Los Angeles: Planning Your Trip

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La-La Land, City of Angels, Tinseltown, Southland, Boomtown—it’s fitting that a city as diverse, as exciting, as sprawling, as mercurial, and often as misunderstood and misjudged as Los Angeles has so many nicknames. (It’s also apt, given it’s home to Hollywood, that most of those monikers are also past film and TV titles.)  It offers visitors movie magic and melting pot menus, pro sports and palm trees, rooftop bars and big city bluster, distilleries and dispensaries, shopping and self-care, fitness fanaticism and family fun, high-end hospitality and a hippie underbelly, and even nearby nature when you’re done nurturing your brain with architecture, history, and culture.  

But for the uninitiated, it can also quickly become a beast based on its behemoth size, sometimes soul-crushing traffic and smog, confusing parking rules, and budget-busting prices. To keep it from forever being personally labeled as Hell A, read on for help planning your visit including where to stay, when to go, and what to eat, drink, and do.

Planning Your Trip

• Best Time To Visit: Southern California’s Mediterranean climate results in mild winters, low humidity, and an abundance of sunshine so there isn’t really a bad time to visit, but spring brings super blooms and fresh strawberry donuts and warm autumns extend rosé and rooftop season. 

• Language: English although Spanish is widely spoken 

• Currency: US Dollar

• Getting Around: Home to the nation’s first freeway (now Highway 110, which has connected Pasadena to downtown since 1940), LA is and has always been a driving town. The easiest way to get around is to rent a car at the airport. (By 2022, LAX’s new consolidated rental car center and the people mover to get there should be completed.) If you choose to take the wheel, do as Angelenos do and accept traffic as your brutal bedfellow and know that it almost all drive times are longer than the mileage would suggest and whatever you do, do not drive slow in the far left or carpool lanes. Read this for more tips on blending in when behind the wheel.

If you don’t want to deal with that anxiety, rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are available and reliable. And if your starting point and destination are near a light rail/subway stop, purchase a TAP card and go Metro. Read more about using public transportation here.

• Travel Tip: Unless seeing celebrities is your raison d’etre, avoid awards season (typically January through the beginning of March) as the best hotels and spas are taken by folks who will most definitely get better service than you, hot restaurants and clubs are rented out for private celebrations and company parties, and street closures make getting around complicated. Hotel prices near venues tend to be higher. They are bumped up on summer/holiday weekends as well especially if they're near the beach.

Things To Do

If you’re bored in LA, you aren’t trying hard enough. Because no matter what your ideal vacation day looks like—whether it consists of a taco crawl and an NBA game, photographing street art and buying designer clothes, going to the mountains and the beach in the same day, drinking a locally brewed beer and wandering around a Japanese garden, or riding roller coasters and attending a TV show taping—you can likely accomplish it here. Whatever you decide to do, don’t miss:

• As the Entertainment Capital Of The World, even casual fans will appreciate going behind the scenes on studio lot tours, attending a taping, taking selfies in front of cinema landmarks like the Walk Of Fame, celebrity homes, or real-life locations used in movie shoots like these as seen in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, hiking to the Hollywood Sign, touring the famous graves, and seeing what’s playing in a historic movie palace like the TCL Chinese Theatre, downtown’s  Million Dollar Theatre (the one from Blade Runner), or Disney’s El Capitan. 

• Fun fact: LA has more museums and performing arts venues than any other U.S. city. Peruse collections of high art (literally in the case of the hilltop Getty Center!), fast cars, dinosaur bones, photography, space race artifacts including an actual shuttle, neon, anti-psychiatry evidence, Wild West history, bunnies, and serial killers’ possessions. Add more culture to the calendar with plays, live music, galleries, libraries, street art tours, and poetry readings. There also always seems to be at least one experiential pop-up “museum” happening like Flutter or Sneakertopia.

• There are endless ways to enjoy LA’s 75 miles of coastline. Drive along scenic PCH. Walk Venice’s eclectic boardwalk with its iron pumpers and body piercers. Ride the world’s only solar-powered Ferris Wheel and go to free concerts on the pier in Santa Monica. Learn to surf in Malibu. Play volleyball in the sand in Manhattan Beach.

But wait, there’s more including winter sports, best hikes, and outdoor screenings.

What To Eat and Drink

If you came to eat, you came to the right place as LA has one of the world’s most dynamic food scenes as it runs the gamut from street vendors’ bacon-wrapped danger dogs to Michelin-starred restaurants. Always start with brunch, knowing that LA is both an early (before 10 a.m.) and all-day breakfast kind of town. Next, there’s the things the city’s known for that you need to check off the list: food trucks, tacos, In-N-Out burgers, avocado toast, French dip sammies, hard kombucha. Then, the rest of your meals should be spent sending your stomach around the U.S. and the world without checking out of your hotel. Our pizza scene now gives New York and Italy a run for their money. We’ve co-opted Nashville hot chicken and started to make it our own. 

