluence, and perceived lack of culture. When Hollywood needs to depict (and subsequently deconstruct) "boring, middle-class suburbia," it is often either set or filmed in Orange County. It is perhaps the only county to have both a television show and a major film named after it. Or if it's not depicted like this, it's home to Disneyland.
The freeways connecting these cities are home to most high-speed car chases (other than those involving bootleggers in the Deep South).
See also Useful Notes on California.
Note: This trope isn't about the location "Hollywood, California" but about the state of California as portrayed in Hollywood productions.
- Averted with the Hollister Co. brand of clothing. While Hollister is a city in California, it betrays the brand image by being nowhere near the coast and is in fact in Northern California. Also the brand is named after fictional founder John M. Hollister.
- Doug TenNapel's Creature Tech subverts this by setting the story in the author's hometown of Turlock, a Central Valley town that would look more at home in the Deep South.
- Unlike the cartoon, in the comics the Teen Titans' home base is explicitly in San Francisco. It's pretty explicit - in an example of writers Shown Their Work, one fight of "For Real" takes place on Bay Bridge, as it will look in 10 years (unless the money runs out completely).
- Green Lantern's hometown of Coast City is a fictionalized version of San Diego, though it's officially hundreds of miles away in northern Cali.
- Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew's headquarters are set in "Follywood, Califurnia", Earth-C's version of Hollywood, California. Other southern Califurnian cities and suburbs are mentioned through the series, including "Saint Bernardino" (San Bernadino), "Beaverly Hills" (Beverly Hills), and the dominant city itself, "Los Antelopes" (Los Angeles). The recent "Final Ark" miniseries starts off at a comic convention in the nearby city of "Sandy Eggo" (San Diego), which has various Earth-C versions of San Diego's neighborhoods, sports teams, etc.
- Kind of subverted and kind of played straight in Anchorman, which was set in San Diego — a city that, in the movie's universe, was mostly characterized by the fact that it wasn't Compton, Hollywood, or San Francisco. It also contains several discussions of cool and uncool parts of the greater Los Angles area.
- The Big Lebowski: "The Dude was the laziest man in Los Angeles County... which put him high in the runnin' for laziest worldwide..."
- Beverly Hills Cop is a great movie for many reasons, but one of the biggest is the fish-out-of-water adventures of Axel Foley coming from Gangstaland (aka Detroit) and finding himself in Beverly Hills.
- The Dirty Harry movies are set in San Francisco.
- La Mission subverts this by showing an area of San Francisco neglected by film and ending with a scenic shot of the main character driving along a Northern California highway.
- Mulholland Drive and L.A. Confidential.
- To Live & Love in L.A.
- Orange County, a comedy about a kid trying to escape the titular California county.
- Subverted in the remake of The Parent Trap. Hallie mentions that she lives in California. One of the other campers asks if she like, lives next door to a movie star or something. Hallie replies that she lives in Napa, which is in Northern California.
- Director Jon Favreau intentionally set Iron Man in Malibu, California rather than the Big Applesauce settings of previous Marvel movies.
- Collateral was set in Los Angeles, and showed much of the city from the lengthy cab ride that is the basis of the plot. Subverted that it showed deserted downtown at night, something moviegoers almost never see. Bonus points for the coyote running across the road in the middle of a major urban center... Truth in Television.
- Slums Of Beverly Hills features a poor family who live in cheap apartments in the rich Beverly Hills area so the children can attend the well-funded local schools.
- White Men Cant Jump.
- Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet is set in "Verona Beach," clearly based on Venice Beach in Los Angeles.
- The Wizard has the "Video Armageddon" video game tournament take place at Universal Studios Hollywood.
- A notable aversion with the works of John Steinbeck, many of which are set in the agricultural Salinas Valley, Monterey Bay area and San Joauquin Valley, where he grew up. It's now known as Steinbeck Country, despite the fact that his portrayals were rarely flattering (a possible Truth in Television, even now, 70 years removed from the Great Depression). Of course, now that he's dead and acclaimed as one of the greatest American writers ever, they're happy to name schools, cultural centers and whatever else they can think of after him.
- Averted in Eight Is Enough, which was set in a Sacramento suburb.
- While Just The Ten Of Us is set in Eureka.
