In an afternoon/layover: Uber to Venice Beach or Manhattan Beach and enjoy the great weather!
In 1-3 Days: In my mind, seeing the main sights of LA takes 3 days. 1 day for the Far Westside, 1 day for Central/Near Westside, and 1 day for Downtown/Hollywood/New Eastside.
4-7 Days: All of the above but also go to a Theme Park/Studio Tour, add either South Bay/Palos Verdes or Malibu, and go on a day trip somewhere further out!
Far Westside: Santa Monica/Venice/ West LA/Marina Del Rey
West LA is what most people imagine when they think of LA: beaches, good weather, and beautiful people. The two main areas that tourists visit are Santa Monica and Venice. Both can be visited in a single day. Quite possibly, my ideal day in LA would involve walking from one to the other along Palisades Park, the Pier, and the beach bike path to the Venice Boardwalk. The nearby mountains also have excellent hiking options.
Santa Monica is a cosmopolitan beachside community that seems to have it all. The wide beach is anchored by a world-famous pier. Companies in many industries, but especially technology and tech-media have offices here. The downtown, anchored by the Promenade, is a top shopping and entertainment destination. The apartments and homes are beautiful. Many people would call this their dream place to live.
Downtown Santa Monica: The action in Santa Monica is centered around Downtown. The Promenade is an outdoor shopping mall with street performers. The nearby Santa Monica Pier is the iconic end of Route 66 and has a small amusement park. Above the beach is the clifftop Palisades Park, a 2-mile grassy strip with amazing ocean views.
North of Downtown: past Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica becomes residential. Montana Avenue is the sole commercial street and has cute shops and restaurants centered between 8th and 16th streets. San Vicente Boulevard has a wide grassy median that is a popular running path. Just north of San Vicente at 4th Street is the Santa Monica Stairs.
Main Street Santa Monica (it’s not downtown): This street is popular with mostly younger locals and also has the majority of Santa Monica’s bars.
Beaches: All the beaches are nice, but avoid the beach immediately north of the Pier. It is consistently ranked the dirtiest beach in California. South of the Pier is more tourist friendly than north, Old Muscle Beach (just south of the Pier) has exercise rings and a partner gymnastics area, making it a great people watching spot.
Bay Cities Italian Deli (100-year old home of the famed Godmother Sandwich, gets extremely busy, you can order your sandwich online for in-store pickup), Mendocino Farms (multiple locations, fantastic/relatively healthy sandwiches), Misfit Bar (just off the Promenade), Cassia (expensive Southeast Asian food), Father’s Office (home of one of the best burgers in LA, huge beer selection, 21+ only), Elephante (hip Mediterranean food, reservations required)
The Bungalow (the classic Santa Monica bar- basically a house party where you don’t know anyone but everyone is super cool-looking/beautiful/a celeb, a sight to see), the Victorian (3-story frat party), Huntley (as clubbish as LA gets, amazing views), Father’s Office (see restaurant list)
Santa Monica’s hip cousin. Venice has somewhat recently transformed from a funky (albeit somewhat grungy) beach destination into a very trendy community for creatives with money. Abbot Kinney might be LA’s top shopping street at the moment. That said, the world-famous Boardwalk still retains the unique flavor of Old Venice.
Venice Beach Boardwalk- voted by me as the best people watching in the world. Highlights include the skate park, unusual vendors, Muscle Beach, Paddle tennis courts, Snapchat Headquarters, random Orthodox Jewish Schul and fantastic street art. Avoid the performances where a group of black guys jumps over a group of 5 tourists- the show actually takes an hour and is a huge waste of time. The best times to visit are weekend afternoons, especially during summer. On Sundays there is a drum circle just before sunset.
Abbott Kinney- Named for the creator of Venice, this is probably the hippest street in America and where the locals hang out in Venice. Feel bad about yourself because you’re not as cool as these people.
Venice Canals: Venice’s namesake. The Canals are one of the most beautiful and unusual neighborhoods in the country. Quite peaceful and different than anything around it.
Gjelina (the most popular restaurant in Venice- make a reservation, grazing menu), Gjusta (Gjelina’s hipster bakery/deli located nearby), Café Gratitude (the vegan restaurant that started the craze- it’s a scene) Lemonade(multiple locations-healthy upscale cafeteria-style restaurant with awesome salads), Abbot Pizza Company (pizza with bagel crusts), Butcher’s Daughter (vegan food), Wurstkuche (German sausages and beer in a very cool setting), Casablanca (romantic Mexican restaurant that looks like Rick’s Cafe from the movie)
James Beach (I Love You Man was filmed here, underwear on the ceilings, dancing. Don’t eat here, the food is horribly overpriced), Venice Ale House (California craft beers on the Boardwalk- a good pit stop), Venice Whaler (popular day drinking spot near beach with locals), Townhouse (one of the oldest bars in LA, former speakeasy during Prohibition, two levels)
Elsewhere in Far Westside LA:
Getty Center (different from the Villa)- no reservations required. Hilltop art museum containing works from the 1200’s-today. You have to take a tram up to the museum itself. Museum is free but parking is $15.
Brentwood Country Mart- a 75-year old barn-themed shopping center that happens to be one of the best celebrity-watching spots in LA. Last time at brunch at Farmshop, I saw Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Madonna. Take a yoga/pilates/spin class and you will inevitably see all the hot moms and their unemployed grown children (yes that used to be me).
Hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains: There are many hikes in the mountains above Pacific Palisades, but my favorite is the top of a street called Paseo Miramar. It’s a narrow and windy street. Trailhead is at the top. Park on the street then hike to Parker Mesa Overlook (5 miles roundtrip) for an amazing view of both city and ocean.
