How to Spend Two Days in Los Angeles

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WHY GO If LA’s celebrities “Are just like us!” is LA just like Boise? Well, yes, if Boise bordered 75 miles of sun-dappled coast, basked in the glow of a $275-million concert hall, hosted the Oscars and lured gourmands to savory world-class restaurants. But let’s just admit it, shall we? Sometimes leaving home is good.

According to LA lore, a wannabe starlet once asked Bette Davis for advice on the best way to get into Hollywood. “Take Fountain,” was Davis’ reply, referencing a lesser-known avenue that runs parallel to Sunset Blvd. Bitchy, perhaps. Practical, yes. But just the attitude needed for navigating this glorious mash-up of a city.

In 48 hours you can stroll Hollywood Blvd, nab a studio tour, dine at world-class restaurants, savor a travertine-framed sunset, shop in celebrity style and spend a morning at the beach. Flexibility is key, and if you hear or see the word “Sig-alert,” get off the freeway fast.

Downtown, long known for a bustling financial district that emptied at night, is in the midst of a massive Renaissance that’s attracting party animals as well as full-time residents. The symbol of the revitalization is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the landmark that launched a thousand metaphors. Billowing ship? Blooming rose? Silver bow?

No matter which comparison you prefer, it’s agreed that this iconic structure – designed by Frank Gehry and completed in 2003 – kick-started Downtown’s rebirth. Cascading escalators whisk visitors from the parking garage directly into the airy lobby, where tours highlight Gehry’s exquisite attention to detail – air-conditioning units are hidden inside smooth Douglas fir columns – throughout the building and gardens.

Just across Grand Ave, hard hats construct the Grand Ave Cultural Corridor, a high-end cluster of shops, hotels and restaurants scheduled for a 2011 completion. Stroll south to the postmodern charms of the Museum of Contemporary Art, a minimalist masterpiece housing a rotating collection of avant-garde exhibits in its underground galleries.

Grand Ave then takes a watch-your-balance plunge before crossing 5th St. Peek inside the 1926 Richard Riordan Central Library on your right to ogle the 64ft-high rotunda with a 42ft span. Here, a 1-ton chandelier laughs in the face of fault lines, hanging with optimistic audacity above a stark marble floor.

figueroa hotel
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Another two blocks – plus an escalator and elevator ride – will take you to the Rooftop Bar at the Standard Hotel and 360-degree views of twinkling city lights, flickering freeways and white-capped mountains. Plot your arrival for weeknights or early evening on the weekend.

You’ll enjoy the view and the highlights – comfy space pods, fireside lounges – without the long line, $20 cover and maddening crush of scenesters (no offense to scenesters, it’s just the numbers that annoy). For downtown lodging without the scene, consider the Figueroa Hotel. Here, a festive Spanish-style lobby, Moroccan-themed rooms and a welcoming poolside bar infuse the hotel with a refreshing join-the-caravan conviviality.

For dinner, the evening can go one of two ways – burrata or burgers. For the former, you’ll need to be organized (reservations accepted one month ahead) or a little bit lucky because Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali’s bustling Osteria Mozza has been the hottest table in town since opening in mid-2007.

The highlight at this stylish Melrose and Highland mecca is the central, first-come-first-served mozzarella bar where Silverton whips up burrata, bufala and other Italian cheese-based delicacies. The more casual – but almost equally crowded – Pizzeria Mozza is next door.

So…no one’s moved from the mozzarella bar? Consider a deal with bright-red Lucky Devils on Hollywood Blvd, just a short drive north via Highland Ave. The Kobe Diablo, a thick Kobe beef patty slathered with avocado, double-smoked bacon and Vermont cheddar, is so gob-smackingly tasty you’ll be tempted to curse aloud. Or you can take another bite, sip one of 13 draft beers, and settle in for some Hollywood people-watching. Cool fact? The owner is Lucky Vanous, the hunky model from the 1990s Diet Coke ads. Just sayin’.

