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Take a bus tour with Gray Line – LA/Hollywood Experience

Attractions and activitiesExperience the highlights of Los Angeles and Hollywood on this full-day bus tour. Walk in the footsteps of some of Hollywood’s most renowned celebrities at Mann’s Chinese Theatre.

The tour runs daily and includes stops at Olvera Street, Hollywood Boulevard, Beverly Hills, Sunset Boulevard, Farmers Market, The Grove, Rodeo Drive and Melrose Avenue. You’ll also have a choice of exploring trendy Venice Beach or Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade with its many cafes and unique shops.

Visit Universal Studios Hollywood

This is the entertainment capital of Los Angeles. Thrilling park rides, shows, a cinema and shopping at CityWalk are all included with your tickets. Face blockbuster thrills and go behind the scenes to see where the magic really happens. You just might see some Hollywood stars along the way.

Have dinner with pirates or medieval knights

These interactive dinner theatres are popular for guests and locals. See amazing stunts, special effects, music and more. Located in Buena Park and offered through WestJet Vacations as admission only, or with transfers through Southern California Gray Line.

If you opt for the Pirates Dinner Adventure, expect to see aerial artistry, swashbuckling swordplay and dynamic duels. This is a classic story of good versus evil that offers an exciting blend of action, adventure, comedy and romance. It also offers opportunities to interact in the adventure.

Choose Medieval Times if you prefer to see spectacular pageantry, dramatic horsemanship, dangerous sword play, sorcery and romance. Cheer on the brave knights competing on horseback in daring medieval tournament games, jousting matches and sword fights.

Laugh at comedy stars – The Groundlings

Established in 1974, The Groundlings are a sketch comedy troupe whose alumni include Saturday Night Live stars Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell, plus Conan O’Brien, Jon Lovitz, Phil Hartman and Friends star Lisa Kudrow.

They perform shows at the Groundlings Theater on Melrose in West Hollywood, and their skits are tightly written and confidently performed. The Groundlings perform up to two shows nightly.

Shape up with the stars at a Core Fusion yoga class

Strengthen your body at Exhale Spa, just steps from the Santa Monica beach. David Duchovny and Robert Downey Jr. have stretched their famous limbs here. But a word to the wise: If you’re not flexible, yoga can really hurt your feelings.

The best part is when the instructor makes you sit with your back flat against the wall. “If it’s available to you, lift your feet and point them high,” she says. It’s an impossible move for rookies, but you appreciate her supportive attitude all the same.

Hike up to the Hollywood Sign

Attractions and activitiesBuilt in 1923 to advertise a housing development called Hollywoodland, this iconic L.A. attraction is more than 13 metres high and 106 metres long. Nestled in the Hollywood Hills, it can be seen from all over L.A. – including from the runway at LAX.

It’s free to look at, and a fun way to get some fresh air. It actually has its own address, as well. Enter 3000 Canyon Lake Drive, Hollywood, in your GPS.

The drive can be confusing as Hollywood roads are twisty and narrow, but the homes along the way are beautiful and distracting.

When you get to Canyon Lake Drive, park at the dog park. There’s a “no stopping at anytime” sign up on the hill where the best viewing spot is located. From here, you have a couple of choices:

You can climb the small hill for a clear but semi-distant view of the sign. It’s a good place to take photos with the sign in the background and the hike will only take a minute or two.

Or, you can walk up through the Sunset Ranch (a working ranch offering horseback rides since 1929) and then hike up the path. The path will take you close to an hour and a half, round trip. Be sure to bring water if you choose this route since it gets pretty hot under the sun.

Today, of course, you can only get close to the Hollywood sign. Back in the day, you could clamber along a narrow, jagged footpath and actually climb right up on top of it! But that was very dangerous and no longer possible (with the help of security and wire fences).

See Jay Leno do live standup

Every Sunday night, Tonight Show host Jay Leno keeps his standup skills fresh by testing out new material at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach.

There are usually three opening acts. Most notable is Leno’s onetime joke writer, Jimmy Brogan, whose entire act consists of asking people where they’re from. It might sound tame, but Brogan is brilliant at improv.

When Leno grabs the mic, it’s fun to watch him test out new material for his talk show. He’s the first to admit not every joke works, but that’s all part of the creative process.

Book your tickets by Friday or you won’t get a seat. There’s also a 10-guest maximum per group. Pick up your tickets from the box office at 5 p.m. and for a good view of the stage, grab a seat by 6:15 p.m. for the show’s 7 p.m. start.

Dive into the culture-rich Getty Center

Attractions and activitiesIf you’re an art lover (or a fan of oil industry great J. Paul Getty), you have to check out his gorgeous US$1.3-billion cultural centre. It’s located off highway 405, about 19 km northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

ark your car in the garage and take the computer-operated tram up to the arrival plaza. There, you can enjoy the beautiful Cactus Garden, the sweeping views of Los Angeles below and the museum.

