Thursday, February 26, 2009

Free Queen Mary!

Well, not free her from the dock in Long Beach where she's been sitting for 40-something years, but free admission to the HMS Queen Mary. California residents can hop on board and take the self-guided tour for free from March 1 through the 15th. (Tickets are normally $25 for adults; $22 for seniors and military and $13 for kids 5-11.) There's also a special rate of $109 to spend the night on the ship for Californians, good from now until March 31. You have to call the ship (800-437-2934) to find out about availability. This is a good hotel deal if you can get it. The Queen Mary is often overlooked by visitors but it's a good location, you're relatively between L.A. and O.C. The other best deal we could find for the Queen is on their website: for two adults with a AAA card, Friday March 27, checking out Sunday the 29th is $129. If you stay at the hotel the self-guided tour is complimentary. Self-parking for hotel guests is $15.

Monday, February 23, 2009

See the Stars--While They're Cheap

When you come to L.A., be aware that virtually every waiter, waitress, store clerk and pizza delivery guy has got a song to sing, a monologue to deliver or a script to write. Out of 9 million people, it seems like about half are trying to make it in "the business." What's fun is many of these stars-in-the-making hone their skills at venues around town where you can see them work--for a song:

The Groundlings--Alumni of The Groundlings have gone on to fame on Saturday Night Live, Hollywood sitcoms and the movies. They do regular shows of improv and stage comedy at their theater (7307 Melrose, Hollywood). Tickets range from $12.50 to $21.50 depending the show and the day of the week.

Max 10 Performance Lab--You can see the latest in choreography and dance at this Venice event, held the first Monday of each month through July 5. Tickets are $10, and after the performance you're invited to stay and meet the artists.

Sundays Live--If you plan a visit to the L.A. County Museum of Art on a Sunday Afternoon, be sure to stick around for the free chamber music concerts held in the Bing Theater at 6:00. Many of the performers are world-class musicians simply keeping sharp before their next symphony.

Opera Buffs--Los Angeles may not be known as an opera town, but that hasn't stopped some lovers of the genre to support young opera singers who are looking for bigger stages. If you're in L.A. on March 22, this organization will be hosting a showcase downtown focusing on nine singers. This night of arias is available for a $15 donation, or $5 for students.

L.A. Smaller Theater--The pages of L.A. Weekly are filled with listings from L.A.'s small theaters where you'll find some great actors and interesting plays. Expect to pay $10 and up for a seat.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fat Tuesday Plans

If you're in town this weekend, be sure to check out the Mardi Gras celebration at Farmers Market. But if you want to do it on the real fat Tuesday, head over to Amoeba Music at 6400 Sunset in Hollywood on the 24th starting at 4:00 for a Mardi Gras celebration with DJ Flash Gordon, lots of beads and other treats. Afterwards, think about spending the evening at the House of Blues at 8430 Sunset. The honky-tonk Pat Travers Band will be getting the crowd going before Lent begins and tickets are no more than $13.50 to $15.50.

Monday, February 16, 2009

And What NOT to do When it Rains...

When it's cold and rainy, like today, don't go here:

The Getty Museum and Getty Villa--The museum is stunning and a must-see, but part of its attraction is the incredible views of Los Angeles it provides. When it's raining and visibility is down, you'll lose part of the experience. At the Villa near Malibu, the ocean view is part of the attraction and it's best to wait till right after a storm passes to get a look at the collection there.

Magic Mountain--Yes, it's got some of the best roller coasters in the world, but it's no fun cheating death when you're being pelted by water...unless you're 13.

Catalina Island--A choppy boat trip coupled with cold wind and rain equal a miserable time at a location best seen in good weather.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What to do in L.A....

...when it rains. If you're coming during the winter or early spring you've got to be ready for the possibility that there will be some showers or a storm passing through. If there's a rainy day on one of your vacation days, here are some great, cheap indoor ways to spend the afternoon:

Peterson Automotive Museum--California's the heart of the car culture and this edifice, with 300,000 square-feet of rare and classic cars, trucks and motorcycles is a tribute to our love for motors. There's an interactive center for young children and dioramas explaining how cars work. Admission is $10 for anyone over 12, $3 for children 5-12.

Discover Science Center--If you're in the OC while the water's coming down and you've got antsy kids, consider taking them to this place, which is close to Anaheim in Santa Ana. They've got a 4-D theater, air and space exhibits and an area where you can dig for fossils. Admission is $13 for adults and $10 for kids 3-17. Get 10% off with your AAA card.

Reagan Presidential Library--No matter what your political views, a visit to a presidential library is special since there are so few of them around the U.S. This one is in Simi Valley, which is about a 45-minute drive from the Westside depending on traffic. They've got a Gallery of Presidents, which has memorabilia and clothing from several eras of the White House; a replica of the Oval Office and one of the retired Air Force One jets that you can walk through. Admission is $12 for adults 17-61, $9 for seniors 62 and over and $3 for kids 3-11.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Disneyland Package Deal?

