Even if you have never ventured within Los Angeles' 467 square miles, the city's wildly diverse geography and architecture, shimmering from countless angles on television and film, are instantly recognizable. Whether it's the city lights from the fanfare of the 20th Century Fox logo, the Malibu mountains from the opening credits of M*A*S*H (no, that's not Korea), or the shores of Manhattan Beach where The OC is filmed (no, that's not even Orange County), L.A. is virtually overexposed. But whatever your televised impression may be, it's only after motoring amid the city's endless tangle of roadside attractions and interacting with its multicultural populace that it truly comes to life.
The sun-kissed climate that beckoned fledgling film producers in the early 20th century now draws over 20 million tourists annually. And beyond the allure of Hollywood, the nation's second largest city maintains its fame with a cool collection of sandy beaches, snowcapped mountains, inventive hotels, cutting-edge restaurants, thrilling theme parks, and glamorous nightclubs. From celebrity spotting at sidewalk cafes to window-shopping on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, you'll quickly become part of the scene.
Because beauty is such a valuable asset in the city of dreams, Angelenos live to flaunt it, whether in the form of a stylish new 'do, a tight t-shirt, or a sexy set of wheels. The incomparable L.A. sun, which shines throughout most of the year, delivers just the right lighting for such narcissistic displays. So join in the fun! Take the top down, don your best pair of shades, and synchronize your radio to the swaying palms overhead.
In three days, you can soak up the faded glamour of Hollywood Boulevard, take a Universal Studios' backlot tour, sample downtown's ethnic neighborhoods and striking 21st-century architecture, and get some beach time in on Santa Monica and Venice beaches. If you're in town for five to seven days, you can add on several scenic drives along the Pacific coast and even an offshore island getaway.
Los Angeles is ready for its close up, and you're the co-star! Here's a sneak peek at what to expect.
People often complain that Los Angeles has no city center, but this is only half true. Though there isn't one overriding zone of walkable attractions as in cities like New York, London, and Paris, L.A. is actually a sprawlingamalgamation of several pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, each about 20 minutes apart from one another (by car), and each with its own unique flair. Over the past hundred years, the orange groves and farms between these centers have rapidly succumbed to development, making it easy to feel a bit adrift in a sea of unsightly strip malls unless you know where you're going. We've covered the major areas you'll want to see during your visit – Hollywood, Downtown, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and the beaches.
Of course, the connective tissue that binds L.A. together is asphalt. Car culture rules supreme here, and the vast majority of Angelenos rely on their own wheels to get around. That said, you can still get to and around Hollywood and Downtown by public transit. Indeed, while most locals don't take it, Los Angeles does in fact have a subway system: the Metropolitan Transit Authority operates the city's subway and light rail lines (hours of operation vary depending on the line). The red line (subway) will get you from Universal Studios in Hollywood to Union Station in downtown L.A. via Hollywood Boulevard. The gold line (light rail) will get you from Union Station to Pasadena, a few miles north of town. Get the Metro Day Pass for $3 to ride the rail and bus lines all day long; otherwise you'll pay $1.25 each time you board. As for taxis, while you can't hail them as easily as you can in New York, a quick call to L.A. Yellow Cab (877/733-3305) will usually get you wheels in under 15 minutes.
If you want to get a good lay of the land while learning interesting factoids about the city, we recommend all of the itineraries offered by L.A. Tours ($49–$109; $405 for a custom tour); they'll pick you up from your hotel in a plush shuttle bus for full-day and half-day (morning or afternoon) tours of a variety of attractions and neighborhoods – one of the most comprehensive is the Lost Angeles Grand Tour, which covers the main areas you'll find written about here (Downtown, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the famed Los Angeles Farmers' Market). Complement your driving tour with a walking tour of classic Hollywood landmarks; Red Line Tours offers daily hour-long expeditions ($20) that focus either on Hollywood or Downtown.
For discounts on a variety of L.A. attractions go to the L.A. Convention and Visitors Bureau website, click on "special offers," and start downloading PDF coupons; you can get 10–20% off tickets to a variety of museums and attractions, public transportation, and more. Another cost-cutting resource is the Hollywood Walk of Fame CityPass ($49), which includes tickets for admission to: The Kodak Theatre Guided Tour, the Starline Tours of Hollywood (a tour past movie stars' mansions), the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, the Hollywood Museum in the historic Max Factor building, and a one-hour walking tour with Red Line Tours.
It's hard to know where to start in such a sprawling city, and there's really no one right way to do it. We suggest beginning in old Hollywood before heading to downtown L.A. Then, as an antidote to the concrete jungle, hit the beach! A trip to Santa Monica Beach and adjacent Venice Beach before heading back to Hollywood by way of Beverly Hills will round out your trip nicely. Also plan to see three of L.A.'s more recent cultural additions: superstar architect Richard Meier's stone Getty Center, Frank Gehry's whimsical Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the unusual Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels.
