A few years ago, I accidently spent 11 nights in Los Angeles and I fell in love with the place. How do you ‘accidentally’ stay in LA? More of that later.
First things first; the beaches are beautiful, the nightlife is outrageous and the food is some of the best in the world - so why is it so hard to convince people to spend more than a day or two in the ‘City of Angels’?
If your multi-stop flights connect through LA but you’re not enthused by the thought of an extended stay, let me introduce you to Los Angeles and persuade you to spend a little longer in this vibrant city. I think it's a great city as stand-alone destination, but it also makes a great starting point for a USA Road trip.
Popular road trips are between LA and San Francisco, taking a route up the scenic HWY1 – the Pacific Coast Highway and LA to Las Vegas, with some extended touring out to the Grand Canyon, Death Valley and the National Parks. You could also venture up the coast to Santa Barbara or head south to San Diego.
Los Angeles is a sprawling city best navigated by car since the public transport is pretty limited and amongst the many districts, your budget will usually dictate where you stay. Santa Monica and Venice offer some of the best value hotels and these areas are more easily explored on foot. Accommodtion in Hollywood and Beverly Hills comes at a higher price tag.
Broadly; you should head to Hollywood for the Walk of Fame (stars in the pavement), the Grauman’s Chinese theatre and Madam Tussauds. Downtown has some of the best hotels, the trendy bars and is also the business district. The Wiltshire area has the Grove and the farmers market, whilst Venice Beach is a more bo-ho beach area with much more counter-culture
I’d only planned to stay for 4 nights as I was attending UCLA for some classes to teach me more about LA. (Un)fortunately, a volcano erupted in Iceland and for a week there were no flights into Europe. This meant that the guys hosting our training course had to think on their feet and find lots more for us to do in LA to fill a total of 11 days in the city.
There are plenty of posts dedicated to short stays in LA, but instead I want to suggest some things that many people miss.
Santa Monica is a quaint little place that’s very family-friendly. Its pier has lots of rides, a couple of small roller coasters and the iconic Ferris wheel. Amongst LA’s craziness, Santa Monica feels like a really wholesome place with an air of Americana about it; a traditional, almost historic vibe.
Your next stop should be Venice Beach and given LA’s lack of transport, the best way to reach Venice beach from Santa Monica is to hire a bike. That’s what we did – and although the bikes weren't’t fancy, these were good old American Choppers. The beaches are close to each other, so it’s an easy ride and you can visit both in a morning.
Even if you haven’t been on a bike for years, don’t be put off; it’s cheap and easy fun. You can cycle at a leisurely pace for the two and half miles along a great cycle path which gently slows down your day and gives you the chance to appreciate the famous Californian beaches.
Venice beach is odd; we may as well get that out of the way. From the old, leathery guys working out on Muscle Beach (they’ll all be wearing Speedos that are two sizes too small) to the octogenarian roller-skaters.
I really enjoyed Venice beach, it’s a fantastic place to people watch and you can easily pass a whole afternoon playing Frisbee on the beach and recreating the title sequence from the TV series ‘Baywatch’! And if you head one or two blocks back from the beach, you'll come across the scenic canals which are where Venic takes its name - a lovely area for a stroll if you tire of the beach.
Moving away from the coast and for a welcome injection of culture, I recommend a visit to the J. Paul Getty Museum (aka ‘The Getty’), LA’s preeminent art museum.
You access the Museum up a steep hill via a hover train funicular that runs from the car park at the bottom, up the hill to the museum itself. The modern building is beautiful and the panoramic views from the top over Los Angeles spread beneath are breath-taking. My favourite parts of the collection were the paintings by Van Gogh and Gauguin.
Following on from The Getty, you could head to the Grammy Museum (Grammy as in Gramophone, it’s not a museum dedicated to Grandmothers from the southern states!)
This was an addition to our itinerary, but as is often the case with impromptu arrangements, I was pleasantly surprised by its diverse collection of interactive exhibits and films. Recent exhibits include, ‘Ravi Shankar - a life in music’ and ‘All Eyez on me - the writings of Tupac Shakur’.
If you love to shop, you’re in the right place since the USA is surely the originator of conspicuous consumption and the choices are endless.
Heading to wealthier part of town, make a beeline for Rodeo Drive. The girls in our group screamed and took photos from the shadow of the Beverly Wiltshire hotel (which featured in the film ‘Pretty Woman’), but the less shopping-inclined lads should take this opportunity to have some lunch and indulge in a little people-watching.
Keep your eyes open in this neighbourhood for an insight into how the other half live. You’ll see people walking around in clothes and shoes that would comfortably provide the deposit on most people’s first home. Whilst enjoying a drink, I saw three Ferraris and two Lamborghinis and that was before a Bugatti Veyron pulled up. I’m not a car guy, but this was a bona fide million pound car.
If you’re after some star-spotting, after Rodeo drive, head to The Grove and Farmers Market for some celebrity spotting.
The Grove is a complex made up of a huge cinema, a mall and the Farmers Market. The mall is a little different than your average; it’s a faux street, with a European feel and it has its own tram - who wants to walk between shops? Not Americans it seems.
The Farmers market was my favourite element; it offers a huge variety of organic produce and bucket loads of artisanal food stalls that seem to reflect the eclectic mix of nationalities that live in LA.
Here you’ll find plenty to eat; corn dogs, fajitas, Vietnamese pho, steak and everything in between. It’s a feast for the eyes, never mind the stomach and I had a great time just looking at the food on offer. I’m pretty sure I saw Alice Cooper without his makeup.
If you yearn for some adrenaline, it’s time for a theme park and LA has plenty. The standard option is Universal Studios, which has some great rides, including The Simpsons, The Terminator and Jurassic park to name a few. This can fill a morning and is perfect for families and young teenagers.
However, the real fun starts at Six Flags Magic Mountain. For as long as I can remember I have been terrified of roller coasters, but this theme park changed it all.
The first roller coaster I ever went on was here - the X2; flames, inverted seats and Samuel L Jackson shouting at you. That ride was my epiphany and from there I ran from one roller coaster to the next, trying to regain that crazy adrenaline rush I’d just encountered. Be warned that adrenaline rushes are addictive!
It’s worth knowing that many of the hotel bars in LA have roof terraces which are a great way to get a view over LA.
The boutique Standard Hotel in Downtown is out of this world. When we visited its large roof top bar and pool, the entire cast of the TV series ‘Entourage’ were filming there, whilst we took in the spectacular views of downtown LA. The W Hollywood has the best selection of cocktails and bourbons I have ever seen (and I’ve had ‘lunch’ in lots of nice places).
LA is a great city, and from my own experience – there’s much more to it than movies. We can organise flights, tailor-made holidays and even campervan hire. If you'd like to visit Los Angeles by itself or as part of a longer USA trip, we can help you plan. Just call +44 1273320580 or email for a quote