Home to Hollywood, handprints and all things hip, Los Angeles is a fascinating and far-reaching city that's unlike any other. Contrary to its neighbor to the North, L.A. is not a concentrated city, but rather an extensive complex of diverse neighborhoods located along the desert basin and Pacific shoreline-from the San Fernando Valley to Santa Monica. While its place in popular culture was long since solidified with the advent of filmmaking and flashy cars, flip up the sun visor for a moment to see that this Southern California city offers far more than just sandy beaches, sunshine and movie stars.
Indeed the "City of Angels" is the place where the prestigious come out to play and where the rich and famous immerse among names like Melrose and Malibu, but it's also a place where snowcapped mountains peer beyond the glistening waters of the Pacific. L.A. is the second most populous city in the U.S. with nearly four million inhabitants, second only to New York. Founded in 1781, Los Angeles is a young city that began life as a provincial outpost under a succession of Spanish, Mexican and American rule. Its population grew with the outgrowth of the transcontinental railroad in the late 19th century and hundreds of thousands migrated to its temperate climate and abundant real estate.
The largest city in California is encompassed by such renowned cities as Las Vegas to the east, Phoenix to the southeast and San Diego to the south. Los Angeles is a major hub of shipping, manufacturing, industry, and finance, as well as an elite player in the communications industry. It's a popular getaway destination that attracts millions of tourists each year from all over the world who want to experience the colorful blend of sporty cars, shopping malls, swaying palms, and golden sunsets. Pack your shades, sunscreen and positive self-image, then prepare for the slower pace as you stroll among the celebrities within this place of reality and fantasy with a few unexpected surprises along the way.
Despite its image of an oasis with water and palm trees everywhere, Los Angeles is more like a desert with an annual rainfall of only 15 inches. There is plenty of annual sunshine and rarely a truly cold day. There are really only two seasons in L.A., late spring and summer-or warm and warmer. The average daily temperature for January is 58.3 F and in July, 74.3 F. Traditionally cold "winter" months in most of the rest of the country yield to blue skies and sunshine in L.A., though there does tend to be morning clouds during the spring months.
Ocean Front Walk at Venice Beach (www.venicebeach.com) is one of Southern California's most creative and colorful locales. Rooted in the Old World style of its Italian namesake, canals and all, the scene's taken a variety of shapes and styles throughout the years, from its turn of the century origins, to the underground image of the '50s and '60s. Modern-day Venice Beach maintains its age-old vibrancy and status as one of L.A.'s most famous beach walks. Take a casual stroll past boardwalk performers, bodybuilders, bikini-clad bladers, artists, and an ample selection of sidewalk vendors, or simply sunbathe at the beach, then hit the shops and restaurant circuit or head over for happy hour. It's an exciting place to see and be seen.
For over 50 years, some 2,300 celebrities have been honored with mini memorials dotting the walkway along the world's most famous sidewalk. Located along Hollywood and Vine and stretching across Sunset,The Hollywood Walk of Fame ( ; www.hollywoodchamber.net) immortalizes many of the world's greatest celebrities with bronze medallions centered within pink and charcoal terrazzo squares paying homage to a famous television, film, radio, theater, or music personality. Visitors can marvel at the sight of such timeless and far-flung figures as James Dean and Judge Judy, Marilyn Monroe and Motley Crue, Elvis Presley and Eddie Murphy, Tim Allen and Tom Brokaw; the list goes on. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is responsible for maintaining the star quality and stretching the boundaries for what does still essentially serve as a walkway, and one that sees the ongoing addition of new honorees.
From its inaugural production of Queen Elizabeth back in 1912 to post-World War II classics as Ten Commandments, True Grit and The Godfather, to modern day marvels like Forrest Gump, Braveheart andThe Titanic, Paramount Pictures (5555 Melrose Ave.; ; www.paramount.com) remains the top player in the motion picture industry. Famous for the entrance gate where Norma Desmond met Cecil B. DeMille in Sunset Boulevard, Paramount has produced more than 3,000 films and is the only major motion picture studio still located in Hollywood. Visitors are invited to take a two-hour walking tour around its headquarters to get a first-hand historical and informational behind-the-scenes look at the daily operations of a major motion picture and television facility.
