What to do in LA is a tricky proposition because there is loads to do and also nothing. Compared to London and New York, cities that have attractions piled on top of attractions, Los Angeles can seem a bit of a cultural wasteland (yes, I have heard those very words used more than once about my latest home) and even if you want to do what’s on offer, it can be difficult to find your way around. My first round of suggestions are very LA 101, so if you’ve been here before, there won’t be any surprises on this list but if you’re looking at your first time in LA, hello! These are for you!
The number one thing to keep in mind while planning a trip to Los Angeles is the traffic. I know it’s a cliché and you’ve probably heard it a thousand times already but seriously, traffic will F**k You Up. For example, I live in Atwater Village on the Eastside and was trying to find a place to meet my friend who works on the Westside, for dinner. Ideally, I wanted somewhere close to both of us, so you’d think, somewhere in the middle, right? Not so. Because traffic is so monstrous, it would have taken her 90 minutes to travel to a geographically central location whereas I was able to get three quarters of the way to her in under 40 minutes. Except I hit nightmarish Friday night traffic on the way home and it took me an hour. Los Angeles traffic sucks.
So if you’re staying in Santa Monica and want to hit Hollywood for the Walk of Fame of Chinese theatre, definitely check out traffic estimates on Googlemaps, especially if you’re planning to be in the car between 8.00am – 10.00am or 2.30pm – 6.30pm. And yes, I realize a four-hour rush hour window is insane but hey, welcome to LA.
I’m hardly the world’s biggest baseball fan but do you know what I do like? Sitting down, eating hot dogs and shenanigans. Baseballs offers all these options. If you’re here during the season, I would wholeheartedly recommend you visit Dodger Stadium, get yourself a Dodger Dog (or two) and suck up the cost of beers because there is something so very wonderful about a Dodgers game, especially in the evening in the summer, when the sun is setting behind the scoreboard and the palm trees are so pretty and yeah, I don’t care about the game at all but this is fun.
Pro-tip, do not drive. You can use rideshare apps to get to the game and either get picked up in the parking lot – their ride share system is pretty good – or follow the crowds down to Sunset Blvd and get a drink at Button Mash before Ubering out of there later. The food at Button Mash is excellent and they have a bunch of old arcade games. Super fun.
I’m sure you’ve seen the observatory in La La Land or one of the LA-set Bravo shows but truly, it’s my favourite place in town. When I lived in Los Feliz and was feeling fit, I would hike (purposefully walk) up to the observatory from my house early in the morning and chill out on the lawn before walking back and grabbing a juice at the best juice spot on Hillhurst. It’s a pain to park a car up there so either use inthe parking lots down below and take the shuttle bus up, or be brave and hike up the hill. It’s not advisable in hot weather and you’re going to want to have a hat, some sunscreen and some water (but you will always) want those things in LA but the views are worth it. Once you get up to the observatory, there’s a super fun planetarium show inside and approximately 10,000 influencers taking photos. Be patient, it’s worth it.
Hollywood Sign Hike
Now, I was torn on hiking for the longest time. I mean, when I think of hikers, I think of my uncle with his long woolly socks and a gnarly beard and a walking stick but it turns out hiking in LA is more ‘pleasant stroll with a bit of potential incline that can be done in Lululemon’ than ‘getting lost on the moors with a thermos of soup’. There are more intense hikes of course, and I’m not going to recommend them unless you ask for them but since the Hollywood sign is so iconic, this seems like a no-brainer. The hike is pretty straight forward but a lot of it is uphill and there’s not a lot of shade until you head up the final stretch towards the sign so definitely bring a hat, sunscreen and water and of course, your camera. Either take a piocnic to eat in the park under the sign or, when you’re done, head down to Birds on Franklin for some delicious rotisserie chicken or to The Oaks for a sandwich. Once I saw Josh Hartnett in there and It Was Good.
I feel weird recommending Hollywood to people because a) it’s gross and b) I hate it but if you’re gonna go, I’d rather you go armed with the facts. The area in general is very run down and there are a lot of homeless people hanging around which might make some visitors feel unsafe. If there is a specific star you want to visit, find out where it is and check it out on a map before you arrive. For the most part, I’d say you’re totally safe, especially in a daytime, but just be extra vigilant of pick pockets and the like. Once you get closer to the Chinese Theatre, the area gets a little more hectic, think Piccadilly Circus or Times Square but on one long street. If you need a break from it all, I heartily recommend the pool bar at The Roosevelt Hotel, one of my absolute favourite spots in Hollywood and the perfect place for a cocktail. It’s where they used to hold the Oscars and is supposedly haunted by Marilyn Monroe. She has excellent taste.
The current Oscars are held in the Hollywood & Highland Center and if you can walk in and see the famous staircase and not say ‘they have the Oscars in a shopping centre?’ you’re a better man than I.
This is a great spot for movie buffs because it’s super cool and it’s free! FREE, I SAY! It’s most famous as one of the locations in Double Indemnity and Blade Runner but it’s also just a gorgeous building and right opposite Grand Central Market where you can eat many wonderful things. I’d recommend this as a stop on a Downtown LA visit which should also include the Angel’s Flight funicular and The Broad museum, our amazing contemporary art museum. Probably not the best day ever for the kids.
I’m a Disney Gal, let’s just get that out the way before we start, but I also love Universal Studios because The Simpsons land and Hogsmeade are just wonderful. If you’re planning to visit the theme parks, they’re both all day affairs in different ways. Disney is all the way out in Anaheim and most people would assume you have to drive but I’m here to tell you, using Ride Share apps is absolutely the correct way to do Disney. You get dropped off at the end of Downtown Disney which is much easier than dealing with the shuttle to and from the (expensive) parking lots and when you leave, you go out via the Hotel Californian, get a cocktail at one of their bars and have your ride share pick you up from the hotel! It’s amazing!
You should also definitely download the Disneyland app so you have an idea of the geography, where the characters are hanging out and what the wait times might be on the rides. If you’re wanting to get involved in the special Star Wars activities at Galaxy’s Edge, you need to book ahead of time. If you would like me to write a dedicated Disney hacks post, let me know because I am Here For It.
Universal Studios is a much smaller theme park and it’s only fifteen minutes outside Hollywood, putting it pretty much in the middle of the city. Much more convenient but less impressive, size-wise. But if you’re not into mega experiences, it might be less overwhelming and a good starter park. Universal also has it’s own Downtown Disney-style dining and shopping area outside the park, as well as an IMAX cinema so you’ve got lots of options. Universal also has one of my favourite studio tours (the others being Warner Bros and Paramount) which you can take as part of your theme park admission so if you’re thinking about doing a theme park and a studio tour, Universal could be the one for you.