Los Angeles Overview
The City of Los Angeles has a lot more going for it than Woody Allen leads us to believe. Stretching along the Pacific from Malibu to Long Beach, the region offers plenty to see and do in what can only be called a sun-kissed blend of adventure, culture and whimsy. It all melds stylishly with an anything-goes attitude, and whether you're kicking back on one of its fabled beaches, grabbing a ride at a world-class amusement park, plunging into glittery shops for the latest Oscar-worthy fashions (you need to practice a regally bored look to fit in better), dining at Tinsel Town hot spots or exploring inspiring world-class museums -- you're in for a magic-carpet ride like no other. And in a city dominated by "show business" -- prepare for a ride that comes with a good deal of self-indulgent dazzle anytime of day, be it a Malibu glamour tan while nonchalantly reading Variety, catching the Pussycat Dolls at the Viper Club on Sunset Boulevard or browsing breathtaking art works at the Getty.
For those who never watch TV or go to the movies, we should tell you that L.A. is a sprawling metropolis (with an atypically high percentage of beautiful people) with no "center" -- which means you'll wind your way through various neighborhoods and independently incorporated communities, keeping your eyes peeled for celebs and clusters of paparazzi everywhere (did you know that the city's Zagat restaurant guide actually has a "stargazing" category?). And still under the heading of Geography 101, try to think in terms of the major "areas" like Santa Monica and Malibu, the San Fernando Valley (the "valley" to locals), the Westside and Beverly Hills, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Downtown and Pasadena.
One important note: Cruises don't actually leave from Los Angeles -- they embark and disembark from San Pedro and Long Beach, two adjacent ports. These are located about 20 miles south of Los Angeles International Airport (see below).
Los Angeles Quick Facts
Nope. Not a myth. Not an urban legend. No one really walks to get from point A to point B around Los Angeles. In fact, locals will only walk just so far -- like from their front door to their garage and from the parking lot to the store. And since it is all a huge urban sprawl, consider wheels (be it a taxi, a car rental, a bus or a train) to get around.
Three airports serve the Greater Los Angeles Area: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport (BUR); and Long Beach Airport (LGB). Amtrak (www.amtrak.com) serves Los Angeles with its main terminal at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
Renting a car is pretty easy, but navigating the elaborate network of freeways -- not so much. All the majors are set up at the airports and pretty cheap, too -- but if a Ferrari or Hummer is your thing, consider Budget Beverly Hill Car Collection (www.budgetbeverlyhills.com). Not only will they bring the car to the airport as a complimentary service, they'll be waiting for you at Baggage Claim where, in the blink of an eye, all the paperwork is done. Did we mention the traffic? Leave plenty of time to get where you're going and try to enjoy yourself along the way. Note: Most Southern California freeways have carpool lanes (HOV/High Occupancy Vehicles called "Diamond Lanes" in and around Los Angeles, and signified with a diamond shape painted in the lanes) -- which means there needs to be a minimum of two (a few require three) passengers inside the car to be using it. Don't even think about trying to beat the system. You'll end up with a pricey fine that will cost upwards of $300.
Seeing the sights will a bit of a challenge since you'll want to use freeways for quicker travel -- a perplexing situation even for locals -- though sticking to main thoroughfares like Wilshire, Santa Monica, Sunset, Venice, Olympic and Pico boulevards is perfectly fine if you don't get crazy driving in a lot of traffic. For example, you can drive Wilshire, Olympic or Sunset boulevards all the way from the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica to downtown. It may take a while, but it does give you a chance to see a lot. You can also get to the valley through the "canyons". Taking the steepish twisting roads through Laurel, Coldwater or Benedict canyons or over Beverly Glen is an impressive drive, particularly as you reach Mulhulland Drive at the tippy-top before heading down to Ventura Boulevard -- the valley's main thoroughfare. Note: Freeways running east-west have even numbers, while those running north-south have odd numbers. Most have a name as well as a number and all are well-marked.
