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Why go now?
It's Oscar weekend and the eyes of the world are fixed on America's sun-drenched entertainment capital, Los Angeles. But the red carpets are never rolled up for long in this bustling city on a hill, where world-class shopping, nightlife and celebrity glamour meet some of the nation's most extravagant cultural attractions. And it's all just a short drive from iconic urban beaches and hike-able mountains.
See page 20 for flights to Los Angeles (LAX). A free shuttle runs between the airport and Metro Green Line Aviation Station; from here, change twice to get on to the Red Line for Hollywood stations. A single ticket to Hollywood/Vine (1) costs $1.50 (£1).
The airport is roughly half an hour's drive north-east to Hollywood, if you arrive outside of rush hour. At busier times, that timeframe can easily double. A taxi should cost about $40 (£27), and larger hotels will normally arrange a transfer for about the same fee.
Get your bearings
There is no "centre" of Los Angeles. Instead, this sprawling metropolis is a collection of cities, framed by hills to the north, desert to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
Hollywood, a bustling collection of skyscrapers and crowded streets north-west of Downtown and immediately below the Hollywood Hills, occupies 24 square miles. Though short on real tourist attractions – apart from the underwhelming Walk of Fame (2) (walkoffame.com) it makes a convenient base for exploring the wider city.
Bordered by Franklin and Melrose Avenues north and south and seeping into West Hollywood, Hollywood's main arteries are Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard, all running east to west towards the Pacific.
Los Angeles was built around the motor car, and its sheer size and lack of a coherent public transport network make hire cars valuable even for fleeting visits. If you are unable to drive, bring good walking shoes and an endless supply of patience. Buses will get you from A-B, eventually, and a Metro rail service (metro.net) connects some, but by no means all, of central LA with its eastern suburbs.
A good bet close to the action is The Redbury (3) at 1717 Vine Street (001 877 962 1717; theredbury.com), whose aesthetic was directed by fashion photographer Matthew Rolston. Rooms are designed to look like a bohemian British home and some have views of the Capitol Records building. Doubles from $341 (£227), room only.
Competition among smaller budget motels has kept prices low, but many of the cheaper options lie in less salubrious areas. One that doesn't is the Hollywood Orchid Suites (4) at 1753 Orchid Avenue (001 323 874 9678; orchidsuites.com), which offers decent rooms from $119 (£79), a stone's throw from the Walk of Fame (2).
For old-school glamour, the recently refurbished Hotel Bel-Air (5) at 701 Stone Canyon Road (001 310 472 1211; hotelbelair.com), in a picturesque canyon a few miles west of Hollywood, has few rivals anywhere in the Western hemisphere. Treat yourself from $617 (£411) double, room only.
Take a hike
No visit to Los Angeles is complete without a photo of the Hollywood sign. But precious few tourists bother with the moderately strenuous hike that will leave you standing right next to it, enjoying sweeping views over the LA basin and Griffith Observatory, where James Dean twice ended up in Rebel Without a Cause.
As with most journeys in LA, this hike starts with a drive. Set off from the Kodak Theatre (6) at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard (kodaktheatre.com) where the red carpets are being rolled out for tomorrow's Academy Awards ceremony. The tourist office (7) is next door in the Hollywood & Highland Center (001 323 467 6412; discoverlosangeles.com; open 10 am-10 pm daily; until 7pm on Sundays). From here, drive east along Hollywood Boulevard with its pavements laden with Walk of Fame (2) stars. Take a left at Hollywood/Vine (1) on to Vine Street, a right on Franklin Avenue (8), and then left again on Beachwood Drive (9). Follow this small road uphill for 15 minutes, and park your car outside the Sunset Ranch Stables (10).
The Hollyridge trailhead is signposted from the car park. After half a mile, you'll hit a T-junction (11). Head left, and continue until you hit the paved Mount Lee Drive (12). Take a right here and as you climb roughly a mile further, you will enjoy views east towards the San Gabriel mountains. Finally, the road will curve sharply left. Continue until it ends. The Hollywood sign (13) is about 100 yards below you.
Lunch on the run
There are hamburgers, and then there are Umami hamburgers. Redefine your relationship with the US's national dish at Umami Burger (14), 1520 North Cahuenga Boulevard (001 323 469 3100; umamiburger.com), which has achieved something approaching cult status among local foodies. The burgers extend to crab-meat, Peking duck or tuna, but the pièce de résistance is the SoCal Burger ($10/£6.70), recently reviewed by GQ magazine's drooling restaurant critic as "half beef, half beyond belief".
