Los Angeles Vacations
Starlit, moonstruck LA beguiles scores of curious tourists, hopeful starlets and wannabe rock gods every day. But there's a lot more to it than the siren call of fame and fortune. It's a thriving, multilayered city filled with world-class everything: museums, music, food, architecture and gardens.
Although often gridlocked by traffic, LA moves to a rhythm all of its own. A vortex of creative energy spawns a never-ending stream of movies, inventions and trends. Hollywood and Disneyland are givens, but LA's hidden enclaves have a surprising subtlety and flavor which flout the stereotypes.
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What To Do
You've heard it a thousand times: LA is the city where you can surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon - and you can, as long as you get up early and have a warm wetsuit. Beach-lovers can also indulge in coastal hikes, tide-pool gazing, swimming, surfing, diving, fishing and sunbathing.
What To See
Stargazing in LA - anywhere else it'd be called 'stalking'.
LA has so many celeb tours and shows to attend you could forget to do anything else. However, there is culture aplenty, including blockbuster museums and the mind-bending Walt Disney Concert Hall. In summer, a night of music at the Hollywood Bowl is a treat for ears and soul.
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
José Rafael Moneo mixed Gothic proportions with contemporary design for his 2002 Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which exudes a calming serenity achieved by soft light filtering through its alabaster panes. Wall-sized tapestries as intricate and detailed as a Michelangelo fresco festoon the main nave. They depict 135 saints whose gaze is directed towards the main altar, a massive yet simple slab of red marble.
We quite like this slightly musty and convoluted temple to the stars, crammed with kitsch posters, costumes and rotating props. The museum is housed inside the handsome 1914 art-deco Max Factor Building, where the make-up pioneer once worked his magic on Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland. The make-up rooms, complete with custom lighting to complement the ladies’ complexion and hair color, are still located on the ground floor, along with a wall of Factor’s most glamorous clients and the 1965 Silver Cloud Rolls Royce once owned by Cary Grant.
Life in Venice moves to a different rhythm and nowhere more so than on the famous Venice Boardwalk, officially known as Ocean Front Walk. It’s a human zoo and a wacky carnival, but as far as LA experiences go, it’s a must. This is where to get your hair braided, your karma corrected or your back massaged qi gong–style. Encounters with budding Schwarzeneggers, hoop dreamers, a Speedo-clad snake charmer and a roller-skating Sikh minstrel jamming like Hendrix are pretty much guaranteed, especially on hot summer days. And don’t miss those tagged up towers and the free-standing concrete wall, forever open to aerosol Picassos to curb vandalism.
Universal Studios Hollywood
One of the world’s oldest continuously operating movie studios, Universal presents an entertaining mix of fairly tame – and sometimes dated – thrills, live action shows and a tram ride. Try to budget a full day, especially in summer. Some rides have minimum height requirements. The Southern California CityPass and the Go Los Angeles Card are valid for general admission. First-timers should head straight for the 45-minute narrated Studio Tour aboard a rickety tram that drives around the soundstages in the front lot, then heads to the back lot past the crash site from War of the Worlds, vehicles from Jurassic Park, the spooky Bates Motel from Psycho and – with any luck – Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives. Also prepare to brave a flash flood, survive a shark attack, a spitting dino and an 8.3-magnitude earthquake, before facing down King Kong in a new 3-D exhibit created by Peter Jackson. Snack food and drinks, including beer and margaritas, are available throughout the park, although you’ll have more choices at the adjacent Universal CityWalk, a promenade of restaurants, shops, bars and entertainment venues.
Santa Monica Pier
Dating back to 1908, the Santa Monica Pier is the city’s most compelling landmark. There are arcades, carnival games, a vintage carousel, a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, and an aquarium, and the pier comes alive with free concerts (Twilight Dance Series) and outdoor movies in the summertime. There are also a number of bars and restaurants, but the thing here is the view: extending almost a quarter mile over the Pacific, you can stroll to the edge, hang out among the motley anglers, and lose yourself in the rolling blue-green sea.
Easily the highlight of LA Live. Music lovers will get lost in interactive exhibits, which define, differentiate and link musical genres, while live footage strobes from all corners. You can glimpse GnR’s bass drum, Lester Young’s tenor, Yo Yo Ma’s cello and Michael’s glove. Interactive sound chambers allow you and your friends to try your hand at mixing and remixing, singing and rapping.
La Brea Tar Pits
Between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago, tarlike bubbling crude oil trapped saber-toothed cats, mammoths and other extinct ice-age critters, which are still being excavated at the La Brea Tar Pits. Check out their fossilized remains at the Page Museum. New fossils are being discovered all the time, and an active staff of archaeologists works behind glass.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Ever wondered what it’s like to be in George Clooney’s shoes? Just find his footprints in the forecourt of this world-famous movie palace. The exotic pagoda theater – complete with temple bells and stone heaven dogs from China – has shown movies since 1927 when Cecil B DeMille’s The King of Kings first flickered across the screen; it’s still a studio favorite for star-studded premieres. To see the inside, buy a movie ticket or join a half-hour guided tour offered throughout the day.
