Los Angeles often gets a bad rap. It’s too spread out. There’s horrifying traffic. Plastic surgery is a pastime and it's full of self-important industry people. Athleisure is a uniform, crystals and turmeric cleanses are some folks' idea of a healthcare plan, and everything is expensive. It can be all those things, but more often than not, complainers just haven’t found their part of town, their kind of people, or what they’re looking for in order to have an unforgettable visit.
Because it’s also full of ethnic enclaves, top chefs, big dreamers, Michelin-ranked restaurants, distillers, fashion designers, theme parks, an ever-growing public transportation system, professional sports teams, third-wave cafés, live music, bars, food trucks, museums (in fact, we have more of them than any other city in the U.S.), beaches, mountain hikes, street art, and so much more. If you take the time to look and ask around, LA will reveal its most interesting sides. To help you make the most of a weekend, we’ve compiled the spots where you should start your Southern California exploration into the ultimate 48-hour itinerary.
Day 1: Afternoon
3 p.m.: Downtown is in the midst of a renaissance. For decades, it mostly only lured business travelers to hotels that had seen better days and buttoned-up fancy restaurants. But in the last 10, it has become a hot spot for hanging out and boutique hotels, several imported from New York like The Hoxton or Nomad, have breathed new life into stunning Beaux Arts and Deco buildings with rooftop pools, lively lounges, and funky decor. There’s also innovative West Coast brands like The Ace Hotel, Wayfarer (which has both private and shared hostel-like) rooms for rent), and The Proper Hotel. If you value luxury over trendiness, book yourself into The Ritz-Carlton or The InterContinental. Where you stay really depends on your budget, plans, and preferred hotel style.
Day 1: Evening
5 p.m.: Head to The Arts District after getting settled at your hotel of choice. Try to get there while it’s still light out to do a few sweeps of the impressive street art. It also has some cool galleries, stores like Poketo and Shinola, breweries, wineries, and distilleries, and lots of casual eateries representing just about every cuisine you can crave. Top picks include Guerilla Tacos, burgers (Everson Royce Bar and Umami), Wurstkuche (exotic sausages and beer), The Pie Hole, Café Gratitude (Vegan), Bavel (Middle Eastern), and Italian (Brera, Bestia, Factory Kitchen).
Or if you want to impress your friends back home, find one of the newly minted Michelin-starred establishments. The notoriously rigorous ratings system returned to Southern California after nearly a decade in 2019 and bestowed honors upon several downtown/downtown-adjacent spots including Orsa & Winston, Shibumi, and Le Comptoir. Drive further afield to find Vespertine, Rustic Canyon, Osteria Mozza, Providence, Trois Mec, and Maude.
8:30 p.m.: Follow up dinner with happy hour. Go high at Perch or Spire 73, the tallest open-air bar in the western hemisphere, or go low at Birds & Bees, a hidden 1950s-inspired drinking den below street level that blasts jazz and screens vintage movies. If it happens to be the beginning of the month, First Fridays, an after-hours party at the Natural History Museum with DJs, bands, or speakers, is also a fun choice. The old-school dioramas have been used in a zillion films and TV shows.
Day 2: Morning
9 a.m.: Rise and Dine. LA is devoted to brunch. You are tripping in the land of avo toast, superfood-topped bowls of porridge, and overstuffed breakfast burritos after all. So put on your best wide-brimmed hate, swishy jumpsuit, or floral sundress and be prepared to watch everyone, literally everyone, taking photos of pancake stacks at The Griddle or Eggslut sammies. You can’t beat ‘em so instead join ‘em. There are plenty of places you could walk, scooter, or rideshare to from the hotel like Nickel Diner (famous for maple-glazed bacon doughnuts), JiST (Japanese-style brekkie including chashu hash and Tokyo tots), or The Exchange (shakshuka for two). The Original Pantry Café has served classic greasy spoon fare 24 hours a day since 1924 and is now owned by the former mayor Richard Riordan. If you plan to go to The Broad, eat next door at Otium, where you should order seriously sophisticated French toast donabe with pork belly, khachapuri, or the homemade pop tarts.
10:30 a.m.: The Broad, which opened in September 2015, is one of the world’s foremost collections of postwar-forward art with some 2,000 works by such renowned artists as Jeff Koons, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger, and Takashi Murakami. Admission is free, but you should apply for tickets in advance. There is a standby line but you could stand there all day and not get in. The museum houses two of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms. To see these, you’ll likely have to stand in another line.
The Broad is not alone in bringing cultural clout to LA. It isn’t even the lone offering in DTLA where you can also visit the Grammy Museum, the Japanese American National Museum, the Science Center, California African American Museum, two MOCA outposts, and more. If wandering around museums is your bag, adjust the itinerary to include one of these or any of the amazing museums on Museum Row in the Miracle Mile neighborhood. This includes the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA), La Brea Tar Pits, the Peterson Automotive Museum, and the coming-soon Academy Museum (from the folks who hand out the Oscars.)
