If you’ve never been to Los Angeles, planning a trip there can be daunting because the city is so spread out that having a Los Angeles Travel Guide of tips and recommendations becomes even more useful.
Each “hood” has its own unique charm, from Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and West Hollywood to Malibu, Marina Del Rey, and the artsy but crowded beach spots like Venice Beach.
There’s also downtown Los Angeles which has changed substantially over the last few years. See Laurie’s hotel review as well as her article on the downtown LA area.
We recently stayed in Beverly Hills on our luxury escape in October (see our hotel reviews on the Montage and the Viceroy L’Ermitage as well as our Foodie Guide to the area, which not only includes some of our favorite Beverly Hills restaurants, but a few other foodie gems in LA as well)
Your Ultimate Los Angeles Travel Guide
Let’s dive in shall we? In this Los Angeles Travel Guide, we have outlined some interesting things to do in the LA area. For our most recent stay, we hung our hat in Beverly Hills, but over the years, I’ve stayed in Malibu, Marina Del Rey, West Hollywood and most often Santa Monica, one of my favorite spots to shop and hang out at cafes.
Be sure to watch the video we created on our latest trip, where we spent most of our time in Beverly Hills. That said, palm trees are the order of the day as is great dining, top notch hotels, culture and arts and shopping throughout the LA area.
Regardless of where you stay, the best tip to make this a seamless experience is to avoid rush hour, busy highways or busy times, so it doesn’t take you an hour or more to get from point A to point B. Get ready for your fun-filled Los Angeles Travel Guide bucket list.
Los Angeles County Museum of Arts (and Urban Art…)
You’ll find this creative museum on Wilshire Boulevard, so its easy to get to from Beverly Hills, West Hollywood or Santa Monica.
The museum is the largest art museum in the western U.S., with a collection that includes nearly 130,000 objects and nearly the entire history of art. It is known for its Asian art, Latin American art, pre-Columbian masterpieces, Islamic art, and more. LACMA is located between the beach and downtown LA.
There are also monthly artwalks take throughout the city, including popular events in Downtown L.A. and Venice Beach.
Los Angeles is also known to have some of the best urban art in the country, with over 1,600 murals that teach history and celebrate cultural diversity. For example, you should head to the Chandler Outdoor Gallery, a mural collection in the NoHo Arts District. Hollywood’s urban art includes “You Are the Star” and “Dolores del Rio.” In Downtown L.A., and in East L.A.’s “Los Angeles Teachers” features Edward James Olmos and Jaime Escalante.
LA’s cultural, art and museum gems are a must for our Los Angeles Travel Guide, so be sure not to miss them when you visit.
La Brea Tar Pits
Located along Wilshire Boulevard right next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, La Brea Tar Pits are an interesting stop because of its history and fascinating photos and tar pits you can see (and smell).
The La Brea Tar Pits Museum has Ice Age fossils on display, including saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and mammoths — from 10,000 to 40,000-year-old asphalt deposits. Every day inside the glass-enclosed Fossil Lab, scientists and volunteers prepare fossils including “Zed,” a recently discovered male Columbian mammoth.
Outside the Museum, in Hancock Park, the Pleistocene Garden and iconic life-size replicas of extinct mammals depict the life that once grew, and roamed, in the Los Angeles Basin. It’s so unique we had to include it in our Los Angeles Travel Guide.
The La Brea Tar Pits are located in and around Hancock Park. As soon as you park, you can smell them. Natural asphalt has seeped up from the ground in this area for tens of thousands of years. The tar is often covered with dust, leaves, or water and they have a giant elephant along the edge of the outdoor tar pits which you can photograph through an enclosed fence.
Rent a Convertible: Drive Down Rodeo Drive & Sunset Blvd
Both of these drags are a real LA experience, even if locals don’t do it or say it’s overkill. I’ve been to LA dozens and dozens of times over the years and I always get a kick driving down Sunset Boulevard (okay, so I am a huge fan of the musical) and going down Rodeo Drive in our bright red Buick Cascada convertible was a whole lotta fun.
Virginia Robinson Gardens
Located on Elden Way in Beverly Hills, the Virginia Robinson Gardens are just stunning, from the grand entrance pictured below to the unique cultural influenced gardens throughout.
The Virginia Robinson Gardens boasts a lot of deep history and has been around since 1911. It was once the residence of retail giants Virginia and Harry Robinson (of the Robinson department stores) and historically is listed as the first luxury estate built in Beverly Hills.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open by appointment to the public. It sits on 6 acres and in addition to the gardens, you can view the mansion and pool pavilion. My favorite is the Australian King Palm Forest and the super peaceful Italian Terrace Garden.
Needless to say, we had to include this stunning iconic attraction in the Los Angeles Travel Guide — be sure to bring your camera as you’ll be able to capture a ton of breathtaking shots when you visit.
