Los Angeles Travel Guide
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Beverly Hills
Just west of Hollywood, this city-within-a-city flaunts its wealth with opulent manors on manicured grounds and streets overflowing with designer labels. For the latest on who lives where, grab a 'Star Home Map' from a street-corner vendor.No star-studded tour is complete without a visit to Beverly Hills, home of the rich and famous. The Hills' Golden Triangle is bisected by that locus of conspicuous consumption, Rodeo Drive, where retailers such as Tiffany, Vuitton and Armani flog their wares.

Downtown Los Angeles
The Hollywood Fwy lies to the north, the Harbor Fwy to the west, the Santa Monica Fwy to the south and a bird's nest of other freeways intertwine beyond the Los Angeles River to the east. Just as you'd imagine, LA's downtown area is framed by freeways rather than any particular geographic boundary. In the thick of all this concrete and congestion, however, intrepid urbanites will find a number of pockets worth exploring.

Extending eight blocks east to west, the city's Civic Center is America's largest complex of government buildings after Washington, DC. It contains the most important of LA's city, county, state and federal office buildings, including the Criminal Courts Building, where the infamous OJ Simpson murder trial took place in 1995, and the 1928 City Hall, which served as the Daily Planet building in the TV show Superman and the police station in Dragnet.

North across Temple St from City Hall is the excellent LA Children's Museum. A few blocks east of the Civic Center, El Pueblo de Los Angeles is a state historic park commemorating the site where the city was founded in 1781 with 44-acre (18ha), preserving many of its earliest buildings. In addition to its restaurants, Olvera St teems with the shops and stalls of vendors selling all manner of Mexican crafts, from leather belts and bags to handmade candles and colourful piñatas. Its central attraction for most visitors is Olvera Street, a block-long, narrow passageway that was restored as an open-air Mexican marketplace in 1930.

Near to El Pueblo is Union Station, one of LA's oft-overlooked architectural treasures. Here, the businesses of traditional acupuncturists and herbalists mingle with scores of restaurants and shops whose inventories vary from cheap kitsch to exquisite silk clothing, inlaid furniture, antique porcelain and intricate religious art. Built in 1939 in Spanish Mission style with Moorish and Moderne details, it's worth a stop even if you aren't hopping a train. A few blocks north of the station, the 16 square blocks of Chinatown comprise the social and cultural nucleus of LA's 200,000 Chinese residents.

In the southeast of the Civic Center is Little Tokyo. Thanks in part to an injection of investment from the 'old country,' Little Tokyo is again the locus for LA's Japanese population of nearly a quarter million. First settled by early Japanese immigrants in the 1880s and thriving by the 1920s, the neighbourhood was effectively decimated by the anti-Japanese hysteria of the WWII years. Housed in a historic Buddhist temple, the Japanese American National Museum exhibits objects and art history of Japanese emigration to, and life in, the USA. Among its streets and outdoor shopping centers, you'll find sushi bars, bento houses and traditional Japanese gardens.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki is in the southwest of the Civic Center. It houses what is considered one of the world's most important collection of paintings, sculptures and photographs from the 1940s to the present. Just west of MOCA is The Westin Bonaventure hotel, a quintet of cylindrical glass towers that are instantly recognizable to any regular moviegoer.

In the south of the Civic Center, LA's Hispanic shopping district is a deliciously cluttery mix of cheap restaurants, frilly wedding dress shops and blaring Latin pop. You've seen it in detail if you've seen the movies Blade Runner or Wolf. Across the street from the Bradbury, between Broadway and Hill St, Grand Central Market is LA's oldest (1917) and largest open-air food market. For a shocking contrast to the bustling street scene, step inside the 1893 Bradbury Building, where a skylit, five-story atrium is surrounded by Mexican tiles, Belgian marble, ornate French wrought-iron railings, glazed brick walls, oak paneling and a pair of open-cage elevators.

Getty Center
The European, photography and other collections are on display at the stunning 110-acre Getty Center in the Santa Monica mountains, opened in 1998, costing a cool billion. Contrary to popular belief, LA does have an intellectual, refined side. Head to the John Paul Getty collection of museums. Admission is free, making this one of the best bargains in town.

Hollywood
Hollywood itself (in northwestern LA) is no longer the movie mecca it once was, but it certainly holds plenty of historic interest. Los Angeles has built its reputation on the glamour of the movies, and most visitors want at least a little of its glitz to rub off on them. Take a walk down Hollywood Blvd and you'll pass by famous sights such as Mann's (née Grauman's) Chinese Theatre, where more than 150 of the glitterati have left their prints on the sidewalk out the front. Soak up a bit of 1930s ambience: this is where the first Academy Awards were held in 1928 and where Errol Flynn, Salvador Dali and F Scott Fitzgerald often propped up the bar.Head east along the Boulevard, stepping on those famous bronze stars, and you'll find yourself at the Roosevelt Hotel.

