In particular, the sprawl completely ruins Chinatown, which has a decent share of shopping but is totally missing the vibe. There were way fewer people around than I expected and both tourists and locals seemed apathetic or depressed about being there.
I need to figure out a better way to find a hotel next time. The cheap ones all seemed to be in bad neighborhoods, so I picked one that was moderately priced and had good ratings on Yelp, although some of the reviews described the amenities as "basic." That turned out to be a gross understatement — "Spartan" would have been closer to the truth. It also had an insane system of not double but quintuple parking.
Santa Monica and Pasadena seem to be very good choices for places to watch pretty people walk by. And the houses in Beverly hills are pretty much how one would imagine them to be.
I had a disagreement with a friend about the fashionability of UCLA students. She said she was impressed; I was rather disappointed and felt they didn't even seem to be making an effort, especially considering the proximity to Hollywood. Other opinions welcome!
Finally, I believe that the story of human progress and civilization — past, present and future — is basically the story of increasing human population density. In this view, the success of megacities is crucial to the continued progress of our species. This is something I'm very interested in.
Spending time in LA was therefore an interesting opportunity to reflect philosophically. The city (and the Greater Los Angeles Area in general) is an interesting and important data point. It's obviously not an ideal layout, but there's a lot to learn from it. Looking down from the Griffith Park Observatory at dusk upon a million flickering city lights that looked like a giant, pulsating brain was a particularly poignant moment.
Mandatory disclaimer: this is all based on a single weekend. Major cluelessness should be expected.