Los Angeles, California. The City of Angels. Originally, the city was called “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula.” I think this was a little too long, so it got shortened, and now it is referred to as LA. This city has many nicknames, and it means so many different things to each of us: nearly every person I have ever met has some sort of story or connection to LA. With this in mind, it makes sense that that are many travelers and tourists who come to the City of Angels with stars in their eyes and dreams in their hearts. Over the past year, I have hosted over 100 of these travelers through the app CouchSurfing. I started in mid-May last year, and I found out quickly that I loved hosting and being a tour guide. As I continued to host people, I worked to develop different set tours for my guests. Recently I hosted a couple from Bolivia who have an amazing blog. We were talking about the differences between a blog and an Instagram account. I realized I haven’t done a post in a while. I have now decided to write this as a guide for planning out the perfect weekend in LA.
The first thing that you need to figure out is the reason that you are coming to LA. What do you want to take away from your time in LA? What is your bucket list? LA has something from almost every category of travel in it, so if you try to do it all, you will fail. Now I am a nerd. Yet, I have found, the best way to plan for any trip, especially a trip to a big city like LA, is to create a quick Spreadsheet. First, list the activity, then the category, and finally the priority. It should look something like this:
|See the Hollywood Sign||Photo Op||1|
|Find a Celebrity||Photo Op||2|
From here, you should list everything you have heard about and seen. Use Thrillist and travel websites. Check out local blogs. Have fun with this stage. Between Sightseeing, Hiking, Thrill-seeking, Foodie, Vegan, Beer, Wine, Sports, Architecture, Art, Surfing, Music, Tattoos, Museums, Photography, Nature, etc., you should be able to find a good amount of activities.
Expectations and Warnings
Okay now, we need to be real for a second. I know I just told you to find all the things you want to do and put them in a list. But you will not be able to do all of these things. There are huge limitations in any city, especially in a city like LA. So now we need to set your expectations.
- No, you will not see celebrities on every corner. Visiting LA is not like walking into the set of Entourage. Sure, you might see a couple here or there, particularly if you attend an event or game.
- Traffic is terrible. I know you live in a city that has “bad traffic.” But for real, LA is worse. Expect that it will take 10 minutes for every mile.
- Public transportation is available, but it isn’t always that fast. Uber/Lyft is available as well. Unless you plan on a road trip out of LA, renting a car is not a desirable option.
- While there are a couple spots that are open until the late hours of the night, a lot of LA starts to shut down between 11PM and 2AM. Many awesome things happen in the morning.
- Safety. Los Angeles has crime. It is a big city. There are also a lot of homeless people living on the streets. Protect yourself, travel with a buddy, watch you back, and be aware of your surroundings.
- Check the weather. While most of the time, California is supposed to have nice Mediterranean style weather, sometimes it rains. It has rained a lot lately. Also, sometimes we get wildfires. Both restrict the ability to do certain activities. Have contingency plans in place.
- LAX is not the best airport. It is crowded, slow, and illogical at times. If you land at 4:30, do not expect to be out of the airport until 5:00, and that is if you get lucky.
Okay, so you planned your trip, booked your train/plane, made your list, narrowed it down. Now you might be asking, “What next?” You need to find accommodations. First, decide how you plan to stay: hotel, motel, CouchSurfing, AirBNB, RV, or hostel? There are so many options for each style of lodging in LA. Once you decide what your budget can afford, next you should look at the location. This is the tricky part. Your lodging location can determine your ability to hit your goals for the trip. These two things can work together or work against each other. Yes, staying by the ocean in Dana Point is going to be beautiful, but it is too far to see LA for much more than one half-day. If your goal is to relax by the beach in a nice resort, then this is perfect. If you want to hit a bunch of LA spots, then this is not good. I live in Mid-Cities in a small area called Beverly Grove. If you have a wide range of activities you would like to do in all categories, then I would strongly recommend looking at Mid-Wilshire, Beverly Grove, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Culver City, or maybe Koreatown. These areas give you good access to public transportation, safe surroundings, and a central location.
As I mentioned earlier, it is not the smartest move to get a rental car in LA: gas is expensive, parking is minimal and pricey, driving is frustrating, and tickets are no fun. All that being said, if you plan to go to Joshua Tree or something like that, then you will need a car. IF someone else is paying for gas and rentals, etc. then rentals get more feasible. But if you plan to stay at an AirBNB or CouchSurfing location, you should definitely talk with your host first. Most residential areas have tight parking rules.
