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Los Angeles Overview
The City of Los Angeles has a lot more going for it than Woody Allen leads us to believe. Stretching along the Pacific from Malibu to Long Beach, the region offers plenty to see and do in what can only be called a sun-kissed blend of adventure, culture and whimsy. It all melds stylishly with an anything-goes attitude, and whether you're kicking back on one of its fabled beaches, grabbing a ride at a world-class amusement park, plunging into glittery shops for the latest Oscar-worthy fashions (you need to practice a regally bored look to fit in better), dining at Tinsel Town hot spots or exploring inspiring world-class museums -- you're in for a magic-carpet ride like no other. And in a city dominated by "show business" -- prepare for a ride that comes with a good deal of self-indulgent dazzle anytime of day, be it a Malibu glamour tan while nonchalantly reading Variety, catching the Pussycat Dolls at the Viper Club on Sunset Boulevard or browsing breathtaking art works at the Getty.
For those who never watch TV or go to the movies, we should tell you that L.A. is a sprawling metropolis (with an atypically high percentage of beautiful people) with no "center" -- which means you'll wind your way through various neighborhoods and independently incorporated communities, keeping your eyes peeled for celebs and clusters of paparazzi everywhere. (Did you know that the city's Zagat restaurant guide actually has a "stargazing" category?) And still under the heading of Geography 101, try to think in terms of the major "areas" like Santa Monica and Malibu, the San Fernando Valley (the "valley" to locals), the Westside and Beverly Hills, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Downtown and Pasadena.
One important note: Cruises don't actually leave from Los Angeles -- they embark and disembark from San Pedro and Long Beach, two adjacent ports. These are located about 20 miles south of Los Angeles International Airport (see below).
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Map to the stars' homes.
English is spoken.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Currency is the U.S. dollar, and ATM's are readily available. Exchange bureaus so common in Europe are not in the U.S., but major banks provide exchange services.
Where You're Docked
Most ships embark and disembark at Berths 91, 92 and 93 A/B at the World Cruise Center in San Pedro. Most Carnival Cruise Lines ships sail in and out of the Cruise Terminal in Long Beach.
World Cruise Center is approximately 20 miles south of the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) via the San Diego Freeway (405) south to the Harbor Freeway (110); 25 miles south of Downtown Los Angeles via the Harbor Freeway; 12 miles from Santa Monica via the Santa Monica Freeway south (10) to the San Diego Freeway to the Harbor Freeway; 20 miles from Hollywood via the Hollywood Freeway (101) south to the Harbor Freeway. Once on the Harbor Freeway, continue south to the CA 47-Terminal Island exit. Parking is available; check Web site for directions and fees. (www.cruisecenterparking.com) Free shuttle buses are provided to and from the terminal on scheduled ship days. Note: They are not wheelchair accessible.
The Long Beach Cruise Terminal is at 231 Windsor Way and is approximately 30 miles from LAX via the San Diego Freeway south to the Long Beach Freeway (710); 35 miles from Downtown Los Angeles via the Harbor Freeway south to the San Diego Freeway south to the Long Beach Freeway; approximately 32 miles from Santa Monica via the Santa Monica Freeway east to the San Diego Freeway south to the Long Beach Freeway. Once on the Long Beach Freeway, follow the signs for the Queen Mary. At the entrance to the Queen Mary, stay to the far right for the Carnival Cruise Terminal. Check Carnival for info on parking. Note: No matter where you're driving from -- count on at least an hour's time to drive from locations listed above. The Long Beach Airport (LGB) is approximately five miles from the cruise terminal.
Passengers flying from Los Angeles International Airport after their sailing can check-in their luggage from the ship terminal; for a small fee, bypass the ticket counters, remotely check up to two bags and print out airline tickets.
San Pedro: There are really a fair number of places to see around San Pedro. You can walk through Old San Pedro where you'll find plenty of shops and restaurants, or you can consider something more cultural like the American Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial on South Harbor Boulevard, the historic Angel's Gate Lighthouse, the Greek Revival Banning Residence Museum or the Los Angeles Maritime Museum -- which happens to be California's largest maritime museum. Inside you can check out more than 700 ship and boat models and try your hand at any one of more than 60 seaman's knots. Or, just a block from the terminal, you can tour the Battleship Iowa, which is the only battleship on the West Coast that's open to the public.
