Why go now?
Why go now?
With a climate that is comfortable all year round, a break in Los Angeles is a pleasant alternative to the cold of a European winter. In February, especially, the balmy Californian weather is a tonic.
Get your bearings
A free shuttle bus runs from the airport to Aviation/LAX station on the Green metro line. Tickets cost $1.25 (65p) for any length of journey, including connections to downtown (where the most central Metro station is Pershing Square) and Hollywood. For door-to-door service, take one of the shared vans that stop under the orange signs outside the arrivals terminal. Tell the dispatcher where you are going and he will put you on the next one heading in your direction; expect to pay around $15 (£8) per person according to your destination, and add a few dollars' tip.
LA sprawls between the San Gabriel mountains to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Its coastline stretches for an astonishing 81 miles, from Malibu to Long Beach. The city has no real centre, but consists of a series of districts: Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach and so on. The first Spanish settlement was in the area known as downtown. This business district, which is well-served by the Metro rail system, is becoming a focus for visitors.
The best deals are often found downtown, at least at weekends when the business travellers have gone home. At the conveniently located Omni at 251 South Olive Street (001 213 617 3300; www.omnilosangeles.com), doubles start at $124 (£65) per night. The Standard at 550 South Flower Street (001 213 892 8080; www.standardhotel.com) is more contemporary in design and has a rooftop pool and bar. Rooms start at $113 (£59). The Standard has a sister in Hollywood at 8300 Sunset Boulevard (001 323 650 9090; www.standardhotel.com), where, er, standard rooms cost $154 (£81). The newly renovated Roosevelt Hotel at 7000 Hollywood Boulevard (001 323 466 7000; www.hollywoodroosevelt.com) is where the first Oscars ceremony was held. Doubles start at $170 (£89), singles at $124 (£65). Breakfast is extra at all these hotels, as is usual in the US.
Take a hike
Despite LA's reputation as a place where a car is essential, downtown is easy to explore on foot. Begin on Broadway at the Bradbury Building, commissioned in 1893 by entrepreneur Louis Bradbury as a vision of the year 2000. It is in beautiful condition, with a wrought-iron elevator, glass ceiling and Belgian marble trimmings, and has been used in a number of films, including BladeRunner. Broadway itself is a monument to the 1930s. Walk down the street, turning into the Jewellery District at 7th Street, and then into Grand Avenue, now the heart of downtown. The Central Library and Biltmore Hotel remain as reminders of a more glamorous age. Stylish new structures include IM Pei's Bank of America building, the Wells Fargo Center, and the KPMG building, which appears to have no sides. On pavements and in courtyards are works of art by Alexander Calder, Joan Miró and others.
Lunch on the run
Grab a quick bite at the Grand Central Market, built as a department store in the 1890s and later turned into a market for the Europeans who settled in Los Angeles. Try some seafood here, or a Chinese dish from the China Café or Ongpin Express. Further west, at the corner of 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue, is the long-established Farmers' Market (001 323 933 9211; www.farmersmarketla.com), a collection of stalls and cafés offering everything from tacos to pizza, sushi and tapas, 0pen 9am-9pm Monday-Friday, 9am-8pm on Saturday and 10am-7pm on Sunday.
Next door to the Farmers' Market is the hottest new place to shop. While the stars might stick to Rodeo Drive, everyone else is heading for The Grove, at 189 Grove Drive (001 323 900 8080; www.TheGroveLA.com), an outdoor shopping mall that opens 10am-9pm Monday-Thursday, 10am-10pm Friday and 11am-7pm Saturday and Sunday. It contains a good selection of shops, including Nordstrom, Banana Republic and J Crew, as well as a cinema and restaurants.
MOCA at 250 South Grand Avenue (001 213 626 6222; www.moca.org) is LA's impressive Museum of Contemporary Art. It opens 11am-5pm on Monday and Friday, 11am-8pm on Thursday and 11am-6pm on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $8 (£4), free on Thursday. Two blocks up, at 135 North Grand Avenue, is the Walt Disney Concert Hall (001 213 972 7211; www.laphil.com), the new home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, designed by Frank Gehry.
West 3rd Street near The Grove shopping centre has a collection of good bars, some of which also serve food. Try AOC at 8022 (001 323 653 6359) or Café Veneto at 8636 (001 310 272 3605), both of which have a large selection of wines by the glass.
Dining with the locals
One of the most popular restaurants is Patina (001 213 972 3331; www.patinagroup.com), inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall at 141 South Grand Ave. It has a varied menu, with local fish, unusual combinations such as truffle-scented Riesling soup and tea-smoked unagi, and classics such as New York strip steak. It opens 11.30am-1.30pm and 5pm-10pm Monday-Friday, 5pm-10pm on Saturday and 4.30pm-9pm on Sunday. Noe, in the Omni Hotel at 251 South Olive Street (001 213 356 4100; www.opentable.com) has a menu of modern American dishes, and is popular with Angelenos. It opens 5pm-10pm daily (to midnight on Friday and Saturday).
Sunday morning: go to church
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels at 555 West Temple Street (001 213 680 5200; www.olacathedral.org), is two years old, and, despite its size, was designed to echo the original adobe mission churches that were built across California. The cathedral opens 6.30am-7pm Monday to Friday, 9am-7pm on Saturday and 7am-7pm on Sunday.
A walk in the park
Griffith Park is the largest city park in the US and has hiking trails, picnic areas, a golf course, a zoo, and the open-air Greek Theatre (001 323 665 1927; www.greektheatrela.com) concert venue. Bus 96 connects downtown with the park in half an hour, for $1.25 (65p).
Out to brunch
Santa Monica is a good place for an American brunch. People come here at weekends to shop, eat and chill out. It is also possible to walk along the boardwalk to Venice Beach, 30 minutes' stroll away. For a feast, head for the Omelette Parlor at 2732 Main Street (001 310 399 7892). Bus line 10 links downtown and Santa Monica for $1.75 (90p).
Take a ride
To work off the meal, rent a bike from a shop such as Sea Mist Rentals at 1619 Ocean Front (001 310 395 7076), opposite the Pier. Expect to pay $6 (£3) an hour; $15 (£8) for a day.
The icing on the cake
Get in the mood for the Oscars - 7 February - by visiting the Kodak Theatre (001 323 308 6363; www.kodaktheatre.com), now the permanent home of the Academy Awards ceremony. Tours offer an insight into the movie world's glitziest night. Without a limo, the nearest metro is Hollywood-Highland on the red line. Tours are from 10.30am-2.30pm daily and cost $15 (£8), or they're included in the Hollywood City Pass (001 707 256 0490; www.citypass.com) - a book of tickets to Hollywood's main attractions for $72 (£38).