Los Angeles is known more as an entertainment capital than a sports town, but with fans like Jack Nicholson, Snoop Dogg, and Tom Hanks making most every local sporting event feel like a cross between a heavyweight title fight and Oscar night, there's no reason it can't be both.
So round up your entourage and head to an area locals refer to as the "Southland," for a mid-summer weekend of sun, sand, and stargazing. It can all be had while catching beach volleyball at the AVP Manhattan Beach Open, some pre-U.S. Open women's tennis at the JPMorgan Chase Open and one of baseball's great rivalries -- Dodgers vs. Giants -- at beautiful Dodger Stadium, Aug. 10-13.
Of course, Los Angeles International Aiport (LAX) handles the vast majority of the passengers who arrive via air. For that very reason, consider flying into Bob Hope International Airport (BUR) in Burbank (approximately 25 miles north of LAX) or Long Beach Airport (LGB) (about 20 miles southeast). These airports will certainly be easier to get in and out of, and the airfares might just be better, too.
Los Angeles: Plan Trip | Hotel | Flight
THURSDAY, AUGUST 10
This is L.A.
Sheryl Crow sang those self-evident lyrics in "All I Wanna Do," so kick off your trip by having some fun with a drive down Santa Monica Blvd. to Dan Tana's (9701 Santa Monica Blvd., Web site), the clubby West Hollywood eatery that's a hangout to actors and athletes alike.
Jerry West haunted the place during his four decades as a Laker player and executive (his jersey is still displayed prominently), there's a menu item named after Vlade Divac, and, after George Clooney won his best supporting actor Oscar for Syriana, he eschewed the big Oscar parties in favor of a more intimate gathering among friends at Dan Tana's.
You can't go wrong with either the chicken parmigiana Ted Demme ("the Ted Demme is off the hook!" one satisfied diner at an adjacent table recently gushed) or the sublime chicken Marsala. Beginning your weekend at the venerable Italian restaurant is like starting your ace in Game 1, so to paraphrase local broadcasting legend Vin Scully, we're just getting started, pull up a chair, and settle in for a while.
Dan Tana's is an L.A. rarity in that it stays open late, so close the place down, and you just might see the sun come up over Santa Monica Blvd.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 11
Breakfast at Uncle Bill's Pancake House (1305 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach, 310-545-5177) puts you within a spike of the weekend's pro beach volleyball action, and serves up traditional favorites like blueberry pancakes, as well as killer house specialties such as cheddar cheese bacon waffles, and macadamia nut pancakes. Uncle Bill's patio comes with a view of the sand and surf where beach volleyball was born.
After breakfast, walk down to the beach where thousands of sun-drenched fans will be on hand to see if Californians Misty May-Treanor (Costa Mesa) and Kerri Walsh (Saratoga) can defend their women's title in the AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals) Manhattan Beach Open (Web site), while Stein Metzger and Jake Gibb look to repeat in the men's division. The event is part summer beach bash, part cutthroat competition, and all SoCal. Winners become a part of the local landscape -- literally -- as their names are engraved on the Manhattan Pier. Action goes on all day long, from 9-6.
Feel like being a part of the beach action, rather than just watching? Well, you're in luck: you can take a surfing lesson at Learn to Surf LA (Web site), which has locations on the water at Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and Malibu. Various pricing packages are available, starting at $120 for a one-hour, 45-minute private lesson for one surfer, $200 for two people.
Drive up through Santa Monica and stop by Father's Office (1018 Montana Ave., Web site) for an afternoon snack. A locals' hangout that serves up the best burger in L.A., Father's Office has only one TV, but there are over 30 beers on tap, and the basket of frites "a la cart," cut thin and seasoned with garlic, parsley, and aioli, are epic and tend to disappear faster than the crowd in the late innings of a blowout at Dodger Stadium.
Next, watch the sun melt into the Pacific from The Getty Center (1200 Getty Center Drive, Web site). You don't have to be an art lover to appreciate The Getty, a must-see cultural attraction since its 1997 opening. The museum's location atop the Santa Monica Mountains comes with rare 360-degree views of both city and ocean, offering visitors the perfect opportunity to get the lay of L.A.'s sprawling landscape, with the panorama particularly captivating at sunset (The Getty is open until 9:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).
Works of many of the great masters are on display inside, but even if you don't know Van Gogh from Van Wilder, the museum's grounds, architecture, and vistas will wow you. Admission is free, parking will run you $7.00, making The Getty one of the best deals in town.
Head to Kate Mantilini (9101 Wilshire, Beverly Hills, 310-278-3699), a contemporary diner named for a female boxing promoter from the 1940s. The eatery's modern interiors, coupled with the likelihood of a celebrity sighting, make Kate Mantilini the kind of place you'd be more likely to see in a movie about Los Angeles than in the real L.A.
If you don't bump into Tom Hanks, Luc Robitaille, or Robert Horry, all of whom have been know to drop by, you can satisfy your hunger for larger-than-life stars by gazing up at the oversized picture of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. The mural depicts the two cinematic superstars shooting their famous mano-a-mano scene from Heat on the premises in 1995.
The place is named after a boxing promoter, so there's also a huge mural of Marvin Hagler duking it out with Thomas "Hitman" Hearns. So sleek is the futuristic diner's decor, so good-looking and well-groomed is its wait staff, you half expect to hear Steven Spielberg shout "cut!" after you finishing ordering off the pricey menu (we recommend a bowl of the restaurant's non-pareil white chili, chock full of chicken, beans, rice, and Jack cheese).