For the Pretty Woman experience, head to Rodeo Drive (15) in Beverly Hills, scene of Julia Roberts's famous shopping spree and home to everything from Agent Provocateur to Versace. Complete a circuit east along Santa Monica Boulevard and Burton Way, south down Robertson Boulevard, and back west along Wilshire.
Ogle supercars and supermodels, marvel at the cost of designer fripperies and try to spot a celebrity from behind their sunglasses. (They tend to be pursued by paparazzi.)
Scrub yourself up, splash on some cologne and adjourn to the Polo Lounge (16) at the Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Boulevard (001 310 276 2251; beverlyhillshotel.com), where movie moguls and the A-list spend cocktail hour. Listen to the delicate tinkle of piano keys as you sip a $16 (£10.70) whisky sour. But remember: here, it's definitely not cool to stare at famous people, let alone take their photo.
Dining with the locals
Continue the day's Pretty Woman theme by heading to the Beverly Wilshire hotel, 9500 Wilshire Boulevard, where Wolfgang Puck's steakhouse Cut (17) (001 310 276 8500; wolfgangpuck.com) sears some of the finest rib-eyes on the West Coast, from a kitchen equipped with a wood-burning barbecue. A three-course dinner costs about $80 (£53) per head.
"Locals" at other tables could include David Beckham, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Aniston or Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Sunday morning: go to church
Leave Hollywood and head west on Sunset Boulevard for about half an hour, until you hit the genteel, seaside suburb of Pacific Palisades. Here you will find St Matthew's Parish Church (18) at 1031 Bienveneda Avenue (001 310 454 1358; stmatthews.com), where your Anglican eucharist at 9am comes with lashings of Californian friendliness.
Out to brunch
Follow Sunset Boulevard to the ocean. You are now on the Pacific Coast Highway. Take a left and head south for a couple of miles to Santa Monica's Hungry Cat (19), 100 West Channel Road (001 310 459 3337; thehungrycat.com; weekend brunch 10am-3pm). The Bloody Mary ($10/£6.70) is magisterial, the crab eggs Benedict ($17/£11.30) to die for and the oysters ($15/£10 half dozen) among the best in town.
A walk on the beach
Drive to Santa Monica pier (20), the landmark that signifies the end of the historic Route 66 and has jollified everything from Baywatch to Forrest Gump. Take a turn on the carousel and then wander south along the path to Venice, replete with artists, street performers and a resident community of eccentrics.
Be sure to visit Muscle Beach (21), the open-air gymnasium where Arnold Schwarzenegger trained (and where wannabe Arnies pump iron). Watch talented youths hit "big air" in the outrageously dangerous skate park, and take in a pick-up game of basketball in the outdoor courts where White Men Can't Jump was filmed.
The fortune of oil gazillion-heir John Paul Getty helped create the world's wealthiest museum trust. Today it has two of America's most extravagant cultural attractions. Head back north to The Getty Villa (22) at 17985 Pacific Coast Highway (001 310 440 7300; getty.edu; 10am-5pm Weds-Mon; booking advised), devoted to antiquities. Then pick up Sunset Boulevard to reach the hilltop Getty Center (23) at 1200 Getty Center Drive (10.30am-5.30pm Tues-Sun), which has a vast collection of Western art, from the Middle Ages to the present, along with breathtaking views from its well-manicured gardens. Entry is free (parking $15/£10).
Take a ride
Back in Hollywood, round off your day by peering over the privet hedges of the rich and famous. Starline Tours (001 800 959 3131; starlinetours.com) takes prurient punters on bus tours past the dozens of celebrity homes in LA's most exclusive postcodes. Two-hour tours costs $39 (£26), leaving from Grauman's Chinese Theater (24) on Hollywood Boulevard, daily from 9.30am-sunset.
The icing on the cake
For a note-perfect taste of Americana, with its cheerleaders, junk food, jumbo-tron screens and endless renditions of "The Star Spangled Banner", join the crowd at one of the city's sports matches. Baseball's LA Dodgers play at the Dodger Stadium (25) (ladodgers.com; from $39/£26) while winter makes this a basketball town (to the end of April). The Clippers (clippers.com; from $15/£10) and glamorous Lakers (lakers.com; from $30/£20) play at the Staples Center (26).
If they don't float your boat, then David Beckham's LA Galaxy (lagalaxy.com; from $30/£20) play at the Home Depot Centre (27) about 45 minutes' drive south into Orange County.