Sawtelle aka Little Osaka: LA’s second Japanese neighborhood that most people visit in order to eat at one of the 30ish Japanese restaurants in a 3-block span. There are some other restaurants sprinkled in. The highlights are the ramen shops- there are at least 5 but the best is the Tsujita Annex. Killer Noodle is also a great option.
Tour famous homes: Check out Jay & Gloria’s house in Modern Family (121 South Cliffwood Ave) and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air House (251 N. Bristol Ave)
Malibu, located just up the coast from LA is known for its 26 miles of beaches. The main road in and main access point to Malibu is the Pacific Coast highway, although it is possible to drive in through the many canyon roads. I have included Malibu-adjacent sites in this section.
Getty Villa (different from the Getty Center-reservations required) – museum of Greek and Roman artifacts in a reconstructed villa
Drive along the PCH and listen to upbeat pop music. The most dramatic and rugged section is from Neptune’s Net to Point Mugu in Ventura County.
Beaches: Zuma (wide sand/beach volleyball), Point Dume (sandy but with a huge cliff nearby- quieter than Zuma), El Matador (sea caves below cliffs), and Leo Cabrillo (tide pools).
Hikes: Malibu Creek State Park (for pond swimming), King Gillette Ranch (the National Park has a visitor center here and see the set of the Biggest Loser), Sycamore Canyon, Paramount Ranch (fake Western town movie set), Sandstone Peak/Moshi Mokwe Trail (6=mile loop to the highest peak in the range), Chumash Trail (8,000 year-old steep climb to a beautiful grassy valley), Charmlee Park (open grassy fields with great views and solitude)
Avoid: Malibu Wines (mediocre-at-best wine with an unnecessarily bougie scene. If you actually want to go wine tasting, head to Temecula , the Santa Ynez Valley, or Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone), Malibu Seafood (the food is good, but it’s too crowded), Paradise Cove (overpriced and the parking can be very expensive)
Neptune’s Net (technically in Ventura County) for seafood and bikers, Cholada Thai (my go-to Thai place in a funky beachside hut- much better than your average Thai restaurant), Fish Grill (Kosher grill that happens to serve perhaps the best fish in all of Malibu), Malibu Farm (popular healthy spot on the Malibu Pier), Saddle Peak Lodge (upscale/rustic hunting lodge with unusual game meat- an experience), Malibu Yogurt (longtime froyo place that everyone from Malibu loves)
Near Westside: Westwood/Beverly Hills/Bel Air/Culver City/West Hollywood
Westwood is the home of UCLA, the premier public university in Los Angeles. Students hang out in the nearby Westwood Village that, while quaint, has seen better days. Immediately to the north and east are two of the most expensive neighborhoods in LA: Bel Air and Holmby Hills. The dichotomy of college kids and exceedingly rich people is strange.
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA): The most applied-to school in the world, UCLA occupies a beautiful campus in Westwood and is a wonderful place to stroll around for an hour. The center of campus stretches from the Ackerman Union up the Janss Steps to Royce Hall and the Powell Library. You can also run around the campus- 4.5 mile loop. The famed basketball team plays at Pauley Pavilion. The unparalleled UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame is located at the center of campus next to the Bruin statue (can’t miss it).
Westwood Village: UCLA’s college town has some old movie theaters, okay shops, and cheaper restaurants.
See the houses of Holmby Hills: The largest homes in LA are on Mapleton Drive including the Spelling Manor and Playboy Mansion (best viewed from Charring Cross Road)
Hotel Bel Air: Super expensive old hotel where my parents got married!
House of Meatballs ($15 delicious Italian food with some crude humor), Diddy Reese (50 cent cookies and $2 ice cream sandwiches, expect a line in evenings), In-N-Out Burger (the closest location to the Westside), Fat Sal’s Sandwiches (large sandwiches), Ike’s Love and Sandwiches (LA branch of popular SF chain), KazuNori (hand-rolls only), TLT Food (brick & mortar store of popular food truck, eclectic menu)
South of Wilshire, Westwood Blvd becomes known locally as Tehrangeles, as the Western Hemisphere’s largest concentration of Persian restaurants is here. There are other types of food too. Besides restaurants, this is a very skippable and ugly part of the city.
Taste of Tehran (the best Persian food on the street- counter service, featured on Top Chef), Saffron & Rose Ice Cream (Persian ice cream is completely different than anything you’ve tried. This is the most famous shop in the city), The Apple Pan (landmark hamburger shop famous for the Hickory Burger and apple pies- a relic of the 1940´s – park in the nearby mall and walk over), Qin West (a rare Western Chinese restaurant with handmade noodles, you will be the only non-Chinese person here), Attari Sandwich Shop (basically a Persian deli- favorite spot of LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold)
A planned office community adjacent to the 20th Century Fox Studio (namesake of the area), there is little for the tourist to do here. Most people work in law, finance, real estate, or entertainment. The largest talent agencies: CAA and ICM are here.
Look at the office buildings from where the entertainment industry is really run.
Century City Mall: If you like malls, this one was recently redone by Westfield and is beautiful. It now boasts the West Coast’s only Eataly.
Bacio di Latte (one of two North American outposts of the famed Brazilian gelateria), Eataly (half Italian grocery store, half Italian mega-restaurant), Clementine (cute neighborhood cafe right across the street from the mall), Panini Cafe (reasonably priced Mediterranean), Thursday Farmer’s Market (in the courtyard behind 10100 Santa Monica Blvd and 1900 Avenue of the Stars. This is basically the school yard for adults. Worth visiting for the awkward dynamics between people and companies. The Hawaiian chicken stand is the one you want.)
Home of the world’s most famous zip code, 90210, Beverly Hills lives and breathes luxury. From nice homes to fancy shopping, you will feel poor here. But don’t worry too much, most of the beautiful people don’t actually live here and are just stupidly rich tourists- a good 4/5 of the luxury cars you see are rented. The actual residents of Beverly Hills are more low-key.
