I used to live in LA for a long while, ten years to be exact. I spent a good chunk of my formative year growing up in the suburb of LA before getting thrown into the heart of the city. I attended UCLA for my undergrad studies – that’s the 4-year university system for you non-Americans. Safe to say I spent my best years here! I love LA so much and I want to help make your stay here to be as enjoyable as possible. So I’ve put together a Los Angeles itinerary that’s hopefully easy to follow for you guys.
It’s going to be a long one, so buckle up.
Special thanks to my good friend Kat for being a true champ. She and I met while we were students at UCLA. She continued to live in LA while I moved to Singapore. When I visited her back in September, she drove me around everywhere. And I do mean, EVERYwhere which is not an easy feat. Even to all the parts of LA that we didn’t get to explore as the poor, car-less students that we were. Thank you so much, Kat!! <3
Tips for Travel & Driving in Los Angeles
Get the Go Los Angeles Card – Depending on how much time you have in LA, it might be worth it to get the Go Los Angeles Card – All Inclusive Pass (use this link to get it for a discount). The card will already pay for itself if you plan to get the multi-day card and plan to visit one of the amusement parks (except Disneyland) – check the list of attractions here. To make it easier for you, I’ll also note which landmarks I mention below is included with the Go Los Angeles Card.
Book Shared Airport Transfer from LAX. Unless you plan to rent a car straight off the airport, this is the best way to get to your hotel from the airport.
You MUST rent a car. Public transportation in LA is almost non-existent, taxis must be booked in advance, and ridesharing is expensive. There are a few buses and some commuter trains, but it’s not nearly comprehensive enough to take you to the places you’d want to see in LA as a tourist. Trust me, I didn’t have a car when I was in college and living in LA – it was a nightmare.
You don’t need an International Driving License to drive in California. But you do need a valid driving license from your country of residence. See the DMV page about this.
If you absolutely cannot drive, then your best bet is to go with tours! this LA Half Day City Tour is great as it includes transport and hits all the iconic landmarks of LA. You can also try getting on one of this Sightseeing Bus (note: The Yellow Route is included with the Go Los Angeles Card) – while it might not be the most efficient way, it will take you to all the places you’d want to see in LA.
Be prepared to deal with the LA traffic. You can try to avoid it, but I’ve been told traffic is bad all day long. So you just have to accept, deal with it, and plan your day around it.
Make sure you are a confident driver. LA drivers are notoriously aggressive drivers. You’ll also be doing a lot of street parking so make sure you know how to parallel park.
Parking is expensive. Try to find street parking if you’re strapped for cash, but for the most part, be prepared to shell out $12-15 for parking.
Last but not least – bring on the sunnies and palm trees. I feel like all the travel tips are so negative, but trust me, it will all be worth it. I just wanted you to be mentally prepared to be able to enjoy this special city. You’ll see some of the best sunsets of your life, so plan to be at the beach during sunset time!
How much time should I spend in LA?
Let me start off by saying that LA is a HUGE city and the landmarks are spread apart from each other. Ideally, you should try to spend 5-7 days here if you don’t want to be rushed and want to see everything. But if you are okay with missing out on certain stuff, you can still see a good amount of stuff in just 3-4 days.
Best time to visit LA
This is why I love LA so much – the weather here is the best. It’s great to visit all year round! Summers are not too hot, and winters are not too cold. Spring and Fall are just downright beautiful. California tend to be dry, so you don’t have to worry too much about rain ruining your travel. However, forest fires have unfortunately becoming a common occurrence in California. That’s probably the one thing that might affect your visit.
The Must-Do Los Angeles Itinerary
To visualize the itinerary better, I’ve created a Google Maps link which marks all the routes and landmarks I’ll mention in this blog.
Here is the complete LA Itinerary map:
(If you can’t see the map, click here)
Tips: Save this Map on your phone! If you’re on your phone and have Google Maps app installed, you can click on the top right hand of the map above and save it to your maps for later viewing! See how to view your maps later.
I hope you can see why I keep saying LA is huge. Most of the landmarks and point of interests are not concentrated in one place. But don’t worry! This is why I’ve grouped the activities to one area for each day, so you can plan and optimize your time in LA.
