The Best L.A. Day Trip You Can Take—No Car Required

Ride the new Expo line from L.A. to Santa Monica for a day of car-free fun

The Best L.A. Day Trip You Can Take—No Car Required

Photo By Lora Shinn

Forget everything you’ve heard about Los Angeles traffic and smog. You can explore the city car-free—and explore it well—by riding the new Expo Line that leads from downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) to Santa Monica, stopping in some of the area’s most compelling neighborhoods along the way. Ramen, oddball museums, and guilt-free cocktails await (no car, no DD!). The line opened in late May, and now whizzes commuters and travelers between DTLA and Santa Monica in under an hour. Here’s the best way to make it a day trip, or maybe even a weekend trip, if you’re lucky.

7th Street / Metro Center Station

In downtown Los Angeles, commune with contemporary art at The Broad, where admission is free—but often booked months in advance, so make good friends with The Broad’s standby-line Twitter feed, which tweets updates on wait times. Afterwards, haunt the dark, alley-like fantasy shelves in The Last Bookstore or pick up a tray for a la carte breeze through Clifton’s Cafeteria. The cafeteria opened in 1935 and got a $10 million upgrade in 2015. Now you can eat neon-hued Jell-O and sip Stumptown roast while surrounded by waterfalls, carved-wood barstools, taxidermied woodland forest creatures, and 40-foot redwood. Sure, this is all fake, but so are movies—the magic’s in the suspension of disbelief, right?

Expo Park/USC Station

To explore the city’s wild side, visit the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to jaw with a preserved megamouth shark. Get an eyeful of more than 2,000 kaleidoscopic beauties in the Gems and Minerals Hall; some resemble stately structures while others look more like aggressive, beautiful molds that grew somewhere toward the back of the Earth’s fridge. Dinosaur bones, savanna-inspired tableaux, and an Insect Zoo can be found within three-story museum, along with Nature Lab, which offers an intro to L.A.’s denizens, including tarantulas.


Lora Shinn

Culver City Station

Just a few steps from the Culver City station, The Platform is a hipster outdoor mall of sorts, kitted out with shops that sell boutique skincare products and clothing and coffee. Make a nosh stop at The Cannibal LA’s butcher shop (100 percent human-flesh free) and pick up a mushroom banh mi with lentil pâté and pickled vegetables or a plate of three sides might include either dandelion greens or roasted cauliflower in chili-soy, parmesan and basil.

Then, walk to The Museum of Jurassic Technology. A riff on the curiosity cabinets of the late 1800s, the museum is a maze of dark rooms and relics in specimen cabinets, each lit with a dim amber glow and metaphorical meaning. Those specimens are eccentric, as you might expect, ranging from pop-culture jetsam to pseudo-scientific discoveries. “The Garden of Eden on Wheels” focuses on the history and collections of L.A.–area trailer-park residents, while “Tell the Bees” is ostensibly about folk remedies. “Miracles and Disasters in Renaissance and Baroque Theater Mechanics” is just that: An exhibit of the scenery and machinery of the 16th and 17th centuries, with miniatures of the moving stagecraft intact. Stop by the Moroccan-themed rooftop garden for free cookies, tea, and (on select weekends) an accordion player.


Lora Shinn

Expo / Sepulveda Station

With its poppy Asian-inspired housewares, clothing, comics, and stationary, the Giant Robot store is as sweet and addictive as a bowl of sugary cereal. Which makes sense, given its location in Japantown, a dense, walkable neighborhood of Japanese grocery stores, sushi and hotpot restaurants, and ramen shops galore. At Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle, the tonkotsu broth simmers for 60 hours before it’s delivered to your table with noodles boiled soft, medium, or hard—just pick your preference. Tip: Always pay the $1.50 extra for the ajitama, or seasoned soft boiled egg.

Bergamot Station

Bergamot Station is a former railroad station reincarnated as an orange-tree-and -corrugated-tin warren of 45 upscale art galleries and art-focused gift shops. At Hiromi Paper, select a packable souvenir of colorful sheets of paper made in Japan from thin slices of beets, lime, or blood orange (yes, really). Don’t forget to look up while wandering the station or you’ll miss found art in the vertical succulent gardens, basketball hoops decorated with lightbulbs, and more.

Downtown Santa Monica Station

If it went any further, the train would drop you in the Pacific Ocean. Fortunately, the final stop is on land in Santa Monica. Step off and wander the city’s pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade, populated with buskers of varying ages (and talents) and the largest grower-only certified farmer’s market in Southern California.

For dinner, head to The Misfit, a raucous speakeasy packed with people, farm-to-table food, and loads of liquor. Craft a shareable meal with small plates such as local squash blossoms in lebni olivade (a type of kefir with olives) and chickpea wraps with organic butter lettuce, smoked almonds, pickled apple, and sambal. Don’t miss the vintage-shaker collection in the hallway between upstairs and downstairs: Pay a visit while sipping a Mezcal Yellow Jacket with lemon, honey, and Serrano pepper.

End your evening strolling amid the sweetly scented mix of ocean and eucalyptus beneath the palms along the 26-acre Palisades Park, or on the wooden boards of the Santa Monica Pier, where you can soar above the Pacific on a Ferris wheel and play games of chance. Or watch the sun set into the ocean while catching an earful of the twilight concert series that lasts all summer.


Lora Shinn

Where to Stay

Since 1933, beachgoers have stayed in The Georgian Hotel, an aqua-hued, Art Deco hotel that faces the Pacific—and the circa-1899 Camera Obscura. The 84 guest rooms provide understated, luxurious comfort: goose down bedding, vintage tiled bathrooms, and oceanfront views. Raise a glass or mimosa under the black-and-white awnings to celebrate Los Angeles’s commitment to public transportation.

>>Next: 7 Classic California Road Trips to Drive in Your Lifetime

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