Southern California Close-Ups | A vacation guide to the Southland
The tourists think big. Arriving in Southern California, they expect to conquer Disneyland and Hollywood, perhaps on the same day, in between the surfing and snowboarding.

The locals think small. Tracing tight little loops between home and work, they dodge freeways and alien neighborhoods.

What we have here, whether you're a tourist or a local, is a failure to fully appreciate the wonders and weirdness of Southern California. So we've come up with a monthly series of close-ups, beginning with downtown Los Angeles. Read more...

--Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times staff writer
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Where T-rex roars. You can spend hours meandering Exposition Park near USC — the California Science Center, the California African American Museum, the Rose Garden. But not today. Today, you and your child are heading straight to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and you'll start by browsing the long hallways filled with old-school dioramas and a newfangled Age of Mammals exhibit that opened last year. Click for more...
Quiet and cool smells, then din and dining. Shhh. You're going to the library. The big one on 5th Street, with the strange pyramid on top that deserves a role in the next overwrought Nicolas Cage conspiracy movie. Don't be put off by the street people at the entrance or the low ceilings on the ground floor. Click for more...
The Tarzan factor. You're all about sports, and you've scored tickets to see the Clippers or Kings or Lakers at Staples Center, next to the L.A. Live entertainment complex near the southern end of downtown. Congratulations, especially if those are Laker seats. Now, there are more than a dozen restaurants and bars in L.A. Live, not to mention the Grammy Museum, a JW Marriott Hotel and a Ritz-Carlton, both of which opened in 2010. But that's not where you're sleeping. Click for more...
Astroturf, movie memories and vistas. Next stop: the top of the Standard Hotel on Flower Street, where you'll find a pool (guests only), fireplace, Astroturf deck, goofy topiary and a trendy open-air bar with skyscraper views on all sides. Scan the horizon, quaff a beer ($8) or cocktail, then descend and head two blocks west to the Millennium Biltmore Hotel on Grand. Click for more...
Street food and "Blade Runner" "Are you Jose?" somebody asks the Asian man behind the counter of Jose's Ice Cream Shop in Grand Central Market on Broadway near 3rd Street. "Yes," he says, handing over a scoop of pistachio for $1.50. Hey, this market is all about mixing it up. Carpeted with sawdust and illuminated by a jumble of neon signs, the open-air market dates to 1917. Click for more...
Noodles in Chinatown. L.A.'s Chinatown can't match San Francisco's or New York's for pedestrian friendliness or retail and restaurant variety. But this Chinatown has its own story. The original neighborhood was leveled to make way for Union Station in the 1930s, so the community rebuilt itself a few blocks to the northwest. Click for more...
Union Station and Olvera Street. Angelenos sometimes avoid Olvera Street, maybe because its genuinely historic buildings are crowded by vendors and carts peddling cheap trinkets, maybe because parking can cost a fortune, maybe because the neighboring buildings seem to have been under renovation for longer than most of Los Angeles has been standing. But this is where settlers from Mexico founded Los Angeles in the late 18th century, and it's where the 1818 Avila Adobe, oldest home in Los Angeles, still stands. Click for more...
Disney Hall, inside, outside, across the street. Don't you want to lay hands on Disney Hall? Frank Gehry's rippling metallic beauty is nearly irresistible, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic keeps it busy. Acclaimed young conductor Gustavo Dudamel is scheduled to conduct about 45 performances in the 2010-11 season, and the hall books jazz and world music too. Click for more...
The walk and the Stay. Downtown's boosters dream of a 24-hour district teeming with loft dwellers who nightly browse restaurants, bars, galleries and one-of-a-kind shops. We're not all the way there yet, but if you show up on Spring or Main streets, between 2nd and 9th streets, on the second Thursday evening of any month, you'll see something like that vision. Click for more...
The writing on the wall. The color, the texture, the invention — you can hate most graffiti and still admire the lavishly colored walls, urban grit and exposed brick of downtown's Arts District. The "Mona Lisa" on the shed at Rose Street and Traction Avenue, for instance, and the long wall of crazy critters along Garey Street between 2nd and 3rd streets. Click for more...
Two words: roller derby. L.A. doesn't have an NFL team — yet. Till then, Angelenos have something almost as bruising, a banked-track, all-female roller derby league known as the L.A. Derby Dolls. Click for more...

Video: 10 places to visit in downtown Los Angeles
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