Los Angeles Travel Tips, Attractions & More
Los Angeles. The city of Angels. Lalaland. It’s the golden city of the west, the fuel that keeps the entertainment industry going. It’s the land of soaring palm trees, never-ending blue skies, and endless sunshine.
To many, it is the promise land, the city where their dreams could come true. To the rest of the world, it is the city of celebrities, sunny beaches, and the movie industry. To its locals, however, Los Angeles is simply home, a home with a vast backyard where not only can you enjoy a lovely day at the beach, do yoga on the grass, hike to a nearby overlook, or surf on the massive waves, but also enjoy literally any cuisine you crave, watch a Shakespeare play next to an old zoo, or watch your favorite band perform in an outdoor theater.
Season Suitcase Essentials
City Logistics – Getting Around the City
As the center for the film and television industries, a major hub for the music industry, and the second largest city in the US, Los Angeles is served mainly by 1 major international airport – the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) – and by 4 smaller ones – Bob Hope (formerly Burbank) Airport, the LA/Ontario International Airport, the Long Beach Airport, and John Wayne Airport. These airports are connected to the city’s extensive public transportation system and served by private cars, taxis, and shuttle services that will take you to your destination.
Most international flights arrive at LAX and since it is located conveniently in the LA County, it’s the most convenient for international travellers looking to visit the city. Many domestic travellers, on the other hand, prefer to land on Bob Hope Airport since the flights are cheaper and it is less busy than LAX.
If you’re coming in from other cities in the United States, you can easily hop on a Greyhound bus or an Amtrak train, which will take you to one of the several stations in the city, including the historic Union Station and the Burbank Station. You can also drive into the city yourself – remember though that you will have to suffer the city’s heavy traffic if you do.
Because of how vast it is, practically everybody in LA drives. It’s normal for Angelenos to drive at least half an hour to work. Some even drive 1-2 hours every day! LA’s attractions are not concentrated in just one area and it’s normal to travel a good amount of time to go from one attraction to another. It is, therefore, useful to have a car or at least know someone who does.
You can, however, rely on the city’s public transportation. Named the Metro, the city’s public transportation system includes 6 rail lines, 2 transitway lines, and a fleet of buses (some 2,000 of them), all of which serve the city of Los Angeles and its surrounding areas. For your convenience, you should get TapCard, which you can load with single-ride, day, weekly, and monthly passes. If you’re going to be in town for a few days and planning to see a lot of it, a weekly pass – for only $20, you will have unlimited access to most of LA’s public transportation. Use this very effective Metro Trip Planner to figure your way around.
It might be a little daunting to walk from one neighborhood to another in LA. And frankly, it’s tedious. You can however walk around if you want to explore a neighborhood. It’s nice to walk around in LA. Its streets are mostly flat, its weather is always pleasant, and you’ll get glimpses of the local life here. And every now and again, you’ll come across a hole-in-the-wall restaurant or a quirky shop that LA has a lot of!
The month of June can be gloomy and wet in Los Angeles and the temperature can go up to 109F in the summertime but most of the time, the weather is pleasantly warm and dry here. Springs and summers in LA are simply amazing, the skies are clear and blue and the air is light and dry so you barely even sweat in the hottest of days. Falls and winters are also mostly dry and only just slightly chilly, with nighttime temperatures only very occasionally dropping below 45F.
Where to Stay in Los Angeles?
From boutique and luxury hotels like the Chateau Marmont and Hotel Bel-Air to mid-range hotels like Élan Hotel and Omni Los Angeles to budget alternatives like the PodShare and USA Hostels, your accommodation options are endless in a city like LA. Even during the busiest time of the year, you will find a place to stay in.
You’d probably want to consider looking for a place on AirBnb if you’re travelling with a group or with your family. There are a lot of wonderful places there at great value so you won’t have to worry about breaking the bank.
Top Things to Do
It’s easy to visit LA and get caught in its many tourist traps. Most of what people know about Los Angeles is what is usually presented in movies and TV shows. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
At least once in your life, you should experience the famous attractions of Hollywood/Highland – the intersection that is home to the TCL Chinese Theater, the Dolby Theater (formerly Kodak Theater), the Hollywood Roosevelt, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame – and Santa Monica Pier, the Western Terminus of the historic Route 66 and the site for Pacific Park and several restaurants.