It's a Wrap
Dress like a movie star - in their actual clothes! Packed-to-the-rafters It's a Wrap sells wardrobe castoffs - tank tops to tuxedos - worn by actors and extras working on TV or movie shoots. Tags are coded (there's a list at the check-out counter), so you'll know whose clothing you can brag about wearing.
Larry Edmunds Bookshop
Every movie and TV book imaginable is crammed – sometimes haphazardly – onto the narrow shelves at this friendly shop that’s been around for 60 years. For everything from Kung Fu cinema to X-Files minutiae to Syd Field’s screenwriting tomes, look here first.
Union Cattle Company
Sometimes you wanna go to the beach, grab a cold brew, dance with your honey and…ride a mechanical bull. That’s right, rowdy rustlers test their skills right in the center of the restaurant. Great for bachelorette parties, liquid birthdays, packs of singles and wannabe coastal cowboys.
David Geffen forked over $17 million to get his Mediterranean-style playhouse back into shape. Boy, is it gorgeous, and the perfect venue to show off his Hollywood clout.
Downtown Comedy Club
Saturday Night Live alumnus Garrett Morris is the man behind the curtain of this popular weekend comedy club.
Angelenos love a good party, and there's no shortage of opportunities to join in the fun. Every New Year's Day the Tournament of Roses Parade - marching bands, celebrities and flower-festooned floats - makes its way down Pasadena's Colorado Blvd. The Rose Bowl college football championship is usually played later the same day.
The Chinese New Year kicks off in February with a lively Dragon Parade and a street party with food, music and other merriment in Downtown's Chinatown. LA's night of nights, the Academy Awards, is held in March.
In June, LA Pride, the city's gay and lesbian celebration, features raucous partying and a flamboyant parade down Santa Monica Blvd. From June to September you can catch classics to conga to hip hop at the venerable Hollywood Bowl during the Summer Pops Festival. July brings the Central Avenue Jazz Festival as well as the quirky Blessing of the Cars, when thousands turn out to the Hansen Dam Park to have their classic car, hotrod or motorcycle blessed by a real priest. The International Surf Festival hits the waves of Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach in August.
LA County Fair, held in Pomona in September, is the largest county fair in the world, with music, sideshows, rides and other country-style delights running over 18 days. For those who prefer not to get their glad rags grubby, November's AFI-LA Fest is one of the country's biggest and most prestigious film festivals, with hundreds of features from around the world.
If you want to take a trip out of town and throw yourself into two days of the cream of current music, then aim your rental car at Indio (about 2.5 hours east of LA) for the Coachella Valley Music Festival, which happens annually in late April or early May. The line-ups are staggering and well worth the drive. Be sure to buy advance tickets.
Food and Drink
Musso & Frank Grill
Hollywood history hangs thickly in the air at the boulevard's oldest eatery. Waiters balance platters of steaks, chops, grilled liver and other dishes harking back to the days when cholesterol wasn't part of our vocabulary. Service is smooth, so are the martinis.
Locals gather for the food as much as the beer at this wood-paneled gastropub with a cozy outdoor patio in the back. Angus burgers, fish tacos and hearty salads sate the 30-something postwork regulars while 29 handcrafted microbrews keep ‘em hanging around till midnight.
3 Square Café & Bakery
Tiny, modernist cafe at which you can devour Hans Röckenwagner's German-inspired pretzel burgers, gourmet sandwiches and apple pancakes. Bakery shelves are piled high with rustic breads and fluffy croissants.
Hofbräuhaus move over – Naja's is a beer drinker's true nirvana. With a dizzying 77 brews on tap and hundreds more in bottles, you'll never run out of choices at this salty harborfront joint in King's Harbor. Best on Sunday afternoons.
After a night out clubbing, do you really feel like filling yourself with garbage? Us, too. But the Waffle's 21st-century diner food – cornmeal-jalapeño waffles with grilled chicken, carrot cake waffles, mac 'n' cheese, samiches, heaping salads – is organic and locally sourced, so it's (almost) good for you.
In the SLS Hotel, the Bazaar dazzles with over-the-top design by Philippe Starck and 'molecular gastronomic' tapas by José Andrés. Caprese salad pairs cherry tomatoes with mozzarella balls that explode in your mouth, or try cotton-candy foie gras or a Philly cheesesteak on 'air bread.' A word of caution: those small plates add up.
‘Rode hard and put up wet’ about sums it up for this Route 66 roadhouse (think battered booths, license plates, greasy food and cold beer) that’s entertained Hollywood bad boys (and girls) since 1920.