The Farmer’s Market
The Farmer’s Market in downtown LA has so much history that it’s worth going for cultural reasons, as well as for the gems you’ll find there.
Many things also take place at the market, such as the Fall Festival which used to involve merchants building their own floats and staging a parade around the Market. The parade doesn’t march anymore, but Market merchants still wear costumes and dress up their stalls.
Music (aka concerts) from jazz and folk, have also played at the Farmer’s Market over the years. Apparently renowned chef and TV star Alton Brown and Gordon Ramsay have both used the Market several times for their shows.
The Getty Center
The Getty Center is world renowned so a must for our Los Angeles Travel Guide. It’s made up of a combination of collective and individual work and its mission is to promote a vital civil society through an understanding of the visual arts.
They throw exhibitions, grant initiatives, and offer training programs to make a difference in art history and conservation practice, and to promote knowledge and appreciation of art.
When J. Paul Getty passed away, his will turned his small namesake museum into the wealthiest art museum in the world. Check their news/press section to see which exhibition is happening during your travel plans.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
The Walt Disney Concert Hall, which was opened in 2003, is the fourth hall of the Los Angeles Music Center and was designed by Frank Gehry.
The Hall is designed to be one of the most acoustically sophisticated concert halls in the world and is the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where you can hear some of the best in classical music, contemporary music, world music and jazz.
Outside, the modern stainless steel curves and inside, its hardwood-paneled auditorium, are incredibly impressive. The complex sits on 3.6-acres and bursts with creativity on all sides. Here, the LA Philharmonic Orchestra plays as does the Los Angeles Master Chorale and visiting artists and orchestras from around the world. Bravo!
Greystone Park and Mansion
This beautiful mansion can be found on Loma Vista Drive in Beverly Hills. The Greystone Mansion is also known as the Doheny Mansion, and its design is a Tudor Revival set on a landscaped estate with ever so lovely formal English gardens.
The grounds are beautiful to walk around as is the mansion itself, which was designed by architect Gordon Kaufmann (the residence and ancillary structures) and it’s been around since the late twenties.
Greystone was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and in 2013 was designated Beverly Hills Local Historic Landmark No. 4. It should be no surprise that this attraction is popular for weddings, corporate events, photo shoots, meetings and other private functions.
I just learned that Greystone has been featured in dozens of Hollywood films, including The Big Lebowski, Spider-Man, The Social Network and There Will Be Blood.
Walk Around the Little Tokyo Historic District
Little Tokyo or the Tokyo Historic District, apparently has the largest Japanese-American population in North America. What to do here? Certainly, you should have a meal as the food is fabulous and there are lots of local spots to get lost in for a scrumptious meal.
You can also do a morning meditation at Zenshuji Soto Temple in Little Tokyo, which is a fascinating thing to do. They take donations. After lunch, you can capture a bunch of interesting things (including architecture) on the streets and alleyways, which have no shortage of cafes, restaurants, shops, markets and galleries.
Brunches, Cafes & Bars
Beverly Hills has no shortage of great brunch spots (we love the Ivy, the Polo Lounge in the epic and historical Beverly Hills Hotel — you must go there — and Laduree) and other areas of Los Angeles are bursting with fabulous places to eat. Also fun in Beverly Hills is Citizen and if it’s warm enough to sit outside, I’d recommend getting a reservation on the patio facing the street — it’s a great spot to people watch.
We also loved our dinner at Cafe Del Rey right on the pier in Marina Del Rey (order whatever fish of the day they offer). Be sure to read our Beverly Hills Food Guide which btw, includes a few gems outside of the BH area. And, food is a must for any Los Angeles Travel Guide.
Fashion & Shopping
Downtown Los Angeles has changed quite a bit in recent years and its Fashion District is one of the world’s best shopping areas for cutting edge fashion and bargains.
I’d suggest heading to La Brea Avenue, Ventura Boulevard and West Third Street for trendy and/or vintage clothing. In Beverly Hills, the renowned Rodeo Drive is a must do as is Robertson Boulevard. You never know who you’re going to run into on either street.
Known hipster neighborhoods in the LA area include Silver Lake, Highland Park and Abbot Kinney (and yes, Venice Beach). I used to love rollerblading along the boardwalk whenever I headed there and it’s such a great spot for people watching and eclectic restaurants, all of which are a whole lot less expensive than other parts of the city.
I remember when Abbot Kinney took off — the funky trendy cafes and shops were just emerging and I could get lost shopping in some of the boutiques along Abbot Kinney Boulevard and today, they not only have healthy juices and more trendy shops, but you’ll find alternative offerings as well from acupuncture, massage and wellness. There are also food trucks on Abbot Kinney and Palms worth trying.
And, of course, we had to include food trucks on this Los Angeles Travel Guide. What do you think we missed? What do you love to do when you head to the Los Angeles area? Be sure to check out our LA section as well.