Pandemic restrictions are lifting and now everyone’s working on their comeback seasons – yours truly included.
But my comeback season is starting in Toronto. Okay, sorry, I’ll use regular terms. Everyone is excited to get back to regular life and that includes traveling.
I’ve had a few friends reach out to me mentioning they plan on visiting Los Angeles and to give them advice on what to do. It’s almost been three years since I’ve been an Angeleno, so, I’m confident enough in sharing what I think is the best Los Angeles experience possible.
Full disclaimer: LA is huge, sprawling. I still haven’t done everything there is to do. If I forget to mention something, it means I haven’t done it yet or have and don’t think it’s much of a vibe to recommend. Also, the below information is inclusive of Los Angeles County, which has many smaller areas associated with it. Okay, let’s go!
AREAS TO VISIT
There are two kinds of LA – the west, where I am, or the east. The west is frequently associated with Teslas and lavish living. While the east is mostly associated with LA’s true cultural hubs – but also really hot and full of congestion. However, east LA folk will tell you otherwise. The following are areas in west, east, and south bay LA that you should visit.
- Hollywood: Prepare to have your LA expectations shattered, or at the very least, altered a little bit. Hollywood is great since you can find the Hollywood Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theater here. But it’s also kind of sketchy, so, be prepared to see what LA’s really like when you’re in Hollywood.
- DTLA (Downtown LA): Piggybacking off of Hollywood, DTLA is lovely from the skyline but very run down and dangerous in certain pockets once you get to ground level. But hey, there’s still lots of cool stuff to do here. Just know it likely pales in comparison to downtown areas like New York or Toronto. Though there were plans to gentrify DTLA, those have largely fallen to the wayside, and plans of changing DTLA are starting with addressing the homeless situation. Make your way to DTLA to see certain things, like Grand Central Market or The Last Bookstore. But don’t stay too long, especially in the more dangerous areas, like Skid Row.
- West Hollywood: WeHo is my favorite Ho… llywood. It’s a lot safer here and has loads of character. There’s also a strong LGBTQ community here, so, if that’s your thing, you’ll find plenty of vibes on this side. Shopping is nice, sweet bars, restaurants, and arts centers, like the Pacific Design Center.
- Santa Monica/Venice: In addition to Hollywood, most ideas of what LA is like is Santa Monica. Surfing, skateboarding, running, sunsets, palm trees, and all-around chill vibes – you will find that in Santa Monica. That’s the good. The bad is that this area is always busy, so, parking is sparse and getting around, especially at the Santa Monica Pier, can be shoulder-to-shoulder crowded. I recommend starting in Venice Beach and walking to Santa Monica Pier.
- Korea Town: If you’re craving bomb chicken, look no further than Korea Town. But there’s also a good mix of bars and restaurants that sell other than Korean fried chicken. Oh, and if you’re interested in LA’s history, well Korean culture had a huge impact on it, as evidenced from the documentary “LA 92.” I won’t spoil anything, but just know Koreans have a huge impact on LA.
- Long Beach: Did you know Snoop Dogg, Vince Staples, and Giveon are from Long Beach? With that knowledge, it makes sense that Long Beach has a different vibe than LA. If you’re not in the mood for the annoying influencers you see in abundance in Santa Monica, Long Beach is the place for you. There’s a great selection of beaches to go to, like Junipero Long Beach, where you can see the Queen Mary in the distance.
- Hermosa Beach: This is where I used to call home, but everyone I know calls it “Bromosa Beach.” Yeah, there’s definitely loads of those surfers/skater bro-types here, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. But if you’re not up for the annoying crowds of Santa Monica and you don’t want to deal with driving all the way south to Long Beach, Hermosa Beach is a good idea. It’s as beautiful as Santa Monica, and when you’re on Hermosa Beach you can easily walk to Manhattan Beach or go more south to Redondo Beach. If you love volleyball, Hermosa Beach is apparently the volleyball capital of California as loads of volleyball athletes go there to train. The Strand is a very nice place for a night out. Also, if you’re a fan of “La La Land” or the “90210” tv show, they’re both filmed in Hermosa Beach.
- Old Pasadena: Old Pasadena is very much inland, but it’s worth the drive. The architecture is very old fashioned, so, seeing that is pretty neat. Then the various shopping options and restaurant choices can make for a lovely day trip. I recommend checking out the historic Colorado Street Bridge – check it out during golden hour.
- Silver Lake x Echo Park: Whenever I talk to people about where I should live in LA, I hear that I should move to Silver Lake/Echo Park. When I ask why, they say, “That’s where all the hipsters are.” I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or insult, but I’ll take it! Chill bars, cool indie shops, and lots of laid-back energy is what you’ll find in Silver Lake x Echo Park. I recommend traversing the Michelona Stairs, walking around Silver Lake Reservoir, or riding the swan boats in Echo Park (at night).
