From spending a day at the beach to window-shopping on Rodeo Drive, hiking to the Hollywood sign, or cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll never run out of things to do in Los Angeles. This sunny, laidback SoCal destination is a great place to explore, and there’s never a bad time to visit.
Los Angeles is huge. About four million people live in the city itself, covering 503 square miles (1,303 square kilometers), and that’s without mentioning the Greater Los Angeles Area, which spans five counties in southern California.
Widely acknowledged as the entertainment capital of the world, LA is home to many studios, movie sets, television shows, and celebrities. But the City of Angels also offers beautiful coastlines, impressive forests, world-class museums, and famous amusement parks, and there are even a few national parks within day-trip distance — Joshua Tree and Channel Islands, to name just two of them.
The Chumash and Tongva tribes were the first groups to live in the area, but modern-day Los Angeles was founded when 44 individuals settled near the river in 1781. They called their new farming community “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula,” but luckily for future residents and visitors, the long name didn’t stick. It was later shortened to Los Angeles.
The first population boom occurred after the discovery of gold near the Mission San Fernando. Before long, the United States claimed Los Angeles from Mexico, and California became a state just a few years later. Los Angeles established its strong presence in the film industry in the early 20th century, and it has continued to exercise that dominance into the 21st century.
Today, LA is one of the best-known U.S. cities, attracting more than 45 million visitors every year.
There’s a good chance that you’ve heard horror stories about the traffic in LA, but you’ll have to embrace the crowded roads if you really want to see the city. The transportation system is shaky at best, and taxis are extremely expensive.
Renting a car costs less in Los Angeles than it does almost anywhere else in the U.S. For about $40 per day, you can drive an economy car all across the city, where the freeway system is extensive, and where there are no tolls.
The police are strict enforcers of seat belt laws, carpool lane laws, and hands-free driving laws, so avoid heavy fines by behaving yourself behind the wheel. Always rely on a GPS unit or smartphone to get around (but remember that the driver should never pick up the phone), give pedestrians the right of way, and plan to spend when it comes to parking.
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
While Los Angeles is a pleasant destination throughout the entire year, it becomes the most crowded during the summer months. If you plan to visit between June and August, it’s a good idea to book your accommodations well in advance.
Consider planning your trip for the off season, when crowds are thinner and hotel rooms less expensive. LA’s infamous smog lightens up from early autumn to late spring, and daytime temperatures often reach 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius) in the winter. Beaches are open throughout the entire year, although the water is warmest during the summer and fall. Rainfall is relatively uncommon, but you’re most likely to experience sporadic showers between December and March.
Things to do
Fashionistas and casual window-shoppers should make their way to Rodeo Drive for some of the best shopping in the world. This Beverly Hills road boasts plenty of designer names, luxury hotels, and high-end restaurants. Check your bank balance before treating yourself, or just go to experience the iconic location itself!
You can also sit in the audience during the taping of a live show, such as “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “The Voice,” or “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Tickets are free, but you’ll usually have to plan ahead to snag a seat. Check websites like 1iota, Audiences Unlimited, and On Camera Audiences for reservations and additional information.
And with mountains and hills cutting through LA and its surroundings, you can also get in a hike during your visit. Runyon Canyon is a popular but easy loop in the Hollywood area, while the Charlie Turner Trail that leads out of Griffith Observatory’s parking lot will take you to the top of Mount Hollywood. For ocean views away from the crowds, try the Sara Wan Trailhead at Corral Canyon in Malibu.
Finally, Sunset Boulevard cuts through nearly 22 miles (35 kilometers) of LA, but the Sunset Strip is the most interesting section of the road. This is LA’s nightlife hub, a cluster of rooftop bars, music venues, and comedy clubs. So, if you’re planning a night on the town, the Sunset Strip is the place for you!
Places to see
There’s a lot to check out on the star-strewn streets of Hollywood. The Walk of Fame is an iconic stretch of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street where more than 2,600 people have been immortalized for their contributions to live theater, motion pictures, radio, recording, or television. You can spot your favorite celebrity’s star, or you can attend a star ceremony for free.
Speaking of Hollywood, keep an eye out for the Hollywood sign — 45-foot-tall letters that overlook the city and remind everyone of LA’s cinematic star power. You’ll find some of the best viewpoints on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, at Griffith Observatory, or from the Hollywood Bowl Overlook on Mulholland Drive.
Make sure you stop by the TCL Chinese Theatre for a taste of old Hollywood. Opened in 1927 and initially called Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, this movie palace hosts film premieres every year, but it also screens movie showings and offers tours to guests. While a ticket will cost more here than it would at any other theater in town, it’s an experience that film fans won’t want to miss!
Griffith Observatory is another must-visit location for any LA itinerary. This incredible vantage point offers expansive views of the cityscape, the Hollywood sign, and the sprawl of the LA Basin below. The Observatory is open from Tuesday to Sunday, and you can visit the grounds and building for free, although you’ll have to pay to see a show in the Samuel Ochsin Planetarium. Don’t forget to peek through one of the telescopes before leaving!
The Santa Monica Pier is yet another can’t-miss LA landmark. Native Californian or not, you’ll feel a wave of nostalgia as you stand on the pier and look out at the remnants of the golden days. Along the pier, you’ll find an aquarium, an amusement park, the western endpoint of Route 66, a fishing pier, and — of course — the ocean.
Finally, many world-class museums are located in LA. From the Getty Museum to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, there are plenty of stunning exhibits to discover. A word to the wise: research each museum’s policies to find out when admission is discounted or even free! LA museums often take part in citywide “free days.”
Ready for your big trip to California? So are we! We’ll see you in LA.
Cover photo by Ryan Longnecker