Southern California

I travel all around the world, and like most people, I often forget that there are tons of great things to see and do virtually in my own backyard! California is a major destination for anyone who lives outside this long and vast state and people come here from all over the world. The weather here is fantastic and, oh, the lifestyle. There is so much to see and do. I mean you can be on the beach in the morning, and skiing in the mountains in the afternoon. It’s true. it’s also true that it’s really spread out, so the best thing to do is rent a car, grab a map and go. From the beaches to the deserts, there’s no end of places to go.

You should definitely rent a car in Southern California. Buses take forever, taxis are expensive, as well as, few and far between and train schedules are not always convenient and may get you there but not back. When traveling between cities, avoid the freeways at rush hour, especially Friday and Sunday. Plan your day around the traffic flow to make the best use of your time. Going 5 miles can take an hour at peak travel times. Also, the shortest route is not always the fastest in southern California due to that traffic. Rent a car with GPS and check with your hotel concierge for route verification. Once you’re all set, click in the seatbelt, step on the gas pedal and let it roll!Southern California can be defined by three C’s and three L’s: Creativity, culture, cuisine…and of course, location, location, location! Most people think of Los Angeles when you say “Southern California,” and, true, LA does have lots to offer, what with dazzling Hollywood parties, dizzying drives through million dollar neighborhoods, and designer shopping in Beverly Hills. But the region has much more to offer than that. So, have car, will travel ’cause it’s all about the day trip! And, like I said, this is one place you have to have a car to survive!

First stop, mandatory and no exceptions, the beach, of course! Ahh! The beach, there’s nothing like it. Southern California has such great beaches and great beach cities. I mean, they all have public parking and lifeguards, restrooms, facilities. And this weather, other than some morning fog, you pretty much can enjoy the sand year ‘round, but it does get chilly in winter. Surfers wear wetsuits because the California ocean is cold, even in the summer.

One of my favorite beach towns is Santa Monica. Located just west of Los Angeles boundary lines, the City of Santa Monica is all about the beach, but you don’t have to get into the water to have a good time! There’re lots of things to do onshore, like, the Santa Monica Pier – one of my favorite places to hang out. They have all of those crazy carnival rides that either thrill you or make you sick or both! There are arcades for the kids, restaurants and street vendors for the grown-ups. And, of course, people come here for the view, of water, sunsets people and pretty bathing fashions—remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there is an eye-full believe me!

For the total landlubbers, there’s always the 3rd Street Promenade, the most popular are of Santa Monica. There’re tons of great restaurants to suit every taste, fantastic shopping from the fabulous to the far out, entertaining street performers—some amazing, some amusing and some you can do without. But there is always people watching, only here they have more clothes on!

In southern California, better is what’s it’s all about. No matter how great the food, how beautiful the view, there is always something better just around the corner. With such a vast area to cover, we can’t cover it all, but there are a few places you just gotta see! I want to take you to one of my most favorite southern California cities, located about 90 minutes north of Los Angeles, on the water with a great lifestyle that many celebrities have already discovered. It’s called Santa Barbara.

Discovered in 1542, Santa Barbara has managed to maintain harmony with its historic background, which is pretty apparent in the miles and miles of red tile roofs. The singular architecture Santa Barbara is famed for is actually a captivating blend of Spanish, Mediterranean and Moorish influences.

The crown jewel of buildings is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, completed in 1929. The spectacular view from the 85-foot clock tower boasts the legendary “American Riviera” view of the town’s buildings, mountains and the sea. The success of the Oscar nominated film, Sideways, once again turned America’s attention to Santa Barbara, especially on the food and wine this region is so famous for. Award-winning restaurants and wineries here are thriving showcasing local fruit, vegetables and nuts.

To better appreciate just how amazing the produce is here, let’s step back into the past and see where this great tradition of ‘growing the best began.’ Established on the Feast of St. Barbara in 1786, the Santa Barbara Mission was founded for the sole purpose of converting the Chumash Indians to Christianity.

Having survived abandonment by the Church, political upheaval and two earthquakes, much of the Santa Barbara Mission, its church and friary remain standing today and is open daily for tours. There’re lots to see here and it’s interesting to imagine what life was like back then, but the most interesting thing happening at the mission now, is what’s going on behind it. They are trying to recreate a sort of plant zoo that represent all of the plants that they can chronicle that were in existence here between 1769 and 1834. It’s called the Huerta Project (pronounced wurta) and it is a collective of hardworking researchers.

