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When I touched down in Los Angeles for the first time, with only three days to sightsee and no car to get around, my first priority was to figure out how to make the most of my time. There’s no better way to get oriented quickly in a new place than by taking a tour — or, in my case, a couple of them.

As an L.A. virgin, I felt it was my duty to join the starstruck faithful on a two-hour Movie Stars’ Homes tour from StarLine, a well-established company that also runs double-decker sightseeing buses and a wide selection of other excursions around the city. It’s the kind of touristy-but-fun activity that’s practically a must-do for L.A. first-timers looking to snap a photo of the Hollywood Sign, wander amidst Spiderman impersonators on the Walk of Fame and gawk at opulent Beverly Hills mansions. (Get the details at StarLine.com.)

marilyn monroe house los angeles

But I also wanted to try a tour that was slightly less traveled, so in the afternoon I made my way to the Larry Edmunds Bookshop, a quirky little place filled from floor to high ceiling with retro movie posters, actor autobiographies and photos of all things cinema. This was the meeting point for the Hollywood Tragical History Tour, which focuses on crime, scandal and death in the City of Angels. (See DearlyDepartedTours.com.)

Like the StarLine tour, the Tragical History excursion served up plenty of celebrity gossip (for example, both guides swung by Michael Jackson’s estate to offer an in-depth account of his demise). But I soon discovered that this tour wasn’t for the faint of heart. At one point, our guide read from a graphic police report about the “Black Dahlia,” a 22-year-old woman who was killed in gruesome fashion back in 1947. (The tour provides police photos of her body too, but after hearing the stomach-turning description I opted not to look.) They’ve also got audio of the panicked 911 call made by Joaquim Phoenix as his brother River lay dying of an overdose in front of the Viper Room nightclub. And the pit stop halfway through the tour comes at the public restroom where George Michael was arrested for soliciting a police officer.

george michael urinal

Here are a few more favorite tidbits from the tours:

Movie Stars’ Homes: I had an immediate flashback to childhood when we stopped in front of the house featured in the sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

Hollywood Tragical History: Our fast-talking guide was a font of fun (if useless) trivia. Where else would you learn that Billy Bob Thornton is afraid of clowns, bright colors and antique furniture? Or that Britney Spears once kept a 30-day loaner car for nine months and returned it with 120 cell phones in the trunk?

viper room los angeles

While there was some overlap between the two tours, I was surprised by how different the experiences actually were. If you’ve got the time on your next trip to Los Angeles, take ’em both: there’s no better way to get the full L.A. experience, from the sublime to the seedy.

The StarLine tour is $49 per adult when prebooked online, while the Tragical History excursion will set you back $40. Don’t forget to budget an extra $10 per person for tips.

Our Favorite Los Angeles Hotels

— written by Sarah Schlichter

globeThis weekend, I’ll be in the company of Arthur Frommer, Rick Steves, Lisa Ling and thousands of other avid travelers. I’ll be checking out music and dance performances from around the world, and learning how to cook exotic dishes like Taiwanese popcorn chicken. And I’ll have the chance to win a vacation to Belize or India or even beyond.

In short, I’ll be at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show — and you could be too.

Los Angeles Without a Car

What exactly is a travel show? It’s not a TV program on the Travel Channel. No, it’s a big, colorful expo featuring exhibitors from travel companies and destinations around the world. It usually includes vacation giveaways, expert panels and talks, tons of information and inspiration, and — of course — plenty of fun freebies.

The Los Angeles Times Travel Show has all of that and more, and it’s coming up this weekend. But if you can’t make it to the City of Angels, there’s probably a travel show coming to a city near you. Below is a sampling of upcoming events around the U.S. and Canada.

Chicago: Travel & Adventure Show (January 28 – 29)

Boston: Boston Globe Travel Show (February 10 – 12)

Seattle: Golf and Travel Show (February 10 -12)

San Francisco: Travel & Adventure Show (February 18 – 19)

Spokane: Golf and Travel Show (February 18 – 19)

New York: New York Times Travel Show (March 2 – 4)

Vancouver: Golf and Travel Show (March 3 – 4)

Washington D.C.: Travel & Adventure Show (March 17 – 18)

Miami: Miami Travel Show (May 4 – 6)

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, why not come on out to the show this weekend? Admission is just $10. Look for me at the Travel in Style Pavilion, where I’ll be speaking on a panel about travel and shopping. Hope to see you there!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

los angeles freewaysIs it possible to get around the City of Angels without wheels? This week, I’m going to find out.

It’ll be my first trip to Los Angeles, a sprawling city so dependent on driving that it inspired the 80’s band Missing Persons to sing, “Nobody walks in L.A.”

Well, this traveler will be walking. And taking the subway. And riding a few buses too.

It’s not that I object to renting a car, especially when it’s the only way to explore a destination. But I live in the ‘burbs, and I already drive everywhere when I’m at home. So when I travel, it’s nice to get out from behind the wheel.

To make my L.A. trip work without a car, I’ve had to plan carefully. First, I’ve chosen a couple of hotels within walking distance of subway stops (one downtown, the other in Hollywood). Second, I’ve crafted my itinerary to focus on attractions that are easily accessible either via public transit or on foot from where I’m staying, like a couple of star tours out of Hollywood (which is on the Metro’s red line).

Our Favorite Los Angeles Hotels

I did have to scrap a visit to the Getty Center on Sunday afternoon because the L.A. Metro trip planner told me it would take anywhere from 150 to 180 minutes to get there from downtown by bus. Oof. On to Plan B: a stop at the Museum of Contemporary Art on South Grand Avenue, which is within walking distance of my downtown hotel.

Sightseeing aside, my main reason for coming to town is to speak at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show this weekend. Admission is $10; I hope any IndependentTraveler.com readers in the area will come out and say hi!

Got advice for getting around L.A. without a car? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

— written by Sarah Schlichter