- Large city with an especially huge metropolitan area
- Known for year-round sunshine and being the hub of the entertainment industry
- Very diverse population and many large ethnic neighborhoods
Metro population: 17.8 million (#2 in the U.S.)
When To Visit: Year-round
Climate: Warm, dry, and sunny year-round
Famous for its great weather and infamous for its deplorable traffic, Los Angeles is a sprawling city with a variety of different neighborhoods to explore. From the sandy beaches of Santa Monica and Venice to the predominantly Asian American ethnoburbs of the San Gabriel Valley, the city has no shortage of things to see and places to go.
Where To Go in LA
Santa Monica, Venice, & Beach Cities
Greater LA has countless beaches, but these are some of the most proximate and popular ones.
- Santa Monica Boardwalk: This beachside path runs all the way from Venice to Malibu. Take a long walk on the beach or rent a bike or roller blades. Santa Monica and Venice both have popular piers to explore. Free.
- 3rd Street Promenade: A popular outdoor pedestrian mall just blocks from the beach. Free.
- Murphy’s Ranch: This former Nazi camp is now a remote series of abandoned buildings covered in street art. 4 mile round trip hike, moderately strenuous. Free.
- Venice Boardwalk: Venice is known for its artsy and hippie vibe and a walk down the boardwalk is the best way to experience it. Gawk at the weightlifters at Muscle Beach and grab a snack from one of the countless food vendors. Free.
- Venice Canals: One of LA’s best-kept secrets, this residential area hosts a series of open-to-the-public walking paths among beautiful canals, bridges, and luxurious homes. Free.
- Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, & Redondo Beach: These beach cities which are less touristy than Santa Monica or Venice each have a section of boardwalk, a pier, and great dining choices. Free.
Renowned for its “22 miles of scenic beauty,” Malibu stretches along the Pacific Coast Highway and has many beaches and hikes to explore.
- El Matador State Beach: This remarkable beach features stunning rock formations. Free (park on the highway).
- Sandstone Peak Trail: Panoramic views of hills and ocean dominate this moderately strenuous 6.25 mile loop hike to the tallest peak in the area. Free.
A college town within the big city, this quaint neighborhood hosts many local eateries and shops.
- UCLA: One of the most beautiful college campuses in the country, UCLA’s historic pink brick buildings and other dramatic architecture are not to be missed. Free.
- Hammer Museum: This museum operated by UCLA dropped its admission fee in 2014 and features rotating art exhibits and screenings. Free.
- The Getty: Another free museum (aside from a parking fee if you drive), the Getty sits atop a hill and features beautiful city views and an exquisite garden in addition to its large art collection. Free.
This neighborhood popular with locals is teeming with young professionals and has a bustling downtown which features the historic Culver Hotel (built in 1924) and many eating and drinking options.
- The Museum of Jurassic Technology: This extremely quirky building is full of gruesome surprises. Enjoy some of their wonderful tea. $8 admission
The richest section of LA, this city has a popular namesake sign, nice parks and mansions, and fine dining.
Hollywood & West Hollywood
The hub of the entertainment industry and LA’s tourism industry, these glitzy areas are brimming with aspiring actors and celebrity-crazed visitors.
- Hollywood Walk of Fame: This long strip of Hollywood Blvd is where you’ll find LA’s famous sidewalk-embedded stars featuring the names of tons of your favorite celebrities. Be prepared for an overload of tourists and costumed folks asking you to take a picture with them for a fee. Free.
- Runyon Canyon: See and be seen on this popular urban hike with tons of dogs and some of the most impressive panoramic views of the LA skyline you can see in the city. Do a short 30-minute walk or extend your hike into a challenging 1.5 hour loop. Free.
- Sunset Strip: Large billboards and sharp curves on Sunset Boulevard make this an iconic section of the city to explore. Free.
- WeHo Gayborhood: The portion of Santa Monica Boulevard between Fairfax and Robertson is LA’s gayborhood, hosting an abundance of rainbow flags, gay bars, and queer people. Free.
With LA containing the largest Korean population outside of Korea, this ethnic hub is huge and stays true to its roots, with the majority of businesses featuring signs in Korean. Locals describe the food as being the best Korean cuisine outside of Seoul.
Silver Lake & Echo Park
Known as LA’s hipster area, these neighborhoods north of Downtown have trendy (and sometimes quirky) dining and nightlife options
- Echo Park Lake: Take a walk or paddleboat ride across this park with a large lake and fountain and great views of Downtown. Free.
- Chandelier Tree: An evening visit to this tree covered in luxurious chandeliers can be both peaceful and romantic. Free.
Once considered sketchy, the revived center of the city now contains some of its most up-and-coming neighborhoods and finest dining and nightlife.