The centre houses an impressive collection of pre-20th-century European paintings, drawings, illuminated manuscripts, sculptures and decorative arts as well as European and American photography.

Admission is always free, but parking costs US$15 during the day.

All day adventures

All-day adventures

Take the road less travelled and go beyond the hotel strip with these day trip ideas.

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Shopping

Shopping

Looking for souvenir ideas, great bargains, or luxury retailers close to where you're staying?

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Kids

Kids

For family-friendly ideas in Los Angeles, look no further.

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Shopping

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Melrose District

For decently priced vintage shops and rocker fashions, head to Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood and Hollywood. This is where Jay Leno does his Jaywalking segment for The Tonight Show and a great place for rock T-shirts. For funky blazers, check out Dragonfly. It’s a mandatory tour stop for every band that swings through L.A. Not to mention, Melrose is a great place for people-watching.

The Grove

For relaxed, upscale shopping, head to L.A.’s outdoor market called The Grove. It offers big open plazas, dancing animated fountains, an electric-powered trolley and stores like Banana Republic, Nordstrom, Barnes & Noble, Anthropologie, L.A.’s flagship Apple store, and a 14-screen movie theatre. When you’re ready to eat, try La Piazza, Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro or Maggiano's Little Italy.

Farmers Market

This historic L.A. market opened in 1934. It’s located just south of CBS Television City (where they filmed I Love Lucy in the 1950s and tape The Price is Right today) on the corner of 3rd and Fairfax, right next door to The Grove. Food lovers will love this market. It has more than 100 restaurants, food stalls, grocers and tourist shops to indulge in.

You’ll also find cheese, coffee, housewares, jewelry, international newspapers, fedoras, toys, clothing and more. For lunch, the best tacos can be found at Loteria Grill. Then ride the trolley back and forth between the market’s historic grocers and The Grove’s modern brand name shops next door. You’ll feel like you’re travelling back and forth in time.

Abbot Kinney

Just a couple of blocks up from Venice Beach, the Abbot Kinney area is the heartbeat of Venice. Named for the tobacco mogul who founded the region in the early 1900s, Abbot Kinney has become the perfect example of Venice boho chic. If you’re looking for funky and stylish shops, bars, art galleries, spas, restaurants, furniture or antique stores, you can find them along Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

For excellent nature and wildlife photography, check out the G2 Gallery. Or, if New Age spirituality is more your speed, the Mystic Journey bookstore hosts author talks on past lives, “energy vibration” and the “caregiver’s touch.”

And be sure to come to Abbot Kinney for First Fridays. Celebrating the first Friday of each month, this is when Venice businesses stay open late. With the fun locals out in full force, it’s a party!

Third Street

For trendy cafes and hip upscale shops with all the latest fashions, check out Third Street in West Hollywood. Browse the independent boutiques like Milk (high-end European labels and beauty products, primarily for women) and Douglas Fir (simple, elegant men’s designs and very attentive service). They’ve become the local favourites of savvy shoppers. For jewelry and accessories, visit Kristin Londgren to pair her elegant cocktail dresses and couture designer pieces.

Rodeo Drive

Sure, the shops on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills are expensive but checking out the stores and sights here shouldn’t be missed. Rodeo Drive (and make sure you say it “roh-day-oh”) is where people come to shop for luxury designer labels and haute couture. This three-block stretch is home to more than 100 boutiques selling goods by Bvlgari, Chanel, Fendi, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton and more top designers.

Dining

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Umami Burger (American, $$)

Umami is the only burger joint we’ve seen that offers valet parking. Forget about the tasteless burgers you get at burger stands because the best burger in L.A. is here. There’s a reason GQ magazine awarded Umami’s namesake burger the prize for Burger of the Year. Umami grinds its own meat, processes its own cheese and pickles its own veggies.

The Triple Pork Burger is almost life-changing. Picture fresh ground pork, chorizo and bacon with manchego cheese and pimento aioli. Yum! Meanwhile, the Hatch Burger has four types of green chilies, and the Greenbird burger contains Shelton Farms turkey, crushed avocado and something called green cheese. Whatever it is, it’s delicious.

Gordon Ramsay at London West Hollywood (Fusion, $$$$)

Just south of the Sunset Strip, Gordon Ramsay at London West Hollywood is an upscale, elegant ultra-modern date spot.

The restaurant is on the ground floor of the London West Hollywood Hotel (formerly the Bel Age Hotel) and boldly claims to offer “gastronomic bliss from restaurant to suite.” You can also dine upstairs beside the hotel’s rooftop pool where the menu is simpler and more affordable.

