Los Angeles Vacations
Los Angeles is a city full of contrasts and internationally known locations. Following you will find the best itinerary suggestions from the Los Angeles Visitor's bureau:
Los Angeles First-Timer's Itinerary
Hit all the can't-miss spots in Los Angeles by following this itinerary designed for first-time visitors:
Begin the day by visiting Los Angeles's most iconic building, Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall. After 9 a.m. you can pay to park under the building. Take some time to explore the large lobby. Notice its sleek wood and abstract tree trunk designs. Listen to its acoustic qualities. See how the elaborate floral motif appears throughout the venue, giving the concert hall a close connection to gardening, one of Lillian Disney's favorite pastimes. Outside, stroll through the Urban Garden and admire the beauty of the various plants, trees and flowers of the garden.
When you leave, drive north on Grand Ave. to Cesar Chavez Blvd., then head west. Within a few blocks the street will change its name to Sunset Blvd., one of Los Angeles's most well-known streets. At the Hillhurst/Virgil intersection, take Hollywood Blvd. into the heart of Hollywood. Just before Vine St. you'll see Pantages Theatre on the right. Opened in 1930, this lavish movie palace was once home to the Oscars and many glamorous premieres.
The circular building to the north is Capitol Records, the world's first circular office building. If you have time, drive up to see the mural on the south side. It pays homage to Capitol stars, including Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday.
Continue along Hollywood Blvd. At the northwest corner of Highland is Hollywood & Highland Center (pay-parking underneath, be sure to get a validation). This dramatic landmark is filled with shops and eateries, ranging from Louis Vuitton to California Pizza Kitchen, so it's a great place to browse and refuel.
Spend some time shopping for your favorite fashions, or make like a tourist and get a perfect photo of the Hollywood Sign from the upper walkway. Don't forget Hollywood & Highland's Kodak Theatre, the home of the Oscars. Behind-the-scenes, 30-minute guided tours are offered daily from 10:30 a.m to 2:30 p.m. (4 p.m. in summer).
As you walk west, check out the Hollywood Walk of Fame bronze stars set in terrazzo honoring the preeminent people and personalities in the entertainment industry. The commotion in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre goes on all day, every day. Have your picture taken with Darth Vader, Marilyn look-a-likes or a dozen other possibilities. Then explore the courtyard itself with famous footprints and handprints of Hollywood's favorite celebrities.
To get back to Sunset Blvd., drive south on Highland and head west on Sunset. Just past Crescent Heights is the famous Sunset Strip. Both sides of the street are lined with clubs like House of Blues, The Comedy Store, Viper Room, The Laugh Factory and The Roxy. Legendary hotels (The Mondrian, Sunset Tower Hotel) and the celebrity-popular boutiques at Sunset Plaza are also major attractions.
As you continue to drive west, you'll notice that the glitter of Tinseltown turns green as you pass by meticulously landscaped mansions. Take a few minutes to drive around the residential streets just south of Sunset, all named after different types of trees Palm, Maple, Elm. This is the part where you say, "I want that house." "No, that one." "No, that one."
A Los Angeles Budget Itinerary
Los Angeles has a lot of glitz and glam, but that doesn't mean you have to empty your wallet to visit the city's top attractions. See what Los Angeles has to offer for the budget-minded:
Begin the day as early as 9 a.m. with a visit to architect Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles. Get a free audio tour, narrated by Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor John Lithgow. As you listen to the captivating story of how Walt Disney Concert Hall was built, explore the beauty and genius of the concert hall, or stroll through the peaceful Urban Garden, filled with a variety of plants, trees and flowers.
From the concert hall, walk one long block north on Grand Ave. to take a look at the rest of the Music Center complex on your left. The original center includes the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre (named after three of Los Angeles' major cultural benefactors).
