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Moving to Los Angeles Forums -> Los Angeles Travel, Holidays & Los Angeles Tourism -> LOS ANGELES TOURISM GUIDE / TOURISM IN LOS ANGELES
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 4:38 am    Post subject: LOS ANGELES TOURISM GUIDE / TOURISM IN LOS ANGELES Reply with quote


You'll need to make a lot of tough decisions if you're touring L.A. for the first time: surfing lessons or a jogging tour? Join the live studio audience at the Tonight Show or Jeopardy? Go to Disneyland or Universal Studio Hollywood?

To find out what's going on while you're in town, pick up a copy of the free L.A. Weekly, the monthly magazine Los Angeles, or the Sunday Los Angeles Times "Calendar" section; each has detailed listings covering events and entertainment around town, often accompanied by helpful commentary on which activities might be worth your while. Better yet, plan ahead via the Web and buy those hard-to-get tickets in advance.

Also, note that you usually have to drive everywhere in L.A. Be sure you have a map handy and try to plan your itinerary with as little time on the freeways as possible, especially during rush hour.

CityPass Money Saver--If you're the type who loves to cram in as many tourist attractions as possible in one trip, then you need a CityPass (tel. 888/330-5008; This money-saving booklet includes tickets to five popular attractions. The main draw, and the primary reason to purchase CityPass, is Universal Studios Hollywood; the rest are the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, the Kodak Theatre Guided Tour, Starline Tours of Hollywood, and The Hollywood Museum. Purchase the pass at any of the above attractions, or visit the CityPass website to buy advance passes online. The pass costs $72 for adults ($49 for kids 3-9) and will expire 30 days from the first use. Is it a good deal? If you use all the tickets, you end up saving about 45% over individual, full-price admissions.

Farmers Market and The Grove

Now entering its eighth decade, the original market was little more than a field with wood stands set up by farmers during the Depression so they could sell directly to city dwellers. Eventually, permanent buildings grew up, including the trademark shingled 10-story clock tower. Today the place has evolved into a sprawling marketplace with a carnival atmosphere, a kind of "turf" version of San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. About 100 restaurants, shops, and grocers cater to a mix of workers from the CBS Television City complex, locals, and tourists brought here by the busload. Retailers sell greeting cards, kitchen implements, candles, and souvenirs, but everyone comes for the food stands, which offer oysters, hot donuts, Cajun gumbo, fresh-squeezed orange juice, corned beef sandwiches, fresh-pressed peanut butter, and all kinds of international fast foods. You can still buy produce here -- it's no longer a farm-fresh bargain, but the selection's better than at the grocery store. Don't miss Kokomo (tel. 323/933-0773), a "gourmet" outdoor coffee shop that has become a power breakfast spot for showbiz types. Red turkey hash and sweet-potato fries are the dishes that keep them coming back. The seafood gumbo and gumbo ya ya at the Gumbo Pot (tel. 323/933-0358) are also very popular.

At the eastern end of the Farmers Market is The Grove, a massive 575,000-square-foot Vegas-style retail complex composed of various architectural styles ranging from Art Deco to Italian Renaissance. Miniature streets link The Grove to the Market via a double-deck electric trolley. Granted, it's all a bit Disney-gaudy, but the locals love it. Where else can you power-shop until noon, check all your bags at a drop-off station, get a spa treatment at Amadeus Spa (tel. 323/297-0311), see a movie at the 14-screen Grove Theatre, have an early dinner at Maggiano's Little Italy (tel. 323/965-9665), and be home by 7pm?

Grauman's Chinese Theatre

This is one of the world's great movie palaces and one of Hollywood's finest landmarks. The theatre was opened in 1927 by impresario Sid Grauman, a brilliant promoter who's credited with originating the idea of the paparazzi-packed movie "premiere." Outrageously conceived, with both authentic and simulated Chinese embellishments, Grauman's theatre was designed to impress. Original Chinese heavenly doves top the facade, and two of the theatre's columns once propped up a Ming dynasty temple.

