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Optimal Los Angeles Itinerary for First Time Visitors

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I lived in LA for a long time – ten years to be exact. I spent a good chunk of my formative year growing up in the suburb of LA before getting thrown straight into the heart of the city. I attended UCLA for my undergrad studies. Safe to say, I spent my best years in LA! I love the city 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 is hopefully easy to follow for you, whether you’re spending just a weekend in LA, or a whole week and more.

It’s going to be a long one, so buckle up.

Before we go on, I wanted to say my special thanks to my good friend Kat for being a true champ. This post would not have been possible without her. Kat and I met a long time ago when we were both students at UCLA. She continued to live in LA while I moved across the world to Singapore.

When I visited her back in September, she practically drove me around all over LA. And I do mean, EVERYWHERE which is not an easy feat in a city as trafficky as LA! We even went to all the parts that we didn’t get to explore as the poor car-less students that we were.

Thank you so much, Kat!! <3

Okay so without further ado, here is everything I know about visiting Los Angeles.

My tips for visiting Los Angeles

To make your visit to LA more enjoyable, here are some of my tips:

1. Get the Go City Los Angeles Pass to save money! – There are two types of Go City passes:

  • Go City Los Angeles All-Inclusive Pass – If you are only in LA for less than a week and plan to see as many attractions as possible, it’s usually worth it to get the Go City All-Inclusive Pass for 1-2 days. The pass 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 are included with the Go City All-Inclusive Pass.
  • Go City Explorer Pass – On the other hand, if you decide that you only want to visit a few select attractions, you can consider this instead. The Explorer Pass entitles you to see these attractions at your own pace – the pass is valid for 60 days and you can select any 2-7 attractions.

2. Book ahead an Airport Pick up 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 can book a private Airport pick up here. Otherwise, you can consider looking at a shuttle bus. It’s cheaper than taking a taxi or ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

3. You should try to rent a car. Book a car rental that you can pick up and return at LAX here. Why? Public transportation in LA, though arguably better than what it was before, is not the best – I’ll talk more about this later. Taxis must be booked in advance, and ride-sharing is expensive. Trust me, I didn’t have a car when I was living in LA, and it was a nightmare. For more information on driving in LA, check out the next section of this blog driving in Los Angeles, which includes things like parking in LA.

4. If you cannot drive, then your best bet is to go by tour or sightseeing bus. While it might not be the most efficient way, it will still take you to all the places you’d want to see in LA. Here are some tours that would take you to most of the must-do activities in LA and includes hotel pick-up:

Otherwise, The Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus 1-Day Classic Tour could be a great option and is included with the Go City All-Inclusive Pass. It normally costs US$ 46 per adult.

5. Take note of the opening days of the attractions you want to see. Since COVID, I noticed some opening hours are getting more and more scarce (Please double check this again though!). For example, The Getty is closed on Mondays and Getty Villa is closed on Tuesdays. The Griffith Observatory is only open from Friday – Sunday. So generally, the latter half of the week (Thursday – Sunday) is the better time to visit.

6. 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!

Sunset at Santa Monica
A beautiful sunset I was lucky to witness at Santa Monica Pier

How to drive a car in LA

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that driving is pretty much a requirement if you want to explore Los Angeles. Aside from the vast area, you would need to cover, there isn’t a good public transportation infrastructure in LA.

Anyone can drive and rent a car in LA so long as you have a valid driving license. Good news for international tourists – 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 on California driving requirements.

Once you’ve secured a vehicle, 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. This simply means, being prepared to factor in driving time.

Also, 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 and Carparks in Los Angeles

Another thing you need to learn about is how the car park works here. And let me tell you, parking is expensive in LA, especially in the Downtown area. There are usually parking lots with either an hourly rate (capped to a certain amount per session) or a flat rate regardless of how long you park your car. In the downtown area, this is usually a steep flat rate of $12-15, so you’ll want to keep your car in the same lot while you’re sightseeing.

