I have a special place in my heart for Los Angeles because that is where I spent my college years. I just recently provided a coworker with a list of “worth while” LA attractions, and it inspired me to write a post about it. Remembering all the things that I loved about LA made me feel extremely nostalgic, not only for my college years that slipped away from me so quickly, but also for the place where I could go to the beach in the middle of October and not freeze to death.
If you’ve never been to LA before, the first thing I’d suggest you do is GO. There is no city in the world quite like it, and if you like warm weather, palm trees, beaches, shopping, Mickey Mouse, blond people, very wide streets, and avocado on everything, then you’ll fit in right away. In all seriousness, I thoroughly enjoyed my time living in LA, and I compiled a list of all La-La-Land activities that I feel are a “Must Do”.
Griffith Park Observatory
Griffith Park is a beautiful place for people who like to hike and even horseback riders as well. There is also the observatory where you’ll have a fantastic view of the infamous Hollywood Sign. As the weather in LA is mild tempered and generally warm throughout the year, this is something that you’ll be able to do at any time of the year. Of course, in the winter months from maybe November to the end of March, I’d suggest wearing a sweater (a.k.a. jumper for people in the UK, although I highly doubt you didn’t understand me when I said sweater; I just didn’t want you to feel left out).
Beverly Hills – Rodeo Drive
For a glimpse into the lifestyles of the rich and famous, the best place to go is probably Beverly Hills. The streets are particularly well-groomed, and if you take a detour to the residential streets, you’ll find some quite beautiful (and large) homes that’ll make you very jealous. You’ll also be able to find that famous “Beverly Hills” sign that has made many film appearances despite it being a weird and not-at-all-appealing brown color with yellow letters.
If you’re interested in feeling like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, take a stroll down Rodeo Drive while dressed like a street walking “lady of the night”. If you don’t want to get escorted out of Gucci by security, then just visit Rodeo Drive in your normal clothes. Even if you don’t actually shop, its probably one of the most beautiful shopping streets I’ve ever seen, and who knows? You might even spot a celebrity!
This concert venue is a quite impressive outdoor space that actually looks like a giant upside-down bowl (or a dome, if you want to get “technical”). If you’re lucky enough to catch a concert here, beware of the traffic because the parking lot and surrounding streets can go into lock down at the start and end of the show. Although there’s not much you can do to prevent getting stuck in LA traffic one way or another, its just nice to prepare yourself for the inevitable fact that it will happen to you. Its kind of like getting old. You know its coming eventually, so you try to prepare yourself for it by dying your hair and wearing night cream, but its going to happen to you regardless. Anyway, even if you don’t see a show at the Hollywood Bowl, I’d still suggest seeing it if you can.
Abbot Kinney Boulevard & Main Street
I love this place! There are so many boutiques & stores, great places to eat & drink, and it has a really nice atmosphere. I use to come here to get my hair cut, shop and just basically walk around to kill time. Its not quite as touristy as some of the other places mentioned in this post, but its definitely worth your time. The main reason that I’ve suggesting this place is because of the shopping & cafes, really. If you’re female, and you love a cute sundress, there’s no better place than here to find one while also sipping an iced chai latte (*sigh* takes me back). You could even walk all the way down Abbot Kinney and end up at Venice Beach!
Picture it! The warm glow of sunlight highlighting the ocean and sand as the backdrop to a graffiti-covered concrete paradise of skateboarders, cyclists, and rollerbladers sporting poorly-cut denim cutoff shorts and cropped tops. Not to mention the wide array of tattoo/piercing shops with likely to be questionable instruments and enough medical marijuana vendors to supply Harold and Kumar for a good few months (or Cheech and Chong for the older generations). Venice Beach is an iconic must see for any visit to LA! Not only is the people-watching fantastic, but there are a lot of little stalls with places to buy your LA souvenirs and maybe even grab some lunch. There’s also the famous “Muscle Beach” which is an outdoor weightlifting gym for the buffest of the buff. If you’re interested in seeing really muscly, tan and shiny people, this is defintely the place to do so.
Yes! Venice, California has canals of their very own as well. While walking along the canals, you’ll see a lot of very nice million dollar homes that will also make you quite jealous. If your up for yet another envy-inducing walk in LA, then definitely check this area out. Its only a few short blocks away from the crowds of Venice Beach, and if you have the time, its definitely worth a quick visit.