Downstairs, start with the steak tartar and toasted beets flavoured with mustard, capers and chives. For your entree, try the mouthwatering caramelized sea scallops with globe carrots, mushroom ravioli and fennel.

Ramsay is a brilliant chef and seems to only hire the best restaurant designers and chefs to work in his restaurants. This Michelin-starred dining room has a sweeping view of L.A. at night, so ask to sit beside your date on a round bench facing the window.

Church & State (French, $$$)

This French bistro is a breath of fresh air in a downtown neighbourhood that seems industrial by day and a touch bleak by night. Lately, however, funky lofts are filling in deserted old factories around the area.

With its bricks, beams, and exposed light bulbs, this restaurant has the feel of a 1920s era Parisian speakeasy.

For a starter, try the braised octopus with veal reduction. For your main course, try the Noix de Saint-Jacques – sautéed Maine scallops, Yukon gold potatoes and diced leeks with smoked potato leek chowder.

The tastiest cocktails here are either the Blood and Sand (John Barr Scotch, orange juice, Cherry Heering, sweet vermouth) or the curiously spelled Hemmingway (Matusalem Platino rum, Luxardo, lime, grapefruit).

Manhattan Beach Post (Seafood, $$$)

Located in bohemian Manhattan Beach, this new restaurant occupies an old neighbourhood post office. The feel is funky. Planks of vintage, reclaimed wood anchor the seaside ambience.

Sit at your lab stool under industrial lights and let chef and co-owner David LeFevre (former top chef at the Water Grill downtown) serve up tasty seafood dishes on small, shared plates. Perhaps his finest creations are Kona kampachi (yellowtail fish) with puffed rice and yuzu kosho, or green curry mussels with sticky rice and Vietnamese sausage.

For cocktails, toss back his signature Manhattan (whisky, vermouth and sea-salt-caramel bitters) served in a glass rimmed with bacon dust.

Galanga Thai Fusion (Thai, $$)

“Best. Thai. Ever.” This review by a Canadian expat pretty much sums it up.

On lime-green tablecloths, Galanga serves yummy spicy basil duck, pla ka ree pu (steamed fish fillet with crab meat in yellow curry) and a delightful chili lime fish with garlic and lime juice over steamed spinach.

Want to bring your own wine? No problem. For a small corking fee, this casual, relaxed restaurant is happy to oblige.

Versailles (Cuban, $$)

This may be the best Cuban food on this side of Miami. Billed as “traditional Cuban dishes in a casual environment,” Versailles is a big favourite among locals and a must-visit on every L.A. trip.

For an appetizer, get the stuffed platanos sampler. These are fried green plantains stuffed with shredded beef and roasted pork (two each). For your entree, try the garlic chicken. It’s No. 6 on the menu but they should just make it No. 1 because it’s by far the most popular dish. The flavor is strong but the taste is wonderful.

Roy’s (Anaheim) (Hawaiian, $$$)

Located on the beautiful Gardenwalk of the Anaheim Resort district, Roy’s restaurant alone is worth the drive to Anaheim.

Roy Yamaguchi invented Hawaiian fusion cuisine and his culinary empire now spans over eight U.S. states. Pleasantly without the faux-Hawaiian decor found in other Hawaiian-themed venues, Roy’s has an elegant, serene feel – the perfect place to devour a delicious island feast. The restaurant’s standout dishes include the Hawaiiana sushi sampler, luscious kalua pork and shrimp lumpias served with a coconut sauce and a hearty kalbi-grilled hangar steak with futomaki roll and almond and red pepper chimichurri sauce.

Campos Tacos (Mexican, $)

These are L.A.’s best-tasting tacos, hands down – and very well priced. Granted, Campos doesn’t look like much, but looks can be deceiving. This is an independent joint decorated with pictures of Mexican revolutionaries. And the tasty burritos are well worth the visit.

The menu is gigantic, so you can keep coming back to try more dishes, like savoury shrimp and beef fajitas – one of the few items priced at over US$5. Spicy, affordable and great, Campos Tacos rules.

Golf and spa

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Spa

The Beverly Hills Hotel Spa by La Prairie ($$$$)

Classy, elegant and expensive private luxury. The famed “Pink Lady” and home of the Polo Lounge hosts the grand dame of L.A. spas. Often voted one of the best spas in California, it is known for its anti-aging treatments. These include: a caviar massage, a facial using real platinum and a diamond treatment that polishes your skin with micro-crystals from actual diamonds.

The Huntington Spa (Langham Huntington Hotel) ($$$-$$$$)

This is plush-robe relaxation, with a modern take on ancient Chinese therapy. The lavish 22-acre spa stands alone in leafy suburbia. It’s the only AAA five-diamond hotel in Pasadena, and the only luxury spa in L.A. to offer traditional Chinese medicine treatments.