After huge delays and an even huger cost ($7 billion), Los Angeles finally has a light rail system that covers more than 60 miles and 65 stations with four lines. The Metro Rail may not go everywhere, but it can make it easy to get to a bunch of places worth checking out, such as Pasadena and Universal City. Trains run from approximately 5 a.m. until midnight, depending on the particular line: the Red Line connects downtown to Hollywood, Universal City and North Hollywood; the Gold Line connects downtown to Pasadena and Long Beach; the Blue Line connects downtown to Long Beach with free shuttle-bus connections to LAX; the Green Line runs along the Century Freeway and links Norwalk and El Segundo. Single rides are $1.25 ($0.55 for seniors), but there's a one day pass for $3 ($1.80 for seniors). For more information, visit www.mta.net. Notes: Station stops can be more than a few blocks from your actual destination, so be prepared to walk. Tickets are purchased from vending machines and the entire system operates on an honor system. That being said, there are inspectors, from the Sheriff's Department no less, that roam the cars checking randomly for tickets. Get caught without a ticket and you'll end up with up to $250 in fines and maybe even 48 hours of community service.
Xpress Shuttle (www.xpressshuttle.com) provides service 24/7 to and from all three airports to really anywhere you need to go throughout the area. It is also popular for getting to both cruise terminals. From LAX to San Pedro is $34, to Long Beach, $38. From the LGB to the Long Beach Cruise Terminal is $20. From BUR to San Pedro, the fare is $58, to Long Beach, $54. SuperShuttle (www.supershuttle.com) operates the same way, serving the same airports. From LAX to San Pedro and Long Beach cruise ports, the fare is $17 per person for a shared van. Reservations are not necessary from the airports, but they are when you require a pick-up to go back.
Taxis can be expensive -- primarily because everything is just so spread out. The first drop is $2, then $2 per mile after that. A surcharge of $2.50 is added for fares originating from LAX. Taxis are not hailed in Los Angeles and must be called, unless you are at a major hotel, at an airport or downtown at Union Station. United Taxi (213-483-7604) and L.A. Taxi (323-654-8400) are two reliable choices. A metered-taxi ride from LAX to West Long Angeles or Santa Monica will run about $20, to Beverly Hills, about $25 and to downtown, count on $35, but that's only if you arrive and travel when traffic is at a minimum, say ... between midnight and 5 a.m. A tip should be about 15 percent.
Public buses (there are more than 200 lines) are recommended for quick daily trips only. Fares are $1.25. Transfers are $0.30. For more information, visit www.mta.net. Downtown Los Angles has a DASH system and fares are $0.25 (and $0.10 for seniors). For more information, visit www.ladottransit.com. The Cityline shuttle is great if you're hanging around West Hollywood (not to be confused with Hollywood). It operates weekdays 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. - 7:30 p.m., making stops at all the major shops and restaurants at $0.50 a pop. For more information, phone 800-44702189. Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus offers 12 routes covering the beaches, UCLA and LAX for $0.75 a ride, $0.25 for seniors and disabled. For more information, visit www.bigbluebus.com. Around San Pedro, electric trolleys run between the World Cruise Terminal, downtown San Pedro and Ports O' Call Village from Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. (until 4 p.m. during the winter months) for just $0.25. For more information, visit www.ladottransit.com/other/trolley.
Long Beach's public transportation is excellent. The Passport is a free shuttle bus March - September that provides hop on/hop off service throughout the downtown area -- getting you to top attractions such as the Queen Mary and the Aquarium of the Pacific. The Aquabus makes six stops daily late from late May to early September, then weekends thereafter, running frequently along Rainbow Harbor to the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Queen Mary, Catalina Landing and Pine Avenue Circle. The fare is $1 and you can pay onboard. The newer, faster Aqualink catamaran makes stops along the way to Alamitos Bay near Seal Beach. It also runs from late May to early September, then weekends thereafter. The fare is $2 and you can pay onboard. For more information, visit www.lbtransit.com.
Where You're Docked
Most ships embark and disembark at the Berths 91, 92 and 93 A/B at the World Cruise Center in San Pedro. Carnival Cruise Lines and some Princess ships sails in and out of the Cruise Terminal in Long Beach.
The World Cruise Center is approximately 20 miles south of the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) via the San Diego Freeway (405) south to the Harbor Freeway (110); 25 miles south of Downtown Los Angeles via the Harbor Freeway; 12 miles from Santa Monica via the Santa Monica Freeway south (10) to the San Diego Freeway to the Harbor Freeway; 20 miles from Hollywood via the Hollywood Freeway (101) south to the Harbor Freeway. Once on the Harbor Freeway, continue south to the CA 47-Terminal Island exit. Parking is available for $12 per day. Free shuttle buses are provided to and from the terminal on scheduled ship days. Note: They are not wheelchair accessible.