So now that you have your plan, your travel, and your housing covered, it is time to cover some personal basics. There are a lot of spots around the city with WiFi. If you don’t plan on getting some sort of cellular service, then I recommend looking these up. You should also save an offline copy of Google maps in the app. You should probably also save the bus routes.
My Best Recommendation for a Weekend
With all the information that I just threw at you, I figured I would walk you through a balanced ideal weekend. This plan assumes that you eat all types of food, enjoy beer, and want to see a good mix of LA. This also assumes that you have a friend or host with some access to a car. Without the car, most everything is still possible, just a little tricky.
You should try to arrive around 5PM. Since LA is in the Pacific time zone, this is easier than you think. Once you land, grab your luggage, log in to the free WiFi (if needed), message your host (if you chose AirBNB or CouchSurfing), and head out to hop in your car at LAX. Understand that it will take 15 minutes easily for your ride-share to get around the complex driveways. You have to go upstairs to meet them at the Ride Share Pick Up.
You should be able to get into your place and get settled. Get logged in, as needed, grab a jacket, and get ready to ride around. If you’re visiting in the spring/summer, sunset will be around 7:00PM or so. In the fall/winter it is a lot earlier, so this might not be possible.
The ride up to the overlook is twisty and turny, so take some Dramamine if you get motion sickness. The trip up should take around 30 minutes. As you turn into the mountain roads, you are now on Mulholland Drive, a road that was made famous by the Tom Cruise movie. But it is a beautiful scenic road from Hollywood to the ocean. Once you parked at the Jerome C. Daniel Overlook, head all the way up the stairs. Here, you will be greeted with a full view of almost all of LA. To the east, you can see the Wisdom Tree, the Hollywood Sign, and Griffith Observatory. Looking south, you get a great shot of the DTLA Skyline with Hollywood in the foreground. Rotating clockwise, you can see Koreatown, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and finally Marina Del Ray, Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Depending on the air quality and haze, if you look south you can almost make out the hills of Rancho Palos Verdes and the industrial lights of Long Beach.
Descend the stairs and get back in the car. As you wind your way around Mulholland, you can catch glimpses of the different canyons. This road has several pull-offs. One gives you a view of Universal and Studio City. Farther along there is a perfect overlook to catch a purple and orange sunset over the valley. Growing up, you probably heard the term “Valley Girl,” or maybe you watched Saved By The Bell, and you recall that Bayside’s perennial rival was Valley. Well, here it is folks: The Valley. After letting the sun pass by the mountain, aim your eyes back away from the horizon. Now the clouds will seem to catch fire. This is when you can get that good sunset picture you wanted the whole time.
Head back down from the mountains, swing through the parking lot of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Here you will see the familiar façade from the album cover of Hotel California. Park behind the Beverly Gardens Park. Here you can see the “most photographed place in Beverly Hills.” Maybe you want to take a jumping picture or some other pose. Here is your chance. Walk across Santa Monica to grab a quick picture of the Love Wall on Alfred Coffee. Two quick blocks away and you are rolling down Rodeo. Hopefully you recognize it from almost every movie in LA. If you are lucky, there will be some kind of pop up shop. Over Christmas, we were blessed with an interactive gallery, Immersed in Wonderland, by Alexa Meade.
Make you way back towards your house, but first make a quick stop at St. Regis Liquors on 3rd St. On the east side of the building you will find a set of wings. Get that selfie you know you wanted.
Once you’re back home, kick your feet up, and relax a bit. You’ve got a pretty packed weekend coming up.
Hopefully, you got some good rest. Wake up. You should try to get up around 9 or so. This gives ample time for activities. Ideally by 9:30 you are ready to head out.
Walk/bus/Uber over to the Farmer’s Market/Grove. There are a lot of good food options here. Also there is a killer bakery, Dominique Ansel, that has cronuts, if that is your jam. This area is a really pretty outdoor shopping mall. During Christmas it has awesome decorations.
Hop on the bus or order an Uber. I don’t recommend the walk to Hollywood, as it is time consuming, but if you got an early start and really want to boost your FitBit stats, then get to hustling. The 217/780 bus will pick up at Fairfax/3rd and take you to Hollywood/Highland.
