The annual NECA Convention and Trade Show makes its first visit to Los Angeles next month, and there couldn’t be a better time to visit the City of Angels.

Downtown Los Angeles has undergone an impressive renaissance over the past few years, and NECA visitors will arrive at a time when most new projects are complete, so there’s more to see, more to do and it’s actually easier to get around than in the past. Hop on a Metro Red Line subway at a downtown station and minutes later step off at Hollywood and Vine.

NECA’s event falls within a “Downtown L.A. Welcomes You!” promotion that gives special incentives to visit downtown attractions and performances and offers discounts at many retail stores and restaurants. Visitors can find plenty of interest without leaving downtown.

Downtown attractions

Adjacent to the Los Angeles Convention Center, where NECA activities will be held, is the Staples Center, the $300 million arena that is home to the Lakers, Clippers and Sparks basketball teams; the Kings hockey team; and host to many other entertainment and special events.

One of the newest jewels in downtown Los Angeles’ crown is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 N. Grand Ave. A dramatically curved exterior clad in stainless-steel panels presenting highly sculptural compositions wrapping the entire building, providing multiple reflections of the surrounding neighborhood. The 2,265-seat auditorium is the fourth element in the Music Center Performing Arts Center along with the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum.

The city’s Civic Center, extending eight blocks to the east, is the nation’s second-largest concentration of government buildings—only Washington, D.C., has more. It includes City Hall, which became a Los Angeles icon when it represented the police station in the “Dragnet” television series.

To the southeast is Little Tokyo, settled by Japanese immigrants in the late 19th century and a focal point of the city’s Japanese community since the 1920s. Interesting shops and restaurants line the streets, and the Japanese American National Museum is housed in a Buddhist temple at 369 E. 1st St.

Just to the west at 250 S. Grand is the Museum of Contemporary Art, containing one of the world’s most prestigious collections of art dating from 1940 to the present. South of the museum is Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, the city’s oldest and biggest open-air food market. It offers an array of ethnic and exotic foods.

A few blocks east of the Civic Center is El Pueblo de Los Angeles, a 44-acre historic park where the city was founded 223 years ago. The park has four museums and contains restorations of early structures, many of them open to the public. Olvera Street has been restored as a colorful open marketplace with eating places and shops selling a wide variety of Mexican products.

To the east at 800 N. Alameda St. is historic Union Station, a set for movies including “Bugsy,” “The Way We Were” and “The Hustler,” and still an active railway station for MetroLink and Amtrak. Los Angeles’ 16-square-block Chinatown is north of the station. Shops, restaurants and businesses there are a social and cultural focal point for the area’s Chinese and Chinese-American residents.

New and old

From a distance, Los Angeles’ skyline is dominated by gleaming, modern structures such as Library Tower, and there are many striking examples of modern architecture throughout downtown. One of the most visited is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., an inspired, modern interpretation of the traditional California Mission. Natural light in the interior is filtered through the world’s largest installation of alabaster windows. Biblically inspired works of art fill the plaza and grounds.

However, the past has been carefully preserved. The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau says the city has the largest contiguous concentration of pre-World War II architecture, which often is used as movie locations for scenes representing early New York and Chicago streets.

The Broadway Historic Theatre District includes magnificent early movie palaces, including the Palace Theatre and Warner Bros. Downtown Theatre.

Art Deco landmarks include the Edison and Title Guarantee buildings, and the beautiful Bradbury Building, across the street from Grand Central Market.

NECA’s closing celebration will be at the Shrine Auditorium, a lush, old-fashioned opera house with red-velvet seats and tiered balconies that has been the site of the Academy Awards, the Grammys and the Emmys.

Hollywood

For nearly 100 years, Hollywood has cultivated the reputation as movie capital of the world. Always a popular tourist destination, there came a time when the magic appeared lost, and the famous city became a seedy ghost of its former splendor.

But Tinseltown’s glitter is back, and it’s brighter than ever, thanks to more than $1 billion in renovations and new developments.

The new heart of Hollywood is the Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex at the intersection of those two famous streets. The five-level structure pays homage to the Hollywood of old and includes restaurants and shops and vantage points with views of the Hollywood sign and busy Hollywood Boulevard below. Part of the complex is the Kodak Theatre, the new, permanent home of the Academy Awards.

The Red Line subway stops at Hollywood and Highland and other nearby attractions include Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood Entertainment Museum, Egyptian Theater, El Capitan Theatre, Hollywood Wax Museum and a section of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Traveling from downtown, the previous subway station is Hollywood and Vine with nearby attractions including the Capitol Records Tower, Henry Fonda Theatre, Pantages Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Dining and shopping opportunities abound throughout Hollywood, and exploring the city uncovers celebrity connections at nearly every turn. The Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., is a Hollywood landmark listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and was the site of the first Academy Award ceremony in 1929, at the time called the Merit Awards. The hotel has accommodated hundreds of famous guests.

West Hollywood

Tiny West Hollywood—it encompasses less than 2 square miles—is packed with trendy shops, fine restaurants and popular nightspots. A favorite destination for locals and visitors alike is Melrose Avenue. Between Highland Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard, both sides of the street are lined with clothing stores with cutting-edge fashions, eating spots offering everything from hot dogs to haute cuisine, clubs and theaters, and interesting, sometimes bizarre specialty shops such as Wacko and Off the Wall. Melrose is one of the best people-watching places in the city. Close by is The Grove complex, adjacent to Farmers Market, Fairfax at 3rd Street, where James Dean ate breakfast before he headed out on that last fatal ride in his sports car. Soap opera stars from neighboring CBS Television City often eat there.

The section of Sunset Boulevard—the legendary Sunset Strip—that passes through West Hollywood is lined with rock clubs. Famous names Whiskey A Go Go, the Viper Room and Roxy are still going strong. Most of the activity on the Strip is concentrated between Crescent Heights Boulevard and Doheny Drive.

Beverly Hills

West of West Hollywood, Beverly Hills is best known for the world-famous boutiques and galleries along Rodeo Drive where upscale clients shop like Bijan, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Valentino. A block away on Beverly Drive, the atmosphere is more casual with national retailers offering a variety of wares. Dining opportunities on both streets range from casual to elegant. Many visitors enjoy driving by the magnificent homes set back on beautifully landscaped grounds. Explore residential areas in a rental car, or take one of many tours available. The Beverly Hills Trolley departs from Rodeo Drive and Dayton Way at the Golden Triangle and takes passengers along streets lined with homes of the rich and famous. Adult fare is $5. EC

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or up-front@cox.net