Remember, too, that you can easily do Hollywood and downtown by subway – the Red Line stops in Hollywood at Universal Studios, Hollywood/Highland, Hollywood/Vine, and Sunset/Vermont, and in downtown at Pershing Square, Civic Center, and Union Station – but getting to the beaches (and anything else) will require a car.
Legend has it that the tradition of movie stars leaving their foot- and handprints in cement on Hollywood Boulevard began when Norma Talmadge accidentally stepped in wet cement while visiting the construction site of Grauman's Chinese Theater in 1927. Whatever the source, generations of actors have left their mark on this fabled stretch of real-estate since, most notably, at the magnificently restored Grauman's Chinese Theater (6925 Hollywood Blvd.).
Step into the courtyard of the adjacent Hollywood & Highland (6801 Hollywood Blvd.) shopping complex, home of the Kodak Theatre where the Academy Awards are now held, for a perfectly framed view of the iconic Hollywood sign. Across the street you can lend your ears to the El Capitan movie palace's (6838 Hollywood Blvd.) "Mighty Wurlitzer" organ before it lowers into the stage to make way for the latest Disney flick (the Walt Disney Company owns the theater and presents live stage shows before many screenings). Wander back onto the sidewalk and you may just be snagged for the studio audience of ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live, which is taped next door.
Just down the boulevard is Grauman's Egyptian Theater (6712 Hollywood Blvd.), which was recently restored to its 1922 grandeur and is now home to the American Cinematheque, a state-of-the-art showcase theater dedicated to screening rare, classic, and avant-garde films. Don't miss Forever Hollywood, a regularly running documentary celebrating the surprising story of this farming-town-turned-movie-capital of the world (Sat & Sun 2pm & 3.30pm; $7).
Your Hollywood experience wouldn't be complete without taking the backlot tour at Universal Studios (100 Universal City Plaza), located just one subway stop away from Hollywood & Highland. Their "Fear Factor Live" attraction, which lets guests perform stunts based on the NBC show Fear Factor, marks the first time a reality TV show has been turned into a theme-park attraction. INSIDER TIP: Every day, a limited number of Priority Seating passes for the upcoming week's Tonight Show tapings are handed out, free, to Universal Studios guests on a first-come-first-served basis (the only other place to obtain tickets is at the NBC Tonight Show box office).
If you're looking for a more laid-back experience, it's easy to get away from these well-trod tourist paths. Traveling the opposite direction on the subway, get off at the Vermont/Sunset station to see the first house built by Frank Lloyd Wright in Los Angeles, the Hollyhock House (4800 Hollywood Blvd.; Wed–Sun tours hourly 12.30–3.30pm; $5), located in the 11-acre Barnsdall Art Park.
Another place to stop is the Miracle Mile area, between Fairfax and La Brea, on Wilshire Boulevard. Its name is a holdover from the 1920s, when developer A.W. Ross turned 18 acres of empty land here into a prestigious business and shopping district; the high-end retail along the strip declined in the '60s, and has since been replaced by a cultural corridor that includes the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (5905 Wilshire Blvd.; Mon, Tue, Thur noon–8pm; Fri noon–9pm; Sat & Sun 11am–8pm; $9), which exhibits an encyclopedic collection of art from around the world, and the La Brea Tar Pits (5801 Wilshire Blvd.; Mon–Fri 9.30am–5pm; Sat & Sun 10am–5pm; $7) that prove that asphalt is in fact indigenous to Los Angeles! Tar still bubbles up from the earth, and the bones from ancient entrapped animals, including a saber-tooth tiger and wooly mammoth, are on display in the onsite Page Museum (same hours) – kids love it!
You may think you have a grasp on the character of the city after touring through Tinsel Town, but a trip to vibrant downtown L.A. exposes its true multiethnic heart and its new cultural impact.
Built in 1928, the Los Angeles City Hall (200 N. Spring St.) is the most iconic downtown landmark. If you arrive on a weekday between 10am and 1pm, take the free, docent-guided tour to the historic rotunda – you'll get some great views from the 27th-floor observation deck.
Recognize the Spanish mission–style interior of the grand Union Station (800 N. Alameda St.) from the 1982 film Blade Runner with Harrison Ford? Steps away is Chinatown, the neighborhood – not the movie – packed with great dim sum restaurants, markets, curio shops, and a new spate of off-the-wall art galleries (most situated on Chung King Road). Keep your good travel luck going strong by tossing a coin into the Seven Star Cavern Wishing Well at Chinatown's central plaza.
