Jack Slater: No, this is California.
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 can be boiled down to a few stereotypical locales, each one represented by a few stock sets.
They are as follows:
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 in Los Angeles, and if it happens in Los Angeles, it happens in Hollywood. 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. More cynical portrayals of the city as a whole, beyond just Hollywood, go into Hellish L.A.. 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 get in one little fight, causing your Mom to get scared, she could send you to live with your relatives here.
South Central: Basically, Gangstaland. Made famous by hood films like Boyz n the Hood and the Gangsta Rap scene, South Central is forever known in the hearts of concerned parents and rap aficionados alike as a hellish battleground between rival gangbangers. 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 — in neither of which should you be a menace while drinking your juice — are Watts (part of Los Angeles) and Compton (a suburb). Which one appears in a movie or TV show depends on whether it was made before or after the early '90s. Before the '90s it was Watts, as the race riots of 1965 were still in the audience's memory; after, it's Compton, thanks to the influence of Gangsta Rap artists like N.W.A and the 1992 Rodney King riots. See also: East Los Angeles, a.k.a. the Eastside, a.k.a. South Central WITH HISPANICS! (And by Hispanic, we mean Mexican, because where else do Hispanics in California come from?) Which, incidentally, is becoming increasingly true of South Central itself, due to immigration. On the rare chance that Oakland (located in Northern California, across the bay from San Francisco) shows up in movies and TV, expect it to play into many of the same tropes despite geographical and cultural differences.
San Francisco: Anchor of the Bay Area, the second largest urban area in California. San Francisco itself is known for its extremely socially liberal politics, cable cars, high homosexual population, and its steep "stair streets" which make the perfect place for Hot Pursuits (never mind that doing that is a great way to smash your car's suspension). Obviously, TV pokes fun at this. Be on the lookout for the occasional subtrope: Marin County. Suburbia, San Francisco-style! Lots of hills, redwoods, hot tubs, fern bars, and aging hippies. It's worth noting that not only is San Francisco only the fourth-largest city in California, but it's not even the largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area, but few non-residents even know this (after all, who cares about San Diego, the second largest city, and San Jose, the Bay Area's actual largest city — no one even knows the way to San Jose).
Orange County: A vast stretch of Suburbia that makes up the southeastern part of the greater Los Angeles area, Orange County is known for its conservatismnote , 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. See also: the San Fernando Valley (aka "The Valley", home of the Valley Girl), often subjected to much the same stereotypes, though with more emphasis on the "middle" part of "upper-middle class".
The Pacific Coast: A land of small, picturesque beach resort towns filled with Surfer Dudes, Muscle Beach Bums, skaters, and gorgeous women in tiny bikinis. The surf is as incredible as it is dangerous, though the movies never mention the fact that, thanks to the California Current, that water can get downright frigid even in the summer, at least by the standards of Hawaii or Florida. Further inland, you find towering redwood forests inhabited by marijuana farmers and aging hippies, who may well be the same people. The main road is the Pacific Coast Highway, a winding scenic road built for cruising in Cool Cars (especially convertibles) and on motorcycles with one of those gorgeous bikini babes. Small-town examples — the only rural part of California that movies and TV will generally acknowledge — will invariably be located somewhere between Los Angeles and San Francisco, often around Big Sur for the Scenery Porn (the coast north of the Bay will often instead be treated as an extension of the Pacific Northwest), while more urban ones will often be either Santa Monica, Venice Beach, or somewhere in Orange County, particularly Huntington Beach (which bitterly contests the title of "Surf City, USA" with Santa Cruz) and Laguna Beach (especially after MTV made it famous).
Honorable Mention: Silicon Valley is a collection of suburbs in Santa Clara and southern San Mateo counties centered on the city of San Jose, about 50 kilometers southeast of San Francisco. Its representation has been growing in modern works due to the rising economic and cultural sway of the tech industry based there, but since most of the action happens indoors, often in garages or unassuming business parks, a work could be set in Silicon Valley but filmed anywhere. If one were to do outdoor scenes, the area's physical features are pretty similar to those of any central-to-southern California suburb: mostly flat and dry, frequently sunny, with the Bay to the northeast and only the Santa Cruz Mountains separating them from the Pacific Ocean. Most often, the real "action" of a story set in Silicon Valley is moved to nearby San Francisco (see: Watch_Dogs 2), something that real San Franciscans tend to have mixed feelings about given Silicon Valley's role in that city's gentrification.
The freeways connecting these cities are home to most high-speed car chases that don't involve 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 the Bay Bridge.
- Green Lantern's hometown of Coast City is a fictionalized version of San Diego, but said to be near Santa Barbara some 50 miles away from Edwards Air Force Base.
- 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.
- The final issue of the original series' run subverts this, as the heroes visit Califurnia's state capital, "Stagcramento" (Earth-C's Sacramento).
- Kind of subverted and kind of played straight in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, 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.
- Drive (2011) takes place in and around Hollywood and follows the life of a stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. Notably features both the highs of film sets and stock car racetracks and the lows of cheap apartment complexes, low-rent pawn shops, garages and mob-run pizzerias.
- 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 Dr. and L.A. Confidential.
- To Live & Love in L.A.
- Orange County, a comedy about a kid trying to escape the titular California county. Where does he go when he escapes it? Stanford, in the San Francisco Bay area. And he gets there in a few hours.
