While going through some of my unpublished content recently, I came across this Los Angeles post that has never seen the world. If I am completely honest with you, my visit to LA left me with mixed feelings… Everything I saw and experienced was the opposite to my initial expectations. Therefore, it took me a while to process and assimilate it all.
So, here you have an updated post about my weekend in Los Angeles. But what about the final verdict? Did I like LA or not?!
A Perfect weekend in Los Angeles
After visiting LA several times, my mind has made up on these tips and ideas for a weekend in Los Angeles. I hope they´ll help you to make your trip a hit right from the start!
One thing everyone says: LA is one of those love-at-first-sight or not-my-kind-of-place destinations. You either like it or you don´t – there´s no in-between here.
Yet I left The City of Angels quite perplexed! Let’s try to figure out what happened.
Los Angeles was the first place I got to visit in the States and also a stopover-city on my way to the magical Big Island of Hawaii. I was honestly really excited. At the end of the day, LA is definitely one of the top tourist destinations in the whole country. How could you possibly pass up the opportunity to visit it?
Besides, there´s no USA Bucket list without Los Angeles and New York. And while the last one had impressed me (as well as The Bay City, San Francisco), Los Angeles did not live it up to my initial expectations at first.
It´s not necessarily a bad thing, isn’t it?
It´s a part of this unique travel experience. You feel the energy of a place and it´s either hit or miss. Either you are disappointed or you become a part of its heartbeat.
The City of Angels was full of contrasts, surprising revealings, and epic disappointments. I felt like an emotional rollercoaster, switching feelings from complete astonishment to intense dislike.
How could so many different things happen in one single place?!
Also read: 7 Things I Loved in San Francisco
On one side, you have a homeless crisis, smog, insane traffic jams, poor public transportation system (not to mention that the top places LA is internationally known for – are simple tourist traps). On the other side – lots of interesting places to visit, tones of things to do and try, amazing weather, trendy restaurants, posh neighborhoods, the ocean… You can definitely find something for all kinds of tastes, choices, and preferences, but there’s no balance in Los Angeles whatsoever!
How to plan your visit
I’ve tried to put up main travel tips and ideas in this post, as wise planning is essential for making the most of your Los Angeles itinerary. There are many things you should consider before traveling if you want to enjoy your weekend in LA to the fullest!
How to move around? – Basically your main choice here is whether you decide to rent a car or not. Public traffic in LA … well, there is still a lot to improve there! Metro doesn’t have many stations, buses may eventually come late, taxis are expensive. In general, it takes so long to get to your final destination. Having a car will definitely make it easier, but you’ll still be forced to deal with traffic jams and at times, expensive parking. You should seriously consider avoiding freeways during rush hours at any cost (6.00-9.00 a.m. / 4.00-7.00 p.m).
Where to stay? – LA is basically made up of different neighborhoods. Choose your top-choice sights, restaurants, and shops first. Then go for a smart location to cover more of your top-choice places. On our first trip to LA, we opted for a hotel in Downtown LA, then we also stayed near LA Airport and Beverly Hills. But anyway, if your plan is to see all of the top sights – just be ready to move around a lot.
Also read: Autumn in the Big Apple – New York Mood
What to do? LA is so huge that you can’t see it all in one weekend. Just to make sure we’re on the same page here. You won´t be able to cover all the suggestions and fit them in 2 days (it took me a few visits and I still haven’t checked all of the museums, for instance). But you can definitely handpick something you’re most excited about and make the most of your time in Los Angeles. Let’s say that a 4 day Los Angeles Itinerary would be the best choice for your first LA vacation. But if you have less than 4 days, that’s also fine – you’ll have an excuse to come back to The City of Angels.
Top things to do in Los Angeles
1.Architecture and Street Art / Downtown LA
One of my favorite parts about traveling is walking as much as possible to explore a new place. This is how you get the real sense of how things are, the sights, the smells, and the sounds, right?!
While LA is all about the car culture, there’s one place you could actually walk around – Downtown LA.
There are so many cool buildings in Downtown LA. You should have a look at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Broad (book in advance if you want to visit), Moca, LA´s Broadway Theater District, Million dollar theater, The Last Bookstore.
Also read: The Most Beautiful Cathedrals in Spain
Graffiti fans should keep their eyes open, as Downtown LA is also all about ever-changing colorful murals.
2. Outdoor activities
If one thing won’t disappoint you in Los Angeles – it´s the weather. All you might have heard about LA´s perfect blue skies, giant palms and sunny days is completely true. This makes Los Angeles a perfect outdoor destination! If you’re into the active vacation, your weekend in LA should include bike, hike, beach stroll, or even surfing.
You can start with a Hollywood hills hike or Griffith Park´s hikes: Bronson Canyon Trail and Ferndell Trail. But that´s just to name a few – avid hikers will find many options for all choices and preferences.