The corner of Hollywood and Vine was once the heart of off-screen action for the Industry, but you wouldn't know it now. If you don't manage to spot a real star while you're in Hollywood, drop by the Hollywood Wax Museum or (for real stars' knickers) Frederick's of Hollywood Lingerie Museum. If you want a memento of those golden days, the Collectors Book Store on the corner is a treasure trove of memorabilia.

Malibu
Malibu is the archetypal Southern California babe beach, and your best bet for sunning and swimming. Nonetheless, some of them are definitely worth a look. Immortalized by the Beach Boys and Baywatch as miles of golden sand awash with babes of both sexes, in reality the city's beaches are often polluted and sparsely populated. It can be quite difficult to find a stretch of sand, as much of the shoreline is privately owned, but there are some very pleasant state beaches.

Malibu's beaches are backed by the rugged mountains of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Santa Monica
Santa Monica is one of the city's most appealing neighborhoods. The heart of Santa Monica is the 3rd St Promenade, a lively pedestrian mall packed with movie theaters, buskers, bars and cafes. Although the beach only comes to life on the hottest summer days, the surrounding area is a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

Built between 1909 and 1916, the Santa Monica pier, is the oldest pleasure pier on the West Coast. The neighborhood is home to some excellent museums of modern art. It has plenty of old-world carnival attractions, including a 1920s carousel, and seafood restaurants.

Universal Studios Hollywood
Its famous theme park, one of LA's top attractions, has gut-wrenching rides, mind-blowing special-effects shows and the Backlot Tour, a part-educational, part-thrill ride behind the scenes of moviemaking. Universal Studios is the world's largest movie studio. Universal City Walk, adjacent to the park, is a fantasy promenade of restaurants, shops, nightclubs and movie theaters. After dark when vibrant neon signs transform it into a miniature Las Vegas Strip.

Venice
The beach's Ocean Front Walk is a human circus of jugglers and jug-band musicians, acrobats, tarot readers, pick-up basketballers, oiled-up fitness freaks and petition circulators. Venice pretty much sums up the LA lifestyle. Most of the canals have now been paved over, but the playland atmosphere is hanging in there. It's a great place to shop and an even better place to down a freshly-squeezed juice while the human tide washes over you. A hundred years ago, this place was just swampland, until an enterprising cigarette tycoon turned it into a network of gondola-poled canals and dubbed it the 'Playland of the Pacific.'

Disneyland
1313 S Harbor Blvd, Anaheim, CA 92802; Tel: 714.781.4565
Disneyland is a masterpiece of picture-perfect choreography - even the litter bins are themed. The park is divided into four different lands: Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. High-sugar fun.
The Granddaddy of all amusement parks still packs them in - and that's the problem. But despite the crowds, the great rides--Pirates of the Caribbean, The Matterhorn, Splash Mountain, The Haunted House, It's a Small World--still make it worth an annual trip. Just try to do it on a weekday or during off-season, otherwise, the lines are eternal. Tip: to get a good meal, make reservations in advance at the Blue Bayou, which has the best food at the park. Ask for a table near the water. Seriously.

Disney's California Adventure
1313 S Harbor Blvd, Anaheim, CA 92802; 714.781.4565
Disney's newest edition, a theme park based around California smack dab next to Disneyland, hasn't really caught on with natives or tourists.The acclaimed Electric Parade, which for years turned on visitors at Disneyland, has re-ignited here every evening. The attractions worth visiting are: Paradise Pier, a recreation of a beachside boardwalk with a screaming coaster, Ferris wheel, and arcade games; Grizzly River run, a water romp down a bear-shaped mountain; and an "Aladdin" stage show that's a hoot (except for a required parking-lot wait that's almost as long as the show's 45-minute running time). The good news is that this means few lines and a swift trip through this Tragic Kingdom.

Universal Studios Hollywood
100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608; Tel: 818.622.3801
The most popular attractions here are based on either aged film franchises ("Back to the Future") or major box-office flops ("The Waterworld" show). The Mummy Returns: Chamber of Doom is simply a glorified Haunted House and the Terminator 2: 3D show is as needlessly harsh and grating as Ahnold's accent. But there are plenty of reasons to check this place out: Jurassic Park: The Ride is a water-logged blast and the Special Effects Stages offer a hilarious look at the way films made and enhanced. An added benefit is the adjacent Universal Citywalk, which has far better restaurants than those found at most theme parks. Special Offer! Book a 1 Day Ticket and get your second day for free.

