Ready for your Close-Ups, Southern California?

Los Angeles Times staff

Just in time for your summer vacation, the Los Angeles Times unveils two new digital projects, each designed to help locals and visitors alike get the best of Southern California.

“SoCal Close-ups: Your Vacation Guide,” an e-book for Kindle, Nook and iPad (via the iBookstore) by Christopher Reynolds, is available for $4.99 starting Wednesday (today). You can find details at It includes about 40,000 words of expert advice on exploring, eating and sleeping in Los Angeles and Orange counties, all from Los Angeles Times writer Christopher Reynolds, who has sampled more than 300 hotels, museums, parks, piers, trails, restaurants, bars and shops.

The e-book’s image-rich sibling, “Los Angeles Times SoCal Close-Ups,” is an interactive app for iPad, the text joined by about 600 photos and a dozen videos from Times photographers. The app breaks L.A. and Orange counties into 12 territories (downtown Los Angeles is one territory; Venice, Santa Monica and Malibu are another.), each with a set of suggested itineraries, a video and about 50 photos, including an interactive 360-degree panorama shot. Beginning Wednesday (today), it is available at Apple’s App Store--search for SoCal Travel--at 99 cents per territory. More info:

For a hint of what these digital projects hold, here’s a summertime cheat sheet of 25 questions and answers from author Christopher Reynolds.

1. Where can I sleep safely and affordably outside Disneyland? I like the Ramada Maingate, which is about $119-$189 nightly.


2. By LAX? The Sheraton Gateway LAX (affiliated with Starwood) or the Renaissance Los Angeles Airport Hotel (affiliated with Marriott). The Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel (Starwood again) runs a close third, in my book. At all three, weekends are usually cheaper than weekdays. But nobody should ever spend more than one night at a time on charmless Century Boulevard. Consider Manhattan Beach or Hermosa Beach instead; they’re closer than you might imagine.

3. Is Universal Studios the best place to learn how TV shows and movies actually get made? No. It’s a fine theme park but you’ll see and learn more and pay less, at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank.

4. My sources tell me that Yamashiro, a Japanese restaurant in the Hollywood Hills, has the best city-lights view in Los Angeles. Does it? No, although it’s nice, and its $12 cocktails are tasty. For a wider panorama, absolutely free, head to the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park. But be ready to walk a bit; the parking lot fills up as the sun sinks.

5. Is there really a horse stable tucked into the canyon beneath the Hollywood sign, or is that an urban myth, like the big orange balloon that supposedly hovers over Orange County? Yes, there’s a stable — Sunset Ranch. Guided rides are usually $40 an hour. And that hovering orange is no myth. It’s the Great Park Balloon, designed to promote the conversion of an Irvine military base into the Great Park of O.C. Rides are free, and a 400-foot tether keeps you connected to terra firma. Nice view.

6. I come from money and I’d like a pleasant hotel on the beach, price no object. Which one? Check out Santa Monica’s Casa del Mar (cool historic building) or its next-door sibling, Shutters on the Beach, which gets a lot of celebrity dining and drinking traffic. Along the O.C. coast, the Montage Laguna Beach has amazing grounds. (Golfers, however, may prefer the Resort at Pelican Hill or the St. Regis Monarch Beach. If you’d like to see the Pacific but don’t need a sandy beach, head for the bluff-top Terranea Resort on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

7. Nevermind the beach. Where can I sleep in proximity to wealth and fame? For old-school glitz, go to the Pink Palace, a.k.a. the Beverly Hills Hotel. For 21st century glitz, the Montage Beverly Hills is footsteps from Rodeo Drive. For highflying nightlife access (and a witty, pseudo-British setting), there’s the London West Hollywood, a short stroll from the Sunset Strip. Or there’s the Redbury, a new place at Hollywood and Vine, just around the corner from the Pantages Theatre.

8. I am the 99%, under 25 and underemployed. Where can I possibly afford to sleep out there? Look into Hostelling International’s 260-bed headquarters on 2nd Street in Santa Monica. Its dorm beds begin around $35 nightly. Private rooms for two start at $89 but increase in summer and book up fast.

9. I am the 99% too, but I’m over 25 with a decent job. Can I get a presentable hotel near the beach for under $200 a night? In the summer, maybe not. But the rest of the year, especially on weeknights, it’s doable. You’ll do well, for instance, at the Inn at Laguna Beach or the Bay Shores Peninsula Hotel in Newport Beach.

10. I want to startle a grizzled Angeleno with my local savvy. How? Take her or him to Shade, a Manhattan Beach luxury boutique hotel that opened in 2005. Or book him or her into the quirky, historic Los Angeles Athletic Club downtown. Or call the Magic Castle Hotel, a converted Hollywood apartment building whose guests get access to the private restaurant and club in the Magic Castle.

11. Where can I knock somebody’s socks off with a gourmet dinner? Our restaurant critics, S. Irene Virbila and Jonathan Gold, are the best sources on this subject. But I can vouch for Wolfgang Puck’s WP24 downtown, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Beverly Hills and Hatfield’s in West Hollywood. And you can’t beat Musso & Frank for the feel of old Hollywood.

