From the San Fernando Valley to the shores of south LA, the land of sun and celebrity beckons. Arriving by way of LAX airport, most LA visitors don’t make it much further than the western suburbs of the city. And who can blame them? With all that the pacific coast offers, it may be hard to find time to venture elsewhere. Here’s the skinny on the must see areas of all of the “haves” and none of the “have-nots.”
Mingle Among the Stars
Pitted around the television, movie and music industries, LA is sure to produce a trip full of entertainment. You might as well start your Los Angeles tour in Burbank, home to movie sets and TV Hollywood, official land of movie stars.
Just north of downtown Los Angeles is the home of the major players in the media industry. In Burbank you’ll find the headquarters to Warner Bros. Entertainment, The Walt Disney Company, and NBC Universal to name a few. Tour motion picture and television studios, where you’ll get a behind-the-scenes view of movie or sitcom sets, and after the tour, laugh firsthand at one of Leno’s jokes at a taping of the Tonight Show.
Travel a bit southwest from where the stars work to where they play. Home to the infamous sign in the hills and the Walk of Fame, Hollywood offers the quintessential star experience. See the most famous celebrities dating back to the 1950’s laid out in marble along Hollywood Boulevard. Tip: Scour your hotel for a map of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame that highlights the location of the 30 most popular stars before you take your tour. Without a map, it may be hard to find your favorites among the 2,000 plus stars. As you find your favorite celebrities, you’ll pass the historical Grauman’s Chinese Theater, landmark home to movie premieres, and several Acadamy Awards ceremonies. Step inside for a tour or even to view a movie. Don’t miss the ultra-red VIP room where celebrities quarantine themselves off from adoring fans at their movie premieres. From here, try a movie star home tour. The two hour tour will indulge all the visiting celebrity-gossip addicts…why not compare your landscaping to that of Harrison Ford?
Our pick for the best cinematic experience? The ArcLight Cinema in Hollywood, circa 1963. Plush sofa seating and incredible sound make this the movie-going experience for true movie-lovers. Tip: This is a great spot to view anything from blockbuster action movies to the more refined indie films.
Drive your convertible from Hollywood to the more upscale West Hollywood, through Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and Brentwood via the infamous Sunset Boulevard. Before cruising past the indulgent neighborhoods most can only dream of living in, you’ll encounter the infamous Sunset Strip. This nearly two mile stretch is home to the star-studded Viper Room, Rainbow Bar & Grill and Chateau Marmont. You’ll end your journey at the ocean’s edge in Malibu, home to the famous red bathing suits of the Baywatch beauties.
Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach Boardwalk
After your drive, you’ll need a chance to get out and stretch your legs a bit. Santa Monica Pier’s wooden structure, built in the early 20th century for cargo ships, creates the perfect setting for a lover’s stroll, or a late afternoon of fishing. The old pier will bring out the kid in any traveler, and we dare you not to enjoy what remains of the old Pacific Ocean Park amusement park. Ward off the motion sickness from the up-to-date roller coaster, ferris wheel or carousel with an ice cream cone as you walk about a mile south to Venice Beach Boardwalk. Tip:
Plan to visit in the twilight hours, where the view is best, and you might just catch a free concert.
A free spirited carnival atmosphere may best describe your surroundings as you walk the Venice Beach Boardwalk. Watch street performers, musicians, evangelists and body builders (seriously, check out Muscle Beach if you don’t believe us) as they vie for your attention at the water’s edge. Enjoy this colorful scenery as you rest your feet from the comfort of an outdoor café. Tip: Steer clear of the rollerbladers as they breeze past, where their speed (or scant outfits) can be alarming.
Much of LA often gets overlooked by tourists who are wowed by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and the coast. Even without all the glitter, LA offers some attractions just as glamorous as that of old Hollywood.
La Brea Tar Pits
Step back in time, oh say about 40,000 years, to an era where saber tooth tigers and wooly mammoths roamed the LA area. Remnants of the Ice Age still exist today at the La Brea Tar Pits on Wilshire Boulevard in South Hollywood. Bubbling ponds smell of newly paved roads. Witness this geological wonder for free, but check out the Page Museum for a small fee…there you’ll learn much more about the animals that roamed Hollywood long before the stars came to town. Our favorite part of the Page Museum is the Paleontology Laboratory, where visitors can peer through a glass pane at scientists as they re-assemble the bones of animals that lost their lives in the pits thousands of years ago. Tip:
See the tar pit excavation firsthand. Stop by Pit 91 during the day from Wednesday to Sunday each week to watch experts recover fossils buried deep beneath the pools of oozing black tar.
LA County Museum of Art
Across Wilshire Boulevard from the La Brea Tar Pits is a museum with a different air of sophistication. The LA County Museum of Art is another must-see celebrity-free landmark. As the largest art museum on the west coast, it boasts architecture from three distinct designers. Each is its own work of art beyond what is on display here. See Impressionists Degas, Rembrandt and Monet on the walls of the Ahmanson Building along with the largest display of textiles and costumes in the United States. Look to the Anderson Building for contemporary exhibits, and the translucent walls of the Japanese Pavilion for the renowned Japanese Edo paintings. Tip: To avoid museum fees, visit between 5 and 8 pm, when admittance is free. LACMA is closed on Wednesday, and offers free admittance all day on the first Tuesday of each month.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Beyond the typical LA lies a lesser known town, a bustling metropolis where a certain concert venue is just as beautiful to the eyes as it is to the ears. Our favorite is the new Walt Disney Concert Hall, home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The structure, designed by Frank Gehry is a bit reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House in Australia and the Guggenheim in Spain, appearing like a steel ship against the downtown horizon. The acoustics of the 2,265 seat auditorium are second to none. Tip:
Taking a tour of this masterpiece will lead you to a garden tucked away in the back.
Explore the Southern Californian Terrain
Most of the draw for Los Angeles tourism lies in the famous neighborhoods, the beach and the celebrity sightings. Don’t forget the natural terrain of LA…the coastline canyons stand out as some of the most beautiful in North America. Here are several things we recommend you do to get the most out of LA’s terra firma.
Escape the concrete paradise to some of LA’s serene hiking trails. Our favorite is the Corral Canyon area in Malibu. You can access this trail directly off of the Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu on the east side of the road. Put those hiking boots to use on the 2.5 trail. Climb up to the Puerco Canyon watershed divide for amazing ocean and mountain views. On your way back down, you’ll step through an ancient marine terrace, coastal sage shrub, native grassland and willow, oak and sycamore trees. For similar terrain, also try Newton Canyon or Runyon Canyon.
Hwy 1 Pacific Coast Hwy
As we already mentioned, driving Pacific Coast Highway is a must for those on their maiden Los Angeles tour. The famous road runs nearly the entire length of the west coast of the United States. Much of this beauty is found in California, and begins around Los Angeles, where the road hugs every curve of the water’s edge. See as little or as much as you can, but be careful, many drivers pay more attention to the view than the road itself. Wind north from Santa Monica to Malibu and the rest of the San Fernando Valley’s coast. The view of the tide crashing against the rocky shore is second to none.
OK, we’ve established that Pacific Coast Hwy has a spectacular view of the coast, but for the best view of Los Angeles, you’ve got to experience the panoramic beauty of Mulholland Drive (fog permitting). The northern view offers the picturesque San Fernando Valley, peer south toward the downtown skyline, the distinct outline of LAX and just beyond to the ocean. Eastward offers a view of the snowcapped mountains off in the distance. This is virtually 360 degrees of camera heaven