How to Spend A Perfect Day (or 4) in Los Angeles
Four L.A. Day-Trip Itineraries for Every Kind of Traveler That Are Guaranteed to Keep You Out of Rush Hour Traffic on the 10 Freeway
Oh, Los Angeles. It always does seem to elude definition. After all, it is still a young city in a constant state of perpetual flux (and with a pre-pubescent enthusiasm for shiny objects). Every visit to this ‘city of stars’ yields new finds, from thrift-shop jeans to new contemporary art museums that tower over familiar roads and disappear just as quickly [See The Main Museum].
There is certainly so much to discover here in Los Angeles from Ice Age Mammoths to mammoth-sized shopping districts to everything in between. Yet, as a tourist, you may find yourself unceremoniously deposited in your hotel/Airbnb in the heart of Hollywood, on the beach-front side-lines of Santa Monica, or, if you are lucky, among the booming yet assuming skyline of Downtown, with no earthly idea of ‘what to do next’ and a prescription for rush hour traffic to tackle.
“Los Angeles is 72 suburbs in search of a city.”
— Dorothy Parker
Many tourists make the mistake of trying to see “all of L.A.” in a single day. What they actually end up seeing is… a lot of the 10 freeway. As a local, you need to trust me when I say you’ll want to avoid the 10 freeway between the hours of 12:00 am and 11:59 pm.
To avoid this common pitfall, I have crafted four potential itineraries for your days in Los Angeles that are built on the neighborhoods that make this city so unique. What does that mean? It means these itineraries will keep you out of rush hour traffic, out of tourist traps (looking at you Hollywood Blvd.), and, for the most part, off the freeway, as you explore a segment of this ever-changing city.
Below you’ll find the perfect itinerary for your ‘Day in L.A.’, whether you have one day or several, whether you are staying on the ‘Eastside’ or the ‘Westside’, and whether you prefer sightseeing or sight-eating. (No judgment.)
DAY 1: “The Center” [Miracle Mile, Beverly Glen, & West Hollywood]
Choose this itinerary if you looking for:
✓ Nightlife / Entertainment
✓ A Taste of L.A. (Lots of L.A.’s Most Famous Food!)
✓ L.A.’s Best Shopping
Breakfast @ Republique in Miracle Mile [$$]
Fuel up for your long day exploring the center of Los Angeles with the Burrata or Ricotta Toast at this Los Angeles institution that features a thoroughly instagramable French-inspired courtyard.
Breakfast is served until 3 pm daily.
Activity #1: La Brea Tar Pits on Miracle Mile [$15]
The world’s most famous Ice Age fossil excavation site is located in the heart of Los Angeles and it is well worth a visit. Be sure to take advantage of the 45-minute ‘Excavator’ tour that is free with museum admission. Your knowledgable guide will walk you through the history of this L.A. landmark and lead you through each of the outdoor pits.
BONUS: If you would like to visit more museums or you got a super early start (yay jetlag!), after your visit to the La Brea Tar Pits you can walk to either LACMA next door or the Peterson Automotive Museum just down the street. Both are world-renowned museums and well worth a visit. However, if you don’t have time, just file them away for your next visit. After all, LACMA is the largest museum on the west coast.
Lunch @ Pink’s Hot Dogs [$]
This certifiable L.A. institution is famous for its long menu of hotdogs, the ever-present line (that moves quickly!), and their insane celebrity wall that includes everyone from Obama to the Kardashians. Grab one of their famous hot-dogs and a seat on their patio for some worthwhile people watching.
Activity #2: Explore Melrose Avenue
You are already here (and parked!), so why not take a walk over a few blocks to the famed Melrose Ave., where you will enjoy some of L.A.’s best boutique shopping and some very instagramable mural walls. For those in the know, the best stretch is located between La Cienega and North Orlando.
