Let's cut to the chase: you need one of these to get a real flavour of LA (even if the freeways are hell on wheels). Zoom around like Hollywood starlets in a classic Corvette or Cadillac from Beverly Hills Rent-A-Car (+1 310 337 1400; www.bhrentacar.com). If you care about your carbon footprint, they also have hybrid vehicles.
LAX - aka Los Angeles International Airport (+1 310 646 5252; www.lawa.org) - is the somewhat chaotic international airport 16 miles from Downtown. Forget public transport: if you don't have a car, take a SuperShuttle minivan (+1 800 258 3826; www.supershuttle.com) or taxi from outside Arrivals. The ride to Beverly Hills will cost about $35 and take around 30 minutes (longer in heavy traffic).
Amtrak (www.amtrak.com) connects Los Angeles to other US cities via Union Station at 800 North Alameda Street in Downtown; Metrolink serves regional stations (www.metrolinktrains.com).
Country code for the United States: 1. There are several area codes in the city and calling outside of these can be expensive. Downtown: 213/323; Malibu, Venice, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills: 310; Hollywood, East LA and South Central: 323.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler; Black Dahlia or LA Confidential by James Ellroy; The Comedy Writer by Peter Farrelly. My Lucky Star by Jo Keenan is a farcical, fun-poking, fictional look at Hollywood.
Do go / Don't Go
Spring and autumn sees LA is at its best. Days are often warm and sunny but summer can see a rise in smog levels and sea mist (known as 'June gloom').
You can get anything and everything in LA, from dim sum in Chinatown to Mexican enchiladas, but in SoCal, it's all about low-cal. This star-stuck city is dedicated to food fads and major-league schmoozing, so don't be surprised if your fellow diners at Ivy are sticking to a strict raw-food, low-carb 'reverse French' regime that excludes red meat, caffeine and fun. Californian wines from the nearby Napa and Sonoma Valleys are justly popular, and low on air miles. LA is not exactly the greenest of towns, but there are plenty of farmers' markets, particularly in Santa Monica (www.farmernet.com); and Grace restaurant at Beverly Boulevard (+1 323 934 4400) offers a 'Close to Home' tasting menu featuring ingredients sourced from within a 400-mile radius.
LA's sprawl means taxi rides can be expensive. You're unlikely to find a taxi rank, so book with one of the large cab companies, such as the Yellow Cab Company (+1 877 733 3305; www.layellowcab.com) or United Taxi (+1 800 822 8294; www.unitedtaxi.com).
Tipping is always expected in restaurants: 20 per cent is not unusual - it's easy to calculate by doubling the amount of tax on your bill. It's also the norm to tip a dollar for every drink at the bar. Don't forget to leave something out for your housekeeper to ensure your toiletries get stocked up to the max each day.
US dollar ($).
That film script you've been working on (preferably stuffed into a serious It bag).
Along Hollywood Boulevard is the Walk of Fame, where more than 2,000 industry greats from Orson Welles to Lassie are memorialised with marble stars in the pavement. This is also the location of the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre, where the autograph patio is dotted with the handprints and footprints of screen legends (plus the odd cigar impression and hoofprint). Another result of the city's movie wealth is the Walt Disney Concert Hall (www.laphil.org) on Grand Avenue in Downtown; it's home to the LA Philharmonic but it's worth a visit just to see Frank Gehry's fantastic cubist architecture.
West Hollywood is the place for retail excess, particularly on Rodeo Drive and Beverly Boulevard, but less label-conscious shoppers love Robertson Boulevard's boutiques and Melrose Avenue's vintage wonderlands. La Brea Avenue is great for homewares. If you prefer everything under one enormous roof, mega-mall the Beverly Center (www.beverlycenter.com) is the place for you. The Grove (www.thegrovela.com) on Grove Drive is a boutique shopping mall next to the Farmers Market (with butchers and bakers and peanut-butter makers) - worth a peek after you've exhausted the wealth of shopping possibilities on West Third Street. This is not to be confused with Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade - also good for browsing. For something a little more bohemian, head to Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice; the best indie stores include Equator Books (+1 310 399 5544; www.equatorbooks.com), Japanese design emporium Tortoise (+1 310 314 8448; www.tortoiselife.com), and retro-furniture showroom Surfing Cowboys (+1 310 450 4891; www.surfingcowboys.com).
Drive up to twisting Mulholland Drive for exhilarating views over the city; the road runs for 50 miles from Hollywood all the way to the Malibu coast. There are also fine views from the Getty Center (+1 310 440 7300; www.getty.edu) in the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains; it's one of LA's finest museums of art, sculpture and photography (closed Mondays).
Almost everywhere in LA has been used as a set, and each familiar façade will frustrate forgetful film fans: play the Total Recall game (better known as, 'Hey, I bet that diner was in Pulp Fiction/Pretty Woman') and then settle scores online at www.movielocationsguide.com or www.movie-locations.com.
Some of these events could only ever happen in LA. Late February The Academy Awards (Oscars) at the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard sends the city into a frenzy (www.oscar.com). March/April Holy cow! Farm animals and pets are blessed by the city's cardinal at the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Monument in Downtown on the Saturday before Easter (www.overa-street.com). Late July Expect punk music, hot rods and Catholic priests at the Blessing of the Cars - yes, cars (www.blessingofthecars.com). The Honda US Open of Surfing kicks off at Huntington Beach in Orange County (www.usopenofsurfing.com). December Celebrities, razzmatazz, marching bands and colourful floats can only mean one thing: the Hollywood Christmas Parade on the Sunday after Thanksgiving - it's 100 per cent Tinseltown (Christmas is just an excuse).