- The setting of Scrubs, never named in the series itself, is the distillation of this trope, a sort of quintessential generic coastal California city referred to by cast and crew as "San DiFrangeles." Seeing as the show was shot in Studio City (i.e. The Valley), "quintessential generic California city" is... pretty accurate, actually.
- Sunnydale, California was "two hours away from a Neiman-Marcus" (as described in the pilot episode "Welcome to the Hellmouth"), so it pretty much has to be mid-state, dead between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
- Veronica Mars was set in Neptune, California, filmed in San Diego. "Neptune" could probably be read as Oceanside, a middle-sized city just north of San Diego, just without copious numbers of US Marines, since the real life Oceanside is just south of Camp Pendleton, one of the largest Marine Corps bases in the world. Oddly enough, the show was filmed in the suburb Chula Vista at Hilltop High School. However, Oceanside High School was used for exterior shots, so there's definitely plenty of evidence for faux-Oceanside.
- Chuck takes place in Burbank, a city of Los Angeles County on the north border of the city of Los Angeles.
- Every season of 24 revolves around an attack against, or originating in, Los Angeles. Other places have been visited or referenced. One season focused on Palmdale, an isolated but large desert community about 20 miles outside the Greater Los Angeles Area, so that the show could nuke it. If you're not a part of the Big Three, you're expendable. To be fair to the terrorists, they didn't originally plan on targeting Palmdale.
- Averted in The Mentalist. The crimesolving team is part of the California Bureau of Investigation, and so its cases tend to focus on smaller cities in California where the local law enforcement are less prepared to deal with exceptional crimes.
- In Star Trek Starfleet Headquarters/Academy is based in San Francisco. Star Trek IV the Voyage Home, in fact, was set mostly in 1986 San Francisco.
- Baywatch was shot in Venice (Los Angeles).
- The Sarah Silverman Program takes place in Valley Village (Los Angeles).
- Charmed is set in San Francisco. Lots of witches, demons, and the like... one could argue that it's California's version of New Orleans. It was, however, clearly filmed in LA. Even the exterior for the manor obviously wasn't shot in SF. A house that, if it were actually in San Francisco, none of the character could even afford the property taxes on. While set in San Francisco it also failed to correspond to any of the standard San Francisco tropes, seemingly less out of aversion than out of a laziness to even stereotype (e.g. all of the characters own cars and drive everywhere despite living in a very dense urban environment where parking is at a premium).
- Sliders was also set in San Francisco.
- Beverly Hills, 90210
- Melrose Place
- The OC is a hilariously extreme version of this, in that only Orange County is Hollywood California while Chino is a pit of darkness so foul that characters routinely squint their eyes when they arrive in the completely different locale of Orange County.
- The early seasons of Lost included a surprising number of references to specific cities in Orange County. John Locke lived in Tustin and worked in an Irvine company that Hurley owned.
- Most of the main characters either lived in LA before the crash, lived in LA after leaving the island, or were on their way to LA specifically — as if LAX isn't just a layover for most people coming to the U.S. from Australia. For example: Jack (pre- and post-island), Kate (post-island), Hurley (pre- and post-island), Sun and Jin (on their way there), Claire (on her way there), Locke (pre-island), Sayid (post-island), Shannon and Boone (split time between LA and NY pre-island).
- Kate is a bit justified, since a federal court prohibited her from leaving California. Now why a California court was trying crimes that took place in Iowa, I don't know...
- Averted in the first season of Harry O, which was set and filmed in San Diego. Budgetary restrictions forced a move to Santa Monica, where Harry set up shop.
- Arrested Development is set in the OC (don't call it that); the Bluth banana stand is in Newport Beach.
- Simon and Simon, was set in San Diego. At one point they were going to move it to LA, but fans and the City of San Diego campaigned to keep it set there.
- Curb Your Enthusiasm
- Averted in Psych, which takes place in Santa Barbara… And is shot in Canada.
- Disney's California Adventure park is based on this trope, complete with fake Golden Gate Bridge. Most of the park's "lands" are divided into regions of California: Paradise Pier (Santa Monica), Condor Flats (Death Valley), Grizzly Peak (Redwoods national park), Bay Area (San Francisco), Pacific Wharf (Monterey), Wine Country (Napa Valley), Golden State (Central California) and Hollywood backlot. A huge expansion/refurbishing plan is, among other things, going to make the entrance plaza look more like The Roaring Twenties, when Walt Disney first came to California.
