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Los Angeles conjures up images of movie stars, sunny beaches, unique museums and great theme parks. It's a LAX Encounter Restaurant SMALLThe Encounter Restaurant at LAX.world-class destination deserving of time, but if you just have some lag time between flights at LAX, you can step outside the airport and start your California dreamin'. Even a little bit of Los Angeles is sure to whet your appetite for a return trip.

For a Two-to Three-Hour Layover

Before the next leg of your journey, head over to the Encounter Restaurant outside Terminal 2. It's easy to spot. Look for the iconic, spider-shaped restaurant that is synonymous with Los Angeles International Airport. The observation deck and restaurant/bar was recently renovated and is a fun place to watch the planes take off and land.

For Four-to Six-Hour Layovers

Only about 10 minutes from the airport by cab is Manhattan Beach. After poking around shops at Manhattan Village and sitting in the warm sand at the beach, enjoy a nice meal at the Second Story restaurant at the Belamar Hotel. Out-of-towners will get a taste of creative California cuisine, where the culinary team focuses on using fresh organic produce and sustainable ingredients. The menu includes dishes such as marinated skirt steak or pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin that blend traditional American cooking with a bit of California fusion. Another 10 minutes away is Venice Beach. Enjoy cocktails and munchies at the High Rooftop Lounge at the Hotel Erwin while watching the ocean waves. Then join the waves of people on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, which sports quirky souvenirs, street performers, roller skaters and muscle men working out.

A bit farther (about nine miles from LAX) is trendy Santa Monica. Start with some casual dining at the Fourth Street Grille at the Doubletree Hotel. The hotel is just four blocks from the Santa Monica Pier, where you can ride the 90-year-old carousel, get great views of the beach from the Ferris wheel, or stroll on the pier and watch the fishermen angling their catch of the day. As you walk out from the pier, to your right is the original location of Muscle Beach, the birthplace of the physical fitness movement in the U.S. This beach is also where "Baywatch" was often filmed. For upscale shopping, you can explore the Third Street Promenade, an outdoor, pedestrian-only collection of stores, movie theaters and cafes, stretching several blocks.

Another nearby waterside community (30 minutes by car) is Marina del Rey, one of the largest constructed small boat harbors in the world. Tell the taxi driver to drop you off at Fisherman's Village on Fiji Way. If you are there on a Friday or Saturday night, Hornblower Cruises offers two-and-a-half-hour dinner cruises. Otherwise, there are plenty of restaurants, shops and docks where you can sniff the sea air and look at all the boats going in and out of the harbor.

For Eight-Hour-Plus Layovers

Hop on the LAX FlyAway bus service to Downtown LA. At LAX, the bus is located on the Lower/Arrival Level underneath the green "FlyAway, Buses and Long Distance Vans" signs. The FlyAway will take you to Union Station in about 45 minutes (longer in rush hour traffic). From, there you can take Metro buses and trains to various points throughout the City. The Metro has a free iPhone app, and you can find route maps at the airport. If you arrive in the morning, try breakfast or lunch at the Cielito Lindo, a popular Mexican restaurant on historic Olvera Street. Breakfast options include traditional morning favorites, and lunch has robust yet healthful California-style dishes. Now fortified, start with Downtown sights such as MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Music Center, Olvera Street, Chinatown, and shopping districts, including the California Market Center, LA Fashion District, and the LA Flower District.

From Downtown, it's a 20-minute Metro Red Line ride from Union Station to Hollywood. Get off the train at Hollywood and Highland and walk over to Grauman's Chinese Theatre. You can get your picture taken with Johnny Depp in pirate garb or Darth Vader. (They are look-a-likes, of course.) Then, explore the courtyard itself with its famous cement footprints and handprints of Hollywood's favorite celebrities. Match your footprints with legends such as John Wayne or Marilyn Monroe. Just around the corner is the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood and Highland, which is the home of the Oscars and Cirque du Soleil's "Iris" show. You can take pictures of the Hollywood sign and then walk over to Madame Tussaud's wax showcase of celebrities. Be sure to look down at the stars on the sidewalk on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. If you get hungry, try Yamashiro Japanese restaurant on Sycamore Avenue. It's a venerable Hollywood institution located on a hill overlooking the city.

Universal City Metro station is 25 minutes away from Union Station. Experience how movies are made on the Universal Studios Hollywood tour and see the backlot of movie sets, not to mention cool attractions such as the new "Transformers™: The Ride 3D."

If you'd prefer to leave the driving to others, take a shuttle or a tour. At LAX, follow signs to the free hotel shuttles and take the Radisson Hotel at Los Angeles Airport shuttle. Amazing LA Tours will pick up passengers there or at any of the other LAX airport hotels. Amazing LA Tours picks up passengers at either 8 a.m. or 12:30 p.m.at the Radisson. Tours include Beverly Hills/Hollywood, Celebrity Homes, Full Day Tour of Los Angeles, and Universal Studios Hollywood with a Front-of-the-Line Pass.