“Huerta” is a Spanish word of the Alta, a California era that was indicative of the first gardens created by the Spaniards and missionaries at each mission along our state highway, the old El Camino Real. An important project today, huertas were a very high priority back in the mission days, too. It was the duty of every mission site to become self-sufficient within five years, and be able to grow edible foods, the foods of commerce and utilitarian plants for each mission site, like hemp for ropes, corn and seasonings. The mission was the social, cultural and business center for the area, so what was grown in the huerta definitely influenced the local cuisine.

They have almost all of the seasonings growing that are indicative of southwestern cuisine and California Mediterranean cooking. Gardening has come a long way since the 1700’s but fresh fruits and vegetables are still a very important part of the Santa Barbara cuisine. One of the things that they have here in the Santa Barbara area is actually a micro-climate which allows them to grow a lot of different things that can traditionally be grown in tropical areas or colder areas and that’s what makes the locally grown produce so popular on the seasonal menus found in many restaurants in and around Santa Barbara and all the way up and down the coast.

From huerta to haute cuisine, Santa Barbara is the place to be for the very best produce. Speaking of restaurants, it’s mealtime and I’m starving. Take time to sample some of the local goods at one of Santa Barbara’s finest restaurants, The Wine Cask.

This is the fancy restaurant in Santa Barbara, fine dining for sure, and it sits right at the heart of Santa Barbara amidst the long-standing establishments. The post office is across the street, the main bank is across the street, and the newspaper office is also across the street. Can’t get much more central than that, can you?

There are lots of special things about the restaurant, one of them is its history. Part of the building was built in the early 1900’s and it actually survived the 1923 earthquake. Both the ceiling and the fireplace have stayed historic landmarks. The ceiling was hand painted by an artist of the time, all in gold leaf, and the room has been known ever after as ‘the gold room.’ Not to be outdone by its decor, the Wine Cask has an unbeatable menu as well. It’s a very seasonal menu, using lots of local ingredients from the area purveyors and organic producers, like what we learned at the mission.

If you think the décor and the food are amazing, what until you get a load of their wine list, which by the way, is 65 pages long! For the many years in a row, they have won the Wine Spectator Grand Award, which is the highest accomplishment a wine list can get in the world. There’re about 89 restaurants in the world that have this award, so it’s kind of amazing to see a little town like Santa Barbara have a wine list that has a Grand Award.

It’s a special time in Santa Barbara with the wine industry burgeoning the way it is. Restaurants are making food to go with these wines, and the Wine Cask is at the fore. As the wines become better, their food becomes better and they’re merging the two together, creating a local food scene in Santa Barbara. It’s quite an exciting time to be in Santa Barbara if you are in the produce, wine making or restaurant or hotel industries.

Especially for you wine lovers out there. All of the local wineries here offer tastings and tours. Let’s check out one with an unusual claim to fame, The Santa Barbara Winery.

The winery has a claim to fame for being the closest winery to the beach in the Western Hemisphere. Winner of many regional wine awards, the Santa Barbara Winery is famous for other reasons as well. It was founded in 1962, and it is the oldest winery in the county. With so many different types of wine out there, the winery concentrates on just a few varietals to ensure the highest quality. You can visit and learn everything about the wine process, as well as how to taste and rate wines. You can eat and drink here and you don’t have to carry the wine back with you, they’ll arrange shipping directly to your front door. Of course, go easy on the tasting, or be sure someone else is able to drive. California, particularly along the coastal cities, is very strict on drinking and driving, with severe punishments for driving under the influence,

You know what would go really well with all this wine? Cheese of course, and Santa Barbara has the cutest gourmet cheese shop this side of Holland! C’est Cheese! When they opened at 825 Santa Barbara Street, their goal was to be the premiere cheese shop in Santa Barbara, and they have not only achieved their goal, they have surpassed it. Mmm! You won’t believe how good it smells in here and how many different cheeses they have!

They carry a variety of cheeses from all over the world, including a lot regional cheeses from California. Some other local products that they carry, are the Santa Barbara pistachio, grown right in Santa Barbara County orchards, as well as some variety of olive oil that is made in the adjacent Santa Ynez Valley. They also carry some fine truffle chocolates that are made down in Los Angeles by a well-known chocolatier.