Here is a quick look of the areas we’ll be covering in this itinerary:
- Day 1: Central LA (Hollywood)
- Day 2: Downtown LA
- Day 3: Westside LA (The beach!)
- Day 4: Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
- Day 5 etc: Day Trip Ideas from LA
PS: If you decide to buy Go Los Angeles Card for more than 2 days and looking to maximize it, then I suggest visiting an amusement park after Day 2 since Day 3 and Day 4 Itineraries won’t make use much of the card.
Without further ado, here is a Los Angeles itinerary for your first-time visit:
Day 1: Central LA (The Hollywood Route)
This itinerary will take you through what LA is best known for – the fame, glamor, and glitz of Hollywood. On my LA Map itinerary, The Hollywood Route is marked in Purple. Here is the same itinerary map zoomed to just the Central LA portion:
1. The Hollywood Sign & Griffith Observatory
Start your morning by going up to the Griffith Observatory. It’s a great place to see Los Angeles city from above, as well as the famous Hollywood sign. Contrary to popular belief though, you can’t actually get too close to the Hollywood sign since the area around it are private properties. If you do, it might be considered trespassing unless you personally know the owners of the lands. The Griffith Observatory itself is an interesting place to visit – admission is free, but the place only opens at noon on weekdays and 10 am on weekends. It’s closed on Mondays.
If you fancy a hike, a Hollywood Hills Hike is included with the Go Los Angeles Card. They depart at 10 AM and takes 2.5 hours, so plan carefully whether you actually have time for this given all the other stuff you’d want to do for the rest of the day.
2. Hollywood Walk of Fame
Make your way down to Hollywood Blvd for the walk of fame, where you can see the star-studded sidewalk, literally! The walk of fame is where 2,600 Hollywood entertainers have earned the achievement of a lifetime, in the form of a 5-point star embedded in the sidewalk along the street.
3. Grauman’s Chinese Theater (TCL Chinese Theater)
Down the street from the walk of fame is the famous Chinese Theater, a theater which decor was modeled after red Chinese pagoda. It is the site where countless blockbuster movies held its global premiere, including the 1977 George Lucas Star Wars. This theater has changed ownership a few times and changed names – it was originally named Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and to me it was known as Mann’s Chinese Theater, but the official name currently is TCL Chinese Theater.Aside from being the site of premieres, the theater is also known for housing over 200 handprints and footprints of famous Hollywood celebrities in the front yard of the theater.
If you fancy a tour, they have a 30-minute walking tour that runs daily and is included with Go Los Angeles Card. Check with the theater on the hours. Note that if you take this tour, then you cannot go to Hollywood Museum using the Go Los Angeles Card anymore.
4. Kodak Theater (Dolby Theater)
This theater is perhaps best known for hosting the ultimate Hollywood event – the Academy Awards (aka the Oscars) since 2002. The Kodak Theater is officially known as Dolby Theater since 2012, but it will always be Kodak Theater for long-time LA residents – such as myself, I suppose. I moved away before the name change and was shocked when I found out! They have a guided tour that runs daily every half hour from 10 AM – 4 PM and is included with Go Los Angeles Card. The tour takes 30 minutes.
5. Hollywood Museum
Across the street from the Chinese Theater is the Hollywood Museum, where you can learn about the history of Hollywood and see props, costumes, and scripts from classic movies. Admission is included with Go Los Angeles Card, if you didn’t go for a tour at the Chinese Theater.
6. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
If you love museums, definitely stop by here. You’ll probably recognize it right away from the famous Urban Light installation by Chris Burden, placed prominently at the entrance of the museum on Wilshire Blvd, a major street in LA.
Check out the museum during the day if you actually want to go in (it only opens till 5 PM), but if you’re just there for the Urban Lights then you can come at night since it is open 24 hours and it’s beautifully lit up when the sun goes down.
7. LA’s Farmers Market & The Grove
One block away from LACMA is LA Farmers Market, a fun place to people watch, grab a bite and get some refreshments. Right next to it is The Grove, possibly the most beautiful open-air shopping center I’ve ever been to.