Rodeo Drive: The country’s most famous shopping street has 3 blocks of luxury stores. Oogle at the crazy prices.
Elsewhere in the Golden Triangle: Check out Beverly Drive next door where the locals actually shop. Canon Drive has all the fancy restaurants. The Rite Aid on Canon Drive is reported to be the most profitable in the world.
The Flats: See how the other side lives.
Maestro’s Steakhouse (special occasion steakhouse with gold diggers at the bar), Spago (Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant also special occasion), Nate & Al’s Delicatessen (old school Jewish deli where the locals and some celebs go), The Palm Beverly Hills (upscale steakhouse that is a power lunch spot full of celebs), The Cheesecake Factory (Original Location), California Pizza Kitchen (Original location), Go Greek (like a froyo place except its Greek yogurt), Sprinkles Cupcakes (home of the Cupcake ATM), Il Fornaio (Popular mid-range Italian restaurant), Il Pastaio (popular mid-range Italian restaurant), La Scala (Italian restaurant known for its chopped salad)
As you would expect, incredibly expensive hotel bars are king. Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge (famed celeb hangout with leafy wallpaper. Make sure to wander the hotel grounds), Peninsula Hotel (rooftop pool deck), Montage Beverly Hills (1st floor bar/restaurant is called Georgie)
Formerly a mediocre suburb, Culver City has really come into its own as a foodie destination with a cute downtown. Entertainment is the key industry here.
Sony Studios: The former MGM studios is the current home of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Iconic films like the Wizard of Oz were filmed here- you can’t help but notice the gigantic rainbow. Unlike other studios, they only offer tours on weekdays and the tours are conducted on foot, making it much more intimate. Make sure to purchase tickets ahead of time.
Museum of Jurassic Technology: This beyond-quirky museum is dedicated to…. I’m not really sure. I guarantee your brain will be worked as you try to figure out what is real and what is fake news. No phones allowed inside. They have really strange hours.
Culver City Steps aka Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook: Popular local hike to a scenic view. The stairs themselves take about 5-10 minutes. If you are here during normal business hours, there is a neat visitor center at the top that talks about the natural environment of Southern California.
Father’s Office (larger, sleeker version of the Santa Monica gastropub with the best hamburger in town and an epic beer selection), Mayura Indian (rare South Indian restaurant that specializes in Keralan cuisine), Simpang Asia (Indonesian restaurant with lightning-fast service), Cerveteca (one of the two best Mexican spots on the Westside)
Avoid: Tito’s Tacos (extremely popular Americanized taco counter serves the most overrated Mexican food in LA)
Blind Barber (speakeasy behind working barber shop with dancing), Culver Hotel (swanky turn-of-the-century bar with lots of velvet furniture, a symbol of the rebirth of Culver City), Bigfoot Lounge West (rustic log cabin feel)
The center of gay culture in LA is also the most popular place to live/hang out if you work in the entertainment industry. Rainbow flags are flying all down Santa Monica Boulevard. Most of the gay bars are on the western side of the city close to the Pacific Design Center. Further east, there are a lot of not-gay bars. Personally, I try to avoid areas with strong brunch scenes (lifestyle choice) and West Hollywood probably has more brunch spots per capita than anywhere in the world.
Guisado’s (amazing tacos- westernmost location of the Boyle Heights mini-chain), Gracias Madre (vegetarian hip Mexican food), E.P. & L.P. (cool Asian restaurant/rooftop bar), PUMP (owned by Lisa Vanderpump. There’s a reality show based here. It’s a scene), Barney’s Beanery (100-year old sports bar/grill with tons of kitsch)
The Troubadour (200-person venue that is one of the most famous concert venues in the world- surprisingly good acts play here), Laurel Hardware (the most beautiful and done up yet soulless girls of any bar in the world-it’s a scene). Bar Lubitch (Russian-themed bar with large vodka list), the Abbey (most popular gay bar in the city)
Sunset Strip: Technically part of West Hollywood, but a world of its own. This is the home of Rock n´Roll. The most famous rock clubs/concert venues are the Roxy and Whiskey a Go-Go. The nearby Rainbow Room is a restaurant/bar also gets a rock n’ roll black leather crowd. The Viper Room is another famous rock club owned by Johnny Depp (River Phoenix died in front). For an upscale club scene go to Hyde Lounge (dancing with people who spend too much money)
Miracle Mile describes a section of Wilshire Boulevard with tall office buildings and three of LA’s most famous museums. Just north is the Fairfax district, a traditionally Orthodox Jewish section of town. The name Mid-City can be used to describe the area as a whole.
LACMA: main art museum in LA. In addition to their stellar permanent collection, they often get top notch special exhibits. Look out for the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
La Brea Tar Pits/Page Museum- an amazing museum next to LACMA that showcases wooly mammoth/sabre tooth cat/dire wolf/giant sloth bones that were found here in the middle of LA. If you like science and archaeology, this is one of the coolest museums in the world!
Original Farmer’s Market/the Grove- busy place to get food and shop. The Farmer’s Market is over 100-years old, the adjacent Grove is basically Disneyland in mall form. Regardless of where you end up, park at the Grove.
Melrose Avenue: The stretch of Melrose Avenue from La Cienega to La Brea is one of the city’s most famous boutique shopping streets. It is considerably fancier west of Fairfax and hipper east of Fairfax.
Fairfax High School Flea Market- Sundays only. An eclectic flea market and with amazing people-watching.