It should be noted, however, that there is more to LA than these two popular attractions. Here are some of the many places you should see and things you should do while vacationing in LA:
- Griffith Park. This massive area of grassy slopes has a planetary observatory atop a hill for a cherry topping and features an abandoned zoo, the new LA Zoo, museums, a historic carousel, a golf course, a number of walking and horseback riding trails, and gorgeous overlooking views of the city.
- Mulholland Drive. Another reason why you should be driving in LA is the opportunity to witness the beautiful views of Hollywood on one side and the San Fernando Valley on the other on Mulholland Drive.
- Malibu. As far as LA beaches go, nothing beats the ones in Malibu. Behind the quirky and expensive beach houses that border the busy highway of this famous community are the golden cliffside beaches that will treat you to tide pools, soft sand, and quiet seaside sanctuaries.
- The architecture of Downtown LA. In the center of this vast city is downtown LA. It is home to one of the several financial districts as well as some of the oldest and most beautiful architecture in the city. See the beautiful Victorian Romanesque Bradbury Building, the impressive Churrigueresque Million Dollar Theater, the Beaux-Arts Continental Building and Hotel Barclay, and the Renaissance Revival San Fernando Building.
- Grant Park and the DWP Building. Also in downtown LA is a park that stretches for blocks from the LA City Hall to just short of the DWP Building and its fountains across the street. Both offer lovely views of the city and the park offers a nice seclusion from the hustle and bustle of the city.
- Olvera Street and the Union Station. Just outside of Chinatown is one of the oldest areas of Los Angeles, Olvera Street, a historic district that is reminiscent of LA’s very Hispanic origin. Today, it is filled with little shops that sell colorful novelty items as well as Mexican treats, Mexican restaurants, and street performers. Just across the street is LA’s Union Station, a gorgeous example of LA’s underrated architecture.
- Movie Tours. Many of the studios in LA like Universal Studios, Paramount, and Disney offer studio tours that give visitors glimpses of where and how movies and TV shows are filmed. For an off-the-beaten path adventure, you can go off on self-guided tours of the film locations for movies like Back to the Future, 500 Days of Summer, and the Big Lebowski.
- Elysian Park and the Dodgers Stadium. If you’re a big baseball fan, visiting the Dodgers Stadium is a must when you’re in LA. And while you’re in the area, walk around one of LA’s hidden gems, the Elysian Park. Like Griffith Park, Elysian offers wonderful hiking trails and gorgeous overlooks.
- Museums. Contrary to popular belief, the city is one of the most cultural cities in the country. It has a lot of great museums to prove this, the best of which include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), the Getty Center and the Getty Villa, and the LA County Museum of Natural History.
- La Brea Tar Pits. Existing for thousands of years, the tar pits in Hancock Park have fossilized animals of all forms and sizes, including saber-tooth cats, bisons, giant ground sloths, and mammoths. These fossils are now on display in the Page Museum next door.
- Hollywood Bowl. If you happen to be visiting the city in the summertime, try to catch a concert or a musical at the Hollywood Bowl just before sunset, a big outdoor theater that radiates this lovely intimate atmosphere that makes the show experience all the more unforgettable.
- Old Town Pasadena. Pasadena, made famous by the movie The Graduate and the TV show Big Bang Theory, is as much a city of its own right as it is an integral part of Los Angeles. It is a city of beautiful Spanish mission style architecture and is famous for its Old Town, which has been turned into the city’s commercial and shopping center.
- The Hollywood Sign. Sure you can head up to that mall on Hollywood and Highland, go up to the third floor, and take photos of the famous Hollywood sign from afar. A much better alternative, however, is to take the Hollyridge Trail at the north end of Beechwood Drive in Hollywood, which will in turn lead you either in front or behind the Hollywood sign.
- Venice Beach and its Canals. Known as an artists’ enclave, the colorful characters of the Venice Beach Boardwalk as well as its equally vibrant and quirky houses, especially in its smaller and more modern version of the Venice Canals, are a must-see for any LA visitor.
- Take a hike. Angelenos love hiking and with all these hills, mountains, and desert lands at their disposal, it’s easy to understand why. There are literally hundreds of hikes all over LA, some leading to waterfalls, some leading to overlooks. Do like the locals and take a hike in LA.
