LA's the Place

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Earlier this year, the New York Times travel section recommended the 31 places to visit in 2010.

It's a helpful enough list, provided, that is, you still have a recession-proof job that lets you travel. And the desire to run the airport gauntlet and get on an airplane.

First on the list was Sri Lanka and its scenic beaches. The Patagonia wine country was also highly recommended.

We were told that design aficionados are no longer enchanted with Tokyo, and now are heading to Seoul, South Korea.

Down at number 11, below Damascus and Copenhagen and Antarctica, but above Shanghai and Mumbai, was Los Angeles.

It was kind of a surprise, seeing LA suggested as a fresh, cutting edge travel destination. Now that we aren't, but surely New Yorkers – or more on target, people anywhere who read the New York Times – would already have Los Angeles on their travel radar.

These days, who doesn't? Last week my wife and I were on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica and it was pretty clear that the tourist season has already begun.

That observation confirmed what we saw on a recent subway trip into the heart of Hollywood to check out the new transit-friendly W Hotel.

When we made our way down the street to Hollywood and Highland, we were shocked to see the sidewalks packed on a Sunday afternoon.

People weren't shopping so much as lingering and just enjoying themselves outside in the sun, many of them clearly not locals.

In the New York Times story, LA was the only domestic destination listed as a hot place this year, other than Las Vegas and Breckenridge, the party spot for skiers in Colorado.

The enticement to visit LA was the geographically expanding art scene, with galleries mentioned in Culver City and Chinatown.

The short item – really just a glorified blurb – also declared that LA's recently struggling museums are returning to health.

The Museum of Contemporary Art's 30th birthday celebration got top billing.

The upcoming opening of a new addition to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus got some ink too, along with the prospect of a new Eli Broad museum to be located in Beverly Hills or Santa Monica or, maybe, downtown on Bunker Hill.

And that was it. Nothing about restaurants or food trucks, beaches, or even celebrities. That's all fine, since the item was meant to be nothing more than a short teaser.

You have to feel bad, though, for any potential visitors who head to LA unaware of the disappointment they are likely to feel when they first get off the plane at LAX.

If they were landing in San Francisco, they might walk out into a new international terminal full of sunshine and good vibes, with plenty of signage to help them get to the BART train into the city or the quick people mover that takes you to the rental car center or another terminal.

At Los Angeles International Airport, of course, there's none of that. The nearest rail line still stops a mile from the terminals, and even if you get there won't take you quickly to Hollywood or downtown – or to Santa Monica at all.

The terminals at LAX all feel old and dated without being classic or attractive, and if you come in to sad old terminal 2/3 -- a bunch of international flights do every day – you may not even believe you're in a major world city.

Since the New York Times story came out, work crews have begun to modernize the airport's Tom Bradley International Terminal – which already is the newest and most up to date at LAX, but still woefully inadequate by world standards.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.