The Long Beach Cruise Terminal is at 231 Windsor Way and is approximately 30 miles from LAX via the San Diego Freeway south to the Long Beach Freeway (710); 35 miles from Downtown Los Angeles via the Harbor Freeway south to the San Diego Freeway south to the Long Beach Freeway; approximately 32 miles from Santa Monica via the Santa Monica Freeway east to the San Diego Freeway south to the Long Beach Freeway. Once on the Long Beach Freeway, follow the signs for the Queen Mary. At the entrance to the Queen Mary, stay to the far right for the Carnival Cruise Terminal. Parking is $11 per day. Note: No matter where you're driving from -- count on at least an hour's time to drive from locations listed above. The Long Beach Airport (LGB) is approximately five miles from the cruise terminal.
As of late September 2006, passengers flying from Los Angeles International Airport after their sailing can check-in their luggage from the ship terminal; for a $5 fee, bypass the ticket counters, remotely check up to two bags and print out airline tickets.
Staying in Touch
Cafe Dot Com: 3015 Main St., Santa Monica
Charley Brown's Steakhouse: 3030 Cherry Ave., Long Beach
Coral Tree Cafe: 11645 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood
CyberJava: 7080 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Residuals: 11042 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
Rooms Cafe: 1783 Westwood Blvd., West Los Angeles
Acapulco: Big, bold and better-than-you'd-think Mexican cuisine at really good prices. The Fajitas Gigante are not just gigantic when it comes to portion size -- this dish is a sizzling extravaganza of shrimp, chicken and steak with plenty of sauteed onion, guacamole and peppers -- it's only $15! Per-person cost with wine (though we highly recommend a margarita grande) will run about $22. Inexpensive. 750 Sampson Way, San Pedro.
Chin Chin: A beloved mini-chain (there's even one about 10 miles from Long Beach in Lakewood) offering up the likes of dim-sum, only-in-L.A. Chinese chicken salad and plump, golden-browned pot stickers. Always fun, very inexpensive and honestly quite delicious. Inexpensive. Daily from 11 a.m. 11740 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood; 206 S. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, 8618 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; 12215 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; 16101 Ventura Blvd., Encino; 13455 Maxella Ave., Marina del Rey; 5252 Faculty Ave., Lakewood.
Hideaway Cafe: Picture dining on a patio above the Pacific Coast Highway atop a sweet little bed & breakfast. Sounds good, right? So's the food. Omelets, salads, yummy sandwiches and the like are on the menu. Inexpensive. Daily 8 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Malibu Country Inn, 6506 Westward Beach Rd., Malibu.
Musso & Frank: The oldest restaurant in Hollywood and it's still wonderful. If you love martinis, this is the place. Clubby, dark and comfortable. Moderately priced. Tuesday - Saturday 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.
The Ivy: No two ways about it. This is the place to see and be seen. On top of that, it's, in a word, lovely. Country French to the nth degree, you'll enjoy the good food, too. Expensive. Reservations recommended. Monday - Saturday 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. 113 N. Robertson Blvd., L.A.
Koi: A hey-isn't-that-Ben-and-Jen-over-there kind of place, the food's Asian and the scene is white hot. Try the seared scallop with yuzu. Moderate. Reservations recommended. Monday - Friday noon - 2:30 p.m. 730 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood.
L'Opera Ristorante: Fantastic northern Italian dishes like caramelized sea scallops snugly placed between asparagus cannelloni and a creamy roasted garlic ricotta. Expensive. Monday - Friday 11:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. 101 Pine Ave., Long Beach.
Nate 'n Al's: More than a handful of New Yorkers would tell you that there is no true deli in L.A. -- but this actually is a really good one, Hollywood-style. It's a favorite among long-time famous locals; don't be surprised if you see one slurping up the very delicious chicken soup. The pastrami is as good as it gets -- even by New York standards -- and if you love short ribs, this is the place. Moderate. Open at 8 a.m. every day -- so don't knock yourself out rushing over to make lunch hour. 414 N. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills.
The Lobster: Smack-dab between the Third Street Promenade and the Pier, this place has a delightful pedigree nowadays. Under the direction of award-winning Allyson Thurber -- who hails from the wildly acclaimed Striped Bass in Philadelphia -- enjoy everything lobstery from grilled Pacific spiny lobster to a refreshingly outstanding cold lobster and avocado salad. No disappointments here. Expensive. Daily 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m., 1602 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica.
