I have been to LA at least 8 times since 2005. Sometimes it’s just been for a day or two as a layover between a flight elsewhere, other times I’ve stayed for longer. But every time I walk the familiar route out of LAX towards the rental car shuttle, the warm air and sight of palm trees always makes me smile.
I love LA. It’s the first place I went when travelling without my parents, and I regard it almost as a type of height chart that marks my adventure progress. But it also has a comfortable familiarity about it, and has been a great place of refuge when I need a quick vacation without much thought put into it.
I am always happy when friends ask me for LA suggestions (sometimes they don’t ask, I just dole them out like candy in the hopes they’ll consider going there – seriously California Tourism, give me a job) because in all the times I’ve gone there I’ve resisted the Hollywood touristy gimmicks – for the most part. A couple exceptions will grace this list – my top 15 ways to spend your days in LA.
15. See a Concert at the Hollywood Bowl
This is still on my to-do list, the only item on this list that I haven’t personally completed. But I think an evening checking out a great concert at the Bowl would be a grand thing to do in LA.
14. Grind Your Teeth Over How Craptacular Your Alma Matter Looks in Comparison to Pepperdine University.
Views of the Pacific, mountains, and a gorgeous campus to make things even worse. Yep.
13. Wander the Canals
Just north of Washington and Pacific discover the Venice of North America and explore charming little bridges and walkways while admiring neat bungalows that front onto Venice’s canals. It’s hard not to be envious of someone who has a kayak docked outside their door, near their adorable cruiser bike, surf board and smug Retriever.
12. Nap on a Beach
LA has great beaches. Some large, some small, some totally secluded and others a mecca for families. One of my favourite cheap things to do in LA is to grab a towel from my hotel, pick up some fruit, cheese, vino and a tabloid magazine (it IS LA, after all), and sprawl out on the sand. There is no greater feeling than digging your feet into the sand and feeling the warm sun in January when you are Canadian. It’s especially enjoyable when Angelenos are wearing wool sweaters, Uggs, and looking at you like you’re nuts.
11. Try Not to Lose Your Lunch on Mulholland Drive
The best place to simultaneously feel awestruck over scenic views and also depressed over how small your house is. The winding (and I mean WINDING) road from Laurel Canyon to the 405 takes you along the Santa Monica Mountains, meaning you get great views of the San Fernando Valley and the Hollywood Hills. Here you can truly see the lifestyles of the rich and famous and marvel at how people will build a glass house on stilts out of the side of a mountain (guess earthquakes aren’t a big issue. Oh wait). There’s lot of scenic overlooks where you can safely pull over and get a bird’s eye view of all of LA. And as a bonus, check out the congestion on the highways below and plan your route back accordingly.
10. Visit the Walk of Fame and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Aha! Touristy gimmick for sure. The first time I went my friend and I were totally hustled by a really lame Elvis impersonator. And it’s always hard to find specific stars that you’re looking for. But really, no trip to Hollywood is complete without checking out the Walk of Fame. Time your trip right and you can walk the red carpet of the Oscars at the same time which was a nerdy thrill for me.
9. Eat at Sloopy’s in Manhattan Beach
My love of Sloopy’s is probably one part nostalgia (it’s one of the first places I went after arriving in LA for the first time back in ’05) and two parts amazing food. When I flew to New Zealand earlier this year I actually booked a stopover in LA just so I could go to Sloopy’s for a late lunch before my red-eye. It’s that good. I don’t always order the same thing, but I do consistently truck down the hills to the beach and park myself overlooking the waves while I eat. There’s something very Californian about tucking into an avocado sandwich on the sand while watching people surf. And if you look to your right, you can spot gigantic planes taking off. Plus Manhattan Beach is pretty cool.
8. Hike the Hollywood Reservoir
There’s a lake in the middle of Hollywood! It’s actually a reservoir, built in 1925, but a pleasant surprise nevertheless. The short circuit around the lake is a great spot to go for a stroll or power walk, but expect to share your space with stressed-out film types barking away on their phones. Also keep in mind that it’s not a full loop – you’ll have to follow Lake Hollywood Drive back around to wherever you left your car.
Added bonus – turn your gaze away from the lake and city views for a moment and check out that stuff on the hill behind you – it’s the Hollywood sign.
7. Shop Abbot Kinney and Main Street
Forget cruising Rodeo Drive – it’s just like any high-end stretch of shops. Unless of course you’re a huge fan of Pretty Woman and want to sass out some snooty salesgirls. Some of my favourite clothes and accessories have come from shops on Abbot Kinney in Venice and Main Street in Santa Monica. If you’re into unique designers, rare finds, antiques, and not spending your entire trip budget in a clothing store (which you can easily do on Robertson), check out these areas.
6. Get Bashed About by the Waves in Malibu
Due to my lack of swimming skills I haven’t gone surfing in California, but I did run straight into the ocean out of joy once. My travel buddy went one further and nearly got sucked out by the waves. Whether you rent a surf or boogie board or take lessons, or even just go for a walk along the shoreline, Malibu is a gorgeous place to get tossed about by nature. A word of warning, however – if you’re going to throw caution to the wind and just run in fully clothed, be prepared for the smell that will linger with you afterwards. For an eternity.
5. Wander the Farmer’s Market at The Grove
The Grove is a gorgeous outdoor mall that’s a goldmine for celebrity spotting. The adjacent farmer’s market has great finds, yummy food and provides a snapshot into how locals live. Affluent locals.
4. Get to the Getty
I may have enjoyed the monorail ride to the Getty and the views from some of its decks better than the gallery itself. If you’re into fine art you won’t be disappointed. If you’ve tagged along with art-loving friends and you aren’t so fussed about it, grab a java from the coffee cart and check out the fantastic views.
3. Ride the Ferris Wheel on the Santa Monica Pier
I am very afraid of heights. For years I looked at the ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier and chickened out. Until last year, when I was suckered into it. Initial heart palpitations aside it provided amazing views of the coastline and was a fun and slightly cheesy way to check out the scenery.
2. Take in the View of the Coast from Pacific Palisades
Palisades Park features some of the best sunsets you can find in the city and gives you amazing ocean views to boot. There’s also a great jogging and biking path that runs along the cliffs and plenty of palm trees to find some quiet shade if you need a break.
1. Take in a View of a Different Kind in Venice Beach
Home to Muscle Beach, Venice (like a lot of LA) will make you feel woefully inadequate. WOEFULLY. These people are jacked. I tried running along the beach and an elderly lady blew past. It was probably Betty White. In addition to ridiculous fit individuals, Venice is also home to some of LA’s most colourful. Stroll along the boardwalk and check out what buskers are up to and some of the weirder things for sale, or better yet pull up a chair at a bar on the walk and take it all in with a pint or two.
And yes, in the bottom right of that photo, there is a man in leopard-print briefs, balancing on a ball while holding snakes.
And now you know the magic of LA.