12. I’ve got New Yorkers coming in March and I want to make sure they understand the superiority of our climate. This way, please, to the patio dining. There’s Julienne in San Marino, the Ramos House Café in San Juan Capistrano, Madison Square & Garden Cafe in Laguna Beach, Rock’n Fish in Manhattan Beach, Larchmont Bungalow in Larchmont Village, Aroma Coffee & Tea Co. in Studio City and Alcove Café in Los Feliz.

13. Tell me two unexpected spots where can I get good, quick food. The Trails Café on Fern Dell Drive in Griffith Park. Also the Nickel Diner on gritty South Main Street at 5th downtown.

14. Got any homegrown fast food besides McDonald’s and Taco Bell? More than you could or should ever eat. One beloved option is a hickory burger at the website-less Apple Pan (10801 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles; [310] 475-3585). If you’re willing to confront a hot dog at 10 a.m., that’s just about the only time there won’t be line at Pink’s on La Brea Avenue. Farther south, dig into a fresh specimen at Jane’s Corn Dogs (my location of choice: 106 McFadden Place, Newport Beach; [949] 675-1770).

15. Where can an early riser find a prime sunrise view? Make the 45-minute climb from the Griffith Observatory to the top of Mt. Hollywood in Griffith Park. (The Hollywood sign is actually on Mt. Lee, just to the west, so you’ll see it as you ascend.) Or stroll out on the Huntington Beach Pier, preferably on a big-wave day.

16. I want to buy things, but I’m allergic to national chains and massive malls. Not a problem. Start in Costa Mesa, where the indy-spirited Lab and Camp provide great counterpoint to epic South Coast Plaza. Up in the Santa Monica-Brentwood borderlands, the Brentwood Country Mart has distinctive shops and famous shoppers. And in Silver Lake, there’s a charming stretch of shops along Sunset Boulevard (collective known as Sunset Junction) between Santa Monica Boulevard and Lucile Avenue.

17. I’ve heard people say I should leave my car behind. Are they kidding? No. Inch by controversial inch, L.A.’s Metro rail transit system continues to grow. For a carless city adventure, stay at or near the W Hotel, directly above a Metro stop on Hollywood Boulevard; or the downtown Millennium Biltmore on South Grand Avenue near the Red Line’s Pershing Square stop. The subway’s Red Line is especially convenient for downtown, Hollywood and Universal Studios/CityWalk destinations, and if you connect with the Gold Line at Union Station (which is a marvel in itself), you’re within easy reach of Little Tokyo, Chinatown, South Pasadena and Pasadena.

18. Best place to see a movie with a kid? Disney’s El Capitan Theater, a restored palace from the ‘20s on Hollywood Boulevard.

19. Would it be inexcusably cheesy for me to take a tour of the stars’ homes? Yes. But there are other tours. Here are three good guides: Brian Donnelly, who covers Hollywood and beyond for Starline Tours and Dearly Departed Tours; Laura Massino Smith, owner of Architecture Tours L.A.; and Lisa Scalia, co-owner of Melting Pot Food Tours.

20. Is Catalina pretty? Yes.

21. Should I spend more than 48 hours there? No.

22. Will the people at Forest Lawn in Glendale help me find Michael Jackson’s and Elizabeth Taylor’s headstones? No. Instead, go to Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park, a tiny cemetery in Westwood whose residents include Marilyn Monroe (easy to find) and many familiar showbiz names.

23. I’ve already been to LACMA and the Getty. Got any other museums? A few. But if you haven’t been to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the last four years, it doesn’t count. New art (including the 202 startling streetlights of Chris Burden’s “Urban Light” out front), new buildings, new restaurant, new attitude. As for the Getty, if you’ve seen that bright-white Brentwood hilltop campus (opened 1997) with Van Gogh’s “Irises” and the big photography collection, then maybe instead hit the antiquities and gardens at the Getty’s Pacific Palisades villa (reopened 2006), which is handy to Malibu. Or vice versa. But don’t forget the San Gabriel Valley. The smallish Norton Simon Museum has so much great art per square foot that you might not mind being scolded by its officious security guards. And the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens are a triple-threat refuge, where you can find Charles Bukowski’s manuscripts and Gutenberg’s Bible, together at last.

24. So that’s pretty much it for arts and entertainment? Not at all. But it’s what you probably have time for. If you find yourself with an extra night, remember, almost every Sunday, you can find the workaholic Jay Leno testing material at the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach. And most Tuesdays you can count on Porn Star Karaoke Night at Sardo’s in Burbank. That’s right: Off-duty porn industry personnel, fully clothed, but shedding their workaday worries to belt out a few tunes. Is this a great city or what?

25. I need to snap just the right Facebook status update photo. Where should I stand? At Windward Avenue and Speedway in Venice, beneath the massive Venus who’s thinking: “History is Myth.” The mural, known as “Venice Reconstituted,” has been there since 1989, and there is no L.A. image more emblematic or silly.