Tourists used to come to L.A. for two reasons: Hollywood and Disneyland. But after a decade of riot, earthquakes, O.J., and exurbanization, cutesy old Disneyland just doesn't cut it anymore. Now travelers prefer a more postmodern destination: the Universal Studios theme park. Instead of enduring cheerful pirates and Mickey Mouse, you get a shark attack, a giant-ape attack, a deadly earthquake, and, in the new Jurassic Park ride, a rampaging T. rex. Universal, like L.A., is one exciting disaster after another. (In our family, we call it the Jewish Disneyland.) For the squeamish, there's a nonviolent Back to the Future ride; for the young ones, there's a section called Totally Nickelodeon. Universal Studios is in Universal City, an incorporated enclave within the city of Los Angeles, and there's no reason ever to leave. Besides the amusement park and the working studio, there are two well-run hotels, the Universal City Hilton and the Sheraton Universal, and the kitschy but weirdly satisfying Universal CityWalk, a simulacrum of a "typical" L.A. strip filled with scores of stores and famous chain restaurants like Hard Rock Cafe, Wolfgang Puck's California Pizza, and Tony Roma's.
Details Universal Studios Hollywood, 818-622-3801 (day ticket is $41 for adults, $31 for kids ages 3 to 11); Universal City Hilton & Towers, 818-506-2500 (rooms start at $145); Sheraton Universal, 818-980-1212 (rooms start at $139).