Dessert @ MILK [$]
Vacation = Dessert. Luckily, if you are shopping at Melrose, you are only a short 3 min drive away from one of the best ice-cream/bakeries in Los Angeles, MILK. They are notable for their Macaroon Ice Cream Sandwiches and celebrities are even known to request them in their dressing rooms.
Activity #3: Shop Till You Drop @ The Grove
After satisfying your sweet tooth, head to The Grove — a picturesque outdoor shopping mall designed by former Disney Imagineers. Snap a selfie by the beautiful fountain, grab a cronut from the inventor himself at Dominique Ansel Bakery LA, or just get lost wandering your favorite shops. You may even spot a celebrity… or two. #LALife
Dinner @ The Original Farmers Market [$$]
For dinner, you don’t even have to move your car! Head to The Original Farmers Market (Est. 1934), conveniently located adjacent to The Grove. Nowadays, you’ll find less fruit and veggies and more fresh-pressed juices, bbq platters, and falafel. However, it is still worth a delicious visit as you explore this piece of L.A. history.
We suggest grabbing a house-made pasta or a cheese plate and sitting out on Monsieur Marcel’s terrace. Yet, in the farmer’s market, the golden rule is to ‘follow your nose.’ Our Other Top Picks: Bob’s Coffee & Doughnuts, Moishe’s, The Gumbo Pot, & Magee’s.
Drinks @ Employees Only in West Hollywood [$$]
After dinner, jump in the car and head to West Hollywood or “Weho” as the locals call it. It will take you about 5 minutes and you may even find street parking (Gasp!). If you have time, grab pre-show drinks at the L.A. outpost of one of America’s best cocktail bars, Employees Only.
Although the front dining room and bar area is great, head to the back (I’d suggest a reservation) for the ‘speakeasy’ cocktail bar experience in the back named Henry’s Room. You’ll be rewarded with some of the best cocktails on this side of the USA.
Activity #4: Take in the Late-Show @ The Comedy Store [$ — $$]
End your day at The Comedy Store in West Hollywood. Grab advance tickets to their late-show, which usually starts around 9 PM and often runs until 2 AM.
The Comedy Store is open 365 days a year, which means:
- There must be a god somewhere.
- They are nowhere near The Comedy Store.
If you didn’t know, The Comedy Store rose to notoriety in the late 1970s and 1980s as the training grounds for Robin Williams, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Michael Keaton, Howie Mandel, and Roseanne. Today, you can still experience this L.A. institution, where up-and-coming comics and full-blown celebrities (think Jerry Seinfeld and Ali Wong) try out their new material in 15-minute sets. You could see as many as 18+ comics in one evening if you are lucky enough to get a seat in The Original Room.
You can usually get tickets on their website for free or for less than $15. However, just remember there is a two-drink minimum.
DAY 2: “The Westside” [Malibu, Santa Monica, & Venice Beach]
Choose this itinerary if you looking for:
✓ Art Lovers
✓ Hikers (or just those that ❤ specacular views)
✓ Those who NEED to see the beach while in SoCal
Activity #1: Choose Your Adventure: The Getty Villa OR The Getty [Free]
As I like you already, I’m going to give you a choice of where you will start your day. The best part? There is no bad choice! Choose between The Getty Villa or The Getty. They are both behemoth art museums that are each spectacular in their own way. There is so much to marvel at, even for those that know nothing about art (like me!).
The Getty Villa: Choose The Getty Villa if you love Greek & Roman antiquities, have always wanted to see Pompeii (the museum is a recreation of an ancient Roman country house), love classical architecture, and/or are visiting on Monday (when The Getty is closed). Note: You have to plan slightly in advance and reserve free timed tickets on their website. Try and grab a 10 AM slot.
The Getty: Choose The Getty if you are a sucker for spectacular views of Los Angeles, prefer your art to be less classical more pre-20th-century European paintings/decorative arts, or if you are passionate about photography or modern architecture. You also must choose The Getty if you are visiting on Tuesday (when The Getty Villa is closed).
Breakfast: No matter what venue you choose, grab a pasty and coffee at the small cafe stands and marvel at the beautiful landscaping and architecture that surrounds you.
