Los Angeles (CNN) — On the world stage of dreamy, romantic towns, Los Angeles might get sneered out of the audition room by A-listers like Paris, San Francisco and Venice.
Until the movie cameras start rolling.
Then watch this curious callback of tangled freeways, countless strip malls, bone-dry concrete riverbeds, 88 incorporated cities (within L.A. County) and a record 45.5 million annual visitors last year artfully steal the spotlight.
Los Angeles has been nailing its myriad close-ups on the big screen since the dawn of Hollywood -- with a multiplex of urban portrayals as varied as "Sunset Boulevard" and "Speed," "Chinatown" and "Training Day," "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Repo Man," "Pulp Fiction" and "The Player," "Singin' in the Rain" and "Swingers," "Shampoo" and "Short Cuts," "Boogie Nights" and "Boyz n the Hood" and "Blade Runner" and "The Big Lebowski" and ...
You get the picture.
Now it's "La La Land's" turn to make Los Angeles into a star again.
The big, award-winning musical from director Damien Chazelle ("Whiplash") is part real-ish L.A. in all its gridlock, towed car signs, ceiling-stained apartments and stalled aspirations. And part epic movie L.A. -- a dreamscape where gravity can magically turn off inside an iconic observatory and a gridlocked freeway can erupt into a high-octane musical number without a helicopter invasion and multiple arrests.
Shot in more than 40 locations, the film features Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as Mia and Sebastian. Together, the pair of struggling artists experience love, life and the pursuit of hard-won dreams in what turns out to be all the right places -- all over (where else?) Greater Los Angeles.
Care to follow in their footsteps and launch your own sprawling love affair with L.A.? Start at these landmark "La La Land" movie locations.
THE MOVIE LOT: Warner Brothers Studios
On screen: Mia works as a barista at a studio coffee shop -- pointing out a nearby set piece from "Casablanca" to a visiting Sebastian. Later, the two wander past Stage 6 where "42nd Street," "Cool Hand Luke," "Dial M for Murder," "E.R." etc. were all shot.
"La La Land" filmed on location at Warner Brothers Studios and at Hollywood Center Studios.
Aboard studio tram: Warner Brothers Studios, one of Hollywood's oldest working movie lots, offers 3-hour (or 5-hour deluxe) "behind-the-scenes" tours through the dream factory that brought us "Rebel Without a Cause," the Batman movies and the "Friends" Central Perk set.
Small tour groups board a studio tram and whisk all over the 110-acre lot, visiting historic sets, prop warehouses, wardrobe departments and sound stages of prime time shows when the cameras aren't running.
THE STEAK JOINT: The SmokeHouse
On screen: Jazz purist Sebastian reluctantly plays Christmas tunes on the piano while butting heads with supper club manager J.K. Simmons -- and then bumping into an entranced Mia.
At red vinyl banquette: Right across the road from the Warner Brothers lot, Burbank's hallowed steakhouse has nourished generations of movie folks big and small -- from Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn and Judy Garland to '60s Western movie extras dining in their cowboy and Indian costumes, according to SmokeHouse lore.
The signature prime rib has been on the menu here since 1946. And the famous garlic cheese bread is as dangerous as ever.
THE COASTAL ENCLAVE: Hermosa Beach
On screen: After introducing Mia to real music at an old-school jazz club, Sebastian strolls along an ocean pier and croons "City of Stars."
At the beach: Hermosa Beach's namesake pier extends 1,000 feet into the Pacific Ocean from the sandy shores of South Bay L.A.'s most buoyant 'hood.
Steps from the pier, Hermosa's famed bistro and music joint The Lighthouse Café (30 Pier Ave., 310-376-9833) has welcomed many a famed jazz headliner since 1949 -- remaining one of the city's few live music joints featuring regular jazz artists.
THE LOFTY GREEN SPACE: Griffith Park
On screen: Sebastian and Mia halfheartedly take in city views from a leafy, hillside bench (Sebastian: "Not much to look at, huh?" Mia: "I've seen better.") and wholeheartedly perform their pivotal dance number "A Lovely Night" above a twinkling L.A. at sunset.