If pampering is what you need, hop in a taxi (30 to 45 minutes) and head for the famed Sunset Strip in LA for a day of massages, yoga, and skin and body treatments at the Sanctuary Spa at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel. Here, you'll be able to select from an impressive array of treatments designed to refresh and rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit before another long flight.

With any of these suggestions, leave yourself enough time to go back through security.

 

(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Los Angeles can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

With the $2.5 billion L.A. LIVE entertainment complex continuing to re-establish a buzz east of the Harbor LA Downtown Skyline Summer Night SMALLDowntown LA Skyline on Summer Night. Freeway, thousands of people moving into center city's lofts, condos and apartments each year, and even a new football stadium on the way, there's been no shortage of press about the resurgence of Downtown Los Angeles. The good thing is that, as with any dynamic urban district, there are more than a few less-than-obvious, if not downright hidden, places to check out and feel in the know about Los Angeles.

It's Not Easy Being Green: Downtown's Gardens

Few Downtown buildings provide a bigger feast for the eyes than the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall atop Bunker Hill. Which makes the Concert Hall's Blue Ribbon Garden all the more a treasure. The Blue Ribbon Garden, which is reachable by four flights of stairs, sits atop one of the Concert Hall's roofs and provides 3,500 square feet and almost four dozen trees of serenity that's downright symphonic.

A little less hidden but also enchanting are the orchards and fountains adjacent to Bank of America Plaza on Hope Street near the Fourth Street overpass. There, three waterfalls spill into a willow-shaded pool, while tiered seating and lawns give people from nearby offices respite.

For a bit of quietude near a more traditional structure, there's Maguire Gardens, the 1.5-acre park next to the Los Angeles Central Library that was named for downtown office developer Robert Maguire III. The park includes a multi-level fountain, adjoining pools and great views of the Library, which was built in 1926 by noted architect Bertram Goodhue and renovated in 1993.

Finally, away from the high-rises and amid the pagodas of Little Tokyo, lies the James Irvine Japanese Garden, also known as "The Garden of the Clear Stream," at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. There, solitude seekers can meditate by a 170-foot-long stream or amid the dozens of blooming trees.

Mum's the Word: Downtown Speakeasys

Nothing screams "overlooked" like a bar that's in the basement of a building that contains not one, but two, high-profile food-and-drink establishments. Indeed, the classic building at 515 West Seventh Street houses Cedd Moses' whiskey haven Seven Grand on the second floor and Mas Malo, the sister restaurant to Silver Lake's innovative Mexican eatery Malo, at street level. But if you really value the "low" in "low key," check out Mas Malo's basement cantina, which combines a below-grade locale with a top-grade tequila collection.

Meanwhile, head to the corner of Sixth and Los Angeles Streets, and you can get two hidden gems for the price of one. Cole's shares the distinction with Philippe the Original of inventing, or at least claiming to invent, the French Dip sandwich in 1908. But while Philippe's reputation kept expanding, Cole's fell into the shadows, shutting down in early 2007. But the restaurant reopened almost two years later under the watch of Downtown bar impresario Cedd Moses (Seven Grand, Broadway Bar) and still features the legendary roast beef sandwich served au jus, as well as a full bar. And if you happen to be in the area in time for a nightcap, look for a plain door in back of Cole's, which leads to The Varnish, serving up well-crafted drinks with a throwback, speakeasy vibe.

In Step: Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) Museum

When people think Central Los Angeles and Museums, Exposition Park immediately comes to mind, making Downtown's Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) Museum in South Park all the more of an offbeat destination. Since 1969, FIDM has attracted the best and brightest looking to get into the fashion industry, and its museum includes a collection of about 15,000 fashion artifacts dating back to the 1800s.

Even more hidden is the Annette Green Fragrance Archive, tucked away on FIDM's second floor. The Archive features iconic and whimsical perfume bottles and fragrances dating back more than 130 years.

Well-Trained Eye: Metro Rail Art

New York has the Met for local art lovers, and you need a museum ticket. Los Angeles goes one better with its own version of "the Met," which requires a train ticket. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) commissioned about 300 artists to create works of art throughout Metro Rail's network of stations, and many of these works are Downtown. The 7th Street/Metro Center station includes two tile murals depicting unfolding film strips as a tribute to the movies, while Pershing Square's station has a dozen neon sculptures as a nod to the fact that the country's first-ever neon sign was installed nearby in 1924.

Sneak a Snack: Downtown Restaurants

If bacon-wrapped matzo balls are a contradiction you're willing to embrace, The Gorbals is worth seeking out in Downtown's Historic Core. Known for a cuisine that defies convention, the Scottish/Jewish/Spanish/whatever restaurant features items ranging from Vietnamese bahn mi to Welsh rarebit to gribenes (chicken or goose skin cracklings with fried onions). This menu is beyond off the beaten path.

Nothing says "hidden" like a pop-up restaurant, and Downtown obliges in this particular trend. Specifically, Wolvesden, is an Arts District dinner party of sorts thrown every few weeks by Chef Craig Thornton, and the decadence is matched only by its exclusivity. Both the number of courses and number of guests tend to range in the low double-digit territory.