Leo’s Taco Truck (open all day/night next to a gas station- go here for legit street tacos), Any of the 20-ish restaurants in Little Ethiopia, Canter’s Deli (famous 24/7 Jewish deli that played an important part in the history of Guns N’ Roses),
Avoid: Pink’s Hot Dogs (stand in a long line for average hot dogs. They have plenty of other locations without lines)
The densest neighborhood in LA has the largest Korean population outside of Korea. The main reason people come here is to eat Korean barbeque.
WiSpa: 24-hour Korean spa. An experience
Korean: There are over 200 Korean barbeque restaurants in Koreatown. My favorite is Oo-Kook on 8th Street- it’s reasonably-prices all-you-can-eat. Park’s BBQ is probably the best high-end choice. Sun Nong Dan (24-hour place specializing in galbi jim soup), Dan Sung Sa (old school spot for Korean small plates. Amazing atmosphere). Beverly Soon Tofu (long waits for the best tofu soup)
Non-Korean: Langer’s Deli (a 100-year old Jewish deli now in the definitely not-Jewish neighborhood of Westlake. It won a James Beard award and is widely considered the best deli in LA), Taylor’s Steak House (old school dimly lit institution), El Cholo (Original location of an LA Mexican institution)
Break Room 86 (80’s themed karaoke bar), Shatto 39 Lanes (it’s a bowling alley but it’s open until 2am and serves drinks, so treat it as a night out), Lock & Key (speakeasy with unusual entrance), The Wiltern (large concert venue)
One of LA’s oldest suburbs, Hancock Park is an island of huge houses surrounded by areas considerably less nice.
Huge houses: The best way to see the impressive old homes is on a home tour.
Larchmont Village: The sole commercial street in Hancock Park consists of a few upscale blocks, but is nothing unique.
Restaurants: Larchmont Wine and Cheese (famed sandwich shop that oftentimes is considered the best sandwich in LA)
While the major film studios are in the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood still is the center of the Entertainment Industry. It is not a pleasant neighborhood and is definitely not how it is portrayed in the movies! Hollywood Boulevard is the single most-touristy area in the city. However, the rest of Hollywood is considerably less touristy and many parts of Hollywood are becoming quite nice live/work communities.
Walk of Fame: You have to do it but don’t get your hopes up- the most popular area is from Highland to Orange and includes the Chinese Theater, the Dolby Theater (home of the Oscars) and the most popular stars including Michael Jackson’s. Pushy people will approach you to give you their hip-hop CD’s. These are not free and when you take it they will expect a “donation”.
Runyon Canyon: where the models go to Instagram that they are hiking. A sight to see-about 1.5 miles roundtrip
Paramount Studios tour
Upright Citizen’s Brigade: watch quality improv for just $5- buy tix ahead of time since they sometimes sell out
Museum of Death: interesting museum, but this is a macabre place- YOU’VE BEEN WARNED
See a movie: Chinese Theater (make sure it’s the actual Chinese and not another one in the multiplex), Egyptian (shows artsy/old movies), El Capitan, Arclight/Cinerama Dome (where the celebs go to watch movies), Hollywood Forever Cemetery (they project movies on a mausoleum while you picnic with thousands in an area without graves. Look online for the schedule and buy your ticket in advance)
Musso & Frank (the oldest restaurant in Hollywood- every famous person ever has eaten here), Stout (upscale burgers), Mashti Malone’s Persian Ice Cream, Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles (Snoop Dogg’s favorite restaurant- Hollywood is the original location), Inti (low key Peruvian), MozzaPlex (street corner containing 3 of the best Italian restaurants in town), Magic Castle (Hogwarts in real life. Need to score an invite to go here)
No Vacancy (the coolest bar in LA hands down- go early for the surprise entrance that I won’t ruin), Good Times at Davey Waynes (70’s themed bar- also has a really cool entrance), Hollywood also has a large club scene centered around Hollywood Blvd and Cahuenga, The Comedy Store (one of the most famous comedy clubs in the US- celeb comics perform here often)
The New Eastside: East Hollywood/Los Feliz/Silver Lake:
Formerly dangerous areas, the neighborhoods east of the 101 Freeway have gentrified like crazy over the past 10 years. There aren’t many tourist attractions, but it’s a good spot to see how young/young-at-heart Angelinos live and where the city is going. Odds are you know someone who lives here.
East Hollywood/Los Feliz:
The area just across the 101 Freeway from Hollywood has a lot of micro-neighborhoods. The nation’s only Thai Town occupies the stretch of Hollywood Blvd east of the 101. Just one block south is Little Armenia. Los Feliz occupies the foothills north and east of Thai Town. Everything else in the area that doesn’t fit is considered East Hollywood.
Griffith Observatory for an amazing view of LA: the museum/planetarium is open during the day, but it’s also great to go at night. You can hike from the top to Mount Hollywood (different than the Hollywood Sign hike)
Autry Museum: Museum about the Old West, cowboys, and cowboy entertainers in Hollywood. This and the La Brea Tar Pits are my two favorite museums in LA.
Stroll Hillhurst Avenue for hipsters.
Jitlada (considered by many to be the best Thai restaurant in LA- I would now call it second best to Northern Thai Food Club), Home Restaurant (hipster central), Yuca’s (James Beard award winning taco stand), Best Fish Taco in Ensenada (Baja style fish tacos served in a shack), Northern Thai Food Club (the best Thai food in Los Angeles- not fancy but its the real deal with some very unusual dishes), Sapp Coffee Shop (Thai restaurant known for its boat noodle soup with liver)
Tiki Ti (tiny tiki bar that happens to be my favorite bar in LA. They only serve expensive but gigantic and STRONG rum cocktails. Order right and the bartender will chant), Jumbo’s Clown Room (technically not a strip club, but there is pole dancing to classic rock music in a clown setting, people applaud after every dance, no cover, popular date spot, always a line) Blue Goose Lounge (karaoke but the bar is always empty. Come here with a group and you will run the show)
Widely considered hipster central, Silver Lake is a vibrant yet decentralized neighborhood set amongst some very steep hills.