In the same area, just across the street from Union Station, you'll encounter a slice of life from the days when El Pueblo De Los Angeles was just a tiny settlement in Mexico. A pedestrian thoroughfare, Olvera Street is where Los Angeles was founded in the 18th century by King Carlos III of Spain, who placed his soldiers at the settlement to guard his new territory in Mexico; it was only won by the United States in 1847. Today it's lined with Mexican restaurants, strolling mariachi bands, and booths selling items like brightly woven blankets and handcrafted silver jewelry.
A striking contrast to this homage to the past is the new wave of multi-million-dollar development projects that are turning the onetime Victorian mansions of Bunker Hill, along Grand Avenue, near 1st Street, into a sandbox for some of the planet's biggest names in architecture. Frank Gehry's steel-clad Walt Disney Concert Hall (135 North Grand Ave.) is here, resembling a smaller, more refined version of his Guggenheim Musuem in Bilbao, Spain; it seems to defy the laws of physics with its swooping forms and billowing façade. It's a powerful symbol of the city's maturing sense of itself as a vital cultural crossroads (30-minute guided tours on select days during lunch: $10; 60-minute tours on matinee days: $15. Note: Tours do not include the auditorium, so if you want to see it you'll need tickets to a performance.)
The other new jewel on Bunker Hill, as of 2002, is the 11-story-high Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels, (555 W. Temple St.) the first Roman Catholic cathedral built in the United States since 1972. Designed by Spanish architect José Rafael Moneo with barely any right angles, the church features thinly cut alabaster stone instead of traditional stained-glass windows and foundations capable of rising 27 inches should an 8.0 earthquake hit the city.
Also in the neighborhood is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) (250 S. Grand Ave.; Mon 11am-5pm, Thurs 11am-8pm, Fri 11am-5pm, Sat & Sun 11am-6pm; $8, free Thurs 5–8pm), which currently holds about 5000 objects in all visual media, including important works by Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly, Cy Twombly, Jackson Pollock, and many others.
If you hit the city at the right time, you may be able to enjoy a regular neighborhood gallery stroll. We recommend the Downtown Art Walk, which takes place on the second Thursday of every month. This is a great way to meet interesting locals, view cool art, and chug free wine!
Los Angeles County has 81 miles of coastline, but you'll only need to hit a few key beaches to fully catch the good vibrations of Southern California beach culture and experience first-hand the sight of surfers, bodybuilders, roller-skaters, and other beach bums that have made this stretch of Pacific coastline famous. Located about 15 miles west of downtown, the city's beaches are easily accessible via Interstate 10 The two closest to town are Santa Monica Beach and Venice Beach; they're also the beaches for which L.A. is best known.
A natural starting point is the 3.5-mile-long Santa Monica Beach, west on I-10 until the road makes a dramatic transformation into the Pacific Coast Highway. Pick from one of several parking lots toward the ocean on the left (prices range from $5-8 depending on the season). Nearby is the original location of Muscle Beach, where America's fitness craze got its start back in the '30s; today, it's replete with monkey bars, climbing ropes, and padded areas for gymnastics. If you have kids, you'll want to visit the Santa Monica Pier, which is topped with snack bars, carnival games, and amusement park rides, including a vintage carousel.
When Muscle Beach shifted to the funkier Venice Beach, just south of Santa Monica Beach, in the '60s, the emphasis switched from playful gymnastics to hardcore bodybuilding. This is where Arnold Schwarzenegger used to bulk up before he became Conan the Barbarian. The sandy stretch of beach isn't what attracts visitors though – it's the lively boardwalk, which is always abuzz with chainsaw jugglers, palm readers, scantily-clad roller-bladers, sassy snake charmers, and a cabal of mimes, magicians, and prophets.
A final must is Malibu. No one could have predicted that Hollywood mogul David Geffen would actually give up his private access to the public beach behind his property (north of Santa Monica Beach, along the Pacific Coast Highway) after promising to do so for 22 years, but he has done just that. The result is a nine-foot-wide public pathway mile-and-a-half-long stretch of sand known as Carbon Beach; parking is tricky but the sand is relatively untrampled. Other great area beaches include Zuma; Topanga; and Point Dume.
Neither palm frond nor blade of grass is out of place in the 5.7-square-mile city within a city known as Beverly Hills, the neighborhood that offers the best odds in the celebrity-spotting game – just don't gawk! Gregg Donovan, the Ambassador of Beverly Hills, can often be seen patrolling the rarified streets here doffed in a red overcoat and a black top hat; he bills himself as "the world's only walking concierge," speaks some 40 languages, and can make hotel and restaurant reservations at any Beverly Hills establishment.