Clubs and condos – not to mention cranes – are transforming the once gritty Hollywood & Vine intersection into LA’s next “it” neighborhood. One popular store that made its mark in the area before things got trendy is Amoeba Music.

For vinyl and liner notes, follow Cahuenga Blvd south from Hollywood Blvd to Amoeba’s neon-lit, warehousey digs. Here, the click, click, click of customers flipping through hundreds of thousand of CDs, DVDs and vinyl is soothing in a party-like-it’s-1989 sort of way. Slip into nearby Velvet Margarita for tequila sipping and Day of the Dead decor, embrace the historic, divey charms of the Frolic Room, or simply chill out with an acoustic show at Hotel Café.

warner bros
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For Mid-City shut-eye, consider the retro charms of the Beverly Laurel Motor Hotel, the nondescript blue-gray building hiding in plain sight on Beverly Blvd south of Hollywood. Look for the Coffee Shop sign over Swingers, the late-night diner across from the lobby. Inside the hotel, framed photographs and diamond-patterned bedspreads add a hint of style to basic rooms which include an in-room fridge, microwave and sink.

Even the breakfast joints have valet service in LA. Just watch the perpetual flow of cars unloading by the beige umbrellas outside Toast. Here, parents with strollers, tattooed hipsters, gossiping quartets and an occasional recognizable face come for gourmet breakfasts, easygoing ambiance, and maybe, just maybe, the scene. Add your name to the list and decide on breakfast based on the heaping plates swooping past (scramblettes are always a winner).

If Hollywood is the glamorous face of the entertainment business, then Burbank, with its massive studio production lots, is the hard-working stylist hustling to prep that mug. The two major studios anchoring Burbank are Universal Studios Hollywood and Warner Bros. For an engaging behind-the-scenes tour, hop the Warner Bros tram for the two-hour VIP tour.

It winds past sound stages, sitcom sets and historic sites on the studio’s 110-acre lot. Although no two tours are exactly the same, stops can include the Central Perk set, recognizable from the sitcom Friends, as well as the Transportation Garage where you’ll find the Batmobile from Batman Begins and the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo.

Tell your guide at the start what you’d most like to see. The tour also includes a stop at the Warner Bros museum, a treasure trove of memorabilia with a well-stocked Harry Potter exhibit on the 2nd floor.

For a great-view detour, grab Mulholland Dr off Cahuenga Blvd, winding an eighth of a mile to the top of the hill. Turn left to enter the small Hollywood Bowl Overlook.

Even on hazy days, the sight of the Hollywood Bowl, Griffith Park and the city unfurling below is memorable, highlighting the rarely considered juxtaposition of raw nature and urban sprawl. Continue west a third of a mile and make a quick left at the bend onto Outpost Dr, a twisting ride past homes tucked behind hedges, trees and canyon nooks, which will take you back to Hollywood Blvd.

If you’re in the mood for driving, pass Outpost Dr and continue west on Mulholland Dr. As this famous roadway winds along the summit of the Santa Monica Mountains, you’ll have views of the San Fernando Valley to the north and Hollywood to the south. Turn left on woodsy Laurel Canyon Dr to return to Hollywood Blvd.

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So Elvis, Batman and Charlie Chaplin walk into a bar…hey, it could happen, at least at the Hollywood & Highland complex where celebrity impersonators cluster for photo ops and tips. And while this block is over-the-top touristy, there’s a certain undeniable energy that makes the freak-dodging, hustle-and-bustle confusion kind of fun.

Be sure to wander the cement handprints and footprints left by big-screen stars from Clark Gable to Judy Garland to Johnny Depp outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater, a 1927 grand movie palace inspired by Chinese imperial architecture.

Crossing Hollywood Blvd here, it can be hard to envision Hollywood’s A-listers walking the red carpet in front of the Kodak Theater. In contrast, inside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, with its dark lobby lounge, antique couches and let-you-be vibe, it’s easier to imagine the Hollywood heavyweights who’ve strolled through, from Marilyn Monroe to Montgomery Clift.

