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Los Angeles City Trip - Hollywood & Highland

A view of the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES DAY 3: Hollywood & Highland, Sunset Strip and Downtown

After breakfast at your hotel, head into the heart of Hollywood to begin your day as an L.A. tourist. Hollywood was probably never as glamorous as much of the world would have liked to believe; however, after decades of neglect, theaters are being refurbished, new hotels have sprung up, hot new clubs are constantly opening and massive commercial projects like Hollywood & Highland have risen out of nowhere. Chic lofts carved out of historic landmarks are increasing the neighborhood's full-time residential base, further fueling the renaissance.

Hollywood & Highland, the epicenter of New Hollywood, is a good place to start. Here, you can get a glimpse of the historic Chinese Theatre, adjacent to the development. Incorporated into Hollywood & Highland is the Dolby Theatre — home to the Academy Awards. Since you're right on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame, you can search for your favorite celebrity's star (over 2,500 have been honored to date) or venture into one of many kitschy but enjoyable attractions. Select from the Hollywood Wax Museum or the Hollywood Entertainment Museum. When you've completed a morning of being a totally unapologetic tourist, head to Hollywood's oldest restaurant, famous Musso & Frank Grill, for old-fashioned favorites such as crab Louie, beef Stroganoff, Welsh rarebit and their renowned "flannel cakes."

The Griffith Observatory is one of Southern California's most popular attractions

After lunch, you can stay in the general area by scheduling a visit to the Griffith Observatory, or take the subway downtown. The Metro Red Line boasts clean stations and modern, smooth trains that will whisk you from Hollywood & Highland into downtown L.A. in about 20 minutes. The area has experienced a dramatic revival, thanks to the Staples Center sports arena, new arts venues and a major infusion of high-end housing. Suddenly, old warehousing districts are filled with art galleries and bistros, and hip new loft residences accommodate young professionals anxious to enjoy a truly urban environment in the most suburban of major cities. On the second Thursday of every month, a self-guided Art Walk showcases the increasing number of art galleries and cafés downtown, serving as a great introduction to the rapidly awakening art scene along Main and Spring Streets. Staples Center is part of the $2.5 billion L.A. Live, a massive pedestrian complex containing the state-of-the-art Nokia Theatre, a Grammy Museum celebrating all styles of music, nightclubs, restaurants and other entertainment venues. Rising above it is the mega-project's final phase: The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles, a graceful 54-story tower, and the connecting JW Marriott Hotel.

There are some who believe L.A.'s only contributions to the world of architecture are the mini-mall and theme park, but the Los Angeles Conservancy can set those naysayers straight. This non-profit organization, dedicated to preserving and showcasing the city's architectural treasures, offers a number of educational walking tours through historic areas like the Broadway Theatre District and Spring Street. With all of its amazing architecture, it's unfortunate that downtown is an area many tourists make the mistake of omitting from their itinerary. The Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall has helped to bring worldwide attention to L.A.'s underappreciated central core, along with other contemporary projects like the striking Cathedral of Our City of the Angels, designed by acclaimed Spanish architect José Rafael Moneo. Several influential projects are in the on-deck circle. The Broad Contemporary Art Museum from the hot firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro is slated for a 2015 opening, while the $1 billion Wilshire Grand Center will follow in 2017. The Conservancy is enthusiastic about landmarks such as the stately, elegant Richard J. Riordan Central Public Library, the masterfully renovated L.A. City Hall (the architectural icon popularized by TV's "Dragnet"), the Grand Central Market (a wonderful place to grab a quick lunch) and the Eastern Columbia Building, a turquoise terra cotta-clad Art Deco masterpiece now converted to lofts (Johnny Depp purchased a unit there). Also worth seeing is the magnificent Union Station and neighboring Olvera Street, the historic "pueblo" of Los Angeles and a symbol of its rich Mexican-American heritage.

Inside the Cathedral of Our City of the Angels

For dinner, consider the Art Deco restaurant at Union Station called Traxx. However, if you'd like to survey the area from above, L.A. Prime (atop the Westin Bonaventure Hotel) will offer you panoramic views along with a good steak. For a hip vibe with a killer view, consider Takami Sushi & Robata or the Rooftop Bar at the Standard, which is among the hottest bars in town.

Celebrated chef Celestino Drago offers top-flight Italian cuisine in a former bank — its decorating costs could have filled the vault now occupied by a marble-clad demonstration kitchen —at Drago Centro. Located in the historic Oviatt Building is Cicada, an elegant Art Deco jewel loaded with Lalique glass and home to some fine modern Italian and American cooking. The Arts District — formerly occupied by warehouses and factories — has filled up with hip restaurants.

Another 20-minute Red Line journey gets you back to Hollywood, where you can participate in the area's very happening night life on your last evening in L.A. Hollywood's dynamic renaissance has ushered in a plethora of dining options, including Katsuya, for contemporary Japanese cuisine. Perfect for a meal before a show at the Pantages Theater (or a handcrafted cocktail afterwards) is Wood & Vine, serving a casual but chic menu near the famous intersection of Hollywood & Vine. At the historic The Hollywood Roosevelt hotel — the first Academy Awards presentations were made there in 1929 — you can score a satisfying meal before moving on to one of the property's hot nightspots, like the Tropicana Bar.

The dining room of Delphine at the W Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles, California

Create, a laboratory for emerging talent, is one of the most popular nightclubs in Hollywood, while other happening scenes are found at Boulevard3 and Avalon Hollywood. And at the W, you can hang out in the Living Room — quite possibly the coolest hotel lobby in town — or on a terrace called Station Hollywood, which offers creative signature cocktails and small plates from the kitchen of Delphine, the hotel's chic brasserie. By the time you get back to your hotel, you'll be beat — but wishing you had another 72 hours in L.A.

by Roger Grody

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