Celebrity sightings and a hotel within gawking distance of the red carpet

Crews rigged up the lights, on-air "talent" went over last-minute changes and the carpet was rolled out, setting the stage for Hollywood's biggest night. And we had front row seats.

OK, so the grand gala the Academy Awards was down the block. But our room overlooked the pool at the trendy Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where it appeared that preparations were underway for a posh aftershow.

The pool, one of the more famous bodies of water on the West Coast (not counting the Pacific Ocean), is where you can often find actresses working on tans, movie deals getting sealed and late-night dalliances that could become tabloid fodder.

Alas, it turned out that the poolside bright lights and cameras were only for a taping of "Access Hollywood." Still, just by being at the Hollywood Roosevelt, we could claim some connection to the real deal: The hotel was the site of the first Oscars ceremony in 1929.

Our stay at the Roosevelt was a favor to my wife, an avid People magazine reader who jots down restaurants where celebrities dine and gossips with her friends about who really is gay in the entertainment industry. But given all the security and the imposing 20-foot (6-meter) black fabric walls that cordoned off the red carpet from the public, we wondered if we could get a sliver of the action.

Undeterred, we set out to find what Hollywood had to offer. Here's some advice if you're headed to the 79th annual Academy Awards on Feb. 25:

Wander around. Don't look like a tourist, but bring a camera. Stars could be lurking around any corner. Even hanging out in the valet line has its perks. Waiting for my sister-in-law and her husband to join us for drinks, we saw rapper Tyrese stroll by and actress Finola Hughes gave us a wave and a smile. Hardly an A-list spotting, but it was a start.

Eat where the locals eat and drink. Who can forget Hilary Swank chowing down on a hamburger following her best actress win in 2005 for "Million Dollar Baby?" After the after-parties, the famous can be found at their favorite fast-food joints. In Los Angeles, check out Pink's Hot Dogs or Astroburger.

"I think people have a better chance of seeing more celebrities certainly after the awards ceremony. They pop up everywhere," Johnny Grant, Hollywood's honorary mayor, said.

We went to L Scorpion bar on Hollywood Boulevard. No visible signage, so it had to be cool, right? The menu lists more than 100 tequilas, some that could set you back a day's worth of pay. One of the owners said Courtney Cox and David Arquette had partied there with friends the week before, and "Desperate Housewife" Eva Longoria was next door at an Italian restaurant as we spoke. That certainly explained the paparazzi salivating outside.

Plan and book early. We reserved our room at the Roosevelt eight months in advance and scored a $279 (Ђ215) rate on a travel Web site. Few rooms are offered to the public so you have to be ready to commit. If staying near the Kodak Theatre, home of the Academy Awards, isn't a priority, rooms can be found in the weeks leading up to the Oscars for under $200 (Ђ154). Driving in Hollywood is limited as many of the streets around the Kodak Theatre are closed.

Throw your name in the hat. If you want one of the 300 bleacher seats on the 500-foot (150-meter) red carpet, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has a one-week window for people to apply in September. More than 10,000 people tried for the 2007 Academy Awards. "We love to see the hairstyles and what they are wearing," said Glenice Churchill, 76, of Chino, California, who has landed seats every year since 1970.

Churchill and her sister wear shirts that read "Bleacher Creatures" and the star-watching has turned into a family tradition. "It's become such a ritual. We don't want to miss anything," she said.

Gaze upon stars from down low to up high. You don't have to sit in the stands to get a premium view. Those willing to pay can stay at the Roosevelt where some rooms overlook the red-carpet arrivals. The famed Gable-Lombard Penthouse runs about $5,000 (Ђ3,854) on Oscar night.

Others who don't have that kind of coin can stand across the street from the Kodak Theatre on the steps of the El Capitan Entertainment Centre, home to the "Jimmy Kimmel Live" show. Space is limited, but the steps offer the closest spot to the stars without having to carry a credential.

If all else fails, the academy hosts several special events for the public, including a symposium with the foreign-language film directors, screenings of the animated and live-action short-film nominees and a discussion with some of the nominated makeup artists.

Beginning Feb. 9, the public will be permitted to touch the golden men, and even have their photographs taken holding one, at the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex. Fifty statuettes will be on display, reports AP.

Back at the Roosevelt, we ate at the fashionable Dakota restaurant surrounded by tuxedos and designer dresses following the Academy Awards. Our star count for the weekend was pretty paltry. The biggest celebs we saw were entertainment TV personalities Ryan Seacrest and Joan Rivers.

The poolside set-up at the hotel for the TV taping had been our last, false hope. As we popped M&Ms from a prescription vial, a bedside amenity offered by the hotel, our star and ambitions began to fade. We called it a night, but knew the party was just beginning around town. Next time, we'll hit Pink's.

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