Before strolling around, take a 40-minute trip on Beverly Hills Trolley Tours ($5) to familiarize yourself with the layout of the city and learn a bit about the 90210's colorful history. You'll be a player in no time after learning the history behind Creative Artists Agency, Beverly Hills City Hall, and block after block of celebrity homes including the late Lucille Ball's ranch home that starred in an episode of I Love Lucy. You'll also pass by the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, famous for being used in the 1990 film Pretty Woman.
Back on the ground, a dizzying assortment of high-end hair salons, clothing boutiques, and restaurants are packed into the very walkable "Golden Triangle" business district, also home to rarified Rodeo Drive, once described by Andy Warhol as being "like a giant butterscotch sundae." This three-block-long stretch of shops is anchored at its southern end by Two Rodeo, a relatively recent, albeit entirely faux, European cobblestone street that most evokes the mental image tourists have of Rodeo Drive. On the same drag, you'll also want to check out the Anderton Court Center (328 Rodeo Dr.), designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which houses a series of small boutiques connected by a spiraling ramp; more of our favorite shops on Rodeo Drive are listed in our Shopping section.
The 90210 zip code may be better known as a TV show than a neighborhood – one that also served as the setting for the Beverly Hillbillies – so it's fitting that you can actually watch episodes of popular television series at the neighborhood's Museum of Television and Radio (465 N. Beverly Dr., Wed-Sun 12 noon-5pm; free; reserve a monitor when you arrive), a vast repository of over 120,000 television and radio programs that you can enjoy with your own private monitor and headphones – talk about on-demand programming!
First opened in 1922, Bel Air is considered one of California's first gated communities and it's a rarefied world of hedged-in one-acre-plus estates that's best seen by car. Start at the impressive iron gates just north of Sunset Boulevard at Bel Air Road and proceed to get lost in the overgrown hills.
Don't leave without strolling around the enchanted grounds of the secluded Hotel Bel Air (701 Stone Canyon Rd.), a quaint mission-style building on 12 acres of lush gardens tucked into the verdant hills. Among the exotic plant life you'll find a grove of coast redwoods and a 12-foot-tall bird of paradise tree. The 1946 hotel is famous for its afternoon tea, which is set on a terrace overlooking the property's Swan Lake (Mon–Fri 3–4pm; Sat 3.30–4pm; includes five varieties of tea and a selection of pastries, sandwiches, and desserts; $34; $42 with a glass of champagne).
Another must, the dazzling Getty Center (Tues–Thurs & Sun 10am–6pm; Fri & Sat 10am–9pm; Free; parking $7; 1200 Getty Center Dr.), is located just on the other side of the Sepulveda pass, in Westside. One of the city's newest and most popular attractions, the Getty's impressive travertine marble buildings have sweeping views of the Los Angeles basin and hold a remarkable collection of mostly European art. A tram ride up the hill followed by a stroll through the museum's gorgeous gardens makes one forget all about the traffic snarls below.
Given its Pacific Coast location, and blend of hills and flatlands, Los Angeles is, not surprisingly, a terrific place to drive – and not just because its neighborhoods are so spread out! We definitely recommend renting a car for at least one day to cruise the streets here.
Don't leave town without driving the entire length of Sunset Boulevard as it snakes from gritty downtown, through the lush green residential avenues of Beverly Hills, and finally comes to an abrupt halt at the Pacific Ocean.
Another great route follows Hollywood Boulevard west until it dead-ends, then head up serpentine Laurel Canyon, famous as the countercultural enclave celebrated by Joni Mitchell when she sang about "the ladies of the canyon." Stop for a cappuccino at the espresso stand in front of the circa 1919 Canyon Country Store before continuing to Mulholland Drive, which skirts along the peaks of the Hollywood Hills and affords incredible views of both the Los Angeles basin and the San Fernando Valley, especially at night. There are several lookout points along the 21-mile stretch; just avoid it after 4pm on weekdays as rush-hour traffic can be a nightmare. INSIDER TIP: One of the city's best-kept secrets, Runyon Canyon, is also accessible along this road, 2.6 miles east of Laurel Canyon; hiking trails here cover some 130 acres of land and afford great views of the Hollywood sign, downtown L.A., and the buildings on Hollywood Boulevard. You can even look down into the yards and pools of several large estates tucked into the hills.
An afternoon cruise up the winding Pacific Coast Highway along the dramatic 27-mile coastline of Malibu not only affords terrific views of the ocean, but also takes you past multi-million-dollar beach homes, small town shops, and the historic Malibu Pier. Start in Santa Monica where Interstate 10 turns into the PCH and continue northwest. There are several public beaches and lookout points along the way.