The cheaper way to park your car is to find street parking, which is sometimes metered or sometimes free, but obviously, these are super coveted spots and everyone wants them. Don’t bank on it, but if you do find a street parking spot, make sure you pay attention to the signs since street parking is usually only allowed at certain hours and there might be a block out time for street cleaning.

If you’re lucky you might be visiting a place/restaurant/shopping mall that offers validated parking, meaning they’ll cover your parking cost or offer discounted parking, so keep looking out for that too!

Public Transportation in LA

I came from Singapore, where public transport is probably the best in the world. So I can’t say I was impressed by public transport in LA, but in retrospect, it’s not too bad. It’s still not the most comprehensive, but at least it’s not nearly non-existent like how it was when I lived here ten years ago!

Here is a quick rundown of the two types of services you’d likely take as a tourist in LA:

  • The LA Metro – The metro is a transportation agency consisting of rails and buses. Their rail lines now take you from downtown LA to Santa Monica! This is something that didn’t exist when I was in college.
  • DASH Bus service – LADOT (short for Los Angeles Department of Transportation)’s bus service that services mostly downtown. Free with the TAP card you use to ride the metro.

To use the above services, you need to get a TAP card online. If you have a smartphone, you can even just pay for the fares through the app instead of a physical card. Then, you can buy a 1-day, 7-day, or 30-day pass for unlimited rides if you’re in LA for longer.

How much time should I spend in LA?

Let me start 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, or even a weekend if you’re good at organizing your time. After all, you can always come back 😉

When is the best time to visit LA?

So this is why I love LA so much – the weather here is simply the best. It’s great to visit all year round! The summers are not too hot, and the winters are not too cold. Spring and Fall are just downright beautiful. California tends to be dry, so you don’t have to worry too much about rain ruining your travel.

However, forest fires have unfortunately become a common occurrence in California, so be prepared if you’re visiting when it’s forest fire season. Pay attention to the news!

Where to stay in LA

There isn’t a specific area you can stay in LA where everything will be close by. No matter where you visit, you’ll likely still have to drive. That said, here are some recommendations!

If you have a high budget then staying in Downtown LA or West Hollywood is great for that LA feel. Here are some notable hotels if you need ideas:

  • Chateau Marmont – Aside from being one of the most iconic hotels in Los Angeles, this hotel is also frequented by A-list celebrities.
  • Ace Hotel DTLA – A historic hotel right in the heart of Downtown LA. The building interior is a spectacle on its own.
  • The Beverly Hills Hotel – One of the world’s best-known hotels located on Sunset Blvd. It is said that “Hotel California” by the Eagles is based on this hotel.

Otherwise, if you want a more chill beach vibe then I recommend staying closer to the coastline in Santa Monica or Venice Beach. Bonus: It’s also close to LAX!

  • HI Los Angeles – Santa Monica Hostel – This is a hostel so expect basic amenities. You can stay in a bunk bed or opt for a private room.
  • The Georgian Hotel – This hotel caught my eye during my visit as it looks straight out of a Wes Anderson movie. Aside from that, the location is also really good – right in front of the beach and within walking distance to the Santa Monica Pier.
  • Venice Breeze Suites – Located within walking distance of Venice boardwalk. Venice Beach can be a bit noisy and kind of dodgy at night, but it’s still one of the best places to enjoy LA.

The Must-Do Los Angeles Itinerary

To visualize the itinerary better, I’ve created a Google Maps link that 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):

🗺 Tip: Save this map to your phone! If you use Google Maps, you can click on the top right-hand corner of the map above. The map will then be saved to your “Recent” maps viewed. Click here for instructions on how to view the map later! It will work from your phone too.

I hope you can see why I keep saying LA is huge. Most of the landmarks and points of interest are not concentrated in one place. But don’t worry! This is why I’ve grouped the activities into one area for each day, so you can plan and optimize your time in LA.