Santa Monica Pier
This is the biggest pier I’ve ever seen. It also has an amusement park on it to put that into perspective for you. The ferris wheel provides a fantastic view of the coast and fun for the whole family (no, seriously. Its actually fun). The negatives about visiting the Santa Monica Pier include: the areas surrounding the pier can be a bit seedy and it is EXTREMELY windy by the water, so don’t expect to have nice hair that day and keep an eye on your wallet. Other than that, its pretty cool, so definitely check it out.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
This is the place where all the famous people have hand prints in cement on the ground. Not many people know what its called, so I’m telling you. Its called Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and its on Hollywood Boulevard. Hollywood Boulevard is where there are stars with celebrities’ names on them all along the street, so if you’re interested in seeing either of those things, you can do them both in one shot! This is probably one of my least favorite places in LA (besides the areas that I’m not mentioning at all) because its always extremely crowded and there are a lot of strange characters lurking about. You definitely have to beware of pickpockets in this area as well. Basically, the only reason I’m suggesting this is because its quite famous, and who knows when you’re going to go back to LA to see it. Plus, once you’ve seen it, you don’t ever have to go back there again.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
LACMA is LA’s modern art museum. Its pretty interesting if you enjoy museums featuring abstract artsy things (I actually do, but that’s just because I’m an artsy person). You may recognize the large installment of columns in front of the museum from a few movies that were set in LA as well, which is kinda cool.
The Getty Center
Yet, another museum, but this one has a nice outdoor garden area. If you only have room for one museum visit in LA, I would definitely choose this one over LACMA. Its much bigger, it has a wider range of different exhibits, and the outdoor space is really nice. Honestly, I would just go for the garden alone. It kind of reminds me of a very small-scaled down version of the gardens at the Palace of Versailles (a very rough comparison). Its a bit far away by car- maybe about 40 minutes -but its definitely worth the drive if you have time to spare.
This theme park would make any movie fanatic giddy like a hyper 5 year old. I’m not a movie fanatic, but I do enjoy the process of filmmaking, and other than movie-themed rides, there are also a few behind the scenes activities that you can partake in such as a backlot tour or a VIP studio tour (the more expensive option). If its not extremely crowded, you can experience all the rides in the park in one day because its not very big. The shows aren’t that great except for the animal show or the WaterWorld show (WaterWorld=bad movie, great FX show!). There’s also Universal City Walk, which is a strip right outside the park entrance with shopping, a cinema, and a lot of restaurants. Its kind of fun at night because everything is lit up and there are a few bars around as well. There’s also an indoor skydiving place that I’ve never done, but always wanted to try.
Last but not least, there’s my ultimate favorite… Disneyland. Throughout my entire four years of college, my friends and I went at least once a year. I think we tried to keep the tradition alive for one year after we graduated, but unfortunately, it was quite an expensive habit that we couldn’t keep up with. Now, you may be thinking that I’m the one who’s the hyper 5 year old here for even suggesting that you go to Disneyland, but truthfully, its the happiest place on earth. This is the original Disney park, so it came before the ones in Florida and Paris, and there’s also a newer park right next to it called California Adventure, which is also really fun. I don’t care what anyone says, Disneyland just makes me happy. If you’re anything like me, and love rides, Disney characters and awesome snacks, you should definitely go to Disneyland. Honestly, I could go on and on about how much I love it here, but I’m going to spare you the pain at this moment in time. Just trust me on this one, if anything I’ve said in this post is actually worth it, its this.
LA Food That Won’t Blow Your Budget
I get quite excited about food, so I’m going to try and keep my enthusiasm to a minimum as to not scare you away, but here are a few restaurants and general food joints in LA that are my favorite:
(Locations: All over California)
If you haven’t heard of it before, its a fast food burger restaurant that has quite a limited menu in comparison to McDonalds or Burger King. However, although the menu is small, the food quality is 1000 times better! The burgers taste fresh, like they’re made with actual quality ingredients, and after eating the fries, you don’t feel like you’ve just consumed about a gallon of oil (about 4.5 liters- keeping my UK/EU friends in mind, of course)!! Unfortunately for the rest of America (and the world), In-N-Out restaurants are only located on the west coast of the United States, for which my waistline is very grateful.
(Location: West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Downtown & Pasadena)
You may be asking, “Why would I go to a restaurant that misspells the word earth?” And the answer to that is: Because its delicious. Urth Caffe is the epitome of California cuisine, really. Although it is a chain (5 locations in LA), it has a very warm and inviting atmosphere with both indoor and outdoor seating used all year round, and the food is everything you would want in a meal. They have indulgent things like cake and cookies, but they also have great salads, soups and sandwiches. They have a whole organic tea menu, one of the best chai tea lattes I’ve ever had, and really good coffee as well. You can go for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and they even have bubble tea, which they call boba! Anyway, If you’re looking for a true California eating experience, then definitely check this place out.
Location: 1138 Highland Avenue, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
If you happen to be down by Manhattan Beach (I didn’t mention this location earlier, although its a beautiful beach and I definitely would recommend going there as well), you should absolutely have a meal at The Kettle. The menu is has a lot to choose from such as burgers, soup, salads, sandwiches, pasta, stew, steak, ribs, enchiladas, fish, breakfast, etc., but my ultimate favorite from this restaurant are their homemade muffins. The best muffin by far is the honey bran. It sounds too healthy to be good, I know, but its literally soaked in honey and served warm with a slab of butter, so I’d get that thought out of your head very quickly if I were you.