Finally, most people are surprised when they hear that the paved paradise of Los Angeles is home to the largest municipal park and urban wilderness area in the United States. Situated in the eastern portion of the Santa Monica mountain range, the mostly au-naturel Griffith Park is worth a visit. Even if you don't have the time to get out and enjoy hiking, horseback riding, golfing, or picnicking, a quick scenic drive through the park's twisty roads is definitely in order. The famous white Art Deco Griffith Observatory at its center will reopen in the second half of 2006 after a major expansion and renovation.
There's a lot more to Los Angeles than Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The surrounding areas hold everything from theme parks to relaxing offshore islands. You will need a car to reach the majority of these outlying spots, however.
One day trip that can be done via public transit from Los Angeles is Pasadena, accessible by the light-rail Gold Line that leaves from Union Station (or by car a few miles north of town along the 110 freeway). Rich in historic architecture, incredible gardens, and great museums, not to mention superb shopping and dining in the beautifully restored 22-block long district of Old Pasadena (bordered by Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena Ave., Walnut St. and Del Mar Blvd.), Pasadena is a compact town loaded with elegant Spanish-revival architecture. One of the main highlights is the Huntington Library, Art Collection, and Botanical Gardens (1151 Oxford Rd.; June–Aug Tues–Sun 10.30am–4.30pm; Sept–May Tue–Fri noon–4.30pm, Sat–Sun 10.30am–4.30pm; $15). ), established in 1919, which contains 120 acres of sweeping lawns and gardens, a library home to such treasures as an early manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and a double-elephant folio edition of James Audubon's Birds of America, and a British and French art collection that includes Gainsborough's Blue Boy. Pasadena is also where the Tournament of Roses Parade has been taking place on New Year's Day for over a century; curbside viewing is welcomed on a first-come basis, but get there early – some people start camping out at noon on Dec. 31.
Located approximately 25 miles south of Los Angeles, Long Beach is the fifth-largest city in California. Among its beachfront attractions are the Aquarium of the Pacific (100 Aquarium Way; daily 9am-6pm; $19.95) and the permanently docked ocean liner, Queen Mary, which features a great dinner and ghost tour (1126 Queens Hwy; Fri 8pm, Sat 7pm, Sun 5pm; $109).
In the opposite direction, some 68 miles north of Los Angeles, Ventura is an oft-overlooked (and therefore uncrowded) beach community that retains its quirky small-town charm. Its historic main street is packed with charming restaurants, galleries, thrift stores, and antique shops, and its thriving waterfront is the launching pad for Channel Island National Park, a magnificent nature preserve home to over 2000 plant and animal species, 145 of which are unique to the area. Island Packers (1691 Spinnaker Dr., Ventura Harbor; 805/642-1393), a National Park Service authorized concessionaire, offers daily ferry excursions to the park's five unspoiled islands; the trip takes between one to four hours each way and costs $42–$70, depending on the island. Excursions allow for three to six hours on the islands, where you can hike, kayak, and whale-watch off coastal trails.
For a completely different kind of day out, Disneyland is always a fun bet. In celebration of its 50-year anniversary, the park rolled out special parades and shows as well as new and spruced up attractions, including the reopening of Space Mountain, which features all-new special effects. The Disneyland Resort offers a variety of pricing plans that include admission to Disney's California Adventure (a separate but adjacent theme park focusing more on thrill rides). You can save money and time by purchasing your tickets online.
If you have time for an extra day trip, see what Southern California was like before the post-war development boom swept in by exploring the charming city of Avalon on Catalina Island, the former playground of Hollywood royalty located just 22 miles off the coast of Long Beach. You can go snorkeling, cruise around in a glass bottom boat, or, since very few automobiles are allowed on the island, rent a golf cart and explore the city limits. Just beyond, wild American bison roam free. Catalina Express operates a daily ferry service from Long Beach to Avalon ($54 round-trip).
Los Angeles boasts a full spectrum of lodging options to suit almost any budget, from boutique bungalows to grand beachside hotels to refurbished '60s motels. Like most cities of this ilk, you're toughest choice will involve deciding which neighborhood you want to stay in – if you want the beach, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, or downtown. We've outlined our favorites in luxury, moderate, and budget categories. For a full list of our favorite Los Angeles hotels (and current deals), see our Shermans Top Los Angeles Hotels directory.
A diverse array of luxury options are scattered throughout the city. We recommend basking in the chic '20s glamour of the Chateau Marmont, which is steeped in Hollywood lore (John Belushi overdosed in Bungalow No. 3; Greta Garbo and Errol Flynn were regulars). This well-kept whimsical castle features 63 units – suites, bungalows, cottages – and no two are alike. For a more intimate and contemporary stay, try Beverly Hills' elegant Mosaic Hotel, located around the corner from Rodeo Drive. Each of its 49 rooms is luxuriously furnished without being pretentious. Located directly on the beach at Santa Monica Bay, the superb Cape Cod-style Shutters on the Beach features 198 guestrooms, a spa with six treatment rooms and two wet rooms with built-in tropical rain showers. The entire hotel has been completely reinvented from the ground up, with added amenities including in room wine cellars.
