might be the epicenter of entertainment when it comes to film and television, but it is also the land of awes for art, architecture, atmosphere and eye candy. So any visit to the L.A. should include these top ten Los Angeles attractions in the plans.
- The Getty Center in the Pacific Palisades opened in 1997 as not only one of the foremost research centers and museums for pre-20th-century European art collections; and 19th- and 20th-century American and European photographs, but also as an icon of what brilliant architecture, a sweeping mountain view and 1.2 million square feet of travertine will do. The expansive Richard Meier-designed campus sits on a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains, just off the San Diego Freeway, a spread of curvilinear design elements and natural gardens. While visitors amble through galleries of paintings and art renderings from pre-Renaissance to Impressionist periods in Europe, works are viewed through a complex system of natural lighting, casting the works in much the same tones in which they were created. While the permanent collections are impressive enough, this Los Angeles attraction runs rife with temporary exhibitions, such as Photographs from the New China (through April 24) and Imagining the Past in France, 1250-1500 (through Feb. 6). Admission is free. Parking must be reserved. Excellent dining options and gift shops onsite.
- The Getty Villa in Malibu is as much one of the top ten Los Angeles attractions as the Center's Palisades sister. This Classical villa across the street from the beach was once the location of J. Paul Getty's ornate Spanish ranch house before it became a classical labyrinth of the collector's antiquities and pre-Renaissance acquisitions. The Villa closed in 1997 to reopen in 2006 as a glorious hall of Roman, Greek, and Etruscan antiquities, some 44,000 pieces with more than 1,200 on view in permanent exhibitions world class collection that can hold its own against New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Admission is free. Parking must be reserved. Excellent dining options and gift shops onsite.
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has long been considered one of L.A.'s top ten attractions. Its location in the Miracle Mile District in mid-town is convenient to Downtown as well as Beverly Hills and Hollywood and its collection runs the gamut: Renaissance, Impressionism, Modern Expressionism, Islamic, Egyptian, modern American, pre-Columbian, Ancient Near East art... The museum receives rare collections on tour; most recently the latter-day works of Renoir were on view. Current shows include the Art of Courtly Lucknow; and Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico. Admission is generally $15 but second Tuesdays are free. The museum is located on what is known as Museum Row, sharing the boulevard with the Page Museum of Natural History, The Peterson Auto Museum, The L.A. Craft and Folk Art Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits.
- Hollywood & Highland (at the confluence of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue) has the comedy, the characters, the stars and the theaters, making for a hub of buzz at almost any hour. On a tour taking in the top ten Los Angeles attractions, Hollywood & Highland is a good place to start. It's on the Metro Red Line, one of the few places in LA you can target on that train and end up somewhere interesting. The busy Hollywood intersection includes the Renaissance Hotel and famous Grauman's Chinese Theater, which flank Hollywood & Highland on either side. Hollywood & Highland itself is a three-story maze of boutiques, cafes, shops and souvenir kiosks in a Babylon-themed homage to D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance." Spilling over from the Chinese Theater are comic and movie-themed characters posing for tips upon a cemented walkways of bronzed star awards and famous celebrity hand and foot prints. The Kodak Theater, home of the Academy Awards, is located here and gives tours every 45 minutes for $15. The Cirque du Soleil will open a permanent stage production at the Kodak this summer, "Iris: A Journey through the World of Cinema."
- Santa Monica Pier is a fun place to go and an easy way to take in the beach when trying to see the best attractions in Los Angeles. The 1,600-foot-long pier opened in 1909 and still contains the circa 1922 carousel with 44 hand-carved horses, and the 1938 gate built by the WPA. A working roller coaster and Ferris wheel add to the amusement park atmosphere. Thursday nights during the summer bring on the Twilight Dance Series with top-notch bands rocking the pier.
- Beverly Hills usually makes it onto a top ten for LA list, if only because it's an original. This was the place that started it all – the must-have Gucci's and Fendi's; the salons and spas of the stars and the hangout cafes, such as Nate 'n Al's Deli where gossip columnists grabbed inside bites at the surrounding booths. Today, as in the 50's and 60's, the stars still stop by Nate n' Al's, and make their special orders at La Perla and D&G. Rodeo Drive is still dotted with bistros, such as The Farm and Spago where some name or two will be sipping coffee behind an LA Times. But things are much more casual now. Stars dine, buy shoes, drink wine, and no one really cares. The neighborhood remains a compact mile of style with Rodeo Drive and Beverly Drive concentrating the boutiques and stores while Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman-Marcus anchor the zone on Wilshire Boulevard. A hop-on hop-off trolley runs around the area and some great walking tours through the mansions along the palmed boulevards north of the shopping district can be found through the Beverly Hills Visitors Bureau.
- The Grove/Farmer's Market is a wonderful one-stop attraction that contains a modern multiplex cinema, the largest Barnes & Noble west of the Mississippi, an Apple Store, and a Nordstrom in an open pedestrian wonderland attached to the historic Farmer's Market. The new Grove element comes with plenty of places to sit, patches of green, musically-inclined fountains, bridges, and community spirit flanked by an avenue of brand boutiques and flagships while the Farmer's Market is as it always was – a quiet corner of LA to by really good doughnuts, freshly roasted nuts, steaming jambalaya, DuPar's pies or just a simple no-name cup of coffee. It's an outdoor bazaar or food stalls – many that have been around since the 1930s, while others, such as the Banana Leaf, serving healthy kosher Singapore cuisine, that have been around only a few years. Celebrity sightings are practically guaranteed. This is a favorite spot for just about everyone in L.A. and it never gets old.
- Universal Studios Hollywood is a must-see Los Angeles attraction if there are young kids in tow. The park is an easy drive, just a few minutes from downtown or Hollywood. Parking is easy. The CityWalk avenue of themed shopping outside the park is gloriously entertaining. But the theme park is fun for anyone who wants to get a behind-the-scenes view into movie making and then hit the thrill rides. The backstage tour changes day to day, depending on what is being filmed and available for show. And patrons always get to see such iconic sets as the Psycho house, the Jaws lake, and the clock square from Back to the Future. Just this summer the park's latest ride, a revamped King Kong thrill experience, opened and puts the edgiest, gripping technology to work for an immersive confrontation with Jurassic beasts.
- The Hollywood Bowl brings in the concerts and the crowds every summer. The listings are as likely to contain Tchaikovsky conducted by Gustavo Dudamel as they are to feature Lady Gaga or the Buena Vista Social Club. Box seats and exquisite boxed dinners are available. It is traditional for parties to bring their own picnic and wine and enjoy the open environment at picnic tables or from their seats under the stars. Cheaper seat purchases usually require binos but the sound quality is excellent. Parking is problematic so concertgoers often walk from the Metro subway station at Hollywood and Highland or park at the Metro lot at Lankershim at take the shuttle.
- The Griffith Observatory sits on a mountain peak overlooking Hollywood and old L.A. with much the same pan of lights that played in Rebel without a Cause. Although it closed for a time and reopened in 2007 with a new planetarium show (we're talking Zeiss star projector, laser digital projection system, state-of-the-art aluminum dome, comfy seats, sound system, and special theatrical lighting all contributing to what is considered the finest planetarium in the world currently), it still has all the Art Deco touches of the 1935 original and many of the original spaces. On clear nights the observatory opens its Zeiss telescope for public viewing and on clear days they can see forever through three solar telescopes in operation. The observatory stays open Wednesday to Sunday until 10 pm and can be accessed for free, although there is a small charge for the planetarium sky show. There is a café and gift shop onsite as well.