Image: Hollywood Boulevard
Ric Francis  /  AP
James Hill, a character actor portraying Captain Jack Sparrow, second from right, entertains a family of nine visiting from Wasilla, Alaska, on Hollywood Boulevard Jan. 27 in Los Angeles.
updated 2/17/2009 11:22:21 AM ET 2009-02-17T16:22:21

Enjoying Oscars season in Los Angeles, especially during a recession, doesn't require a designer ballgown, diamond encrusted necklaces or a shiny, gilded statuette.

The Academy Awards, the entertainment industry's annual, ultimate ode to the movies, takes place Feb. 22 at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre (www.oscars.org/). While celebrities spend thousands of dollars to prep for the lavish ceremony, travelers to the city can get a taste of the Oscars and movie history, plus glimpse celebs, without the big bucks or bling.

Hollywood
The Kodak Theatre sits in the middle of the expansive Hollywood & Highland Center, a sprawling entertainment complex at 6801 Hollywood Blvd. that includes clothing stores, a bowling alley, the towering Renaissance Hollywood Hotel and movie theaters adjacent to the famed, copper-tipped Grauman's Chinese Theatre (www.hollywoodandhighland.com).

About 300 bleacher seats along the red carpet at the Oscars become available during a one-week lottery in late September through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But revelers can still observe Oscar preparations at Hollywood & Highland until the center closes the night before the awards show.

For free thrills, stroll down the nearby Hollywood Walk of Fame, stretching down Hollywood Boulevard. Glittering stars on the sidewalk display the names of thousands of celebrities. Grauman's Chinese Theatre's forecourt showcases cement-steeped celebrity handprints and autographs, from Paul Newman's meaty palms to Marilyn Monroe's smaller ones. Impersonators dressed up as Superman, Monroe and others entertain on the street.

Oscar events
People itching to get in on some thrifty pre-Oscars action can snap up tickets to events held in the five days before the show by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at its Beverly Hills headquarters, 8949 Wilshire Blvd. Note that tickets, which range from free to $5, become available Feb. 2, and go very quickly.

The events include symposiums with the current crop of makeup and hairstylist Oscar nominees, plus nominees in the feature animation and foreign language film categories. Film clips will also be screened, (www.oscars.org/events-exhibitions/events/index.html).

Movie-lovin' fashionistas should go to the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising's 17th annual "Art of Motion Picture Costume Design" exhibit, 919 S. Grand Ave., where roughly 125 costumes from more than 20 films released in 2008 are on display. The free exhibit includes a grip of current best costume design Oscar nominees: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Duchess," "Australia" and "Milk" (http://fidm.edu).

Studios and sets
Official tours of movie and TV studios throughout L.A. plop you into the thick of the biz, also without breaking your bank account.

A twirl around the Paramount Studios lot, 5555 Melrose Ave., where "Nip/Tuck" and "Dr. Phil" are filmed, costs $35 per person (www.paramountstudios.com). The roughly 70 minute tour of NBC Studios, 3000 W. Alameda Ave., travels through sets for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Days of Our Lives." Tickets cost $8.50 for adults and $5 for kids. Separate tickets to attend "The Tonight Show" are usually in high demand  (www.nbc.com/Footer/Tickets).

Dubbing itself "The Entertainment Capital of L.A.," Universal Studios Hollywood has the most comprehensive behind-the-scenes tour, plus a theme park featuring zesty, hair-flattening rides based on "The Simpsons," "The Mummy" franchise and other TV shows and movies (www.universalstudioshollywood.com).

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Cast your Academy Award voteCurrent online-only packages include two days of admission for the price of one: $67.99 general entrance and $57.99 for those under 48 inches.

Trams have been taking tourists through Universal's famed backlot since 1964. The current 45-minute tour showcases working and old sets, fiery and water-logged attractions recreating scenes from Universal movies, and snappy video narration by Whoopi Goldberg.

On a recent day, tram travelers could see a crew shooting in front of a backdrop of yellow and beige houses making up Wisteria Lane for ABC's "Desperate Housewives."

Slideshow: Academy Awards luncheon Close by, robotic dinosaurs spit water in a leafy "Jurassic Park" setting. Cars straight out of "The Fast and the Furious" collide in a fiery crash. The dilapidated Bates Motel filmed for Alfred Hitchcock's Oscar-nominated 1960 thriller "Psycho" looms near the wrecked 747 airplane from Steven Spielberg's 2005 film "War of the Worlds" and the snow-powdered town of Whoville in "Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas."