Want an activity that'll go over well with the kids? Tell them you'll be taking them to the world's largest movie studio and theme park. Universal Studios Hollywood (100 Universal City Plaza; Universal City; ; www.universalstudios.com) is one of the largest movie studios and amusement parks in the world, where shows and rides are integrated with behind-the-scenes presentations on moviemaking. Thrills and chills really do come to life where one minute you can find yourself lost inJurassic Park, the next on the run from various assorted movie monsters. The kids will love to spend the day with Donkey and Shrek in Shrek 4-D or jump into the scene with their favorite characters from Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. A variety of timesaving options are available such as "Front of Line" passes as well as advance purchase and private guided tours.
First built in 1908 and remaining a cultural institution ever since, The Santa Monica Pier( ; www.santamonicapier.org) recreates Southern California's glory days. Nearly 100 years later, the fortified pier is home to a variety of seafood restaurants and snack shacks, Playland Arcade, Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, and the popular Pacific Park ( ;www.pacpark.com), which divides 12 rides equally between kids and adults, and sports plenty of carnival-style gameplay and shopping outlets to distract mom and the kids while dad can head to the end to drop a lure. This is the last of the great pleasure piers, offering rides, romance, and perfect panoramic views of the bay and mountains.
The City of Los Angeles serves as an unlikely location for a glimpse into our last Ice Age, but that's what visitors will find at the La Brea Tar Pits (5801 Wilshire Blvd.; ; www.tarpits.org), where hot tar bubbles from beneath the earth. While easy to misconceive as a Hollywood studios ploy, these bubbling pools are quite real and lend a keen insight into earth history. Visitors to the adjacent Page Museum can learn about Los Angeles as it was between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, when animals such as saber-toothed cats and mammoths roamed the Los Angeles Basin. Discover and explore how the "tar pits" formed, what types of plants and animals became trapped, and how scientists have used these fossil deposits to open a window into the world of prehistoric Los Angeles.
With so many museums and theaters to choose from, L.A. is among the world's greatest cultural centers. There is something for everyone to discover from multiple themed museums to movie studio magic.
In the wake of a multi-million dollar renovation in early 2006, the Getty Villa (17985 Pacific Coast Hwy.; Pacific Palisades; ; www.getty.edu) provides another level of renown to the acclaimed J. Paul Getty Trust, an international cultural institution devoted to the visual arts. The completion of the Getty Villa adds another world-class attraction to the city. The villa overlooks the Pacific Ocean and stands in homage to Italy's Villa dei Papiri, which disappeared in 79 A.D. with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Visitors can explore 23 rooms and galleries of the permanent collection, which features some 44,000 Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities, including objects dating from 6,500 B.C. to A.D. 400. The villa offers an outdoor Roman theater for musical performances and classical dramas during warmer months. Admission to the villa is free.
While Hollywood itself will always be home to the stars, Grauman's Chinese Theatre (6925 Hollywood Blvd.; Hollywood; ; www.manntheatres.com/chinese) will always be remembered as the place they left their mark. One of the world's greatest movie palaces and one of Hollywood's biggest landmarks, the theater opened in 1927 by namesake promoter Sid Grauman, who conceived of a theater bathed in authentic Chinese decor inside and out. Upon entering into this magnificent red pagoda adorned with stone guard dogs and agile dragons, visitors can marvel at the giant red and gold columns that support a 2,200-seat theater washed in red felt. Beyond the theater, the forecourt is a must-see attraction where four million visitors a year search from among 200 stars for their favorites' autographs and prints.
The artfully striking and omnipresent Walt Disney Concert Hall (111 S. Grand Ave.; ; www.laphil.com) is among the latest pinnacles of achievement in the recent transformation of L.A.'s once languid Downtown. Housed within The Music Center, one of the three largest performing arts centers in the nation, the Concert Hall itself is now home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Master Chorale. The hall is a masterpiece of design by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry and benefits from an acoustical quality created from Nagata that rivals the best in the world. Similar to Gehry's famous Guggenheim Museum, this architectural wonder boasts a stainless-steel exterior consisting of a series of curved surfaces presenting multiple illuminative facades to the surrounding gardens and plazas. On the inside sits a 2,273-seat auditorium, as well as Joachim Splichal's Patinarestaurant, the Concert Hall Cafe, a bookstore, and a gift shop. A variety of guided and audio tours are available.
Outlined by long stretches of beach to the front and divided by the Santa Monica Mountains further inland, Los Angeles offers a diverse array of outdoor recreation that may vary as widely as taking in a morning of surfing then scaling down a ski trail in the afternoon. Then there are several choices to follow a more relaxed pace.
