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Whether you embrace or dismiss pop culture's one-dimensional portrayal of Los Angeles, everyone can agree that when the weather is spectacular, which is most of the year, the City of Angels is a dreamy destination. Residents who are intrinsically happy seem even happier. People who lean toward the miserable have a hard time maintaining a glower.
Within a TMZ (30-mile zone) lie Hollywood-documented coastlines, mountains and valleys. Add to that a diverse mix of ethnic foods, music and comedy gigs; a quasi-underground modern and postmodern art and fashion scene; and an extraordinary variety of storybook real estate. The collective sum of cultural attraction puts Tinsel Town on the map for more than blockbusters and box-office flops.
In LA, days are long. People awaken for sunrise hikes and linger for beachside sunsets, happy hours, after parties and after after parties. After all, the few who even have a 9-to-5 job typically are out the door come 4:55 pm, ready to enjoy an evening in Los Angeles.
Still, whether you're here for a daylong outing off a cruise ship, doing a pre- or post-tour with LA as your port of embarkation or debarkation, or, using LA as your gateway to destinations in Asia, Australia or elsewhere, a sprawling city of quirky neighborhoods with unique adventures await.
LA features a 72-mile coastline and over 30 miles of public beach. The Beach Boys, Tom Petty, The Mamas & the Papas, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Courtney Love and Beck, among other musical Angelenophiles, didn't pen those oceanic and scenester lyrics from nothing. The beaches of LA, from Malibu’s Zuma and El Matador to Venice, Santa Monica and Manhattan, are indeed songworthy and cinematic stretches of coast. (You'll find me gawking at Venice Beach, exploring El Matador and sunning along Zuma's beaches.)
That's not all. Some of the best waves roll gnarly at Surfrider Beach in Malibu, and on the flipside Hermosa City Beach's waters crash gentler for the whole family. Those seeking something more physical and idyllic? Bike the edge of Malibu to San Diego. An easier 18 miles each way is my favorite, the Strand route, which stretches from Will Rogers Beach in Santa Monica to Redondo Beach.
Many Angelenos admit to preferring to be by the water vs. going for the chilly plunge in. Instead, you can catch some local color along the Venice Beach Boardwalk, a microcosm of the wacky, with a fun mix of far out characters, beachside restaurants, boutiques, psychics and naturally, smoke shops.
With the San Gabriel Mountains in the northeast, the Santa Monica Mountains in the west, and the Santa Ana Mountains in the south, plus the LA county park trails snaking the urban sprawl, there is an abundance of incredible hiking. (My favorites: Runyon Canyon Loop, Griffith Park’s Bronson Canyon and Los Liones Trail in Topanga Park.) The mountains of LA are “easy” (traffic pending) to get to, and some, but not all, aren't too challenging to hike up. After all, in Los Angeles, the City of Fitness, a physical challenge in nature is a reminder of the lovely free things left to embrace.
"Eggs and avocado, but hold the bread" is a favorite order for Tim Robbins at Venice’s French Market Cafe. Fig and goat cheese with prosciutto is Adam Levine’s jam at The Oaks Gourmet. Fresh pressed juices for Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan, Halle Berry, Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow are popular at Pressed Juicery. And let's not even get started on all the coffee shops and grocery store sightings. Everyone must eat something, so it makes sense that Gelsons and Whole Foods are inadvertently celebrity hotspots. Stars! They’re just like us! In LA celebrities are everywhere. This is Hollywood after all, and they roam free in their natural habitat.
From "LA Confidential" to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and countless other LA-themed films, the storied legacy of Los Angeles is recognizable all around town. (This includes the notorious traffic, and the lacking (but slowly returning) public transportation.) Bike and hike trails abound, including a 48-miler along the cleaned-up LA River (which these days is also lovely to kayak). The Hollywood Forever cemetery is the final resting place of many a cinematic mover and shaker as well as a venue for summer movie screenings, concerts, and cultural events.