Later, they head back up into the hills to a vacant observatory and float through a starry planetarium fantasy number.
Up in the park: Griffith Park, one of the country's largest urban parks (nearly five times the size of New York's Central Park) contains the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, the Autry Museum of the American West, the Greek Theatre, multiple golf courses and miles of hiking and horseback trails in its 4,310 acres. Griffith Park Observatory (2800 East Observatory Road, 213-473-0800) has remained the park's most recognizable landmark since 1935 -- and its most famous movie location since 1955's "Rebel Without a Cause."
The recently restored Art Deco building hosts science exhibits, planetarium shows (the movie's planetarium scene was filmed at a replica set) and unbeatable hilltop views of a vast city to the ocean on a clear day.
The couple's dance duet "A Lovely Night" happens on Mt. Hollywood Drive, west of the Observatory.
THE MURAL: 'You Are the Star'
Southeast Corner of Wilcox Ave. and Hollywood Blvd.
On screen: Mia walks past a stylized wall painting of Golden Age Hollywood icons seated in a movie theater, presciently staring back at her.
At the wall: Created in 1983 and recently restored by artist Thomas Suriya, "You Are the Star" remains one of Hollywood's most treasured murals -- starring Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and an aisle-dancing Fred & Ginger, among other familiar faces.
THE KNEE-WOBBLER: Colorado Street Bridge
532 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena
On screen: Mia and Sebastian take a romantic stroll on an elegant, curvy concrete bridge that love-struck acrophobes wouldn't be caught dead on.
On foot: The Colorado Street Bridge was deemed the world's highest concrete bridge in 1913 when its construction across Pasadena's vertiginous Arroyo Seco was completed.
One of the city's proudest engineering feats, the 1,500-foot span hosts its biggest annual gathering in July with the Colorado Bridge Street Party, sponsored by Pasadena Heritage.
THE OUT-THERE OPUS: Watts Towers
On screen: During their summer romance montage, Mia and Sebastian exit the grounds of a giant urban art installment marked by colorful walls and spires.
In Watts: Watts Towers, L.A.'s most iconic, idiosyncratic backyard masterpiece, was the creation of a single man, Italian immigrant construction worker Simon Rodia, who built it over a span of 33 years into his mid-70s -- all with hand tools.
"I wanted to do something big and I did it," Rodia would neatly explain the inexplicable.
A National Historic Landmark, the seventeen homemade sculptures of scrap rebar, wire mesh, mortar and infinite decorative mosaic bits rise to as high as ten stories.
Guided tours of the facility run Thursday through Sunday. Annual civic pride events held here include the Day of the Drum Festival and the Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival.
THE NOSH SPOT: Grand Central Market
On screen: Mia and Sebastian snack stoolside at a busy downtown L.A. market -- then take a short steep cable car ride.
At the counter: Grand Central Market, L.A.'s oldest food bazaar, opened its doors 99 ½ years ago.
Long famous for its bustling produce stalls and no-nonsense taco counters, today's revamped GCM draws a new generation of chef-driven counters and hipster foodies willing to wait an eternity for a gourmet egg sandwich, designer falafel or amped-up ramen bowls. Mia and Sebastian opt for Sarita's Pupuseria.
Across the street from the market is Angels Flight (351 S. Hill St.) -- currently closed to the public. The short, steep funicular railway dates back to 1901, moving from a former downtown location to its current Bunker Hill site.
THE FREEWAY OVERPASS: 110-105 interchange
On screen: A traffic jam of drivers-turned-singers-dancers-and-car-hood-acrobats turns a gridlocked freeway ramp into the movie's exuberant opening number "Another Day of Sun."
Behind the wheel: The entire scene was rehearsed and filmed on an upper express lane interchange between the 110 and 105 freeways—one of the city's most elaborate highway junctions.