Lunch @ Malibu Seafood [$]
Even if you are only in town for a few days, you have to make time to drive the Malibu bluffs of PCH (Pacific Coast Highway). It takes one jaunt up PCH to realize there’s no shortage of spots to eat, so we’re going to make this very easy on you: when it comes to the absolute best food in Malibu, there’s Malibu Seafood, and then there’s everybody else.
If you choose The Getty Villa, you’ll only have a 15–20-minute drive up PCH to Malibu Seafood. If you choose The Getty, it will be about 35–40 minutes, but totally worth it! The ocean views on the drive are pretty incredible.
Once you reach Malibu Seafood, you may have to wait in a short line to order your food with the cashier inside, then go find a table on one of their three patios overlooking the ocean and wait for your glorious, no-frills food to arrive. Everything on the menu is spectacular, you’ll want to try it all.
Activity #2: Choose Your Adventure: Hike The Malibu Bluffs or Chill on the Beach
In the parking lot of Malibu Seafood, you will actually find yourself at the bottom of a 2.5-mile loop trail which switchbacks through the coastal shrub above Malibu. The Corral Canyon Trail climbs to several hundred feet in elevation above the coast, providing an excellent panoramic view. It is an easy to moderate hike and most experienced hikers can hike it in less than an hour.
Not into Hiking? No problem! Cross Pacific Coast Highway to Corral Canyon Beach. Head downhill to reach the spectacular Pacific Ocean. If you come on a weekday, you’ll likely even have the beach all to yourself. Bring a towel and spend an hour lying out in the sun. #CaliLife
Activity #3: Explore Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade
Once you can tear yourself away, shake off the sand and jump in your car to head back down south to Santa Monica. Park in the Santa Monica Place mall structures for the cheapest parking in the area (3 hours will only set you back about $5.00 and the first 90 mins are free).
After you park, walk straight out of the mall and find yourself at Third Street Promenade. Take your time to explore this beautiful walking street and take in a few performances by the always present street performers. As you stroll around, be sure to take in the unique art installations on the street courtesy ROAM, Downtown Santa Monica’s rotating public art program. You also may catch a famous musician or two at industry-standard Truetone Music. Take a look at their vast inventory of new and vintage guitars.
Afterward, walk a few blocks to the famous Santa Monica Pier. You can spend your dollars on midway games, the Ferris wheel, or the roller coaster, but our pick is the original 1920s carousel located near the entrance of the pier.
Activity #4: Experience The Venice Beach Boardwalk
After experiencing Santa Monica, head south to Venice Beach. If you are really brave, you can make the scenic trip in about a half-hour by renting a Lime Scooter (app download required).
Made famous by countless films and YouTube videos, this microcosm of Los Angeles is certainly worth a stroll. Nowhere else in the world do hipsters, surfers, American Ninja Warrior winners, and pot dispensaries meld together so perfectly. Take your time strolling the boardwalk and maybe even put your feet in the Pacific Ocean (careful — it’s cold!).
ANOTHER OPTION: If you feel the boardwalk is a bit too touristy for you (and yes… it is very touristy), head to Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice for some wonderful boutique shopping and restaurants.
Dinner @ Tocaya Organica in Venice [$$]
While in Cali, you need to have some tacos. Where better than the Venice-outpost of Tocaya Organica, an off the tourist-path Mexican-inspired eatery that caters to vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and meat-eaters alike? So Venice. The best part is that it’s only a short walk from the boardwalk.
Drinks @ Townhouse Venice [$$]
Bottoms up! End your day at Venice’s oldest bar, The Townhouse (Est. 1915). Head down to their basement, The Del Monte, which was a true speakeasy during Prohibition masked cleverly by Menotti’s grocery store above. Chances are you’ll find something entertaining happening in the basement from live music to DJs to Comedy to burlesque (Free — $10 Cover). End your night here and enjoy hand-crafted cocktails from the golden age of drinking.
