Los Angeles is a BEAST. Before I moved to Austin, I lived in southern California and have probably made 50+ trips in my lifetime. What does it even mean to “make a trip to LA”? I lived in Pasadena… is that LA? What about Glendale, Burbank, Century City, Santa Monica, Marina del Rey… are all those cities “LA”? It’s all mashed together into one overwhelming piece of urban sprawl.
In an attempt to make your trip to Los Angeles less overwhelming, here are some quick tips I came up with on my last visit:
- Navigating LAX. If you’re trying to catch a shuttle (either to rental cars or a nearby airport hotel), you may need to walk back to one of the first 4 terminals. The problem is, these shuttles fill up at the beginning, then they tend to skip the last few stops. If you find that you’re at terminal 5, 6, or 7 and it’s taking a long time to get picked up, you might have to start walking. On your way out of LAX, bring some snacks. Most terminals have very limited food (it’s not Austin, y’all!). When I went home, my choices for the entire Delta terminal were Starbucks or Shake Shack. It took longer for me to get my coffee than it did to go through airport security.
- If you plan on using the metro, I’d highly recommend planning your trip around the metro stops. Not the other way around. LA mass transit is getting better, but it can still be difficult to get around. For example, one day, we Ubered to Pasadena, explored, then took the metro to downtown LA, Little Tokyo, Koreatown, and up to Univeral Studio’s City Walk. The initial uber cost us $18 to Pasadena, and then $6 to get back to our Airbnb from Universal. If you’re not using the metro, I’d recommend exploring one neighborhood / city per day. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to drive to Pasadena for breakfast, Santa Monica for lunch, downtown LA for dinner, and West Hollywood for drinks. It’s just not going to happen. Milage wise, it’s not that far, but trust me, it will take TIME.
- If you have your own car (or are renting), you’re going to pay for parking. Deal with it. Embrace it. Take whatever is convenient and pay the price.
- Enjoy the Asian food scene! I totally took matcha, boba, bento boxes, Korean BBQ… all of it, for granted! There are some pretty incredible matcha soft serves and boba drinks out there and I just barely scratched the surface. Here are the places I visited and loved:
- Matcha Kone (Pasadena)
- Cha Cha Matcha (West Hollywood / Venice)
- SomiSomi (many locations)
- Boba Guys (Westlake North / Culver City)
- Milk + T (Little Tokyo)
- Speaking of the food scene… if you’re in LA on a Sunday, visit Smorgasburg. It’s downtown at ROW. Tons of food trucks and incredible food. It fills up pretty quick, so get there right at 10am when it opens to avoid long lines and grab a table. Parking at ROW is really easy – check out @SmorgasburgLA‘s story highlights for more info.
- Other great food includes Bea Bea’s in Burbank for epic breakfast pancakes, the original Stan’s Donuts in Westwood, and HomeState in Playa Vista / Hollywood / Highland Park. HomeState is an Austin themed restaurant! It was pretty fun. Grand Central Market in downtown LA is also a great hit for food, but it can get CROWDED. It’s a huge warehouse / market space. Save yourself some mindless wandering and hit up Golden Road Brewing for the best fried fish tacos of your life.
- Want to explore the beach? Drive to Paradise Cove (in Malibu). The views on the drive are beautiful! Is it the middle of summer and PACKED? You can drive to the Paradise Cove Beach Cafe, valet park in their parking lot for $10, then eat at the cafe. They will validate your parking if your bill is over $30 (it will be, Paradise Cove Beach Cafe is NOT cheap, but portions are huge – share things!). If you don’t eat at the cafe, parking can be as much as $50. So you might as well eat!
- Want to see some good views? Head to the Griffith Observatory. Drive all the way to the top and park in the observatory parking lot (for $8 an hour). People will stop early and will park on the street (also $8 an hour). Don’t! We were there when it was SUPER crowded and there was still parking in the main, top parking lot. Just keep driving. From the parking lot, you can walk around the observatory and see amazing views of downtown and the Hollywood sign. You can also walk towards the opposite side of the parking lot and hike the Charlie Turner trail (there’s a trailhead, map, and some benches close to the parking lot). It’s 4 miles out to the Hollywood sign (8 round trip), but you can easily hike the 1.2 miles to the Captain’s Roost and see some incredible 360-degree view of downtown, the observatory, and the Hollywood sign. I only hiked the trail about .7 miles and STILL had incredible views. It’s a very easy trail and worth the short walk.
- If you’re driving, it’s going to take a long time. LA traffic is non-stop. There is no “rush hour” and you’re not safe on the weekends. Sorry. Put together some good playlists – being stuck in LA traffic is part of the experience. We were in the car over 4 hours the day we went out to Malibu, just going from one thing to another.
- Universal Studios is near downtown LA. Disneyland is not. Plan accordingly.
In general, I think the worst thing you can do is over-plan. Tourists often underestimate how long it will take to get somewhere and get parked. Strikeout early, embrace the crowds, and don’t get stressed if travel times are long. That’s LA!