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What did Hollywood look like last time you saw her? An aging screen star still strutting her stuff when she should be packing it in? Well, look again! The country's most famous boulevard is all cleaned up and ready for its close-up.
Thanks to a $1.5 billion facelift, now in its final stages, Tinseltown is barely recognizable as its old self. Seediness and grime are gone. So is much of the crime; a private security force now patrols the district seven days a week.
Once-popular movie palaces -- the Pantages, Egyptian, and El Capitan theaters -- have been restored to their old glory. The massive $567 million Hollywood & Highland Entertainment & Retail Center opened next door to Grauman's Chinese Theatre with a four-star hotel, upscale shops, restaurants, and a performing arts center that will be the Academy Awards' new home.
That's not to say the souvenir shops, tattoo parlors, and hokey museums have disappeared completely -- and who'd want them to? A completely sanitized Hollywood would be boring. But the curtain has risen on a new Hollywood, and this one's restaged for family fun.
Most of the area's best-known attractions are located along a one-mile stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, from La Brea Boulevard to Gower Street. Look down. You'll be stepping on hundreds of gold stars bearing names of celebrities. That's why it's The Hollywood Walk of Fame.
And keep an eye out for Old Hollywood's historic "monuments" -- all faithfully preserved. In "Walk the Walk," a free, self-guided walking tour, you'll find the locations of these famous "national register" buildings, as well as the sidewalk site of your favorite star's star.
Before its makeover, Hollywood looked like a movie set waiting to be struck -- plenty of decaying storefronts and drab parking lots. Thankfully, the lots still remain, providing ample parking, even on crowded days. A little-known free lot is located on Cherokee, just north of the boulevard. If that's full, check out the ones on side streets south of Hollywood Boulevard.
Your first stop should be the Janes House, a historic landmark building where you can pick up a Hollywood Visitor's Guide and Map. It's packed with tons of need-to-know stuff and includes plenty of discount coupons. If you're planning to visit other area attractions, buy the Hollywood CityPass. You'll get into selected attractions at half the regular price.
Start your walking tour on the north and west side of Hollywood Boulevard. Here's what you'll see on this side of the famous street:
Once you've done the north walk, cross over Vine Street and follow the boulevard's south side. Here's what awaits:
Type of trip: Urban entertainment
Best ages: 8 and up
Ideal trip length: Weekend
Distance: Palm Springs (114 miles); San Diego (126 miles); San Francisco (375 miles)
Best time to go: Fall, winter, and spring. You'll find the cleanest air during the winter, but fall and spring bring beautiful days, too -- and fewer crowds than summer.
Weather: Mild and dry year-round except rainy season January through March. Highs in the 60s, winter and spring; mid 70s, summer and fall. On occasion, summertime highs can exceed 100 degrees.
Lodging: Rates average $87.50 for a family of four at more than a dozen motels and two hotels in the historic district. Higher-end hotels are located along Sunset Strip in Hollywood and in downtown Los Angeles, about 15 minutes away.
Squirm factor: None
Janes House Visitor/Tourist Information 6541 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 213-624-7300
Hollywood Walk of Fame Hollywood Blvd. between La Brea Ave. on the west and Gower St. on the east and a portion of the Vine St. crossing
Hollywood Entertainment Museum 7021 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 323-465-7900
Grauman's Chinese Theatre 6925 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 323-464-8111
Hollywood Wax Museum 6767 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 323-462-8860
American Cinematheque At the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 323-466-3456
Guinness World of Records Museum 6764 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 323-463-6433
Ripley's Believe It or Not! 6780 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 323-466-6335
El Capitan Theatre 6838 Hollywood Blvd. Phone: 800-DISNEY-6 Note: Admission may vary depending on production.
If you love stars -- of the astronomical variety -- spend an evening at the Griffith Observatory, a major Los Angeles landmark since 1935. Located four miles from Hollywood's historic district, the observatory is perched on the southern slope of Mt. Hollywood, providing a panoramic view of the city and its famous Hollywood sign. On clear nights, the telescopes are open, and you can peer through them for free.
The Hall of Science museum is also free and includes six-foot diameter globes of earth and moon and a large collection of meteorites, computer games, a 1/5-scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope, and a working seismograph. There's an evening Lasarium show and Planetarium show for ages 6 and up. Children 5 and under are permitted only in "Voyage to the Planets," a kid-oriented, planetarium weekend show. Above Hollywood, 2800 East Observatory Rd., Los Angeles, 323-664-1191
For some light-hearted fun for the younger ones, check out these three family favorites, also located in Griffith Park, about 4 miles west of Hollywood's Historic District.
Favorite local spot: Los Angeles Zoo, 5333 Zoo Dr., 323-644-6400. The 113-acre Los Angeles Zoo has added two highly acclaimed newcomers: the $6.5 million Red Ape Rain Forest and the Chimpanzees of Mahale Mountains. Little ones will love the new children's zoo. The two-acre kid area allows children to touch and feed domestic farm animals like sheep and goats. Also, make sure to catch the "World of Birds Show" and the meercats that Disney artists studied when creating the character Timon in The Lion King.
Best souvenir: Movie blood -- the stuff they use in film and TV. Pick up a small bottle of the bright gory film goo at the Hollywood Magic Store, 6614 Hollywood Blvd., 323-464-5610
Annual events: Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade, downtown Hollywood, end of November