Here is a quick look at the areas we’ll be covering in this itinerary:

  1. Day 1: Central LA (Hollywood)
  2. Day 2: Historic Downtown LA
  3. Day 3: Westside LA (The beach!)
  4. Day 4: Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
  5. Day 5 etc: Day Trip Ideas from LA

PS: The Go City All-Inclusive Pass is mostly useful on Day 1 and 2. If you want to visit an amusement park though, it’s still worth it by adding extra days.

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:

Los Angeles Travel Map - Hollywood

Open Map on a new window

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 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 know the owners of the lands.

The Griffith Observatory itself is an interesting place to visit, but very limited availability. Please also take note that it’s closed from Monday – Thursday, and the place only opens at noon on Friday and at 10 am on weekends. Admission is free though! (click here for information on Griffith Observatory)

⛰ Tip: If you fancy a hike, a Hollywood Hills Hike tour is included with the Go City All-Inclusive Pass (normally US $28 per person). They depart at 10 AM and take 2.5 hours, so plan carefully whether you have time for this given all the other stuff you’d want to do for the rest of the day.

Hollywood Sign from Griffith Observatory
Hollywood Sign as seen from Griffith Observatory

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 whose decor was modeled after the red Chinese pagoda. It is the site where countless blockbuster movies held their global premiere, including the 1977 George Lucas Star Wars!

The theater has changed ownership a few times and changed names because of that – it was originally named Grauman’s Chinese Theater, but to me, it was known as Mann’s Chinese Theater, and now, the official name currently is TCL Chinese Theater!

Aside from being the site of major premieres, the theater is also known for housing over 200 handprints and footprints of famous Hollywood celebrities in the front yard of the theater.

Tip: If you fancy a tour, they have a VIP 30-minute walking tour that runs daily (check the schedule here) and is included with Go City All-Inclusive Pass (which normally costs US$ 14 per person). Note that if you take this tour, then you cannot go to Hollywood Museum using the Go City All-Inclusive Pass 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 has been 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!

Tip: They used to have a guided tour that runs daily every half hour from 10 AM – 4 PM, but now it runs more on the latter half of the week (check the schedule here). The tour is included with Go City All-Inclusive Pass. 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.

Tip: Admission is included with Go City All-Inclusive Pass (normally US $15 per person) 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 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.

Urban Lights at LACMA
Urban Lights at LACMA

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 (click here for more information). 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!

Rodeo Drive
Rodeo Drive

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 is – Great place to get local produce and snacks.
  • Yamashiro Hollywood – This place has been here 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: Historic DTLA (Downtown LA)

This itinerary takes you through the modern, rugged downtown of LA, and what makes the city tick. Most of the landmarks on this route are close to each other and very walkable.

TIP: This is the only itinerary on this post that is potentially walkable or can be done through public transport. If you aren’t already staying in downtown LA, you can just arrange transport to DTLA, as you might not need a car for this day with everything being within walking distance.

On my LA Map itinerary, The DTLA Route is marked in Green. Here is the same itinerary map zoomed to just the DTLA portion:

Los Angeles Travel Map - DTLA

Open Map on a new window

Optional: Walking Tours!

I included this portion because the downtown LA area is just rich with history and very walkable and I think it’s worth paying extra for some local knowledge. Here are some walking tours you can consider:

1. Bradbury Building

Start your morning at the Blue Bottle Coffee downstairs of the Bradbury 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 the shooting locations for the 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, well, 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 checking out Eggslut for a popular Egg sandwich.

Then, right across the street from Grand Central Market is Angel’s Flight, a 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 use 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 an arm and a leg. So if you’re already parked somewhere nearby, just leave your car and walk over here. The museum is closed on Mondays (click here for more info on visiting the broad)

The Broad is yet another place that has been made even more popular on Instagram in recent years – thanks to the famous Yayoi Kusama installation “Infinity Mirrored Rooms”, which is currently on view at The Broad.

