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 the 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 (B.Y.O. Mustang convertible).
Visiting Venice's Ocean Front Boardwalk: 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. Nosh on a Jody Maroni's "haute dog," buy some knock-off 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? Sissies 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 weight lifters pumping iron at Venice 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 the Disney's California Adventure park. And don't forget to constantly hum the "It's a Small World" song that's now stuck in your head.
Dining at Spago (or The Ivy or Koi or Mastro's): Far less expensive than a day at Universal Studios or Disneyland, dining at one of L.A.'s übertrendy A-list celebrity haunts is an experience to be filed under "Only in L.A." Hear dialogue straight out of The Player 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, hotels, and zip codes 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 are filmed (how perfect).
Touring the Getty Center: See the result of unlimited funds and very expensive taste 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 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 handcrafts along colorful and historic Olvera Street, and have dim sum in Chinatown.
Power Shopping: You'll see "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 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. The La Brea Tar Pits, Petersen Automotive Museum, Craft & Folk Art Museum, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art are all shoulder-to-shoulder in the heart of L.A. The only problem is that it's too much to see in a 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 folk humorists. The imposing white band shell always elicits appreciative gasps from first-time Bowl-goers.
Take 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: It's why you're vacationing in L.A. -- to see where movie magic is being made. Studio tours are an entertaining opportunity to see the actual stage sets for shows such as ER and Desperate Housewives (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.
For a complete listing of what to see and do in Los Angeles, visit the at Frommers.com.
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