Plus, as far as flights go, Los Angeles is often as cheap as, or even cheaper than some other much closer destinations. Plenty of non-stops are available from Philadelphia, which is the way to go if you have younger kids. The flight is about five to five-and-a-half hours gate-to-gate.
Once on the ground, it's a relatively short drive from LAX to Hollywood, which is where you'll want to concentrate most of your stay. The traffic in Los Angeles is notorious, however, and you should always plan on any jog on the freeway taking longer than it appears on the map, especially during rush hour. Hollywood Boulevard is a great place to start any tour. The Mann Chinese Theater is where you'll find the footprints and signatures of the stars set in concrete. On weekends, this area is crowded and can take on a sort of carnival atmosphere with locals dressed-up as cartoon characters prancing around, glad to let you take their picture, but then getting surly when you don't fork over cash after the fact. But the enclosed area where the stars' marks reside is free and somewhat secluded from the street. There's something here for everyone, as kid-friendly celebrities (the robots of Star Wars, for example) have left their mark beside the classics like Bogart and Gary Cooper.
In this general area, you may see young people on street corners selling "Maps to the Stars' Homes". It sounds hokey, but for a few bucks, this isn't a bad purchase. I don't know how accurate the maps are, but they will most certainly lead you into the heart of Beverly Hills, the neighborhood of stars, agents, movie moguls and others on which the light of good fortune shines brightly. It's a fun drive, and kids will enjoy seeing some of the more exclusive and grand Hollywood mansions.
And the Oscar goes to...
Back on Hollywood Boulevard, it's possible to tour the Kodak Theater, home to the Oscars. The tour includes placards showing you where all the more famous celebrities sat during the previous broadcast. This tour also gets you and the kids out of the sun and the heat for a bit, if it happens to be a warm day.
Through a nearby mountain pass is Burbank, home to Universal Studios. Like the park in Florida, there are tons of movie-related rides in a theme park setting here, but there's also the famous back lot tour and unlike Florida, there are actually dozens of front-line movies and television shows being actively taped and filmed here every day. While there are no guarantees, it's possible to catch of glimpse of a notable strolling through some of the areas the tour goes. This is a pricey day out, but fun for the kiddies, and interesting for adults too, when it comes to the tour.
I saw it on TV!
NBC Studios is right down the road, home to many TV Shows including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Tickets to this and other shows can be had by writing in advance. But you may also be able to score same-day seats to some shows (game shows appear to be especially in need of audience members) by either waiting in a pot-luck line or keeping your eyes peeled for ticket hawkers back around Hollywood and Vine. The tickets should be free, by the way. Don't buy tickets to any of these tapings.
On the way back into Hollywood from Burbank, you can stop by the Hollywood Bowl amphitheater, scene of some famous concerts including the Beatles invasion of the U.S. back in the 60s. The kids won't care about the history so much, but the sheer size of this outdoor concert shell is pretty impressive and fun to see. Check ahead, but it's often possible the catch a glimpse during the day when no shows are scheduled. The Griffith Observatory is perched on a hilltop nearby and offers fantastic views of the L.A. basin.
If you're a baseball fan and it's the season, Dodger Stadium is also located not too far away in Chavez Ravine. Although this baseball landmark has been around awhile, it's still a picturesque, unique facility, with the seats behind home plate set into the side of a hill. Plan ahead and you may be able to catch the Phillies here. They come once a year.
On the road
Over by the ocean, it's possible to travel north into Big Sur country, another haven for Hollywood's elite, although most of the beachside homes are sheltered and difficult to glimpse behind the large walls and plantings. Farther south, Santa Monica pier has been used in countless movies and may look familiar. Still farther south is Venice Beach, a unique experience with L.A.'s eclectic mix of beach bums, muscle men and roller-blade skaters all sharing space.
Down the road in Anaheim lies the spot where Walt Disney's theme park dreams first took flight. The original Disneyland will seem small and a bit quaint to those familiar with Orlando's Disney World, but it features some one-of-a-kind attractions including the Matterhorn Roller Coaster (which is tame enough for even young children, assuming they meet the height requirements). Plus, next door, there's a second totally unique park, California Adventure. After some initial bad reviews, Disney has really stepped things up here and now, the place is packed with adventures, including a one-of-a-kind, dazzling Indiana Jones ride (not the same as the stuff in Florida). There's also a Broadway-caliber theater, a looped roller-coaster, a great Ferris wheel (you can choose either the traditional gondola or one that lurches around the side of the contraption as it turns), and the original Soaring ride which has now been repeated in Florida. There's also a neat series of museums that pay homage to Walt in the early days. Adults can sample various state wines in the evening while watching a parade pass by. On site hotels are top-notch and within walking distance of the parks. The Grand Californian actually has a park entrance connected to the back of the hotel.
The more adventurous can shoot down to San Diego (two hours south on the freeway) for a visit to the Gaslight District, the famous Zoo, Legoland and Sea World. Two hours north, and you're in the quaint, restaurant-filled town of Santa Barbara, which is, in turn, a fairly quick hop from some nice California wineries. Kids can tour most of these. Only the adults can sample!
A few hours north of L.A., along the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway is Hearst Castle, the behemoth built (but never fully completed) by the publisher William Randolph Hearst. Home to many an infamous Hollywood party, this place is as much a window into opulence as reckless planning. Hearst was the inspiration for Orson Wells' Charles Foster Kane in the classic film, Citizen Kane. There are several tours available, but the main tour is the most popular. The kids will enjoy seeing the amazing swimming pools and the castle's dining room. You must book in advance, and you want to check for age restrictions.
If L.A. alone doesn't see like enough of an adventure, you can cut short your trip and keep heading north along the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco's hills, cable cars, and the Alcatraz tour. You can make it in a day and fly home from there.
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