DAY #3 “La La Land” [Los Feliz, Burbank, Atwater Village, Hollywood]
Choose this itinerary if you looking for:
✓ Family-Friendly Activities
✓ Nature Lovers
✓ Hollywood History Buffs (especially those that love Disney)
✓ Celebrity Sightings
Breakfast @ Alcove Cafe and Bakery in Los Feliz [$]
Time to channel the jetlag and start your day early in Los Feliz, one of L.A.’s more charming neighborhoods. Breakfast starts at 7 AM at the Eastside staple, Alcove Cafe and Bakery, which offers amazing coffee and a surprisingly large breakfast menu. Don’t be surprised if you see a ton of assistants picking up coffee and breakfast for big studio executives.
Activity #1: Griffith Observatory [Free]
Speaking of studios, grab some pastries to munch on later and jump in your car for a 3-min drive to the nearby Prospect Studios. Although you cannot go inside, feel free to park on the street and peer in the gates. This studio has been home to ABC shows since the 1940’s and now is home to Grey’s Anatomy and General Hospital.
Afterward, make your way up the hill to the famous Griffith Observatory. Pop inside to explore the exhibits (free), watch a show in the Planetarium ($7), or just roam the grounds and enjoy the spectacular views of Los Angeles and The Hollywood Sign.
Lunch @ Tam O’Shanter in Atwater Village [$$]
After you are done exploring the cosmos or when you start to feel peckish, head to Atwater Village for a meal at Tam O’Shanter, a Scottish-themed Hollywood hangout for more than 90 years. Walt Disney and his original team of animators were frequent lunch-time patrons of Tam O’Shanter throughout the 1940s–60s. They were there so often it was dubbed “the studio commissary.” Walt himself had a favorite table: table 31. It’s right next to the fireplace in the main room and has “graffiti” of dinosaurs and other doodles on the table by Disney animators and Imagineers. John Wayne also had a favorite table: table 15, located in the tartan room.
Activity #2: Explore Griffith Park [Free]
Stop #1: Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round
Stop #2:Old LA Zoo Picnic Area
Stop #3:Travel Town Museum
Now that you have had a pint and (hopefully) some prime rib, grab your vehicle and head into Griffith Park towards the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round. In keeping with our Disney theme, this is the place Walt Disney regularly took his daughters and where on one of the benches surrounding the carousel he supposedly imagined Disneyland — a place where parents and children could have fun together.
Afterward, munch on your pastries from earlier as you explore the nearby Old LA Zoo Picnic Area. The Old LA Zoo is what remains of the original LA Zoo, built in 1912, that was simply abandoned when the zoo changed locations. This article details how to reach it from the carousel (a quick 5-min hike).
Now, Griffith Park is the largest urban park in the U.S., so you’ll have to drive a few minutes to our next location, Travel Town Museum. Travel Town is a super unique (and free!) attraction for train enthusiasts, both young and old. If you want to continue seeing everywhere Walt Disney touched (sorry!), Walt Disney’s Carolwood Barn is nearby and it is filled with his train memorabilia. Unfortunately, it is only open every 3rd Sunday.
Activity #3: Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Burbank [$69–79]
After you explore a small part of the massive urban oasis that is Griffith Park, jump in the car and head to the most touristy place you can think of…
No, not Universal Studios Hollywood. You can skip that as it is 1/4th the size of its sister theme park in Florida. Head instead to the famous Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank. You’ll see filming locations and memorabilia from your favorite TV Shows and Films (including Harry Potter!) on one of their world-famous studio tours. Book your tour in advance online and tag to nag an afternoon spot. Spoiler Alert: You’ll get the opportunity to sit on the Friends couch in Central Perk!
On the drive there, enjoy the spectacular views of the ABC & Pixar Animation buildings from the 134 Freeway. If you’d like, you can even drive around Walt Disney Studios and take in the famous signs. However, unfortunately, the Walt Disney Studio lot is closed to the public.