Our favorite moderate options include both of André Balazs' affordably hip, minimalist Standard Hotel properties, one located in the standard oil building downtown (great rooftop views) and the other in an old mid-century motel in Hollywood on the Sunset Strip (great poolside people watching). Just down the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, we also recommend the Sunset Tower (formerly the Argyle), a 15-story Art Deco gem with 74 rooms, most of which afford panoramic views of the twinkling city below, as well as a fantastic pool deck/bar. Also in Hollywood, and the site of the first Academy Awards, the Roosevelt Hotel, located across the street from Grauman's Chinese Theater, celebrated its 75th anniversary with a $15 million renovation; 65 new cabana rooms surround a swimming pool painted by David Hockney.
Good budget options also abound, including downtown's Moroccan-inspired La Figueroa, which offers incredibly stylish accommodations straight out of Casablanca, not to mention great bars and lounge areas, at an affordable price. Another appealing spot is Hollywood's Magic Castle Hotel, a spruced-up motel with a pool in its courtyard; a night here grants you access to the exclusive Magic Castle, a Victorian mansion-turned-clubhouse for the world's most famous magicians, some of whom perform nightly Houdini séances and magic shows.
Foodies love Los Angeles; after all, this is where Wolfgang Puck and an entire generation of chefs perfected the art of California cuisine, a cooking style marked by an interest in "fusion" (mixing disparate styles and ingredients to create exciting new dishes). But before "California cuisine" there was the humble French Dip Sandwich (yes, also invented here). We picked our favorites at both extremes and in between, from expensive to budget.
Starting on the expensive end of things is Ago (8478 Melrose Ave.; reservations recommended at 323/655-6333), in West Hollywood, an Italian neighborhood trattoria that doesn't rely on its celebrity backers (Robert DeNiro and the Weinstein brothers, of Miramax fame) for its notoriety – the brick-oven baked pizza is by far the best in town. Ago is not to be confused with Wolfgang Puck's famed Spago Beverly Hills (176 N. Canon Dr.; reservations recommended at 310/385-0880), the flagship restaurant in an empire that now spreads to your grocer's frozen food aisle. But Spago remains as fresh as ever thanks to signature menu items like handmade agnolotti with mascarpone, Chino Farms roasted beet layer cake, and Wolfgang's original veal weiner schnitzel. Also in Beverly Hills is the white-picket-fence enclosed The Ivy (113 N. Robertson Blvd.; reservations recommended; 310/274-8303), where Hollywood power players graze amid fresh flowers and rustic country-chic décor. Beyond prime celebrity spotting, the Ivy's comfort-food classics, like Caesar salads, crab cakes, Cajun prime ribs, and burgers, also make it a top spot for grazing on food, too. Another good splurge is the legendary Le Dome (8720 Sunset Blvd.), in West Hollywood, now back on the dining scene with a new menu featuring continental dishes with Italian, French, and Californian flair. The famous Le Dome salad overflows with avocado, shrimp hearts of palm, sweet onion, tomato, bell pepper, and iceberg lettuce topped with a mustard vinaigrette.
In the moderate range, consider getting some of the most authentic Thai food outside of Thailand at The Palms (5900 Hollywood Blvd.), in Hollywood. Don't let their speedy, tag-team service get you out the door before catching the Thai Elvis impersonator, who dresses up in a white jumpsuit and sings an Elvis medley every Wednesday through Sunday night. Also in the neighborhood is Cobras & Matadors (7615 W. Beverly Blvd.), which specializes in Spanish tapas (and hip 20-somethings); bring your own bottle of wine as they don't yet have a liquor license (luckily, a wine shop is located next door). If you have a yen for Jamaican Jerk Chicken, look no further than Cha Cha Cha (7953 Santa Monica Blvd.), which serves up contemporary Caribbean cuisine in a loud and lively tropical, albeit West Hollywood, setting. Adventurous chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken serve up seductive Latin flavors at downtown's Ciudad (445 S. Figueroa St.), which features authentic dishes (and inspired creations) from all over the Latin world, from Spain to Brazil, Puerto Rico to Guatemala, and Argentina to El Salvador. Some of the best traditional Japanese dishes in the city can be found at Ita-Cho (7311 Beverly Blvd.); the crispy Japanese fried chicken served with a tangy lemon mayonnaise is delicious.