- 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.
- Sideways does a pretty good job of averting this trope. Seriously, how many people outside of California have heard of Solvang, Buellton and San Luis Obispo?
- ''Phenomenon averts the trope as well, taking place in an unnamed small and rather countryish town in an unspecified area of California. There are a lot of places like this in California, and the people living there are often quite annoyed at having to explain to people that they don't surf, live among palm trees and say "Duuuude" all the time.
- 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 Can't 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.
- The better part of D2: The Mighty Ducks takes place in Los Angeles. The Ducks recruit Russ Tyler, a native of South Central, when Adam Banks is injured. Ken Wu is from San Francisco.
- La La Land takes place in a stylized vision of Los Angeles and alternates between commenting on how competitive, demanding and superficial the Hollywood machine is and paying homage to how glamorous, romantic and magical the city can be.
- Most movies by PM Entertainment were filmed in Los Angeles, with the exception of Zero Tolerance.
- Averted in Scream (1996), which was filmed in the Wine Country of northern California, largely because Wes Craven wanted the town of Woodsboro to have an Everytown, America feel (he refused to shoot in Vancouver for this reason, and production was originally going to take place in North Carolina until a lack of suitable sites for location shooting forced them to move to California). The third film, however, takes place in Hollywood against the backdrop of the film industry, composed entirely of mansions and film studios.
- Averted in Lady Bird, which is set and filmed in Sacramento, the state’s capital.
- 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.
- TC Boyle, a transplanted Californian himself, does a great job of averting this trope, although he does tend to focus mostly on the Southern part of the state.
- 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. Its spin-off series, Angel was set in Los Angeles.
- All of the trope cities are in Southern California, which is largely responsible for the common impression that San Francisco is at or near the top of the state. In fact, San Francisco is almost exactly mid-state (making Sunnyvale "quarter-state").
- 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.
- Invoked in Slums of Beverly Hills. As the title implies, the protagonist's family live within the city limits of Beverly Hills, but have a much less glamorous life than one might imagine. Though it would be easier to move to a cheaper city, the father wants his children to have a Beverly Hills high school diploma, believing it will carry more prestige and open doors for them.
- Angel Grove is this in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.
- In Star Trek Starfleet Headquarters/Academy is based in San Francisco. Star Trek IV, in fact, was set mostly in 1986 San Francisco.
- Baywatch was shot in Venice Beach and served as one great big advertisement for the beaches of Southern California.
- 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 O.C. 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 & 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
- The New Normalis set here.
- The American run and final British season of Whose Line Is It Anyway? was taped in Hollywood; The panelists draw on the area for topical humor.
- Averted in Psych, which takes place in Santa Barbara... And is shot in Canada.
- Subverted in Runaways (2017). Geoffrey and his former friend Darius are from South Central and were gangbangers in their youth, but the present-day neighborhood and its black community are shown to be thriving, showing Geoffrey's sheltered son Alex (as well as the audience) that South Central is not the Wretched Hive it once was.
- Stranger Things: Played with. Season Two introduces Max Mayfield and Billy Hargrove, step-siblings who move to Hawkins from California. It’s not mentioned where in the state they’re from, but the southern area is immediately assumed. The tie in novel “Runaway Max” reveals that they’re from San Diego.
- Dragnet “This is the city, Los Angeles, California” as well as its sister series Adam-12 and Emergency!. “Emergency” too place in the county of Los Angeles though outside the actual city.
- I Left My Heart in San Francisco by Tony Bennett
- 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.
- 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 '20s, 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 (even in the summer) and nobody has air conditioning. The city only experiences 21 days a year of temperatures over 80°F, and average summertime highs are usually in the high 60s.
- 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:
- The first game had San Andreas, based on San Francisco, as one of the three cities it took place in.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas expands San Andreas into a pastiche of the entire state of California, and 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 in particular based on Compton, Vinewood is a very obvious Hollywood reference, and the city of San Fierro is analogous to San Francisco. Oddly, it also has Las Venturas, a stand-in for Las Vegas (which is in Nevada, though close to the California border).
- Grand Theft Auto V again takes place in Los Santos, rearranged to be more accurate to the real Los Angeles. The coast also gets represented with the towns of Chumash (based on Malibu) and Paleto Bay (based on Morro Bay), plus a long stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway in between. Further inland, the landscape resembles the deserts of the southwest, particularly the area around the Salton Sea (represented here as the Alamo Sea) and the Imperial Valley.
- Same goes for Bayview in Need for Speed: Underground 2, Palmont from Carbon, and Ventura Bay from the 2015 subtitle-less reboot.
- "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.
- The first half of Fox Hunt is set in Los Angeles. However, it Book Ends in the final part of the game.
- California Speed, an arcade racer by Atari from 1998, plays this to the hilt with courses set in exaggerated versions of real-life California locales and landmarks. Including a detour into Tijuana (in Baja California) on the San Diego level.
- 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 writer 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.
- Animaniacs is set in L.A. The Warners even make light of the Northridge Earthquake.
- We Bare Bears is set in a place only ever called “The Bay Area” but it’s clearly based on San Francisco and Berkeley.
- A Hollywood Hounds Christmas: The show is set in Hollywood, where Dude goes to try and make it big as a star, and meets Cuz and Rosie not long after.