From Malibu in the north to Disneyland in the south, Los Angeles is the American dream supersized. Here is just a glimpse of the attractions you can find along its golden shores.
A big open limousine shoots past my hire car on the edges of the suburb of Hollywood where the early film makers came because of the quality of the light. I catch a brief glimpse of a blonde at the wheel, a GB plate on the back of the limo and it's gone, gone into some other fantasy of wealth and power and influence. Welcome to Los Angeles and life in the fast lane!
Here is a lightning tour of some of the places you must check out when you visit.
From Malibu to Disneyland via Venice Beach
Los Angeles stretches some 40 miles from Malibu in the north to Disneyland in the south. You will definitely need to hire a car to get around if you want to touch base with a variety of attractions.
A great place to start on your exploration is to go north from Los Angeles on Highway 1 to Malibu Pier. Here you'll find The Beachcomber Cafe (23000 Pacific Coast Highway, reservations 310-456-9800) which used to be called Alice's Restaurant - yes, the one in the Arlo Guthrie song and film where you can get anything you want.
Pacific storms caused a reinvention of The Beachcomber as a 1940s style diner with reasonably priced food (allow $20-50 for a meal) in an unbeatable ambience. This was where the original B-52 cocktail was given to the world, and the dynamite B-52 coffee (Bailey's and Grand Marnier are just some of the ingredients) continues this tradition. You'll have a grandstand view of Surfrider Beach from here where the surfers gather for true Californian fun and games Baywatch style.
Sunset Strip and the Walk of Fame
Malibu is half a preparation for the comings and goings of LA once you head south from Malibu back into the city. The original Spanish settlers liked to ride their horses fast. Present day inhabitants of the city - its name means Our Lady of the Angels - continue to live life in the fast lane. The settlement has grown phenomenally since its foundation in 1781. The unsettled plain lay between mountains and was watered by one river. The city is now supplied by water that comes from hundreds of miles away in the Rocky Mountains. And the water is vital to its wellbeing as Polanski's masterful Chinatown film with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway made clear.
Your drive south will take you to the famous Santa Monica Pier with its spectacular ferris wheel that attracts over four million visitors a year. A long boulevard leads from Santa Monica to West Hollywood and Sunset Strip.
It is the full moon. People come and go, shouting out from sidewalks and the passing cars. It's Saturday night, party time. The clubs disgorge their stunningly clad clientele. Everyone has to be noticed. The man on the stage - in between announcing acts at The Roxy Theatre (9009 West Sunset Boulevard 310-278 9457) - invites the crowd to a party on Hollywood Boulevard. Here there is the legendary Walk of Fame with 2000 names of Hollywood's greats immortalised in the sidewalk. You are literally walking with the stars.
Beaches, bays, yachts and tourists are scattered all along the LA coastline leading south from the centre of the city. Venice Beach, built 100 years ago as a rival to Coney Island on the East Coast, is an amazing kaleidoscope of humanity. Weight lifters, wrestlers, massage and yoga experts, joggers, skaters, buskers, hustlers and lots of the beautiful people are just hanging out. Cheek by jowl with the city it exists as an alternative scene of laid back America. Here you can find where Jack Kerouac used to hang out at the promenade cafe seeking out the very soul of America for his novel, On the Road.
To check out this scene you can book in to either the two star Venice on the Beach hotel where the owner will take care of everything for you and you can celebrate your good fortune at being right on the boardwalk to see the amazing show taking place in front of you. Or there's the Venice Beach Suites and Hotel, also a reasonably priced two star hotel on the boardwalk which gives you ocean views from your bed in some rooms, as well as a front desk manager who is helpful and cool.
Make sure you check out parking facilities with him as finding a place to park at any time of day or night can be a hassle otherwise. Venice Beach is very popular. Correction, fantastically popular, and rightly so. It's a one-off.
Still further to the south in Anaheim, Orange County lies another slice of Americana which you will need to take in before you can claim to have had the real McCoy LA experience. The wondrous worlds of Disneyland await.
Eight fantastic lands vie for the attention of the surging crowds. In summer this is a busy place, but it is open all year if you want to come in the off peak season and avoid the long queues.
For a comfortable family friendly hotel right next to the attractions, try the Hilton Anaheim Hotel. The rates are competitiive at under £100 ($150) a room per night and the location superb. You are able to soak up the magical atmosphere right from your roomy and affordable hotel room.
And should you want to also experience beachside life as well on your visit here then you have nearby Newport and Laguna Beaches to make you truly welcome in LA style!