Los Angeles' predominantly flat terrain is great for biking trips. Paved bicycle trails follow along some 22 miles of state beaches, harbors and beach towns that include Venice, Manhattan and Redondo, and cut inland toward the river basin. The first coastal route starts in Pacific Palisades and runs southward through Santa Monica covering approximately 8.5 miles along a stretch of big screen caliber beachfront. Further south along the coast is the Upper Santa Ana route that runs along the Santa Ana River winding through pleasant residential neighborhoods and beautiful nature preserves. There are plenty more bike routes located along the coast and further inland, all covered and mapped in great detail at www.labikepaths.com.
The greater Los Angeles area has more than 100 golf courses. Of the city's seven 18-hole and three 9-hole courses, Rancho Park Golf Course (10460 W. Pico Blvd.; ; www.rpgc.org) is among the better value plays as well as the most centrally located, planted right in the middle of L.A.'s Westside-akin to NYC's Central Park, only with golf balls and greenskeepers. The par-71 course possesses a varied layout that's dotted with plenty of shadows and tall trees, while towering Century City lurk just to the outside. The course is recognized for its superior playing conditions and superstar clientele, not to mention an arduous 18th hole that's become legendary among players and known to give fits to the pros with its par 5 and variable obstacle rush around the green.
Los Angeles, the capital of glitz and glamour, is the home or preferred vacation destination to the many movie industry elite. And with so many stars present, it's no surprise that some of the most exclusive and luxurious properties in the world are located in Los Angeles. From age-old landmarks of Hollywood's bygone black and white era to charming villas to exclusive oceanfront hideaways, the L.A. hotel scene offers a choice that's as vibrant and exciting as the city that created it.
It's easy to get lost in the dramatic views driving along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, but be careful not to cruise beyond the entrance for this charming little beachfront hideaway known as Casa Malibu (22752 Pacific Coast Hwy.; ). Located right on its very own beach, this leftover jewel from Malibu's golden age is a relaxing, low-profile inn with a cozy California beach cottage layout made up of 19 guestrooms and two suites. Split equally between ocean view and a pretty inner courtyard, the rooms are comfortable and convenient, up-to-date with modern amenities, and offer easy access to the private stretch of beach.
Viceroy (1819 Ocean Ave.; ; www.viceroysantamonica.com) offers ultra-modern and luxurious accommodations among 163 meticulously appointed guestrooms and executive suites, abundant with ocean views on the seaside of Santa Monica. Recognized in the likes of Conde Nast Travelerand Travel & Leisure, this stylish boutique property stands out for its daring decor and artful furnishings that lead into English-themed guest rooms layered in luxurious amenities from Frette linens to flat screen televisions, along with in-room spa services or poolside spa tent. While there, guests can lounge out at the poolside Cameo bar or private poolside cabana, or take a short stroll to the beach.
Rodeo Drive & Beverly Hills's Golden Triangle (between Santa Monica Blvd., Wilshire Blvd. and Crescent Dr., Beverly Hills) is the city's most famous shopping street, located along three blocks lined with high-level designer stores such as Bvlgari, Tiiffany's, Cartier, Chanel, Gucci, and many other notables. The 16-square-block area surrounding Rodeo Drive is known as the Golden Triangle.
Beverly Blvd. (Between Martel and La Brea avenues) is a quainter, quieter alternative to its noisier neighbor, Melrose, which runs parallel. Compared to Rodeo, however, Melrose and Beverly Boulevards both offer plenty of welcome surprises by way of a variety of less established, less expensive cutting-edge designers-though Modernica, the source for mid-century furnishings, has remained an area staple. Beverly is a somewhat sleepy yet sophisticated street that in spite of its sparseness in density is still a top source for antiques and boutiques with sidewalks lined by expensive box-like storefronts, specialty shops and European fashion designers. After a day of exploring, this is the place to check out for an abundant selection of dining options, known locally as Los Angeles' alternative Restaurant Row.
Third Street Promenade (3rd St. from Broadway to Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica;www.downtownsm.com), located in Downtown Santa Monica, offers visitors plenty of shopping and browsing just blocks from the beach, with more than 200 stores, from the typical mall-led standards to unique boutiques and specialty shops. This pedestrians-only section of 3rd Street is the most popular shopping area in the city. The Promenade also features a twice-weekly farmers' market and numerous dining and entertainment options, from movies to live theater.