Ports O' Call Village is another worthwhile stop. An authentic New England-style seaside village, it's a place to meander cobblestone streets, dine alfresco as ships pass by or shop 'til you drop at dozens and dozens of specialty shops worth a browse. It's also the place to hop aboard a harbor cruise or helicopter tour.
Long Beach: It goes without saying that Queen Mary is a popular place to start. It was the most glamorous ship of its time; the passenger lists on its Atlantic crossings between 1934 and 1964 included the world's most famous, from Winston Churchill to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. During World War II, the ship was converted to a troop ship named the Grey Ghost, and carried as many as 15,000 troops at a time. Now it's a floating museum, hotel and conference center.
Aquarium of the Pacific is home to 550 species from three Pacific Rim regions: Southern California & Baja, the Northern Pacific and the Tropical Pacific. The top don't-misses here are Lorikeet Forest -- a mammoth outdoor aviary that will knock your socks off -- and the Plexiglass underpass in the Soft Coral Lagoon. Daily 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (100 Aquarium Way; 562-590-3100)
Nope. Not a myth. Not an urban legend. No one really walks to get from point A to point B around Los Angeles. In fact, locals will only walk just so far -- like from their front door to their garage and from the parking lot to the store. And since it is all a huge urban sprawl, consider wheels (be it a taxi, a car rental, a bus or a train) to get around.
Three airports serve the Greater Los Angeles Area: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport (BUR); and Long Beach Airport (LGB). Amtrak serves Los Angeles with its main terminal at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
Renting a car is pretty easy, but navigating the elaborate network of freeways -- not so much. All the majors are set up at the airports and pretty cheap, too -- but if a Ferrari or Porsche is your thing, consider Budget Beverly Hill Car Collection . Not only will they bring the car to the airport as a complimentary service, they'll be waiting for you at Baggage Claim where, in the blink of an eye, all the paperwork is done. Did we mention the traffic? Leave plenty of time to get where you're going and try to enjoy yourself along the way. Note: Most Southern California freeways have carpool lanes (HOV/High Occupancy Vehicles called "Diamond Lanes" in and around Los Angeles, and signified with a diamond shape painted in the lanes) -- which means there needs to be a minimum of two (a few require three) passengers inside the car to be using it. Don't even think about trying to beat the system. You'll end up with a pricey fine that will cost upwards of $300.
Seeing the sights will present a bit of a challenge since you'll want to use freeways for quicker travel -- a perplexing situation even for locals -- though sticking to main thoroughfares like Wilshire, Santa Monica, Sunset, Venice, Olympic and Pico boulevards is perfectly fine if you don't get crazy driving in a lot of traffic. For example, you can drive Wilshire, Olympic or Sunset boulevards all the way from the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica to downtown. It may take a while, but it does give you a chance to see a lot. You can also get to the valley through the "canyons." Taking the steep twisting roads through Laurel, Coldwater or Benedict canyons or over Beverly Glen is an impressive drive, particularly as you reach Mulhulland Drive at the tippy-top before heading down to Ventura Boulevard -- the valley's main thoroughfare. Note: Freeways running east-west have even numbers, while those running north-south have odd numbers. Most have a name as well as a number and all are well-marked.
Los Angeles has a light rail system that covers more than 60 miles and 65 stations with four lines. Metro Rail may not go everywhere, but it can make it easy to get to a bunch of places worth checking out, such as Pasadena and Universal City. Trains run from approximately 4 a.m. until midnight, depending on the particular line: the Red Line connects downtown to Hollywood, Universal City and North Hollywood; the Gold Line connects downtown to Pasadena and Long Beach; the Blue Line connects downtown to Long Beach with free shuttle-bus connections to LAX; the Green Line runs along the Century Freeway and links Norwalk and El Segundo. Single rides are inexpensive (well discounted for seniors), but there's a one day pass option, too. Notes: Station stops can be more than a few blocks from your actual destination, so be prepared to walk. Tickets are purchased from vending machines and the entire system operates on an honor system. That being said, there are inspectors, from the Sheriff's Department no less, who roam the cars checking randomly for tickets. Get caught without a ticket and you'll end up with a hefty fine and maybe even 48 hours of community service.