Search for hipsters in Silver Lake near Sunset Junction.
Find the “secret” staircases.
Red Lion Tavern (old school German beer restaurant/beer hall- seems out of place but cool), Pine & Crane (hipster Taiwanese counter service place with good noodles), The Black Cat (upscale gastropub with a famous history), Edendale (American food in cool old firehouse), Daw Yee Myanmar Corner (not authentic, but it is the only Burmese restaurant I know of in LA), Speranza (reasonably priced Italian in hip setting), Silverlake Ramen (very popular ramen shop that has now franchised all over the US, but in my opinion its only popular because its in Silver Lake), Little Pine (upscale vegan restaurant owned by Moby)
Tenants of the Trees (surprisingly pretentious/upscale bar in otherwise hipster Silver Lake- a scene), The Satellite (local concert venue), Los Globos (eclectic dance club- make sure to check the music genre before going)
Elsewhere in New Eastside:
Echo Park Lake: rent paddle boats and pretend you’re in La La Land.
Frogtown: bike the LA River around Spoke and picnic at Marsh Park.
Tam O’Shanter (famed Scottish restaurant/pub in a storybook style building- Walt Disney was a regular here), King Taco #1 (the store that started a taco empire), Masa of Echo Park (Chicago-style deep dish pizza, takes a long long time to get your food), Taix (landmark French restaurant with fascinating decor)
Bigfoot Lodge (ski lodge-themed bar in Atwater Village), Club Tee Gee (a true dive bar in Atwater), Verdugo Bar (for serious beer drinkers in Glassell Park), Frogtown Brewery (THE place to be in Frogtown)
Concert Venues: The Echo/Echoplex (hipster small venue in Echo Park)
San Fernando Valley:
Burbank and adjacent North Hollywood is the true center of the entertainment industry. Many of the largest studios are located here including Warner Brothers, Disney, Universal, and ABC.
Warner Bros studio tour: reserve ahead of time. Along with Universal, one of two studios with a backlot.
Universal Studios: Amusement park and studio tour. Harry Potter World is here.
Wisdom Tree Hike: google Wonder View Trailhead. The trail is short but intense and you can continue from there to the Hollywood Sign
Porto’s Bakery (extremely busy Cuban bakery- was rated the #1 restaurant in America according to Yelp’s 2016 list), Bob’s Big Boy (The Burbank location of the famed chain is now independently owned and has a popular classic car show on Friday nights. Jay Leno will probably be there), Smoke House (old Hollywood haunt directly across from Warner Bros with typical American steakhouse choices, prices are reasonable. George Clooney named his production studio after it)
Sushi in Studio City- Ventura Boulevard just west of North Hollywood is known as the best neighborhood in LA to eat sushi. Quality is high and prices are considerably lower than anywhere “over the hill”. Some of the stars include the original Katsu-ya, Teru Sushi, Kazu Sushi and Asanebo but you really can’t go wrong.
Elsewhere in the San Fernando Valley:
Cruise Ventura Boulevard: The Main Street of the Valley stretched 18 miles from Hollywood to Calabasas. It is considered to be the world’s longest stretch of contiguous businesses.
Mission San Fernando: One of the 21 original California Missions built by the Spanish. It is a great spot to learn about early Californian history.
Los Encinos State Historic Park: Old Spanish “adobe” ranch located right off Ventura Boulevard. A hidden gem.
Stoney Point Park: A random sandstone mountain with rock climbing and hiking opportunities
Great Wall of Los Angeles: Lengthy mural depicting the history of LA
Johnny Pacific (empanadas with a surfer theme), Tacos & Beer (the name says it all), Blue Dog Beer Tavern (burgers and beer in a random wooden cabin)
Financial District: This is most finance and accounting companies are located. The Central Library is also located here.
Broadway Street- home of 11 movie palaces (like the Fox Theater in St. Louis). Most aren’t in use today and are now jewelry stores. A fascinating street to wander down.
Olvera Street- LA’s oldest street. Now an 80-year old fake Mexican market. The taquito was invented at Cielito Lindo. The church is from the 1700’s. You can tour the oldest house in LA, which is now a museum of the early Spanish history. During most days, there are Mexican musical/cultural performances in the central plaza. Also, make sure to get some chili mango from the fruit stand.
Little Tokyo- LA’s oldest and most famous Japanese neighborhood.
Arts District- witness the amazing results of a transformation from a former uninhabited industrial wasteland to one of the hippest neighborhoods in the city. Fantastic street art. There are two main areas: The Angel City Brewery area and the Bestia area.
South Park- this is the home of LA Live/Staples Center/Grammy Museum- where the Lakers/Clippers/Kings play. Not really worth your time unless you’re going to a game. Some of the biggest developments in LA are happening here.
Santee Alley in the Fashion District- an amazing shopping street that feels like Mexico. Bargain with people for illegal pirated DVD’s and tacky Hispanic-themed t-shirts.
Skid Row: The nation’s largest homeless encampment- a full 40,000 homeless people live in the region centered around 6th and San Pedro Streets. Important to see, but make sure you DRIVE and DO NOT get out of the car unless you are with a volunteer group. Many of the people are mentally unstable or were just released from the nearby prison.
Chinatown: LA’s Chinatown, unlike other cities is not authentic. Chinese people do not live here (they live in the suburban San Gabriel Valley)- most people you will see are actually Asians from other countries including Vietnam and the Philippines. Many of the buildings were built as movie sets. Not worth spending much time unless you’re going to a restaurant (there are really great options- few of them are Chinese)
LAXC: a Costco-sized market in Chinatown that only serves Thai groceries. If you want to buy 100 large Buddha statues, this is the place
Bradbury Building-on Broadway in the Historic Core: Amazing architecture inside-where Blade Runner was filmed- across the street from the Grand Central Market.
