Ahhh, the city of Angels! I lived in Los Angeles for about a year, and I have to admit, it was actually really cool. The weather is always at least fine, if not absolutely gorgeous, and every single day and night, you can go out and make a really amazing memory. It is the absolute perfect place for a weekend or week-long vacation.
When you are looking for flights, you have more options than just LAX – also, look at flights into Long Beach (which is just about 30 minutes south of the most central part of the city), or Burbank (which is just about 30 minutes north of the most central part of the city). If you have a little bit more time on your hands, you can even fly into Orange County, which is about an hour south of the city, but it’s really, really beautiful, and you can spend a day in Manhattan Beach or Hermosa Beach, or even Laguna Beach, which got famous from that terribly MTV show years ago.
Orange County and Manhattan Beach have a totally different vibe from beaches further north, so it is a fun way to break up a longer trip. Sometimes flights and rental cars are way cheaper heading into one of the alternate airports, though you have to check smaller airlines.
My first stop if I fly into one of the airports from the south is stopping at Tito’s Tacos. It is an old Mexican restaurant that is absolutely epic. It’s open late, and during the day, there are often long lines. There is not much of an extensive menu, but everything is delicious, fresh, and as authentic as you can get. I have taken friends to dozens of restaurants around Los Angeles, and almost everyone comes away bringing up Tito’s Tacos as their favorite.
After a meal at Tito’s, I like to go up to Venice Beach for my first stop. Venice, when I was a kid, was the coolest place on the entire planet. A lot of my family is from Los Angeles, and when I went with my mom as a kid, I used to beg for at least one day in Venice. Venice Beach has changed a lot as an area, but the Venice Beach boardwalk is pretty much the same as it was 15 years ago. Rollerblades, bicycles, girls in bikinis, wanna be artists giving away free demos, as many cheap sunglasses as you can possibly fit into a mile long strip, and lots of music and greasy food. I can walk up and down, just looking at knick knacks, and be happy for hours. Because the area is getting a little more upscale, there are some nice cafes there, now, but for the most part, it is a great cheap place to get fun clothes or low priced trinkets, tee shirts that say cheesy things about Los Angeles, or even cheap suitcases or other functional items.
Muscle Beach is right on Venice Beach. It got famous decades ago from Arnold Schwarzenegger, and even today, there will be big muscle bound, steroided up guys working out there as long as the sun is up. If you want, you can ask one of them to take a picture with you, and that makes for a funny Kodak moment.
The next stop for me is Abbott Kinney, which is a cool area in Venice. Try to find parking right on Abbott Kinney Blvd, and just wander up and down. The street has a main hub area filled with the coolest shops ever, and if you need to map something to know where to head, map Intelligentsia Coffee, which is a cool coffee shop. Go door to door, inside of houses that have been turned into antique shops or little art museums. You can also buy some of the most unique clothes, gifts, and home wares. A fair warning: prices are not intensely horrible, but certainly on the upper end of the spectrum.
No visit to Los Angeles is complete without a picture of the Hollywood sign. Most people just take it from around Hollywood and Highland, and that is the most convenient option, but if you have a car, you should try something a little more local. You will need a good GPS or Google Map system, and you REALLY need to be safe on this drive. It is windy and some people definitely drive like jerks, so go under the speed limit and be careful. Head to the following address: 3000 Canyon Lake Drive, Hollywood. You will be heading up into the winding Hollywood Hills, up by the reservoir, and you can see the Hollywood sign straight on. Literally, you will be standing in front of it. You can just park along side the road – usually there are other people already there – because it is such a perfect spot to take pictures.
On your way back down into town, after getting your new profile picture, head to Grauman’s Chinese Theater. This iconic spot is on Hollywood Blvd, where those famous stars are on the ground. Its address is 6925 Hollywood Blvd, and you can sometimes find street parking on Hollywood Blvd just a few blocks away from the craziness of the tourist mecca of Hollywood and Highland.
If you are around Hollywood at night, dinner at Geisha House is a cool experience. It is nice Japanese food with a sexy twist, and some nights they have half price specials, so just check out their web site to know about them.
If you want to see something very Los Angeles, spend a day walking around Santa Monica. This is a really cute pedestrian area that is good during the day or dusk. Lots of flagship stores are here, but it is something more special than just shopping – there are also tons of street performers. Lots of people come here to dance or sing or do tricks, and hope to be discovered by someone and end up famous. It is a place full of hopes and dreams, and it is a lot cleaner than Hollywood Blvd.
If you are a hard core shopper, just walk to Robertson from the Promenade, and you can do a LOT of damage. There are some really unique boutiques, and although prices are high, you will find pieces that are nowhere else on the entire planet.
If you want to be really touristy, you can drive past the Bel Air gates and sing some vintage Will Smith in your head. There are two Bel Air gates – east and west – so pick the one most convenient.
Rodeo Drive is a fun way to spend an hour, too. You can either drive down it and slow to a crawl to see Tiffany’s and all the snazzy shops, or get some hourly parking and walk around. Just a few minutes away is Sprinkles Cupcakes, which is basically the reason the cupcake craze took over the country.
Do not miss a chance to grab a hot dog at Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs, either!!! This place has been around for 80 years or so, and there is a reason: It’s a damn good hot dog. You know when you see the pink awning that you have arrived.