I would recommend renting a car to get around LA as public transportation is limited and points of interest are located all over the southland. Get a freeway map from the rental agency and try if at all possible to avoid 'drive times' in the morning and afternoon to minimize stress and maximize your valuable vacation time. The carpool lanes are for 2 or more people and you must enter and exit where posted….do not cross those double- double lines. Freeway signs usually list city names that are in the direction you are going and do not mean you are actually making the choice to go to Bakersfield or San Diego.
Los Angeles is a big, huge city with all the issues and problems of large urban, densely populated areas but also offers so much more. Exercise appropriate caution as you travel around the southland. But be prepared for a most enjoyable visit to an incredible city!
Next, you need to decide what interests the various members of your family and prepare for an amazing adventure. Some points of interest for you to consider are:
Hollywood - (Walk of Fame, Grauman's Chinese, Kodak Theater-home of Academy Awards, Tour of Homes of the Stars & Hollywood Forever Cemetery) You may wish to take a sightseeing tour of the area (by trolley, bus or limo) to get your bearings and hear wonderful, interesting stories or simply set out on your own. I think we have had the most fun EVER buying a map of the stars homes and driving around taking pictures! While you are walking up and down Hollywood Blvd posing next to your favorite star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, fitting your hands and feet into those of the stars at Grauman's Chinese -
watch your pocket and purse! And…those people dressed up like Frankenstein and Beetlejuice are independent so keep an eye on them with your kids! This area is amazing and tacky but absolutely a must for your first time to So Cal! Go online to hollywoodtours.us for a variety of tour selections - even a Dearly Departed Ghost Tour - can you imagine?
BE ON a TV Show- I was recently on the Price is Right and getting tickets was as simple as a mouse click. Everyone is interviewed for the show before you are shown to your seats. You have about 30 seconds to 'make an impression' on the judges so be ready with a big smile and a story. No kids (unfortunately) under age 18 and everyone must show picture ID to enter. (I won $1,500 and $500 crystal goblets and missed a sail boat by $.20 - whatever!) We had so much fun and Drew Carey is a very nice guy - as are all the folks associated with the show!) Simply Google the Price is Right and go to online tickets….they confirm them right away and you print them up yourself. Get there early and remember the morning drive time. I nearly had a nervous breakdown by the time we made it though several sig alerts and motionless bumper to bumper traffic!
Tonight Show - you can write in for tickets to the Tonight Show if you live more than 150 away and you give them at least six weeks notice. Write to: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Tickets, 3000 W. Alameda Ave., Burbank, California 91523 and tell them when you will be in the area. Give them 3 alternate dates and hopefully you will receive good news before your trip. The other way to attend the show is to simply show up at the NBC Ticket Office Guest Relations (located on the west side of the studio) the day of the show (it opens at 8:00 am and there is usually a long line by then!) and get tickets. Remember, they do not tape every day and everyone in the party must be 16 or older with picture ID. There are no exceptions made - ever. Once you have a ticket you are still not guaranteed admission - it is first come, first served. Taping, oddly enough, is at 5:00 pm and the line normally has hundreds of people in queue by 2:00. Handy hint: leave your cameras and cell phones in the trunk of your car as they will take them from you and give you a claim check. Then when the show is over you will forget to claim them and it will ruin your day! Do NOT ask how I know this!!!
Universal Studios - is a theme park with rides and attractions based on a Hollywood studio theme. It is so much fun and the studio tour really gives you an idea of how movies are made. The tour is scary for little ones so be prepared! You do often see filming (from a distance) but don't plan on it. You are much more likely to see filming as you drive through the Socal city streets or even on the freeway! Discounts are often available at markets or on coke cans so check their web site (even call them) to be sure you are getting the very best value and plan to spend the entire day.
Universal City Walk - is also very cool but the emphasis is on shopping and dining with an occasional outdoor concert and all you pay for is parking!
Studio Tours - most television stations and some studios have their own guided tours and they are very interesting but forget about raging gorillas like Universal which is an amusement park. Some ideas of approximate cost are NBC $7.50, Warner Bros. $30.00, Paramount $15.00 and KCET (PBS 28) is free. Do a little research on the net and always check their age requirements if you are traveling with kids.
Beverly Hills - Rodeo Drive is located between Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvd. The area has so much to offer for shoppers (window is OK) and people watchers. I just love to see how the 'other half' live. Best time to visit is during the holidays when everything is decorated and merchandising is at its best. Most stores are closed on Sundays and Saturdays parking is horrible!! Do park and walk and do not pass by the Gelato shop without getting a tasty treat!
