Getty Center
Christophe Petit Tesson  /  MAXPPP file
The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California
By
Special to msnbc.com
updated 6/6/2006 1:29:17 AM ET 2006-06-06T05:29:17

The macroscopic view of Los Angeles can be intimidating: a smoggy, centerless, desert city of 3.5 million people sprawling across perilous fault lines and wholly dependent on the automobile. But when you get off the freeway and get to know L.A. up close, you discover a delightful land of small, highly-diverse neighborhoods where people from around the world have come to pursue the American Dream; where you can spot movie stars waiting at stop lights; and where the sun really does shine most days. Twenty-four hours is not a lot of time to see L.A., but if that’s all you’ve got here’s what I’d recommend:

8:30 a.m - 9:30 a.m.: Breakfast
Go for breakfast in Malibu at Gladstone’s 4 Fish , a casual, moderately-priced eatery with a front-row view of the Pacific Ocean.  Have an oyster omelet, a crab benedict, or scrambled eggs with swordfish as surfers at distant Malibu Point snag wave after long peeling wave, flying through the fast sections with their toes on the nose.

10 a.m. - noon
Take a leisurely drive into the posh Brentwood neighborhood and visit the Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center , the pinnacle of high culture in the world capital of pop culture. It’s got works by van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, Rembrandt and the like, as well as illuminated manuscripts, French antiques, contemporary photography and other collections. Daylight, which most art museums won’t allow anywhere near their collections, is the only light in some of the Getty’s galleries. Computer-controlled louvers and UV-filtering windows let Getty goers see the works of the great masters in the same lighting conditions the masters created them in. Feasting your eyes upon the Getty campus, with its fabulous gardens and postmodernist buildings sheathed in rough-faced travertine Italian marble (much of it embedded with fossilized leaves, feathers and branches), is worth the trip alone. Admission is free, but parking costs $7 and it can be difficult to snag a space (so get there early). The other option is to take public transportation and avoid the parking hassle (and yes, there are buses in LA!)

MORNING ALTERNATIVE
Stroll  the incomparable Ocean Front Walk at Venice Beach, five sun-soaked blocks of buskers, hawkers, palm readers, crystal-ball gazers, bongo-players, roller bladers, chainsaw jugglers, mimes, magicians, musclemen, evangelists, exhibitionists, kites, seagulls, druggies, cheap sunglasses, chair massage, the latest bikini-wear, the homeless, and God-knows-what-else?  You can rent a bicylce or skates at the south end of the walk and cruise Venice Beach in the fast lane, or you can just take your time and smell the pretzels.

Lunch, Noon-1:30 p.m.
Stay in the hills above the city for lunch at Saddle Peak Lodge , a rustic yet elegant three-story place of indigenous stone, massive timbers, and a menagerie of mounted game. It serves high-falutin’ hunting lodge fare all the way, from the antelope with candied pumpkin, to the elk with creamy wild mushroom sauce, to the buffalo with creamed spinach and béarnaise. Try a sampler -- venison, elk and grilled quail perhaps? -- and make reservations.

1:30 p.m - 5:30 p.m.
Head for Hollywood Boulevard and stroll the Hollywood Walk of Fame , where the names of some 2,000 Hollywood notables are engraved in bronze and set in marble along a mile of sidewalk. Names stretch in time from Charlie Chapman to Drew Barrymore, and include not only celebrities but also cinematographers, foley artists, and other techies who have gained star status within the entertainment industry. Stop at Grauman’s Chinese Theater the lavish pagoda-and-temple-like movie palace where the idea of the Big Movie Premiere, with cameras flashing and whiter-than-white movie-star smiles smiling, was born.  It’s also where some 160 celebrities have left their marks in the concrete – and not just with their hands and feet. Look for Bob Hope’s nose, R2D2’s wheels, Whoopi Goldberg’s dreadlocks, and the better part of one of Betty Grable’s shapely legs. At Grauman’s theater, hop aboard the two-hour Movie Stars’ Home Tour . It leaves every half hour between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

AFTERNOON ALTERNATIVE
Tour the soundstages of NBC Studio , where you can get a behind-the-scenes look at where they shoot Days of Our Lives, Access Hollywood, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Tours leave every hour on the hour between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. For an alternate afternoon alternative, get Tonight Show tickets. Your best chance of securing a seat for the 3pm taping is to line it up before you get to town  (see website for details on how to do so). The studio hands out 100 or so tickets on the day of the show, but to get one you have to be at the box office in person when it opens at 8 a.m.

6 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Head to West Hollywood to dine at Sona , a Minimalist West Coast eatery with the sexy heart of a Parisian patisserie. The service is doting and the attention to detail borders on obsessive, but obsessive in a good way: filtered tap water, breadsticks made with century-old Puglian starter, wines matched with varietally-appropriate Riedel stemware that’s cleaned in a chemical-free, high-heat dishwasher that leaves no trace of residue. The seasonally-inspired menu is always in flux, but expect to find Modern French entrées along the lines of: boneless Elysian Fields rack of lamb with tuffled Carolina grits, spring onion comfit and kale; Australian sea bass with flowering broccoli, saffron gnocchi, and mussels; and Alaskan halibut, with roasted purple sweet potatoes, asparagus, eggplant puree and garlic emulsion. And the deserts are over the top.

8:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Laugh off all those French calories at The Comedy Store , a pitch-black stand-up institution owned by Mitzi Shore, mother of funny man Pauly Shore. Scores of big-name comics have cut their Hollywood whitened teeth here, including Robin Williams, David Letterman, Richard Pryor and Sandra Bernhard. There’s comedy every night and three stages to choose from, with famous comedians occasionally coming home to roost unannounced.

11 p.m. into the night
Get a taste of L.A.s legendary night life at White Lotus , an exotic lair of royal purples, emperor reds, and Asian ambiance beneath a dramatic double-peaked white canopy. DJs spin an eclectic mix of house, trance, hip hop and Top 40. Of all the contenders in the town’s rich club scene, this one’s got the best feng-shui.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.

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Gladstone’s 4 Fish: 173000 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades; 310/GL4-FISH; www.gladstones.com; daily 8 a.m. - 10 p.m. (until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays)

Paul Getty Museum: 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles; 310/440-7300; www.getty.edu; Tues-Thurs and Sun 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Fri and Sat 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Admission is free but parking costs $7

Ocean Front Walk: www.laparks.org/venice/venice.htm

Saddle Peak Lodge: 419 Cold Canyon Rd., Calabasas; 818/222-3888; www.saddlepeaklodge.com

Hollywood Walk of Fame: www.hollywoodcoc.org

Grauman’s Chinese Theater: 6925 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood; 323/464-8111; www.manntheatres.com/chinese; showtimes daily from noon on.

Movie Stars’ Home Tour: www.starlinetours.com/tour_1.asp

NBC Studio: 3000 W. Alameda; Burbank ;818/347-3537; www.studioaudiences.com/tvstudios/nbcburbank.asp; tours daily from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.; $7 adults, $6.25 seniors, $3.75 children

Tonight Show: www.nbc.com/The_Tonight_Show_with_Jay_Leno/

Sona: 401 N. La Cienega Boulevard, LA; 310/659-7708; www.sonarestaurant.com

The Comedy Store: 8433 Sunset Boulevard, LA; 353/650-6268; www.thecomedystore.com; average of $20 for tickets, plus a two drink minimum.

White Lotus: 1743 N. Cahuenga Boulevard, Hollywood; 323/463-0060; www.whitelotushollywood.com; Tues-Sat 9 p.m. - 2 a.m.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.

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