LOS Angeles is the first port of call for most Aussies jumping the Pacific to North America – flights zoom off to locations around the US, Canada and Central America from LAX – but there are plenty of reasons for travellers to stay put.
Beaches, for one. The southern Californian city, America’s second largest by population after New York City, is wedged between the San Gabriel Mountains and Pacific Ocean. And along 120km of coastline snaking from Malibu in the north and Long Beach in the south are favourite and famous stretches of sand.
How do I get there?
There’s a choice of flights every day of the week from Australia’s east coast state capitals to LA with Qantas and Virgin Australia serving Brisbane and Sydney and the Flying Kangaroo also including Melbourne in its trans-Pacific network.
American Airlines, Delta and United are also regular visitors to Sydney while the latter also makes daily drops into Melbourne.
When is the best time to visit?
There’s never a bad time to visit a spot that enjoys a Mediterranean climate all year but July, August and September are ideal if the plan is to hit the beach – the average temperature hovers up in the high 20s during the day – while the colder months between November and February promise fewer people, cleaner air and lower hotel rates.
Where should I stay?
This vast city can feel intimidating and impersonal but the secret to finding a base in a county that’s home to 10 million people is to settle on a neighbourhood and spend a chunk of time there.
West Hollywood – or Weho to the cool kids – is a hot-and-happening enclave with The London (below) a glitzy place to sleep; West 3rd Street, between La Cienega and Fairfax, the trendy shopping strip; Eveleigh on Sunset, a neighbourhood favourite at mealtime; E.P. & L.P. on Melrose the hot spot for scenic beverages; and the Viper Room a legendary music venue.
Those keen to sniff the salt air might consider Venice Beach, Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach, while Beverly Hills is the locale to mix a sophisticated stay with sightseeing and shopping.
If Disneyland (below) is the objective then Anaheim is the only address to consider with a hotel close to Walt’s front gate, letting visitors spend a few morning hours in the happiest place on earth before retreating to the room for a midday siesta. Then return to the park in the late afternoon for more after-dark frivolity.
What’s the best way to get around?
Los Angeles is a city of cars, peak-hour gridlock and eternally busy roads but there are public transport options for those willing to do the research needed to navigate an extensive network boasting 200 metro bus routes, two subway services and six light-rail lines.
Travellers seeking a ride from LAX to a city hotel should book a “shared-van ride’’ in advance with companies such as SuperShuttle and Prime Time Shuttle collecting passengers kerbside at LAX terminals and depositing them at their lobby door.
How can I avoid the tourist traps?
Every year, 45 million travellers visit Los Angeles, which means famous attractions such as Universal Studios and Hollywood’s Walk of Fame can be congested, but there are ways to flee sightseers clambering to snap a selfie and hang with the locals.
Venture across the waves to Catalina Island and sample the summertime sweet life in Avalon, grab tickets to see the LA Lakers play during October to May’s basketball season or the LA Dodgers during April to October’s baseball season, don walking shoes to hike Runyon Canyon’s scenic trails or do drinks in the Downtown Arts District.
It may be a surprise to learn that a city famous for Hollywood studios and theme parks has 105 museums, 16 of the planet’s most celebrated gardens and more than 50 famous structures designed by the world’s leading architects.
The Getty Centre (below) combines all three with the hilltop complex a contemporary acropolis packed with imposing modernist structures, galleries displaying works by the masters from Rubens and Rembrandt to Monet and Van Gogh, and manicured outdoor areas.
Where to eat?
Your best resource when it comes to LA eating is hotel staffers, especially the well-connected concierge at up-scale abodes, so rely on the locals to suggest a spot then book a table as the most desirable dining destinations fill quickly.
There’s something for everyone at The Original Farmers Market right beside retail heaven at The Grove, but arrive hungry to sample as many of the diverse dishes as possible.
Manhattan Beach has emerged as the ocean-side village for seafood and sushi lovers.
Book at Curtis Stone’s Beverly Hills eatery Maude (below) or reality maven Lisa Vanderpump’s Weho venue Pump to devour a serve of celebrity; lunch on the terrace at the Sunset Tower Hotel to mix an old-Hollywood vibe with a top view; find one of LA’s 200 food trucks and stop at In-N-Out Burger to feast at a fastfood land mark.
What about tipping?
There are few American conventions that cause Australian travellers more angst than tipping but just remember locals will never be offended by a gratuity.
Secure a slab of one-dollar singles before departure – arrange in advance for the local bank or currency exchange branch to stock the required denominations – and plan to tip anyone in hospitality that “helps’’. Waiters at restaurants expect 15 or 20 per cent of the bill and even 25 per cent if it’s fancy place.
Some restaurants now add a tip to the bill, especially in tourist zones, so check the paperwork.
Offer the bell boy carrying luggage $2 a bag, leave between $2 and $5 for the housekeeper cleaning the hotel room or concierge for making reservations, $10 tips tour guides, $5 to the parking valet, 10 per cent to therapists at a day spa, and round the cost of a taxi ride up to the next nearest note for a cab driver.