Some know it as the ‘City of Angels’, others call it ‘La-La Land’ or ‘Tinseltown’. No, I’m not talking about the movie; I’m talking about Los Angeles and here’s a long overdue guide to some of my favorite spots if you have a weekend to visit.
I moved to San Diego in the middle of high school. After graduation and much deliberation, I made the choice to go to USC – a mere couple hours away from home. It was close enough to go home when I needed an escape from LA and far enough away that I escaped unexpected visits from the parents. After having my heart set on going to school on the East coast, I was surprised that I chose a school relatively close to home. It was perfect and after college, I called LA ‘home’ for almost six more years before moving up to the Bay Area.
I have lived in the Bay Area for almost five years now but, still manage to make it down to LA once every couple of months. I tell people that I have a “love-hate” relationship with LA. However, in this instance, distance makes the heart grow fonder. Would I ever move back? Eh, that’s a conversation for another time. I still have a little bit of PTSD from spending countless hours in traffic driving to and from work. It is not for the faint of heart – today alone, it took me over two hours to drive 27 miles. OVER. TWO. HOURS.
Traffic aside, there are so many great things about this city and I thought it long overdue to share some of those things with others! Without further adieu, I give you my LA weekend guide. Please note, this guide does not include going to Hollywood and the ‘Walk of Fame’ or taking a bus to see where all of the celebrities live. Hopefully, this list doesn’t contain anything that cliché.
You know the Lakers, Dodgers, and the Hollywood Sign, here are some quick facts that you may not know.
- It’s original name is “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula”, try saying that 10 times really fast.
- It is the second largest city in the US with an estimated 4 million people.
- LA will be hosting the 2018 Summer Olympics!
- There are ~11 miles of underground tunnels in LA that were used during the Prohibition era.
Public transportation has improved significantly since I lived there. I recommend taking the Metro if you are heading out to Santa Monica (say from Culver City) or if you are going east to Downtown. Metrocards are easy to get and you won’t have to worry about finding parking. Uber and Lyft are always options for short drives; otherwise just rent a car.
This is by no means a complete list but, these are some of my favorite neighborhoods in LA. For the sake of ‘brevity’, I’m limiting this post to Downtown LA (DTLA), Malibu, and Santa Monica/Venice.
- Beverly Hills* – I think this is pretty self-explanatory. If you go for a stroll around Rodeo, be sure to get a sandwich at Il Tramezzino.
- Culver City* – The Sony Pictures lot is here; there are also plenty of restaurants including one of my favorites – Father’s Office (don’t even try to modify their burger).
- DTLA – People actually choose to live, eat and drink here now!
- Malibu – Not to be overshadowed by the famous beach, the Getty Villa is highly recommended.
- Pasadena* – Colorado Street in Pasadena is nice for shopping. Don’t forget Lucky Boy for breakfast burritos.
- San Gabriel Valley* – Skip Chinatown, San Gabriel Valley has some of the best Chinese & Taiwanese food in the city.
- Santa Monica & Venice – Santa Monica boardwalk and shopping; Venice is famous for its Muscle Beach and people watching.
- Silverlake & Echo Park* – Lots of good coffee, small cafes and hip shops.
- South Bay* – Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo beach, some of the best beaches in SoCal if you don’t want to go all the way up to Malibu.
- West Hollywood* – Great restaurants and main area for LGBTQ events.
*Not covered herein but, worth checking out if you are in LA for more than weekend.
Downtown LA (DTLA)
When I moved to LA in 2003, Downtown LA was not somewhere you went out. I can’t emphasize that enough. We might have gone to the Golden Gopher for karaoke, K-town for KBBQ or maybe the Hotel Figueroa because our fake IDs worked every now and then. Other than that, we stayed away from downtown, instead opting for In-n-Out and Diddy Reise in Westwood by the other school that shall not be named.
Trust me when I say, times have changed y’all! Downtown now manages to keep a good mix of the old and the new – making it an attractive place to visit. One example of this is Grand Central Market, which has been operating in LA for 100 years. New food stands and coffee shops like Eggslut and G&B Coffee have given the neighborhood a little bit of a facelift, but fret not, a number of the old mexican food and fruit stands are also still around.
For EggSlut, get there before 10AM otherwise the line is about 45 minutes long. As for Mexican food, my favorite is Ana Maria’s, it’s old school and their tacos are quite filling – think regular size taco, double the meat. If you speak Spanish, there are also some secret items that you can order.
After eating, walk up the Angel’s Flight stairs or take the tram up to the top. The tram reopened in August 2017, for $1 (or $0.50 if you have a Metrocard), why not?
At the top, walk through California Plaza and you will find yourself within walking distance to the MOCA, The Broad and the Disney Concert Hall.
