Southern California Close-Ups | A vacation guide to the Southland
The San Fernando Valley is 260 square miles of suburbia. Actually, make that suburbia on nutritional supplements. And antidepressants. With perhaps a little cosmetic surgery south of Ventura Boulevard, where the big money is. Or maybe — now that it's grown to more than 1.7 million people in nearly three dozen cities and neighborhoods rich and poor — the Valley isn't even a suburb anymore.

The Valley is the home of the oldest Bob's Big Boy diner and perhaps the only porn-star karaoke night in North America. (After all, the Valley is widely known as the nation's porn production capital.) This is where Bob Hope and Ritchie Valens rest in peace, where "Friends" was shot, where Disney makes movies (but doesn't give tours), where the ageless phrase "gag me with a spoon" was born, where the papa of Patagonia honed his climbing skills. And there's Universal Studios too. Read more...

--Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times staff writer
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Scroll over each image for info on each itinerary
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1. Mulholland Drive: Driving and hiking on the edge. Mulholland Drive wriggles for about 20 miles along the ridgelines of the Hollywood Hills and Santa Monica Mountains, marking the border between the basin and the Valley, its two lanes passing palatial homes and big views.Click for more...
2. Universal Studios. The Universal Studios people would like you to believe they're in Hollywood, but you have a map, so you know better. Like the Disney and Warner Bros. studios, they're in the Valley. If you go whole hog at Universal, you'll pay about as much here as you will for Disneyland: $74 an adult and $66-$74 a kid. Click for more...
3. Universal City: The Walk, Beverly and Vivian. You don't need to pay admission to visit Universal CityWalk, an entertainment district with 19 movie theaters and dozens of shops and restaurants, all arranged on a pseudo-street full of Southern California architecture in caricature. The restaurants -- Hard Rock Cafe, Johnny Rockets, and so on -- aren't exactly unique, but the flashing, splashing, buzzing energy and kid-friendliness of the place is undeniable. Click for more...
4. Cruise Ventura Boulevard. There's no sense fighting car culture, so you may as well embrace the boulevard. It carries the Valley's commercial lifeblood, and without it, the stars from up the hill would have no place to take their dry cleaning or get their poodles permed. Click for more...
5. The mission, the dead and the boulders. Mission San Fernando Rey de España (15151 San Fernando Mission Blvd.) went up in 1797, 17th of the 21 California missions. The surrounding Mission Hills neighborhood -- a gritty triangle made by the 5, 118 and 405 freeways -- is not a tourist haven. But the mission complex has been well reconstructed, the church celebrates regular Masses and weddings, and there's a big collection of artifacts in the museum next door. Click for more...
6. Great Wall, good sausage, Hot Wheels. The Great Wall of Los Angeles, created by artists Judith Baca and hundreds of high school kids between 1976 and 1984, is half a mile long, which makes it one of the biggest murals in the U.S. Click for more...
7. Burbank, baby. The oldest remaining Bob's Big Boy went up at 4211 W. Riverside Drive in Burbank in 1949. Its sign stands 70 feet tall, and its lot fills up with classic cars on Friday nights. On Saturday and Sunday nights, you can get car hop service. For years, writer-director David Lynch had lunch here daily. Click for more...
8. Studio City: Suburban splendor. Take Tujunga Avenue north from Ventura Boulevard, then pull over between Woodbridge and Moorpark streets. You have just arrived in suburban paradise, although it comes with a fatal footnote. Begin by nibbling, sipping and browsing in the home and patio that have been converted into Aroma Coffee & Tea Co. (a.k.a. Aroma Café) and the neighboring bookshop, Portrait of a Bookstore. Click for more...
9. The bohos of NoHo. The North Hollywood Arts District, for many years a forlorn commercial strip, has been gathering steam as a bohemian enclave over the last decade, aided by a subway stop and redevelopment dollars. Start with dinner or lunch at Pitfire Artisan Pizza Co., which has a big patio with a fire pit and pingpong table. Click for more...
10. Berries and grass. Three generations along, the Tapia family keeps the Valley's agricultural history alive with an 80-acre farm and produce stand in Encino. Tapia Bros. Fresh Produce, which closes in colder months, typically greets spring with strawberries and tomatoes. The family also grows corn, keeps chickens, pheasant and goats, and sells flowers. Click for more...
11. Warner Bros. studio: That's all, folks. Don't overlook the Warner Bros. studio tour in Burbank. It has no rides, no 3-D presentations, no cotton candy, no spitting dinosaurs. What it does offer is a grown-up look at how TV shows and movies get made, priced at $48 an adult, closed to children younger than 8, and lasting about 21/2 hours. Click for more...

Video: Sights in the San Fernando Valley
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