Cruising Along the Coast
Driving along the sunny coastline with the top down and your hair blowing in the warm wind is the quintessential Southern California experience -- one that never loses its appeal, even for locals. Stop and visit whatever interests you: a Malibu cantina, the famous Santa Monica Pier, or a South Bay beach -- a casual cruise along the shoreline is good for the soul (BYO Mustang convertible).
Visiting Venice Beach's Ocean Front Walk
You haven't visited L.A. properly until you've rented some skates in Venice and embarrassed yourself in front of thousands while taking in the human carnival around you. Enjoy a front row seat for particularly good people-watching from your table at the Sidewak Café, buy some knockoff sunglasses, and realize how pathetically out of shape you are compared to all the tan and trim locals -- all while enjoying the wide beach, blue sea, and assorted performers along the boardwalk. Can't skate? Cowards can rent a bicycle and pedal along the bike path.
Basking at the Beach
This is, after all, L.A. -- so get thy buttocks to a beach. Watch a volleyball tournament at Hermosa Beach, take surf lessons at Manhattan Beach, or gawk at the world's vainest weightlifters pumping iron at Venice's Muscle Beach. Surfers are always spotted at the Malibu beaches, and local families prefer to pitch their umbrellas at Zuma Beach.
Visiting the "Happiest Place on Earth," the Disneyland Resort
The resort's worldwide appeal is evident in the virtual United Nations of revelers traipsing through Adventureland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Disney's California Adventure park. It won't be long before the song "It's a Small World" seems permanently stuck in your head.
Dining at Spago (or the Ivy or Mastro's)
Dining at one of L.A.'s classic A-list celebrity haunts is an experience to be filed under "Only in L.A." Hear dialogue straight out of Entourage while eating fine food prepared for the world's pickiest eaters ("I can't eat that! Take it away.").
Cruising Sunset Boulevard
It's a must for first-time visitors because you'll see a cross section of everything that is L.A.: legendary clubs, studios, and hotels that you'll instantly recognize from the silver screen and TV shows. The journey ends with a trip to Malibu's fabled beaches, where those classy Baywatch episodes were filmed (how perfect).
Touring the Getty Center
See the result of unlimited funds and very expensive tastes at this multifaceted cultural center looming large over the city. The ultramodern facility, more airy and inviting than it looks from below, features a museum housing the impressive art collection of deep-pocketed industrialist J. Paul Getty, a postmodern garden, and breathtaking views of L.A. A sleekly high-tech funicular whisks you from freeway level to this virtual city in the clouds.
Spending a Day Downtown
If you're looking for a healthy dose of ethnic culture, you'll find it in Downtown L.A. Take a self-guided tour of the mind-blowing Walt Disney Concert Hall or cutting-edge Museum of Contemporary Art, stop in for a snack at the bustling Grand Central Market, pick up some inexpensive Mexican handicrafts along colorful and historic Olvera Street, and have dim sum in Chinatown.
You'll find "I'd Rather Be Shopping at Nordstrom" license-plate frames on Lexuses all over L.A., evidence that spending money is a major pastime here. Whether it's $5 vintage bowling shirts, $10,000 Beverly Hills baubles, or anything in between, you're sure to find it in L.A.'s cornucopia of consumerism. My favorite shopping zones are the eclectic shops along Abbot Kinney Boulevard, the endless ethnic oddities at the Grand Central Market in Downtown L.A., and the ultratrendy, alternative stores such as GR2 and Giant Robot along Sawtelle Boulevard in Japantown.)
Strolling Wilshire Boulevard's Museum Row
Natural history meets pop culture meets modern art along Museum Row. La Brea Tar Pits, Petersen Automotive Museum, Craft and Folk Art Museum, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus are all shoulder-to-shoulder in the heart of L.A. The only problem is that it's too much to see in a single day.
Taking a Gourmet Picnic to the Hollywood Bowl
What better way to spend a typically warm L.A. evening than under the stars with a picnic basket, a bottle of wine, and some world-class entertainment? In addition to being the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Bowl hosts visiting performers ranging from chamber music quartets to jazz greats to national touring acts like Radiohead and Rod Stewart. The imposing white Frank Lloyd Wright-designed band shell always elicits appreciative gasps from first-time Bowl-goers.
Taking a Tour of the Walt Disney Concert Hall
Built with a lot of Disney money but without a trace of goofiness, this stunning accomplishment of art and architecture is the crown jewel of Downtown. You'd have to fly to Spain to see architect Frank Gehry's similar architectural masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum. The dramatically curvaceous stainless-steel exterior houses one of the most acoustically perfect concert halls in the world. The self-guided audio walking tour, narrated by actor John Lithgow, is superb.
Taking a Studio Tour
This is why you're vacationing in L.A. -- to see where movie magic is being made. Studio tours are an entertaining opportunity to get a peek at the stage sets for sitcom and talk shows (sometimes during filming), and you never know who you're going to see emerging from his or her Star Wagon.
Visiting Santa Catalina Island
Taking a day trip to Catalina makes for a most adventurous day: a scenic boat ride; oodles of shopping, snorkeling, and scuba diving; golf; hiking trails; waffle cones; sunburns; and DUI-free barhopping. Tip: The helicopter taxi is a lot cheaper than you'd expect.
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