The name Hollywood may be synonymous with moviemaking, but many tourists are disappointed by how shabby the town itself is. I relish its seedy, down-at-heels aura, but my kids were not impressed -- until they got an eyeful of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, 6925 Hollywood Blvd. (tel. 323/464-MANN ; www.chinesetheatres.com), still one of the world's great movie palaces, with over-the-top Chinese embellishments and an entry court where such stars as Elizabeth Taylor have set their signatures and hand- and footprints in cement. So what if the kids didn't recognize most of the names? Nearby is the relatively recently built Kodak Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., where they give out the Oscars every year; we also marveled at the refurbished Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., and the Art Deco Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., for a Sunset Boulevard taste of 1920s glamour. Stars who couldn't get a spot at Grauman's were honored with bronze medallions in the pavement along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood Boulevard between Gower Street and La Brea Avenue; and Vine Street, between Yucca Street and Sunset Boulevard (tel. 323/469-8311; www.hollywoodchamber.net). John Lennon, Elvis Presley, and Eddie Murphy, those were medallions worth a snapshot or two.
But why settle for sidewalk plaques when you can see films really being made? A quick prefab version is the hour-long tram tour at Universal Studios Hollywood, Hollywood Freeway (CA 170), Universal Center Drive or Lankershim Boulevard exits, Universal City (tel. 800/UNIVERSAL [864-8377]; www.universalstudioshollywood.com); but these days, thrill rides are more Universal's raison d'être. We'd rather walk around the wardrobe and prop departments, back lots, and active sets of a real working studio. These walking tours run Monday through Friday and last 2 hours or more; advance reservations are essential. Here are your options: Paramount Pictures, 5555 Melrose Ave. (tel. 323/956-1777; www.paramountstudios.com; ages 12 and up); Warner Brothers Studios, 3400 Riverside Dr., Burbank (tel. 877/492-8687; www.wbstudiotour.com; ages 9 and up); Sony Pictures, 10202 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City (tel. 310/244-TOUR ; www.sonypicturesstudios.com; ages 12 and up); and NBC Studios, 3000 W. Alameda Ave., Burbank (tel. 818/840-3537; www.studioaudiences.com).
Or you can get free tickets to join the studio audience for a sitcom or talk show taping (however, many shows don't admit children under the age of 10 or even 18). For these, contact well in advance: Audiences Unlimited, Inc. (tel. 818/260-0041; www.tvtickets.com); TVTIX.COM (tel. 818/985-8811; www.tvtix.com); CBS Television City (tel. 323/575-2458); NBC Studios (tel. 818/840-3537); Paramount Studios (tel. 323/956-1777; www.paramountstudios.com); or Universal Studios (tel. 800/UNIVERSAL [864-8377]; www.universalstudios.com).
Nearest Airport: Los Angeles International.
Where to Stay: $$$ The Beverly Garland Holiday Inn, 4222 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood (tel. 800/BEVERLY [238-3759] or 818/980-8000; www.beverlygarland.com). $$ Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd. (tel. 800/950-7667 or 323/466-7000; www.hollywoodroosevelt.com).