The Universal Experience — a recent addition to the theme park — houses dozens of movie artifacts, from the silky dresses in "Atonement" to Gregory Peck's glasses in "To Kill a Mockingbird," the 1962 film that nabbed him a best actor Oscar. The exhibit displays the gleaming best picture Oscar statuette for 1973's "The Sting."

Greystone Mansion and park is one prime film location tucked away in Beverly Hills, on 905 Loma Vista Dr. (www.greystonemansion.org). TV shows such as "Gilmore Girls" and dozens of movies, including "The Witches of Eastwick," "X-Men" and "The Big Lebowski," have filmed there. A-list stars have also been known to tour the grounds on their off days.

The massive 80-year-old mansion is perched on 18 hilltop acres of spiraling staircases, waterfalls, ponds, fountains, cypress trees and grassy lanes that tourists can roam for zilch moolah.

Organized group tours are allowed inside the house, plus guests for "The Manor: Murder and Madness at Greystone," a play inspired by the real-life demise of Edward "Ned" Laurence Doheny Jr. and his male secretary (www.theatre40.org/the-manor.html). Doheny Jr. and Hugh Plunkett were found dead inside the mansion in 1929, just months after the building was completed and Doheny Jr. moved in with his family.

Various movie productions have left their mark on the estate, from ornate black gates with looping Rs from 1994's "Richie Rich" to the house's bowling alley, renovated by Paramount over six weeks for Daniel Day-Lewis' pivotal bloody scene in "There Will Be Blood." All that blood won him last year's best actor Oscar.

Dead celebs
Those not opposed to traversing cemeteries (attention fans of TV how "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") will be sweetly rewarded by a free treasure trove of dead-and-gone movie icons throughout the city.

The Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., is a 62-acre urban expanse of grass, trees and tombstones flanked to the south by Paramount Studios (www.hollywoodforever.com). Classic film stars including Rudolph Valentino and Oscar-winning director Cecil B. DeMille are buried there. Memorial markers for blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield and punk rocker Johnny Ramone attract fans from all over the world.

"Some of the graves and the stones here are just amazing," gushed retired nurse Gaye Culos, 62, recently visiting from Canada. Culos and her husband stood next to DeMille's huge marble tomb, decorated with orchids beside a lake. DeMille's circus spectacle "The Greatest Show on Earth" snagged him a best picture Oscar in 1953. Nearby, dried roses and a sign in red ink saying "I love you father" sat next to Valentino's crypt in the cemetery's white marble mausoleum, brightened by newly restored stained glass windows.

Glendale-based Forest Lawn, 1712 S. Glendale Ave., is another destination, stretching over more than 300 acres of grass-covered hills north of downtown L.A. Here you'll find grave sites for the likes of Clark Cable, Humphrey Bogart, Nat King Cole, Carole Lombard and Walt Disney (www.forestlawn.com).

Food
A good place to stuff your face while watching for live celebs is the Farmers Market, 6333 W. Third St., plus its immediate neighbor, The Grove, an outdoor mall (www.thegrovela.com). A litany of stars, from Rihanna to Al Pacino, Kate Bosworth, Victoria Beckham, Lindsay Lohan and Heidi Klum, have all been photographed there, not so incognito, (www.farmersmarketla.com).

The market, this year celebrating its 75th anniversary, is one of the city's most charming spots, offering everything from side-by-side stands bursting with fruits and vegetables to French, Italian, Korean, Brazilian and Mediterranean cuisine, plus quirky tchotkes (cheap, colorful gifts can be found at the sticker store).

Sit down at an outdoor table, rest your feet. For just a few bucks, pick up a coffee and pastry from Bob's Coffee & Doughnuts to jump-start or top off a day trolling Tinseltown.

Getting around
L.A. is known for its car culture, but public transportation has been on the rise. A Metro day pass is $5, and a weekly pass is $17, with unlimited rides on trains and buses (www.metro.net). The Metro Red Line sweeps from downtown L.A. through Hollywood. Various companies offer values on train and walking tours (www.hollywoodchamber.net).

