Home to the stars, Los Angeles the ‘City of Angels’ has more glitz and glamour than you can shake a stick at. At first thought, LA conjures up images of self-indulgent celebrities, movie stars and stars in the eyes of the rich and famous brigade of Malibu, Hollywood and Beverly Hills. You will find all this, plus sun-drenched beaches, iconic settings and the Disney theme parks too.
What you’ll find if you dig a little deeper are the diverse communities like Chinatown, Little Tokyo and Latino Olvera Street that also call this city home - providing an alternative perspective to the candy-coated American Dream. There’s so much on offer here that you can certainly find your je ne sais quoi, so here’s our guide to the best things to do in Los Angeles…
LA is great to visit at any time as temperatures are warm and mild throughout the year, with sunny and dry summers and cool and wet winters. With no real seasonal extremes, you could plan a visit at any time of the year.
Los Angeles International Airport is about 16 miles (26km) southwest of LA. Shuttle buses and shared-ride vans are the easiest and most convenient way of getting out of this hectic and busy airport. Some hotels offer transport, and taxis and car rentals are also available. Be aware, this is a sprawling city which can make traveling around by taxi quite expensive. The Metro rail system only covers a small area of LA but it’s frequent and efficient. The bus system is not very user friendly, so you’d be better to include transport as part of your sightseeing and tour bookings. The hop on hop off bus tour has a 24 or 48 hour ticket that can help you navigate all the top spots on offer.
Deciding where you’d like to stay in LA will depend primarily on what you want to see and what transport options you have to get to and from. For example, Hollywood is great for the club scene, Walk of Fame and Universal Studios, plus it’s safe at night. Downtown is reasonably priced, but that is about it as far as a recommendation. Santa Monica is beachside with restaurants, cafes and can be explored easily on foot. Beverly Hills is a central base between Hollywood and the beaches, and has great restaurants, but little night-life. Anaheim is the best location for Disneyland and the Theme parks. LAX Airport hotels can actually be a convenient option if you’re only looking for a few days stop en route elsewhere. Free shuttles, onsite restaurants and organised day trips which pick up from the hotel can save on a lot of time and hassle trying to get around.
Start at the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theater, most famous for the footprints and hand-prints of movie stars from the 1920’s to the present day. From here, continue your immersion in Hollywood history by taking a stroll along the Walk of Fame, where almost 2,500 brass stars are embedded in the pavement depicting the names of Hollywood greats (and not so greats!).
Live the life of a movie star vicariously for an hour or two by taking a tour of the homes of the rich and famous. This narrated tour will take you past the incredible homes of current movie stars like Tom Cruise and Nicholas Cage as well as the former homes of mega stars like Michael Jackson and Madonna. The tour will also take you through Beverley Hills and along the world renowned Rodeo Drive, as well as giving you a close up view of the iconic Hollywood sign.
Home to countless movie stars and Hollywood executives, Sant Monica is a great place to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. Wander along the famous boulevard full of roller bladers, cyclists and joggers; enjoy the rides on the famous pier or simply hit the beach and catch some rays. Best of all - its super easy to see without a car.
As evening approaches, head back to Hollywood to Sunset Strip, buzzing with restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Or look out for events at the Hollywood Bowl, a huge natural outdoor amphitheatre, where you can enjoy concerts under the stars.
Sitting on a hill top in the Santa Monica mountains, the Getty Center is the flagship destination of the J. Paul Getty Trust, founded by the oil tycoon of the same name. Famous for its stellar art collection, it houses an important collection of European paintings, sculpture and photographs. There’s a lot more to the Getty Center than art though. The breath-taking views across the sprawling metropolis and Pacific Ocean are worth a visit on their own. The center also features striking architecture designed by Richard Meier and ever changing gardens created by the renowned artist Robert Irwin.
This is a Los Angeles icon, famous for its unique architecture and stunning setting on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood. Built in the 1930’s in parkland that was once part of a Spanish settlement known as Rancho Los Felis, the iconic observatory building is visible from much of Los Angeles. Take a look through one of the observatory’s powerful telescopes; arrive after dusk to get a close up view of the sparkling night sky. Even without the benefit of a telescope, the view across the city, ocean and the famous Hollywood sign is sensational. Admission to the observatory building and grounds is free.
It’s hard to think of many museums or galleries with a setting as picturesque as this one. Located on Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach, the building is perched on a hilltop overlooking the harbour. The museum, built in 1912, houses some 3,000 paintings, sculptures and drawings. A pavilion with two spacious floors features changing exhibitions and there are also historic buildings and ocean front gardens to explore. If you fancy a free day of culture, head to the museum on a Friday when admission is completely free.
Venice is one of the most famous beaches anywhere in the world. A Los Angeles icon since the 1950’s and 1960’s, when it became a centre for the ‘Beat’ generation of poets and artists, Venice revelled in its alternative, non-conformist reputation.
The Ocean Front Boardwalk, a 2.5 mile walkway, is almost like a circus, featuring street performers, artists, fortune-tellers and artists. It’s also full of fitness fanatics, from the roller bladers on the boardwalk to the body-beautifuls on Muscle Beach. Venice is a great place to people watch, play beach volleyball or just flop on the sandy, palm fringed beach. There are also some great swells if you fancy checking out the famous Californian surf.
Take a break from the glitz and glamour and venture to see this lovely historic Mission and its cute town centre. The ruins of the 1797 Great Stone Church, its buildings and gardens and the antique stores in Los Rios Historic District are well worth a look. Its around an hours’ drive from LA, depending on the traffic and again and you can also get here by the Metrolink train.
Santa Barbara is around 2 hours’ drive from LA depending on the traffic. Also known as the ‘American Riviera’ this little coastal town has great food, great shopping and great culture without the chaos of larger cities. Surrounded by beautiful mountains and rolling valleys and beautiful beach, enjoy the sophisticated yet simple vibe of this quaint gem.
Santa Ana is around an hours’ drive from LA, again dependent on traffic or you can get there by the Metrolink train. Come here for a funky fusion of galleries, live/work artist studios, folk art shops, and some seriously good (and cheap) eats. If possible, time your visit for the first Saturday of the month, where you can peek inside over 40 galleries, studios and design workshops as they open their doors to the public.
Los Angeles is a frequent stop on many round the world tickets – especially en route to New Zealand or the Pacific islands. Whether you're stopping over for a few days or thinking of a longer stay – perhaps with a fly-drive up the coast to San Francisco - we can build an itinerary to suit your style and budget. I'm happy to advise you on trip ideas, tailor-made holidays, car or campervan hire and maybe even a small group tour. Contact Helen to discuss including LA in your trip or request a quote.