Dinner @ Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood [$$$]
The Martinis are as legendary as the stars that have dined at Musso’s (the Martinis were recently named one of the 20 best cocktails in America by GQ). Since opening in 1915, the red booths have been home to Hollywood royalty and literary titans, everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Bukowski. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to spot a few modern-day celebrities here as well.
However, the secret is out! Make sure you make a reservation.
Looking for something low-key or cheaper? Try Golden Road Brewery in Glendale. In addition for A+ ambiance and wheat beers, you’ll find a suprisingly varied menu of pub-favorites with so many vegan and vegetarian options.
Activity #4: Catch a Show in Hollywood
After dinner, drop the kids off with a sitter and head to a show. In Hollywood, there is no shortage of options.
During the summer, do as all true Angelos do (if they live nearby that is) and go to The Hollywood Bowl. The bowl is massive, difficult to get to, has impossible parking, and is completely and utterly worth it! It doesn’t matter the show you book, this outdoor venue in the middle of the Hollywood Hills has a way of winning everyone over. No show at The Bowl that night? Grab tickets for a show at the nearby and more intimate outdoor amphitheater, Ford Theatres.
If you are visiting during the rest of the year, you have a few options. Download the app TodayTix and Goldstar for discount tickets.
- The Hollywood Pantages — For Big Broadway Shows
- Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre — For Comedy/Improv
- Rockwell Table and Stage (Los Feliz) — For Original Musical Theatre Adaptions of Your Favorite Films — Think Dinner Theatre
Post-Show Drinks @ Tramp Stamp Granny’s in Hollywood
After your show, head to a newish piano bar on Cahuenga in Hollywood for a different kind of entertainment. The bar has fantastic cocktails, a 1920s art deco interior, and celebrity clientele (Darren Criss of Glee/American Crime Story fame is the owner). But that’s not what makes this place truly special. That award goes to the guy at the piano, singing everything from ABBA to Frank Sinatra to Disney hits, and encouraging everyone inside the bar to sing along with him. Check their website to see what theme is playing tonight.
DAY #4 “The Eastside”: [Pasadena, Downtown, & The Arts District]
Choose this itinerary if you looking for:
✓ Day Drinking (& Night Drinking)
✓ Locals Only Spots
✓ A Taste of L.A. (Lots of L.A.’s Best Food!)
✓ Neighborhood Hopping
Breakfast @ Lucky Boy’s in Pasadena [$]
Start your day with a Los Angeles classic. After all, there is no denying the allure of the breakfast burrito. For all the talk of who makes the best breakfast burrito in town, there is one restaurant that rises above reproach: Lucky Boy Burgers. The longstanding roadside stop along Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena has been doing their take on breakfast burritos for decades and hundreds crowd their small patio to enjoy them daily.
Get there between a 6:00 A.M. — 10:30 A.M. to make sure you are one of them.
Activity #1: Shop Old Town Pasadena [Free]
After you enjoy your classic SoCal breakfast burrito, jump in your car and find yourself in Old Town Pasadena. Stroll along Colorado Boulevard — historic Route 66 and home of the Rose Parade — where you’ll find shops and restaurants housed in turn-of-the-century brick buildings.
Activity #2: Take in the Arts on Downtown’s Bunker Hill [Free]
Shop till you drop in Pasadena and then jump in the car for a quick 25-minute drive to the booming Downtown Los Angeles. Park near Grand Ave. on Bunker Hill, the former home to exquisite Victorian Houses now houses an art scene to rival even Manhattan. Spend an hour or more exploring this mecca. Join a tour of architectural-masterpiece Walt Disney Concert Hall [Free], take your next profile picture at darling art museum The Broad [Free], or stroll around the delightful charming Grand Park [Free] — an urban green space with pink furniture and a spectacular fountain.
Lunch @ Grand Central Market [$]
When you start to feel hunger, catch your ride down the hill on the recently-reopened Angel’s Flight — the world’s shortest railway since 1901.