Xpress Shuttle provides service 24/7 to and from all three airports to really anywhere you need to go throughout the area. It is also popular for getting to both cruise terminals. (800-427-7483)
SuperShuttle operates the same way, serving the same airports. Reservations are not necessary from the airports, but they are when you require a pick-up to go back. (800-BLUE VAN)
Taxis can be expensive -- primarily because everything is just so spread out. A small surcharge is added for fares originating from LAX. Taxis are not hailed in Los Angeles and must be called, unless you are at a major hotel, at an airport or downtown at Union Station. United Taxi (213-483-7604) and L.A. Taxi (323-654-8400) are two reliable choices. A metered-taxi ride from LAX to West Long Angeles or Santa Monica will run at least $20, to Beverly Hills, at least $25 and to downtown, count on at least $35, but that's only if you arrive and travel when traffic is at a minimum, say ... between midnight and 5 a.m. A tip should be about 15 percent.
Public buses (there are more than 200 lines) are recommended for quick daily trips only.
Downtown Los Angeles has a DASH system and fares are inexpensive.
Cityline Shuttle is great if you're hanging around West Hollywood (not to be confused with Hollywood). It operates Monday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., making stops at all the major shops and restaurants. ( 800-447-2189)
Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus offers 12 routes covering the beaches, UCLA and LAX.
Long Beach's public transportation is excellent. The Passport is a free shuttle bus that provides hop on/hop off service throughout the downtown area -- getting you to top attractions such as the Queen Mary and the Aquarium of the Pacific.
The Aquabus makes six stops daily from late May to early September, then weekends thereafter, running frequently along Rainbow Harbor to the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Queen Mary, Shoreline Village at Parker's Lighthouse, Catalina Landing, Pine Avenue Circle and Hotel Maya. The fare is cheap and you can pay onboard.
The newer, faster Aqualink catamaran makes stops at Queen Mary, Aquarium of the Pacific, Belmont Pier and Alamitos Bay Landing. It also runs from late May to early September, then weekends thereafter. The fare, a bit more expensive than Aquabus, can be paid onboard.
Watch Out For
Practice common sense safety as you would in any large city. Also, you may be asked for help from a homeless person. Help at your discretion, but if you choose not to help, avoid being rude as there's no need to antagonize them.
Chances are that agent, director or producer who thinks you or your child would be a great actor or model is probably scamming you. Go ahead and take their business card -- you can always do an Internet search later -- but don't go anywhere with them and don't give them money or personal information.
The Hollywood CityPASS gets visitors half-price admission to four attractions: Red Line Tours Hollywood Behind-the-Scenes, Madame Tussauds Hollywood, Starline Tours of Hollywood, and Kodak Theatre guided tour or the Hollywood Museum. Valid for nine days from first use and allows you to skip most ticket lines with CityPASS in hand. You can also consider the Southern California CityPASS which gives visitors a special price to several fab attractions: a three-day ticket for Disneyland Resort (including California Adventure Park), and one-day tickets to Universal Studios, SeaWorld and a choice between the San Diego Zoo or San Diego Zoo Safari Park. It's valid for 14 days from first day of use.
You can take a 40-minute Trolley Tour through Beverly Hills to see some of that city's best sites, including Rodeo Drive. There are several types of docent-led tours to sign up for, including Public Art in Beverly Hills. Schedules vary with time of year.
We dare you to pass up one of the bus tours that take you past famous movies stars' homes, past and present. Consider one with L.A. City Tours which includes downtown, Hollywood, and the beaches in its five-hour sojourn, or Starline Tours, which has a specific Movie Stars Homes tour through Beverly Hills, Bel-Air and Hollywood to see where the likes of Lucille Ball, Natalie Wood, Harrison Ford and Richard Gere hang or hung their hats.
