So you’re in the City of Angels and have two days to navigate your way through 4 million people and an unwieldy volume of Yelp recommendations. No big deal. People spend their entire lives there without seeing everything, but here are some recommendations to help shape your brief time in Los Angeles.
Where to Stay
In a city infamous for dense traffic, it’s important to choose your home base wisely. Planning to party your face off? Staying at sleek hotels like the Ace and The Standard will make it easier to immerse yourself in DTLA’s nightlife. To avoid the crowds, try an Airbnb in Koreatown or La Brea. Want the movie star treatment? Look no further than the Chateau Marmont, an ultra-luxe oasis tucked in the northernmost corner of West Hollywood. Whatever your stay style may be, you’ll want to find lodging on the same area where you’ll be most active—indulging in the beach life in Santa Monica is great until you find yourself in gridlock traffic on I-10 trying to make it to the Dodgers game on the other side of town.
That said, traversing L.A. doesn’t have to be treacherous. The Metro’s new Expo Line connects Downtown to Santa Monica and many places in between, so if bouts of road rage aren’t on your to-do list, spring for a $7 day pass that will give you unlimited rides until 3am. If it takes more than a Google Map route full of solid red to scare you off, take Siri’s advice and utilize the side streets. The main freeways—10, 110, 405, 5, and 101—provide direct routes to most places but are jammed 7am-7pm with freelancers scrambling to film shoots at all hours. Major surface streets such as 3rd Street and Venice Boulevard stretch across most of Los Angeles and can be lifesavers when avoiding freeways. You can also take Uber or Lyft; lots of freelancers means lots of part-time drivers, so the wait is never long.
Day 1: You’re officially in the city, which means you either drove here and just got off the mind-numbing I-5 or flew in and barely escaped LAX with your life (unless you flew into Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, in which case, you’re a clever one). Either way, you need sustenance. STAT. For a painfully L.A. experience, check out Bulletproof, where your coffee comes with *gulp* butter. Intended to replace breakfast and fuel a person all day, this brew is not for the half-caff crowd. Drop by Coffee Commissary for seasonal grinds from micro roasters, or check out Intelligentsia for a cuppa joe that focuses on fair trade beans.
Let’s say it’s lunch by the time you have your bearings. Gjelina on Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard is a fantastic stop for groups looking to fill up on oysters, cheese plates, thin crust pizza, colorful salads, and so much more. Also in the vein of group offerings is A-Frame in Culver City, which serves “Hawaiian soul food” ala furikake kettle corn, bottomless banana mac nut pancakes, and kalua pork ramen. Feeling something a little closer to brunch? Don’t miss Grub, an all-day breakfast hub in Hollywood that trades the tired old bread basket for a mix of dry cereals to munch on while you wait for your Friggin’ Amazin’ French Toast (made with fresh croissants and cinnamon vanilla batter) or egg sandwich with “crack” bacon that’s been fried with maple syrup and spicy seeds. If your taste buds prefer simpler eats, make your way to Philippe’s in Chinatown, home of the original French dip. These made-to-order classics are no less mouth-watering than the city’s trendiest sandwiches.
Are you more of an indoor or outdoor wanderer? Los Angeles has you covered on both fronts. Explore on foot by shopping your way down Third Street Promenade, crossing the street to Santa Monica Beach, and walking along the paved speedway to Venice. You can also hoof it from the hipster-chic strip of Los Feliz to the Griffith Observatory and reward yourself with a killer view of Los Angeles. (Tip: The view is best right after a rainy day.) For more nature and less city, the Runyon Canyon trail is a local favorite for jogs and hikes. If you feel compelled to hike to the Hollywood sign, be warned: you’ll only have a partial view of the back of a couple letters through a chain link fence. Not the glamour most people expect.
Looking for something out of the SoCal sun? You can lose hours meandering through the bold tones of the Broad, the quintessential and imminently expanding LACMA, or the infinite quirks of the Museum of Jurassic Technology. For a museum experience that allows you to alternate between air conditioning and sunlight, visit the Getty Center. Nestled in the mountains north of Santa Monica, this museum balances halls of fine and modern arts with expansive gardens that are curated just as meticulously as the paintings.
Dine and Drink
Now that you’ve burned off lunch (or butter coffee) and worked up an appetite, it’s time for a crucial decision: Where are you having dinner? Father’s Office is a go-to for many Angelenos as the bar offers 70 different beers and a hamburger comprised of dry aged beef, blue cheese, caramelized onions, and arugula. If you’re looking for lighter fare, consider the Trust Me prix fixe at Sugarfish for a Jiro-like sushi experience in a minimalis setting. Going more casual? Swing by the Alibi Room for a Breaking Bad cocktail and Korean short rib tacos from the Kogi kitchen. While you may be tempted to gorge on the fusion street food, do yourself a favor and order the tofu and citrus salad with Asian pear and lotus root chips—it’s refreshing, crunchy, and entirely satisfying.
Established in 1927, The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel is an ode to the fusion of classic and contemporary L.A.. Formerly home to stars like Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin, the historic haunt also has a hoppin’ lobby. Grab a standard drink and hit the dance floor, or get cozy with the mixologists in the Library Bar. They’ll chat for a bit to feel out your vibe before concocting a custom cocktail with house-infused liquors, herbs growing beside the coasters, and fresh fruit from crates behind the counter. You can take your drink across the lobby to 25 Degrees where you can indulge in a life-changing hamburger 24 hours a day.
New York may be the city that never sleeps, but L.A. isn’t short on night owls. Well into the wee hours of the night you can lose yourself in the retro glory of EightyTwo, a downtown bar with dozens of arcade games and pinball machines that cost just a quarter each to play. If you’re more of a spectator, head up the street to Little Tokyo to catch the Tuesday Night Cafe, a free show featuring readings, standup comedy, and other performances from Asian American artists. Need a little more adrenaline to keep you up? Look no further than the L.A. Derby Dolls, one of the few remaining roller derby leagues that still holds bouts on a banked track. Enjoy a pint and snacks from the food truck of the night while you watch the Tough Cookies and L.A. Ri-Ettes go head to head for hours of brutal fun on wheels.
Where to Shop
Working on that vinyl collection? Amoeba Music has your favorite album on record, CD, cassette, and probably even a DVD of the corresponding tour. This warehouse-sized story dedicates one floor to music and a second floor to DVDs and Blu-rays, making it a mecca for all media lovers. For an all-day experience, make your way to Abbot Kinney and revel in the abundance of cool shops, chill cafes, and tasty bites at every turn. If you have some serious cash burning a hole in your pocket, you may be interested in the highest of high-end stores on Rodeo Drive. Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to Bottega Veneta, cruising through this area is worth the opportunity to gawk at the glass-encased chandeliers that serve as streetlights on every block.
Treat yourself on your way out of town! Salt and Straw (of Portland fame) redefines soft serve with flavors like Green Fennel & Maple and Carrot Cake Batter & Pralined Hazelnuts. Scoops serves mixes such as Fig Balsalmic and won over locals with its bizarrely delicious Brown Brown Bread ice cream, which gets its crunch from Grape Nuts. At Diddy Riese, you can snag ice cream sandwiches made with fresh-baked cookies until they close shop at midnight, or you can head to the USC’s Ground Zero Performance Cafe and order a Luke Chaiwalker milkshake (chai, Oreos, and gingerbread). Now you can hit the road (or tarmac) with a full stomach and, hopefully, a new appreciation for Los Angeles.