- Chinatown: Are you a Bruce Lee fan? Or what about “Rush Hour”? You can see the Bruce Lee dedication statue in Chinatown. Or if Jackie Chan is more your thing, you can eat at the restaurants featured in “Rush Hour.” Or if you’re drunk and really hungry for Chinese food, come to Chinatown in the late hours of the night to satisfy your cravings.
- Boyle Heights: Boyle Heights is a historic Chicano/Mexican-American neighborhood. To my surprise, there’s even a nice selection of art to take in: Night Gallery and the Mariachi Plaza. Though you absolutely have to check out one of the last surviving Japanese restaurants in the area – Otomisan Restaurant. Not only are the owners really sweet and awesome human beings, there’s loads of sweet art, I believe hand drawn, that’s prominent indoors.
- Little Tokyo: Little Tokyo has a huge vibe. Want Japanese snacks, like mochi? Get it in Little Tokyo. What about Sanrio slippers? Get it in Little Tokyo. What about Japanese streetwear? Get it in Little Tokyo. Making the rounds in Little Tokyo is super fun. But if you want a more serious Japanese historical experience, check out the Japanese American National Museum.
WHERE TO EAT/DRINK
I still think LA has a restaurant vibe that is much more style over substance. That is, the food is okay, while the experiences and ambiance are amazing. But maybe my palate isn’t as sophisticated as others, who knows. These are the places you have to visit to understand that LA vibe. And maybe enjoy some food while you’re at it.
- Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, DTLA: The entrance is hidden behind a fence and then you enter the front door, which is actually a fridge door. But once you enter, there is a lot of space to move around and enjoy cold cocktails in that hot LA weather.
- Clifton’s Republic, DTLA: Clifton’s Republic is closed at the moment, with plans of reopening in October 2021. Go here if you want that old-timey LA feel.
- No Vacancy, Hollywood: Like Clifton’s Republic, No Vacancy pays homage to the good ole’ days for Hollywood.
- Perch, DTLA: This is my recommendation for rooftop drinks or dinner in DTLA.
- Library Bar, DTLA: Did you go to The Last Bookstore and you’re craving more books? Check out Library Bar – walls of books as the backdrop for your pinot grigio.
- The Rose, Venice: I’ve probably been to the Rose more times than any of the other restaurants listed, so, that should be a good sign. Brunch, dinner, or drinks, you can’t go wrong at The Rose.
- Blind Barber, Culver City: Whether you want a haircut or a gin and tonic, Blind Barber has you covered. Literally – a barbershop in the front during the day, and at night a bar in the back. Serious “Peaky Blinders” vibes this one has.
- Habana, Costa Mesa: Whenever I do find myself in Costa Mesa, which is rare, I hit up Habana. Cute and quaint candlelit spot, near indie shops and other hole in the wall bars.
- Fuego Maya Hotel, Long Beach: My favorite thing about Fuego is walking alongside the Los Angeles River and seeing all the Long Beach city lights from afar after a few glasses of white wine. It’s a vibe.
- E.P. + L.P., West Hollywood: My favorite spot in West Hollywood. Go to their rooftop, it’s dope. Why do people like rooftops so much?
- Margot, Culver City: Yay, another rooftop! Margot is on the higher end, so, you can expect a higher caliber of food I suppose. But this is a nice place to go for celebrating something nice if you’re in Culver City or on the West side.
- Saint & Second, Long Beach: The food at Saint & Second is actually pretty stellar. Saint & Second is also located in a prime Long Beach spot. Start or end here while going to the various bars in the area.
- Angel City Brewery, DTLA: I admit that I haven’t been to enough breweries in LA. Though, when I visited Angel City Brewery in summer 2019, I was blown away by its aesthetics. Multi-level spot, taco vendors, arcade machines, it was like I was in a music video. Check it out.
- Birds & Bees, DTLA: People go on and on about drinking and eating on rooftops. Basement and lower-level drinking and eating don’t get quite the same love. This chic cocktail bar cuts different, but it’s temporarily closed. Hope it opens back up soon.
- Meet in Paris, Culver City: Downtown Culver City is an interesting spot. Start at Meet in Paris for champagne and French specialties. Then walk over to the Culver City Steps.
- Mama Shelter, Hollywood: Mama Shelter is my new favorite spot for rooftops in Hollywood. And if you’re vegetarian, they have a great selection of options to choose from. Lastly, their cocktails are pretty good.
WHERE TO SEE VIEWS
There is no shortage of places to take in LA’s vast views. Here are the three that you must do if you’re visiting LA.
- Griffith Observatory: Griffith Observatory is an LA institution. Around here is Griffith Park, if you want to get in some hiking. If not, head straight to the top to see views of DTLA, Hollywood, and the Pacific Ocean. Honestly, go here at golden hour and enjoy the lovely view. Though some of the beautiful haze could be caused by smog.