It'll take you an hour to get down to Anaheim by way of the San Diego Freeway, but you might want to check out Disney California Adventure. It has rides and shows, including Soarin' over California and Superstar Limo. This park addition actually divides up three ways: the Golden State, paying homage to California's natural beauty; Paradise Pier, evoking the great seaside amusement parks; and the Hollywood Pictures Backlot, honoring the magic of movie making.
Don't miss the chance to meander through the Farmer's Market's shops and stalls and the chance to even catch a glimpse of a few movie stars or studio execs grabbing a quick power breakfast. Legend has it that Walt Disney used to sit at a table for breakfast while he designed Disneyland. Sure, it tends to fill up with tourists by the busload, but it's still a fun place to check out. Monday - Friday 9 a.m. - 9 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. (6333 W. 3rd St. at Fairfax, Hollywood; 323-933-9211/866-993-9211)
We say the coolest is the Hollywood Sign on Mount Lee -- which happens to be the tallest peak in L.A. Each letter is 45 feet. The whole shebang is 450 feet long. Believe it or not, the sign had nothing to do with show business when it went up in 1923. It was meant as a promotional billboard for a new development back then called Hollywoodland. (The LAND section was damaged in a landslide.) The best view is from Sunset Boulevard and Bronson Avenue, but if you want to get up close, you can take a five-mile hike along the Brush Canyon Trail near the end of Canyon Drive in Griffith Park (It's actually illegal to get too close -- beyond the gates, security cameras and park rangers.) or drive up Beachwood Drive. Top it off with a drive along Sunset Strip to see the amazing billboards -- a phenomenon since 1953, when a famous hotel placed an actual swimming pool atop their sign.
Don't even consider visiting Los Angeles without stopping at The Getty. This magnificent complex opened in 1997 and houses J. Paul Getty's enormous collection of art ranging from Impressionist art to contemporary photography -- as well as van Gogh's Irises. Admission is free. Open Tuesday - Friday and Sunday 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. Closed Monday. (1200 Getty Center Drive. L.A./access at main gate on N. Sepulveda Blvd.; 310-440-7300)
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has a permanent collection of 110,000 works that includes American, Asian and European art ranging from ancient art to the 21st century. Monday - Tuesday and Thursday noon - 8 p.m. Friday noon - 9 p.m. Saturday - Sunday 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Closed Wednesday. (5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; 323-857-6010) It's also located adjacent to the famed La Brea Tar Pits and the Page Museum, one of the few places in the world to see preserved prehistoric artifacts -- including dinosaurs! -- and watch as archaeologists work in their laboratories. Open daily 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. (5801 Wilshire Blvd.; 323-934-7243)
One of California's best art museums is Norton Simon Museum of Art. Inside this world-class museum, you'll find beloved masterpieces from the likes of Degas, Picasso, Rembrandt -- as well as sculptures from artists like Moore and Rodin. Leave time for relaxation in the Monet-in-Giverny-inspired garden. Open Wednesday - Monday noon - 6 p.m. Friday till 9 p.m. Closed Tuesday. (411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; 626-449-6840)
One of the city's historic districts is on Olvera Street celebrating its colonial Mexican past. You'll see the 27 19th-century adobe buildings, listen to the strolling mariachi bands and browse the stalls selling wonderful handicrafts. It's also a chance to try some really great Mexican food since most of the restaurants are run by the original families. Downtown.
You'll feel like you just stepped into Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" with Gloria Swanson herself when you head through the gates of The Studios at Paramount. This is where they filmed Hope and Crosby's "road" pics, and it was also once home to Lucy and Desi's Desilu Studios. Walking tours offer in-depth looks at so much of what is familiar -- even one of the original Forrest Gump benches. For bona-fide star sightings, consider lunch in their Commissary. Open Monday - Friday 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (5555 Melrose Ave., Hollywood; 323-956-5000)
Unless you've gotten a personal invite from Mr. Hefner, you won't get inside the gates of the legendary Playboy Mansion -- but driving by can still be a hoot. It's at 10236 Charing Cross Road between S. Mapleton Drive and Sunset Boulevard in Bel-Air.