Little Tokyo deserves its own section when it comes to overlooked restaurants, as the district is chock full of noodle houses and ramen dens. Lots of the attention goes to Orochon Ramen, which has been featured on Travel Channel's Man vs. Food and has a "Wall of Bravery" for those deviant enough to try its super-spicey "Special 2" Ramen (it's three levels above "Hyper" and two levels beyond "Extreme"). That said, no less an expert than Pulitzer Prize winning restaurant critic Jonathan Gold has tapped Daikokuya Ramen as LA's best. So, once you figure out how to pronounce the name, you may want to head over there.

Finally, with LA leading the nationwide food truck craze, it's worth pointing out that one of the more understated yet outstanding eateries in Downtown was birthed in 2012, when its proprietors decided to go from four wheels to four walls. Mexicali Taco & Co. features a menu with a handful of authentic, Baja-style tacos amid a cheery, familial setting located on a no-man's-land stretch of Figueroa north of Sunset Blvd. Be warned, though. The restaurant may be understated, but its legendary Vampiro — a quesadilla infused with garlic sauce — will ensure that your breath won't be.

 

(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Los Angeles can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

If the number of people visiting Death Valley National Park’s Ranch at Furnace Creek at lunchtime in July is any indication, then some people truly do like it hot. Lots of people, in fact. This arid, desolate and ruggedly Furnace Creek DV09007 FC Ranch Entrance SMALLbeautiful park typically draws some 230,000 travelers during the summer months, when the temperatures can be as high as 125 degrees Fahrenheit.

Situated in east-central California on the edge of the Mojave Desert, the park hosts as many as 900 tour bus travelers each day. Nearly all of the visitors are from European countries; most come from Germany, France and the UK. Lunchtime in the Wrangler Buffet is a smorgasbord of languages – German, French, Italian and Dutch.

“Although we have domestic travelers too, Europeans in particular love Death Valley during our extreme summer months,” said Phil Dickinson, director of sales and marketing for Furnace Creek Resort. “The American West, with its wide open spaces and distinctive landscapes, is a beloved travel destination for European travelers, and Death Valley is particularly appealing to this group, in part because of the extremes.”

Death Valley is one of the hottest places on the planet, with a record-high temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit recorded in 1913.

Yet heat is not the only extreme in this 3.3 million-acre park. With a low point of 282 feet below sea level at Badwater Basin, it is also one of the lowest places on earth. For perspective, Badwater visitors can look up on a cliff – way up – and see a sign marking sea level. And from that point, travelers can look across the valley to Telescope Peak in the Panamint Mountains, which rises to 11,049 feet above sea level.

Death Valley is also dry, receiving less than two inches of rainfall per year on average. In years the park receives more than that amount, there are often flash floods in low-lying areas due to the lack of vegetation and the broad expanses of impermeable rock.

Furnace Creek Golf SMALLSnow capped mountains above a desert green.

In addition to the tour buses the Ranch hosts golf groups with a penchant for the extreme and automotive companies conducting hot-weather testing for new vehicle models. Golfers play the year-round Furnace Creek Golf Course all summer. And more than 50 intrepid golfers are expected to participate in the second-annual Heatstroke Open June 22-24.

In mid-July, 90 of the best runners on Earth will compete in the “Badwater Ultramarathon,” a 135-mile race that begins at Badwater and ends at Mount Whitney, 8,300 feet above sea level. In between, runners pass through three mountain ranges. The invitation-only race is described by its organizers as the “most demanding and extreme race on the planet.”

Plus, there are Hollywood movie shoots and national magazine photo shoots regularly staged throughout the park. The park’s otherworldly landscape makes it a particularly great location for science fiction movies. Parts of the 1977 mega-hit “Star Wars” were filmed in the park.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts, operator of the Ranch at Furnace Creek and concessions in the park, continually educates visitors about the potential dangers of the park’s extremes through signs and park guides.

“We advise our summertime visitors to drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen and hats and to limit physical activities to the cooler early-morning and evening hours,” said Dickinson. “The Badwater runners never listen to us on that latter point though.”

To harness the power of the unrelenting sun, Xanterra constructed a five-acre, one megawatt solar PV system four years ago. The massive system powers more than one-third of the resort’s electricity needs annually, and 100 percent of electricity during peak power-generating times.

Xanterra’s year-round operations include the 224-room Ranch at Furnace Creek; 18-hole Furnace Creek Golf Course, the world’s lowest course at 214 feet below sea level; two restaurants; a saloon; general store; spring-fed swimming pool; tennis courts; the Borax Museum and a service station. In addition, there is a 3,000-foot airstrip adjacent to the property. Xanterra also operates the AAA Four-Diamond-rated Inn at Furnace Creek, open mid-October through mid-May. The Inn includes a restaurant, gift shop, spring-fed swimming pool, tennis courts, lush gardens and conference and banquet facilities. The Inn provides a stunning and lush oasis in a harsh climate thanks to water flowing from nearby natural springs.

 

For more information about facilities in Death Valley National Park go to www.furnacecreekresort.com.

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of other Desert area lodging and dining options can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

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