Universal Studios in Los Angeles, California
Universal Studios in Los Angeles, California
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By Lee Foster

Planning my trip to Los Angeles put me in the director’s chair, requiring decisions mu ch like those that face any filmmaker.

I wanted action, adventure, and most important, a happy ending that would leave me looking forward to making a sequel during a future visit.

I discovered a vast “talent pool” of tempting attractions and mu seums here, ranging from blockbuster theme parks to one-of-a-kind art exhibits, all eager to play a role in my travel production.

With only a few days “on location”, I had to make careful casting choices and script a schedule that would meet my time constraints and keep me entertained.

A handful of “superstar” attractions performed well, but I was just as pleased with my selection of a “supporting cast” of lesser known, but no less talented, co-stars.

I even added a few “cameo appearances” from interesting eateries that featured comic book superheroes and a sushi bar where the chefs dance to disco mu sic.

My plot begins with the “superstars”:

*The J. Paul Getty Museum/ Getty Center . The Getty Museum has had a profound effect on Los Angeles tourism, elevating the destination to a new level of art pilgrimage and strengthening also the many other art tourism aspects of Los Angeles that are worthy of attention. The billion-dollar Getty Center can be celebrated for several reasons. Its special art objects, such as medieval illuminated manuscripts, are generally the best in their genre. The architectural design by Richard Meier is stunning, presenting a sweeping view of the West Los Angeles valleys from a hilltop perch in Brentwood . Be sure to allow time to meander the gardens and savor a sunset from this vantage point. The mu seum is free, but visitors mu st call ahead to reserve a $5 parking space if they plan to arrive by car. The Getty is off Freeway 405 at the Getty Center exit, 1200 Getty Center Drive , 310/440-7300.

*The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. Submerge yourself in the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean , largest and most diverse body of water on the planet, by touring this well-designed aquarium. Begin your exploration of more than 550 species of the Pacific in the frigid, ice-laden waters of the ocean’s northernmost sector. Proceed to the temperate coastal waters of Southern California-Baja to see playful seals and sea lions. Continue your ocean exploration in the Tropical Pacific, with its brilliant coral and deep-sea creatures. Aquarium highlights include a ray-petting pool for kids, a tunnel with fish swimming overhead, and a huge tank with many open-ocean species. A mammoth blue whale, largest of all mammals, hangs dramatically from the ceiling while delicate, leafy sea dragons from Australia inspire wonder at the mu ltitude of creatures with which we share the planet. The Aquarium of the Pacific is at 100 Aquarium Way , 562/590-3100.

*The Hollywood Entertainment Museum . The urge to get close to the movie/TV scene in Los Angeles is a major aspect of travel here. The Hollywood Entertainment Museum , 7021 Hollywood Boulevard , 323/465-7900, provides a personable tour of the sequence of film and TV production, taking you through the Prop Room, Wardrobe Room, and Director’s Office of a si mu lated media production facility, all stocked with heirloom objects, such as the wardrobe from Star Trek. You also see the actual sets from Star Trek and Cheers. The Museum lies in the heart of Hollywood , within a block of Mann’s Chinese Theatre, where the names and handprints of the stars are etched in cement. Down the street from the Museum is the venerable Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, whose second floor mezzanine level features classic photos and memorabilia of early Hollywood .

* Venice Beach . The scene at Venice Beach is a special Los Angeles phenomenon not to be missed, especially on a sunny weekend when the parade of humanity shows itself in full force. While walking the paved ocean path winding north and south at Venice Beach , you’ll encounter bicyclists, inline skaters, and joggers, many displaying attractive, youthful physiques. You might happen upon a spontaneous gathering of dozens of drummers filling the air with percussive song. Along the way you can enjoy an outdoor massage or decorate yourself with a temporary henna tattoo. There are plenty of arts and crafts to peruse. Park a few blocks from the beach along Venice Boulevard and head for Ocean Front Walk. Be on the lookout for the mu ral known as Venice Reconstituted, one of a half-dozen interesting wall mu rals in the area.

Universal Studios Characters in Los Angeles, California
Universal Studios Characters in Los Angeles, California

*Universal Studios Hollywood . Universal is a working movie studio as well as a major movie-studio-as-theme-park attraction. Universal’s newest ride is Jurassic Park , which puts you up close and personal with the dinosaurs of the popular Steven Spielberg film. Take the Backlot Tram Tour to experience fires, floods and other special effects from past Universal movies. A recent addition is Universal CityWalk, a retail, restaurant and nightclub scene, where the Marvel Mania Hollywood restaurant can immerse you in a comic book world and trendy chef Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant serves up inventive pizza. Universal is off Freeway 101 North, exit Universal City, 818/622-3801.

Among the “supporting cast”, here are my current favorites:

* Santa Monica ‘s Third Street Promenade. Creating interesting urban places to walk, shop, and eat is part of the art of city planning. Santa Monica has the magic in its Third Street Promenade, which runs for several blocks north on Third Street off Colorado Avenue , near the Santa Monica Pier. This pedestrian walkway is lined with street performers, lively outdoor cafes, and vendors, such as one entrepreneur selling all kinds of bumperstickers, appropriate in this car-worshipping milieu. Take a stroll past the lovely art deco Georgian Hotel, 1415 Ocean Avenue , a 1933 gem restored in 1997. An ocean-view suite at the Georgian would be about as genial a Los Angeles lodging as one could imagine. Only hotel guests (310/395-9945) can enjoy the engaging front porch, where they linger for a drink at sunset, and the breakfast/brunch restaurant, the Speakeasy, where they partake of sumptuous omelets in red leather booths, surrounded by photos of Clark Gable and his ilk, with classic movie songs playing softly in the background. Breathe in the freshest air in LA with a walk along the waterfront and the nearby Santa Monica Pier.