A friendly little shop, C’est Cheese! welcomes cheese novices as well as aficionados. Cheese is something that people tend to be a little intimidated by and so they really wanted to provide the highest level of service which included a lot of education in cheese. They didn’t people to come in and be overwhelmed by the number of cheeses that they carry, so they make sure everyone is informed. They also host monthly cheese tastings, something that really sets them apart from other cheese shops in the in the country. C’est Cheese! and Santa Barbara seem to be a match made in cheese heaven!

What a great day trip up the coast! Not too far north of Santa Barbara, you’ll find a quaint little Dutch village called Solvang, straight out of a picture book. There are windmill buildings, little artisan and pastry shops, great little restaurants, and just the cutest hotels and motels just inland from the shore. There is a Chumash Indian casino where you can gamble and see great entertainment, a slew of golf courses, several dude ranches, and the home of Anderson’s Soups. Yes the old-fashioned pea soup like grandma used to make that you buy in the can at your local supermarket.

What do you say? Let’s head back to the hotel in Los Angeles and rest up, because we’re heading a ways south of LA on our next day out of sightseeing. Next stop on our coastal tour of Southern California is Long Beach!

It’s gorgeous, Long Beach. Who knew it would turn into a vacation destination? It’s gone through a complete renovation, new shops, restaurants and hotels. There’s a great aquarium in the harbor and The Queen Mary ocean liner is right here, too. What a great place to visit.

Incorporated in 1888, Long Beach is the fifth largest city in California. Situated along five-and-half miles of scenic coastline, boasting 345 days of sunshine a year, Long Beach is the ultimate vacation getaway for the entire family. Somehow capturing the vibrant energy of a sophisticated urban center and the quiet charm of a seaside community, Long Beach is a great day trip from la and a destination all by itself.

First up, go to the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, a world-class facility that is home to more than 12,000 inhabitants of the Pacific Ocean, representing 550 species. A short walk from the aquarium, along the picturesque Rainbow Harbor are two brand new entertainment/dining/ shopping complexes, Shoreline Village, which is patterned after a quaint fishing village, and The Pike at rainbow harbor which is a fun-filled homage to an amusement park from Long Beach’s colorful bygone past.

If downtown and upscale shopping is more your thing, hop on one of the free shuttle buses that will take you to all of the most popular parts of town. If you elect to stay in the harbor, there’re boats of all shapes, sizes and speeds, offering everything from whale watching to charter fishing, to sailing lessons or excursions to Catalina Island. Then there is my favorite – “boat and breakfast” where you get to spend the night on one of the working yachts including an authentic Chinese junk!

But if you’re looking for an unusual hotel that has a little less motion in the ocean, and a little more class from the past, it’s “All Aboard, the Queen Mary.” The most unusual hotel in Los Angeles would have to be the Queen Mary in Long Beach, where you can stay in an original state room on one of the most famous cruise ships in the world. And if you do check in, make sure you say hello to the ghost for me they say lives on board.

Launched in 1934, the Queen Mary made 1001 trans-atlantic crossings before being de-commissioned in 1967 breaking all sorts of world records at the time. In her hey-day, the Queen Mary was the grandest, the fastest and most elegant of all ocean liners. She even won the blue ribbon for being the fastest ocean liner. It was really the most elegant way to travel and everybody from celebrities to royalty traveled aboard the Queen Mary. If you remember the Titanic movie, you’ll get the idea of the grandeur.

When guests board the Queen Mary they are immediately transported into a bygone era. All the ships’ areas have been restored to the original elegance and it really is a feast for the eyes. You don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy the many activities the Queen Mary offers, but once you come on board, you’re not going to want to leave!

One of our more popular tours, is very spooky, The Ghost & Legend of the Queen Mary Show. Show explores the paranormal and haunted side of the Queen Mary. It takes you to different areas of the ship that are not open to the public, including the former first class pool, the boiler room and many, many other places that are located deep in the under belly of the haunted ship.

One of the things not original to the ship is their new restaurant. Named after Sir Winston Churchill, a regular passenger aboard the Queen Mary, who is rumored to still haunt the ship, Sir Winston’s is an elegant, award-winning 4-star restaurant. It’s located way above the sun deck, and it gives you the most panoramic view of Long Beach Harbor, where you can take in a beautiful sunset. The food is continental and it is truly a fantastic, romantic dining experience. You’ll be treated like royalty, which is nothing new for the Queen Mary.