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 instructions on visiting Infinity Mirrored Rooms are here.

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.

Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrors

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 the outside is such an architectural delight.

But if you’re interested, you can go for a complimentary guided tour or self-guided audio tour which runs in the mornings at around 10 am (check for availability!)

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall

6. Grammy Museum

If music is your thing you might be interested in visiting the Grammy Museum too, where you can learn about the history and past winners of the Grammys. There are some paid exhibitions too.

Tip: The Grammy Museum is closed on Tuesdays. Admission is included with Go City All-Inclusive Pass (normally US$ 18 per person).

6. Olvera Street / El Pueblo Historic district

Los Angeles is nothing without its Mexican community – even the name of the city “Los Angeles” is in Spanish! So, end your day by visiting the colorful Mexican marketplace at Olvera street. First opened on easter in 1930, the street now houses shops, restaurants, and souvenir shops. You can take the bus DASH Downtown Route A to get there.

The market is open every day, but most merchants are open 10 am – 5 pm. Click here for more information on visiting. If you’re lucky, you might be there during one of the big events such as Dia De Los Muertos in October or Cinco de Mayo in May – check their calendar here!

Olvera Street in DTLA
Olvera Street in DTLA

7. Arts District

If you still have time after Olvera street, you can walk over to Arts District. The arts district was a pretty run-down, sketch part of LA, but had undergone a major clean-up under its iconic mayor Joel Bloom. Nowadays, it houses many trendy restaurants, cafes, and breweries! You can take the bus DASH Downtown Route A to get there.

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 the Bradbury Building so you might as well try the coffee here if you haven’t before.
  • Grand Central Market is – 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!
  • KoreatownI’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 at Little Tokyo – The original location is a little bit out of the way, but now there is a location in Little Tokyo! 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, but 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:

Los Angeles Travel Map - Westside

Open Map on a new window

1. UCLA Campus – Where the internet was born

Okay, I might be super biased cause I’m a Bruin, but I do think UCLA is one of the most beautiful college campuses in the US! You can stroll around the campus, see how American college students go about their daily life, and visit the room where the internet was born at 3420 Boelter Hall (learn more about it here)

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 others. If that interests you, check out the full list of movies and TV shows filmed at UCLA.

Royce Hall at UCLA
Royce Hall at UCLA

2. The Getty Center

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.

Take note that they are closed on Mondays. Admission is free, but you should still reserve a ticket here. Check out what exhibition is currently on here. Parking costs $20, but if you plan to visit Getty Villa on the same day, parking there would be free.

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 in the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Monica Pier
Sunset at Santa Monica Pier

On the pier is a small amusement park called Pacific Park, where you can grab a bite, get on some rides or play games.

🛼 Tip: You can also rent a bike/roller skate from Perry’s Cafe, included with Go City All-Inclusive Pass (normally US$12 per hour).

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 the 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 are 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 automobiles gained popularity.

Venice Canals
Venice Canals

Keep in mind that although historic, these days are still (and expensive) residential areas, 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 watch skaters perform their tricks, and end your day by enjoying one of the best sunsets in the world.

Venice Sign at Venice Beach
Venice Sign at Venice Beach
Venice Beach Boardwalk
Venice Beach
Venice Beach

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 – My friend Kat brought me here and I’m in love! I 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 going 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:

Los Angeles Travel Map - PCH

Open Map on a new window

1. The Getty Villa Museum

If you’ve been following my itinerary so far, you would have visited The Getty on the Westside LA route. This villa is part of the same Getty property! But unlike The Getty, Getty Villa is more of an architectural delight than the arts. Sure, the arts were cool, but I feel that the immaculate garden and the beautiful buildings overpowered them.

Take note that they are closed on Tuesdays. Admission is free, but you should still reserve a ticket here (though nobody checked our reservation when we were there). Check out what exhibition is currently on here. Parking costs $20, but if you plan to visit Getty Center on the same day, parking there would be free.