Its treatments are based on the five elements, breathing rituals and acupressure. It also offers Ho Guan (deep tissue therapy involving hot cups placed over pressure points), ear seeds (taping seeds to certain points of the ears to treat a variety of ailments), couples reflexology and moxibustion (mugwort herb burned next to acupressure points to promote circulation). The hotel is a great value, too, with prices that belie its historic opulence.

Century Sports Club and Day Spa ($$)

This Korean spa is fun, especially if you love to sweat (and you like pink robes). The Century Spa’s mission is to sweat out every toxin you’ve ever had or heard of. It offers plenty of saunas and steam rooms, including a jade sauna, clay sauna, wood sauna, eucalyptus steam room, and marble sauna plus a scorching-hot hot tub.

Golf

Angeles National Golf Club

Big Tujunga Canyon tumbles out of the mountains in a riot of Volkswagen-size boulders and a braid of seasonal streams. It would appear to be a tough spot for golf, but Nicklaus Design was able to route a strong course through the terrain. Water hazards are kept to a minimum and bunkers are sprinkled about lightly. But don’t head out expecting a lazy day. This is a tough yet exciting track. Green fees range from US$70 to US$188.

Oak Quarry Golf Club

Situated just west of Riverside, 95 km east of L.A., Oak Quarry runs through played-out stone works. The par-5s are incredibly vast, and the short 4th is a textbook risk-reward par-4 with a green wedged into an excavated terrace on the far side of a chasm. Here, the postcard hole warrants the megapixels expended to capture it: No. 14, a peninsular par 3 set within the heart of the quarry. Gil Morgan, Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley deserve kudos for the design. Green fees range from US$50 to US$95.

Ojai Valley Inn &Spa

Laid out in 1923 by classic-era architects George C. Thomas, Jr. and Billy Bell, Ojai warrants the more than 90-minute drive northwest of L.A. The course is short at 6,292 yards, yet asks players to skirt sentinel oaks and correct-side approaches to reach heavily protected, inverted-saucer greens. As of May 2011, green fees ranged from US$89 to US$180.

Rustic Canyon Golf Course

Rustic Canyon, a Gil Hanse project, carpets a rumple of land where urban L.A. has given way to the hills of Ventura County. The design is minimalist, with broad fairways, greens opening frontward and pure native California past the edges. The bunkering looks organic, like a normal accumulation of sand over time. And the course was built for walkers. Green fees range from US$24 to US$63 and carts are generally under US$15.

Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles

Located near LAX airport, Trump National in Rancho Palos Verdes is a king-sized golf course on a king’s ransom-grade hunk of land rising up out of the Pacific. Players at every skill level have several opportunities to challenge reachable par-4s. From the tips, 18 hits 512 yards and five shots equals bogey.

Pete Dye did the initial work on the course and Tom Fazio remastered it. This course earns big points for its never-impeded ocean views. Green fees range from US$160 to US$275.

Kids

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Hang out with celebrities at Madame Tussauds (all ages)

Mingle with your favourite sports, movie and TV stars at Madame Tussauds wax museum. From Lakers’ star Kobe Bryant, to movie director Quentin Tarantino, to Lady Gaga, there’s a waxy superstar to please every member of your family.

Granted, on first meeting, these celebrities are a little stiff and not very talkative, but it’s certainly an authentic taste of Los Angeles. Buy tickets in advance and you can save 20 per cent off admission to get red-carpet priority-access tickets for US$20 (adults) and US$14 (kids).

Catch a movie at the Cinerama (all ages)

There’s no better place to see a Hollywood film than at this classic, big Hollywood theatre on Sunset near Vine. And by big, we mean massive. With its gigantic 26-metre screen and 70 mm capability, the Cinerama remains a favourite for major movie premieres.

Built in 1963, it was the first in a chain of Cinerama theatres that featured a distinctive curved screen.

For maximum pleasure, sit about one or two seats off the exact centre of the theatre – that way, you can hear the best stereo sound.

Surf in the sun (age 10 and up)

Learn how to surf in Santa Monica! If your kids like to skateboard or snowboard, they’ll definitely have an edge over ordinary landlubbers.

Meet your Blue Rider Surf instructor at Lifeguard Station 20, a five-minute walk from the Santa Monica Pier. Blue Rider also offers mobile instructors who teach classes in Malibu, Venice, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach.

Your lesson starts on the beach where you learn how to jump on the board in a series of moves. Once you’re a skilled sand-surfer, it’s time to hit the actual waves!

Here are a few tips: Don’t stand too far back on your board. Slide your front foot forward and slap down on the ocean. You won’t likely perfect your moves your first few times out, but that’s okay. Remember: no matter how great a surfer is, a ride always ends with a wipeout.