While visiting the Queen Mary and walking along the docks, you’ll see a huge painting of whales on the Long Beach Arena, an old convention and concert hall. It’s recognized by Guinness as the world’s largest mural. The artist is Wyland, and if you want to see more of his work, we need to drive southward to his headquarters, and to one of my most favorite southern California cities, Laguna Beach.

Known for its artist colonies and galleries, world-class restaurants and breathtaking views, Laguna Beach is truly a resort town for all seasons. It’s actually located ouside Los Angeles County in Orange County, yes the same as the TV show. For over 100 years, Laguna Beach has been attracting artists and art lovers, alike, with galleries popping up like flies – 100 of them to be exact! But, the most famous and most popular gallery is right on the coast highway overlooking the ocean, and it belongs to Wyland.

Wyland saw his first Californian gray whale and all his other wales, for that matter, right here off the coast, just 500 yards off this gallery, this very location. Not satisfied to merely paint marine life, Wyland, who only has one name, spends thousands of hours diving and photographing them, to make sure he captures the real sense of movement and intelligence that he sees in these astonishing animals. One of the things that makes Wyland so unique is the vast amount of research that goes into his artwork, in his bronze sculpture, his clay; there’s a real sense of life and exuberance that you feel just by looking at the art.

Wyland paints these murals out of his passion to educate people and share the beauty and majesty of life in the sea. All of the murals that Wyland paints throughout the world are donated as gifts to the cities. If you’re not lucky enough to live in or visit a city that has one of these amazing murals, you can come to the gallery and take some of his art home with you, for a price! It can range from a few hundred dollars to several hundred thousands of dollars. But if you like the art, they have all sorts of art available for anybody. At least get a small reproduction for your wall.

Not everything in Laguna Beach is expensive; in fact, the best thing in town is absolutely free! The city runs a fantastic free trolley shuttle service during the summer months and on weekends and holidays, and the kids will love it—as well as your feet! It’s very hard to find a parking spot in Laguna Beach – these trolleys will take you everywhere you need to go! Not only a great service, the free trolleys have become a tourist attraction themselves! These are beautiful old town trolleys. The windows come out in the summer so it’s breezy and you feel like you can touch the site as you go by. Riding the trolleys is a great way to check out the town and all of its shops, galleries and restaurants.

The food concept that’s being driven than from the Mexican Riviera to California is because California is very similar to the nature of Mexico. This diverse menu is not your typical Mexican fare. The focus is on fresh ingredients and artful presentation, not to mention they have some of the best seafood in town!Now there are lots to choose from, but there is one restaurant you simply have to go to when visiting Laguna Beach. Perched high atop the cliffs over-looking the ocean, it’s the world famous Las Brisas Restaurant. In English, “las brisas” means “the breeze” and it refers to the gentle breeze that rolls in from the ocean. You can’t beat its location, and, while most people come the first time for the view, they come back the second time for the food.

Combine: * fresh avocados, mashed * cilantro, finely chopped * serrano chiles, finely chopped * salt * fresh lime juice Garnish it with: *Red onions, finely diced *Fresh tomatoes *Fontina cheeseThe food that Las Brisas is most famous for is a little southern California specialty known as guacamole. While they won’t tell us the amounts they use, I did find out what ingredients go into their most famous dip.

A winner of several awards including: ‘most romantic restaurant’, ‘best outdoor dining’ and ‘best brunch’, Las Brisas is a must see, a must do and a must eat when coming to Laguna Beach!

After lunch it’s time to hop back on the free trolley and start shopping some of those calories off! There’re all types of boutiques and stores, but the emphasis here is definitely on art! Forest Avenue is the main drag in town, and here’s where you’ll find some of the best stores. Take your time, leisurely stroll, taking in the ocean air, pick up a few trinkets for memories, and watch the sunset before you head back up the coast for a very intensive look at Los Angles proper!

Hurray for Hollywood! Hollywood! That’s right, the town of swimming pools and movie stars! It’s so exciting! You’ll see the stars homes, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, movie studios, Universal studios and Citywalk, the whole enchilada! But, you know, Hollywood is just one neighborhood in Los Angeles, the City of Angels.

There’re Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Malibu, Burbank, hundreds of little neighborhoods and interior cities. It’s really spread out and each one is different! So I’m going to show you some of my favorite places to visit here in my backyard!