La Brea Tar Pits & Page Museum - is located just a few miles down Wilshire (5801 Wilshire Blvd.) towards Los Angeles and is home to one of the world's most famous fossil finds. There are bubbling lakes of tar that trapped animals 10 - 40 thousand years ago for you to see and 'smell'. The Page Museum is very interesting with life size replicas of extinct mammals. The saber toothed tiger and wooly mammoths are everyone's favorites and you can also watch an actual 'dig' with folks cleaning the bones and fossils they find. Do not plan to picnic in the surrounding park as the homeless are pretty prevalent and tar often bubbles up in the grass and wrecks havoc on a rental car! (or your own for that matter)
LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art has over 150,000 works of art spanning the history of art from ancient times to the present. There are special programs and events which are constantly changing but you will always find amazing exhibits whenever you visit LACMA. You can check their web site to see what is scheduled at lacma.org. The museum is located next door to the La Brea Tar Pits at 5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Farmer's Market and the Grove Shopping Mall - is the perfect place to have lunch after visiting the La Brea Tar Pits or going to the Price is Right. Located at Third and Fairfax, the market started out in 1934 with farmers selling their produce out of the back of their trucks in a dirt lot. Now, it is just full of amazing shops and eateries. What is so cool about having lunch or dinner at the Farmer's Market is that each person can get a different type of food from a different place and all meet up at a table to enjoy their meal! I always get a custard éclair first so I won't run out of room! Speaking of room, the market can get very crowded during meal times so if you are looking for a table, try the Dining Deck located upstairs near the market offices. The Grove Shopping Mall is located right next door and they have wonderful stores and shops available in a lovely atmosphere.
Pink's Hot Dog Stand - is a must for hot dog aficionados. Located near the corner of Melrose and La Brea, Pinks is a family run business started in 1939. It is worth the drive over just to see the pictures of the famous and infamous Pinks customers hanging on the walls. The dogs are delicious and there are many choices - all of them fabulous. There is always a line but it is worth the wait! Home to a thriving Jewish community, the Fairfax District where Pinks and Farmer's Marker are located is a very interesting area to visit.
Westwood and UCLA campus - is located east of the 405 Freeway off Sunset south of Bel Air. The University of California Los Angeles campus is really lovely and just huge. The Village offers wonderful shopping, eating and people watching in a college atmosphere. If you go west on Sunset you can drive down to the beach through Brentwood and see some very expensive homes and Will Rogers State Park.
Getty Center - is located about 12 miles NW of Los Angeles in Brentwood. Exit Getty Center Drive off of the 405 Freeway and admission is absolutely free. (All you pay is $8.00 for parking) The kids will love the tram ride up to the center and the wonderful rocks and water features located throughout the grounds and gardens. The views are spectacular and it is hard to not to spend the day here. The center has food available in all price ranges but we have found the lines long on weekends and holidays - so take along snacks! The Restaurant at the Getty is elegant, offering breathtaking views, but you need to make reservations well in advance at Opentable.com - as they are fully booked every single day! The center has a wide range of paintings, manuscripts and sculptures in a manageable space. Van Gogh's Irises is my personal favorite and I never get tired of standing right in front of that painting and pretending it is MINE!
Griffith Park (LA Zoo, Observatory, Hollywood Sign, train, carousel & Traveltown (trains!) - I grew up in this area so I have a fondness for all things Griffith Park. The LA Zoo is constantly undergoing change and the admission price is $5-10. If you are a member of your local zoo check and see if they have a reciprocal agreement - you may be able to go in FREE. The park has a lovely carousel and at the Los Feliz entrance there are pony rides and a small train for the little ones.
JJ loved Travel Town (located near the Forest Lawn exit off the 134 Freeway) when he was small and now it is one of my grandson Jack's favorite places on earth. The place is filled with restored trains that you can climb on and get in and walk around. There is, of course, another small train to ride and plenty of places to have a picnic. You can drive right through the park, over the hills and find the Hollywood Sign and the newly renovated Griffith Observatory.
Visiting the Observatory is a bit tricky. Reservations are not required and there is no admission charge to enter the observatory but there is a charge for the Planetarium show (about $3-7). Tickets seem to be available as there are frequent showings and they only sell same day tickets at the facility. So - what is the problem? The problem is that almost no parking is available and the observatory is perched on a very steep hill. They do have handicapped spaces right in front but very little else is available. The observatory is open six days a week (closed Mondays) - noon to 10:00 weekdays and 10:00 to 10:00 weekends. I chose Wednesday at 9:00 and got a coveted spot and we wandered around and took pictures waiting for them to open! Each time I visit this 70 year old marvel I take about a thousand pictures….JJ stands in front of the moon rocks and plans his own trip!