A short 10-minute drive from Kate Mantilini is The Groundlings Theater (7307 Melrose Ave., Web site), home of the highly-regarded improv comedy troupe of the same name, that has served as a virtual feeder system for Saturday Night Live. Phil Hartman, Julia Sweeney, Jon Lovitz, Will Ferrell, and Chris Kattan are among the famous alumni who earned their comedy chops there before being "called up" to SNL.
Friday and Saturday nights feature late shows that start at 10:00 p.m., and feel like a lot like being on hand for a more intimate -- and oftentimes funnier -- version of SNL.
When the show gets out, you'll be ready for a midnight snack at Pink's (709 N. LaBrea, open until 3:00 a.m. on weekends, Web site), located just a four-minute drive away. The lines are always long, but the 21 different hot dogs -- particularly the popular chili cheese dog -- are well worth the wait. If the day's beach volleyball outing has brought out your competitive side, go after Orson Welles' house record of 18 hot dogs in one sitting.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 12
Start your day with breakfast at the Fountain Coffee Shop at The Beverly Hills Hotel (9641 Sunset Blvd., Web site). Located at the bottom of a discreet spiral staircase off the famed pink hotel's lobby, the entire place isn't much bigger than the counter of a Staples Center concession stand. The restaurant, which is open 7:00 a.m until 7:00 p.m., consists of 20 bar stools wrapping around a curved, vintage Formica counter. If a familiar face wanders into the cozy confines, you'll notice.
Even if don't spot a celeb, you'll feel like one: The Fountain seems like the kind of place Dean Martin would have gone to nurse a hangover by downing an Orange Freeze and nibbling on the most decadent fruit plate in a city known for both decadence and healthy eating. The pecan waffles and pancakes are excellent, too, as are the fountain specialties.
Stroll the rest of Beverly Hills Hotel property knowing you are on hallowed ground: Shaquille O'Neal had his wedding at the property's Crystal Garden in December of 2002.
The hotel is one mile from Beverly Hills' famous shopping scene. Since this is a sports trip, skip Boulmiche (9501 Santa Monica Blvd.), where Julia Roberts was famously snubbed in Pretty Woman, and instead stroll down the city's recently renovated tree-lined streets and into Niketown (9560 Wilshire Blvd., 310-275-9998). Kobe Bryant launched his new Nike Air Zoom there in February.
You can't take a trip to L.A. without taking one of the many studio tours, and visiting one of the world-class theme parks is also a must. Universal Studios (1000 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, Web site) offers one-stop shopping. The backlot tram tour proves that, at least in L.A., Beaver Cleaver's Mayfield neighborhood and Anthony Perkins' Bates Motel aren't all that far apart. The theme park, meanwhile, offers some of the area's best thrill rides.
Nestled in Chavez Ravine, up the hill from downtown L.A., Dodger Stadium (1000 Elysian Park Ave., Web site) manages to be both centrally located and remote. Don't ask, just leave early and prepare yourself for the fabled traffic.
Now baseball's fifth oldest ballpark (it opened in 1962 -- only Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and RFK Stadium have been around longer), Dodger Stadium becomes a place where easygoing Angelenos aren't so laid-back at all when the hated Giants are in town, as they are for this 4:05 p.m. start.
Philippe The Original (1001 N. Alameda St., Web site), which claims to have invented the French Dip when it opened back in 1908, pairs nicely with a trip to Dodger Stadium. With its communal tables and benches, Philippe is a true L.A. melting pot, a place where the city's movers and shakers share space with both blue-collar workers and blue-clad fans who stop by on their way to "the Stadium."
A cup of Philippe's coffee comes with something you won't find anywhere else in Los Angeles: change from a dime. Served in old-time diner mugs, the Joe has an equally old-time price of nine cents.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 13
To get a taste of college basketball's winningest program of all-time, swing by Vip's (18345 Ventura Blvd.), a coffee shop in Encino. Maybe you'll run into 95-year-old former UCLA coach John Wooden, who has a 10-year habit of starting his day with breakfast there. Or, stop by Junior's in Westwood (2379 Westwood Blvd., 310-475-5771), the deli where former coach Steve Lavin was fired by athletic director Dan Guerrero back in 2003.
Following breakfast, head south on the 405 to the Home Depot Center in Carson (1000 East Victoria St., Web site), for the finals of the JPMorgan Chase Open (1:30 p.m., Web site), one of last tune-ups on the women's tennis tour before the U.S. Open. Located on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills, the state-of-the-art Home Depot Center seats 8,000 for tennis and is a U.S. Olympic training site. Many top players including Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport and the Williams sisters are scheduled to be in the tournament.
After the tournament, take the 405 north to the 10 west to Rancho Park Golf Course (10460 W. Pico Blvd., Web site), for a twilight round on a public course ($42 weekend green fees, $17 twilight) that plays and feels like a private course. The well-kept grounds are located directly across Pico Blvd. from 20th Century Fox Studios, so you never know who might end up in your foursome. Be sure to make a reservation (310-838-7373), and, this being L.A., be prepared for the same kind of traffic jams you see on the freeways. The Los Angeles Open was played here from 1956-67 and 1969-72, with Arnold Palmer winning three times.
You're on vacation, so do something you would never do at home, and combine an item traditionally reserved for breakfast with one more commonly served at Sunday dinner at the Hollywood branch of Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles (1518 N. Gower St., Web site). If you're have doubts about mixing and matching items that sound like the gastronomic equivalent of Shaq and Kobe, put your trust in Quentin Tarantino and Jon Favreau: both the writer/directors are big enough fans to have worked the place into their screenplays.
Go back to your hotel room and turn on SportsCenter, where you'll see highlights of the Raiders-Vikings preseason game that was played earlier in the evening. Consider this your cue: you can now head home, safe in the knowledge that with another NFL season fast approaching, you won't be missing anything in L.A.