A good starting point is the TCL Chinese Theater. From here you can walk either way and check out the stars on the ground. There is a website which helps you track down a specific star if that is your goal. Grab a picture with Darth Vader or the Robot, pick up a Caricature drawing, check out the hand and footprints, then head up the escalators. Funny story, Last Halloween, my cousin was visiting me from Oklahoma. We went to the Nightmare Before Christmas at the Hollywood Bowl (amazing, by the way). We had to walk down Hollywood to get to the shuttle, and we actually made around $30 from people taking pictures with us. We were dressed like the Flintstones.
On the top floor, you can get access to get a great, clear picture of the Hollywood Sign. Frame it peaking out under the arch, or you can get closer for a straight forward shot. If you feel like you are missing something, then head back downstairs and walk to the Hollywood/Vine Station. Hop on the DASH Beachwood Canyon. This will take you up for a clearer view of the sign. These run every 20 minutes. So hop off, get you pictures, pose it how you want, then head on back.
Just a couple blocks south is the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. This is a new addition to my recommendations, and I haven’t yet checked it out. But I have heard good things.
Grab an Uber and head to Silver Lake. Your drop point should be Muddy Paw Coffee Company on Sunset. Around the corner and down the alley, you will find the Micheltorena Stairs. Take some pictures and have some fun. Cross the street and turn right. A couple blocks down, you will find the Piano Stairs as well. Silver Lake has a lot of fun shops and things to do. There are over two dozen more sets of stairs, if you are into Urban Hiking. But for now, it is time to move on. Grab an Uber and put in The Broad.
Downtown LA (DTLA) had a dark stigma for a while. There was a time where there was not much draw to visit it. In recent years, there has been a strong turn-around. It is now one of my favourite areas in LA. The streets are saddled with art, there are restaurants and pop-ups, breweries have starting filling industrial spaces, and the architecture remains timeless. Some downtowns are filled with blue-glass, steel buildings. They are cold and impersonal. DTLA has so many different styles: columns, gargoyles, glass, modern… I don’t know anything about architecture, but it is fun to look at.
The Broad/Walt Disney Concert Hall
As you arrive, you will notice that the Concert Hall is across the street from The Broad (pronounced with a long ‘O’). This museum is wonderful, but unless you have a ticket, the line can be quite burdensome. The tickets are free; you just have to reserve ahead of time. If you booked ahead, you can check out the exhibit and the Mirror Room.
Walk past the MOCA and cut through the food court. You will emerge to a nice little area with a small amphitheater. From here, you can take the Angel’s Flight funicula down. It is only $1 or so. Take some fun pictures and videos riding it down.
Grand Central Market
Walk across the street, and you will enter the Grand Central Market. Here you will have many options for food and maybe a quick beer. This should cover everyone’s palettes.
After leaving the southeast exit, you can cross the street and enter the Bradbury Building. This was used in the move Blade Runner. The architecture and design inside is quite breathtaking. While you can’t go very high up the stairs, you can go up halfway for a better picture.
The Last Bookstore
Walk out and turn left on S Broadway, then turn left on W 4th. Cross the street and turn right on S Spring St. One more block down, and you will see The Last Bookstore. This was created as if it was the last bookstore on earth. It is a fun experience. Make sure you go to the back corner and head upstairs. They have some insta-worthy props. They also converted the bank vault into the horror section.
Exit the bookstore and go right on W 5th St. In two blocks, you will hit Pershing Square. This is decorated for winter and has a skating rink. There is a beautiful mural in the north corner also.
Make you way down S Olive St and hook a quick left on W 8th St. Here you will find one of the older bars in DTLA, the Golden Gopher. Make your way inside and grab a cocktail or beer. They have a photo booth in the back, so you should probably do that.
A quick stop in the Bloc is nice to see a shared art space. They also have some cool wall art for your collection. Obviously, if sunset is approaching you can skip whatever you need.
This should be a high goal for your DTLA day. You want to make sure you are in the building and heading up 30 minutes before sunset. It is free to go up to Spire 73 and have a drink at the highest rooftop bar in the Western Hemisphere. Here you will get the see a perfect panorama of Los Angeles.
After the sun has gone down, it is time to get some delicious DTLA hazy beer. Hop in an Uber and roll over to Mumford. Grab a flight of their hop-forward beers. If they have cans, you should grab a four-pack for your host (if they like beer). This is a nice gesture.