Pecos Bill's BBQ - if you leave Griffith Park on the side by the 134 Freeway….get up to 1551 Victory Blvd and yes, this is the place, the stand with the long line! OMG - the Okie Beef sandwiches are simply to die for. (Joe prefers the Okie Pork) They serve these wonderful, messy, drippy sandwiches, beans and drinks…that's it….and be ready when one of the family asks you what you want. They close when they run out of meat or when they go skiing for a few days! Most weekends that offer RIBS! Get plenty of napkins and then get in the car, backtrack a bit and go to the park. There is a nice area on this side of the freeway, river etc…where the horses frequent the trails and there are plenty of climbing sycamores for the kids.
Getty Villa - located in Pacific Palisades just north of Santa Monica at 17985 Pacific Coast Highway (only accessible while traveling north on PCH) is also free (with an $8.00 parking fee) but you must have an advance, timed ticket to enter. Go online at www.getty.ed to check availability and secure your tickets. The Villa specializes in Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities and the Villa and grounds are reason enough to make the trip.
Downtown LA (historic, financial, fashion, industrial, business and bunker hill civic and cultural districts) -the heart of the second largest city in America is diverse and literally has something for everyone! The city is breathtaking at night all lit up it really looks like a city of angles.
We love to visit the old El Pueblo section and walk around Olvera Street and see the original buildings of the pueblo that became Los Angeles. The old fire house had spots for the horses that pulled the little fire engine is among our favorites. Olvera Street has wonderful shops filled with scented candles (you can watch them being made), treats from Mexico and fabulous restaurants. We love to eat taquitos from the stand at the end next to Union Station while we are walking around. Try some cactus candy or buy some jumping beans. Our favorite day to visit is during the blessing of the animals (this year on 4/7) when all sorts of interesting creatures are blessed by clergy from the Catholic Church. Whenever you visit, you are sure to find a fiesta of some sort with music and dancing and lots of food and fun!
Right across the street (a big street) is located Union Station. This old, restored train station is really beautiful and we actually take the train up from Orange County to spend the day. If you still have room for food or do not fancy Mexican cuisine…walk up the street a couple of blocks to Philippe's (1001 N. Alameda) the original home of the French dipped sandwich. It is a crazy place, with old circus photos on the wall, sawdust on the floor dating back to 1908 but you will NEVER forget the French dip or the confusing atmosphere. You crowd up to the counter and try to order your food from a 'carver' who has worked there at least 20 years and she does everything….takes your order, fixes your food and takes your money and then you try to get it to a table - if you can find one! Bring a sense of humor and an appetite 6:00 am to 10:00 pm any day but Christmas or Thanksgiving.
When we lived in LA we used to frequent the garment district and the flower mart to unearth amazing values. We had friends who swore by the deals they got at the jewelry mart but all I can say is be careful! Getting Polo shirts for $10 seemed too good to be true and it probably was….but buying diamonds is a totally different thing! I still remember visiting the produce, meat and poultry and fish markets when I was in kindergarten. Considering the things we saw it is amazing I can eat to this day!
The Bunker Hill district houses all government, court and many buildings for the arts such as the Music Center Plaza and the Disney Concert Hall. Check and see what is on the calendar during your stay so you won't hear about what you missed - when you get home! We saw Phantom of the Opera at the Music Center and the LA Philharmonic at the Disney Concert Hall and look forward to our next visit. The ticket prices for the LA Philharmonic are really reasonable…check it out at laphil.com and I think you will be surprised. The controversial new cathedral Our Lady of Angels is located right down the street.
Tip for seeing downtown LA without all the hassle of one way streets, too much traffic and nowhere to park. Do it on the weekend when the streets (except for Broadway) are empty and it is easy to park and walk around and have a look. We love to visit the financial district and see the amazing skyscrapers, fountains and plazas.
Carroll Avenue Historic District - is an area where Victorian mansions have been relocated and preserved. It is located just off Sunset across the Hollywood Freeway from the Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles. It is sort of between Dodger Stadium and downtown in a transitional area but every time we visit we are encouraged that the Victorians are winning! You just drive around and look at the amazing work folks have done restoring these fabulous treasures.
Dodger Stadium - has a very special spot in my heart as my father worked on getting the telephone systems installed as the stadium was built. As a result, we were invited to opening day and so I remember the shortage of restrooms, absence of water fountains and the general chaos of opening day. We have had many amazing experiences since and JJ has a collection of signed baseballs from our "brushes with baseball fame". Why not take in a game while you are here? Opening day this year is March 31st.