At the northeast corner of Grand/Temple is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, designed by Pritzker Prize winner Jose Raphael Moneo of Madrid. From the central plaza, enter through the sculptor Robert Graham's bronze doors, an homage to Ghiberti's bronze baptistry doors in Florence. The austere sand-colored structure is most inspiring from the inside, where the soaring heights and alabaster clerestory windows create a strong atmosphere of serenity and peace. Artist John Nava's tapestries -- larger-than-life realistic depictions of 135 saints and believers -- line the fresco-like walls.
Pick up your car and drive north to Cesar Chavez Blvd. Turn west. The street changes name to Sunset Blvd. within a few blocks. Drive approximately 3 miles to Santa Monica Blvd., which veers off just past Sanborn (small street). This section of Sunset Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd. is part of historic Route 66. On your left is the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the final resting place for more studio heads and stars than any place in the world. Elaborate tombs, mausoleums and headstones dot the cemetery. The 1920s heartthrob Rudolph Valentino is buried here, plus Cecil B. De Mille, Marion Davies, Tyrone Power, Jayne Mansfield, Douglas Fairbanks (Jr. and Sr.). There are even video life stories on screens embedded in stones.
Exit the cemetery on Santa Monica and drive west to Gower, then north to Hollywood Blvd. At the northwest corner at Highland is Hollywood & Highland Center pay-parking underneath, be sure to get a validation). This dramatic new landmark is filled with shops and eateries, perfect for people watching. From one of the upper walkways, get a perfect photo of the Hollywood Sign. You can also get a great look at the El Capitan's ornate marquee, Disney's flagship movie theater and where "Jimmy Kimmel Live" originates.
As you walk west, check out the Hollywood Walk of Fame -- bronze stars set in terrazzo honoring the preeminent people and personalities in the entertainment industry. The commotion in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre goes on all day, every day. Then explore the courtyard itself with famous footprints and handprints of stars from Shirley Temple to Johnny Depp.
Continue west on Hollywood Blvd. to Fairfax Ave. You'll be in a residential area for the last few blocks. Turn south to Third St., where you can stop at the Farmers Market for a leisurely alfresco lunch. The colorful market is one of Los Angeles' favorite pastimes, and you can get anything from caramel apples to sushi, kebabs to fresh fruit and pizza-by-the-slice to gourmet hot dogs.
Leave the Market by the Fairfax Ave. entrance and drive south to 6th then left to Curson. Turn right and into the pay lot. From here, take a stroll through Hancock Park, home of the La Brea Tar Pits, one of the few live excavation sites in the country. After the tar pits, cross Wilshire at Curson and check out the Craft and Folk Art Museum. Admission is only $5. Make sure to visit the museum gift shop, continually voted as one of Los Angeles' bests.
Walk west on Wilshire to Los Angeles County Museum of Art's (LACMA) regal entrance. There's an elevator to the right if the staircase look daunting. Time your arrival to after 5 p.m. when the museum galleries are free (you'll still need to go to the admission window for a sticker). Gallery buildings surround the plaza, where you'll find a comprehensive collection of art from ancient Egypt to 21st-century contemporary work. Open until 8 p.m, Fridays to 9 p.m. Closed Wednesdays.
If you want a different taste of art, you might choose to explore the Getty Center. Admission is free, while parking is $15. Continue down Fairfax Ave. to I-10, go west to I-405, then north to Getty Center Dr. Here you'll find a spectacular collection with some of the world's most treasured impressionist paintings such as van Gogh's Irises.
Stroll through the Stark Sculpture Garden at the Getty Center, a 28-piece collection of modern sculptures from legendary film producer Ray Stark and his wife, Fran. Featuring works from the 20th century's greatest sculptors, the outdoor sculpture garden consists of a series of intimate and peaceful outdoor gallery rooms designed to invoke contemplation and conversation among viewers. You can also take a free cell phone audio tour by calling 310.499.9236.
Los Angeles Family-Fun Itinerary
With all the family-friendly museums and attractions the city has to offer, Los Angeles is an ideal destination for kids.