- This could also apply to Knott's Berry Farm (originally a faux ghost town) and, to a lesser extent, Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia.
- Capital City of the "Sonic the Hedgehog" franchise is based heavily on San Francisco, featuring streetcars, winding sloping roads and an almost tropical climate.
- Interestingly, Sonic Adventure 2, which features this city, has two stages called "Highway 101" and "Highway 280". Neither of them look like their real-life counterparts; instead they're generic-looking causeways set over the ocean.
- There is nothing even remotely tropical about San Francisco. It's a city where people leave their heat on year-round (especially in the summer) and nobody has air conditioning.
- The player can get a lampshade out of Omochao. In the stage White Jungle if you grab Omochao and walk with him into the Goal Ring he'll probably say the fog reminds him of San Francisco.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is heavily built upon imagery from all of these regions. Los Santos is a dead ringer for LA, with East Los Santos standing for East LA, and Ganton standing for Compton and Vinewood is a very obvious Hollywood reference. The city of San Fierro is analagous to San Francisco, while Las Venturas stands for Las Vegas.
- The upcoming sequel is also confirmed to be heading back to Los Santos.
- Same goes for Bayview in Need for Speed Underground 2, and Palmont from NFS Carbon.
- "West Coast" from the Crazy Taxi games is a Los Angeles-San Francisco mishmash.
- Due to being in the World of Darkness, L.A. in Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines isn't very nice...but superficially at least it is quite flashy.
- Broken Saints is set primarily in Coast City, a fictional city in Southern California.
- The short-lived clay-animated road trip series Gary And Mike concluded with a visit to San Francisco. Of course, the titular characters get caught up in a big gay pride parade and Mistaken for Gay.
- As a west-coast city with a large red bridge, Jump City of Teen Titans is also obviously a thinly veiled version of San Francisco.
- The city of Monsters, Inc. contains a reference to the San Francisco skyline (most notably the [TransAmerica] "pyramid" building), which makes sense considering Pixar studios is located in nearby Alameda County.
- Beverly Hills Teens takes place in the Beverly Hills section of Los Angeles. Duh.
- It's not mentioned in the series, but according to Christy Marx, the biggest writter for Jem and The Holograms series, the major home base for all three bands is Los Angeles.
- The Life and Times of Juniper Lee was set in "Orchid Bay City", San Francisco with the serial number rubbed off.
- The Mighty B takes place in San Francisco.
- Jackie Chan Adventures is set in San Francisco, specifically Chinatown, and makes use of the Golden Gate Bridge and Transamerica Pyramid in its opening credits.
- The Simpsons episode about The Radioactive Man movie. In the ending, Hollywood is portrayed as a Utopia.
- Totally Spies has Valley Girl protagonists in Beverly Hills. And if it weren't for all the supervillains and such, it'd be an awesome life.
- I Left My Heart in San Francisco
- Remember Valley Girl?
- Many Warren Zevon songs (the ones not about werewolves and headless hitmen) take place in/are about Los Angeles.
- Lots of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' music uses California, especially Los Angeles, as a backdrop.
- The Tool song "Aenema" is a diatribe against Los Angeles, cribbing a bit from comedian Bill Hicks in wishing that the city would drop into the ocean.
- California Dreamin' by The Mamas & The Papas.
- California Girls by The Beach Boys.
- California Love and To Live & Die in L.A. by Tupac Shakur.
- California Girls by The Magnetic Fields.
- Going to California by Led Zeppelin.
- California Sun by The Rivieras.
- California Stars by Wilco (written by Woody Guthrie).
- California Uber Alles by the Dead Kennedys
- Dani California and Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
- California by Phantom Planet.
- California by Joni Mitchell.
- California Soul by Marlena Shaw.
- "I Love L.A!" by Randy Newman. It's not entirely as glowing a homage to the city as the title would have you believe; a close listen to the lyrics will reveal that Newman has mixed feelings about his home city at best. Not that this has stopped marketers and soundtrack compilers from treating it an subsequently using it as if it was, with... mixed results.
- Obviously, Hotel California by the Eagles, though the generally upbeat song has a little bit darker meaning.
- The O.C. Supertones.
- L.A. Woman by The Doors.
- Hello, My Name Is Your T.V. by Ludo invokes this in a spectacular Tearjerker.