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Swallow your preconceived notions with a shot of wheatgrass: Los Angeles is a cocktail of culture. Sure, there are the over-the-top poolside parties, but the real L.A. is a diverse blend of characters that drive pop culture, inspire counterculture, and embrace all ethnicities. Nestled between the mo…untains, the desert, and the sea, L.A. beckons locals and travelers alike to engage in an active and healthy lifestyle. Avocado is always on the menu, a yoga class is always about to start, and a celebrity sighting is just around the corner. But truly the best way to learn is to listen: Getting to know L.A. can take years, so insider knowledge is invaluable.
What to know before you go to Los Angeles
Los Angeles has a moderate temperature year-round, so any time is a good time to visit. If you’re looking for warm nights, wait until August or September, because “June Gloom” delays the start of summer with overcast skies. L.A. may not experience much seasonal change, but the temperatures can fluctuate over the course of each day—so be prepared to bring some light layers just in case things do cool down.
If a road trip is possible, drive into Los Angeles. That way, you'll have transportation while visiting and can easily go on excursions. If that’s not an option, then you’ll probably fly into LAX, the main international airport. Rent a car at the airport, as a cab will cost at least $46.50, and fares will add up fast unless you have a friend to play chauffeur.
With a city as large as Los Angeles, a car is essential, which means that shortcuts, side streets, and parking secrets are common topics of conversation. Traffic is notoriously heavy and unpredictable, so download the mobile app Waze to find the fastest route. GPS may direct you onto Santa Monica Boulevard, but cut through on side streets instead to circumvent a perennial traffic jam. To avoid credit card machine malfunctions or cabbies with attitude—both of which seem to crop up rather often—download and use the Uber or Lyft ridesharing apps. L.A. is a car city at its core, but walking and biking are possible in some of the neighborhoods and almost always more relaxing than sitting behind the wheel. Public transportation is improving, but make sure to look up the route ahead of time, as even locals might not know which bus goes to your destination.
If there’s one thing you should do in L.A., it’s get up above the city. The easy hike to Griffith Observatory ends in panoramic views of the L.A. skyline, landscape, and landmarks, which helps to put the sprawling city in perspective. Snap a photo of the Hollywood sign from there or do the famous Hollywood sign hike. (If you want a photo of the front of the sign, though, your best choice is the former; the Hollywood sign hike takes you up and behind the letters.) Finish your Griffith hike with a picnic, or head to neighboring Los Feliz or Silver Lake for coffee, juice, and a bite to eat.
The best way to experience the diversity of Los Angeles is to through your taste buds. You can eat curry that will make you sweat in Thai Town (try Jitlada), flavorful Korean BBQ in Koreatown (try Palsaik BBQ), and mouth-watering dumplings in Little Osaka (try ROC Kitchen). Find flavorful tacos in food trucks throughout the city, or opt for one of the many Italian delis that dot the city. The locavore movement is strong here in L.A., and eco-conscious foodies will find no shortage of farm-to-table restaurants and fresh-made cocktails. For a quintessential L.A. experience, nothing beats brunch by the beach or a drink overlooking the ocean. If you're traveling with a group, the multiple restaurant options to Grand Central Market or one of the farmers' markets can satisfy a bunch of different desires.
Major museums include the Getty Center, which is just as much about art as about architecture; LACMA, which takes you through the history of art; MOCA, which curates an eclectic selection of modern art; and the Broad, which specializes in contemporary art. The Broad, the Hammer Museum, Skirball Center, and Annenberg Space for Photography also offer striking installations and great events. For a look at local art, check out gallery openings and art walks in Downtown and Culver City, or simply pay attention to your surroundings to discover some of the best street art in the world.
Every day is a festival on the Venice Boardwalk and Sunset Strip, but summertime is especially lively. Free concerts are a tradition on Thursday nights at the Santa Monica Pier, and nostalgic movie screenings commandeer the Hollywood Cemetery on Saturdays. The Coachella Music Festival in nearby Palm Springs is an L.A. rite of passage, and the L.A.-based FYF Fest has recently gained enough popularity to earn the title of the former's urban counterpart. Farmers markets and food truck meetups rotate among neighborhoods each day of the week, and in August the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival gives attendees the chance to sample delicacies from all over the city. Flea markets, art walks, and group bike rides are also regular rituals among the communities in the city.
Avoid the crowded center. The best and freshest parts of L.A. are on the fringes: Venice, Santa Monica, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and Echo Park. Exceptions may be made for unique spots in other neighborhoods like West Hollywood, Downtown, and Culver City, but for those who like to wander and discover, the border neighborhoods are your best bets. Start the week off right with free concerts on Mondays at Hollywood's Bardot. Or, head to popular east side music venues like the Satellite, which hosts monthly residency nights for the indie elite.
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Susan Mason is a producer, writer, and digital strategist who is passionate about telling stories that inspire people to connect with one another and their surroundings. She has worked with brands including National Geographic, and produced Webby Award-winning #EverestNoFilter, a breakthrough project in expedition journalism. Susan is always ready for a hike, road trip, or good meal, and you can follow her adventures at @soozyn.