All are excellent choices to spend some time and walk around. Even if you aren’t attending a show, you can still explore the Disney Concert Hall. There are self-guided audio tours and guided tours of Walt Disney Concert Hall most days. All tours are an hour long and begin in the Grand Avenue Lobby of Walt Disney Concert Hall.
The Broad is free and there is a standby line but, the best bet is to get tickets in advance. Tickets are available on the first of every month for the following month. They hype is real about this place, I highly recommend going.
The special exhibits aren’t always free but, the ticket includes general admission to the main exhibits as well. We were lucky enough to get tickets for Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms exhibit during my last visit.
So, bellies are full and you got some culture in, now, you want a drink or somewhere to kick back? The Standard, Spire 73 and Perch all offer views some of the best rooftop views. During the summer, The Standard also hosts pool parties on their rooftop. Spire 73 might be difficult to get into on a busy day, your best bet is if you are a guest at the Intercontinental.
Other places that are good for a drink are The Varnish, Broken Shaker, Seven Grand and Villains Tavern. During the winter, head to Pershing Square for some ice skating and hot chocolate.
Art Walk is on the 2nd Thursday of every month; activities are predominantly around Spring and Main streets, between 2nd and 9th streets. Galleries are open later and restaurants nearby offer happy hour specials.
Noteworthy restaurants: Bottega Louie (Italian), Bäco Mercat (Mediterranean/Spanish tapas), Little Sister (Southeast Asian fusion) and Otium (American); Bottega Louie does not take reservations, be ready to wait unless you get there early.
Ah Malibu, what’s not to like? If you are looking for a beach getaway, try Malibu! In addition to the beach, there are some hikes to check out if you want to break a sweat before cooling off in the water.
I also highly recommend the Getty Villa (one of two Getty museums in the city); it is dedicated to the ancient cultures of Greece, Rome and Etruria. Only a limited number of visitors are allowed each day; be sure to get tickets in advance. Take your time soaking in the sun while walking around the gardens and the rest of the villa. In the main garden, there is a plethora of herbs grown on-site; apparently you can bring your own plastic bag and pick some of the herbs and fruit. However, I’m not speaking from personal experience, only from what I’ve seen others do.
Be sure to have brunch at the Malibu Farm Pier Cafe. I’ll admit they get me with every possible “buzzword” – ‘rustic’, ‘beach casual’, ‘farm-to-table’ – in addition to their crisp white siding, driftwood tables and succulents. Call me ‘basic’ – whatever, I don’t care – this place is the best. I’d come here for its ocean view and breakfast every time I came to LA, if I could. Pretty sure, excluding Hawaii, Will has never seen me so content – that is until an iced soy latte, egg breakfast sandwich and breakfast bread pudding was placed in front of me. Again, ‘basic’ and I don’t care.
Santa Monica & Venice
It’s hard to separate out these two neighborhoods as they blend into each other before you know it.
Santa Monica is best known for it’s Pier and Santa Monica place which is full of shopping ranging from department stores to smaller boutiques. Take a stroll along the pedestrian streets, do some shopping and watch the street performers.
On the Pier, you can see people taking trapeze lessons, riding the rides or visiting the Santa Monica Aquarium. Daily, there is an hour long free historical walking tour offered. During the summer and fall, movies are shown for free on the boardwalk as a part of the city’s Front Porch Cinema program; arrive early with blankets and seat cushions to get a good spot!
Venice is probably best known for it’s Muscle Beach. There is a bike path that you can take north to Santa Monica and further up to Malibu, or go south through Marina del Rey down to the South Bay. Alternatively, if you are just looking to bike for a couple hours, riding up and down Venice is also fun. If people watching is your thing, then Venice is the second best place in the city to do it; Hollywood or ‘Hollyweird’ as my dad calls it, takes the No. 1 spot in my opinion.
Make your way to Abbott Kinney if you want some small boutique shopping, cafes and coffee shops. One of my favorite lunch spots is Lemonade. It’s a little overwhelming, but just tell the person its your first time and they’ll explain how it works. The cucumber mint and watermelon rosemary lemonades are my favorites. On this street you’ll also find Blue Star Donuts, Blue Bottle Coffee, Intelligentsia, Gjelina and Tasting Kitchen. On the first Friday of every month (‘First Fridays’), food trucks come out, stores and galleries stay open a little bit later, and restaurants offer additional happy hour specials.
Other points of interest
- The Getty (the main museum)
- La Brea Tar Pits
- Hollywood Cemetery
- Griffith Observatory
There you have it, some of my favorite places to visit and things to do in LA. There are new openings all the time, it’s so hard to keep up these days. If you have any spots that are particularly great let me know!