The real stars of Los Angeles
I HAVE seen 25 per cent of Los Angeles' annual rainfall.
It rains about eight days a year in the City of Angels and two of those happen to be on the weekend of my visit. It may never rain in southern California but, as singer-songwriter Albert Hammond declared in the chorus of his 1972 hit, "girl don't they warn ya. It pours, man it pours".
He was right ... and, as an Aucklander, I speak with some authority on torrential rain.
So, what to do on a rainy day in LA?
My assignment was "LA on a budget" and happily one of the cheapest and driest things you can do in Los Angeles is visit its splendid museums.
LA and museums - not the tourist's first thought, perhaps - but the city that gave us Hollywood and Disneyland would like to announce that it also has an embarrassing riches of art and architecture, thanks in no small part to oil.
In California, if you can't achieve enduring fame by being a movie star, plan B is: 1. Become an oil baron; 2. Collect squillions of dollars worth of art and antiquities; 3. Donate it all to the city when you die.
In 1945, the eccentric industrialist J Paul Getty bought a house on 64 acres in Malibu and filled it with his growing collection of ancient Greek and Roman art, 18th century French furniture and European paintings.
Periodically, he opened his home to the public but, in 1968, he began building a replica of a 1st century Roman villa next door to serve as a permanent museum. As you do.
Today, the beautiful recreation of the Villa dei Papiri commands million-dollar views over the Pacific Ocean and houses the Getty collection of antiquities. Entry is free, but this is California so parking will cost you US$15.
But Getty was not finished. On his death in 1976, he left enough money to build and run the US$2.3 billion Getty Centre, which opened in 1997.
This is a 24-acre campus of galleries, gardens and sculpture sprawling across a hilltop in Brentwood with more sweeping views, this time of the city and the ocean beyond (so I'm told - it was hard to see through the mist and rain).
The complex is home to the J Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute and the Getty Foundation.
The collections read like a who's who of European art - Goya, Canaletto, Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Gaugin.
However, at the end of the day I am a girl and my head was truly turned by the collection of French 17th and 18th century decorative arts, apparently one of J Paul's particular passions. We're talking entire rooms set up as if at any moment Marie Antoinette could wander in to take tea.
Entry is again free and, again, parking will cost you US$15. However LA does actually have a public transport system and buses stop right at the foot of the free cable car, which carries visitors up to the centre.
I would recommend a visit to the gift shop. For the child that has it all, consider the action figure of the aforementioned hapless French queen with removable head or the Vincent Van Gogh doll with detachable ear.
It will set you back US$12 to visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but entry is free after 5pm until its close at 8pm and there are free jazz concerts on Fridays in the summer.
The beautiful seven-building complex houses a collection representing almost the entire history of art.
One of the exhibitions on display when we visited was a collection of sculptor Jeff Koons' work, including the famous ceramic of Michael Jackson and his chimpanzee Bubbles.
If you're a theatre buff and think LA is all about Hollywood blockbusters, think again. One of the byproducts of the movie industry is that the city is crawling with out-of-work actors. Good actors.
An agreement with the thespian unions allows actors and writers to work for little or nothing in theatres which seat 99 people or less. As a result, there are dozens of these small playhouses all over the city, some seating as few as 30.
As if that weren't bonus enough, if you log on to Lastagetix.com you can purchase tickets for half price on the day of the performance.
It's still raining cats and dogs as I set out to see Blood and Thunder at the Hyperion in east Hollywood.
After repeatedly bellowing my New Zealand mobile number at the cab operator (apparently they won't turn up without one), I am duly dropped on a dimly lit street outside a tiny and locked commercial building.
I cower under my umbrella certain I will be mugged at any moment. Then the door of the tile gallery next door swings open and a lady insists I come in. Inside is a collection of other damp waiting theatregoers.
Eventually, we are ushered next door, into what looks like someone's front room, which is also the stage, that is also the auditorium. We are so close we can practically touch the actors.
A dramatic and professional performance of a story about a New Orleans family imploding as Hurricane Katrina roars outside their apartment ensues. The extremely good lead actress has apparently been in Grey's Anatomy. I don't recognise her.
I never expected to find world class - and cheap - arts and theatre in LA. But then I didn't think I would need my raincoat and possum fur scarf either.
Where to stay: Hollywood Heights boutique hotel is good value at from US$139 a night.
Further information: To find out more about visiting Los Angeles see discoverlosangeles.com.
Maria Slade visited Los Angeles with help from Air New Zealand.