Pink's: Some say it's an acquired taste, but not only are the fluorescent-orange chili dogs the best you'll ever have -- you'll also probably spot loyalists like Leno, Willis and Pitt lining up at this iconic outdoor stand (near the chi-chi Beverly Center shopping mall) with the rest of the crowd at this beloved L.A. institution. Even Ruth Reichl, the famous food critic (she's now the editor of Gourmet Magazine) said she once dug through their trash to find out what kind of chili they used (it's a family recipe). Inexpensive. No, cheap! 709 N. La Brea Blvd., Los Angeles.
Shenandoah Cafe: Dine on hearty choices such as baby back ribs, apple fritters and Granny's deep-fried chicken. Expensive. Daily for dinner, but there is a Sunday brunch. 4722 E. Second St., Long Beach.
For Dinner Only
Babouch Moroccan Restaurant: If you love Moroccan food, this award-winning spot will do the trick. Their Bastilla (chicken, spiced eggs and roasted nuts all wrapped up in filo, sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon) is out of this world, and it comes with a fabulous floor show, too. Expensive. Tuesday - Sunday, 5 p.m. - 10 p.m. 810 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro.
Nobu Malibu: Yet another outpost, this time at the beach. Try the ceviche. It's divine. Very expensive. Sunday - Thursday 5:45 p.m. - 10 p.m, Friday - Saturday until 11 p.m. 3835 Crosscreek Rd., Malibu.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
As Los Angeles is part of the U.S., the currency is the U.S. dollar. International visitors will find it easy to access cash at numerous ATM machines. Exchange bureaus so common in Europe are not in the U.S., but major banks also provide exchange services. Banks are generally open from Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. Some have Saturday morning hours.
San Pedro: There are really a fair number of places to see around San Pedro. You can walk through Old San Pedro where you'll find plenty of shops and restaurants, or you can consider something more cultural like the American Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial on South Harbor Boulevard, the historic Angel's Gate Lighthouse, the Greek Revival Banning Residence Museum or the Los Angeles Maritime Museum -- which happens to be California's largest maritime museum. Inside you can check out more than 700 ship and boat models and try your hand at any one of more than 60 seaman's knots.
The Ports O' Call Village is another worthwhile stop. An authentic New England-style seaside village, it's a place to meander cobblestone streets, dine al fresco as ships pass by or shop 'til you drop at dozens and dozens of specialty shops worth a browse. It's also the place to hop aboard a harbor cruise or helicopter tour. Find yourself here from January through March, and you can sign up for a Whale Watching Cruise. If you have time, catch the Catalina Express (you can also catch it in Long Beach) to car-less (for visitors) Catalina Island and its capital, Avalon. The trip is about an hour each way, and you can dine seaside, snorkel, bike through town or simply enjoy the beach.
Long Beach: It goes without saying that Queen Mary is a popular place to start. It was the most glamorous ship of its time; the passenger lists on its Atlantic crossings between 1934 and 1964 included the world's most famous, from Winston Churchill to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. During World War II, the ship was converted to a troop ship named the Grey Ghost, and carried as many as 15,000 troops at a time.
Alas, the iconic, Art-Deco-adorned liner, now a floating museum, hotel and conference center, bears little of the glory of her crossing days, and frankly we (and we're vintage ship aficionados) found it a depressing experience. For those without preconceived notions, though, a look inside the hotel portion of the ship (free) and a meal at one of its restaurants (not free) is a worthwhile trip back in time. A self-guided tour costs $23 ($20 for seniors, $12 for kids between 5 and 11), and there are sad little fast food snack places (plus a restaurant) for those who want to eat onboard (daily 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.).
Aquarium of the Pacific is home to 550 species from three Pacific Rim regions: Southern California & Baja, the Northern Pacific and the Tropical Pacific. The top don't-misses here are Lorikeet Forest -- a mammoth outdoor aviary that will knock your socks off -- and the Plexiglass underpass in the Soft Coral Lagoon (daily 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., but the restaurants and bars are open later). Consider spending time at Shoreline Village, where you can choose between renting a sailboat, strolling a boardwalk, taking a tour in a bicycle-driven surrey or shopping all the cutesy shops (for more shopping, head for the Queen's Market Place near pier J. For nightlifers, check out Pine Avenue in downtown Long Beach.
Port Profies are provided by CruiseCritic.com, an award-winning cruise community, giving you objective, unbiased information to help you choose the right cruise.