Take a thrill-filled tour of Universal Studios (age 3 and up)

The jungle is dark and foreboding. Giant black widows move on cable-like webs. They lick their pincers, eager to feast on your flesh. Suddenly, you are attacked by a dozen T. rexes! Next, King Kong jumps in and beats the dinosaurs. The day is saved. Hooray! That’s the kind of 3-D fun you and your kids will have on the Universal Studios back lot tour. The tram winds through dozens of actual sets and lasts an hour. Two other amazing rides are Jurassic Park and The Simpsons ride – where l80-foot digital projectors make you feel like you’re inside a cartoon.

Halloween is a great time to go. Universal, home of classic horror flicks like Frankenstein and Dracula, converts the back lot tour into a scaaaary ride where an evil (fictional) director kills his actors one by one. During the tram ride, your kids (over age 8 is probably best for this spectacle) also have to fend off attacks from real-life zombies. Regular park admission is US$74 per day (US$66 if you’re under 48 inches or 1.2 metres tall), or you can pay US$93 (US$83 for kids 5 and under) for passes that include hotel transfer. Or, bypass the lengthy crowds with a Front of the Line pass (US$139 per day in the summer for ages 3 and up, US$119 during winter).

Disneyland (all ages)

Billed as the “Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland has been a family vacation staple for decades.

Built in Anaheim, southeast of L.A., on 160 acres of orange groves and walnut trees, Disneyland first opened its gates in 1955. It has since inspired generations of children, piquing their creativity and welcoming them to a world of princesses and pirates.

You could spend an entire week here, but for young kids, two days are more than enough excitement. Favourite attractions here are Splash Mountain (a waterfall adventure inspired by Song of the South), the tour of Mickey’s House (where you’ll even get to meet the mouse himself), Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Peter Pan’s Flight (voted Best Disneyland Ride for Kids) and the atmospheric Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which inspired the movie series.

Add tickets to your vacation package with WestJet and welcome your family to the wonderful world of Disney.

See stars at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame (age 5 and up)

It’s always a good idea to watch where you’re walking in big cities, especially when you’re seeing the stars along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Stretching more than 15 blocks along Hollywood Boulevard, with a three-block spin-off along Vine Street, the walk features more than 2,500 stars dedicated to legends of film, TV and music. Time it right and you might even get to see a dedication ceremony. And of course, you’ll always have an opportunity to fit your hands into those of your favourite stars.

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre features an even more personal series of dedications to movie and TV stars. For decades, legends from Marilyn Monroe to C-3PO and R2-D2 have immortalized their hand- and footprints in wet cement for permanent display in front of this classic movie house. Admission to the Walk of Fame and Grauman’s courtyard is free.

Take a stroll in the park by the Griffith Observatory (age 3 and up)

Sitting in the heart of the massive Griffith Park, the Griffith Observatory is home to a massive planetarium and may be remembered by film fans as a backdrop in the James Dean film Rebel Without a Cause. Located in one of North America’s biggest urban parks, it offers spectacular views of Los Angeles.

Opened to the public in 1935 and refurbished in the 2000s, admission to Griffith Observatory has always been free. But bring your wallet if you want to watch the 33-minute Centered in the Universe film that plays in the planetarium (US$7 for adults). This epic film transports you through Ancient Egypt, Galileo’s workshop in 17th century Italy, the Big Bang, the Milky Way galaxy and the surface of Mars. On weekdays, there are eight shows daily between 12:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., and on weekends there are 10 shows daily between 10:45 a.m. and 8:45 p.m.

Time travel is hungry work, so grab a snack in The Cafe at the End of the Universe, which is a Wolfgang Puck restaurant.

Nightlife

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The Dresden lounge (Lounge, $$)

This throwback restaurant/lounge has been a Hollywood landmark for more than 60 years. The photos on its wall of fame are cool and resident jazz musicians Marty and Elayne have been playing drums, bass, piano and flute here for ages. See them Tuesday through Saturday nights from 9 p.m. until 1:15 a.m. in the Dresden Room.

VODBOX - Nic’s Martini Lounge (Lounge, $$$)

You’ve got to experience Nic’s Martini Lounge in Beverly Hills, although not necessarily for the food or martinis. It’s the glass-walled Vodbox at the back that is the real draw. The Vodbox is a vodka cooler set to -2 C that offers shots of over 80 brands of vodka and is hosted by vivacious servers wearing long flowing fake-fur parkas.

There’s truly a vodka for everyone here. One vodka tastes like caramel butterscotch, and another is reminiscent of peaty scotch. Best of all, you’ll get to wear a faux-fur coat and hat, so you can look like Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd in Spies Like Us – which is to say cozy, red-nosed and very, very furry.

Tiki-Ti (Bar, $$)

One of the very first tiki bars in the world, the Tiki-Ti has been a tropical tradition on Sunset Boulevard for more than 50 years.