LA City Hall: the iconic building has been in countless movies. For an incredible and free view of the surrounding area, take the elevators to the 23rd floor (takes 3 different elevators to get there). Make sure to bring your photo ID and tell the security guards you are going to the top floor for the view. The nearby Grand Park is quite nice and hosts political rallies and cultural festivals.
Dodger Stadium- located in Chavez Ravine just north of downtown. Somehow, Dodger Stadium is the 3rd oldest ballpark in MLB. The crowds are rowdy once they show up in the 3rd inning. Food options are have improved, but most people go for the Dodger Dog, which is a very average hot dog.
Disney Hall: Frank Gehry-designed home of the LA Philharmonic
Grand Central Market- a century-old food hall now in the middle of an amazing change. Great food options. The most famous place is called Eggslut, but isn’t worth the hour wait. I like Roast To Go, Sticky Rice, and McConnell’s Ice Cream. But you can’t go wrong. If you had to have only one meal in downtown, this is the place to go.
Famous old LA restaurants: Some restaurants have survived the test of time despite the dark times in Downtown LA’s past. They are now considered icons: Philippe’s (in Chinatown, the French Dip Sandwich was invented here), Cole’s (they also claim to have invented the French Dip. There’s a speakeasy in the back), Clifton’s Cafeteria (The multi-level cafeteria is also a hip bar and is meant to resemble a redwood forest with taxidermied animals and a tiki bar), The Pantry (owned by a former mayor of LA, they serve breakfast food and have remained open 24/7 since 1924), Eastside Market (just outside of downtown, they are the sole remnant of LA’s Little Italy from the 1929 and have amazing sandwiches).
Arts District restaurants: Bestia (Italian restaurant by Israeli chefs- considered the toughest table to get in LA), Wurstkuche (popular German sausage/beerhall- a very cool option in a neat space. Also in Venice), Zinc Café- huge vegan marketplace and restaurant, Factory Kitchen (solid contemporary Italian restaurant)
Restaurants in other parts of downtown: Daikokuya (in Little Tokyo, most famous ramen shop in the city. Feels like an old-school Japanese diner. Expect to wait at least an hour), Howlin’ Ray’s (in a random strip mall in Chinatown- incredibly popular hot chicken joint- expect to wait multiple hours), Homeboy Bakery/Homegirl Café (part of a program to rehabilitate former gang members, great farm to table food served, cooked, and grown by former gang members- a fantastic organization to support), Bottega Louie (in South Park, the most Yelped restaurant in the world, macaroons and Italian food for breakfast, lunch or dinner in a bright “New York” setting), Maccheroni Republic (delicious Italian food right across the street from Grand Central Market)
Smogasburg: Sunday-only food-stand festival.
Downtown has quite a lively bar scene. Unlike other cities, there is no bar “district” and things are spread out. That said, the streets of downtown are lively at night.
Broadway/Historic Core: Rooftop at Ace Hotel (large rooftop bar with decent city views), Speakeasy at Cole’s (in the back of the French dip sandwich place), Perch (rooftop bar with incredible views), Clifton’s Republic (the quirky cafeteria turns into a bar at night), Cana Rum Bar (“members only” but getting a membership is incredibly easy- just ask at the front. Still, it’s a cool place to take a date)
Arts District brewery scene: Angel City Brewing is the oldest and most established. Arts District is the new hot spot. Others include Mumford, Iron Triangle, and Boomtown.
San Antonio Winery: the only winery in LA city limits- it’s over 100 years old and now feels out of place in the middle of an industrial wasteland. Closes early.
South Los Angeles:
Off most tourists’ radars and mostly known for crime and historic riots. However, there are some major attractions and hidden gems in the parts south of Downtown!
University of Southern California: The premier private university in Los Angeles. Many famous people went to school here. Their famed sports teams compete as the Trojans and are archrivals of UCLA.
Exposition Park: This park has two of the city’s most popular museums: the Natural History Museum and the California Science Center. The underrated (and free) California African American Museum is also here. Combined, the three museums would take a full day to explore. Make sure to also check out the beautiful Rose Garden.
Los Angeles Coliseum: This historic sports stadium hosted two Olympics and the first Super Bowl. Today, it is home the USC Trojans’ football team and (temporarily) the Los Angeles Rams.
Watts Towers: An incredible art installation built by hand by Italian immigrant Simon Rodia out of cement and trash. You’ve never seen anything else like it! The surrounding neighborhood has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous in the City. That said, the Towers are safe.
Hawkins House of Burgers (this burger shack was so well-respected that it was one of the only businesses to be unaffected by the Watts Riots of 1965. Expect good prices and humongous portions), Chichen Itza at Mercado de Paloma (delicious Yucatecan food in a small food hall east of USC. Very cool space for both restaurant-goers and community members), Post & Beam (upscale soul food), Los Anayas (sit down Mexican restaurant), Tire Shop Tacqueria (only open at night in a tire shop parking lot, they serve the best quesadillas, the tacos are okay), Granny’s Kitchen (soul food in a very rough neighborhood where you can write on the walls. Great owner who could use all the support he can get), All Flavor No Grease (food truck serving Mexican food in Watts. Check their Instagram for exact location/hours)
901 Bar and Grill (THE USC bar)
Stretching south from LAX airport to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the South Bay feels quite different than the rest of LA. It is made up of three beach cities and the Palos Verdes Peninsula. If you’re looking for surfer bros, beach volleyball, and laid back vides, this is your spot.
The most popular of the Beach Cities is also the most upscale and is only 15 minutes from LAX airport.