Day 2: Afternoon
12:30 p.m.: Time to eat again. Never fear. Still plenty of options in downtown including the stalls at the Grand Central Market, which is about two blocks away from The Broad and has been feeding Angelenos since 1917. A few farm stands and green grocers remain (Chiles Secos has a large selection of moles, dried peppers, and other Latin specialty products which make great souvenirs.), but most stalls are now quick service options like Kismet Falafel, Ramen Hood, PBJ.LA (serves exactly what you think), and Sari Sari Store (a Filipino concept from James Beard nominees/couple Margarita and Walter Manzke). Other food halls dish up a wide variety of cuisine in DTLA including Corporation Food Hall, Spring Arcade Building (don’t skip Gelateria Uli’s fruity gelato!), and Taste Food Hall.
Or pick a side in a decades-long debate. The French dip was invented in LA in the early 1900s, but two still-around restaurants, Philippe’s and Cole’s, both claim credit for the moment the roast beef sandwich was born.
If it’s a Sunday, The Row DTLA, a 32-acre retail and restaurant complex made out of overhauled warehouses, will be hosting the LA version of Brooklyn’s Smorgasbourg aka the largest open-air food/crafts market in the U.S.
2:30 p.m.: Your first trip to La La Land isn’t really complete until you’ve gone to Hollywood. For most people, hitting a few of the major entertainment-related attractions—things like the Walk Of Fame, the hand and footprints at the TCL Chinese Theatre, or the iconic sign—will be plenty. But if you are more a movie buff than an art appreciator, skip the museums and start here in the morning instead for a deeper dive. Add a studio tour on a historic lot like Warner Bros or Paramount or creep around the famous graves at Hollywood Forever. Hunt down real-life filming locations from your favorites, hop on a bus tour like this one, see a film at the El Capitan or the Cinerama Dome, or sip cocktails at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt or Musso & Frank Grill.
Day 2: Evening
6:30 p.m.: One of LA’s greatest strengths is its diverse population and the intermixing of cultures has left a mark on most every aspect of the city including architecture, cuisine, and events. Most big cities have a Chinatown or a Little Italy, but LA’s tops that with Filipinotown, a stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard where you are as likely find a gay bar as a Russian bathhouse, historically Mexican and Jewish districts, and little versions of Tokyo, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and Armenia. Immerse yourself in one of them for the night.
One possibility is Koreatown where you should get the meat sweats at Korean BBQ, sing karaoke in a boat-shaped "Titanic" theme bar, indulge in wacky rainbow desserts, or get scrubbed within an inch of your life at a 24/7 spa. Another good option is Thai Town.
Day 3: Morning
8 a.m.: You’ve seen the stars; now get ready for the sun because it’s time to hit the beach cities. To earn a big breakfast (and more importantly bottomless breakfast cocktails), join locals and fit-fluencers on the Santa Monica stairs near Adelaide Drive and Fourth Street. They’ve been a popular calorie-busting climb for eons, are free, and provide amazing views of ocean and fancy homes. Go early. They get very crowded.
9 a.m.: You will not go hungry. Santa Monica, Venice, and Manhattan Beach all have a bevy of brunch spots worth waiting in line. Many of our favorites made our top 20 list including Brentwood’s Farmshop, Santa Monica’s The Rose and Huckleberry, and M.B. Post in the South Bay. Picking a place along Venice’s Abbot Kinney like Yours Truly or Butcher’s Daughter is a two birds, one stone situation as you can browse the many cool independent shops, look at street art, and find The Dude’s apartment on foot to aid digestion.
Day 3: Afternoon
11:30 a.m.: Once you’re done filling up your stomach and your suitcase, go full tourist. First stop, the Venice canals, which will seem incredibly civilized compared to the second stop down the street, the Boardwalk, where everyone lets their freak flag fly, making for great people-watching. See where skateboarding got its start, pick-up b-ball games, and iron pumpers in the famous alfresco Muscle Beach.
Up the sand about 2 miles in Santa Monica, family fun is a given at the Santa Monica Pier. Find Nemo at the aquarium, go for a spin on the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel at Pacific Park, fish, and more. There’s more shopping to be had on the pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade, though it's mostly big-name chains.
Feeling particularly ambitious? Rent bikes and ride the 22-mile paved bicycle path between Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades and Torrance County Beach. It will take you past million-dollar listings, two boat marinas, busy beach volleyball courts, five piers, and beachfront bars in case you need to give up refuel. Or schedule a lesson to learn to surf with Santa Monica Surf School.
If you haven’t gotten enough culture, book a visit (free except parking) at The Getty Villa, a recreation of a Roman country estate and gardens along with a stellar ancient art collection. Tours of the Adamson House, a 1929 Spanish colonial revival mansion with spectacular tiles and frescos, and the Malibu Lagoon Museum, which covers the Chumash tribe that used to inhabit the land.
2:30 p.m.: The Malibu Country Mart is an upscale dining and shopping center with cute local brands and high star-sighting potential. Have a sit-down meal or pick something up at Sun Life Organics or Malibu Kitchen to eat at the beach across the street.