Tiki-Ti’s tropical drinks and kitschy Hawaiian decor are legendary, as are its delicious cocktails. Drinks include Montego Bays, Scorpions, Electric Lemonades, Blue Hawaiians and of course, the bar’s signature drink, Ray’s Mistake. It’s named after the bartender who discovered it after incorrectly making another drink. It was so tasty that they slapped a name on it and have been selling it for decades! But you can’t make this one at home. Tiki-Ti closely protects its secret recipes. On weekends, this spot is packed with loyal regulars and tickled hipsters alike.

The Chateau Marmont (Bar, $$$)

Modelled after an elegant Loire Valley castle, the Chateau Marmont is an elegant oasis above the hectic Sunset Strip. But this hotel wasn’t always so genteel. Back in the 1970s, Led Zeppelin rode motorcycles through the lobby and it was party central for many celebrities of the 1980s.

Restored in 1990, the Chateau Marmont’s beautiful patio is now an upscale see-and-be-seen hangout for starlets. Just beware, beauty doesn’t come cheap and a basic cocktail will set you back US$15. Still, its lush private gardens (no photos allowed) and stunning, panoramic views of L.A. make it a one-of-a-kind experience when you’re thirsty in this desert.

The Prince O’Whales (Bar, $)

If you’ve got a song in your heart, hit the Prince O’Whales for karaoke nights on Sunday and Tuesday evenings. Can’t sing? No problem. These karaoke nights draw little talent, but loads of enthusiasm.

Whisky A Go-Go (Music venue, $$)

Walk through these doors and you’re either walking back in time – or witnessing the next big overnight success. This spot has been an anchor on the Sunset Strip since its opening in 1964.

Whisky A Go-Go has hosted the biggest rock stars in the world, including The Who, The Police, Van Halen, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Oasis, Nirvana and The Doors (once the house band until they were fired for performing the song, The End). But leave your golf shirt back at the hotel – here people wear boots, jeans and leather.

All-day adventures

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Los Angeles Friday Night Skate

This weekly group skate is a dance party on wheels! Picture close to 1,000 watts of block-rocking beats and a diverse crowd of whooping, cheering and gliding skaters. Its website even boasts, “easily one of the loudest and most animated group skates in the world.”

Everyone’s welcome to skate to music through the streets of Santa Monica and downtown L.A. and it’s a terrific way to spend a Friday night. Meet friends, shake your tail feather and have a great time.

Skaters gather at 8:30 p.m. and roll out at 9 p.m. Bring your skates and meet by the cannon near the entrance to Santa Monica Pier (corner of Ocean and Colorado Avenues). When the skate happens in Hollywood, people meet at the Southeast corner of Santa Monica and Doheny Boulevards. Skate on!

Take the crime tour with Crimebo

If you’re looking for something unique, check out Esotouric’s True Crime tours of old L.A. noir. Billed as “bus adventures into the secret heart of Los Angeles,” this tour veers off the beaten track onto classic L.A. crime scenes. There’s also a Literary L.A. tour of locations that inspired hardboiled authors like Raymond Chandler and James Cain.

For music buffs, Esotouric offers Where the Action Was rock history tours, featuring the haunts of Tom Waits and Led Zeppelin on the Sunset Strip and hosted by pop music historians. But mostly, this tour covers vivid stories of local characters and oddballs.

The tours’ snack stops are also unique (a Chinese dumpling picnic in a garden of concrete sea monsters) and the guides are knowledgeable, passionate and generally hilarious. A great example is Pasadena Confidential tour host, Crimebo the Crime Clown.

These offbeat, primarily adult bus tours are a must-see for any film noir fan. Tickets are US$58 for adults. Please note, these tours are not suitable for children.

Santa Catalina Island

This island getaway is a fun and fast way to escape L.A. for a day. Known to locals as simply Catalina, this island is a gorgeous spot, two hours southwest of the shores of L.A.

The Catalina Express runs 30 boat departures a day and operates year-round. From the mainland, you can board at San Pedro, Long Beach or Dana Point. The ferry holds up to 500 passengers and drops you at one of two Catalina ports: Two Harbors or Avalon. The roundtrip adult fare is around US$70 per person and around US$55 for kids aged two to 11. But if it’s your birthday, the ferry ride is free!

Step off the boat and explore the Mediterranean climate of Catalina. Here, you can swim, scuba dive, kayak, snorkel, fish, ride a mini-sub, golf, bike, hike, shop, visit art galleries, hit up a spa or rent your own golf cart and drive around Avalon!

If you’re staying the night at a hotel in Avalon, be sure to catch a first-run film in the art deco Avalon Theatre (US$9 for adults, US$7 for seniors and children aged two to 11), then head upstairs to dance in the stunning Catalina Casino ballroom.

