Feb. 21, 2008

Focus on Los Angeles

Focus on Los Angeles. Yes, the stars live in Los Angeles - Demi Moore eating at The Ivy, Jack Nicholson cheering at a Lakers basketball game, Jennifer Aniston on the beach - and they live here for the same reasons you visit: great leisure opportunities, exciting events and camera-ready ocean sunsets.

Surf, Sun, Stars. Have fun at Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood, then explore Beverly Hills, lush vineyards and beautiful beaches. Santa Monica, Malibu, The Getty Center Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood.

Hot LA Nights. Sunset Strip: The concentration of hot clubs makes this major route one of the best places to hear top-quality live music in the region. For over 50 years, the Troubadour has attracted great performers such as James Taylor and Elton John; it's a fun place to catch up-and-coming acts as well as big-name stars.

Best Theme Parks. Say "hi" to Mickey and friends and feel the magic of Anaheim's Disneyland Park, especially at night when it lights up with parades and fireworks. Next-door at Disney's California Adventure, take a simulated hang glider tour in Soarin' Over California or ride the adrenalin-pumping The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

Friendly San Diego. See dolphins, polar bears and exciting shows, before enjoying entertaining amusement-park rides at SeaWorld. Stroll through the hip gaslamp Quarter for outdoor dining and nightclubs. Parents, let the kids play at The New Children's Museum, with interactive exhibits, then enjoy romantic skyline views, steaks and seafood at the Island Prime restaurant.

San Diego County. San Diego County is blessed with undeniable riches and the perfect climate to enjoy them. Outdoor enthusiasts can snorkel, go mountain biking or play golf. Wildlife is another big part of the region's allure, with some of the world's best zoos and wild animal facilities open all year-round, migrating whales off the coast from late December to March and hawks soaring in the sky throughout the year.

Orange County. With miles of sun-kissed beaches and some of the world's best-loved theme parks, it's no surprise that Orange County makes it onto most visitors' must-see lists. With Disneyland Park, Disney's California Adventure Park and Knott's Berry Farm all within the region, "OC" makes a fantastic family destination.

Catalina's Charms. With its exotic island setting, sweeping ocean views and almost unlimited activities, it's easy to see why Catalina Island has beguiled visitors for generations. Take an express sea shuttle 22mi/35km across the sparkling Pacific, and then relax in the town of Avalon, a hamlet rich in movie-star history and romance.

8 Perfect Beaches. With hundreds of miles of coastline, it's not surprising that there's no shortage of beaches along the edge of the Pacific. Here are eight favorites, listed north (colder water but wildly beautiful) to south (warm waves and bronzed bodies).

Inland Empire. With spectacular peaks and dramatic deserts, the Inland Empire region of Southern California is home to great contrasts, beauty and experiences. To the north, nestling along the aptly named rim of the World Scenic Byway, the San Bernardino Mountain communities of Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake provide alpine playgrounds where you can fish, sail and cycle in summer.

LA north to mountain. Visit world-class museums, such as the new and dazzling Broad Contemporary Art Museum, at the los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art complex where you can view over 15,000 works. tour the soaring, stainless-steel Walt disney Concert hall (home of the los Angeles Philharmonic). For great fashion finds, explore the LA.

Desert. Running along the eastern edge of California for roughly half its length, the state's strikingly beautiful deserts are enigmatic and surprisingly varied. to the northeast is death Valley National Park, home to the lowest spot in the Western hemisphere. Fewer than 100mi/161km southeast is the high-desert terrain of Mojave National Preserve, a major recreation area.

Romancing the Desert. A romantic escape means reducing the world to just two people. Where better to do that than the desert? At Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, you're surrounded by 600,000 acres of, well, almost nothing. But the nothing that is there is truly spectacular and it offers the perfect framework for romance.

Central Coast castles. At the Ferry Building Marketplace on the Embarcadero, enjoy a culinary wonderland, with organic produce and excellent dining. In the Presidio, stretch your legs along the bay front from Crissy Field to Fort Point, under the Golden Gate Bridge. Downtown, check out over 200 stores at Westfield San Francisco.

Central Coast. From the stunning array of aquatic life around Monterey to the range of rare wildlife on the pristine Channel Islands, the Central Coast is a nature lover's heaven and enough to keep any visitor entranced. Other destinations beckon too, such as the opulent Hearst Castle, situated roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

California Winery. A visit to California's beautiful wineries can go far beyond sipping wines. Here are just some of the special events and activities throughout California. Winery tasting rooms are open daily: holiday schedules may vary.