At the bottom of the hill, cross the street and find yourself in L.A.’s most famous food hall, Grand Central Market. You’ll have your pick of lunchtime eats here. May we suggest: Tacos Tumbras a Tomas (1. Wait in line, 2. Get the Carnitas), Wexler’s Deli, Sarita’s Pupuseria (Featured in the La La Land film), and China Cafe (an oldie but goodie).
Activity #3: Find Yourself in Little Toyko[Free]
Next, walk a little less than a mile to discover the other world that is Little Tokyo. As one of only three official Japantowns in the U.S., a thorough exploration will yield cultural landmarks, delightful shops, tasty restaurants, botanical gardens and amazing museums. It’s enough for a week-long visit, but we’ll only have time for the highlights.
With this mandate in mind, find yourself at Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo and suddenly feel like you are stepping into Japan. There is a plethora of lovely restaurants, shops, and mochi ice cream sellers here, but I suggest checking out the unique fashion at Hob Nob or Pop Killer and stopping by Sanrio for an extra dose of cuteness.
If you have time, walk to The Double Tree where you’ll find Kyoto Gardens — a half-acre of meticulously up kept trees, flowers and greenery with cascading waterfalls, tranquil ponds and stunning views of DTLA. This rooftop oasis is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The best part? It’s totally free. Not looking to climb on a rooftop? Head to the free James Irvine Japanese Garden located in the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center for a tranquil garden with a waterfall and 170 ft. stream, as well as blooming trees, flowers, handcrafted cedar bridges, a selection of stone lanterns and a hand washing fountain.
Activity #4: Brewery Crawl in the Arts District
While exploring, stroll over to the adjacent Arts District. While you are strolling, make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the sidewalk graffiti and murals this neighborhood is known for. Get ready for a SoCal craft beer (and, if you are lucky, distillery) crawl you won’t soon forget.
Stop #1: Arts District Brewery — Test your skee ball skills over a pint of delicious beer at this popular brewery
Stop #2: Angel City Brewery — A well-known L.A. brewery with one of the coolest locations around in a former factory. Take a tour, if you can!
Stop #3: Mumford Brewing —A micro-brewery with some of the best beer local to Los Angeles (everything is brewed in DTLA)
Optional: Lost Spirits Distillery Tour
Nestled on Sixth Street in the Arts District, Lost Spirits Distillery is one of those things you have to be in on to even find it. It’s been called a Disneyland for Adults, the Willy Wonka Factory Tour with Rum/Whisky, and the “best tour in L.A” by Forbes, Lost Spirits Distillery is certainly worth a visit if you can get the required reservation for a two hour tour. Reopens May 17th.
Late Dinner @ Perch LA [$$$]
Cap off your evening by taking an Uber/Lyft to enjoy a sit-down dinner at Perch LA, a greenery-filled french restaurant with open-air views of Downtown Los Angeles. Reservation required for dinner; drinks & appetizer seating is first come, first served. (Try and get a reservation for sunset!)
Drinks @ Clifton’s Republic
Many guides will tell you to bar-hop Downtown. We won’t do that to you. Instead, we are sending you to the only nightlife destination in Los Angeles you can spend your entire night at! Clifton’s Republic is a former themed cafeteria from the late 1930s that has been reimagined with FIVE different bars, including a speakeasy tiki bar called Pacific Seas. You’ll want to spend hours exploring every square foot of this otherworldly establishment that features taxidermy, swing dancing, live music/DJs, and different cocktails at every bar. A highlight of any trip to Los Angeles.
Note: Clifton’s is currently only open Thursday — Saturday. If you are visiting other days, check out these neighborhood locals-only bars: Las Perlas, Birds & Bees, and Bar Clacson.
Austin is an LA Transplant, having worked in the Los Angeles tourism industry for the past four years and lived in the area for 8 years. She currently hosts an Airbnb Experience “Drunk History” tour of Speakeasys in Downtown Los Angeles. Learn more