Peripatetic strolls along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills are a must where the sidewalks are generously dusted with the most elegant and exclusive shops in the world. Note: Beverly Hills cops will fine you big-time for crossing the city streets except at designated crosswalks.
Hollywood Boulevard may have lost some of its luster, but with the Hollywood Walk of Fame's 2,000-plus stars, it still twinkles. You'll find Lucille Ball and Gregory Peck in front of 6100 Hollywood Boulevard, Gene Kelly at No. 6153, Ronald Reagan at No. 6374 and Rudolph Valentino at No. 6164. You'll find Lassie at No. 6368. From Gower Street to La Brea Avenue and from Vine and Yucca streets to Sunset Boulevard.
If you ever watched a movie or television program and wondered how it really got made, then a Warner Bros. Studios VIP Tour is just the thing since they offer a rather intimate and historical behind-the-scenes view of a working studio. It starts with the Warner Bros. Museum, which houses some of the most interesting film memorabilia such as Best Picture Academy Awards, famous scripts, costumes and props. From there, you'll set out for the back lots, sound stages and even the craft/production shops. What's great is that the routes change from day to day to accommodate production, so no two tours are exactly alike. Several TV shows are filmed at Warner Bros. and if the timing is just right, you get to visit those sound stages while they're being filmed. Tour is about 2 ½ hours, and you should arrive 20 minutes early. Not for children under age 8. Parking for nominal fee available at Gate 6. Available Monday – Friday 8:20 a.m. – 4 p.m. (3400 Riverside Drive, Burbank; 877-492-8687)
Want an in-front-of-the-scenes, rather than behind-them, experience? Devote a day to the covered tram-driven Universal Studios Tour. One of the original studio tours (the studio is now a theme park), the tour is included in the price of admission into the complex. A favorite stop is the clock tower square from "Back to the Future." f you are interested in seeing a TV show taped here, tickets are free and easy to get if you plan ahead. Some of the latest attractions are the Revenge of the Mummy and Van Helsing-Fortress Dracula and Shrek-4D. Hours vary, depending on season. CityWalk is nearby, so leave time to walk the dining and shopping promenade that's home to 65 restaurants, shops and movie theaters. (Universal Center Dr., Universal City)
It's fun to spend time at the wild and crazy Venice Beach, where you'll see jaw-dropping street performers and tattooed weight lifters vying for your attention. Rent skates, a bike or even a scooter to see it all. Don't forget to stop by Muscle Beach. (Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica)
For More: Virtual Tourist's Things to Do in Los Angeles
Highly recommended: LA Insider Tours
Been There, Done That
On the north campus at UCLA is one of the best collections of sculpture in the country. Over 70 works by well-known artists such as Calder, Rodin, Matisse and Zuniga reside inside the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden. Open year-round. (10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood)
For an extraordinary point of view, top your to-do list with a trip to Griffith Observatory and Planetarium. Shows run during the day as well as into the evening at the Griffith Observatory Satellite, but come after dark for star sightings (the real kind) through one of the largest public telescopes in the world. No admission to enter the building, but there is a charge for shows in the planetarium. Parking is free, but extremely limited. Open Tuesday - Friday noon - 10 p.m., Saturday - Sunday 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. (2800 East Observatory Road, L.A.; 213-473-0800)
Get tickets to Hollywood's The Groundlings theater. Its alumni usually hit the big time on "Saturday Night Live," so it's not surprising that their skits are hysterically funny. Open Monday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Tuesday 2 – 9 p.m., Wednesday – Thursday 10 a.m. - 8:30 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. – 10:30 p.m., Saturday 2:30 – 10:30 p.m., and Sunday 2:30 – 8 p.m. (7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; 323-934-4747)
Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens is the former home of Henry E. Huntington. The estate is filled with wonderful tapestries, French porcelain and an art collection that includes Gainsborough's Blue Boy. In the library, you can see a Gutenberg Bible as well as a manuscript of "The Canterbury Tales." You'll find the 200 acres in the botanical garden filled more than 15,000 kinds of plants from all over the world, stunning themed gardens and sweeping views. Check out the many special events, seminars and symposia that are available all year long. We strongly suggest making advance reservations for afternoon tea at the Tea Room, set in the heart of the beautiful gardens. Open weekdays, except Tuesday, noon – 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. In summer, open daily, except Tuesday, 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino; 626-405-2100)
Take your own version of a walking tour by talking your way through the main gate to the rich and famous of Malibu Colony (folks like Streisand and DiCaprio call it home) -- but if that doesn't work, find the Zonker Harris Accessway on the 22700 block of Pacific Coast Highway to reach the Colony's beachfront; all beaches in Los Angeles County are public, but to avoid the wrath of the rich and famous, walk on "wet sand." The homeowner deeds cede rights to the waterline -- even though those rights are not enforceable and despite the "no trespassing" signs dotting the beach.
