You're an outsider heading to the Westside of Los Angeles -- not the beach cities, but Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Westwood and the nearby well-heeled neighborhoods south of the Santa Monica Mountains. This means you'll be well-fed, well-rested and perhaps more closely watched by the issuers of your credit cards. Only the sultan of Brunei, it seems, can afford to splurge in these precincts without looking at price tags. But you need not spend liberally to learn a little about wealth, fame, geography and Persian desserts.
For instance, you'll realize that Beverly Hills, like the "Mona Lisa" and certain leading men, is smaller than you might expect (5.7 square miles). You'll recognize Culver City's connections to Oz and the old Soviet space program. You'll be reminded that there's a big Santa Monica Boulevard and a little one (a.k.a. South Santa Monica Boulevard), which perplex the uninitiated by running parallel for more than a mile. In Westwood, you'll see how death has united Marilyn Monroe and Rodney Dangerfield, among others. The details await in these 12 Westside stories.
1. Big screen, small
Sony Studios (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
If Alex Trebek makes you swoon, you'll want to check out Sony Studios (10000 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; www.sonypicturesstudiostours.com) in Culver City. Its two-hour guided weekday walking tour costs $33 (no children younger than 12) and can include stops at soundstages where "The Wizard of Oz" was filmed in 1938 and where "Jeopardy!" has been shot since 1984. If neither Alex nor Judy Garland makes your world go 'round, think twice about this tour. For a more engrossing (and affordable) experience in the same neighborhood, get thee to the Museum of Jurassic Technology (9341 Venice Blvd., Culver City; www.mjt.org). This odd little spot, open 2-8 p.m. Thursdays and noon-6 p.m. Friday-Sunday, is all about the joy of weird stuff, presented with great museological pomp. Shuffle through the tiny dark rooms, your jaw slackening at the sight of the trailer-park dioramas, Soviet space-dog oil portraits, a tiny sculpted pope in a needle's eye and two dead mice on toast (the consumption of which is described as an old bed-wetting cure). Don't miss the tearoom upstairs. Next door stands the Center for Land Use Interpretation (9331 Venice Blvd., Culver City; www.clui.org), whose exhibits and publications have probed the underwater towns of America, the helipads of downtown L.A. and other notable human interactions with the landscape. It’s open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the afternoons. Then, to dramatize your evening, head to the Kirk Douglas Theatre (9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; www.centertheatregroup.org), a satellite operation of downtown’s Center Theatre Group that’s been putting on shows in this 317-seat venue since 2004.
2. Beloved burgers and newfangled photos
Annenberg Space for Photography (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Since 1947, the Apple Pan (10801 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles) has been offering Angelenos burgers and desserts. No reservations, no alcohol, no air conditioning. Order the Hickory burger (about $7) and maybe a big slice of apple pie for dessert. Then head two miles northeast to Century City, where you'll park beneath the soaring cold metal and glass of the Creative Artists Agency building. You have not scored a meeting with CAA's deal makers, but they will let you in next door at the Annenberg Space for Photography (2000 Avenue of the Stars, No. 10), a nonprofit exhibition space with a video-friendly layout and sophisticated digital technology. It's free and open Wednesdays-Sundays. (Be sure to get your parking validated, or it will cost a fortune.)
3. Shopping on Rodeo
Rodeo Drive (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
The Rodeo Drive shopping experience (www.rodeodrive-bh.com) boils down to about three blocks. Start at South Santa Monica Boulevard and make your way southeast, past Brighton and Dayton ways, to Wilshire Boulevard. See the impeccable salesman wiping fingerprints off the Cartier shop window? The strange staircase that architect Rem Koolhaas placed at the front of the Prada shop? The beckoning faux-European side street of the Two Rodeo shops? At the far end of your stroll, you'll find the Beverly Wilshire (9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; www.fourseasons.com/beverlywilshire). This hotel, run by Four Seasons, is where Warren Beatty once lived, where Esther Williams taught 14-year-old Elizabeth Taylor how to swim and where Richard Gere brought Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman." It's not perfect; an ungraceful '70s addition lurks behind the original 1928 building. But it has location, a Wolfgang Puck steakhouse called Cut and Four Seasons service. Rooms for two usually start north of $500.
Now take a breath. If you're a true retail warrior, you're not done shopping yet. Clustered nearby along Wilshire from 9560 to 9700, you'll find Barneys New York (9570 Wilshire Blvd.; www.barneys.com), Neiman Marcus (9700 Wilshire Blvd.; www.neimanmarcus.com), Niketown (9560 Wilshire Blvd.; www.nike.com) and Saks Fifth Avenue (9600 Wilshire Blvd.; www.saksfifthavenue.com).
4. Cuisine on Canon
Bouchon Bistro (Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times)
You can try La Cienega Boulevard, the official Restaurant Row of Beverly Hills, some other night. For now, scope out the high style and smaller scale of the eateries on Canon Drive between Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. At 225 N. Canon, glass windows reveal the steamy kitchen of Scarpetta, one of the region's most highly rated Italian restaurants. There's Wolfgang Puck's flagship, Spago Beverly Hills, at 176 N. Canon Drive; and Mastro's Steakhouse at 246 N. Canon Drive, with its 48-ounce double-cut porterhouse steaks. But tonight you’re trying Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro (235 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; www.bouchonbistro.com) and choosing between the fancier upstairs dining room of the little Bar Bouchon downstairs and its steak salad for around $21. Later on, there may be dessert or a nightcap at Nic's (453 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; www.nicsbeverlyhills.com), with its lively bar and walk-in, drink-in vodka freezer (the Vodbox). And after that? If you've recently won a lottery or sold a screenplay, take a few steps across Beverly Canon Gardens (241 N. Canon Drive; www.beverlyhills.org/services/rec/parks/beverly_canon_gardens.asp) to the Montage Beverly Hills Hotel (225 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; www.montagebeverlyhills.com) and see whether there's a vacancy. Montage, opened in late 2008, sports a Spanish Colonial-Revival look, with dashes of Morocco and Italy, and plenty of space in its 201 luxury-laden rooms. Rates usually start at around $595 a night.
5. A stroll in the park and a cubicle seat
Beverly Hills sign (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)