2. Malibu

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 California coastline.

Malibu Lagoon State Beach
Malibu Lagoon State Beach
Malibu Lagoon State Beach

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 tourists, but it does have some of the BEST Mexican food.

Santa Barbara is a beach town with cute restaurants, spa treatments, and hiking. It could be a day trip in itself if this is something that interests you.

5. Camarillo Premium Outlets

LA is known for shopping, but the best kind of shopping is the one at premium outlets. Stop by here if you need to do some shopping. You can pretty much get the same brands, and sometimes the same clothing that is currently being sold in the mall for much cheaper here. Think Lululemon, Adidas, Banana Republic, Coach, Kate Spade, and so much more. Check out their full list of stores 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 at 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 a 1.5 – 2 hours drive from LA, so visiting one of the parks will take the entire day.

Tip: All of the amusement parks below are already included with the Go City All-Inclusive Pass (except Disneyland), so if you’re planning to visit these parks and other LA landmarks, highly suggest purchasing the pass!

  • Universal Studios – Fun park to visit for movie buffs. It’s the closest to the city out of all the amusement parks near LA. Note that Universal Studios is considered a premium attraction and is only included with the 3, 4, 5, and 7-day Go City pass.
  • 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 adults 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 City All-Inclusive Pass 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 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 the 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).
  • Download the Disneyland App and use the Genie service to manage your ride wait times.

3. Nature, Beach, and National Parks

If nature and hiking are more your things, 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 a spa.
  • Mojave National Preserve – Also about 2.5 hours drive inland from LA, but a bit more north. It’s about the 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-hour 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 – Visit San Diego Zoo (included with Go City All-Inclusive Pass if you haven’t used it for LEGOLAND), the beach or have some good food.
  • 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 the Go City All-Inclusive Pass)
  • Burbank – North Hollywood, Warner Brother’s Studio Tour (included with Go City All-Inclusive Pass), 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!

PS: If you need this guide for later, click here to save this post on Pinterest!

Los Angeles Itinerary

73 Comments

  1. This information is very useful for my next trip to the city and to be able to visit it with my family.

  2. vigneshwartrixy says

    The above blog is very useful for first-time visitors to Los Angeles. The places you have mentioned are very beautiful places. and some great information to check the new places.

  3. Hey Melissa! Awesome itinerary and places to visit. I’ll be flying in for the Kanye West show at the LA memorial collisium in about a week, any advice on where to stay the night of the show? I’ll move around after, since I’ll be here for a week, but I want to make sure the day of goes smoothly.

  4. Prestisa says

    Hi Melissa! I’ll be visiting LA very soon next week with my sister and I’m so excited and thankful for your detailed itinerary, it really gave me a lot of information and I think it would be very helpful to us there since this is our first time in LA (we’ll be staying for about 2 weeks). Thank you so much!

  5. David Chun says

    Your post is about some good advice and tips for visiting the city. It is hard to know where to begin when you visit a large city like Los Angeles.

  6. iLoveLA says

    Actually, it will be my second time in LA but I can’t wait to be there again!

    Thanks for this amazing guide!

  7. Miguel Gonzalez says

    Hi i’ll be visiting for my first time ever in July this year, whats a good car rental company to rent a car from with good prices?

  8. Betsy Malave says

    Thank you so much for this! I’m heading to LA for the weekend for business but wanted some cool things to do during my downtime. I’m really excited about the Hollywood itinerary since I’m staying in that area. This made my planning so much easier!

  9. Nyasha says

    This is great! I have yet to pass my test (due to the pandemic) but once I do, I do want to go LA and drive around there myself and experience what it’s like there. Thanks for the itinerary!

  10. Jess Munday says

    I’d love to visit LA, your photos look amazing and it looks like there’s loads to there!

  11. Los Angeles: Things to do says

    Los Angeles is an amazing city with so many things to see and do! This itinerary is very detailed and is indeed a big help.