The fun never stops as youthful upstarts and veteran comedians test their mettle and broaden their reach at the legendary laugh and a half landmark located in the middle of Hollywood's famous Sunset Strip. The Comedy Store (8433 W. Sunset Blvd.; W. Hollywood; ;www.thecomedystore.com) has been the breeding ground for the biggest personalities in showbiz, from Jackie Mason to Jim Carrey, from Rosanne to Whoopi, and many more who have come and gone. Spread amongst three separate stages, the Main Room operates on weekends only and hosts the bigger name variety, the Original Room runs seven-days-a-week and offers a mixed bag of multiple performances, and the go-for-broke Belly Room hosts an occasional showcase and is free of cover on Fridays.
The Rooftop Bar located atop the Standard Hotel (550 Flower Street; 213-892-8080; www.standardhotel.com/standard_downtownla.html) in Downtown L.A., competes and succeeds for attention with the surrounding office towers and helipads, sporting a magnificent 360-degree view to its patrons. The view from up there's expensive if you're not a guest of the hotel ($20 to enter the premises) but once in, there's plenty to keep you busy besides the traditional dine, drink and dance inducements. Vibrating waterbeds and bent-plastic loungers dot the landscape of the chic 60s-style poolside lounge, perfect for star or skyline gazing, unless a Hollywood classic happens to be screening on the wall next door. Between the visual stimuli, artsy effects and typically active party environs, it's definitely a place to be experienced at least once.
In the city known for catering to celebrities, ArcLight Cinemas (6360 W. Sunset Blvd.; ; www.arclightcinemas.com) was created to provide patrons the same level of VIP treatment normally reserved for the marquee attractions. ArcLight shows a mix of indie and Hollywood films and takes the comfort of the home theater structure and magnifies it by 100 creating an acoustically rich state-of-the-art experience encased in a cinematic dome that goes far beyond mere audio-visual satisfaction. Additional amenities include advance reserved seating system that eliminates late entry distractions, plush lounge chairs, optimal seating structure, freshly prepared snacks, and professional theater ushers that ensure a quiet, relaxed climate. There's a cafe bar that serves a casual California bistro menu with full table service and available outdoor and lounge seating options. And before you think the Red Carpet treatment's rolled out solely for the average theatergoer, ArcLight is host to more than an occasional filmmaker Q&A session and celebrity appearances.
L.A. was never renowned for its resourcefulness in terms of public transportation-the throngs of daily commuters that clog up the busy highways could attest to that fact. Traveling through the city's many diverse locales, down the valley, along the coast, it surely is fun and more practical to go cruising with your own car, but there are also a variety of organized shuttle bus tours to choose from. Starline Tours( ; www.starlinetours.com) make stops at the Sunset Strip, several movie studios and homes of the Hollywood stars; Red Line's walking tours ( ;www.redlinetours.com) offer daily sightseeing to many famous Hollywood landmarks. A variety of unconventional tours are also available including bicycle, helicopter and jogging.
The recently inaugurated FlyAway (www.lawa.org/flyaway) service makes for quick and easy travel between LAX and city's major transportation hub. Bypassing the busy traffic lanes, the new FlyAway service provides buses that run between Union Station and LAX terminals using freeway carpool lanes with expected travel times of 45 minutes or less. The specially designed buses are equipped with luggage bays, porter service and plenty of comfortable seating.
The Go Los Angeles Card (www.golosangelescard.com) offers unlimited admission to more than 35 of the city's top tours and attractions. Participants include Hollywood Trolley Tour, Aquarium of the Pacific, Los Angeles Music Center Tours, Discovery Science Center, Kidspace Children's' Museum, plus many others. For one price, the card provides visitors with free general admission and/or other discounts as may be applicable. Free gifts are also available at select attractions as well as a full-color pocket guidebook to the city. The Go Los Angeles Card comes in one, two, three, or five-day increments and is activated on the first use.
With 50 wines by-the-glass and an amazing selection of small plates, you can nibble or indulge at A.O.C.Chef and co-owner Suzanne Goin and partner Caroline Styne (also co-owners of laudable Lucques) created a casual spot where you can sit at the eight-seat Charcuterie bar or at a table for your international tapas. Named after the French commission that regulates the quality of French wines, cheeses and even Bresse chicken, "Appelation d'Origine Controlee," the menu features cheeses, sausages and prosciutto plus delicacies such as mushroom stuffed vol au vent and garlicky Manila clams steamed in sherry.