Visitors by the millions flock to the theatre for its famous entry court, where stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Ginger Rogers, Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and about 160 others set their signatures and hand-/footprints in concrete (a tradition started when actress Norma Talmadge "accidentally" stepped in wet cement during the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille's King of Kings). It's not always hands and feet: Betty Grable's shapely leg; the hoofprints of Gene Autry's horse, Champion; Jimmy Durante's and Bob Hope's trademark noses; Whoopi Goldberg's dreadlocks; George Burns's cigar; and even R2D2's wheels.

Griffith Observatory

Made world-famous in the film Rebel Without a Cause, Griffith Observatory's bronze domes have been Hollywood Hills landmarks since 1935. Most visitors don't actually go inside; they come to this spot on the south slope of Mount Hollywood for unparalleled city views. On warm nights, with the lights twinkling below, this is one of the most romantic places in L.A.

The main dome houses a planetarium, where narrated projection shows reveal the stars and planets that are hidden from the naked eye by the city's lights and smog. Other shows take you on excursions into space to search for extraterrestrial life, or examine the causes of earthquakes and moonquakes.

The adjacent Hall of Science holds exhibits on galaxies, meteorites, and other cosmic objects, including a telescope trained on the sun, a Foucault pendulum, and earth and moon globes 6 feet in diameter. On clear nights, you can gaze at the heavens through the powerful 12-inch telescope.

Hollywood Guinness World Records Museum

Scale models, photographs, and push-button displays of the world's fattest man, biggest plant, smallest woman, fastest animal, and other superlatives don't make for a superlative experience. 6764 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. tel. 323/463-6433. Admission $11 adults, $8.50 seniors, $6.95 children ages 6-11. Sun-Thurs 10am-midnight; Fri-Sat 10am-1am.

The "Hollywood" Sign

These famous 50-foot-high white sheet-metal letters have come to symbolise the movie industry and the city itself. The sign was erected on Mount Lee in 1923 as an advertisement for a real-estate development. The full text originally read HOLLYWOODLAND and was lined with thousands of 20-watt bulbs around the letters (changed periodically by a caretaker who lived in a small house behind the sign). The sign gained dubious notoriety when actress Peg Entwistle leapt to her death from the "H" in 1932. The LAND section was damaged by a landslide, and the entire sign fell into major disrepair until the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce spearheaded a campaign to repair it (Hugh Hefner, Alice Cooper, Gene Autry, and Andy Williams were all major contributors). Officially completed in 1978, the 450-foot-long installation is now protected by a fence and motion detectors. The best view is from down below, at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Bronson Avenue.

Tip: It may look like it on a map, but Beachwood Drive does not lead to the sign. If you want to reach the sign on foot, it requires a rather arduous 5-mile round-trip hike on the Brush Canyon Trail in Griffith Park -- the trail head is at the end of Canyon Drive. For more information call the Griffith Park headquarters at tel. 323/913-4688.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

When the Hollywood honchos realised how limited the footprint space was at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre, they came up with another way to pay tribute to the stars. Since 1960, more than 2,000 celebrities have been honoured along the world's most famous sidewalk. Each bronze medallion, set into the centre of a terrazzo star, pays homage to a famous television, film, radio, theatre, or recording personality. Although about a third of them are just about as obscure as Michael Jackson's sexual preference -- their fame simply hasn't withstood the test of time -- millions of visitors are thrilled by the sight of famous names like James Dean (1719 Vine St.), John Lennon (1750 Vine St.), Marlon Brando (1765 Vine St.), Rudolph Valentino (6164 Hollywood Blvd.), Marilyn Monroe (6744 Hollywood Blvd.), Elvis Presley (6777 Hollywood Blvd.), Greta Garbo (6901 Hollywood Blvd.), Louis Armstrong (7000 Hollywood Blvd.), Barbra Streisand (6925 Hollywood Blvd.), and Eddie Murphy (7000 Hollywood Blvd.). Gene Autry is all over the place: The singing cowboy earned five different stars (a sidewalk record), one in each category.