The most popular area for a bike ride is the Santa Monica Bike Path, which connects Santa Monica with Venice Beach.
If you’re not into hiking or outdoors, you can really focus on the cultural side of this trip and visit some of the most interesting museums in LA: Getty Center, Griffith Observatory, The Broad, LACMA, La Brea Tarpits Museum, Peterson Automotive Museum, and more.
If you’re into fancy restaurants, fine dining, world cuisines, and gastronomic inventions – LA also has a lot to offer here. Even if you’re vegan or vegetarian – you’ll be spoilt for choices.
Also read: Burger Challenge – Shake Shack vs In-n-Out
Make sure to check the Grand Central Market (open-air market operating since 1917) and grab an iconic burger at In´n-out. By the way, you might have heard about the ongoing debate regarding two famous American burgers: Shake Shack vs In-n-Out. You really can’t leave the West Coast without making your stand here.
5. Universal Studios Hollywood
If you’re a Harry Potter fan and want to add some additional heart racing into your weekend in Los Angeles – Universal Studios Hollywood is a great place to go. Unfortunately, I visited it before The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was opened. Although from my Orlando trip, I could say that so far, it´s been one of the coolest theme-park experiences in my life. Plus, now I have kids – I feel we won’t escape The Universal on our next visit anyway.
6. Santa Monica Pier & Boutiques
The iconic Santa Monica Pier will be your ultimate dejavú experience. I feel like most of the movies set in Los Angeles definitely make this place one of their filming locations. Besides, Pacific Park, located on the world-famous Santa Monica Pier, is one of the best things to do in LA with kids. It is a great family place to enjoy some rides, midway games and the first solar-powered Ferris wheel.
Also, check Third Street Promenade for some cool restaurants and trendy boutiques. And if you crave for more shopping – head to The Santa Monica Place, a contemporary open-air mall.
I really liked the Santa Monica neighborhood: wish we had more time to explore the surroundings.
Malibu has one of the most beautiful coastal stretches in California. It´s also an epic place for watching sunsets. That´s the only place I was suggested by local friends that we didn’t get to visit at the end. Mostly due to the fact that we ended up wasting a whole day on the touristy LA (despite all the warnings).
Therefore, Malibu will be a first must-stop on my next visit to Los Angeles. If you decide to go – make sure you check Malibu Pier, Surfrider Beach, Point Dume Beach, El Matador State Beach, and Adamson House.
8. The Touristy LA: Hollywood Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive, Venice Beach
First and foremost, this is not something I´d recommend you to do. But at the same time how can I ignore the top touristic places in Los Angeles, right?!
It is a common belief that one can’t visit LA without a stop at The Hollywood Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive, and Venice Beach. Especially the first-time visitors in The City of Angels! How can you resist those cliche places?!
I was warned against these tourist traps by some local friends, so we initially planned Malibu instead. But once in Los Angeles, the curiosity took over and we decided to check the touristy LA anyway.
In case you go, just know what you’re signing up for!
There’s nothing glamorous or celebrity about The Hollywood Walk of Fame: you won’t meet any stars there. It´s a typical tourist trap with lots of homeless people on the streets and occasional freaks trying to show off their talents.
Rodeo Drive is full of fancy cars, expensive shops and tourists taking pictures of everything. It feels so fake( especially, as you drive around the other neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
Then, to sum up, Venice Beach: so bizarre. I’ve never seen so many weird people in one place embracing it.
We also stopped at Beverly Gardens Park for a photo with the famous “Beverly Hills” sign and visited Madame Tussauds Museum. At the end of the day, we didn’t have time for Malibu and headed to Marina del Rey for a short walk.
I’m fully convinced that a day in Malibu would have provided me with more laid-back experience, instead of traffic and crowds. But I’m not sure I could sleep at night if haven’t seen the touristy things in LA with my own eyes. Even though they ended up being an actual disappointment.
Another thing that has shocked me was LA´s homeless crisis. This is something I was honestly not familiar with before visiting Los Angeles: it was all shockingly unexpected and heartbreaking.
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, in 2019, approximately 50 000 to 60 000 persons may be found homeless on any given night in Los Angeles County. Not that here, in Spain, things were perfect, with huge unemployment rates and recession, but according to INE ( National Institute of Statistics), there are around 23 000 homeless for the whole country.
After I got over my ruined first impression (generated by my own unrealistic expectations) I realized I´d love to travel back to Los Angeles again to explore more. Yes, the iconic movie places were not as epic in real life. But there were many other lesser-known spots I came across unexpectedly and genuinely liked.
Los Angeles is definitely a great city! And the best part – you could never feel bored during your visit! Architecture, street art, food, outdoors, sights, beaches – Los Angeles simply has in all.