- City Hall Observation Deck: Take a free elevator ride to the top of City Hall for one of the best views of the Downtown skyline you can find. Free.
- Griffith Park & Observatory: This stunning observatory towers over the city and offers incredible views during both day and night. The surrounding park offers many opportunities for urban hikes of any length or difficulty. Free.
- The Broad: LA’s newest museum, this haven for contemporary art offers free admission. Tickets can be reserved in advance or you can wait in a standby line. Free.
Glendale & Pasadena
These urban suburbs are just outside LA’s city limits and offer some beautiful spots to explore.
- Old Town Pasadena: This historic district is abuzz with modern dining and shopping. Free.
- Eaton Canyon: This is the closest waterfall hike to LA and if water levels are high enough, it’s a beautiful one with a nice swimming hole. 3.6 miles round trip, easy to moderately strenuous. Free.
The Valley is the forgotten stepchild of LA and feels much more suburban than the rest of the city, but it has several interesting areas to explore.
- Great Wall of LA: This incredible mural along a canal depicts California’s history – the good and the bad. Free.
San Gabriel Valley
These suburbs east of LA are often referred to as “ethnoburbs” due to their large Asian American population and the large concentration of Asian businesses in the area. Come to enjoy some of the best Asian cuisine in the country.
LA Cheap Eats
LA restaurants and fast casual eateries popular with locals where you can get a full meal for under $15. I always highlight some vegan or vegetarian options – cutting down on the amount of meat you eat is by far the #1 way you can reduce your environmental impact and contribute less to animal cruelty.
Daikokuya: Offering some of the best ramen in LA in a fun Japanese alley-looking environment, this restaurant has locations across the city. West Hollywood, Sawtelle, Little Tokyo, El Monte, Monterey Park.
Seoul House of Tofu: Specializing in soon dubu (spicy soft tofu soup), this Korean joint has a variety of savory options and every meal comes with a generous helping of banchan (side dishes). 2101 Sawtelle Boulevard, Sawtelle. (310) 444-9988
El Coyote Cafe: A Hollywood favorite since 1931, this family-owned restaurant serves delicious Mexican fare and drinks in a vibrant setting complete with a mariachi band. I recommend the #1 combo. 7312 Beverly Boulevard, Hollywood. (323) 939-2255
Cafe Brazil: An affordable fast-casual cafe with amazing hot sauce to complement their selections of Brazilian plates and sandwiches. 10831 Venice Boulevard, Culver City. (310) 837-8958
Xi An Tasty: Head over to the San Gabriel Valley and enjoy this restaurant’s incredible offerings of food from the Xi’an region of China. Don’t miss out on the spicy cauliflower! 127 N Garfield Ave, Suite Y, Monterey Park. (626) 802-5966
LA bars, lounges, and clubs that are popular with locals and meet one or more of these criteria: A) Unique, unlike anyplace you’ll find in another city B) Fun and lively, sure to be a good time C) Beautiful decor or view
Perch: This two-level rooftop bar and restaurant offers incredible views of Pershing Square and the Downtown skyline. Be prepared for a long line later on Friday and Saturday evenings. 448 South Hill Street, Downtown. (213) 802-1770
The Abbey: Possibly the most famous gay club in the world, there’s never a cover at this hotspot for queer and straight alike. Inside you’ll find several bars, a dancefloor, a coffee shop, go go dancers, and restaurant seating. 692 North Robertson Boulevard, West Hollywood. (310) 289-8410
Las Perlas: A colorful, classy bar that specializes in tequila and mezcal drinks. Enjoy $5 margaritas during happy hour. 107 East 6th Street, Downtown. (213) 988-8355
Trunks: This little gay dive bar has friendly staff, pool tables, and $5-$7 drinks all day every day. 8809 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood. (310) 652-1015
Palm Tree LA: This glitzy bar allows you to sample the popular Korean liquor soju and features private karaoke rooms for you to enjoy with friends. 3240 Wilshire Boulevard, Koreatown. (201) 741-1115
Nearby Side Trips From LA
Channel Islands National Park: Accessible only via boat from Ventura (1 hour north of LA), this park allows you to explore five of the only islands off the coast of Southern California. Undeveloped, these islands contain several endemic species, beautiful sea caves, and prime hiking. Read more.
San Diego: Billed “America’s finest city” and renowned for its near-perfect weather, this more peaceful sister of LA 2 hours to the south has some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Read more.
Mojave National Preserve: Off the beaten path east of LA, this preserve contains the 3rd tallest sand dunes in the U.S., the densest grove of joshua trees in the country, and some unique hiking opportunities. Read more.