  12. Kanika Bakshi says

    these tips are surely very helpful and informative as well my brother who is planning to go to Los Angeles may find these tips very informative, I will surely share this with him, and with my friends as well for their future reference. As it is Los Angeles is so beautiful place that everyone seems to visit .

  13. Hazel Yeo says

    Hi, love how you break down the itinerary by area. We will be renting a car for your holiday as we are driving down to SF, in this case, do you suggest us staying at different hotel or? Thanks

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hey Hazel, the areas I listed is still good even if you’re driving.

      • Hazel Yeo says

        Thank you for your reply.

        Would it be better if we stay at different hotel? like Santa Barbara? So that it will be easier to drive down Yosemite National Park and Monterey, Big Sur, Carmel? Actually i am still in dilemna, where to visit first….your advise?
        Do you have itinitery to share on San Francisco, California?

  14. James Paulin says

    Hello Marissa,

    Thank you for the itinerary you posted it gave me some very good ideas for my first trip.

    My wife and I and two children (10 and 12) are visiting LA for first time in April 2020.
    We will rent a car. Is parking available/expensive around Hollywood Walk of Fame, Farmers Market,Walt Disney concert hall, etc?
    My son will enjoy the skate bowl at Venice beach. Any other ideas for young children? A friend mentioned the San Diego zoo.

    Thank you

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hi James, my name is Melissa 😉 There are parking around these areas, but they tend to be expensive – you’ll probably end up paying about $15 to park your car. You can try to find street metered parking but they are hard to come by so most likely you’ll just have to pay the cost. If you are following my itinerary you only have to pay one parking fee per day (usually $15 is flat rate you need to pay regardless how long you leave the car). San Diego Zoo is quite far from LA but if you don’t mind the drive then it could be a good option (2 hours without traffic). What about amusement parks like Universal Studios and Disneyland?

      • Leticia says

        Hi Melissa
        If I follow your itinerary you said for each area you pay parking fee once per day, I’m assuming you park your car (example) somewhere in the Hollywood area and then walk to all the different places in Hollywood you want to see? Are they all walkable within its area? What about the Santa Monica area, is it the same?

  15. We went to Venice beach and it was awful! So many homeless people laying around the beach and just everywhere. It was very dirty and had horrible smell. Did not even feel like I was in America. Santa Monica was a little better than Venice but it also had a homeless problem. I would avoid these 2 beaches in the future and maybe go to Laguna Beach area- we did that and it was beatiful.

  16. Mohammad Ali says

    Hi, first I want to thank you for this amazing article, one of the best written online for such itinerary.

    I am traveling with wife and 2 kids (9 and 4), can you recommend some areas to stay at?

    Thank you

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hi Mohammad, it really depends what you want to do in LA. I would recommend staying near the beach (Santa Monica / Venice) or somewhere near West Hollywood would be good if you are planning to follow all of my itineraries. But as I said, you’d have to drive in LA anyway since the area is huge.

  17. Jesslyna Norman says

    Hi Melissa,

    I would like to check with you if it is recommended to rent car with driver or get LA pass or both since either me or my hubby cannot drive but we also would like to explore those places recommended by you.

    Will that be better to go SF via flight?

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hey Jesslyna, if you can get a car with driver that would be best, but you can also just book Uber or Lyft when you are there to take you around. You can get the LA pass which includes some bus lines, but I don’t really recommend relying on public transport while in LA.