It’s this welcoming attitude, the incredible weather, and the promise of fame and fortune that’s drawn people from all over the world to experience the magic and allure that Los Angeles has to offer. People from 140 countries speaking 96 languages call LA home, resulting in a cultural diversity that truly offers something for everyone. So, what’s in it for visitors, you might ask? The only way to explain is to show, and seeing things first hand is the only way to go. Let’s hit the road and check out all of the great things that LA has to offer besides palm trees!

In Los Angeles you can rent just about anything. Evening gowns to go to the Oscars, mega mansions to have a party, even a chauffeur limo or Rolls Royce to cruise all over town!

Everyone wants to be a star, so Hollywood, here we come! Drive up Vine Street, now one of the main thoroughfares in Hollywood and check out the famous corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine. While it may have lost its luster from Hollywood’s golden age, Hollywood and Vine is currently undergoing a major renaissance with new buildings, shopping complexes, apartments and condos being built up into the sky.

However, there still are some reminders of its seedier recent past. You have tattoo parlors, x-rated movies, the old Pantages theatre is right across the street. Now people do come for that. An art deco palace, it originally opened in 1939, and once owned by Howard Hughes. It is the former home to the Academy Awards.

It has recently undergone a $10 million museum quality restoration and is currently the place to see all of the national tours of Broadway shows in LA. The play Wicked has had a very long run there and tickets are a small fortune, so save up if it’s still playing when you come.

On down Hollywood Boulevard and around the corner you’ll recognize the Capitol Records building. It’s a great photo op. It’s been destroyed more times than any other building in Hollywood—in motion pictures, that is. I have also heard it was the first building to be air conditioned here on the west coast, but I don’t know for sure.

Built to look like a stack of records, these offices and recording studios were once the home of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra and Tina Turner, to name a few. Definitely worth a drive by.

Back in the car, head west up Hollywood Blvd. to the most famous site in Hollywood, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. This is where you put your hands and feet in the footprints. They still show movies in there. It’s connected to the Hollywood and Highland complex, which is adjacent to it. There are all kinds of brand new shops, and the Kodak Theatre, where the Oscars are held now, is right next-door. This is where they put the red carpet, right along this road. If you go up the steps, from the top balcony, you can see the Hollywood sign.

There are famous movie characters walking around here for you to take your picture with. They are really just people in costumes, and they do expect a tip if they pose with you. You may see real famous people here, but it is not cool to go up and say anything. Oh look! It’s Superman and Spiderman, say “Hi, Spidey!” It’s fun and your kids will love it too!

Since we’re on Hollywood Boulevard, we may as well take a walk down the Hollywood Walk of Fame. So much to see. if you just look down! It’s fun to just walk along and see who you know in the pink granite stars in the sidewalks. You have to be really careful that you don’t bump into anybody. Once you’ve had your fill of the walk of fame, check out the souvenir shops and vendors, they’ve got all kinds of crazy stuff! Look, Elvis sunglasses! A lot of these shops offer coupons for the major tourist attractions in LA, but the thing you really want to buy here is the map of the star’s homes!

Woo hoo, back to the Rolls and head for the hills – Beverly Hills that is! How do you know you’re in Beverly Hills? The street signs! They’re black on white instead of white on black with the little crown on the top. Plus they have granite poled streetlights with the bulb shaped like a lantern or candle flame.

Another way you’ll know you’re in Beverly Hills is the size of the houses. You won’t believe some of them…holy cow! Wow! And, of course, right along Sunset Boulevard, there’s Bel Air, more fabulous mansions and estates. AAAAHH, someday…someday!

Two significant hotels are in the area, both used in movies and one the subject of a famous song by the Eagles band, Hotel California. The Beverly Hills Hotel is a stately complex of main buildings around a courtyard with pool and then little full service bungalows scattered around the grounds. These have been home to some very famous people over the years, and afford total privacy at a premium. Many a movie deal has been struck poolside, and many a secret tete-á-tete has been held behind their doors.

The other lodging is the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. That’s where they shot the movie, Pretty Woman, with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. It’s right at the end of Rodeo Drive. It’s best to valet park here, have lunch in the lobby lounge, it’s great, go shopping and then you can go back and forth into the air conditioning and use the bathrooms all day for one flat fee. You don’t have to have a Rolls Royce to drive in Beverly Hills, you’ll see all kinds of cars here: Mercedes Benz’s, Range Rovers, Jaguars, Ferraris. Who needs to shop? You can just stand on the corner and watch the money drive by!

Speaking of fancy cars, if you want to see the best collection of luxury, vintage and famous TV cars in the world, check out the Petersen Automotive Museum…it’s amazing!

