Hector Mata  /  AFP/Getty Images file
Sunset Boulevard is viewed through an automobile windshield in Hollywood, California. Part of Hollywood legend, Sunset Boulevard is a long, winding boulevard beginning in downtown Los Angeles running westward over 20 miles to the Pacific Ocean.

My kids are New Yorkers, but their hearts are in Hollywood. They love Us Weekly magazine. They clamor to see new movies on opening day. And they know more about Gov. Schwarzenegger than they do about Mayor Bloomberg.

So a recent family trip to Los Angeles turned into a hunt for all things Hollywood. The challenge was to find places that would be meaningful to children who know Drew Barrymore but not Bette Davis.

That's why we didn't go to places like the Hollywood Forever Cemetery to pay our respects to Cecil B. De Mille. Instead, hoping to bump into Lindsay (Lohan) or Owen (Wilson), we window-shopped on Rodeo Drive and Melrose Avenue, bought sandwiches from the trendy and ridiculously crowded Urth Cafe, and people-watched at The Grove, a pedestrian mall.

We didn't see any stars there, but we did conclude that unless you're thin, beautiful, wearing sunglasses and drinking cappuccino while talking on your cell or texting from your Treo, you really don't belong here.

Then we headed to Venice, setting for the recent skateboarding flick, "Lords of Dogtown." In a nod to Ah-nold, we hung out at Muscle Beach. The kids had fun on the playground's climbing ropes and gymnastic rings.

Back in West Hollywood, we brunched at the fabled Ivy restaurant - a high point of our trip. This was my 12-year-old's idea, inspired by photos he'd seen of the glitterati taking their power-meals there. Friends in New York said we'd never get a reservation without knowing someone, but one phone call, with no name-dropping, got me a table for four on a Sunday morning. (Hey, I get nothing but a busy signal at Nobu in Manhattan, but they answer the phone at The Ivy.)

The food was great, the decor - white picket fence, flowers and baskets - charming. And although we were obviously tourists - who else takes pictures of themselves eating pancakes? - I'm sure Julia Roberts is treated no better than we were by the kind and attentive staff. P.S., it was the priciest breakfast I've ever had - $35 a person including tax and tip - but it was worth every penny, even without a glimpse of Julia.

Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame is a must for fans of all ages. The kids were thrilled to find plenty of stars in the sidewalk they recognized, from Britney Spears to the Olsen twins to Jackie Chan. They weren't interested in the historic Grauman's Chinese, Egyptian and El Capitan theaters, but they did perk up at the mention of the Kodak Theatre, home of the Oscars.

We debated taking a bus tour of celebrity homes. Would it be too much Twentieth Century-Fox and not enough 21st century stars? We decided to try Starline's tour, and were not disappointed. Well, OK, full disclosure: The 7-year-old fell asleep. But his big brother was fascinated.

We passed by a hotel featured in "Pretty Woman," and the Comedy Store, where, according to our amiable guide and driver, Rick Gallagher, "Robin Williams and Jay Leno were discovered!" On to the Key Club, "where 50 Cent recently recorded a video!"

Sure, there were places that mean little to the under-15 set - The Roxy, where John Belushi hung out the night of his fatal overdose, and the house where Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe lived. But there were more recent references too - Tom Cruise's house, Lohan's high-rise apartment in Sierra Towers, and the white-columned mansion used for the exterior shot in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," known through reruns to the younger generation.

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If you've ever been on a tour like this, you know that half the time you're not really sure which building is actually being referred to as you drive past. But it's fun to glimpse mansions with hedges so high no one could ever hope to peer in a window and streets where $100,000 sports cars are more common than Toyotas.

Finally, what trip to Los Angeles with kids is complete without a theme park or two? Yes, the lines are insane. But if you buy tickets in advance, arrive early, and literally run to the most popular rides the minute the doors open, you can usually get through some of the top attractions without long waits.

We hit Universal Studios Hollywood first. We loved the high-tech shootout in the "Terminator 2: 3D" show, along with the pyrotechnics in "Backdraft," a show that explains the special effects from the firefighting movie. Jurassic Park was our favorite thrill ride, but we also liked Revenge of the Mummy. Van Helsing: Fortress Dracula was freaky; if you're a jumpy sort or have young kids, think twice before entering this haunted house-style attraction.

Riding the Universal studio tour through stage sets and backlots - from the wild West to ancient Greece - was truly entertaining. The broken airplane from the set of "War of the Worlds" was a big hit, and we also passed by the Wisteria Lane set from "Desperate Housewives." But the kids liked the old-time stuff too - a demonstration of the parting of the waters from "The Ten Commandments," the mechanical shark from "Jaws" and the Bates Motel from "Psycho."

Our last stop, Disneyland, was 30 miles from Hollywood in Anaheim, but offered plenty of movie connections. We loved shooting the electronic targets in the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride, and the animatronics in Pirates of the Caribbean were fantastic. Our other top choices were the Indiana Jones Adventure thrill ride and The Haunted Mansion attraction - though the 2003 movie with Eddie Murphy was based on the ride, and not vice versa.

Our favorite ride of all - which had nothing to do with Hollywood - was Soarin' Over California, located at Disney's California Adventure park. The seats rise 40 feet off the floor in a hang-gliding simulation while lush footage of California's landmarks, coast and parks dreamily rush before your eyes. It's surreal and exhilarating.

Despite our best efforts, we didn't spot any celebrities on our trip. But the rides, Hollywood landmarks and people-watching almost made us feel like we had stepped through a screen, and into a movie ourselves.

If You Go:

PEOPLE-WATCHING IN LOS ANGELES: Rodeo Drive; Melrose Avenue between Fairfax and La Brea; Urth Cafe, 8565 Melrose Ave., (310) 659-0628; The Grove, West Third between Genesee and Stanley; and The Ivy restaurant, 113 N. Robertson Blvd., (310) 274-8303.

STARLINE TOURS:http://www.starlinetours.com or (800) 959-3131. Tours depart from Grauman's Chinese Theatre, hotels and elsewhere. Prices, schedules vary. Two-hour "Movie Stars' Homes" tour, $35 adult, $26 child.

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD:http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com or (800) 864-8377; $56 adult, $46 children under 48 inches tall. Discounts on the Web site.

DISNEYLAND: http://www.disneyland.com or (714) 781-4565. One-day Park Hopper admission for both Disneyland and California Adventure, $79 adult, $69 children 3-9.

CITY PASS:http://www.citypass.com or (888) 330-5008. Discount combination ticket for Universal, Disneyland, San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld; $199 adults, $159 children 3-9. Hollywood City Pass includes Starline bus tour, Kodak Theatre tour and more; $49 adults, $35 children.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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