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Brand PublishingEntertainment+Holiday Guide

Family Incoming

The good news: The holidays are upon us, with all the frivolity and family time that entails. The bad news: A slew of relatives have scheduled a marathon Los Angeles visit, and they’re expecting to be entertained from the moment they stumble off the plane.

Never fear — we’re here to help. Here are our suggestions for surviving (and maybe even enjoying) the onslaught of kinfolk.

First order of business? Finding ways to enjoy your clan’s company while preserving your own private sanctuary at home. The solution? Talk loved ones into booking a hotel; the trick is finding one so appealing that it feels like a luxury rather than a banishment.

Tops downtown is the Ritz-Carlton, where service is arguably the city’s best. If your folks (or you) are loaded, pick a room on the concierge floor at this snazzy outpost and you’ll be wrangling an invite over to their place so you can enjoy the luxurious lounge’s panoramic city views while free-flowing champagne and canapés remain on tap from morning till night.

Further west, the 56-room Hotel Wilshire on the time-honored Miracle Mile is ideal for your trendy cousins who prefer something small, friendly and super-cool. This boutique property’s rooftop retreat boasts a swank swimming pool, private cabanas, sunken fire pit and a free wine hour around sunset.

Near UCLA, the Hotel Palomar Los Angeles-Westwood knows the value of keeping kin happy with their “Stay at Our House” program, offering special rates to family members of Angelenos. A lively lobby scene awaits at this splashy overnight outpost, where bold colors dominate the interior landscape.

A seaside alternative, the celebrated Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel sits at water’s edge and caters to both humans and canines, the latter enjoying their own dog park. This Westside hotel’s signature lobby — a bi-level extravaganza appointed with plush seating and towering palm trees — leads to an outdoor wonderland with fire pits and a massive swimming pool.

Finally, no list of magical L.A. retreats would be complete without the legendary Hotel Bel-Air, an awesome outpost hidden in a secluded setting of lush gardens. This luxurious hillside retreat makes pampering a priority and offers meals from Wolfgang Puck’s in-house restaurant. You’ll have to make your world-famous holiday bourbon balls extra-delicious this year just to compete.

Kids’ stuff

After settling on the right place to stay, it’s time to capture the rapt attention of your clan’s kids. Budding space explorers should head for the California Science Center in Exposition Park, where the Space Shuttle Endeavor has permanently landed. Also on tap is an exploration of ecosystems, from chilly ice kingdoms to sandy desertscapes. 

Meanwhile, to capture the interest of little ones fascinated by the deep blue sea, schedule an Aquarium of the Pacific stop; it has 19 major habitats on six acres. Kids ages 7 and older get up-close and personal with sea life during behind-the-scenes activities such as feeding schools of fish while being schooled themselves regarding the 11,000 animals thriving in this watery wonderland.

Hands down, the hands-on museum of choice for little ones is Zimmer Children’s Museum. This Miracle Mile diversion not only gives tykes the chance to drive an ambulance or pilot a plane but also to play low-tech arcade games, like a massive pinball machine, as well as musical instruments from around the world.

Skateboarding has long been the mode of transportation for freewheeling Angeleno children. So encourage your kids to share their skills with relatives wanting to get into the groove of this speedy sport. Los Angeles has dozens of parks designed for shredding, but the best is Santa Monica’s Cove Skatepark, where the term “concrete jungle” is given new meaning by 20,000 square feet of ramps, bowls and steep stairs. Open to skaters ages 6 and older.

The World Series may be done for the year, but for some kids, baseball fever knows no season. They can test their skills at the Castle Batting Cages in Sherman Oaks, where everything from low arcs to fast pitches can be ordered up for anyone 8 years and older.

Classic L.A.

But of course L.A. isn’t just for little ones. Far from it. Visitors of all ages can enjoy classic L.A. experiences that promise bragging rights to wow the folks back home.

The Hollywood sign is on many visitors’ sightseeing lists. Climbing up to this legendary monument is prohibited, however, so you’ll need to prove you were there in a creative way. Get your Tinseltown photo op by standing at the foot of Mount Lee while the giant letters stand tall in the background.

The hit Four Preps tune “26 Miles” refers to a trip to Santa Catalina Island; catch the high-speed Catalina Express out of Long Beach or San Pedro, and you’ll arrive at a swell Southland outpost in about an hour. Once there, explore the picturesque town of Avalon by golf cart before veering off into the island’s interior, where jungle zip-lining, eco-touring via jeep and rock climbing await.

Los Angeles flea markets lure treasure hunters from all over the world. So put one on your visiting tribe’s selective agenda. Most famous is the Rose Bowl, held the second Sunday of every month and driven by 2,500 vendors hawking everything from antiques to T-shirts, from ethnic jewelry to art.

If gawking at the sign wasn’t enough Hollywood for your crew, take them to place their palms over the handprints of the ultra-famous cemented in front of the TCL Chinese Theater. This legendary site, formerly Grauman’s Chinese, is Hollywood’s worst-kept secret, the place where Marilyn Monroe’s high heels and George Clooney’s fingers are permanently imprinted.

That said, when iconic symbols of Southern California come to mind, the beach and bodybuilding are two biggies. Enter Muscle Beach, the quintessential outdoor gym and a crucial part of the wacky Venice boardwalk scene.

The restaurant scene

Finally, dining with your visiting relatives can satisfy everyone, no matter where in the City of Angels you choose to grab your grub. Still, some places are better than others for accommodating big groups.

One is El Coyote Cafe for Mexican fare. Dating back to 1931, this oversized Mid-City outpost features servers in traditional dress dishing up south-of-the-border treats in huge portions. Your Midwestern dad who was worried he’d have to eat microgreens for his whole stay will be relieved.

In Beverly Hills, Tagine lets you commune with company over Moroccan fare. Sit on plush banquettes while enjoying fresh hummus and savory couscous, among other authentic dishes. Candles and soft music provide a soothing ambience.

Laid-back Killer Shrimp happily accommodates parties of 12 or more in Marina del Rey’s happening harbor. Guests have the option of arriving by water thanks to a 300-foot public landing. The specialty of the house is, of course, seafood — and expansive views of the harbor through giant picture windows. 

For a more urban experience, try Blvd. 16, hidden inside the Hotel Palomar Los Angeles-Westwood. Even if you’re not staying at this modern property, consider booking a private room at the in-house restaurant for treats you build yourself, like super-duper pancakes. Also on the menu: California-sourced dishes, courtesy of imaginative chef Richard Hodge.

Lastly, Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Beverly Hills has been the choice of carnivorous families for 75 years. This is a dress-your-best kind of place for special celebrations. The menu offers both California- and English-cut prime rib, along with shrimp cocktail, lobster tails and C.C. Brown’s storied hot fudge sundae,  promising a sweet ending that your family will be talking about long after they leave the City of Angels.

—Jane Lasky, Brand Publishing Writer

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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