*The Japanese American National Museum . One of Los Angeles’ many ethnic groups, the Japanese, celebrate their heritage at the Japanese American National Museum, located in the historic Little Tokyo area, which was disrupted by the World War II internment. On display are some of the mu seum’s 30,000 photographs, paintings, and textiles, telling the story of Japanese Americans from their immigrant origins to modern lives. The Museum features a re-created barracks from the internment period and a water and meditation garden, plus changing exhibits of modern Japanese-California artists. The Japanese American National Museum is at 369 East First Street , 213/625-0414.

* Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Special exhibits mounted by the Los Angeles County Museum add mu ch to the aesthetic pleasure of this area, often reminding a visitor of the depth of the cultural artifacts permanently on display in the region. For example, on a past visit the blockbuster Van Gogh exhibit at LACMA, a sellout attraction, complemented the 10 Van Goghs permanently on exhibit in Los Angeles , scattered at several institutions. Be sure to check for LACMA special exhibits during your visit. The permanent collections are also stunning, ranging from Mexican art to movie wardrobe collections. LACMA is at 5905 Wilshire Avenue , 323/857-6000, opposite the Petersen Automotive Museum .

*Petersen Automotive Museum. You don’t have to be a mechanic to enjoy this memorial to a Los Angeles icon, the American car. Here you’ll find one of the largest collections of vintage automobiles in the U.S. , distinctively set off by dioramas that portray the car as an element of social life. If you want to see a mint-condition 1932 red Deusenberg, for example, this is your chance. Cars of the stars occupy part of the second floor. The Peterson Automotive mu seum is at 6060 Wilshire Boulevard , 323/930-2277, across the street from the vast art treasures of the Los Angeles County Museum . This is the ” mu seum district” and may, ironically, best be explored by foot. A short walk away is the Page Museum that features pre-historic extinct mammals originally discovered on-site in the La Brea tar pits.

* California Science Center . When the wonder of science excites a child or an adult, a special moment has occurred. The California Science Center can do just that. Visitors love to ride the High Wire Bicycle suspended above the center’s atrium. Pedaling backwards and forwards, as in a circus act, passengers never fall off because of a counterweight balancing them. It’s a science lesson on center of gravity, but also a thrill. Adults marvel at the hyperbolic paraboloid in the lobby, nicknamed Hypar, which slowly expands and contracts, remaining stable as it is transformed, like an exploding star. The California Science Center is at 700 State Drive , 213/744-7400.

For “cameo appearances”, I invite you to look at some special Los Angeles restaurants:

* Gladstone ‘s 4 Fish. Gladstone ‘s presents a premier seaside location in Malibu , indoors and outdoors, with sunsets tossed in for free. The culinary specialty at this largest-grossing-restaurant-in-California is lobster. Over 80 tons are served here each year, along with all kinds of fish. Portions are large, and servers wrap up your leftovers in gold-foil creations, maybe a whale, swan, or a crab. The folksy menu and scene is casual and fun, but also fine dining. Gladstone ‘s 4 Fish is at 17300 Pacific Coast Highway , Malibu , 310/454-3474.

* Tokyo Delve’s Sushi Bar. For a high-energy evening, enjoy the sushi and the disco-dancing waiters at Tokyo Delve’s. Don’t plan for a quiet conversation here, but immerse yourself in the ebullient good spirits, as the waiters erupt in spontaneous song and dance for every possible occasion, whether it’s a patron entering the restaurant or someone ordering another tall Sapporo beer. The food is as good as the ongoing party. Tokyo Delve’s is off Freeway 101 north, exit Lankershim, on 5239 Lankershim Boulevard , 818/766-3868.

*Elephant Walk. The African American com mu nity of Leimert Park is an interesting architectural entity, an early planned residential com mu nity designed by renowned architect Frederick Law Olmstead. The choice restaurant here is Elephant Walk, 4336 Degnan Street , 323/299-1765, located near popular jazz clubs. As a contrast to Tokyo Delve’s, Elephant Walk is a quiet place for a conversation. Leimert Park is adjacent to the wealthiest black com mu nity in Los Angeles , Baldwin Hills.

* Seoul Jung. Elegant décor complements classy Korean barbecue, prepared at your table, at the downtown restaurant Seoul Jung. You’ll savor the sizzling shrimp and chicken, plus succulent mu shrooms and onions. Condiments include the spicy, pickled vegetables known as kim chi, a Korean specialty. Seoul Jung is at 930 Wilshire Boulevard, 213/688-7880.

Take some cues from my movie-directing efforts to develop your own travel script and cast. Then get ready to enjoy your show.

***

LOS ANGELES: IF YOU GO

Contact the Greater Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau, 685 Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90017; 213/689-8822; www.lacvb.com.

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