The Getty Center, carved into the hills between LA and the Pacific (1200 Getty Center Dr.), houses the J. Paul Getty Museum (310-440-7300), is an architectural masterpiece that cost $1 billion to construct. The Getty is a man-made marvel featuring prolific artwork by Monet, van Gogh and Cezanne. Because of its advanced technology, many works are displayed for the first time under natural light. Reservations are necessary as the Getty typically sells out.
The Rancho La Brea Tar Pits (5801 Wilshire Blvd., 323-934-PAGE) is a city center prehistoric anomaly. For more than 40,000 years, hot tar has been bubbling from the earth at this very location just a hop skip and a jump from The Grove and Farmer's Market. Only in LA does the area's premier museum for archaeological and dinosaur exhibits juxtapose a Top Shop and crepe stall with gluten-free options.
The Queen Mary (1126 Queens Hwy. along the waterfront in Long Beach, 562-435-3511), located minutes from LA's two cruise docks, whisks visitors back to the days of legendary opulence and style. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Queen Mary features several world-class restaurants, a wedding chapel, an art gallery — and it's a living museum of sorts. The Queen Mary is open every day from 10 am to 6 pm.
The Griffith Observatory, (2800 E. Observatory Rd., 323-664-1191), is a planetarium that offers (literally) an otherworldly view of the solar system. The observatory offers learning sessions on topics such as: earthquakes, monsoons, and, yes, extraterrestrials. A few miles away is Grauman's Chinese Theatre, (6925 Hollywood Blvd., 323-464-3331). Opened in 1927, this fabulous movie house is more than a silver screen; it is a royal palace! The Hollywood Walk of Fame, where those famous stars and hand prints decorate the sidewalk, runs along Hollywood Boulevard and throughout Hollywood.
From Rodeo to Melrose are streets dedicated to high and low fashion, as well as mall-like enclaves for shopaholics to descend and spend within as if there's nowhere else in the world. Think: The Grove. The Fashion District in downtown LA is where showrooms are often open to the public with threads priced at cost (or close) Santee Alley is where dealdiggers can find bottom-dollar prices before boutique merchants buy up the samples, quadruple the price and slap on a name brand. And don't miss the chance to stroll through LA's famed farmers' markets: the Hollywood, Santa Monica and lesser-known Yamashiro markets are tasty, family friendly destinations that attract tourists and lcoals.
Staples Center, opened to the public in 1999. The sports and entertainment facility is home to the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and Kings host, as well as a venue for concerts and events. Tickets sell fast so book in advance.
If you're in LA for a pre- or post-cruise stay, here are some options for after dinner fun:
A man named Walt built an entire amusement park for families to unleash their imaginations while interacting with friendly felt-costumed friends and riding themed. Yes, that's Disneyland (1313 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim, 714-781-4565), a full-day trip roughly 26 miles south of LA. A bus excursion with transportation and admission will run about $250 a person (yikes!). Cut the cost by renting a car.
The Times Square of LA is Hollywood Boulevard. There's a little of everything and everyone packed with lively entertainers and impersonators, from Chewbacca and Batman to Jack Sparrow and Maleficent.
Just because you don't submerge in the ocean doesn't mean you can't swim. There are two Olympic size pools open to guests (for a day fee) at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and Santa Monica Community College in Santa Monica.
Again, if the timing is right, there are some cool LA events worth trying to catch. The community group bike ride known as Ciclavia; a show at the Hollywood Bowl; an aerobics class with Richard Simmons at his Beverly Hills Slimmons Studio; and an evening listening to long-time lounge duo Marty and Elayne (made re-infamous by the film "Swingers" ) at The Dresden are my list toppers. Those curious about thetans and zenu, but aren't ready to be "cleared," can indulge in Sunday brunch at the Scientology Celebrity Center in Hollywood.
Located in East LA County in Hacienda Heights is the epic Hsi Lai Temple, the largest traditional mountain Buddhist monastery in North America.
The excitement around the revival of downtown LA is nourished by the hip, foodie-forward restaurants that have opened mere feet from Skid Row. Still, there’s delicious food to be found in every LA neighborhood. Asian restaurants, particularly Thai and Korean, abound, and everyone has their favorites when it comes to Mexican. For me, it's Cacao in Eagle Rock. Other tasty spots include La Poubelle, Cafe Gratitude, 101 Diner, and Salt Air. Happy-hour deals in LA are pleasantly affordable and always packed.