The Beach: Manhattan has an incredibly stretch of sand. Good surf spots are next to the Pier and north at El Porto. Beach volleyball is just south of the Pier.
The Strand: Just above the beach are some beautiful homes. The front row is called the Strand and has the most desired addresses in all the South Bay. I enjoy walking on the pedestrian path with the homes on one side and the ocean on the other.
Downtown/The Pier: The heart of Manhattan Beach is a beautiful, walkable town and a well-kept pier. Make sure to check out the free aquarium at the end.
Fishbar (beautiful fish restaurant with an epic weekday lunch special), Sloopy’s (healthy lunch-fare in a funky forest-themed space), Mama D’s (Italian restaurant with epic pink sauce and they will give you all sorts of free giveaways), Manhattan Beach Post (undoubtedly the best food in Manhattan Beach, but at special occasion prices), The Kettle (classic MB spot open 24 hours, eclectic menu), Calo Kitchen + Grill (Delicious Mexican food – I helped build the shopping center!)
Shellback Tavern- the quintessential MB bar,
Not quite as nice as Manhattan, Hermosa is the center of nightlife in the South Bay. The area near the Pier (featured in La La Land) is the place to be. Otherwise, there’s not much to see here.
The Pier: The center of everything in Hermosa. The pedestrian mall next to the pier comes alive at nights.
Restaurants: Good Stuff (healthy local chain with breakfast, lunch and dinner options), Martha’s 22nd Street Grill (breakfast and lunch spot next to the beach), Brother´s Burritos (counter service burritos and breakfast burritos)
Bars: American Junkie (surfer bros and hos, they have country line dancing on Wednesday), Baja Sharkeez (Trashy surfing-themed bar with super sugary drinks, gets wildly packed on weekends), Tower 12 (the “bougiest” place in Hermosa with sweet views), North End Bar (located away from the downtown, but popular with the locals and especially hockey players)
Palos Verdes Peninsula and San Pedro:
Soaring above the surrounding flatlands at the south end of the Santa Monica Bay, Palos Verdes is a touch of Central California surrounded by hustle and bustle. Here you can find fancy houses, horse ranches, white picket fences, and a beautiful rugged coastline.
San Pedro is the working-class port neighborhood that actually is part of the City of Los Angeles. 40% of all goods entering the United States come through here and the adjacent Port of Long Beach.
The Coastal Drive: The best way to see Palos Verdes is along Palos Verdes Drive which hugs the cliffs above the coastline. All the main attractions on the Peninsula can be accessed from this road. Driving north to south allows for unobstructed coastline views.
Beaches/Coves: Dominator Shipwreck (shipwreck on rocky beach), Malaga Cove (beautiful rocky cove), Lunada Bay (now that the surfer gang is gone, enjoy the peaceful cove without threats)
Hiking/Viewpoints: Point Vicente (lighthouse and hiking), Portuguese Bend (another area with hiking- visit both Portuguese and Inspiration Points), Korean Friendship Bell (Large bell with small pagoda and huge grassy field- peaceful!), Sunken City (hop through a fence and discover a dystopian graffitied up former housing development that fell into the sea), Del Cerro Park (The epic viewpoint of the ocean from the top of the Peninsula), Via Del Monte Street at Paseo Del Sol (The epic viewpoint of the LA Basin from the top of the Peninsula)
Catalina Ferry: Ferries to Catalina (Avalon or Two Harbors) take about an hour. Free on your birthday
Terranea Resort (Large resort with upscale dining options), San Pedro Fish Market (Order raw seafood at one counter, then go to a different counter to have them turn your seafood into a fajita. Dingy but it’s a scene), Malaga Cove Ranch Market (casual deli in a very upscale shopping center, they do breakfast too)
Elsewhere in the South Bay:
South Bay Brewing Scene: The South Bay happens to be home to the largest concentration of Breweries in LA County-about 20. Industrial Torrance has 10 of them and most are relatively close to each other. My favorite are: Monkish, Strand, Phantom Carriage, and Absolution. Cheers!
Redondo Beach: The largest of the Beach Cities has a cute downtown, but a run-down waterfront featuring a very large but dingy pier. Not worth visiting as a tourist.
San Gabriel Valley:
The San Gabriel Valley extends north and east of Downtown LA in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. It is mostly suburban, but has some beautiful attractions and an awesome food scene.
The most famous city in the San Gabriel Valley shines in the spotlight every New Years Day with the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game. It also has a cute downtown and incredible architecture.
Rose Bowl Stadium: The home of UCLA Football, the Rose Bowl Game, international soccer matches, and concerts, the Rose Bowl is one of the prettiest settings for a large stadium. Tailgating occurs on the adjacent golf course. Arrive early and enjoy the scene!They also have the Southland’s largest flea market once a month.
Colorado Boulevard: Pasadena’s historic downtown is anchored by Colorado Avenue. It’s a great spot to stroll around and grab a bite to eat. Make sure to snap a picture at the ornate Pasadena City Hall just north on Garfield Avenue.
Norton Simon Museum: Medium-sized museum with impressive art collection.
Huntington Library and Gardens: Quite possibly the prettiest place in LA County to stroll around. Large historic houses intermixed with well-maintained gardens. They also have quite the rare books collection.
California Institute of Technology (Caltech): Feel dumb wandering this STEM-focused college campus- consistently ranked in the top 5 schools in the country.
Slater’s 50/50 (obscene burgers that are half bacon half beef), King Taco (least sketchy location of the famed no-frills yet authentic chain), La Grande Orange (the power lunch spot with a healthy vibe), Panda Inn (original sit-down location of Panda Express)
Congregation Ale House (drink beer in a fake church), Stone Brewing (seemingly random outpost of the famed Escondido brewery)
Elsewhere in the San Gabriel Valley:
Santa Anita Park: LA’s horse racing venue in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Considered the most beautiful racetrack in the US.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL): See the future of America’s space research. They only have tours once a year. Plan ahead.