Location: 31 W Washington Blvd, Marina del Rey, CA 90292
If I only had two words to say about this restaurant, they would be: Garlic balls. These two magical words represent balls of pizza dough covered in Italian herbs, garlic and oil; not to mention that they come in unlimited quantities as soon as you sit down at your table. That’s right! Throughout the entire meal, you continuously get refills on a huge platter of garlic-y dough balls of goodness. I wish I could just sit there and have an entire meal of just the garlic balls, but unfortunately, you have to order actual food as well. On the bright side, their other food is quite delicious as well. I love their marinara sauce, so get anything with that, and you’re good to go.
Location: 926 Broxton Avenue, Westwood, CA 90024
Located- conveniently for them -right by UCLA (University of California Los Angeles), lives a tiny ice cream and cookie shop where they can make you amazingly awesome ice cream sandwiches. The cookies are so sweet and soft, and the ice cream flavors are always delicious. After I’ve eaten one, I always feel way too full for my own good, and yet, I kept going back because they were that good. There is always a line out the door, especially at night, so definitely be prepared to wait a bit. They’re worth the wait, though. For reals.
Location: All-over-the-place-LA and beyond
This is a supermarket, not a restaurant. However, if you happen to be staying in a place with a kitchen while you’re in LA, and/or are looking for a really, REALLY good supermarket, I would highly recommend seeking out a Trader Joe’s. The frozen section is by far my favorite because they have everything from frozen pizza to frozen mango sticky rice! Seriously, when I first discovered the wonder that is this supermarket, I thought I had died and gone to foodie heaven. Its not only cheap, but its also delicious. If you’re looking for snack foods, I would highly recommend their pineapple salsa and white corn tortilla chips. If you’re looking for sweets, any of their cookies or chocolates will do. The only thing I’m not thrilled about is their produce because it expires fairly quickly, but if you can get past that, run straight to the frozen section and don’t look back. They’re also really great if you’re a vegetarian because they have plenty of soy and lactose free options. They actually have Trader Joe’s in other locations in the US, so if you’re traveling around, keep that in mind as well.
LA Survival Tips
1. Rent a car.
If you are able to drive and old enough to rent a car in the United States without paying over $1000 extra for insurance (25 years old+), its the best way to get around LA. There are busses and trains if you absolutely have to, however, they are limited. There are also a lot of taxi services, but that will probably run you quite a bit, and can also be limiting (I doubt you’ll want to pay for a taxi to take you to Disneyland, unless you’re staying in Anaheim maybe). Anyway, if this is a possibility for you, I highly recommend it. Having a car will save you a lot of time and effort during your LA visit.
2. Bring a few layers.
Although I did say that its warm all year round in LA, what I didn’t mention (until now) is that it can get a bit chilly in the evening, especially if you’re by the beach. I would recommend bringing layers, so things that you can take off and on throughout the day and night. During the day, if you’re out in the sun, you will definitely be warm, but when the sun goes down and the wind kicks in, you’ll want something to put over your shoulders at least.
3. It takes 20 minutes to get everywhere.
In Los Angeles, it will almost always take you approximately 20 minutes to get from point A to point B. Of course, there is the odd time where you’re going somewhere really far… let’s say Disneyland, perhaps (am I laying it on too thick with the Disneyland hints?), then that’ll probably take about 40 minutes, but that’s just because its in a suburb of LA, so its a little further out. My mom use to always make fun of me when she came to visit me in LA because whenever she would ask me how long it takes to get somewhere, my answer was always, “About 20 minutes without traffic.” I think there was also a joke about it in the film Clueless.
4. Beware of traffic.
As I said earlier, traffic is a major problem in LA There’s no way of really avoiding it, so just be prepared. You can try and stay off the freeways (the 405 and the 10 are the worst) and just use side streets, but in my opinion, that takes just as long so you might as well just sit in it. Traffic can actually be deceiving because it feels like you’re not moving, but then all of a sudden, you’re coming up to your exit. You then need to cut over what feels like 27 lanes within with span of 2 minutes in order to get there before you pass it completely. Anyway, another tip would be to avoid doing that as well because its not very fun.
Final Thoughts: LA may be a concrete jungle filled with hippie-vegan-yogis (note the major generalization), but there’s no place quite like it. I hope that you found this post helpful, informative, and maybe even a little bit funny. If you want to share your experiences about LA, want to correct me on something, etc, then feel free to leave me a comment below or write me a message of sorts (visit my “contact” page in the menu at the top). Hope you’re all having a lovely day!
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