For hikers and trekkers, we recommend Monrovia Canyon Park to see the falls. Flowing throughout the year, this Los Angeles rarity is very cool (no pun intended). Just 10 miles east of Pasadena, walk under a canopy of sycamore, coastal live oaks, white alders and big leaf maples along the easy-to-walk Bill Cull Trail to reach it. The round trip is barely 3.5 miles. On Saturdays, free guided hikes are offered at 1 p.m. Park open Wednesday - Monday 8 (7 on weekends) a.m. - 5 p.m. Closed Tuesday. (Off Canyon Blvd., Monrovia; 626-932-5550)
You'll love exploring more than 4,600 works under the pyramids of glass at Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Open Monday and Friday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m., Thursday 11 a.m. - 8 p.m., Saturday - Sunday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. Closed Tuesday - Wednesday. (California Plaza, 250 S. Grand Ave., Downtown L.A.; 213-621-1745)
Shake the sand out of your flip-flops and check out The Paley Center for Media. The museum is the west coast outpost of the New York museum. They offer more than 100,000 programs to mull over and view. Wednesday - Sunday noon - 5 p.m. Closed Monday - Tuesday. (465 N. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills; 310-786-1000)
Ride the gondolas through a miles worth of canals smack dab in the middle of Alamitos Bay on Naples Island in Long Beach while striped-shirted guys sing Italian tunes. Consider signing up for the hour-long picnic ride that comes with a basket of bread, cheese and salami plus wineglasses for those who wish to bring along their own bottle of Chianti with Gondola Getaway. Daily 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. (5437 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; 562-433-9595)
Affectionately dubbed the "Blue Whale," Pacific Design Center offers 130 showrooms that are open to the public. It's a wonderful place to wander through. There's even a MOCA outpost inside that alone is worth the trip.Monday - Friday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. (8687 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; 310-657-0800)
It's a treat to take Pasadena's Bungalow Heaven Tour in April and see over 800 Craftsman bungalows built 1900 - 1930. While you're in the area, stop at Pasadena's Gamble House -- a jewel box of iridescent glass, inlaid furniture and custom light fixtures. Open Thursday - Sunday noon - 3 p.m. (4 Westmoreland Pl., Pasadena; 626-793-3334)
One fool-proof way to see your favorite stars is by taking in the TV tapings. All of the program tapings are free and open to the public, so all you need is information on how to get tickets. Keep in mind it can take up to four hours to tape a half-hour show, but count on the actors chatting up the audience up between takes. Tickets go fast, so plan ahead. For Jay Leno's "Tonight Show," you'll need to request tickets at least six week out. Write to: Tonight Show Tickets, 3000 West Alameda Avenue, Burbank, CA 91523 and be sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelope. For getting a seat for Dr. Phil, call 323-461-7445 or do it online at www.paramount.com. One good "go-to" source for tickets is Audiences Unlimited.