- Mulholland Drive: If you’re renting a car or borrowing a friend’s, drive along Mulholland Drive. This iconic road has some of the nicest views of LA, with multiple areas along the road to stop and take it all in. I recommend going at night. Though do be careful as the roads are very windy. There are loads of accidents here and said accidents even served as the premise for David Lynch’s “Mullholland Drive.”
- Most hikes (especially Elysian Park Trail and Hollywood Reservoir): Ask any Angeleno and they’ll tell you what the “best” hikes are. I’m not sure what the criteria is for a hike being the best, but for me, it’s the views you get at the top or end of the trail. For that, I recommend Elysian Park Trail, where you can see DTLA on one side and Dodgers Stadium on the other. For something a bit easier, I recommend Hollywood Reservoir walking trail. It’s mostly flat, so, it’s on the easier side of the scale. On this trail you can see the Hollywood Sign, with Hollywood Reservoir in the foreground – a different view of the Hollywood Sign. But if you want that good stuff and want to see the Hollywood Sign up close, or even from behind it, go on the Hollyridge Trail to Mount Lee hike – this one is a bit more advanced.
WHERE TO SHOP
I bet you’re sick of online shopping. I know I am! I want to go to a shop and feel the thing I want to buy before buying it. Also, I can’t be bothered to wait a whole week for my stuff to arrive. If you’re feeling all sorts of ways about shopping, here are the places in LA to scratch that itch.
- The Grove: The Grove is probably the best place to go shopping. There’s no shortage of designer stores here, but there’s also some cool coffee spots to check out. And if you must have a trolley pass you by while you’re shopping, The Grove is the place for you.
- Rodeo Drive: You know what Rodeo Drive is. Everyone has their image of it in their mind. Maybe it’s from “Pretty Woman” or “Mighty Ducks”, or maybe even the heist mission in “GTA V.” Whatever it is, Rodeo Drive is the epitome of lavish LA living. Hour-long waits to get into Louis Vuitton. Ferraris and Lamborghinis a plenty. You will see the Hollywood version of LA here. Word of advice though, don’t park in a store’s allocated parking spaces if you’re not visiting that store. I learned that the hard way.
- Westfield Century City x Santa Monica Place: Most of LA’s big malls are actually all outdoors. If you’re interested in the more traditional shopping experience, you’re sure to find stores to take your money at Westfield Century City and Santa Monica Place.
- La Brea: For a more down to earth shopping experience, I recommend going up and down La Brea. Whether you want designer jeans or vintage tees, La Brea has something for you. Shopping isn’t to your liking? Check out some of the restaurants here.
WHAT TO DO
This article is getting really long – just like LA’s sprawling landscapes. So, I’m going to try to breeze through the final section of this article. You will likely never be bored in LA. There’s almost too much to do that being here for a week will not do the city justice. Here are the things I recommend you fill up your agendas with.
- Buy a book at The Last Bookstore
- Find your favorite star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- Ride the Angels Flight Railway
- Take in historical architecture at the Bradbury Building
- Gorge at Grand Central Market
- Go on a bunch of hikes
- Take gram-worthy photos with public art (Urban Light, Levitated Mass)
- Say hi to woolly mammoths La Brea Tar Pits
- Watch a movie at TCL Chinese Theatre
- Ride the Ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier
- Go to a bunch of museums (Hammer Museum, The Broad, The Getty, Grammy Museum, Museum of Neon Art, Petersen Automotive Museum)
- Cruise up and down Pacific Coast Highway
- Go on a studio tour or be part of a taping
- Watch a movie on a rooftop or a drive-in, or a boat
- Go to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl
- Ride swan boats in Echo Park
- Pose for the gram in front of the Paul Smith wall
- Observe the awesome Venice Canals
- Pray or pose at Wayfarer Chapel
- Be a big kid at Universal Studios or a weird Disney adult at Disneyland
- Catch a game at the Staples Center or Dodgers Stadium
- Pay respect to your favorite formerly living celebs at Hollywood Forever Cemetery
- Hike the Los Angeles River
- Find ghosts on the Queen Mary in Long Beach
- Visit the LA Zoo or Aquarium of the Pacific
- Watch the sunset at Hermosa Beach
- Go to In-n-Out University
- Cruise Palos Verdes
- Pour a cold one for Elisa Lam at the Cecil Hotel
- Cruise Sunset Blvd at night
Wow! There you have it! My exhaustive guide to exploring LA in 2021 and into 2022. I hope you find it helpful – I really do. LA is my new home and I felt I needed to do it justice by showcasing the best of what the city has to offer from my perspective. If you want to see my personal LA journey, follow me on Insta.
Do you have any other must-dos you want to add? Comment below.