Six Flags Magic Mountain
26101 Magic Mountain Pkwy, Valencia, CA 91355; Tel: 661.255.4100
A recent scientific study reported that riding intense roller coasters can cause minor brain damage. If that's the case, then this SoCal theme park will make the synapses misfire more than just about any other park. X, the latest in what has become a tradition of stomach-churning coasters, features 360-degree rotating seats. And the Batman ride is not only a great thrill, but its Gotham Park waiting area is captivating. A popular teen hangout since The Thompson Twins were rocking out here in the early 1980s, MM is frequented more by locals than by tourists, so try to hit it on a weekday. In terms of sheer thrill rides, this place can't be matched. The DejaVu coaster is a white-knuckler that encourages a stress-relieving scream--that way, your head won't explode.

Aquarium of the Pacific
100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, CA 90802; Tel: 562.590.3100
Located south of L.A, in the seaside city of Long Beach, this sparkling aquarium is far less populated than the more famous fish tank up in Monterey. Nevertheless, it's one of the Los Angeles area's best bets for a great time. Its 17 major tanks and 30 smaller tanks can be taken in an afternoon, and along the way there are some amazing specimen to be found in an ocean of more than 12,000 species. None of the fish here seem to be complaining, but then again, in modern saltwater tanks no one can hear you scream. There is an iridescent jellyfish exhibit, a rare dragonfish that has to be seen to believe, and an array of toothy mammals in the Shark Lagoon, where one can get up close and personal with the feared predators.

Pacific Park
Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401; Tel: 310.260.8744
There's a rickety roller coaster and a slew of arcade games, and the park's perch allows it to feature what may the best view in Los Angeles--from the top of its tall Ferris Wheel riders can see up and down the beautiful Pacific Coast. This old-school amusement park is small but its spectacular location on the Santa Monica Pier along the ocean makes it worth a visit. Tip: For those wanting great lunch or dinner, the recently refurbished The Lobster at the top of the pier has great seafood.

Los Angeles Zoo
5333 Zoo Dr., Hollywood, CA 90027; Tel: 323.644.6400
This is not the greatest zoo in the world by a long shot, but nice flowing grounds, far fewer crowds than at the more acclaimed San Diego Zoo, and great weather make this a perfect mid-day getaway. They also have an Animal Encounters program that encourages interaction between visiting kids and the residents of this wild kingdom.

Griffith Park
4730 Crystal Springs Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90027; Tel: 214.913.4688
Covering more than 4000 acres, L.A.'s biggest park makes NYC's Central Park look like a median strip. The park features two golf courses, pony rides, a train museum and the stunning L.A. Griffith Observatory (which is currently closed for renovation). It's great to get lost in this green oasis in the gray land lined with freeways.

Legoland
1 Lego Dr., Carlsbad, CA 92008; Tel: 760.438.5346
There are plenty of kids around 5 or 6 who consider this their favorite theme park. And, for the first hour or so, anybody would be fascinated by the fact that virtually everything here is built from Legos. But once it sinks in that grown men and women spent countless hours making this world out of small plastic bricks, everything starts to seem downright creepy. There is a children's driving school that is not only fun for the kiddies, it's hilarious for adults to watch their offspring run though traffic lights and hit other cars. It's like watching an episode of World's Best Car Chases. Sequestered away in Carlsbad (a 45 minute drive from L.A.) near an Ostrich farm, this is definitely a unique experience - especially for anyone still using a sipper cup.




Off the Beaten Track

Knott's Berry Farm
If lining up to have your photo taken with an acned teen in a mouse suit isn't your idea of fun, you might prefer Knott's Berry Farm, a more bucolic theme park 4mi (6km) northwest of Disneyland. Originally a fried chicken dinner and berry eatery, the Knotts set up a little Old West display to keep the diners entertained. There's also a Mexican-themed Fiesta Village, Camp Snoopy for the littlies and plenty of chicken-regurgitating rides. You can get here by bus, hotel shuttle or by car on I-5 and Hwy 91. The place has grown a bit since then, but gunfightin' and gold pannin' are still all the rage.

La Brea Tar Pits and The Page Museum
Kids and science geeks love watching palaeontologists examine the remains of 40,000 year-old dire wolves, prehistoric camels and sabre-toothed tigers. Ongoing excavation of La Brea's oozing asphalt pits has so far yielded over a million fossilised skeleton parts, many of which are mounted inside this natural history museum.

Palm Springs
Palm Springs is a 2-hour drive east of LA and is accessible by Greyhound or train. Once famous as a winter retreat for Hollywood stars and increasingly as a well-scrubbed retirement home for the moderately wealthy, Palm Springs is the original desert resort city in the Coachella Valley east of LA. There's a growing gay scene in Palm Springs, and college kids in the thousands flock here for a riotous spring break, but even so, there's not much to do in town except lounge around the pool or play golf. To put things in perspective, the valley has about 250,000 people, 10,000 swimming pools, 85 golf courses and more plastic surgeons per head than anywhere else in the US.