8. Rodeo Drive
Rodeo Drive is LA’s most luxurious street, known for its high-end stores, celebrity sightings, and the very fancy cars that often line up the very regular street parking spots. Keep your eyes peeled when you’re here, you never know who you might run into!
Where to eat / drink in Central LA
- Pink’s Hot Dogs – It’s a must visit in LA. Started as a pushcart in 1939, Pink’s has now become a historic road site spot in LA, serving creative hot dogs.
- Urth Caffe – Organic coffee, tea, and healthy breakfast made from local ingredients. They are mostly known to be frequented by celebrities. There are eight locations around LA now, but the one in Melrose is probably the most convenient to go with your itinerary. It also has the highest chance of celebrity sightings.
- The Griddle Cafe – The place for indulgent hearty American breakfast. Think red velvet pancakes and the likes.
- In n’ Out Burger – You haven’t been to LA if you did not have In n’ Out. Period. There is a branch near the Chinese Theater on Sunset Blvd, so don’t miss this one!
- LA’s Farmers Market – Great place to get local produce and snacks.
- Yamashiro Hollywood – This place has been here since forever! I remember coming here for a date back when I was in college. It’s located on top of a hill, so you’ll get a great view with your meal too.
- Lawry’s The Prime Rib – You might have seen them as the brand for seasoned salt in your grocery store, but Lawry’s is originally a famous steak house that has been around in LA since 1938. Their creamed corn is the best!
Day 2: DTLA (Downtown LA)
This itinerary takes you through the modern, rugged downtown of LA, and what makes the city ticks. Most of the landmarks in this route are close to each other and very walkable. If you can arrange transport to and from DTLA, you might not need a car for this day.
On my LA Map itinerary, The DTLA Route is marked in Green. Here is the same itinerary map zoomed to just the DTLA portion:
1. Bradbury Building
Start your morning at the Blue Bottle Coffee downstairs of Bradbudy Building. Bradbury Building is a prominent architectural landmark in LA. Built in 1893, it still retains the original design open-caged elevator and exquisite ironwork that gave this place its fame, in addition to being featured in famous movies, music videos and television shows (how very LA of this building, right?). It is also most well known as one of shooting locations of 1982 Blade Runner sci-fi movie.
2. The Last Bookstore
Just a block away from Bradbury Building, this independent book store was made famous thanks to the round of photos on Instagram, and rightfully so – they house a handful of very Instagrammable beautiful creative art displays, with a theme centered around books.
3. Grand Central Market & Angel’s Flight Railway
Right around the corner from Bradbury Building and The Last Bookstore is Grand Central Market. You can settle down here for lunch with lots of options. I recommend checking out the oysters bar, or check out Eggslut for a popular LA Egg sandwich.
Then, right across the street from Grand Central Market is Angel’s Flight, funicular railway that connects Downtown LA to Bunker Hill. The ride lasts no more than thirty seconds and costs $1. Nowadays it’s regarded as a tourist novelty, but a fair amount of locals still uses the railway too.
4. The Broad
Make your way down to The Broad, a contemporary art museum. And in a true LA fashion, tickets are free but parking will cost you arm and leg. So if you’re already parked somewhere else, just leave your car and walk here.
The Broad yet another place that has been made even more popular on Instagram in the recent years – thanks to famous Yayoi Kusama installation “Infinity Mirrored Rooms”, which is currently on view at The Broad. But aside from the famous Kusama installation (which I did not bother waiting for), I think The Broad has a solid offering of modern art – you can see works by famous contemporary artists like Takashi Murakami, Roy Lichtenstein and Jeff Koons.
If you’re there mainly for the Kusama installation though, be prepared to line up. The good thing is they have put in a virtual queue system that will notify you when your number is up, so you can use the waiting time to wander around the rest of The Broad! More instruction on visiting Infinity Mirrored Rooms here.
5. Walt Disney Concert Hall
Before leaving The Broad, you can walk around the building and check out Disney Concert Hall. You don’t have to go in, but I think the facade from outside is such an architectural delight. But if you’re interested, you can go for a complimentary guided tour or self-guided audio tour.
6. Grammy Museum
If music is your thing you might be interested in visiting the Grammy Museum too, where you can learn about history and past winners of the Grammys. There are some paid exhibitions too. Admission included with Go Los Angeles Card.