The sight of bikers, metalheads, homeless wanderers, and hordes of disoriented tourists all treading on memorials to Hollywood's greats makes for a bizarre and somewhat tacky tribute. But the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has been doing a terrific job sprucing up the pedestrian experience with filmstrip crosswalks, swaying palms, and more. And at least one weekend a month, a group of fans calling themselves Star Polishers busy themselves scrubbing tarnished medallions.

The legendary sidewalk is continually adding new names, such as Muhammad Ali in front of the Kodak Theatre. The public is invited to attend dedication ceremonies; the honoree -- who pays a whopping $15,000 for the eternal upkeep -- is usually in attendance.

The Hollywood Wax Museum

Cast in the Madame Tussaud mold, the Hollywood Wax Museum features dozens of lifelike figures of famous movie stars and events. This "museum" is pretty cheesy, but it can be good for a corny laugh or two. A Chamber of Horrors exhibit includes the coffin used in The Raven, as well as a diorama from the Vincent Price classic The House of Wax. The Movie Awards Theatre exhibit is a short film highlighting Academy Award presentations from the past 4 decades. 6767 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. tel. 323/462-8860. Admission $11 adults, $8.50 seniors, $6.95 children ages 6-12, free for kids age 5 and under. Sun-Thurs 10am-midnight; Fri-Sat 10am-1am.

J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center

Since opening in 1997, the Richard Meier-designed Getty Center has quickly assumed its place in the L.A. landscape (literally and figuratively) as the city's cultural acropolis and international mecca. Headquarters for the Getty Trust's research, education, and conservation concerns, the postmodernist complex -- perched on a hillside in the Santa Monica mountains and swathed in Italian travertine marble -- is most frequently visited for the museum galleries displaying collector J. Paul Getty's enormous collection of art. Always known for antiquities, expanded galleries now allow the display of Impressionist paintings, truckloads of glimmering French furniture and decorative arts, fine illuminated manuscripts, contemporary photography, and previously overlooked graphic arts. The area that's open to the public consists of five two-story pavilions set around an open courtyard, and each gallery within is specially designed to complement the works on display. A sophisticated system of programmable window louvers allows many works (particularly paintings) to be displayed in the natural light they were created in for the first time in the modern era. One of these is van Gogh's Irises, one of the museum's finest and most popular holdings. Trivia buffs will enjoy knowing that the museum spent $53.9 million to acquire this painting; it's displayed in a complex that cost roughly $1 billion to construct.

Visitors to the centre park at the base of the hill and ascend via a cable-driven electric tram. On clear days, the sensation is of being in the clouds, gazing across Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean (and into a few chic Brentwood backyards). The 45-minute human-led architectural tours, offered throughout the day, are worth looking into. Dining options include several espresso/snack carts, a cafeteria, a self-service cafe, and the elegant (though informal) "Restaurant" offering table service for lunch (Tues-Sun) and dinner (Fri-Sat), with breathtaking views overlooking of the ocean and mountains (reservations are recommended, though walk-ins are accepted; call tel. 310/440-6810 or make reservations online at

Realising that fine-art museums are usually dreadfully boring for kids, the centre provides several clever programs for kids, including a family room filled with puzzles, computers, picture books, and games; weekend family workshops; and self-guided audio tours made specifically for families.

Entrance to the Getty Center is free. Cameras and video cams are permitted, but only if you use existing light.

La Brea Tar Pits

An odorous swamp of gooey asphalt oozes to the earth's surface in the middle of Los Angeles. No, it's not a low-budget horror-movie set -- it's the La Brea Tar Pits, a truly bizarre primal pool on Museum Row where hot tar has been bubbling from the earth for more than 40,000 years. The bubbling pools may look like a fake Disney set, but they're the real thing and have enticed thirsty animals throughout history. Nearly 400 species of mammals, birds, amphibians, and fish -- many of which are now extinct -- walked, crawled, landed, swam, or slithered into the sticky sludge, got stuck in the worst way, and stayed forever. In 1906, scientists began a systematic removal and classification of entombed specimens, including ground sloths, giant vultures, mastodons, camels, bears, lizards, a Starbucks, and even prehistoric relatives of today's super-rats. Today it's one of the world's richest excavation sites for Ice Age fossils. The best finds are on display in the adjacent Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, which houses the largest and most diverse collection of Ice Age plants and animals in the world. Archaeological work is ongoing; you can watch as scientists clean, identify, and catalog new finds in the Paleontology Laboratory. An entertaining 15-minute film documenting the recoveries is also shown.

