Hit the beach. Start in Venice for its offbeat boardwalk scene then head north to the Santa Monica Pier with its historic carousel and carnival rides. Eat and shop at the breezy Third Street Promenade. Continue north on scenic Pacific Coast Highway to swim/surf beaches at Malibu, Point Dume and Zuma. Move inland via Wilshire Boulevard to Beverly Hills and the world-class shops of Rodeo Drive. Gawk at mansions on the residential streets and have a cocktail or tea at one of the luxury hotels. Having made advance reservations, dine at one of L.A.'s top tables such as Chinois on Main or Spago (both at www.wolfgangpuck.com). Or head for hipster haven Melrose Avenue and chow down at the landmark, always-open Canter's Deli.
Begin downtown. Have breakfast at L.A. institutions The Original Pantry or Philippe's. See one of L.A.'s first neighborhoods, the now kitschy Olvera Street. Explore Chinatown's shops and galleries, maybe delving into dim sum at Empress Pavilion. Now move westward to Hollywood. See the stars' footprints in cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Stroll a bit of Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame (search an online map for your favorite stars' placement at www.hollywoodchamber.net). Note other movie palaces of yesteryear the El Capitan and the Egyptian Theatre. Take in the view of the famed Hollywood Sign from the Hollywood and Highland Center.
At Disneyland, utilize the FASTPASS ticket system to minimize waiting in long lines for top attractions. Also, resist the temptation to relax with a meal - stick to grab-and-go eats to make the most of your time. Musts are thrill rides Space Mountain, Matterhorn Bobsleds and Indiana Jones Adventure, and Magic Kingdom classics It's a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean and one of the daily parades or pyrotechnic shows. Little ones will want to ride Dumbo, check out Toontown and meet Disney characters throughout the park. If you're really ready to hustle, buy a Park Hopper ticket and visit California Adventure on the same day.
If you choose Universal, start with the studio tour that takes you by tram through the still-functioning movie studio lot. You'll have a King Kong 3-D experience, see Desperate Housewives' Wisteria Lane and even be threatened by a shark from Jaws. Learn about moviemaking at the Special Effects Stage. Enter movie magic with rides Jurrasic Park, Shrek 4-D, Revenge of the Mummy and Terminator 2: 3-D. Youngins will like The Simpsons Ride and The Adventures of Curious George. Finish your visit with shopping and eateries in the larger-than-life CityWalk.
Born and raised in L.A., Andrea Renskoff's knowledge spans trendy hubs to the diamonds in the rough to escapes from the ordinary. She currently writes about food, travel, families, health, wellness and lifestyle.
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