7. OUE SkySpace
OUE SkySpace (note: This is included with the Go Los Angeles Card) is a fun way to end your day in DTLA. You can check out the outdoor slide, learn more about LA history or play with their interactive exhibition. It’s also a good spot for photos or just grab a drink and wind down for the day.
Where to eat / drink in Downtown LA
- Blue Bottle Coffee – I know they are not originally from LA, but there is one right downstairs of Bradbury Building so you might as well try the coffee here if you haven’t before.
- Grand Central Market – Great place to visit with a group and sample many different things at once.
- Eggslut – This breakfast fast food restaurant became a viral success back in 2011. The most popular item is “The Slut”, which is a coddled egg on top of a smooth potato puree, poached in a glass jar and served with toasty crostini. There is a branch in Grand Central Market!
- Koreatown – I’m a huge fan of Korean cuisine, but I find the one in LA even better than in South Korea itself. I recommend checking out BCD Tofu House if you do decide to go.
- Ave 26 Tacos – A little bit out of the way, but you don’t get more LA than inhaling Lengua tacos off the back of your friend’s car in some shady parking lot.
- Langer’s Deli – One of the few Jewish delis in LA. I didn’t get to try the matzo ball here, but you should!
- Pacific Dining Car – Another iconic LA steakhouse that’s been around since 1921. I heard reservations are hard to get, but you should still try. As the name says, you’d be dining in a railway dining car.
- Clifton’s Republic – Used to be Clifton’s Cafeteria, the building has now turned into a hip bar. There are a total of 4 floors and each floor has a different theme.
- SUGARFISH by Sushi Nozawa – This is a very trendy sushi place in DTLA that is also known for serving great food.
Day 3: Westside LA (The Beach!)
This itinerary is a much more chilled out day compared to the previous ones. It takes you what you probably had in mind when you hear “California” – the palm trees and the beach! This area is my favorite since not only is it beautiful, it’s also my old stomping grounds.
On my LA Map itinerary, The West LA Route is marked in Red. Here is the same itinerary map zoomed to just the West LA portion:
1. UCLA Campus – Where internet was born
Okaaay I might be super biased cause I’m a Bruin, but I really do think UCLA has one of the most beautiful campuses in the US! You can stroll around the campus, see how
PS: I was a Computer Science student and once spent a week straight, day and night, at Boelter Hall finishing my CS project. I have a love-hate relationship with that place.
UCLA was also used as a set for many Hollywood movies and TV Shows. It’s been used to illustrate Harvard in Gilmore Girls and Legally Blonde, among many. If that interests you, check out the full list of movies and TV shows filmed at UCLA.
2. The Getty
The real name of this place is The J. Paul Getty Museum, but we all call it “The Getty” for short. It’s only a few miles away from the UCLA Campus. The museum houses famous art and painting (most notably Irises by Vincent van Gogh) but aside from that, it’s also famous for its architectural design and an amazing view of LA from above.
3. Santa Monica Pier & Third Street Promenade
Once you’re done with The Getty, drive down to Santa Monica and head to the pier. Santa Monica Pier was declared as the official endpoint of the legendary highway Route 66 on the highway’s 83rd birthday. Nowadays you can see a road sign that marks the end of the trail at the Pacific Ocean.
On the pier is a small amusement park called Pacific Park. Unlimited rides at the Pacific Park at the Pier is included with Go Los Angeles Card. Optionally, you can also rent a bike/rollerskate from Perry’s Cafe, included with Go Los Angeles Card.
From Santa Monica, it’s just a short walk to Third Street Promenade, a peaceful open-air shopping mall that’s perfect to chill out at. And just to add to the LA-ness of this place, one time as I was shopping here and Vanessa Carlton randomly showed up for an impromptu performance (remember her??).
4. Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Abbot Kinney Boulevard started flourishing in 2010s, and was referred to as the coolest block in America by GQ in 2012. You can explore local brand shops, restaurants, and galleries here.