Accommodations
A plethora of Web sites can help snag a great deal on motels and hotels around town, from www.losangeles.hotelscheap.org to www.expedia.com and www.yelp.com.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Los Angeles: City of Angels

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  1. Los Angeles has a stunning and recognizable skyline and is a great spot to see Hollywood's A-listers, but is also known for sprawl and smog. L.A. is home to nearly 10 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2008 figures). (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. The East Pavilion at the Getty Center is pictured in L.A. "The J. Paul Getty Museum seeks to further knowledge of the visual arts and to nurture critical seeing by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting works of art of the highest quality," according to The Getty's Web site. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Venice Beach has the boardwalk, Muscle Beach, volleyball courts, a bike trail and many other attractions that have been luring people for decades. "Venice has always been known as a hangout for the creative and the artistic," boasts venicebeach.com. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. If you're a nut about pumping iron, you'll want to one very specific part of Venice Beach. "Muscle Beach is a special area where fanatic bodybuilders pump iron in a public show of strength," according to L.A.'s Department of Recreation & Parks. This photo shows Larry Pollock striking a pose in the finals of the annual Venice Classic bodybuilding competition at Venice Beach back in 2003. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Two women walk past businesses that cater to high-end luxury item consumers along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. "The famed shopping street is known throughout the world as the epicenter of luxury fashion," claims Rodeo Drive's official Web site. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Looking for stars in L.A.? You need not look beyond The Griffith Observatory. OK, maybe these aren't the stars you had in mind, but the observatory overlooks Los Angeles from atop the Hollywood Hills. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland is the centerpiece of Fantasyland, and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. (Paul Hiffmeyer for Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Visitors raft through realistic looking hot springs and geysers on the ''Grizzly River Rapids'' ride at Disney's California Adventure theme park in Anaheim, Calif. The 55-acre park next to Disneyland is based on California themes, and opened to the public in 2001. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A Cownose Ray glides past as divers feed tropical fish in the Tropical Pacific Gallery at the Aquarium of the Pacific. The Aquarium features a shark lagoon and three main viewing galleries where visitors can learn about ocean issues and conservation. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A simulated "Jaws" shark attack is just one of the attractions that draws in visitors to Universal Studios Hollywood. Park rides include Revenge of the Mummy, Shrek 4-D, Jurassic Park, The Blues Brother, The Simpsons, and more. (Universal Studios) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The Hollywood Sign was refurbished in 2005. The sign is one of the better-known landmarks in America, and sits atop Mount Lee in the Santa Monica Mountains. (David Livingston / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is best known for the Oscars, an annual telecast set to run for the 82nd time. "More than 6,000 of the most accomplished men and women working in cinema" make up the Academy's membership, according to oscars.org. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The Galleria Studio Hollywood sells merchandise along the Walk of Fame, where Hollywood's icons are immortalized. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Stars have left their hand and foot prints in concrete for more than eight decades at the original Graumans Chinese Theatre forecourt. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Dodger Stadium, opened in 1962, has seen more than 125 million fans come through its gates. Baseball fans can purchase a famed Dodger Dog and a beer, soak up some sun, take in a breathtaking view of downtown L.A., look for celebrities -- oh, and watch America's favorite pasttime. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. The Museum of Contemporary Art houses more than 500 pieces of art created by more than 200 artists. MOCA was founded in 1979 and "is the only museum in Los Angeles devoted exclusively to contemporary art," its Web site says. (Ted Thai / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Image) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Visitors to Olvera Street can stroll around the marketplace and shop for Mexican-inspired souvenirs. On weekends, revelers can enjoy entertainment by roaming musicans, Mariachi bands and performances by Aztec Indians. (L.A. Convention & Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. The 2,265-seat Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, designed by architect Frank Gehry, is clad with more than 6,000 steel panels. The hall is home to the Music Center of Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The Farmers Market started in July of 1934 when some farmers pulled their trucks onto some empty land known as Gilmore Island. The farmers displayed their wares, and customers came, parked, strolled around and purchased fruit, vegetables and other goods. "The atmosphere was casual, the open air commerce enticing, the goods fresh, and the result remarkable," farmersmarketla.com claims. "Farmers Market became an instant institution." (Farmers Market) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. This diorama of a mastodon trapped in the La Brea Tar Pits is featured at the Page Museum. "Rancho La Brea is one of the world's most famous fossil localities, recognized for having the largest and most diverse assemblage of extinct Ice Age plants and animals in the world," the Page Museum's Web site claims. (David Peevers / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A surfer heads toward the water at Laguna Beach in Orange County, Calif. The state's myriad beaches draw a large number of tourists and surfers from across the country. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The $1.5 million solar-powered ferris wheel runs at Pacific Park amusement park on the Santa Monic Pier. Even with its 160,000 lights, the ride is 75 percent more energy efficient than the Pacific Wheel -- the ride it replaced -- which was auctioned off on eBay for $132,400. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl on Oct. 3, 2009, in Hollywood. The Philharmonic regularly performs at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. (Mathew Imaging / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Manhattan Beach is located about 20 miles southwest of Los Angeles, and features more than 2 miles of beach front, 40 acres of recreational beach area. The scenic 928-foot-long pier at the end of Manhattan Beach is easily recognizable, and fishing is permitted all year long. (Richard Cummins / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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