Wow. There’s just something about Rodeo Drive. I don’t know what it is. Is it the cars that cost more than my house? The pampered people passing by? Who knows? But, I do know one thing. You can go shopping here and get some bargains. Yes, you can! There are normal stores here, and believe it or not, they even have sales. There’s nothing quite like shopping on Rodeo Drive, even if you’re just window shopping, you’ll have a blast…but I’m in the mood for a little indulgence! All the famous name designers are here, just being here makes you feel rich, even if you don’t actually buy anything! I could get used to this!

For another look at the way rich and famous people live, let’s cruise on over to one of my favorite neighborhoods, Hancock Park. This is another area that celebrities live in, as well as the Mayor of Los Angeles. It’s big ole turn of the century mansions that they use in lots of movies all the time. In fact, film companies use Hancock Park and say it’s Beverly Hills. The streets are level, so it is a lot easier to set up film crews and cameras. The homes are absolutely gorgeous! Most of the houses here cost between $3 and $7 million. You don’t get a lot of land for your money, but you definitely get a lot of house!

Now if you don’t want to go through the rigmarole of looking at maps and driving yourself around. You can take a tour. You can get on a Starline Tour and have somebody else do the driving. They take you past as many celebrity homes as possible and you may just see the family at home, or at least one of their cars in the driveway. Your choice, tour or follow the map, just don’t get lost in LA, it’ll take you a day to find your way out again.

Okay, so we’ve seen where some of the stars live, now let’s see where they work! Universal Studios is not the only tour in town. NBC, CBS, Warner Brothers, Paramount, they all have private tours that you can call and make an appointment for. Now there’s not roller coaster but there’s not crowds of tourists either. And, who knows, these are where they make the programs, so you might see somebody famous. Oh, and you could get discovered, too! It has happened. Who knows? You might be cast as an extra and be able to see yourself on the screen!

So, if movies started in the 20’s, what was here first? Well, contrary to popular opinion, Los Angeles wasn’t born when the film industry moved into Hollywood. It does have a history. Los Angeles was discovered in 1769 by a group of Spanish Explorers who were developing a trail between San Diego and San Francisco known as El Camino Real. It would be over 50 years before the first Yankee settler arrived, so it’s no wonder the Spanish influence is so great in LA. For the true Hispanic flavor of Los Angeles, Olvera Street is the place to come. You’ve got authentic Mexican restaurants, great shopping, souvenirs, vendors…it’s a lot of fun.

In the oldest part of downtown LA, Olvera Street is known as the birthplace of the City of Angels. There are 27 historic buildings with free tours and a traditional Mexican style plaza area where you can shop for souvenirs and handcrafted Mexican items. The Mexican food here is pretty darn good too! You just can’t help feeling a little festive! There’s always something happening in downtown. And speaking of downtown, LA has the mistaken reputation of having no culture. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Los Angeles has more museums than almost any other city in the world. As the show business capital of the world, there’re plenty of performing arts as well. You got the Music Center; you got the Disney Concert Hall.

Downtown holds the majority of performing arts venues, and, of course, the famous Staples Center, home to the Lakers, the greatest team in basketball. If it happens in sports or music, it’s happens here. Go Lakers!”

There’re over 200 other theatres, performance spaces and tourist attractions scattered around the County of Los Angeles, and they’re all worth the price of admission! I mentioned earlier how big LA is, but if you plan ahead and break it down into bite-sized neighborhoods, it’s really not that hard to see everything you want to see in one trip.

You know la is just a cluster of little towns and villages. And nowhere is that apparent than here. Two blocks from Hancock Park is Larchmont Village, a favorite place of the locals living in Hancock Park, Hollywood and Koreatown, not to mention the office people from the Wilshire district. This is one of my favorites, lots of little shops and great restaurants with a small town atmosphere. I just love it. Often, you’ll see celebrities just having lunch outside or stopping by the newsstand. But if you see someone, be cool and pretend you don’t recognize them, then put on your sunglasses and stare. At least stop and have a cup of java if you don’t dine in one of the fabulous little eateries that dot the street.

Hey, what happened to the sun? Not to worry. In the morning it’s kind of foggy out, in the neighborhood or on the beach, but the sun comes out. In the meantime, you have something for to do to until we head over to another beach for a final stroll in the sand. It’s a farmer’s market on the weekend! There are farmer’s markets held all over Los Angeles and the surrounding cities. Let’s go shopping.