Descanso Gardens: Beautiful botanical gardens in a ritzy area
LA Country Arboretum: Humongous botanical garden where every movie or TV show ever has been filmed
Mission San Gabriel: The nicer and more historic of LA’s Spanish Missions.
Hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains: These hikes are TOUGH since the mountains are tall. Echo Mountain/White City (abandoned amusement park atop a mountain), Mount Baldy (tallest peak in LA County), Bridge to Nowhere (flat hike through wilderness to random auto bridge that allows bungie jumping), Eaton Canyon Fall (45 foot tall waterfall), Mount Wilson (famous observatory and nearby trails)
Din Tai Fung (two locations next to each other in Arcadia- famed Chinese soup dumplings), Grill ‘em All (Metallica-themed burgers), The Donut Man (in Glendora- the best donuts in SoCal. Look out for the seasonal strawberry donuts), Chinese food in Monterey Park (This is where Chinese people actually live.)
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX):
LAX is the main hub for incoming flights. It is located near the beach in between the Far Westside and the South Bay. As the world’s busiest “origin and destination” airport (excludes transiting), LAX is very difficult to enter and leave.
Renting a car at the airport is also a hassle as the rental companies are about a 15 minute drive away.
Ride share and taxis are also a huge pain. To hail a ride share or taxi, you must take a shuttle bus or walk to the LAXit, a huge parking lot next to Terminal 1. To repeat, taxis and ride share cannot pick you up from the Terminals.
The best way to leave LAX is to have a friend pick you up, but make sure they are a really good friend because it is a painful experience.
When arriving at LAX, try to arrive at the airport 2 hours before your flight, which means leaving your final destination well before then to account for traffic and the nightmare of returning the rental car.
Burbank Airport (BUR):
The Burbank Airport is actually closer to Hollywood and Downtown LA than LAX. It also has a direct rail connection. If you are staying on the Eastside and can get a flight here, do it.
Most Burbank flights only go to cities in the Western US.
Long Beach Airport (LGB):
Located in the city of Long Beach, 20 miles past LAX, this is a great and relaxing option if you are flying out on a weekend. Don’t try to drive down here on a weekday afternoon. JetBlue used to be the main airline here, but now it is Southwest.
Not located in Canada, but rather in the city of Ontario 35 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles. This airport has two terminals and is a major cargo hub. Use this airport if you are staying in the San Gabriel Valley, the Inland Empire, or even if going to Palm Springs.
Car: LA lives and dies by the car, so I would recommend renting/borrowing a car-despite the hassle. It’s part of the culture here. Also, driving helps one understand the unusual geography of the city.
In addition to the cost of renting a car, take into consideration the cost and effort of finding parking. Oftentimes it can take 5-10 minutes of driving around to find a parking spot on the street. Private parking lot prices vary a lot depending on the area. Downtown, the Arts District, and Venice (near the beach) can be up to $30 to park. Watch out for misleading signs. For example, many lots in Downtown say “$3 TO PARK” but in the small print it says “for each 15 minutes”
Rideshare: Compared to other cities, Uber and Lyft are unusually cheap, costing approximately $0.90/mile- compared to $2.15 in New York City and $1.15 in San Francisco. As long as you are staying in a relatively small geographic area each day, ride sharing can be a great way to get around.
PANDEMIC UPDATE: Ride share has now become extremely expensive. Trips are now 3x the pre-pandemic price and drivers can take up to 15-20 minutes to arrive. I would not rely on ride share unless you truly have no other option.
Public Transportation: Despite what the naysayers believe, LA does have a vibrant public transit system that is only getting better. The train system goes a lot of places and almost all the lines go through Downtown LA, so if you plan on taking trains- stay in Downtown. The bus system also goes everywhere and is cheap. However, it is not always very direct. For example- to get to eastern Santa Monica from the airport can take 90 minutes on the bus.
Public transit does have a lot of homeless people. Typically, if you ignore them, they will ignore you.
Traffic is a problem in LA. Traffic exists every day of the year- including weekends and holidays. However, if you understand how it works, you can selectively avoid it.
Unlike most cities, which have clear-well defined centers, Los Angeles is a decentralized city. There are at least 15 different “city centers” including Santa Monica, Burbank, Hollywood, Downtown, Glendale, Playa Vista and Woodland Hills. People can commute to any one of these 15 sites, but most likely live in a different area. With public transit unable to connect all these sites to each other, people are forced to get into their cars, which causes massive congestion. Additionally, the large number of gig economy and temporary workers (including many entertainment jobs and freelancers) increases the number of cars on the road at unusual times.
In the LA Basin and San Gabriel Valley, traffic goes West towards the beach in the mornings and East away from the beach in the evenings. Going westbound in the evenings and eastbound towards in the mornings is very easy. North/South streets can be hit or miss at all times of the day, but try to stay away from freeway entrances at rush hour.
From the San Fernando Valley, traffic leaves the Valley in the morning and enters the Valley in the evenings. Going southbound towards Santa Monica or Downtown in the evenings is very easy.
From the South Bay and Long Beach, traffic goes north towards West Los Angeles and Downtown in the mornings and south towards Orange County in the evenings. Going southbound towards Long Beach, San Pedro, and Orange County is very easy in the mornings.
Tips to avoiding traffic:
Start your day at your easternmost destination and then head west. Do not attempt to drive East after 3pm.
Do not make dinner plans in Silver Lake if you are in Venice (it’s unbelievable how often this happens).
Do not attempt to cross the 405 Freeway in the evening.
Try to avoid driving between 4-7pm.
Use Waze to help find backroads.
Accept that traffic is inevitable and everyone seems to be going exactly where you are going.