Surf and ski in the same day!

Plenty of places offer surfing in L.A. and plenty offer skiing as well. How many destinations in the world can say that?

First things first – surf’s up! Spend your morning surfing at one of more than 20 beaches in the Greater L.A. Region. Tip: get there early. The best time to surf Huntington Beach and Seal Beach, for example, is between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. The waves are great and there are fewer surfers around to share your wave.

Next, it’s time to hit the slopes. Towel off, toss your skis in your rented convertible and drive the 122 km northeast to Big Bear. Here, you’ll have two major ski resorts to choose from: Snow Summit and Bear Mountain.

Snow Summit is one of the most family-friendly ski resorts in the state. At an elevation of 2,491 metres, this hill has 31 runs and 14 lifts. Meanwhile, Bear Mountain is a beautiful resort with incredible views at an elevation of 2,684 metres. The resort features a bigger base, 24 runs, 12 lifts and offers good downhill skiing right into the spring.

To maximize your time in the waves and on the slopes, Tuesdays through Thursdays are the best days to avoid highway traffic and long lift lineups.

Venice Beach

All-day adventuresNo matter how long you’re in L.A., you have to stroll the Venice Beach boardwalk. Venice is a great place to people watch – you’ll see characters here that you’d only find in a place like L.A. For instance, Harry Perry a.k.a. the Kama Kosmic Krusader has been a regular since 1973, zipping around on roller skates and playing acid rock riffs on his electric guitar.

Before you go, grab a snack and get your fortune read. And be sure to walk past Muscle Beach to check out the athletes (and those who want to train like athletes) pumping iron at the outdoor gym. In fact, Muscle Beach is where Arnold Schwarzenegger flexed his assets in the 1970s.

There’s never a bad time to visit Venice, but try to get there early if you want street parking. If you’re stuck for a spot, try the pay parking lot off the alley behind the Sidewalk Café.

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There was a time, not too long ago, when L.A.'s coolest shopping and eating neighbourhood was, frankly, fairly unremarkable. The strip of nondescript shops and shabby beauty parlours were merely the buildings you drove past while travelling between the famed Beverly Center and historical Fairfax Farmers Market.

Today, West Third Street is an entirely different place. The area between Fairfax Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard has become a destination in itself. The region has become a go-to spot, filled with independently owned boutiques, cheap-and-cheerful hair and nail salons and delicious restaurants. And the number of unique stores, restaurants and cafes is only growing.

But how does an area that has so recently undergone such a dramatic facelift continue to thrive? One word: authenticity. West Third isn't pretending to be something it's not. There's no fake ''cool'' vibe here – it just comes naturally. And in a city like L.A., where nothing is ever as it seems to be, you can't put a price on this kind of authenticity.

Unpretentious yet chic enough to attract many beautiful celebrities, West Third feels a million miles from Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Strip. The street offers a peaceful retreat from the crowds, and perhaps most importantly, it still feels like a local secret.

But consider yourself in the know! Below you'll find a list of the West Third spots that locals love.

Where to eat

Curious where locals like to eat in L.A.? Here's a few places where you're guaranteed to have your tastebuds tickled – and you may just see a few famous faces too.

Joan's on Third

A gourmet market and cafe with all the goodies, you'll find beautifully displayed cured meats and cheeses here, along with homemade sweet pickles, pretty cakes and sweet pastries. The dine-in menu is full of fresh sandwiches and salads. Pull up a seat inside or on the outdoor sidewalk patio. And may we suggest the apricot glazed ham and brie sandwich with mustard caper sauce (US$9.95).

The Little Door

The simple wooden door leading into this restaurant may not be anything to write home about, but given its reputation for hosting Hollywood's biggest names, you won't want to pass this door by. A cozy, candlelit courtyard and a French-inspired menu using organic seasonal ingredients are key features of this intimate restaurant. Try the pistachio-crusted seared day boat sea scallops with saffron sauce (US$40). Or if you prefer a quick bite to take away, try Little Next Door, a deli and marketplace spinoff right next door.

The Izakaya by Katsuya

Reservations are recommended at this quaint izakaya (which translates loosely from Japanese as ''pub'') that specializes in yummy small plates such as a mouthwatering baked crab roll and halibut carpaccio with granny smith apples. Open for lunch and dinner. Try the crispy rice with spicy tuna for a surefire hit (US$9.50).

Where to shop

Whether you're shopping for something new or simply new-to-you, West Third's selection of shops and vintage boutiques has you covered.

Pyrrha

Vancouverites Wade Papin and Danielle Wilmore are the design duo behind West Third's Pyrrha jewelry. This is the duo's first US boutique and it's taking off. Featuring their signature wax seal pieces – made by casting 19th-century seals into pendants, necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets – jewelry from this shop has been spotted on everyone from Taylor Swift and Reese Witherspoon to Gael Garcia Bernal and Jeremy Piven.