Freshness and fun is sold by the pound at the main Los Angeles Farmer’s Market. From fancy fruits to purple potatoes, they’ve got it all here. Some of these mushrooms look like they’re from another planet! And the pickled stuff is out of this world too! Free samples are a great way to taste before you buy. And everyone is getting in on the act, even little princesses! The market is divided into two sections – organic and non-organic.

The organic section is where you’ll find the best selection of pure fruits and vegetables that are all grown pesticide-free! With all of the sun here in California, fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers grow like crazy. It’s great to have a place to buy them in town or right next to the beach in Santa Monica, where you can pick up some grapes while working on your tan!

Now, for those rare California days when it rains, the Beverly Center is the place to stay dry and shop until you drop! Shops, movies, restaurants, parking all under one roof, no umbrella required. The Beverly Center has big name department stores, exclusive boutiques and great restaurants. It’s first class all the way! And a great way to spend some time indoors!

There’re all types of shopping areas in LA, depending on your mood or what you’re looking for. For the bargains, I go downtown. My favorite tip on shopping in LA, is to go to Santee Alley. Now here’s where you find the fake designer handbags and purses and pants. They have clothes, too. There are so many bargains here, you are going to love it. Ahhh, it’s like being in a foreign country. One tip, bring cash. You’ll get a better buy because they will conveniently forget the 8.25% sales tax. You’ll find the usual stuff here, t-shirts, sunglasses, kids clothes, but the prices are what make it worth the trip – that and the atmosphere. Just take a look around!

For a truly unique, one-of-a-kind, “only in LA” shopping experience, head to Melrose Avenue, you have to see it to believe it! How can I describe Melrose? It’s funky, punky and spunky. Think torn t-shirts and rock star clothes, black leather and chains. It’s for the under 30 crowd. It’s a trip, man! Melrose is between Hollywood and West Hollywood, lined with one-of-akind shops and filled with one-of-a-kind shoppers. If it’s hip and happening, they have it here! Some of these stores, I’m not even sure what they sell! But keep an open mind, it’s more fun that way! You never know what you’re gonna see.

Melrose is a great place to come for lunch too, you can sit outside and people watch. Even the waiters are interesting. And it’s true ….they’re almost all actors! Or rather, striving actors waiting tables while they wait for that big break. Trouble is, there aren’t enough big breaks for everyone to become a big star, so they may wait more tables than make movies while they’re here.

Now, if you really want to see some interesting people, head to the beach – not just any beach – Venice Beach! Venice beach has had it all since the early days of Hollywood. Sunbathing (don’t forget the sunscreen!), snoozing on the sand, swimming (watch out for rip tides), and surfing or boogie-boarding. You can build a sand castle or snack on all kinds of junk food galore. Stroll the boardwalk and run into street performers—they come in all shapes, sizes and ages! And, of course, my favorite “s” word – shopping!

Artists and vendors line the walkway at Venice Beach plying their wares, wheeling and dealing, telling fortunes and making fortunes from the thousands of tourists, locals and beach bums that flock to Venice every weekend. You’ll find everything here from good-for nothing-curiosities to stuff you can’t live without. And you’ll definitely get a bargain! It’s a great place to come during the dog days of summer, because the breeze off the ocean is almost as cool as the people you’ll see skating, strutting and strolling. There’re lots of street performers even, if some of them are a little scary looking – but they’re harmless really… and fun for the entire family! If you don’t like snakes, be on the lookout, sometimes there’s a live boa constrictor wrapped around a guy’s neck. I’ve seen a few brightly colored parrots on their master’s shoulders, too.

For the more active types, Venice Beach provides basketball and tennis courts, agility equipment, and the nostalgic hang-over from Jack La Lane days and Arnie Schwarzenegger, the world famous “Muscle Beach!” The body builders still come out and ripple those muscles for the tourists and pretty girls who walk by.

Let’s see, we’ve been to from Santa Barbara at the top tip of Southern California down to Laguna Beach going south, plus Hollywood, Beverly Hills, the beaches and everywhere in between and we haven’t even scratched the surface of what Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California has to offer! But I think we covered enough to guarantee you a wonderful family vacation while you’re here. You’ll just have to come back again and see the rest of it! So as the sun sets over that beautiful Pacific, put on your shades and catch a few rays for that movie star suntan! They’ll think you turned Californian when you get back home!