You've got to give it to Disney for creating probably the most user-friendly interface in the world to find package deals that include park admission, hotels, etc. We checked out one of their current deals, Everyone Gets in for the Kid's Price package. It's very simple to find what you want and they clearly point out what you're getting in the package.

We looked at a family of four, two adults and kids 5 and 9, arriving just at the start of most Spring Breaks, Friday March 27, and checking out on Sunday the 29th. They would be staying at an economy hotel near the park, the Anaheim Quality Inn, and they'd be getting four 3-day Park Hopper tickets for Disneyland and California Adventure. To save money we declined the character breakfasts, meal options, transportation, etc. The total came out to $961.

Switching over to, we found the same hotel for $96/night and the park tickets at the Disney site for $447. A total of $639 or a difference of $322. Quite a difference doing it yourself!

Booking with Disney though, you do get special add-ons like a one-hour scavenger hunt at Disneyland's Toontown before it opens up to the public, access to Fantasyland before the park opens, preferred seating at some California Adventure attractions, as well as commemoritive pins and baubles. You'll have to weigh whether the extras are worth the cost for your brood.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More Cheap Hotel Rooms

Best Western is running a promo on their Website for various cities this week. You have to check the site during a particular two-hour window to get their best deals. On Thursday, they're doing L.A. I'll do an update on Thursday when I learn what the two-hour window is and what the deals are like. h/t to Sonoma on the Cheap for this one.

Update: They're showing $72 for some of their L.A. properties. You have to book it by 12:00 p.m. today 2/12.

Culver City Spotlight

It's not the kind of place that gets the limelight like Beverly Hills, Santa Monica or Brentwood, but when you're looking for a deal on your next trip to L.A., it pays to check out Culver City. For one thing, it's got the right location: close to LAX, just a few miles from the beach, and you're within 30 minutes of Hollywood, Universal City, Beverly Hills, the Valley, a good place to start from. Culver City has also developed a hip reputation over the past few years. A number of up-and-coming restaurants have opened in its downtown area, and some say the Sony Pictures Studio Tour is the best in L.A. Besides, it's one of the first cities in the U.S. to offer free Wi-fi. Can't hate a town for that.

Here are some hotel deals we found for two adults staying Friday, March 27 and checking out Sunday the 29th. If you'd prefer to stay in a similar hotel a few streets over in Santa Monica or Beverly Hills, add another $200 to $400 to the total:

Culver Hotel--An old classic building from the 1940s, this hotel in the downtown area was once owned by John Wayne. It's been restored and it's received great reviews for its restaurant and bar. $129 double occupancy.

Courtyard by Marriott Westside--A very good deal for a hotel like this, it's received excellent reviews and staying here gets you a $20 Target gift card. Parking is just $10/night. With your AAA card, you'll pay $104 double occupancy.

Four Points Sheraton--The weak economy has created some excellent hotel deals, including this one. With their 50% off Multiple Nights Promotion, you can get a room here on that weekend for $86 a night, which includes free wi-fi and bottled water.

Ramada Limited Culver City--Yes, Ramadas like Sheratons and Courtyards are "generic" hotels, but if you're just going to use them to sleep, what difference does it make? This one gives you a pillow-top king bed, free parking, on-site mini mart and a continental breakfast for $129.

Interesting note: I found the prices on the hotel websites. I double-checked to make sure there wasn't a better deal elsewhere and they had these hotels for a few dollars more.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mardi Gras at Farmers Market

The weekend of February 20-22 and on Fat Tuesday, February 24, you can go see the annual free Mardi Gras celebration at Farmers Market. There will be live music, including the Grammy-nominated Lisa Haley & The Zydekats, as well as special Cajun delicacies, face painting and mask decorating for the kids, bead throwing, the whole shebang. A taste of New Orleans at 3rd & Fairfax.

No Reservations at the Griffith Observatory

If you're coming to L.A. in the spring, make sure you have time to visit the Griffith Observatory. After a major renovation and a grand reopening a few years ago, one needed to call get reservations for the free admission tickets. Now however, visitors are free to take the winding drive up to the top and get a smog-free view of the L.A. basin whenever they want. Go around lunchtime and eat at the Wolfgang Puck designed cafe.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Theme Park Time

If you're planning a long trip to Southern California (or at least a short one with crammed with theme park time) you may have already heard of the CityPass. This gives you a three-day Park Hopper ticket that's good for both Disneyland and California Adventure, as well as a one-day Universal Studios admission, and to get you going south, a one-day Sea World San Diego ticket and a one-day San Diego Zoo admission. The regular price for all these tickets would be $365 for adults and $305 for kids 3-9, and the regular discount through the CityPass site is $259 and $219. Not a bad deal, but looking for something better? Check out Costco, which is offering CityPasses for $227 and $192.