It is a pretty quick walk, and you get to see some awesome street art, so if you are comfortable walking at night, head on over to Tacos Indiana. The benefit of walking is that you also get to see the LA River from the 4th Street Bridge. This might be familiar if you have seen the movie Grease or Terminator 2.
As you arrive at the Tacos Indiana stand, you might be a little worried that I sent you to get some second rate food. Nope, don’t worry. Walk up and order a couple tacos (I recommend Al Pastor, Suadero, and Carne Asada) and a mulita al pastor. Add your toppings and salsa. Enjoy the best tacos you have ever had. Make sure to tip them. When Anthony Bourdain featured LA, he even loved this place.
Indie Brewing/Dry River Brewing
Take a short walk down to Indie Brewing. This will help make some room for more delicious beers. If Victor or Odeth are working, make sure you order your flight from them. But grab a flight with some mixed styles. Take a seat on one of their custom-made, logo tables. This place is great for a group photo. Then head across the street to Dry River Brewing. The taproom was outfitted by Naga using reclaimed wood. DRB is a highly unique brewery. They focus on locally-inspired flavors and ingredients. Their beer is even pleasurable to those people who “hate beer.”
Global Angel Wings
Order an Uber and input the Global Angel Wings as your spot. When you get in the car, make sure the driver is okay with you getting out quickly for a picture. When you arrive, hop out and get a couple more wings pictures. These have spotlights, so you don’t need a flash. Get back in and update your destination to your lodging.
Back at home, you can drop off your backpacks and grab a glass of water. Hopefully you are in an area close to the LACMA. If you aren’t then you can grab a ride or skip the following and just go to bed.
Hopefully some of the crowd has died down. But you will want to find your spot and get your picture quickly. There will be a lot of people here until about 1AM. Get a selfie, take an artsy picture, climb the light posts. Whatever. Just have fun.
Petersen Automotive Museum
On your way back, look across the street to the Red and Silver building. In March 1997, Notorious BIG was gunned down right there. While this may seem morbid, it is a part of the history of LA and rap music.
Time to head home and get some sleep. You’ve had a full day.
Depending on your lodging situation and availability of a ride. This day can either be your host’s car, a ride share, or public transportation. There are several logistical configurations that you can do on this day. If you want to discuss more, reach out and I can help plan it out with you.
We had a pretty busy Friday, and we are going to pack a lot of good stuff into your Saturday, so set your alarm early.
Getting to Venice early is going to put the sunrise at you back for some cool photo ops. And it will set up your route to reduce back-tracking.
Head towards Abbot Kinney. There is a place called Gjelina. There are some other cool places on Abbot Kinney you could check out as well.
Walking towards the beach, make sure to stop by the Venice Canals. They are so peaceful in the morning. With the sun at your back you can grab some amazing shots.
Walk up Pacific Avenue to get your picture of the Venice Sign.
Then make your way towards the sounds of the waves crashing in. You will see a crowd of people around the cement fixture in the beach. If you remember Lords of Dogtown, then you will remember how iconic Venice Beach is to the skating community. Get ready to watch 10 years olds do tricks you always wished you could.
Head up the beach. With the water on your left, you will see artists and musicians. Check out some of their art and pick up a souvenir or gift. If you end up having to miss the Malibu part of the day, you can catch an awesome sunset on this beach.
After catching some fresh air and a nice little walk, I guess you could opt to take a Lime scooter as well, as those are fun, you hopefully got some great pictures and experiences.
One of the more recognizable spots in Santa Monica, the pier is an awesome landmark. You should be able to get some good shots with the wheel and roller coaster. Pictures are great from both the edge of the pier and the beach. Make you way to the top, and get a shot of the iconic sign. You might remember that this is where Forrest Gump turned around.
Walking around, there are some cool stores and bars near the Third Street Promenade. Have some fun, window shop, and maybe use the restrooms.
I personally cannot recommend Sugarfish enough. I love it. Go in, order a iced green tea (they are bottomless), and get the Trust Me. It is so perfect.
This is the first big logistical Choose Your Own Adventure spot. At this point, you can either grab a Bird, call an Uber, walk, or hop on the bus back to your car in Venice. But you will want it. If you want to skip Oxnard, you can also just take a bus up to Malibu.
This brewery is in an unassuming business park area. But trust me, their beer nails it. They put out some consistently good fruit forward bottles and hazy IPAs. These bottles make good host gifts also.