Ocean Front Walk at Venice Beach

This has long been one of L.A.'s most colourful areas and a must-visit for any first-time tourist. Founded at the turn of the last century, Venice was a development inspired by its Italian namesake. Authentic gondolas plied miles of inland waterways lined with rococo palaces. In the 1950s, Venice became the stomping grounds of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and other beats. In the 1960s, this was the epicentre of L.A.'s hippie scene.

Today, Venice is still one of the world's most engaging bohemian locales. It's not an exaggeration to say that no visit to L.A. would be complete without a stroll along the famous paved beach path, an almost surreal assemblage of every L.A. stereotype -- and then some. Among stalls and stands selling cheap sunglasses, Mexican blankets, and "herbal ecstasy" pills swirls a carnival of humanity that includes bikini-clad in-line skaters, tattooed bikers, tan hunks pumping iron at Muscle Beach, panhandling vets, beautiful wannabes, and plenty of tourists and gawkers. On any given day, you're bound to come across all kinds of performers: mimes, break-dancers, stoned drummers, chain-saw jugglers, talking parrots, and the occasional apocalyptic evangelist.

Ripley's "Believe It Or Not!" Odditorium

Believe it or not, this tired dog of a "museum" is still open. Its bizarre collection of 300 wax figures, photos, and models depicts unnatural oddities from Robert Leroy Ripley's infamous arsenal. Some favourite oddities include the skeleton of a two-headed baby, a statue of Marilyn Monroe sculpted with shredded money, and a portrait of John Wayne made from laundry lint. Right. 6780 Hollywood Blvd. tel. 323/466-6335. Admission $12 adults, $7.95 children ages 5-12, free to children age 4 and under. Sun-Thurs 9am-11pm; Fri-Sat 9am-midnight.

Santa Monica Pier

Piers have been a tradition in Southern California since the area's 19th-century seaside resort days. Many have long since disappeared (like Pacific Ocean Park, an entire amusement park perched on offshore pilings), and others have been shortened by battering storms and are now mere shadows (or stumps) of their former selves, but you can still get a chance to experience those halcyon days of yesteryear at world-famous Santa Monica Pier.

Built in 1908 for passenger and cargo ships, the Santa Monica Pier does a pretty good job of recapturing the glory days of Southern California. The wooden wharf is now home to seafood restaurants and snack shacks, a touristy Mexican cantina, and a gaily colored turn-of-the-20th-century indoor wooden carousel (which Paul Newman operated in The Sting). Summer evening concerts, which are free and range from big band to Miami-style Latin, draw crowds, as does the small amusement area perched halfway down. Its name, Pacific Park (tel. 310/260-8744;, hearkens back to the granddaddy pier amusement park in California, Pacific Ocean Park; this updated version has a solar-powered Ferris wheel, a mild-mannered roller coaster, and 10 other rides, plus a high-tech arcade shoot-out. But anglers still head to the end to fish, and nostalgia buffs to view the photographic display of the pier's history. This is the last of the great pleasure piers, offering rides, romance, and perfect panoramic views of the bay and mountains.

The pier is about a mile up Ocean Front Walk from Venice; it's a great round-trip stroll. Parking is available for $6 to $8 on both the pier deck and the beachfront nearby. Limited short-term parking is also available. For information on twilight concerts (generally held Thurs between mid-June and the end of Aug), call tel. 310/458-8900 or visit

Six Flags California (Magic Mountain and Hurricane Harbor)