Museums of Natural History, Aerospace & California Science Center, Sports Arena and Coliseum -Exposition Park and USC campus - are all wonderful and are easy to visit for a few hours or for several days. The tip goes first here
because first Tuesday of each month are FREE at the Natural History Museum - otherwise expect to pay about $9.00 for adults and kids are much less. Admission is free to the California Science Center and The Aerospace Museum. We absolutely love these museums and drive over and hour for a visit. Where you start depends on the age of your kids and your personal interests.
The Natural History - has dinosaurs large and small, rocks and minerals, stuffed animals from when they used to
do that and rotating exhibits. They have a wonderful Discovery Center and Insect Zoo for kids and you can literally
spend the day there! The buildings are themselves worth of note especially the dome outside the entrance to the Discovery Center.
The California Science Center -
is really cool with tons of 'hands on' exhibits that really interest and excite the entire family. Our granddaughter, Cami, loves to ride the bike suspended two stories over the courtyard just to freak me out. The Science Plaza connects the center to the IMAX which has some really fabulous shows - but we always seem to run out of time. Sometimes there are baby chicks in an incubator and the jelly fish tank is fabulous.
The Aerospace Museum - is located in the same complex and is not hard to spot with the huge plane attached to the building. There are wonderful hands on exhibits here too related to flight and either original or replicas of everything from space capsules to airplanes. My son really loved visiting this museum when he was a bit younger - his dad really loves it now!
USC's campus - is right across the street and (go out the back door of the Natural History Museum) is also a very large campus. The University of Southern California is a great school but don't try to go to the museums when there is a football game scheduled!
Don't miss the rose garden - almost 7 acres of every imaginable variety of rose and for lunch….there is a McDonalds and a Taco Bell located on the ground floor of the California Science Center. We pay to park for the day in the Science Center lot which is where the Sports Arena and LA Coliseum are located.
Staples Center - is the home of the Lakers and venue for all sorts of sporting and entertainment events. Located just south of downtown Los Angeles it offers easy access and plenty of parking. Log on to their web site at staplescenter.com for a calendar of upcoming events.
The Rose Parade -is held on New Year's morning in Pasadena and features floats completely covered with flowers, seeds and other types of plant material. There are also horses and marching bands from all over the world. People (like us) camp out on the curb the night before to get a good seat and even though it is 'sunny' California it is freezing but loads of FUN!
Los Angeles County Arboretum -is located at 301 North Baldwin in Arcadia. The Arboretum is a 127 acre botanical garden and historic site where many movies are filmed. Lucky Baldwin's home was the site of Fantasy Island for years and Joe and I were married in the garden by the waterfall. Peafowl roam the grounds and the flowers and trees are simply amazing. Take a look at our arboretum page for a better idea of what's available.
Santa Anita Race Track -has a winter meet that opens the day after Christmas and Oak Tree which meets in the fall. Home of the 2008 Breeders Cup, Santa Anita is a gorgeous track with a welcoming infield. There is a huge playground for the kids and lots of lush grass for a picnic. We love the infield because it makes going to the track something the entire family can do on a sunny afternoon.
Indian Casinos -are spread through out So Cal. There are over 25 Indian casinos that offer gaming on reservation land in Southern California alone. Some of the larger tribes are hotels and offering fine dining and spa facilities. Moronga, Pala and San Manuel are the larger and best known Indian Casinos in So Cal.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and National Archives - located at 40 Presidential Drive in Simi Valley
(about 45 minutes from LA off the 118 Freeway) sits atop 100 acres and is really interesting. JJ loved being able to
walk through Air Force One and my Mom really enjoyed the First Ladies Red Dress Collection.
The Presidential museums really are a great, fun-filled way to teach kids about our history!
Six Flags Magic Mountain - is located in Valencia off the I-5 Freeway on Magic Mountain Parkway. It is about an hours drive north of LA and is truly the premier amusement park in SoCal (and anywhere else according to JJ)! Check their website for admission deals - we pay about $60 for the year, EVERY SINGLE YEAR so shop around. The parking is outrageous at $15 but our annual packages come with free parking coupons - nice! There are 14 coasters including the tallest and longest flying in the world. They also have a nice 'land' for the little ones as well as shows and events that keep you coming back.
Tatsu is our favorite newer ride (we watched it being built right from the ground up) and Goliath is our all time favorite (unless we just got off of Scream and then that is our favorite!) We LOVE Magic Mountain and we know you will too. Believe me we know…we took JJ to Cedar Point, Ohio just to ride Top Thrill Dragster when it opened - so we know coasters!
Helicopter Tour of the LA basin and coastline - Maybe the only thing left to do now is take a helicopter tour of the LA basin and along the coast. There are numerous companies that provide excellent services and itineraries. I cannot imagine a better way to see all of LA then from the air!
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