Rockstar Games put a lot of effort into making the world of Grand Theft Auto 5 as detailed as possible. Technological advancements since the launch of GTA San Andreas have made it possible to represent real-life Los Angeles and the surrounding area in great detail and accuracy.
While strolling through the virtual streets of Los Santos may not measure up to an actual trip to LA, it is the next best thing. Rockstar also went into incredible detail while recreating much of the city, however of course some concessions had to be made.
Size was dialled down immensely, the street plan was simplified and landmarks had to be juggled to fit them into a much smaller area, while still being roughly in the same place in relation to one another. The shape of the city also had to be changed, and the agglomeration around it erased, leaving just Los Santos itself instead of the urban sprawl Los Angeles is part of.
In spite of these necessary changes, the end result is still astonishingly accurate, and is possibly the most accurate in-game depiction of an existing location to date. Pretty much every building you see in the game exists or existed in real life and is roughly in the same place, even if its purpose is different.
This doesn't only apply to major landmarks. Rockstar could have just paid attention to plonking the popular tourist attractions in the right place and called it a day, not unlike most other games did in the past. But they went above and beyond. I wouldn't be surprised if organizing the map and creating all those visual assets took up a much larger part of the development time than those tasks usually do.
Attention has been paid to mundane things too, not just the big, notable locations. For example, Lester's warehouse being an actual warehouse in real life, and looking exactly the same.
All that said, let's look at some of the most notable real-life buildings in GTA 5.
Obviously, the first thing that most people, especially foreigners, think about when hearing "Los Angeles" has to be the huge Hollywood sign.
It's that one stereotypical characteristic of the city which is the only thing a bunch of people who haven't ever been there will automatically think about, and that one characteristic that locals would wish the world would forget because there are so many other great things the city could be known for.
That huge sign sticking out of the side of Mount Lee has been recreated in GTA 5 as the iconic Vinewood sign planted on the renamed Vinewood hills.
Its position compared to the bulk of the city is fairly different, as in real life the northern chunk of Los Angeles wraps upward, and the southern half of the city extends below it to the east, while in-game the sign is located at the far north-east corner of the city and is pretty outlying.
Nonetheless, the way the letters are organized with a slight wave in them is perfectly accurate.
Los Santos International Airport
Going to the entirely other end of the map, where the airport is located, shows us that the developers decided to exclude that oddly shaped lick of the city which technically counts as Los Angeles - that thin area connecting main LA and the Terminal Island area cutting through Torrance and Compton.
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In GTA 5, LSIA (Los Santos International Airport) is the southernmost part of the city while in reality, LAX is more like near the middle section, if we count administrative growth.
The building themselves match their Los Santos counterparts, however the virtual version of the airport has a wholly different layout. The pseudo-courtyard arrangement you see when approaching by car is kept mostly intact, but the runways and auxiliary buildings have been shuffled around a lot.
While the average traveler going through an airport won't get a good feeling for how the entire complex is laid out, since many areas are only seen by employees, players are much more free to explore LSIA in GTA Online, so possibly the differences are necessary from a security standpoint as well.
Flying straight back to near where the Vinewood sign is located, we find ourselves standing at one of the most scenic locations of GTA 5 - the Galileo Observatory.
It's not that the observatory itself is scenic - though the building and the park around it are more than pleasant - but the view, as the whole city stretches out below you.
The observatory is a near carbon-copy of the Griffith observatory looking over real-world LA. Both the building and the surrounding park are extremely detailed and accurate in-game, and the view is just as astounding.
You've also got your less iconic, but nonetheless unique elements of the Los Angeles skyline transplanted into Los Santos.
These buildings are large, towering over their surroundings, usually have names, and while not notable from a tourist point of view, locals will likely recognize them nonetheless.
One such example is the round tower of the Capitol Records Building, represented as the Badger Communications Building in Vinewood, Los Santos.
Rockstar also paid attention to some of the physically smaller, but no less iconic landmarks present in the inner city. They nailed down all the best-known skyscrapers, obviously, and got in pretty much every named tower in the city that reasonably fit into the reduced size.
However, they also fit the teeny Korean Pavilion by Olympic Blvd into the game. The small, traditional structure seems lost in the vast concrete and glass metropolis.
Attention to detail isn't most apparent when looking at the notable landmarks, but when the mundane buildings you'd walk past in Los Angeles without a care in the world pop up in Los Santos, you'll see that Rockstar really paid attention.
Some unassuming location in GTA 5, like the 1966 Digestive Co. building, still likely has a real-world counterpart. In this case, it's the Biscuit Company Lofts. Another random location like that, the Strawberry Avenue pawn shop in GTA 5 is actually a Dentist's clinic, but the building itself looks exactly the same.
It's not just your run of the mill stores and residential buildings either - Rockstar made sure that things like random warehouses would look the part, be in the right place, and even have similar names. The Southwestern Bag Co. warehouse in Los Angeles is perfectly replicated by the Los Santos Bag Co. warehouse on Popular Street in the game.
It's clear that the game world of GTA 5 was put together with loving care and an attention to detail. This meticulous approach doesn't end at the borders of Los Santos, as the entire map of the game is filled with locational references to actual California. If you live there, you've surely noticed these yourself, but any foreign GTA 5 fan who ever visits is definitely in for some astounding moments of recognition.