In continuation of our series of travel articles on California, we provide easy itinerary suggestions for visiting Los Angeles, California. LA is often known for its glitz and glamour. However, locals might argue that their city is bursting with things to do for the person who wants the ultimate ‘chill-out.’
The city of dreams and contrasts
Many things come to mind when you think of Los Angeles.
This is the city of ‘La La Land’ where some dreams of stardom come true but many others are stillborn or brutally crushed. This is the city of Beverly Hills where the Kardashians and reality housewives parade their beauty, bling and banality.
This is the city where polished Bel Air contrasts with rugged Compton but where both are established in entertainment folklore. This is where the glitz of Hollywood is tainted by the failure of humanity on Skid Row.
Author Michael Connelly, writing in ‘The Brass Verdict’ captures his impression of the city this way: “Los Angeles was the kind of place where everybody was from somewhere else and nobody really dropped anchor. It was a transient place. People drawn by the dream, people running from the nightmare…”
Los Angeles is a city of micro cities and micro cultures, each having its own discernible character and vibe. From San Fernando in the north to Long Beach in the south, finding the city’s most interesting cultural pockets can be an adventure in itself.
Between us, we have had the pleasure of visiting Los Angeles a number of times, each trip building our knowledge of the city. Below we share some itinerary ideas which we hope that you find useful when visiting Los Angeles.
Find a quiet beach
Los Angeles, like much of Southern California has some attractive beaches. Many of them (e.g., Santa Monica Beach and Venice City Beach) are urban and are therefore beehives of activity.
Venice Beach is particularly interesting for its ability to balance tranquil, canal-intersecting neighbourhoods with the eccentricity of street art and bohemia. It is a top draw for tourists.
On one of our visits to Los Angeles (June, peak summer), upon the recommendation of a local, we headed to El Matador State Beach. Managing to avoid morning rush hour traffic, the coastal drive from Marina Del Rey towards Malibu, along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway took just under an hour.
On getting to El Matador we were rewarded with spectacular rock formations, caves, long stretches of sand and best of all, tranquillity and no crowds. El Matador’s windswept Jurassic look makes it a popular choice for photoshoots and romantic sunset walks.
While Venice Beach Boardwalk is iconic and certainly worth a visit, for a more subdued and serene beach experience, we recommend venturing further afield.
Zuma Beach in Malibu is also a great beach to explore. It has a wide, open feel, and is a great place to body surf and fly kites, as it can get quite windy.
HDYTI Tip: At El Matador Beach, parking is limited (we parked on the highway). Also, there is a steep walk down to the beach from the highway. Josh with his expert blog, California Through My Lens, shares some useful tips about visiting this and other beaches.
Explore the outdoors
We knew about Los Angeles’s appeal to outdoor enthusiasts but we generally associated this with its beaches more than anything else.
We were therefore pleasantly surprised to ‘discover’ Temescal Gateway Park (another recommendation from a local). Located about twenty miles from Downtown Los Angeles, the park provides a series of easy-to-moderately-difficult hiking trails.
Leaving our car in the parking lot, we picked up a map from the information centre and selected an easy route that took us in a loop around the canyon.
From several ridge tops, we could just make out the outline of the city in the distance. The air was filled with the scent of oak and sycamore trees carried along by a light cooling breeze from the Pacific Ocean.
However, in the summer Los Angeles is mostly covered in smog. Temescal Canyon Park made us appreciate the vital role green spaces play as the lungs of large cities like Los Angeles.
HDYTI Tip: Why not dedicate a day to exploring the outdoors? Combine Temescal Canyon Park with neighbouring Topanga State Park to access miles of additional hiking trails. See list of accessible hikes and trails in Los Angeles here.
Enjoy contemporary and classic art
Our most recent visit coincided with the showing of Yayoi Kusama’s experiential ‘Infinity Mirrored Room’ LED light installation at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum. The Broad is located within the sprawling Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) complex and is home to more than 2,000 works of art.
Due to its popularity, the Infinity Room installation was oversubscribed and so, unable to see it, we spent our time exploring the rest of the museum. A rich variety of paintings, sculptures and other installations from artists including Kara Walker, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jean‐Michel Basquiat kept us busy for hours.
Another top recommendation for a day of art is The Getty Center on the city’s west side. The center is home to many permanent and travelling classic and contemporary art works. However, the main attractions for us were its gardens, landscaping, architecture and views of the cityscape.
HDYTI Tip: Griffith Park is a green space in the center of Hollywood, providing great views of the city and Instagram worthy photos of the famous Hollywood sign.
See the Pacific Coast by train
Los Angeles, despite being one of the USA’s wealthiest cities has no significant mass transit system. Our Uber driver confirmed that the most annoying thing about the city is its notorious traffic, a sentiment we can attest to from personal experience.
Following a visit to San Diego, we joined the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train from San Diego’s Old Town Station and headed north towards Los Angeles. The route snakes along the coast, stopping at stations with proximity to the beach, before heading inland. Notable stops on that route include Anaheim (for visitors to Disneyland).
We timed our trip perfectly to coincide with sunset and were rewarded with stunning views of the coastline. Surfers became silhouettes as the sun’s golden rays faded. The barbecues fires lit by picnickers beckoned us to join their evening of revelry on the beach. The Southern California vibe…cool!
HDYTI Tip: Ditch the car and consider a round trip from Los Angeles to San Diego aboard the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner. Business class tickets are reasonably priced and include Wi-Fi, refreshments and plenty of leg room.
Seek out neighbourhood foodie spots
Food is usually a significant part of our travels. However, we confess that on our trips to Los Angeles, we did not actively seek out any notable restaurants or foodie hotspots. On our next visit, we would love to explore the city’s food culture. If you have any recommended Los Angeles food itineraries, please share them with us!
However, in Marina Del Rey we found a bakery that sold some decadent gluten free desserts called Sinners and Saints run by a lovely Dutch woman.
A place that came recommended by a local was Kreation Organic. They are best known for their fresh juices but they also had a decent breakfast menu featuring a lot of fresh ingredients.
HDYTI Tip: Downtown Los Angeles has a number of ethnic neighbourhoods including China Town, Japan Town and Korea Town, neighbourhoods which typically feature a variety of restaurants.
Visiting Los Angeles
Los Angeles is such a sprawling city that must be enjoyed in bite-sized chunks. We recommend picking a section of the city to explore rather than trying to do it all in one trip. Universal Studios alone requires an entire day!
Whether you decide to walk among the stars on Hollywood Boulevard or lounge around by Santa Monica pier, there is something for everyone when visiting Los Angeles, the ‘city of dreams.’
Practical travel tips
Do you live in Los Angeles or have you visited? What are you best tips for visitors? From our experience and from research, we have compiled some useful tips for visiting Los Angeles below.
- When visiting Los Angeles, you will need a car. Cabs are useful but can very quickly become expensive.
- Plan your excursions around traffic. It is easy to waste significant time commuting between attractions
- Following from the previous point, when planning your itinerary, select a part of the city and plan to explore that area for the rest day to reduce time spent commuting.
- When dining out, some locals suggest dressing nicely for better service (but don’t overdo it). This is a celebrity crazy city after all.
- Speaking of celebrities, if you spot one, the rule is not to gawk…OK maybe one quick look.
- Find accommodation close to where you plan to spend most of your time. This will reduce time spent commuting. We typically stay in Marina Del Rey when we visit.
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