Architect Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown at the Los Angeles Music Center is a sight to behold. It's called the most acoustically sophisticated symphony hall in the world. Run, don't walk, to see the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform here. (111 S. Grand Ave., between First and Second streets, Downtown L.A.; 323-850-2000)
Check out the smallish cemetery at the Westwood Village Memorial Park if you'd like to pay your respects to Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Truman Capote, Donna Reed, Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. (1218 Glendon Ave., Westwood)
Acapulco has big, bold and better-than-you'd-think Mexican cuisine at really good prices. The Fajitas Gigante are not just gigantic when it comes to portion size -- this dish is a sizzling extravaganza of shrimp, chicken and steak with plenty of sauteed onion, guacamole and peppers. Inexpensive. (750 Sampson Way, corner of Sixth, San Pedro; 310-548-6800)
Chin Chin is a beloved mini-chain offering up the likes of dim-sum, only-in-L.A. Chinese chicken salad and plump, golden-browned pot stickers. Always fun, very inexpensive and honestly quite delicious. Inexpensive. Open daily from 11 a.m. (11740 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood; 206 S. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills; 8618 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; 12215 Ventura Blvd., Studio City)
Musso & Frank Grill The oldest restaurant in Hollywood and it's still wonderful. If you love martinis, this is the place. Clubby, dark and comfortable. Moderately priced. Open Tuesday - Saturday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. (6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; 323-467-7788)
No two ways about it. The Ivy is the place to see and be seen. On top of that, it's, in a word, lovely. Country French to the nth degree, you'll enjoy the good food, too. Expensive. Reservations recommended. Open Monday – Thursday 11:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m., Saturday 11:30 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sunday 10:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. (113 N. Robertson Blvd., L.A.; 310-274-8303)
Koi A hey-isn't-that-so-and-so-over-there kind of place, the food's Asian and the scene is white hot. Try the seared scallop with yuzu. Moderate. Reservations recommended. Open Monday – Wednesday, Sunday 6 -11 p.m., Thursday 6-11:30 p.m., Friday - Saturday 6p.m. – 12 a.m. (730 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood; 310-659-9449)
L'Opera Ristorante serves fantastic northern Italian dishes like caramelized sea scallops snugly placed between asparagus cannelloni and a creamy roasted garlic ricotta. Expensive. Open Monday – Thursday 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., Friday until 10:30 p.m., Saturday 5 p.m. – 10:30 p.m., Sunday 5 – 9 p.m. (101 Pine Ave., Long Beach; 562-491-0066)
More than a handful of New Yorkers would tell you that there is no true deli in L.A. -- but Nate ‘n Al actually is a really good one, Hollywood-style. It's a favorite among long-time famous locals; don't be surprised if you see one slurping up the very delicious chicken soup. The pastrami is as good as it gets -- even by New York standards -- and if you love short ribs, this is the place. Moderate. Open at 8 a.m. every day -- so don't knock yourself out rushing over to make lunch hour. (414 N. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills; 310-274-0101)
Smack-dab between the Third Street Promenade and the Pier, The Lobster has a delightful pedigree nowadays. Under the direction of award-winning Allyson Thurber -- who hails from the wildly acclaimed Striped Bass in Philadelphia -- enjoy everything lobstery from grilled Pacific spiny lobster to a refreshingly outstanding cold lobster and avocado salad. No disappointments here. Expensive. Open Monday – Sunday 11:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. (1602 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica; 310-458-9294)
Some say it's an acquired taste, but not only are the fluorescent-orange chili dogs at Pink's Hot Dogs the best you'll ever have -- you'll also probably spot loyalists like Leno, Willis and Pitt lining up at this iconic outdoor stand (near the chi-chi Beverly Center shopping mall) with the rest of the crowd at this beloved L.A. institution. Even Ruth Reichl, the famous food critic (she was editor of Gourmet Magazine) said she once dug through their trash to find out what kind of chili they used (it's a family recipe). Inexpensive. No, cheap! (709 N. La Brea Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-931-4223)