What started as a countrified little amusement park with a couple of relatively tame roller coasters in 1971 has been transformed by Six Flags into a thrill-a-minute daredevil's paradise called The Xtreme Park. Located about 20 to 30 minutes north of Universal Studios, Six Flags Magic Mountain is one of the only ones out of the 38 Six Flags parks that is open year-round. The 16 world-class roller coasters (more than any other place in the world) make it enormously popular with teenagers and young adults, and the children's playland -- Bugs Bunny World -- creates excitement for the pint-size set (kids under 48 in. tall.) Bring an iron constitution; rides with names like Goliath, Déjà Vu, Ninja, Viper, Colossus, and Psyclone will have your cheeks flapping with the G-force, and queasy expressions are common at the exit. Some rides are themed to action-film characters (like Superman The Escape and The Riddler's Revenge); others are loosely tied to their themed surroundings, like a Far East pagoda or gold rush mining town. The newest thrill rides are Scream!, where riders are strapped into a "flying chair" and raced upside down seven times at 65 mph, and X, the world's first and only roller coaster where riders rotate 360 degrees forward and backward. Arcade games and summer-only entertainment (stunt shows, animal shows, and parades) round out the park's attractions.

Hurricane Harbor is Six Flags's tropical paradise, which is located right next door to Magic Mountain and is open May through September. You really can't see both in 1 day -- combo tickets allow you to return sometime before the end of the season. Bring your own swimsuit; the park has changing rooms with showers and lockers. Like Magic Mountain, areas have themes like a tropical lagoon or an African river (complete with ancient temple ruins). The primary activities are swimming, going down the 23 water slides, rafting, playing volleyball, and lounging; many areas are designed especially for the little "buccaneer."

Sunset Boulevard & The Sunset Strip

Unless you were raised in a cave, you've undoubtedly heard of L.A.'s Sunset Boulevard. The most famous of the city's many legendary boulevards, it winds dozens of miles over prime real estate as it travels from Downtown to the beach, taking its travelers on both a historic and microcosmic journey that defines Los Angeles as a whole -- from tacky strip malls and historic movie studios to infamous strip clubs and some of the most coveted zip codes on earth. In fact, driving the stretch from U.S. 101 to the Pacific (where it passes underneath U.S. 101) should be a prerequisite for all first-time visitors because it is such a good example of what L.A. is all about: instant gratification.

From the start, you'll see the Saharan Motor Hotel, of many a movie shoot; the Guitar Center's Hollywood RockWalk, where superstars like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Santana, and the Van Halen brothers left handprints or signatures; the "Riot Hyatt," where The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Guns N' Roses crashed and smashed from the '60s through the '80s; and Chateau Marmont, where Greta Garbo lived and John Belushi died.

Once you pass the Chateau Marmont, you're officially cruising the Sunset Strip -- a 1 3/4-mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard from Crescent Heights Boulevard to Doheny Drive. The tour continues with The Comedy Store, where Rosanne, Robin Williams, and David Letterman rose to stardom; Dan Aykroyd's ramshackle House of Blues, where the rock stars still show up for an impromptu show; Tower Records, the largest record store in the world; the Argyle Hotel, where Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and John Wayne once lived; the ultraexclusive Skybar within the Mondrian hotel; Johnny Depp's Viper Room, where River Phoenix overdosed in 1993; Whisky A Go-Go, where The Doors were once a house band; and the Rainbow Bar & Grill, where Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Marley became legends.

Once you emerge from the strip, things calm down considerably as you drive through the tony neighbourhoods of Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Brentwood, and Pacific Palisades. By the time you've reached Malibu and the beach where Baywatch was filmed you'll have seen a vivid cross-section of the city and a pretty good idea of what L.A. is all about.

Universal Studios Hollywood & CityWalk

Believing that filmmaking itself is a bona fide attraction, Universal Studios began offering tours to the public in 1964. The concept worked: Today Universal is more than just one of the largest movie studios in the world -- it's one of the largest amusement parks as well. By integrating shows and rides with behind-the-scenes presentations on moviemaking, Universal created a new genre of theme park, stimulating a number of clone and competitor parks.