Real interest is in visiting the nearby canyons, mountains and desert. Highlights include hiking trails in the Andreas, Murray, Palm and Tahquitz canyons, which are shaded by fan palms and surrounded by towering cliffs, and taking the aerial tramway which climbs 1800m from the desert floor up into the San Jacinto mountains. There are a number of museums in town, including the Living Desert outdoor museum and botanical garden and the Museum of the Heart, the informative Palm Springs Desert Museum, which explains heart attacks while giving you the chance to step inside a giant aorta.

Pasadena
Never mind that the neighbouring foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains often sit shrouded in a mantle of smog; once you get over your wheezing, there are few areas of Los Angeles more redolent of LA's 'golden years' than Pasadena. Among the treasures is local architects Charles and Henry Greene's sprawling Gamble House, considered the consummate Craftsman bungalow, and even the persnickety genius of Frank Lloyd Wright has been locally preserved in the Millard House, La Miniatura. Its oak-lined avenues wind past superbly maintained turn-of-the-century homes, from Mission-style stucco squats to column-clad mansions of every persuasion - even 'stately Wayne Manor' from the original Batman TV series.

Old Town Pasadena, the heart of the city, centres on Colorado Blvd at Fair Oaks Ave. This 14-block historic district underwent a major facelift around 1990, ushering in a bustling renaissance of upscale boutiques, restaurants, coffeehouses and the odd antique and rare-book dealer. Look for Rodin's The Thinker out front. On the south side of the district, the Moorish/Spanish Colonial Hotel Green rises up like an elaborate Errol Flynn movie set, while at the western end of Colorado, the Norton Simon Museum houses a different brand of eye candy: one of the finest collections of European art in the country.

San Gorgonio Wilderness
The area takes in Mt San Bernardino and San Gorgonio Peak, both over 10,000ft (3000m) high, and a multitude of hiking and equestrian trails. High in the San Bernardino National Forest, south of the popular outdoors destination of Big Bear, San Gorgonio is 90 sq mi (150 sq km) of trees, lakes and barren slopes. At low elevations, the area is especially arid and full of rattlesnakes; at higher elevations, oak and manzanita are joined by cedar, fir and pine trees. Jenks Lake, between Mt San Bernardino and San Gorgonio Peak, is a scenic spot for picnicking and easy hiking. Black bears, coyote, deer and squirrel are common, and even bald eagles fly frequently over the area's campgrounds. There are several campgrounds in the wilderness, with minimal facilities and sites for tents and RVs. For those not so keen on roughing it, there are also cabins with sports facilities. If you don't have wheels, buses run as far as nearby Big Bear, but you'll probably need to organize a ride along Hwy 38 to San Gorgonio. San Gorgonio is about 90 minutes' drive from LA.

Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara is just over an hour's drive along the coast north of Los Angeles and is accessible by Greyhound or train.
Between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara is often called the California Riviera because of its affluent population, outstanding Mediterranean architecture and gorgeous seaside location. Highlights include the delightful Spanish Moorish revival style Santa Barbara County Courthouse, the stately Mission Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Rising abruptly and majestically to the north, the Santa Ynez foothills offer great camping and hiking opportunities.The city boasts half a dozen decent beaches, the oldest continuously operating wharf on the west coast (once owned by James Cagney), botanical gardens, zoological gardens and arguably one of the most pleasant downtown areas in Southern California.

Santa Catalina Island
Visited the firts time by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, Santa Catalina (known simply as Catalina) is one of the largest of the Channel Islands, a chain of semi-submerged mountains between Santa Barbara and San Diego. Most of the island has been privately owned since 1811, when the Native American population was shipped off to the mainland. The island is now preserved against development, and its unique ecosystem, with 400 plant species (eight of which are endemic), 100 species of birds and numerous animals (including wild American bison), is protected by law. Tourists have been sailing in since the 1930s, but the privately owned areas remained largely untouched until 1975, when they were bought out by the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy.

Avalon is the only town on Santa Catalina. It's dominated by the white Spanish-Moderne Casino, built by chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr in 1929, when he owned the island. The casino is no longer open for gambling, but it does have a grand ballroom (Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller both played here), a huge theatre, the Catalina Island Museum and an art gallery. Other highlights of the town include the Chimes Tower, which is covered in inlaid tiles; the old Wrigley Mansion, now a hotel; and the Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens.

Most visitors to Santa Catalina come for the fantastic watersports, including diving, snorkelling, sea kayaking, ocean rafting and sailing. There's some great hiking, horseback riding and bicycling trails. You can get to Catalina on one of the regular cruises from Long Beach, San Pedro, Redondo Beach or Newport Beach, or you can take a (very pricey) helicopter from Queen Mary Seaport. Catalina has plenty of hotels and resorts, as well as four campgrounds, but most are fairly expensive.

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