      • Jesslyna Norman says

        Hi Melissa,

        Thanks for your reply. Is it recommended to go both SF and LA in 2 weeks or LA only in 10 days

  18. Sophia says

    Hello Melissa and thank you for providing us your itenerary,my friends and I are going to Los Angeles in early December for the first time and your blog is the blest helper for our trip.I would like to ask you 2 things,we are from Greece so the drivers license is a European,do you know if we have to make the license international or it is okay with the European?Also we are going to book the Go Los Angeles card you recommend and I am wondering about visiting universal studios which is in the city pass,is there also a way to pay extra for not waiting in the line and for example visiting the Harry Potter experience or Jurassic world,do we have to pay extra for the experiences inside the universal studio? Thank you for your time,you are the best!!Greetings from Greece

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hi Sophia

      1. Universal Studios – Harry potter and Jurassic World should be included in the Go Los Angeles card since it’s part of the theme park. But if you don’t want to wait in line, you can upgrade at the park for Express privilege. I am not sure how much it costs though, and the upgrade is limited per day. If you aren’t able to upgrade, try to get there early to minimize the wait time, and try to not go on weekends. But you should be okay since early December is not yet the peak season for these parks. Note that admission to Universal Studios is available only for the 3, 5, and 7-Day Go Los Angeles Pass packages

      Another option is to buy the express pass separately: https://www.klook.com/en-SG/activity/18057-universal-studios-hollywood-express-vip-los-angeles/?aid=5711 BUT i would only recommend this if you decide not to buy the Go Los Angeles Card.

      2. If your driver’s license is in English, you can drive in California with just your European license without converting to international license.

  19. Elizabeth Gilbert says

    Where would be the best place to stay to do most of what is on your itinerary?

  20. kaybeejr says

    You are a Legend Melissa, amazed by the amount of details especially we are travelling with a little one, so everything counts. Thanks heaps for this and keep posting

  21. Júlia Nalles says

    You saved my trip! What a complete and dedicated itinerary. Thank you for that Melissa. Any recommendation for Beverly Hills and hollywood stars homes’ tour ?

  22. Hi Melissa

    Thanks for your reply and tips about driving from LA to SD. As for the car rentals, can I use the same car to drive from LAX to SD and to Las Vegas and back? Any trusted car rental companies u recommend?

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hey Adri, yes you can use the same car, provided you pay for the fuel and fill the car up before returning. The road to Las Vegas from LA/SD is nicely built so any car you rent for the city should be fine. As for rental company I usually just go with whatever is the cheapest. I think I went with Enterprise last time and I had no issues.

  23. Hi Melissa,

    I’m intending to visit grand canyon and antelope canyon next year. Is it mandatory to book a tour in advance? or we can book the entry ticket on the spot

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hey Tris, I’ve only been to grand canyon, but I think you can just purchase ticket on the spot if you are driving. You only need tour if you need transportation to get there too.

  24. Sharon says

    This is the best info I have read on LA – thank you!!

    I am visiting early October, driving Pacific Highway 1 night Santa Barbara then 2 nights at the Loews Hollywood. So much I want see but so little time. I not bothered about Disney or Wax works etc What are must sees in 2 days? Gosh wish I was there longer!! Should I do beach stuff on day I arrive as we will be that way already? Thank you!

  25. Adri says

    Hi Melissa

    A great blog to read indeed! Will be visiting LA in Nov for 2weeks. But am totally clueless whether I should be spending time in San Diego or Los Angeles first. Am arriving LAX on a Wednesday morning. Could u kindly advise or propose a route on where I should visit first? Am travelling with teens so we will be doing more of amusement Parks, Disney, Big bear Lake and zoos. Not forgetting outlet shopping as well.

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hey Adri! I am happy you like the blog post. As for San Diego vs LA, I don’t think it matters much which one to go first. However the one you should be aware of is probably the traffic situation when going from SD to LA and then back. I would avoid that route on weekends, and I would also avoid traveling during peak commute times (morning and afternoon).

  26. Loved reading through your adventures! So many places to visit, but we went for a family holiday by car and really enjoyed it. By the way, gorgeous photos!

  27. Andre says

    Hey Melissa

    Thank you for your detailed post. Can you recommend a site to buy cheap tickets for Disneyland? The one you posted (klook.com) doesn’t seem to be working now. Thank you!

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hey Andre, I have updated the link. Thank you for spotting this!