5. Venice Canals Historic District
Can’t stop by Venice without checking out the manmade canals, which is modeled after Venice in Italy (hence the name of this area). If you’re wondering who Abbot Kinney is, he’s the guy responsible for building this area in 1905. The Venice canals used to be 2-3 times bigger than it is today, but most of the canals were closed and turned into normal roads when automobile gained popularity.
Keep in mind that although historic, these days still (an expensive) residential area, so be respectful of people’s privacy when visiting (even though I would imagine they’ve gotten used to tourists).
6. Venice Beach Boardwalk
End your day at Venice Beach, just a short walk from the canals. You should try to get here a little before sunset. Walk around the Venice Boardwalk, check out the famous Venice Beach sign, watch muscular people work out at the open-air Venice Muscle Beach, the Skate bowl watching skaters perform their tricks and end your day by enjoying one of the best sunsets in the world.
Where to eat / drink in West LA
- C&O Trattoria – Nice place for Italian dinner. The garlic balls are the best!
- In-N-Out – You haven’t been to LA if you did not have In-N-Out!
- SUGARFISH by Sushi Nozawa – I’ve mentioned this in the DTLA portion, but there is also a branch in Santa Monica.
- Sushi Zo – I used to go here for omakase dinner. I’m glad they are still around and kicking!
- Sidecar Doughnuts – Kat brought me here and I’m in love! Did not try the decadent maple bacon doughnut, but I quite enjoyed the Butter & Salt and the Huckleberry doughnuts.
- Afters Ice Cream – Their milk and cereal ice cream is so good
- Salt & Straw Ice Cream – Portland-based ice cream that has opened a branch in Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Day 4: Pacific Coast Highway (PCH Driving Route)
Pacific Coast Highway (PCH for short) is undoubtedly the most famous highway in America. It’s a very scenic drive along the coast of California, starting from San Francisco and goes all the way down to Los Angeles before continuing to San Diego. If you were to do the entire drive it would take you up to a week, but while you’re in LA it’s entirely possible to catch a glimpse of the famous PCH drive.
On my LA Map itinerary, The Pacific Coast Highway Driving Route is marked in Orange. Here is the same itinerary map zoomed to just the PCH portion:
1. Getty Villa
If you’ve been following my itinerary so far, you would have visited The Getty in the Westside LA route. This villa is part of the same Getty property! But unlike The Getty, Getty Villa is more of architectural delight than the arts. Sure the arts were cool, but the garden and the buildings overpowered them.
And again, in a true LA fashion – admission is free but you have to pay to park here which costs $15. Reservation is apparently required but nobody checked ours when we were there.
Malibu needs no introduction. You’ve most likely heard of this name before, so try to make a stop here. We stopped by Malibu Lagoon State Beach, evidently a surfer’s paradise based on how many surf-board-carrying vehicles we saw parked on the side of the street. Point Mugu State Park is also a great place to stop and enjoy the beautiful Califonia coastline.
4. Oxnard & Santa Barbara
It’s up to you how long you want to continue the drive, but I suggest making your way up to either Oxnard or Santa Barbara before turning back. Oxnard doesn’t have much for tourist, but it does have some of the BEST Mexican food. Santa Barbara is a beach town with cute restaurants, spa treatments, and hiking.
5. Camarillo Premium Outlets
LA is known for shopping, but the best kind of shopping is the one at premium outlets. Definitely stop by here if you need to do some shopping. You can pretty much get the same brands, and sometimes the exact same clothing that is currently being sold in the mall for much cheaper here.
Where to eat along the PCH
- Duke’s Malibu – I have great memories of Duke’s. This was where my sorority held one of our formals.
- Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market – You can enjoy seafood overlooking the Malibu beach
- Carnitas El Rey – If you make it to Oxnard, make sure you stop by here! You know it’s legit when a place only serves one kind of dish – Carnitas. I’m convinced I’ll never find Carnitas as good as this place again…
Looking for more? Day / Short Trip Ideas from LA
If you have more time in LA and you’ve done all of the above itineraries, you can take a look into the following activities.
1. Visit Amusement Parks
Amusement parks are perhaps what LA is best known for, second to Hollywood. We do have a lot of exciting parks around! Most of these parks are about 1.5 – 2 hours drive from LA, so visiting one of the parks will definitely take the entire day.
