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Los Angeles Top Experiences

The Best Drives

Considering that the greater L.A. area sprawls over more square mileage than some small countries, it comes as no surprise that residents clock a lot of road time. Contrary to popular belief, however, stand-still freeway traffic is only part of the picture. In Los Angeles, the popular 1950s-era pastime of cruising is still alive and well.

One of the premier ways to see the L.A. hot spots so often captured on the silver screen is to take a drive down Sunset Boulevard. The famed thoroughfare runs from the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu to downtown Los Angeles, but the most well-known stretch is the Sunset Strip, in West Hollywood.

Heading east on Sunset Boulevard, pass by legendary music venues including the Roxy, the Whisky-A-Go-Go, and the Viper Room. Continue a little father to glimpse movie star magnet of yesteryear the Sunset Tower Hotel (formerly the Argyle Hotel) and current celebrity hangout the Chateau Marmont.

The famous roadway, Mulholland Drive, snakes along the ridge separating L.A. from its suburban neighbor, the San Fernando Valley. Like Sunset Boulevard, Mulholland Drive starts at the ocean and extends all the way into Hollywood, but unlike its urban counterpart, Mulholland forgoes street scenes for mountain views and traffic lights for unpaved stretches of road.

Another not-to-be-missed scenic stretch is the winding road that climbs through Laurel Canyon, a nexus of the 1960s music scene and former home to rockers Joni Mitchell and Neil Young among many others. At its apex, Laurel Canyon Boulevard meets up with Mulholland Drive, so be sure to fuel up before you start the climb.

L.A. Outdoors

While Los Angeles' car culture is well-publicized, its bike culture is a little more under-the-radar, but that is not to say there isn't a healthy cycling scene. With seemingly endless days of summer, Angelenos love to spend time outdoors.

One of the quintessential L.A. activities is to rent an old-school beach cruiser and bike along the 22-mi-long Strand, which stretches from Santa Monica's Will Rogers State Beach to Torrance County Beach in Venice.

If you are an outdoor enthusiast, don't forget to pack your hiking boots alongside your stiletto heels so that you can hike the Santa Monica Mountains. Popular routes include the Backbone Trail, a 43-mi-stretch of chaparral-covered hillsides, oak woodlands, and creeks that links Will Rogers State Historic Park to Point Mugu, anchored in the middle by Malibu Creek State Park and Topanga State Park. The highly accessible Griffith Park, just north of Hollywood, is technically part of this mountain chain as well.

For some solitude and rural terrain, visit Angeles National Forest, in the northern reaches of L.A. County. The mostly flat and shaded Gabrielino Trail (626/574-5200 forest service) along the upper Arroyo Seco is a favorite of mountain bikers, runners, birders, and horseback riders. To get there, exit the 210 Freeway at Arroyo Boulevard-Windsor Avenue in Altadena. Drive three-quarters of a mile north and look for the small parking lot just before you reach Ventura Avenue.

Eat with the Locals

With residents hailing from all over the world, Los Angeles is famous for its varied ethnic cuisine. One of the best ways to sample a variety of foods is to take a trip to 75-year-old Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax.

Some of the international eats to be found: A Mexican taco stand, a French crepe company, a Korean barbeque, a Mediterranean falafel stall, and a Brazilian grill. For dessert, pick up some fresh-cut fruit from one of the colorful produce stands.

Of course, there's also L.A.'s famous local chains, including '20s-era Hollywood hot spot the Pig 'N Whistle and comfort food mecca Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, as well as In 'N Out burger haven.

Get Starstruck

Seemingly floating above downtown Los Angeles like a Jetsons-age oasis, the rooftop bar at the Standard Hotel attracts everyone from buttoned-up office workers, who flock to the space for happy hour drinks, to the swanked-out, late-night crowd.

A surefire way to see stars (or at least the constellation they call home) is by purchasing a star map from vendors on street corners around the city. If you keep up with celeb gossip, check the places they eat and shop, and the playgrounds they take their kids to, to increase chances of a star sighting.

Save yourself a lot of pavement-pounding by signing up to be a part of a live audience, watching a TV show being taped or taking a studio tour.

In Los Angeles, moviegoing is elevated to an art form. Instead of seeing a flick at the multiplex, catch what's showing at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (aka "Resting Place of Hollywood's Immortals"), surrounded by the graves of Cecil B. DeMille, Jayne Mansfield, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, and hundreds of other screen legends.

The Best Views

Perch yourself high above Hollywood Hills and have a picnic at the Hollywood Bowl. Choose your soundtrack from a lineup of rock concerts sponsored by local radio station KCRW or time it with a Los Angeles Philharmonic concert.

Top off any trip to Los Angeles—literally—by taking in the view from the Griffith Observatory. Located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, the 75-year-old icon offers stellar views of the heavens thanks to the observatory's original 12-inch Zeiss refracting telescope as well as a trio of solar telescopes.

This is also one of the best vantage points to see the Hollywood Sign.

For a view of the sign from the ground, walk, run, or bike around Hollywood Reservoir (aka Lake Hollywood) Trail. The 4-mi flat walk around also offers great views of hillside mansions. The reservoir was built by the god of Los Angeles water, William Mulholland; its dam has a memorable movie cameo in Roman Polanski's Chinatown.

In addition, the 3-mi Mt. Lee Trail, which begins in Hollywood near the junction of Beachwood and Hollyridge drives, climbs 500 feet to the Hollywood Sign itself. You can't walk around the sign, but you can get about 100 yards from it, which is pretty good for snapshots.

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