LA STO­RIES

Be­yond Hol­ly­wood glam­our and celebrity ob­ses­sion, the City of An­gels of­fers a wealth of fun things to do, writes Jen­nifer Con­ley

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Us Holidays -

F cities were peo­ple, if Los An­ge­les lived and breathed in hu­man form, it would be a teenager with a filthy room. It has its at­ten­tion on other things far more in­ter­est­ing than pick­ing up clothes off the floor.

It is creative and in­spir­ing, brashly ex­hi­bi­tion­ist in a naive kind of way. In the com­pany of like-minded friends, this pim­ply youth will speak out pas­sion­ately on any and ev­ery sub­ject, will rou­tinely ques­tion old ways and en­thu­si­as­ti­cally cook up new ones.

Mostly it doesn’t hear the crit­i­cisms. What undies? What wet towel? Ev­ery now and then, things hap­pens to make the city a lit­tle cir­cum­spect, a lit­tle abashed, but mostly it is un­apolo­get­i­cally out there.

For all its well-de­served rep­u­ta­tion as the home of skin-deep beauty, of star­lets and su­per­star glam­our, LA hides its beauty be­hind rows of dusty mini-malls and faded bill­boards. But be­yond Dis­ney­land and the slightly seedy Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame, there is su­perla­tive Los An­ge­les. It’s there. I’ve seen it. Here’s proof.

RODEO DRIVE AND BEV­ERLY HILLS

Try on Cole Haan shoes, crisp white shirts at Brazil­ian de­signer Anne Fon­taine, or check out the west coast branch of Bar­neys New York for what will be in vogue next year.

The Rodeo Drive precinct is an op­u­lent mar­ble-and-gran­ite shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence you don’t want to miss, even if it is pre­ten­tious.

Eat at the out­door cafes around Brighton Way or frock up and rub hand­bags with so­ci­ety women at Mari­posa, the restau­rant inside the Neiman Mar­cus de­part­ment store on Wil­shire Boule­vard, where din­ers get a com­pli­men­tary cup of con­somme with a clas­sic Amer­i­can popover as an ap­pe­tiser.

It is just around the cor­ner from where my 16-year-old daugh­ter ex­cit­edly stum­bled across the film­ing of the television se­ries En­tourage .

Cut­ting-edge de­sign­ers line the streets about 2km north­west, around Robert­son Boule­vard and Mel­rose Av­enue, past celebrity hang­out The Ivy. And for a step back to the emer­ald-green and mush­room-pink hey­day of the 1950s, go for cock­tails in the Polo Lounge of the Bev­erly Hills Ho­tel. www.bev­er­lyhills-town­info.info; www.the­bev­er­ly­hill­shotel.com.

DOWN­TOWN

The city’s down­town area is per­haps the least ap­pre­ci­ated of its hid­den gems. Ac­tor Johnny Depp re­port­edly just bought a loft down­town, and there’s a grow­ing re­vival of all things cul­tural, ev­i­denced by the awe-in­spir­ing steel sculp­ture that is the Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall, the new Nokia Theatre (the Wig­gles played there in late March) and the avant garde Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art.

At the Mex­i­can mar­ket along Olvera Street, there are som­breros and pon­chos, as well as the old­est stand­ing house in the city, Avila Adobe, built for a rich Span­ish don’s fam­ily in 1818 and now a mod­est mu­seum manned by vol­un­teers.

There’s some good Mex­i­can food around here, or go for a de­li­cious $US6 ($6.50) roast beef or lamb ‘‘ French-dipped’’ sand­wich and a beer or a US60c cof­fee at Philippe the Orig­i­nal (1001 North Alameda St). High­pow­ered lawyers, city daytrip­pers and Amer­i­can tourists all share the com­mu­nal benches at this fab­u­lous LA in­sti­tu­tion, which has been serv­ing 5000 sand­wiches a day since 1908. In LA terms, that’s for­ever. www.philippes.com.

GETTY CEN­TRE AND THE GETTY VILLA

The most prom­i­nent build­ing for kilo­me­tres is the ex­tra­or­di­nary Getty Cen­tre on a hill­top over­look­ing the man­sions of Bel Air. The gar­dens, by artist Robert Ir­win, and the white traver­tine modernist build­ings are glo­ri­ous, and an hour or two of wan­der­ing in the sun is the per­fect an­ti­dote to jet­lag.

Oil bil­lion­aire J. Paul Getty orig­i­nally housed his col­lec­tions of Greek and Ro­man an­tiq­ui­ties, 18th-cen­tury French furniture and Euro­pean paint­ings in his ranch house at Mal­ibu. He later built a Ro­man-style villa on the grounds, mod­elled af­ter the Villa dei Papiri of the 1st cen­tury.

Re­opened in early 2006 af­ter ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tions, the su­perb Getty Villa re­quires reser­va­tions due to neigh­bour­hood re­stric­tions on traf­fic. Ad­mis­sion to the cen­tre and villa is free. www.getty.edu.

WEST HOL­LY­WOOD

Sun­set Strip is the place for some of the trendi­est clubs and bars in town (though if you are trav­el­ling with un­der-21s, Hol­ly­wood’s Knit­ting Fac­tory and McCabe’s Gui­tar Shop in Santa Mon­ica are bril­liant al­ter­na­tive mu­sic venues).

