Southern California has a wealth of beautiful scenery and must-see sites, but save those pennies – living like a movie star is far from cheap…
As we packed our bags into the car, we sang, “California Here We Come,” thinking of Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel as set out to see Hollywood. Could we, grandkids in tow, discover the glamor of this state and create our own La La Land adventures?
To do Southern California in style one needs money, lots of it! Be prepared to spend, spend, spend at luxurious hotels, fabulous restaurants, great attractions and of course, exclusive boutiques. The good news is that the kids sleep and usually eat free, and of course, the warm weather and breathtaking mountain and ocean scenery — as well as the celebrity spotting — are always without cost.
Debuting In Pasadena
As the movie industry flourished, so did Southern California’s quaint communities. Pasadena, home of the New Year’s Day Tournament of Roses Parade is a wonderful place to vacation with family anytime of the year.
The City of Roses is 15 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, nestled at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. Sights include the Huntington Library (626/405-2100), featuring art collections and spectacular botanical gardens, and the internationally recognized masterpiece of the American arts and crafts movement, Gamble House (626/793-3334), designed in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of Proctor and Gamble. The Norton Simon Museum of Art (626/449-6840) showcases fine art collections from the Renaissance to the 20th century.
Historic Old Pasadena covers a 20-block area with 130 specialty shops and 80 restaurants including fine continental cuisine at Spencers Main Dining Room or a more casual dining experience at Spencers Backdoor. Lovers of the California grape will be impressed with Spencers Wine Cellar. On the other hand, if barley appeals, check out Gordon Bierscch Brewery Restaurant.
Screening in Newport
Newport Beach is an hour south of Los Angeles and home of Fashion Island, a shopper’s paradise of 200 stores and restaurants, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and right across the street from the The Island Hotel and Resort (866/554-4620). We loved the ambiance of the Pavilion Restaurant, elegantly casual with delicious food to boot. The Four Seasons is the hotel of choice for the Who’s Who visiting the area. It provides guaranteed tee times at Pelican Hill Golf Club and a bevy of spa services, welcome after a day on the course. For the kids, the Four Seasons has Nintendos, VCRs and a selection of videos, and board games to borrow. If you let reception know in advance, they’ll have welcoming gifts waiting for your little ones when you check in. Babysitting services are also available at the Four Seasons.
Once you leave the beach, other sights to see in Newport are Back Bay, Balboa Island and Rogers Gardens. Balboa has an old-fashioned amusement park and pier full of fun your grandchildren will love. The Ritz, where Newport Beach’s old money meets to eat, is quite grand! Make sure to hire childcare so you can take time for a little romance aboard a gondola – Adventures at Sea Yacht Charters (1/800/229-2412) offers the ambiance of Italy in the heart of Orange County, complete with a gondolier, champagne or sparkling cider and Godiva Chocolates. Catered meals can be ordered in advance.
Go West Young Men!
Historic Santa Monica Pier with its famous Ferris Wheel, restored carousel, and old-fashioned arcade is just minutes from Beverly Hills. The Pacific Park Ferris Wheel, or Pacific Wheel as it’s known, boasts 5,392 red, white and blue bulbs circling 130 feet into the sky. On sunny days, the ride uses 650 photo-voltaic modules installed on top of its loading area to store enough solar power to generate 71,000 kilowatt hours. On cloudy days, it spins with a conventional electric generator. The 20 gondolas can accommodate as many as 800 riders per hour.
The recently renovated Loew’s Santa Monica (310/458-6700) overlooks the pier from its beachfront perch a few blocks away. The hotel’s fine dining room Lavande brings the flavours of the South of France to your plate. The Spa at Loew’s has attractive fitness facilities and locker rooms open to all guests; spa treatments are extra, but well worth the charge. And the lovely outdoor pool framed by palm trees will entertain your water babies in warm weather.
Airplane enthusiasts will enjoy Santa Monica’s Museum of Flying (310/398-2500), housed where Douglas Aircraft Company was founded. It’s just been renovated, and there are over 40 vintage aircraft, many still in flight-ready condition including a Hawker Hurricane Mk. X11 built in Brantford, Ontario. Not far from the museum is Flint’s, a supperclub reminiscent of the ’40s, a favorite hangout for celebrities living in nearby Santa Monica Hills.
If you want to see the stars and movers and shakers of Hollywood, then the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles (310/273-2222), in the heart of Beverly Hills, is the place. We spotted actors Sigourney Weaver, William Baldwin and composer Marvin Hamlisch in the award-winning Gardens Restaurant. The Four Seasons offers guests complimentary limousine rides to stylish Rodeo Drive for some serious shopping. The kids will want to hit the huge Niketown and the always popular Discovery Center nearby.
After dropping your coin on Rodeo, you can relive television’s past at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum (323/465-7900), though it gets mixed reviews. Some families prefer the free Hollywood History exhibit off the lobby of the landmarked Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel nearby. In front of the museum is the Hollywood Walk of Fame leading to Mann’s Chinese Theater. Paramount Studios (323/956.3036), the only working studio still located in Hollywood, offers two-hour walking tours.
You’ll want to spend an entire day at Universal Studios Hollywood (818/622-3777). Don’t miss the “Classic Behind-The-Scenes Studio Adventure,” a great backlot tour with many film sets and support operations to visit. Outside the main gates is Universal Studios City Walk with its many fun restaurants and clubs. Our favourite was Wizards, a magical dinner theatre, and there are some fun themed cafes for lunch.
If you’re renting a car, Hertz offers computerized directions making traveling the infamous California Freeways a little easier. At an additional cost, Hertz rents a GPS positioning device, to help you get to where you have to go.
For more information contact the Convention and Visitors Bureau for Los Angeles (213/689-8822), Pasadena (626/795-9311) and Newport Beach (949/ 719-6100). For additional suggestions on lodging in the area, see Los Angeles Hotels.
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