8022 West 3rd St.
The Belvedere Restaurant at The Peninsula
Peopled by the powerful from breakfast through dinner, this posh and popular Mobil Five-Star dining room remains one of the top Zagat-rated restaurants in town. Whether you dine outdoors by ivy-covered latticework or within the calming luxe of the dining room, you'll be delighted by the atmosphere and top-notch modern American fare. A popular menu attraction is the "Small Bites" selection where guests can create their own tasting menu from a selection of signature menu items that includes macaroni and (tellagio) cheese, blinis and caviar, potato crusted seasonal fish and day boat scallops.
The Belvedere Restaurant at The Peninsula
9882 Santa Monica Blvd.
Beverly Hills South
Pasadena is notable for more than the Rose Bowl. There's the Norton Simon Museum, the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens and Bistro 45. Owner and host Robert Simon has been selecting perfect pairings for market fresh dishes in his tiny Art Deco designed restaurant. Choose black and white sesame crusted ahi tuna with a soy ginger sauce, foie gras, roasted prime Angus beef tenderloin or seared diver scallops plus a dessert of chocolate "Soup."
45 South Mentor Ave.
Charlie Chaplin constructed the building's courtyard, fountain, Romanesque arches, brick walls and atrium in 1929; then, gave it up in a divorce settlement. Chef and owner Mark Peel helped create Campanileunder its high-ceilinged space in 1989. Beautiful, romantic and family friendly (at weekend brunch and Monday and Thursday dinners) it's a place for great breads, wines, cheeses, and perfectly prepared beef brisket hash with poached eggs (brunch), crisp flattened chicken (lunch), sauteed trenne pasta with Bolognese (dinner) and a chocolate tarte.
624 South La Brea Ave.
Chef and owner Raphael Lunetta's acclaimed French food features his prepared-to-order specialties at dinner only. Taste pasta, dry aged Angus beef, caramelized pork chops, New Zealand rack of lamb or Pacific swordfish. Crepe lover's savor cream-filled, hazelnut crepes topped with sauteed apricots, creme anglaise and chocolate. The pleasant atmosphere plays off of a bright, airy space accentuated by two walls of windows, dark wood furnishings, and several antique mirrors and paintings steeped in 19th century French tradition.JiRaffe
502 Santa Monica Blvd.
Want milk? Buy a quart. Want steak? Head to The Palm and indulge Atkins style with a jumbo shrimp cocktail and a prime aged steak or lobster. You don't have to stop there. Add crisp cottage fries, fried onions and New York Cheesecake for good measure. Some meals are simple and most are simply delicious. The walls of each Palm are covered with caricatures of popular locals and national celebrities stemming from the landmark family-owned restaurant's 80-year history where the original owners hadn't the money for traditional decor. Some 25 locations later, it's among the many things synonymous with this casual dining classic.
9001 Santa Monica Blvd.
Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel
From morning 'till midnight, the moguls, models and mainstream people flock to the Polo Lounge in the legendary "Pink Palace." The most famous restaurant in this 12-acre bungalow-filled compound is a place to be whether you order a simple Kobe-style beef burger, a grilled steak or more exotic Cal-Asian cuisine like a chilled duck salad. Champagne by the glass, lunch and dinner served with piano accompaniment on the patio, and a Sunday brunch with a jazz trio add to its appeal. Take in the lush scenery and bathe in the rich history that features top grade service and a price in kind with the glitz and glamour of its surroundings.
Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel
9641 Sunset Blvd.
Spago Beverly Hills
Spago is still trendy after all these years since the move from West Hollywood to Beverly Hills. New, hip spots come and go, but Wolfgang Puck's glamorous garden remains a see-and-be-seen spot and chef Lee Hefter's imaginative seasonal menus showcasing the French/Asian California cuisine keeps guests smiling. Some say that the tasting menu is the best way to appreciate the fare. Puck's flagship restaurant provides a sophisticated, elegant and warm environment and a colorful kitchen viewed through etched glass to stage the culinary artistry.
Spago Beverly Hills
176 North Canon Dr.
Piero Selvaggio welcomes oenophiles (there are thousands of wine bottles in the wine cellar on the upper level) as well as Italophiles (there are the finest Italian olive oils, prosciutto, truffles and cheeses). His is a legendary restaurant where pastas reign supreme with such dishes as bucatini with spicy shrimp and cherry tomatoes or maccheroncini with crumbled sausage and strips of charred eggplant. The menu selections are straightforward and the plates superb.
3115 Pico Blvd.