Everyday, new things are popping up in this ever-changing city – restaurants, cafes, shops, what have you. The best way to discover new things in the city is to visit LAmag.com, where they are always up-to-date with the city’s newest and greatest.
Although LA is a fairly expensive city to visit as well as live in, it also has its share of free stuff for the budget traveller. Whether you’re a fan of the whole Hollywood culture or you fancy the outdoors, there are plenty of things you can do in LA without spending a dime. DiscoverLA.com an up-to-date comprehensive list of free things to do in the city.
Explore LA’s Best Neighborhoods
- Silverlake/Echo Park/Los Feliz. LA has one of the biggest hipster and counterculture scenes in the country and these scenes are more concentrated in these three neighborhoods, as well as the nearby Atwater Village, Eagle Rock, and Highland Park. These neighborhoods are a fantastic fusion of the Hispanic and hipster culture and are teeming with quirky stores, cafes and restaurants, and independent bookstores and theaters.
- Beverly Hills. Most of this area is affluent and dominated by the rich and the famous, as evidenced by possibly LA’s most famous shopping district, Rodeo Drive. You don’t have to splurge to explore it, however. Take a drive through its streets and gaze upon its rows of beautiful mansions or grab lunch at one of the many restaurants on Santa Monica Boulevard.
- Downtown LA. Although definitely more secluded at night, downtown LA is fast becoming a hip neighborhood for young people. Dotting office buildings and film shooting spaces are warehouses and old buildings decorated with colorful graffiti and being turned into lofts and apartments as well as coffee shops.
- Chinatown. Bordering DTLA in the northeast is LA’s Chinatown, one of the biggest in the country. While part of this neighborhood looks and feels like any other Chinatown, busy and teeming with Chinese restaurants and markets, a big chunk of it is being gentrified and turned into a hip neighborhood for the young people.
- Pasadena. Pasadena, if you must, is home to LA’s old money. It is here where the city’s older rich families have made their roots. Just like in Beverly Hills, many of its areas are affluent. But it has made room for the city’s middle class. It is home to the famous CalTech Institute and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
- Malibu. Although you may run into some traffic as Malibu is situated on Route 1, which connects Southern California to Northern California on the coast, Malibu is a great place to be to commune with nature, what with its cliffside beaches in the south and its lush mountains in the north.
- Santa Monica/Culver City. While the Eastern neighborhoods of LA cater to the city’s counterculture, the Western areas of Santa Monica and Culver City cater more to the young professionals, with their treasure trove of high-end restaurants, bars, and shops. And if you’re coming to LA for celebrity sightings, skip Hollywood and head to these areas instead.
- Venice Beach. Famous of its “artistic” boardwalk lined with shops as well as medical marijuana dispensaries, Venice beach is actually an upper middle class neighborhood that features beautiful quirky homes, even quirkier shops, bars, and restaurants, and a beautiful beach to spend a day in.
- Calabasas/Encino/Sherman Oaks/Studio City. It is worth visitng the southern Valley cities, which lay on the foothills of the canyons and where the famous Ventura Boulevard passes through. You will be treated to shops, restaurants, and hiking trailheads. While there, head south on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, known for the counterculture and the rock stars that made their home there in the 60s.
- Palos Verdes. It’s a little farther southwest but Palos Verdes has an impressive collection of gorgeous beaches, tidepooling areas, and seaside cliffs. If you’re looking for a quiet day at the beach, there’s no other place to be.
LA Shopping Trips
If you’re looking to splurge, head to Rodeo Drive and treat yourself to a shopping excursion, Pretty Woman-style. Otherwise, visit the outdoor malls of the Americana in Glendale and the Grove in the Fairfax District, where they have a wide selection of your favorite brands.
Vintage and antique shoppers can take their fill on Melrose Avenue south of West Hollywood, at the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, in the Antique Row in Burbank, or in the Long Beach Flea Market.