The main attraction continues to be the Studio Tour, a 1-hour guided tram ride around the company's 420 acres. En route you pass stars' dressing rooms and production offices before visiting famous back-lot sets that include an eerily familiar Old West town, a clean New York City street, the famous town square from the Back to the Future films, and newer sets such as Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, Jurassic Park III, and The Grinch. Along the way, the tram encounters several staged "disasters". Though the wait to board might appear long, don't be discouraged -- each tram carries several hundred people and departures are frequent, so the line moves quickly.

Other attractions are more typical of high-tech theme-park fare, but all have a film-oriented slant. The newest ride, Revenge of the Mummy, is a super-high-tech indoor roller coaster that whips you backwards and forwards through a dark Egyptian tomb filled with creepy Warrior Mummies. Jurassic Park -- The Ride is short in duration but long on dinosaur animatronics; riders in jungle boats float through a world of five-story-tall T-rexes and airborne raptors that culminates in a pitch-dark vertical drop with a splash ending. Terminator 2: 3D is a high-tech cyberwar show that combines live action along with triple-screen 3-D technology, explosions, spraying mists, and laser fire (Arnold prevails, of course). Shrek 4D is one of the park's best attractions, a multisensory animated show that combines 3-D effects, a humorous storyline, and "surprise" special effects -- the flying dragon chase is wild. Back to the Future is a virtual-reality ride within a bucking simulation chamber similar to Star Tours at Disneyland. You're a guest in Doc Brown's lab and get caught up in a high-speed chase in a time-traveling DeLorean through a million years.

There are also several live shows performing daily. At the new Fear Factor Live show -- based upon the NBC hit -- park guests compete against each other in a progression of extreme stunts. Waterworld is an entertaining, fast-paced outdoor theatre presentation (and far better than the film that inspired it) featuring stunts and special effects performed on and around a small man-made lagoon (most performances are sold out, so arrive at the theatre at least 15 min. before the show time listed in the handout park map). In Backdraft, guests move from theatre to theatre amid realistic ruptured fuel lines, melting metal, and scorching warehouse scenes. Animal Planet Live! stars trained monkeys, pigs, hawks, and other animals doing various entertaining tricks (well, most of the time). Also be sure to check out the Wardrobe Dept., a new retail store offering an eclectic array of men's and women's clothing from popular television and movie productions such as Will & Grace and Crossing Jordan. Each item is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, documenting the television or movie production on which the item was originally worn (and they're all surprisingly affordable). And straight ahead of the park's main entrance on Main Street is the Audiences Unlimited ticket booth, where you can obtain free tickets to join the audience for any TV shows that are taping during your visit (subject to availability).

Universal Studios is an exciting place for kids and teens, but just as in any theme park, lines can be brutally long; the wait for a 5-minute ride can sometimes last more than an hour. In summer, the stifling Valley heat can dog you all day. To avoid the crowds, try not to visit on weekends, school vacations, and Japanese holidays. If you're willing to pay extra money to save the hassle of standing in line, the park offers a "Front of Line" pass with -- obviously -- front-of-the-line privileges, as well as VIP passes (essentially private tours). You can also save time standing in line by purchasing and printing your tickets online. Log on to the website for more information;

Located just outside the gate of Universal Studios Hollywood is Universal CityWalk (tel. 818/622-4455;, Universal Studio's version of Downtown Disney, complete with throngs of bored-looking teens. If you have any money left from the amusement park, you can spend it at this 3-block-long pedestrian promenade crammed thick with flashy name-brand stores (Billabong, Fossil, Skechers, Vans), nightclubs (Blues at B. B. King's, Howl at the Moon dueling piano bar, Rumba Room Latin dance club), restaurants (Hard Rock Cafe, Daily Grill, Jerry's Famous Deli), a six-story 3-D IMAX theater, an 18-screen cinema, a 6,200-seat amphitheatre, NASCAR virtual racing, and even a bowling alley. Be sure to stop into the Zen Zone (tel. 818/487-7889) where you can get an inexpensive 20-minute "aqua massage." You lay down fully clothed in what looks like a tanning bed, and strong rotating jets of water massage your backside from neck-to-toe (a blue rubber sheet keeps you dry). Entrance to CityWalk is free; it's open until 9pm on weekdays and until midnight Friday and Saturday.
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