DAY 1: Getting to Know Universal
What better way to treat the kids to a morning that's just for them than Universal Studios Hollywood? Start off with the classic Tram Tour, with classic surprises like Jaws up close and personal or dramatic sets from movies like War of the Worlds. Then take them to explore the ever-popular Adventures of Curious George play area, known for its 500-gallon water dump and water pistols the size of cannons. For something drier but no less tame, direct them to the Shrek 4-D experience and the Simpsons Ride (40-inch height requirement), both of which offer the latest in technology and laughs.
Set up lunch at one of Universal Studios' dining options. Louise's Pizza and Pasta, Mel's Diner and Hollywood Grill are all great choices. Afterward, head down the escalators to the lower lot, where classic rides like Backdraft, the Revenge of the Mummy (48-inch height restriction) and Jurassic Park (46-inch height requirement) induce enthusiastic screams from blazing fires, hairpin turns in the dark and 84-foot raft plunges. We assure you, it's safe!
After a long day at the park, your family will enjoy one of the restaurants at Universal CityWalk, the entertainment complex right outside the amusement park. Andrew's Panda Inn offers delicious Chinese dishes, Buca di Beppo re-creates family-style Italian culinary flair and Camacho's Cantina combines live Mariachi music and yummy Mexican cuisine.
If the kids are still up for adventure, set them up with iFly, Universal CityWalk's indoor skydiving experience. End the day with souvenir shopping at the Universal Studios Store or Dodger's Clubhouse Store.
DAY 2: Westside Family Fun
Start this day off at La Brea Tar Pits, where saber-toothed cats, mastodons and wolves frozen in time help kids learn about fossils and the earth's history. The on-site Page Museum delves into further details about the animals that lived here 40,000 years ago.
Point your group toward Pentimento for lunch. It's a prime dining spot at the nearby Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Afterward, visit the museum's Costume and Textile Collection, an exhibit that fascinates kids with all its various costumes, fabrics and weaving techniques. Change gears by getting your family revved up for the Petersen Automotive Museum, where some of the world's most rare and beautiful cars are housed. They'll ooh and ahh at old Ford roadsters and BMW's line of hydrogen-powered sedans.
After a day at the museums, head over to the Original Farmers Market. Tons of stalls offer a variety of foods, ranging from tasty pastas, root bear floats, barbecue, Japanese noodles and delicious desserts whatever you can think of, the Farmers Market probably has it, and the kids will love the atmosphere of the outdoor setting.
After dinner, shop around at The Grove next door. With its charming pedestrian streets and waterworks spouting from the picturesque fountain every 30 minutes, it's a picture-perfect environment for the family. Plus, The Grove's red trolley, which loops around the mall, is a favorite among children, while Pacific Theatres features the latest movies from Hollywood.
DAY 3: Santa Monica Morning
You can't come to Los Angeles with the family without heading to the beach. Unleash your kids at Santa Monica Beach, which offers beautiful sand, lots of activity and all the necessary amenities. They can build sand castles and play in the water while you rent umbrellas and catch up on your reading.
Lunch at Perry's CafÃ© & Rentals, which started out as a hamburger and hot-dog joint. Now it serves up a variety of casual dining options, and if you don't want to leave your spot on the beach, take advantage of the cafÃ©'s butler service, which will come and serve you right on the beach.
Afterward, rent bikes or rollerblades from Perry's and cruise down The Strand, a 22-mile paved path along the beach with awesome people-watching opportunities. If the family is looking for more excitement, take them to Pacific Park to play with high-tech bumper cars and numerous rides as well as classic carnival games like Skeeball and Wack-a-Mole.
A fun place to have dinner is at The Lobster, a Santa Monica legacy. Family-owned and operated, the folks here know their seafood, and its fun, laid-back atmosphere caters to families expecting a memorable meal.
End the night with a bit of SoCal theatre at Santa Monica Playhouse, which specializes in fairy tale productions of "Cinderella," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Hansel and Gretel" and "Three Little Pigs."
Hollywood CityPASS Tour
Visitors looking to get the most bang for their sightseeing buck opt for the Hollywood CityPASS, which features admission to a combination of Hollywood's most visited attractions.