Dur­ing the day, have lunch at the Chateau Mar­mont, tucked away at 8221 Sun­set Boule­vard and still fre­quented by a large celebrity clien­tele be­cause of its leg­endary dis­cre­tion (pho­tog­ra­phy is not per­mit­ted). The day we visit, Mary-Kate and Ash­ley Olsen are at the next ta­ble.

Still in West Hol­ly­wood but slightly farther afield, look for Pink’s hot dogs, south on La Brea Av­enue, where the cult sta­tus of this fast fare means long lines of hun­gry teens and strug­gling mu­si­cians snake around the cor­ner day and night. www.chateau­mar­mont.com; www.pinkshol­ly­wood.com.

VENICE BEACH

Venice is funky, off­beat, a lit­tle weird and well worth a wan­der along its Ocean Front Walk. Have a go at pad­dle ten­nis on the board­walk or hire in­line skates and blend in with the scene. www.venice­beach.com.

THE WIL­SHIRE MU­SEUM DIS­TRICT

This strip of Wil­shire Boule­vard, roughly from Fair­fax to La Brea, boasts half a dozen ex­cel­lent mu­se­ums, in­clud­ing the Page Mu­seum La Brea Tar Pits, where the world’s best-pre­served mam­moths and sabre-toothed cats were found mired in the still present vis­cous goo. Next door is the Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art and, across the way, the Petersen Au­to­mo­tive Mu­seum, which is ex­cep­tional, as you would ex­pect in this city where the car is king. Eat at the quaint Farm­ers Mar­ket on the cor­ner of Third and Fair­fax Av­enues. www.tarpits.org; www.lacma.org; www.petersen.org.

FREE TICK­ETS TO TV SHOWS

Won­der what the tap­ing of a TV show is like? LA is def­i­nitely the place to sat­isfy such cu­rios­ity. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno , The Price is Right with Drew Carey, Dr Phil and Ellen Degeneres’s Ellen are taped in front of au­di­ences in LA. www.tvtick­ets.com.

THE DODGERS, THE LAK­ERS AND COL­LEGE FOOT­BALL

The LA Dodgers turn 50 this year. The Ma­jor League base­ball sea­son runs from April to Septem­ber, with home games played at the down­town Dodgers Sta­dium nearly ev­ery night for two weeks each month. Cheap tick­ets are usu­ally avail­able on game day.

The sta­dium hosts reg­u­lar tours be­hind the scenes. http://losangeles.dodgers.mlb.com.

The LA Lak­ers bas­ket­ball team plays from Oc­to­ber to April, about twice a week at home. Ticket prices range from as low as $US10. www.nba.com/lak­ers.

LA lost its NFL pro­fes­sional foot­ball team when the Raiders moved to Oak­land about 10 years ago, but col­lege foot­ball, the ama­teur ver­sion, is a spec­ta­cle on a par with an Olympic open­ing cer­e­mony. Though the rules may seem in­com­pre­hen­si­ble, if your visit co­in­cides with a game (there are about 12 a year, from Septem­ber to De­cem­ber), the du­elling march­ing bands and raz­za­matazz make for an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence.

HOL­LY­HOCK HOUSE

This Frank Lloyd Wright-de­signed res­i­dence was built circa 1921 for oil heiress Aline Barns­dall, who en­vi­sioned an artist com­mu­nity on her 14.5ha hill in the cen­tre of what was then thriv­ing Hol­ly­wood.

The only one of Wright’s LA houses still open to the pub­lic, Hol­ly­hock House is a spec­tac­u­lar oa­sis hid­den from the sprawl­ing and un­re­mark­able neigh­bour­hoods be­low. It is well-pre­served by private devo­tees, and vol­un­teers run tours four times daily, from Wed­nes­day to Sun­day.

Thank­fully, Barns­dall be­queathed the house and park to the City of Los An­ge­les with the pro­viso that it be used only for art and re­cre­ation or the prop­erty would re­vert to her heirs. From here, you get a view of the Hol­ly­wood sign and Grif­fith Ob­ser­va­tory. www.hol­ly­hock­house.net.

MUL­HOL­LAND DRIVE

For a spec­tac­u­lar panorama of the city and its canyons, drive up to Mul­hol­land Drive, which winds along the ridge of the Santa Mon­ica Moun­tains, the land for­ma­tion that di­vides LA proper from its fa­mous hin­ter­land, the Val­ley. Hike along the paths of Will Rogers State His­toric Park or Temescal Canyon, just west of the city, and in the quiet early morn­ing you might see coy­otes com­ing down for break­fast or a drink at a neigh­bour­hood sprin­kler run-off.

Check­list

A free hire car comes with Air New Zealand flights to Los An­ge­les when booked through Creative Hol­i­days. From $1725 ex Syd­ney; $1795 ex Melbourne; $1805 ex Bris­bane; $1993 ex Ade­laide; $2015 ex Perth. For travel from April 1 to July 14, Septem­ber 1 to De­cem­ber 14, and Jan­uary 1 to the end of March 2009. Some black­out dates ap­ply. More: www.cre­ative­hol­i­days.com.au. www.parks.ca.gov/will­rogers www.dis­cov­er­losan­ge­les.com

Cul­ture and com­merce: Clock­wise from bot­tom left, Venice Beach; Dodgers pitcher Takashi Saito; J. Paul Getty Mu­seum; Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall; Chateau Mar­mont; cafes and cruis­ers on Sun­set Strip; Rodeo Drive

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