All of the amusement parks below are already included with the Go Los Angeles Card (except Disneyland), so if you’re planning to visit this park and other LA landmarks, highly suggest purchasing the Go Los Angeles Card!
- Universal Studios – Fun park to visit for movie buffs. It’s the closest to the city out of all the amusement parks near LA.
- Six Flags Magic Mountain – great for those looking for more thrills. The rides here are amazing, full of twists, turns and loops!
- Knott’s Berry Farm – a quintessentially American amusement park. This is the park I used to go to when I was living in LA. They have rides that cater to both adult and children. If you’re here during Halloween month (October), you can also check out Knott’s Scary Farm.
- LEGOLAND – This is way down south closer to San Diego, about 2.5 hours drive from LA, but a must if you love those LEGO blocks! Note that if you use the Go Los Angeles Card here, you cannot use it for San Diego Zoo later on.
2. Go to Disneyland
There are two Disneyland Parks in Anaheim, CA. Disneyland Park is the original Disney amusement park, built in 1955 under the supervision of Walt Disney himself. Disney California Adventure is the newer park with more exciting rides – I remember I had just moved to LA when this park was first opened in 2001. I was still in high school back then so I definitely had great memories of this place.
Tips for visiting Disneyland
- Get the cheapest ticket – here is how:
- If you are only going for one day to either of these parks, you can book Single Day Tickets here, it’s cheaper than booking from Disneyland website. BUT If you want to go to both parks and you are going during the low season, it would be better to buy separate single-day tickets rather than the multiday link below. Check the calendar in the link above.
- If you want to go to both parks during regular or peak season, then the Multiday Tickets will be a better deal (also cheaper through this link than booking straight from Disneyland’s website).
- MaxPass and how to use it – Once you’ve purchased tickets, I highly recommend upgrading to MaxPass for $15 more per ticket especially if you are visiting during regular or peak season. It gives you the FASTPASS feature, which will let you skip the line on certain rides. You can visit the park first and gauge if you want to upgrade since you can just do it from your mobile phone.
- Parkhopper ticket? Don’t bother with the park hopper tickets – you won’t have time to visit both parks in one day, especially if you don’t have FASTPASS.
3. Nature, Beach and National Parks
If nature and hiking is more your thing, you can check out the following areas:
- Joshua Tree National Park – This park is about 2.5 hours drive inland from LA. If you want to make this a day trip, you’ll have to leave very early.
- Palm Springs – Palm Springs is close to Joshua Tree National park, and a popular weekend getaway for Angelenos. It’s one of the earliest settlements that has flourished to this day, offering desert life, resorts, and spa.
- Mojave National Preserve – Also about 2.5 hours drive inland from LA, but a bit more north. It’s about halfway point from LA to Las Vegas.
- Big Bear Lake & Lake Arrowhead – These lakes are up in the mountainous region in San Bernardino, just a little under 2 hours drive from LA. In the winter it’s famous for snow sports such as snowboarding and skiing. In the summer, you can do watersports and hiking.
- Catalina Island – Catalina is an island one-hour ferry ride off the coast of LA. You can do kayaking, ride a glass bottom boat or go snorkeling and scuba diving.
- Southern California Ghost Towns – Unlike Palm Springs, there are plenty of ghost towns left in the desert of California from the early settlements that did not last. All that’s left is an abandoned town and a cool preserved look into life back in the 1800s. You can read this article for more information.
4. Cities near LA
- Santa Barbara – I’ve mentioned Santa Barbara in the PCH route itinerary, but if you didn’t make it up there, it is a beach town with cute restaurants, spa treatments, and hiking.
- San Diego – San Diego Zoo (included with Go Los Angeles Card if you haven’t used it for LEGOLAND)
- Beach Cities – Stop by Huntington Beach for a whale watching cruise or Long Beach for the Aquarium of the Pacific (both activities are included with Go Los Angeles Card)
- Burbank – North Hollywood, Warner Brother’s Studio Tour (included with Go Los Angeles Card) and Porto’s Bakery
Okay, that was a lot longer than I expected. I guess after living in LA for 10 years, I do know a thing or two about the place. Leave me a comment below if you found this itinerary useful. I love hearing from you guys!