1. Starline Movie Star Homes Tour
Hop on Starline Tours of Hollywood minibus in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre and be whisked away to real-life fantasyland of movie stars. In just two hours, see more than 40 celebrity mansions in Beverly Hills, Bel-Air and the Hollywood hills belonging to the likes of Tom Cruise, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball and Humphrey Bogart. You'll also become familiar with Sunset Strip's most infamous clubs and bars, Rodeo Drive's upscale boutiques and the renowned "Pink Palace," the Beverly Hills Hotel.
2. Madame Tussauds Hollywood
Madame Tussauds Hollywood may be the new kid on the block, but it's sure to draw rave reviews from Hollywood visitors who want to snag a photo-op with Johnny Depp or Jennifer Lopez. Featuring three floors and 18 themed areas, including interactive exhibits where you can karaoke or present at an awards ceremony, the museum offers one of the most unique opportunities in the city to mingle with the stars.
3. Red Line Tours
As Los Angeles' only daily walking tour company, Red Line Tours has continually shown visitors the best of Los Angeles all on foot. Featuring a unique "Live Audio" listening system and knowledgeable, seasoned guides on headsets so that not one bit of truth or rumor is lost, the company gives visitors all the interesting factoids and tidbits about Los Angeles' major landmarks: El Capitan Theatre, Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Downtown's Bradbury Building and many more. Expert guides will point out the filming locations of top Hollywood blockbusters like Back to the Future and Charlie's Angels. Tours last around an hour and a half.
4a. Kodak Theatre Guided Tour
If you've ever imagined yourself giving an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, a tour of the Kodak Theatre is a must. The $94 million theatre within the Hollywood & Highland Center is the first permanent home of the awards and has hosted the "American Idol" finale, the ESPY awards, the BET awards and many other star-studded events. On the 30-minute tour, you'll see an Oscar statuette, sit in the seats celebrities have occupied and visit the George Eastman VIP Room, where the stars hang out when they're not on stage.
4b. Hollywood Museum
The Hollywood Museum boasts more than 10,000 artifacts and props that chronicle Tinseltown's most spectacular productions, just steps from the Walk of Fame. For the romantic, there's Nicole Kidman's Moulin Rouge costumes and one of Scarlet O'Hara's Gone with the Wind dresses. The action film junkie will delight in a Roman canopy bed from The Gladiator and a sand beetle from Starship Troopers. And for fans of thrillers, the actual prison cellblock that housed Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs occupies the museum's basement. See these artifacts and costumes from the likes of Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth and thousands of others.
Famous Los Angeles Movie Filming Locations
If you thought movies were made in faraway exotic locales, this tour will burst that bubble. Los Angeles can pass for New York, Tokyo and everywhere in between.
Start at Downtown Los Angeles' Union Station where the spacious concourse has been a backdrop for The Hustler (1961), The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), Bugsy (1991), Pearl Harbor (2001) and The Italian Job (2003). Walk south on Alameda, then west on 1st Street to Main Street.
Los Angeles City Hall appeal goes back to TV's Dragnet and Superman days. More recently it has been in The Two Jakes (1990), Die Hard 2 (1990), Barton Fink (1991), Speed (1994), Liar Liar (1997), and The Black Dahlia (2006). Directors favor two angles: the steps and a full shot of the building.
Now go south on Main and west on 3rd Street to Broadway. The Bradbury Building's atrium and iron-caged elevator (take a ride while you're here) has been used in Chinatown (1974), Blade Runner (1982) and Wolf (1994).
Walk south on Broadway to 5th Street, then west to Olive Street. The Millennium Biltmore Hotel's elegant lobby and ballrooms have doubled for grand hotels just about anywhere. A few movies that have been filmed here include: Vertigo (1958), King Kong (1976), New York, New York (1977), The Buddy Holly Story (1978), Ghostbusters (1984), Bugsy (1991) and Wedding Crashers (2005).
A block west on 5th Street is the Westin Bonaventure Hotel (5), which has been seen in Rain Man (1988), In the Line of Fire (1993) and Nick of Time (1995).