Satine Boutique

Satine devotes serious floor space to L.A.-based lines such as Modern Lovers and Seneca Rising as well as some big fashion labels (Balenciaga, Dries Van Noten). It also has a private label collection. The store's show-stopping centrepiece is a blue staircase leading to the second-floor gallery used for art installations.

Inago

Shoe lovers, beware! This store carries everything from the merely indulgent to the completely one-of-a-kind. There are truly shoes for every foot here. Brand names include Barbara Bui, Giuseppe Zanotti, Casadei and Jill Stuart. Just don't forget your credit card. Foot candy this fabulous doesn't come cheap.

Polkadots and Moonbeams

Since 1982, thrift-store shoppers have looked to this vintage clothing boutique for pre-loved fashion finds. (And yes, those shoppers include professional stylists and costume designers.) In fact, the shop was doing so well that it expanded and opened a store of new clothing just a few doors down.

Traveler's Bookcase

The hand-drawn maps by A La Carte found here come complete with key points and insider tips about exotic cities. They make the perfect gift for friends heading off in search of adventure. Of course, there are many other great gifts here, including unique guidebooks, travel accessories and an amazing selection of globes.

OK

There are probably more home decor shops than there are homeowners in West Hollywood, but there's always room for more! Especially when it's this fun. Think wooden block alarm clocks and funky candy-coloured vintage rotary phones.

Calendar of events

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Oscar parties for everyone (February)

The Oscars award show and its star-studded after parties are closed to the general public. But if you didn’t make the guestlist (or award shortlist), there are still plenty of tuxedo-optional ways to join in the Oscar excitement.

At the Cinefamily Awards-Watching Party + Fundraiser, you can catch the Oscars on the big screen at the 1940s-era art deco Silent Movie Theatre. Don’t worry, this theatre now has a fully-functional sound system and is one of Hollywood’s most-beloved and beautiful cultural landmarks. Just try to arrive early (or purchase a premiere membership) so you can sit on one of the leather couches.

The Global Green’s Pre-Oscar Party is a fundraiser for Global Green USA. This Oscar party is hosted by different celebrities every year at Avalon Hollywood. Here you’ll find a boisterous club party with top Los Angeles DJs. Dress up and get down!

Long Beach Grand Prix (April)

Take a gorgeous sun-splashed beach and pack it with hundreds of thousands of race fans. Fill them with beer, hot dogs and soda, then unleash the Formula-1 race cars. That’s the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – three days of racing that include Champ Car races, the Atlantic Champ Car Series, Team Drift Challenge, American Le Mans, a Celebrity/Pro Race and a huge kick-off street party.

Coachella Music and Arts Festival (April)

A fantastic music festival for L.A. music lovers, though not actually in L.A. This festival is in Indio, about 230 km southeast of the city. But with its huge crowds, Coachella may as well be considered an L.A. suburb for the weekend. All the cool Hollywood types and music lovers from around the world gather for the annual festival in the sun. Recent acts have included Kings of Leon, Kanye West, The Strokes, Duran Duran, plus Canadian bands such as The New Pornographers and the Grammy-winning Arcade Fire.

It may only be April, but Indio is in the desert, so dress for daytime heat and nighttime chills.

Cinespia (May)

Watch movies under the stars in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Cinespia was started by a handful of film buffs in 2002. Today, several thousands come out to watch movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Touch of Evil and tribute screenings to recently deceased stars. (After Elizabeth Taylor’s passing, they showed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.) Lay your blanket out on the ground and enjoy a night with the stars, under the stars.

Irvine Lake Mud Run (July)

Mud-running fun for the whole family! Located about an hour southeast of L.A., the Irvine Lake Mud Run is a mucky obstacle course attracting big crowds not afraid of getting dirty. The racecourse is partially on the road, partially in the hills and partially in eight mud pits.

You’ll feel like you’re in the army as you muck through sludge and climb professionally built obstacles. For some extra fun, many racers dress in elaborate costumes. (Expect to see superheroes, tutus, bridesmaids and rat-racing corporate drones.) To complete the festival feel, there’s a luau, beer garden, live bands and dirty dodge ball.

The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor (October)

Locals know the Queen Mary is haunted, so what better place to throw a Halloween scare-fest? Worth the trip to L.A. alone is this giant haunted house aboard a creaking ocean liner. Moored at Long Beach, the Queen Mary ship and hotel gets a macabre makeover on All Hallow’s Eve. Dare to enter five scary mazes, Vampire Village and the Graveyard. Plus, there’s an all-ages dance party with live bands. Food, beverages and plenty of dancing make for frightful fun with friends or family.