Driving around the mountains, you will see fruit stands. Pull over. Go buy some strawberries and avocados. You’re welcome. The mountain scenery makes you feel like you aren’t stuck in the middle of one of America’s biggest cities.
You know the name. You have seen it in movies. You should definitely check it out.
You might recall this from The Fast and The Furious. They have some decent fried seafood and some better, steamed dishes. If you didn’t want sushi earlier, or you’re hungry again, don’t be ashamed. Order some food.
There is cheap parking at the Point Dume State Beach. Grab a spot. Take in the beauty and wonder of the Pacific Ocean. Dip your toes in, if you want.
After your dry your feet off and put your shoes back on, take the trails up to Point Dume. You might recognize this rock cliff from Planet of the Apes. The hike is pretty simple and quick. At the top you get amazing views up and down the beach.
Hopefully, you have timed it out so you are here a little before 7. Grab a good spot and watch the sun go down. It is my favourite sunset in LA, and a top five in the world for me so far. You will also get some awesome rock and beach shots with waves.
After the sun has gone down, you can head back through Thousand Oaks and The Valley to get home. This way you can hit a couple other breweries or different restaurants. I will let you check Yelp and Google for your favourite type. But the Stonehaus has come highly recommended, especially if you like wine.
You should be worn out. It is normal. You have had two big days. Head home and turn on some tunes or Netflix and relax.
You’ve almost made it. This is your last day. You have to make sure you have wrapped up your list. Make sure you alarm is set. Don’t waste daylight. Pack your bags up and bring them with you.
Try to get out of the house by 9:30. Parking can get quite obnoxious.
Melrose Trading Post
The Trading Post occurs every Sunday at Melrose High School. Bring some cash, $5 to get in, and most of the vendors prefer cash if you want to buy anything. Check out the vendors and the crafts. There are also some great food options. Normally there will be some musicians filling the area with some tunes as well.
Walk across the street and to the right a little. Here you can get your final set of wings. Head west a couple blocks and you can also see another Love Wall, the Pink Wall, and some additional insta-famous scenes.
Head back to your car and go north on Fairfax. Turn left on Sunset Boulevard. Drive safely and slowly down the strip. You will be greeted by famous spots like The Comedy Store, Mel’s Drive-In, The Viper Room, Whisky A Go Go, The Roxy, and The Rainbow Room. This street has some much entertainment history in just a couple miles.
Turn left on Doheny and head back to West Hollywood. Make a left on Santa Monica and go to the Surly Goat. When you get in you will be greeted by Tony. He helps make the Goat great. Their entire bar staff is pretty fantastic. They will have over 25 beers on tap and dozens of bottles. You should be able to find something you like. If beer isn’t your thing, they have a full bar and even a couple wines. This is one of my favourite bars in all of my travels. They will always treat you right. In addition, if you end up living in LA, they have a passport program that challenges you to drink beers from over 90 breweries with the goal of getting in the Hall of Fame and onto the trophy.
Instagram post pictures? Check. Local food? Check. Craft beers and breweries? You betcha. Scenic drives and sunsets? Duh! Historical movie locations? Done! I think we nailed it. Time to get out of the city. Make your way down to LAX. Expect it will take 40 minutes at this time of day.
Wrap It All Up
Obviously, this is a general trip plan. But hopefully, this guide is helpful in your planning. I have spent the last year or some crafting these trips and adventures up while living here. There are some additional side trips or focuses that I know a lot about. If you are big into 90’s Hip Hop, we could add in a half day to do that. Love beer? So do I. I can make your whole trip focus on this, if you want. I also recognize that I haven’t listed many places to go out if you want to party. I found that the majority of my guests don’t really hit the clubs. If this is something you like, then I would say one night in WeHo at The Abbey, The Chapel, and Hi-Tops should cover this urge. This block is super fun for all. When I travel, I try to hit up a pub crawl the first night so I can meet other travelers. So, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t include this. Additionally, I know I don’t mention visiting Griffith Park and Observatory. While this is an awesome adventure with great pictures, it is also a huge time commitment.
At the end of the day, LA has so much to offer for so many people. Until an earthquake knocks California into the Pacific, people will always visit LA. I just hope this post helps you conquer it more fully when that person is you.
What Did I Miss?
I have only been in LA for a year or so. I don’t know it all. I would love feedback. You could either hit me up on one of my social media platforms or shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I welcome any additional information. Thank you for reading.