The hotel hosted the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. Though recently revamped, rooms can feel small, and the elevator is unnerving if you’ve taken the plunge inside DCA’s Tower of Terror. Overall, though, the hotel’s history and Hollywood proximity make it an interesting, center-of-the-action choice.

Outside, more than 2000 pink marble stars line the sidewalks between La Brea Ave and Vine St – and a bit beyond – as part of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Follow the stars east to Skooby’s red-and-white placard reading “gourmet hotdogs.” Why this splash of hotdog pretension? Who knows. The chili-slathered masterpieces at this tiny walk-up don’t need a fancy adjective. Maybe it’s because the fries have aioli sauce.

To witness pretension on a grand scale, don’t miss an Ivy drive-by. Tucked behind a white picket fence on uber-trendy N Robertson Blvd, the Ivy still holds court as Queen Bee for see-and-be-seen weekday lunches.

Scan the patio for A-listers if camera-toting paparazzi crowd the sidewalk. Neighboring boutiques Kitson, Curve and Lisa Kline sell tiny clothes from hot designers to the young, beautiful and moneyed. For designer-style duds at way cheaper prices, follow Robertson north to grittier Melrose Ave, wandering east to the trendy boutiques, denim shops and thrift stores.

getty center
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If you prefer natural and cultural splendor to commercial, spend your afternoon exploring the Getty Center, glowing in travertine splendor from its hill-top throne in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The natural flow of walkways, skylights, fountains and courtyards on its 110-acre Richard Meier–designed “campus” encourages effortless wandering between Van Gogh’s Irises, the bright Central Garden, and inspiring citywide vistas framed by Italian-cut stone. Sunsets are simply superb.

For dinner we recommend two LA restaurants that should never be mentioned in the same breath: AOC and El Coyote. But sometimes it’s nice to have choices. To maintain the ambiance set by the Getty, make a reservation at Chef Suzanne Goin’s ever-popular AOC, a smooth-as-silk wine bar that glows like the wine cellar of a very close, very rich friend. With more than 50 wines by the glass, it’s easy to complement the small-plates menu that purrs with such savory morsels as truffled scallops with bacon, and grilled skirt steak with Roquefort butter.

For those who’d prefer to slurp potent margaritas, scarf messy Mexican combos and talk as loud as they want, suit up for a fun-lovin’ dinner inside slightly divey El Coyote, the place with red-frocked waiters, and cars spilling out of the parking lot.

Trust us, everyone in town’s been here at some point. We’ve seen Nicole Richie chilling on the patio, and they say Sharon Tate ate her last dinner here. Down the street is New Beverly Cinema, a 32-year-old indie movie house known for nightly double features and themed retrospectives organized by celeb hosts including Quentin Tarantino and Diablo Cody.

To fuel up on your last day, head to Sunset Strip’s Griddle Cafe, a grubby but happenin’ spot in the shadows of the Directors Guild. For the best view of the tousled film students and hungry screenwriters that congregate here, sit at the U-shaped bar facing the narrow interior. The pancakes are huge, and the coffee French press. Get there early.

santa monica state beach
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Best way to the beach? To paraphrase Bette Davis: take Sunset. You’ll pass the castlelike visage of Chateau Marmont (look up as you cross Crescent Heights), soon followed by rock icons Whiskey a Go Go, Viper Room and the Roxy.

Oh-so-pink Beverly Hills Hotel lurks behind Hollywood hedges, followed by Star Maps, UCLA and posh Bel Air. Sunset then swoops over I-405, cruising west through Brentwood and Pacific Palisades before dropping at the Pacific Coast Hwy. Follow PCH south to Santa Monica State Beach.

Once there, ride the pier’s solar-powered Ferris wheel, pedal the bike path, or simply plop onto your towel on the wide beach and smile at the sun. For historic perspective, glance at the bluffs behind you. A palm-dappled greenway, Palisades Park, runs along the top, passing a marker denoting the western terminus of Route 66.

Ponder for a second the appropriateness of America’s famed romantic byway ending at this most gorgeous of spots. Then slather on another dollop of lotion and flip for those last few rays.