Central Valley. With endless miles of orchards, vineyards, tomato fields and other crops, the verdant central Valley is known as California's breadbasket. Down the country roads around Davis, Stockton, Fresno and Modesto, you'll find roadside farm stalls and farmers' markets selling everything from homemade marinated artichoke hearts to braids of garlic.

San Francisco. From sailing boats skimming under the Golden Gate Bridge, to clanging cable cars climbing steep hills, San Francisco has a magic that consistently makes it one of the most exciting cities in the world. taste fresh-steamed Dungeness crab on fisherman's wharf. Shop for treasures along luxurious maiden lane. enjoy long-running shows: the circus-like Teatro ZinZanni and the irreverent musical revue, Beach Blanket Babylon.

California Vineyards. San Francisco: Visit luxury shops along maiden lane. On Geary and Sutter streets, art galleries stay open late on the first Thursdays of the month. June brings pride month, a celebration of the city's gay community. Sonoma Valley/Glen Ellen: Luxury lodgings abound in this charming town in the heart of the vineyard-rich Sonoma Valley.

North Coast. Rent a bike to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Visit Alcatraz Island and its famous prison. In Golden Gate Park, tour the new California Academy of Sciences (an ultra-green building, with eye-catching exhibits), then walk to the glorious de Young Museum. Visit colorful Fisherman's Wharf. At Pier 39, get more sightseeing ideas at the California Welcome Center.

North Coast. The coastal redwood empire that extends from Oregon's southern border to the town of Mendocino holds a timeless grandeur. The winter rains and dense summer fog are important to the area's most famous inhabitants - the massive coast redwood trees that can top 300ft/91m and can live for more than two centuries.

Mountain Majesty. Sacramento: Visit over 20 museums, such as the Crocker Art Museum, where you can see California masterpieces. ride bikes along the leafy American river Bike Trail. In nearby Folsom (21mi/34km east), cool off at Lake Natoma; try kayaking and f shing.

Shasta Cascade. With wild stretches of forest wilderness and spectacular volcanos, the Shasta Cascade region can seem impossibly vast. Fortunately, many of its most noteworthy destinations, including historic Victorian homes in red Bluff, and Turtle Bay Exploration Park in redding, the charming town at the base of Mount Shasta, are all near a major highway, Interstate 5.

Tahoe Blue. Sacramento: Visit over two-dozen museums, including the new Hall of Fame in the California Museum for History, Women & the Arts, honouring Walt Disney and other State notables. Folsom: Get a taste of the 1850s Gold Rush at Folsom History Museum and then search for your own treasures at Folsom Premium Outlets, with bargains from brands such as Kenneth Cole, BCBG Max, Nike and more.

Gold Country. Evidence of California's history is everywhere in the centrally located Gold Country. Tour the restored district of Old Sacramento, which sprang up almost overnight after the discovery of gold in the nearby foothills in 1848. Stroll around Angels Camp, the setting for Mark Twain's 1867 short story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.

California Shopping. This charming Napa Valley town boasts a wide variety of shops, especially for food and wine enthusiasts. Don't miss Dean & DeLuca, where you can sample (and buy) the region's gastronomic delights. Union Square is the place for high-end fashions such as Armani and Ferragamo, as well as the enormous Macy's department store. For incredible organic produce and artisan foods, visit the Ferry Building Marketplace near the Bay Bridge.

High Sierra. The Sierra Nevada mountain range is a geological wonder, home to three national parks - the glacier-carved canyons and "big tree" forests of Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks, as well as spectacular yosemite. Ski resorts (many open in summer for hiking and mountain biking) dot the steep slopes, especially around the jewel of the Sierra, turquoise blue Lake Tahoe.

Majestic Mammoth. John Muir said of the High Sierra, "What wonders lie in every mountain day!" The quotation seems merely poetic until you stand atop the 11,053ft/3,369m summit of Mammoth Mountain and try to comprehend the vastness before you. It takes time to get your bearings, looking down from the roof of California.

Yosemite. Yosemite is one of America's favorite national parks for good reason. It's vast, it's varied and it has more ways to satisfy a family that loves the great outdoors than you can shake a pine branch at. Yosemite Valley is where you'll find many of the park's most beloved sights. Bring a picnic blanket and binoculars to the base of El Capitan to spot rock climbers scaling the massive granite face.