This is where fast food was invented. So, needless to say, tasty cheap eats are plentiful. At any given hour of the day and well into the night, a crowded line snakes in front of Pink's (709 N. La Brea Ave.) hot-dog stand in Hollywood; they're probably all waiting for one of the cart's famous chili cheese dogs, which have been served up (almost) since Pink's inception in 1939. Another great place to find cheap eats with character is at the food stands in Hollywood's Farmer's Market (3rd Street and Fairfax Ave.), which sell everything from crepes to Cajun chicken to sushi to baba ghanouj. And finally, located downtown near Union Station, Philippe the Original (1001 N. Alameda St.), established by a French immigrant in 1908, has been serving the legendary French Dip Sandwich since 1918 (and the prices haven't changed all that much since then). And yes, the French Dip was invented here: Legend has it that Philippe was preparing a sandwich for a policeman when he accidentally dropped a sliced French roll into the drippings of a roasting pan. The policeman liked it so much that he came back the next day to order the sandwich "dipped."
As the hub of the music industry, L.A. attracts musicians and bands as much as it lures actors. Whatever club you land at (and there are many), you may end up catching tomorrow's "it band" before they hit. While an assortment of bars and clubs are scattered all over the city, many hotspots are concentrated on the Sunset Strip; we suggest the exquisite Bar Marmont (8171 W. Sunset Blvd.) on the east end (it's slated to reopen in July 2006 following renovations; call 323/650-0575 to confirm). A word of caution: Don't attempt to drive down Sunset Boulevard on the weekend unless you want to sit in limo gridlock with Paris Hilton wannabes.
The scene at Hollywood and Cahuenga has grown almost achingly hip in recent years, but we recommend checking it out as a great way to dive into the L.A. "cool pool" without suffering the attitude that often overwhelms the Strip. Get a manicure with your martini at the oh-so-retro Beauty Bar (1638 N. Cahuenga Blvd.), sashay into a '60s glam scene at Star Shoes (6364 Hollywood Blvd.), or catch a flick while you sip cocktails at Cinespace (6356 Hollywood Blvd.).
We also recommend happy hour at the Formosa Café (7156 Santa Monica Blvd.), an authentic old West Hollywood watering hole that opened in 1934 ($4 well drinks, Mon–Fri 4–7pm). If you're searching for a place to chill downtown after catching a performance at the Music Center, you'll dig the remodeled luxe lounge splendor of Golden Gopher (417 W. 8th St.), which has one of the oldest liquor licenses in the city so you can take your booze to go.
Finally, perched high above the Sunset Strip, Skybar (8440 Sunset Blvd.) is Hollywood's perennially hip place to see and be seen. This sleek outdoor oasis is the perfect place to sip cocktails as the L.A. sun sets in a blaze of electric tangerine.
Keep in mind, too, that most establishments close at 2 a.m., though a few clubs are open after-hours. For detailed bar listings, check out the nightlife section of LA.com.
Though they'll always play second fiddle to film, theater, music, and dance have a strong foothold in the City of Angels. The region's most outstanding concert venues take full advantage of the city's blessed climate and offer up outdoor performances all year long – weather permitting, of course. The granddaddy of them all is the Hollywood Bowl (2301 N. Highland Ave.), which held its first concert in 1922 and today boasts a new band shell. Other outdoor venues include the John Anson Ford Amphitheater, at the Cahuenga pass, between downtown Hollywood and Universal Studios, and the Greek Theater, located inside Griffith Park.
Downtown is home to the Los Angeles Music Center (135 North Grand Ave.), a complex of venues that includes the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where the L.A. Opera is based, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, where the L.A. Philharmonic plays when they're not performing summer concerts at the Hollywood Bowl.
The Geffen Playhouse (10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood) is the preferred home for many acclaimed off-Broadway shows while The Actors Gang (9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City) is where offbeat experimental theater shines.
For the most up-to-date performance listings, we recommend picking up a copy of LA Weekly, a free publication distributed throughout the city. The best online listings can be found on the Los Angeles Times Calendar Live site.
Los Angeles and conspicuous consumption go hand in hand — after all, both the shopping mall and the strip mall were both invented here and even today, fashion fads and trends typically begin here, so you can try on (and buy) unique styles and looks months before they catch on around the rest of the world. From small boutiques and specialty stores to factory outlets, flea markets, and tasteful outdoor shopping malls, it's easy to find a setting that suits your shopping mood, no matter how tight your wallet. We've covered our favorite shopping destinations to get you started – from stores to streets.
On Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, prices naturally trend toward the astronomical. Mercifully, window-shopping remains a riveting sport here and we heartily recommend popping in to the Dutch-architect-designed Prada "Epicenter" (343 N. Rodeo Dr.) and jeweler-to-the-stars Harry Winston (371 N. Rodeo Dr.). Other shops along this narrow sloping corridor include Tiffany, Cartier, Valentino, Christian Dior, but you'll also want to check out the Anderton Court Center (328 Rodeo Dr.), designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which houses a series of small boutiques connected by a spiraling ramp.