My Cruiseable colleagues also chipped in these dining recommendations:
And Travel + Leisure offered these suggestions in February 2015:
The coffee scene is bountiful if not ubiquitous. Sure, you'll find Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, but there are so many more interesting places to go. There’s TOMS Coffee Bar (1344 Abbot Kinney Blvd., famed for its 1 for 1 philanthropy and community events), and Intelligentsia, with locations in Venice and Silverlake. Also in Venice is Zinque. Cafe de Leche in Highland Park, Fix in Echo Park ... and the list of good beans goes on. But rather than only get coffee for the taste of a fair trade, organic mud, people with time and a script they are “developing” litter the scene in spots with free Wi-Fi, comfortable seating, relaxed baristas, food and that careful balance of indoor/outdoor seating with sunny/shaded spots.
Any time of year is a good time to visit LA for the most part, although summer's "June gloom" brings hazy weather and September is when the SoCal Indian Summer heat wave hits. Year round, summer clothes and a few loose sweaters should keep you comfy. In LA, yoga pants seem to have become acceptable day and nightwear. (Although refrain from bringing your Uggs for fashion's sake!) In LA, fit fashion is the way to pack.
There are two cruise ports serving LA, 7 miles from each other and both south of LA. Most Carnival ships and some ships of cruise lines owned by Carnival Corp. arrive and depart from Long Beach. Almost all other cruise ships use the terminal in San Pedro.
With so much to explore consider getting out of San Pedro and Long Beach and head north!
If arriving by plane: From LAX, on the west side of LA, it takes about 50 minutes to get to either port. It costs about $70 from LAX to San Pedro's World Cruise Center and $80 to the Long Beach Cruise Terminal.
If arriving by ship: When you dock in Los Angeles Harbor, you're not very close to Hollywood or other tourist destinations. You are, however, close to a number of beautiful beach areas and great restaurants.
Car rentals: If you want to enjoy LA to its fullest, rent a car. Traffic is part of the experience! With LA's unreliable and complicated bus network, and expensive, tedious taxi service, driving yourself is the way to go. You can rent a car with unlimited mileage at the most national car rental agencies for about $35 a day.
Documents: If you're coming from overseas, a valid passport and, depending on where you're coming from, a visa is sometimes required. U.S. and Canadian citizens will need a passport if they're going on a cruise to a foreign port.
Language: English, but you'll find lots of pockets where Spanish and other languages are spoken.
Currency: The U.S. dollar
Store hours: Stores in most urban areas in Los Angeles are open typically from 9 am to 9 pm, seven days a week.
Tipping: A 15% tip on the restaurant/taxi bill is expected for good service. Sometimes a tip is automatically added to your bill; check your credit card slip before adding additional tip.
Safety: Like every large city, some parts of LA are safer than others. For the most part, tourist areas are reasonably safe. It is recommended that you stay in well lit areas at night, and don’t flash valuables around.
How about you? Have you been to LA? Everyone has a favorite place or highlight — what's yours?
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“Echo Park, which has been immortalized in so many movies, was just beautifully restored; you can rent a paddleboat for the lake.”
“Quinn and Karen Hatfield, the duo behind Hollywood's favorite Hatfield's and the Sycamore Kitchen, are launching Odys & Penelope on La Brea Avenue. Main attractions: grilled Monterey Bay squid, smoked short ribs, and whole-bird churrasco.”
“You can credit the existence of Petit Trois, Luda Lefebvre's new French restaurant in Hollywood, to Don Draper as much as to St-Germain-de-Prés's Brasserie Lipp. When I first moved to Los Angeles in 1996, I saw that Americans liked to drink cocktails all through dinner, says French-born Lefebvre. Watching Mad Men, I realized they always dined that way. Cocktails and the hearty dishes Lefebvre grew up with are the foundation of this restaurant.”
“Follow the Shepard Fairey and Kim West street murals to find the Box, mixed-media star Paul McCarthy's contemporary exhibition space. Look for an international roster of experimental filmmakers and performance artists.”