Now it's time to head for Hollywood Sunset Boulevard is a good street to take.
A great lunch spot is Musso & Frank on Hollywood Boulevard. Not only will you experience great food and an Old Hollywood ambiance, you might even be sitting at George Clooney's table from Ocean's Eleven (2001). Scenes from Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003) were also filmed here.
Continue west to Hollywood & Highland Center. The underground Hollywood & Highland Metro Station was used for some of those harrowing chase scenes in The Italian Job (2003).
Walk next door to Grauman's Chinese Theatre, which was the backdrop for Singin' in the Rain (1952) and Blazing Saddles (1974).
Cross the street to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. If a movie wasn't filmed at the Biltmore, it was probably filmed here another opulent place that can double for the best of them. Movies shot here include Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), Internal Affairs (1990) and Almost Famous (2000).
After you've checked out the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, jump back in the car and head northwest on the 101 to Universal Studios Hollywood. Take the behind-the-scenes studio tour, which gives visitors a chance to see sets from War of the Worlds (2005), Jurassic Park (1993) and countless other blockbuster films.
Drive five minutes north to Warner Bros. Studios and take the VIP Tour to see where Inception (2010), The Hangover (2009) and Casablanca (1942) were filmed.
The perfect way to end the day is with drinks and/or dinner at Yamashiro. Drive west on Hollywood Boulevard, north on La Brea Avenue, east on Franklin Boulevard and north on Sycamore Avenue. You'll understand immediately why this mountainside gem was used for Memoirs of a Geisha (2005).
Los Angeles' Beach Cities: Hiking to Cruising to Body Surfing
Come to Los Angeles at the right time of year, and it is possible to surf in the morning and snowboard in the afternoon. More realistically, most of the year gives easy access to mountain hiking and beach swimming all in one easy day.
Twenty-five miles northwest from Downtown Los Angeles in Calabasas is Malibu Creek State Park. Within this 4,000-acre park are hiking trails fit for families and high-adventurers alike. The park also has its fair share of Hollywood movie and TV locations.
For the rugged hiker willing scramble over rocks, dip into the creek and experience beautiful views, Rock Pool is a must. Hikers can easily spend half a day going only a half-mile navigating over rocks and exploring small caves while feeling as if they've traveled for miles. On the way to Rock Pool, casual hikers can walk past the Planet of the Apes Wall up to the more rigorous rock-climbing route before turning back to Crags Road, which leads to other trailheads and the former M*A*S*H set. The Nature Trail near the parking lot has been designed for visitors who are visually impaired.
The park is open from dawn until dusk and costs $8 per car. The visitor center is open only during certain hours on weekends, so make sure to ask for tips at the parking booth before settling.
From the park's entrance on Malibu Canyon Road, drive west (that's a right turn) into the mountains. This windy scenic road through the Santa Monica Mountains will take you to Pacific Coast Highway (commonly referred to as "PCH").
Once at the ocean and on PCH, head north (right) toward Malibu's Zuma Beach for more rugged beach land and fewer crowds. Or, turn left for the classic beaches of Los Angeles: Malibu Surfrider for sunning and swimming, Santa Monica for bicycle rentals and shopping and Venice for people watching and atmosphere.
Food is abundant along PCH from beachside sit-down restaurants in Malibu to pizza and gelato stands in Venice. Street parking is at a premium in all these areas, but there are plenty of public parking lots that dot the route along the coast ($5 to $12). In Santa Monica, renting a bike or inline skates can take you down the 19 mile bicycle path into Los Angeles' South Bay cities of Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach, among others.
Up and down the coast you'll find activities from professional volleyball (Manhattan Beach) to listening to drum circles (Venice Beach). Depending on the day, the waves might be big or small, but there are usually waves strong enough for at least boogie boarding or body surfing.
In winter, for those who want to say they surfed and snowboarded in one day, start at the beach with surf lessons or rentals in the morning and take a drive to Big Bear a few hours east to snowboard into the night.
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