The owner's of the now-shuttered Shenandoah Cafe opened Shenandoah at the Arbor. Dine on hearty choices such as baby back ribs, apple fritters and Granny's deep-fried chicken. Expensive. Daily for lunch 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., dinner starts at 5 p.m. (10631 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos; 562-431-1990)
If you love Moroccan food, the award-winning Babouch Moroccan Restaurant will do the trick. Their Bastilla (chicken, spiced eggs and roasted nuts all wrapped up in phyllo, sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon) is out of this world, and it comes with a fabulous floor show, too. Expensive. Open Tuesday - Sunday, 5 p.m. - 10 p.m. (810 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro; 310-831-0246)
Nobu Malibu is yet another outpost, this time at the beach. Try the ceviche. It's divine. Very expensive. Open Sunday - Thursday 5:45 p.m. - 10 p.m, Friday - Saturday until 11 p.m. (3835 Cross Creek Rd., Malibu; 310-317-9140)
Total Splurge: Hotel Bel-Air because it's an exceptional hideaway. Gorgeous grounds, romantic everything, flawless service, swans swimming in ponds under an enchanting bridge, best food anywhere -- all in the heart of one of nation's most prestigious residential enclaves. (701 Stone Canyon Road, L.A.; 310-472-1211)
Shutters on the Beach, because if you didn't know better, you'd think you'd just rented a cottage on the ocean -- a very luxurious cottage. We say rent a convertible to get the whole effect. (1 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-458-0030)
Beverly Hills Hotel, because you can book a bungalow and a poolside cabana (insist on the east side of the pool) for serious star-powered hobnobbing. (9641 Sunset Blvd.; 310-276-2251)
Coolest Vibe: The Standard's downtown and West Hollywood locations are both groovy, you'll spot some young Hollywood A-listers in the lobby more than once (Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz are investors), they stock Rice Krispies Treats in the mini-bar and it's not terribly expensive. (550 S. Flower at Sixth Street, L.A.; 213-892-8080/ 8300 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; 323-650-9090)
Middle of the Road: Hotel Shangri-La is right across from the ocean in Santa Monica. (1301 Ocean Avenue; 310-394-2791)
Hotel Sofitel Los Angeles may have middling rates, but the country French accommodations are really luxe. (8555 Beverly Blvd.; 310-278-5444)
Book Hilton Universal City (555 Universal Hollywood Drive, Universal City; 818-506-2500) or Sheraton Universal Hotel ( 333 Universal Hollywood Drive, Universal City; 818-980-1212) and the kids will worship you for at least two weeks.
Magic Castle Hotel is smack-dab in the middle of Hollywood, and not only is it a much-loved institution, it's an all-suite hotel with fully equipped kitchens, self-service laundry facilities and morning coffee from the famous chef, Wolfgang Puck. (7025 Franklin Avenue; 323-851-0800)
On the Beach: We loved Loews Santa Monica for its location, its seafront views, and fabulous restaurants and services. It's a reasonably-priced beachfront option. (1700 Ocean Avenue; 310-458-6700)
Closet to the Port: Whether you depart from San Pedro or Long Beach, your best bet is to stay in Long Beach, where you are close to restaurants, attractions and a lovely harborfront. Hyatt Regency Long Beach (200 S. Pine Ave.; 562-491-1234) is a great option, as is Renaissance Long Beach Hotel (111 E. Ocean Blvd.; 562-437-5900). Queen Mary, the historic predecessor to Cunard's present-day Queen Mary 2, is docked in Long Beach as a floating hotel/conference facility. Unless you're seriously into vintage ships, we don't recommend it as an overnight option.
Staying in Touch
You can find plenty of free Wi-Fi hotspots in Long Beach, San Pedro or other towns. Check out Panera Bread (2733 Pacific Coast Highway, Torrance; 310-517-0324), The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (4925 E. Second Street, Belmont Shore).
Downtown Long Beach Wireless District Hot Zone, Pine Avenue beginning at Ocean Blvd. and running north just beyond 4th Street, is a place to try to connect.
Sacred Grounds Coffeehouse in San Pedro has free Wi-Fi. (468 W. 6th St.; 310-514-0800)
For More Information
On the Web: Los Angeles
On the Web: Beverly Hills
On the Web: Long Beach
On the Web: Pasadena
On the Web: San Pedro
On the Web: Santa Monica
On the Web: West Hollywood
On the Web: Hollywood
Cruise Critic Message Boards: United States
Independent Traveler Message Boards: California
Updated by Jana Jones, Cruise Critic contributor, and Jodi Thompson, Cruise Critic contributor.
Photo of Santa Monica Palisades Walk appears courtesy of Michele and Tom Grimm and the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. Photos of the Farmer's Market and Santa Monica Boulevard are used with the permission of the Beverly Hills Conference and Visitors Bureau.