Another great shopping destination near Beverly Hills is the ornate outdoor shopping center known as The Grove (189 The Grove Dr.). Built as a glorified main street of Anytown U.S.A., everything from iPod accessories (at the Apple Store) to fresh vegetables (at the neighboring historical Farmer's Market) can be found here; you'll also find a dancing fountain and double-decker trolley that lend the place a theme-park air. Between Beverly Hills and Hollywood is Kitson (115 S. Robertson Blvd.), popular with the likes of Nicole Ritchie, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton.
Who says nobody walks in L.A.! Chock-a-block with funky shops, Melrose Avenue (between Fairfax and La Brea) is where you'll find vintage-clothing stores, the world-famous Golden Apple Comics (7711 Melrose Ave.) store, and scenesters and celebrities looking to reassert their individual style at Fred Segal (8100 Melrose Ave.), a boutique department store that has influenced fashion around the world by launching the careers of young designers.
Other quintessential L.A. shopping districts include Santa Monica's three-block pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade, Venice Beach's artsy Abbot Kinney Boulevard, the trendy Sunset Strip between Crescent Heights and Doheny, and downtown's Santee Alley, where you can buy knockoffs of name-brand merchandise for a song. Finally, don't leave town until you take home your very own Oscar statuette from one of the tacky gift shops on Hollywood Boulevard.
When To Go
Los Angeles is a year round city, with a temperate climate, low humidity, and little rain. You'll get the most bang for your buck by visiting after the Christmas holidays, from February through April, not only because the top attractions and hotels aren't as packed as they are during the peak summer tourist season, but also because the infamous L.A. smog is much less noticeable due to intermittent rain from February to April. Even so, most days are sunny and warm – even in January temperatures can soar into the 80s! That said, if you're hoping to go swimming in the ocean, you'd be best come in September or October – prices will still be lower than in peak summer, and the water will still be warm.
There is, however, something undeniably sexy and exciting about summer in Los Angeles. The city offers more art happenings, a bigger assortment of music festivals, and a greater lineup of outdoor summer concerts (including the fantastic series at the Hollywood Bowl!). Not to mention that stores and attractions keep later hours (many boutiques offer wine and beer while you're trying on clothes). But the bottom line is that – despite what you hear on the news about landslides, wildfires and earthquakes – most days throughout the year are quite idyllic.
November & January–March
Best bang for your buck
February–March; September–October if you want warm Pacific temperatures
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is one of the busiest hubs in the world. All major U.S. carriers – United; Continental; American Airlines; Delta; and US Airways – as well as a wide range of international airlines, offer direct flights multiple times a day. More recently, discount carrier Jet Blue began offering service between New York and Burbank's Bob Hope Airport (BHA), a smaller, and in some cases more convenient, alternative to LAX. Other airlines serving BHA include Alaska; Aloha; America West; and Southwest. Flights from the East Coast make the non-stop flight in about six hours; flights from the Midwest take about four hours.
Great vacation packages to Los Angeles are a plenty, and you can usually save some serious cash by booking air and hotel together. Our preferred providers are Expedia.com; Orbitz; Travelocity; and eLeisureLink.com. For current specials, see our Los Angeles deal page.
If you're traveling within the continental United States, driving a car is definitely an alternative, and having your own car makes getting around the city that much easier once you're here. Los Angeles is connected to several major highways, including Interstate 5 running north and south and Interstate 10 running east and west. You can also get to the city from Interstate 15, which runs through Las Vegas and the desert before hooking up with I-10. Most of the 30-plus car-rental companies serving LAX have free shuttles running from the airport terminals to their nearby branches.
GETTING INTO AND AROUND L.A.
Without traffic, LAX is just over 30 minutes from Downtown, Hollywood, and the Westside. If you don't plan on renting a car, the easiest way to get into the city is by shuttle or taxi. The standard range for taxi fares from LAX to Hollywood is $35-40. There's a $38 flat rate to and from downtown L.A. to LAX, plus a $2.50 surcharge. Rates on Super Shuttle run anywhere from $15 to $30 depending on your final destination, so if you have more than three people in your party a cab is definitely the better way to go.
We do highly recommend renting a car so you can have the freedom to explore the far reaches of the city at your own pace. Do take the time to study a map of the region's vast freeway system before you start driving, although it's really not as complicated as it may seem. Most of the attractions mentioned in this article are clustered near I-5, I-10, I-405 and U.S. 101. Word of warning: The 405 freeway is almost always jammed. Try to avoid it if you can, especially during peak traffic hours (7-11 am, 3-8 pm).