  28. Tris says

    Hi Mellisa,

    Thanks for sharing with us your itinerary, how about san Francisco? do you have a similar itinerary? thanks

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hey Tris! Glad you enjoyed this LA itinerary. Unfortunately it has been over a decade since I’ve been back to SF, so I don’t have anything on it :/

  29. Clara says

    Hi,
    Thanks for your detailed itinerary. Which part of LA will you recommend to stay?

  30. Emma Hopkins says

    I used your itinerary for Tokyo and it was amazing! Will be using your California tips in December 🙂

  31. susan Chua says

    From LAX to the Hotel (i am not sure which hotel to choose) but I am thinking of Hotel Hwood Near the Sunset Strip (Hollywood).of The Dixie Hollywood Hotel.

  32. susan says

    Hi, your itinerary is very detailed. It will be my first trip to LA.
    May I know whether should I arrange Greyhound transport instead of the Shared Transport.

  33. Mael says

    Hi Melissa, great to chance upon your blog and I’m Singaporean. Where would you reccomend the area to stay in LA? I’m travelling with my husband in Nov this year and it is our first time and we would like to get to the know where best to stay for first timers. Thank you

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hey Mael, it really depends what you want to do since LA is huge. If you want to see the Hollywood side then I recommend staying Weho (West Hollywood) area. But if you don’t mind the drive then Santa Monica area close to the beach is nice too!

  34. Anya says

    Thank you, Melissa! I just bought the ticket to LA for the 2nd week of December and it’s gonna be our 1st trip to the states, so your itinerary is really helpful. We’re planning to do the road trip from LA – San Diego – Grand Canyon – Vegas – Pacific Coast – SF. Can you tell me about the December weather in these areas, i. e. How cold will it be in SF and how warm it’ll be in Grand Canyon? Thanks again!

    • Melissa Hie says

      Hey Anya, I assume you are from Singapore? In December it will be cold in all the places you are visiting, especially in relative to Singapore. Definitely bring a jacket and wind breaker for SF. It’s the wind that makes cold weather unbearable. Also note the weather is very dry (again in relative to humid Singapore) so make sure you moisturize hands and especially lips! Mine gets dry to the point my lips start bleeding when I don’t properly moisturize it. It hurts a lot when it gets to that point, so prevent it with daily lip balm.

      • Anya says

        Hi Melissa, sorry I just realized you replied! Yes we live in Singapore. Thanks a lot! I’ll go with my husband, my 8 yo, and 4 yo daughters so we’ll make sure we prepare the right outfit, esp for the kids.

  35. Maggie says

    Thank you so much! I am planning for a trip to LA with senior relatives in a month and I am going crazy with the trip planning. Your itinerary is such a great help!

    • Melissa Hie says

      Thank you for the comment Maggie. Hope you will have fun in LA!!

  36. Abi Simon says

    This is my second time in LA & i must say :: THANK YOU FOR THIS WONDERFUL ITENIRARY 😭😭😭 ! It is the best I have ever seen and have helped me as a tourist know exactly where to go. Thank you so much & keep posting !

    • Melissa Hie says

      Thanks Abi! I guess i should rename this itinerary not just for first time visitors? 😂

    • Marissa says

      Melissa, my Kids (25 & 16) will be visiting California for the first time in July. We want to visit the touristy places; Universal Studios, Hollywood sign, Walk of Fame, Museums, Trendy Eateries, Santa Monica Pier and both Disneyland parks. My dilemma is where to stay to easily navigate to these places. We’ll be there for 4 days and will have a rental car.

      Please advise on where to stay

      • Melissa Hie says

        Hi Marissa, I would recommend staying near the beach (Santa Monica / Venice) or somewhere near West Hollywood. But you’d have to drive in LA anyway since the area is huge.

  37. Bob Cars says

    I fully agree that without a rental car in Los Angeles it will be difficult without a rental car. I was here last summer and car rental saved our holiday. It’s good that there are good prices and a normal selection of cars.

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