LA is made up of pocket neighborhoods defined by the majority ethnic group that lives there and, in cases like Thai Town and Koreatown, it’s the largest population living outside their respective motherlands. You’ll hear their native tongue, see cultural and religious festivals, can buy authentic ingredients in specialty markets, and be able to eat their regional delicacies. Do not miss Korean BBQ, fancy sushi, the growing Filipino food scene, Armenian bakeries in Glendale, Jewish delis in Fairfax or along Pico, Chinese in the San Gabriel Valley, or burn-your-face off Thai dishes (Jitlada!). And if you have joined the growing movement to go meat-free, don’t fret. LA’s vegan and vegetarian options are just as globally inspired.

As is the drinking scene, with all genres of bars, from tiki rooms and hidden speakeasies to Bukowski–approved dives and alfresco patios, trying to lift your spirits. In the last five years, craft breweries, distilleries and even wineries have popped up all over town adding their tasting rooms to the night-out pool. There’s a growing mocktail movement and a strong café culture if you abstain from alcohol.

Where To Stay

The hotel scene is about as diverse as LA’s population in terms of luxury level, amenities, price, size, and style. There’s also a pretty wide selection of AirBnBs and rental properties. The best advice we can give is to pick the neighborhood where you need to be or would like to spend the most time in order to minimize commuting and maximize vacationing and then find lodging. 

Downtown is undeniably having a moment with lots of new accommodations, often in old converted buildings. Many of the edgiest boutiques are transplants from other trend-setting cities like Nomad and The Hoxton. There's also high-end options like the Ritz-Carlton. Either way, you’re within walking distance of award-winning restaurants, stadiums and stages, bars, and museums. 

Look into West Hollywood and Hollywood—places like The Kimpton Everly, Chateau Marmont, or The W—if you seek an immersion in cinematic history, have Hollywood Bowl or Pantages tickets, or want to lose yourself in the music or the moment in the Boys’ Town nightlife scene.

Beverly Hills properties like the Waldorf Astoria, the Peninsula, or the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons are about as posh as they come and offer decadent spas, silky sheets, superior service, and walkability to Rodeo Drive.

If it isn’t a vacation until you feel sand between your toes, limit your search to Santa Monica, Venice, Malibu, or the South Bay cities. 

Check out this neighborhood guide to narrow the field.

Getting There

While it’s a popular road trip from other parts of the Golden State, Arizona, or Las Vegas, most visitors arrive via airplane and that usually means your time in the Southland will start and end at Los Angeles International Airport, or as it’s commonly know, LAX. The fourth busiest passenger airport in the world generally offers the cheapest fairs and most flights, but it isn’t the only option. Other regional airports include: 

• Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR): It’s small, the security line is a breeze, and is a better option if you’re staying in the valleys, on the Eastside, in Pasadena, or making your way to Ventura. 

• John Wayne Airport (SNA): This option in Orange County is much closer to Disneyland, but a long slog to LA.

• Long Beach Airport (LGB): Another smaller, smoother airport that gets you closer to Disneyland and The OC. It is a perfect choice if you are headed out on a cruise from San Pedro.

More transportation options like taking Amtrak or Greyhound can be explored in this guide.

Money Saving Tips

• Cushion the blow of the final bill by scheduling your trip to coincide with dineL.A. Restaurant Week, which technically lasts a couple of weeks and happens twice a year. Fantastic three-course prix fixe feasts can be found all over town at much reduced rates.

• It’s easy to do the great outdoors on a budget. Try these 12 fantastic hikes. Select a beach for surfing, sunbathing, or sandcastle building from our comprehensive guide. And despite the enduring concrete jungle stigma, LA has quite a bit of green space within city limits including the 4,200-acre Griffith Park and many host free concert series, movie screenings, or theater when the weather is warm.

• While many of LA’s best museums like The Broad, Getty Villa, and the California Science Center are always free, others that charge admission offer select gratis days as well. Descanso Gardens offers free entry on the third Tuesday of every month. The Skirball Cultural Center is free every Thursday while Sundays are the day to pop into the Museum of Latin American Art. This comprehensive Discover LA list can help you determine when and where you can get cultured free of charge.

• See if you belong to a group that can score you discounts. Active AAA and Costco members have access to discounts with rental cars and attractions. Local warehouses have area-specific offers as well. Some attractions have profession-based freebies. For Instance, the Autry Museum of the American West is free for active military, veterans, peace officers, and park rangers with a current ID card.

• Go City and CityPASS offer multiple-day passes that give discounted entry or tickets to a variety of attractions, tours, and theme parks. 

Learn more ways to have fun on the cheap by reading up on 25 awesome free things to do in LA.

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