Foodies – Where to Eat & Drink
Like NYC, LA is a melting pot of many cultures. Because of that, you can find any type of cuisine in the city. Whether you’re in the mood for Colombian, Cuban, or Brazilian food, or you love Himalayan, Japanese, or Thai cuisines, or you want to sample Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, or Indian delicacies, you will find it here in Los Angeles. Looking for French, German, or even Polish food, LA has those as well. The city is literally a mini United Nations when it comes to gastronomy. Make sure you take advantage of LA’s amazing gastronomic scene during your visit. Either check out LA Magazine’s Best Eats of LA lists here or do what I do and simply go on Yelp.com and type in the type of cuisine you’re in the mood for!
It has become some sort of coffee paradise as well. There are a good number of wonderful coffee shops in the city that will make you rethink all those coffee drinks you’ve had at Starbucks. Check out our top 5 list here.
Late Night – Nightlife in LA
From swanky rooftop bars and themed cocktail lounges to cool pubs and hip dive bars, LA is an expert on late night haunts. There are hundreds of them in the city, all competing to be the best of the best. There are so many of them, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to bring a list down to 10. For a night out of town, consult LA Weekly’s extensive list, which is been broken down to type and location.
Special Events in LA
From its many monthly artwalks and seasonal outdoor movie screenings to its yearly movie awards and festivals, including a couple of the most famous, Coachella and the Oscars, LA hosts hundreds of events every year. The city is in actuality one of the best cities for culture, not only because of its music and movie industry but also because its locals are always hungry for it.
Film and music festivals, award shows, movies premiers, art festivals and exhibits, block parties, food festivals, carnivals, surf competitions… You name it, LA has it. For an updated list, check out Discover LA’s Calendar.
Drive east to the coast for a quiet sunset walk on the beach, head to one of the overlooks in Griffith Park or Elysian Park for a lovely picnic with a gorgeous view, or go on a boat ride in one of the city’s many lakes. Those are just a few of the many romantic things you can do during your trip to LA.
Best Day Trips Outside the City
Los Angeles is possibly the city of daytrips, perhaps because it’s centrally located to many of the most beautiful places you’ll ever find yourself in. With the stunning coast to its east, the amazing desert to its west, and hills, mountains, and canyons surrounding it, your day trip possibilities are literally endless.
Of course, if you’re only here for a few days, your time is limited. So you’re best off choosing from these five options:
- Joshua Tree. Only a few hours’ drive away to the east is the surreal national park of Joshua Tree. Situated on the border of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, this park features the legendary Joshua Trees, miles of massive boulders that you can climb, some ruins, and even a prehistoric oasis.
- San Diego. Two hours away from the city of LA, San Diego is another daytrip option for the LA traveller. It has a different feel compared to LA; LA is fast and busy while San Diego is more relaxed and slower.
- Palm Springs. With its pleasantly warm weather all year round, the desert city of Palm Springs and its ample selection of spas are a must-visit. It’s only one of the top favorite destinations for the locals.
- Santa Barbara. Even quieter, slower, and much more relaxed than San Diego, Santa Barbara in the north is a must-see, what with its beautiful extensive botanical garden, it’s relaxing beaches, and its quaint old town full of adorable shops and restaurants housed in Spanish-mission style architecture.
- The Pacific Coast Highway and the California beach towns. The PCH (Route 1) connects Southern California to the Bay Area all the way in the north and is nothing short of amazing. For an exciting day trip on the road, take it down to Dana point and visit all the fun Southern California beach towns or head north to Big Sur, where on the way you will be treated to some of the most beautiful land and seascapes you’ll ever see in your life.
- Yosemite. Ansel Adams wasn’t the first one to see Yosemite and revere its beauty and he won’t be the last. This majestic vast land of Giant Sequoias, granite peaks, tall waterfalls, and alpine lakes is dressed to stun and impress. It is truly one of the most beautiful places in the country and a place that everyone should see at least once.
- Las Vegas. Finally, an LA day trip list isn’t complete without the Sin City. Some people love it, some people hate it, but none of them can deny how unique Las Vegas and its famous strip is. There you can drink on the streets, party til you drop, and gamble at your heart’s content. Best of all, there’s no sales tax!
For all its fame, Los Angeles hasn’t quite revealed itself to the rest of the world. Just like its residents, it isn’t just a single thing. It’s quite possibly the most complex cities in the world, and the most underrated. There’s more to Los Angeles than its famous movie stars and its red carpet events; a whole lot more. And you’re about to find out just how much.