There's a famous Frank Lloyd Wright quote that says, "Tip the world on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles." I think that pretty much sums up LA. In my travels, I've never experienced a place quite like it. Prepare yourself for a long post - there's so much to do and experience in the city of stars, and this guide just scratches the surface.
RELAX + REFRESH
Some of the best LA restaurants are located in iconic hotels, so I've included several dining recommendations in this section as well - be sure to check them out!
I've stayed in several different Airbnbs around LA, and there really are some incredible spaces. My #1 tip would be to check about parking. Parking in LA is insane, so if you can find an Airbnb with a designated parking spot, you should snag it. Also, make sure it's in a neighborhood you want to be in. Each LA area is vastly different from the other, so just find the one that fits your personal preferences and enjoy! I recommend West Hollywood, Hollywood Hills, Silver Lake, Beverly Hills, Toluca Lake, Venice, Santa Monica or Malibu.
I love this little retro-chic boutique hotel. It has such a fun vibe, and practically oozes with style. At one time it was home to Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, so you know it's great. The hotel restaurant, Viviane, is so delicious and has a great feel. [make a reservation here] I like to sit by the hourglass-shaped pool and enjoy a fresh fruit smoothy in the morning. If you're a Marilyn Monroe fan [guilty] then you may recognize the pool from some of her iconic shoots.
It doesn't get more iconic than the "Pink Palace". This hotel has been legendary for decades, hosting the Hollywood greats of today and the golden era. I love getting brunch at the Polo Lounge - definitely sit outside on the patio for the ultimate Beverly Hills feel. Marilyn Monroe was a frequent guest, ordering rum and coke when she was alone, or Dom Perignon when out with friends. She would always recommend the fish, pasta and hot fudge sundaes! Click here to make a reservation at the Polo Lounge. You can also dine poolside at the Cabana Cafe. Sit back in the iconic green and white striped booths, and soak up the Beverly Hills sun.
Cool modern vibes, Hollywood hills views, karaoke bar, and an awesome onsite restaurant - this is a great spot! Break Room 86 takes you back to the 80's in the best way possible - enjoy live performances, karaoke suites, a dance floor and guest DJs. Check out Commissary for equal parts delicious food and incredible ambiance.
Talk about Hollywood history - if only these walls could talk! The first Academy Awards were held here, Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable were regulars, and Marilyn Monroe was a resident for years. It’s said that Marilyn loved the Roosevelt so much that her spirit lives here today. I'm not one to believe in ghost stories, but you can reserve the Marilyn Suite to get closer to this Hollywood legend.
My best friend and I love to grab a drink at the lobby bar and sit back in the leather lounge chairs stationed around the room. You can sit poolside at the Tropicana Pool Cafe, bowl in The Spare Room, have a drink customized for you in the Library Bar or indulge in a juicy burger literally anytime of the day or night at 25 Degrees. [order the truffle fries!]
The Chateau Marmont is a castle on a hill overlooking Hollywood. There is a quote from A.M. Homes that I love about this legendary landmark:
"And when the dusk of evening settles, put on some smoky jazz and get lost - sink into the aphrodisiac of the deep couches, take your paramour on an elevator ride - at night everyone comes to Chateau Marmont - this is the pageant and parade that evening brings, they come for the martini, for the sex appeal, to make the deal - naughty or nice, everyone is your darling."
Sounds like a scene straight out of a film noir!
This garden oasis was once a getaway for Audrey Hepburn [who especially loved the swan pond], Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe. Today you are likely to rub shoulders with Julia Roberts or Nicole Kidman. The very last photo shoot of Marilyn Monroe took place here, as well as many other iconic Hollywood moments. I recommend breakfast at Wolfgang Puck, and definitely sit outside. You can make a reservation here.
This English bungalow hideaway was home to many iconic Hollywood legends like Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and Gloria Swanson. Each bungalow is named for the legends of past, but the coolest part is you can still book Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe's former cottages. Talk about getting the Hollywood experience!
Yes, I know this is a tourist destination, but it's just too wonderful not to visit. If you go on a weekday, or when the weather isn't glorious, then it's less crowded. I went on a rainy day, and it was actually quite magical being up in the clouds. Whether you love scenic views, stories of the sky, Rebel Without A Cause, or want to daydream about Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dancing through the stars, you should make time to fit Griffith Observatory into your itinerary. You can also get a great view of the Hollywood sign from here. I highly recommend catching a film in the planetarium - it really feels like you're laying under the stars.
I love this museum. It's ultra cool, modern and thought provoking. It's also free! Just reserve tickets [well in advance] and show up at your designated time. Also, to go into the famed Infinity Mirrored Room you have to sign up once you enter the museum. It fills up quickly, so going earlier in the day is recommended.
Cruise on Mulholland Drive for winding views of Los Angeles and Burbank. There are several places to stop and take in the landscape, but I recommend the Hollywood Bowl Overlook for the best view of Downtown LA, the Hollywood Bowl and the Hollywood sign. The parking lot is tiny, so you may have to wait for a spot, but the views are worth it.
This gift shop features locally made goods that are full of character.
I love this area - definitely take time to walk around the Arts District! The businesses in this area embrace the warehouse / factory structures, and have given the neighborhood an updated atmosphere.
If you happen to be in town on the 1st or 3rd Saturday of the month, check out the Artists & Fleas for some fun finds! My favorite shop in this neighborhood is Poketo - they have modern and fun decor, gifts and accessories. Head over to Arts District Brewing Co. for original craft beers, ping-pong, skeeball, darts, cornhole and a photobooth. Wurstkuche is a neighborhood fav, featuring classic and exotic links, plus fries and imported beers. Go to Blacktop Coffee for a shot of espresso, and Salt & Straw for some ice cream. There are lots of art galleries and museums to check out, as well as several street art murals. You can spend a lot of time exploring the Arts District, and I think you should! Here is a directory of everything you can find in this growing downtown neighborhood.
This Hollywood record store has great vibes, and even better inventory. Some of my favorite records to collect are Ella Fitzgerald on the Verve Label - they're typically hard to find, but The Record Parlour had about 10 when I stopped by. If vinyl is your thing, make a stop here.
This innovative shop features hip accessories, minimalist clothing and home decor.
Part coffee cafe, part gourmet grocery store, part home decor shop - What's not to love?!
It's hard to drive down any street in LA without seeing some amazing street art. Below you'll find a list of some favorite spots - click on them to be taken to their Google Maps location. You're welcome ;)
Catch a Show
The city of stars is full of concerts, comedy shows, theatre performances and so much more. Check out the venues below to see what's happening while you're in LA.
Sure, you can see a movie anywhere, so why see one on your trip? Because where else can you watch a movie in a cemetery that happens to be the final resting place for tons of Hollywood icons? These movie nights sell out quick, so be sure to get your tickets in advance.
Yes, this is an ultra touristy spot that I would normally stay away from, but there is so much movie history here, it's worth fighting the crowds to see at least once in your life. I recommend going early in the morning when the crowds are low and the parking spots are a plenty. There are a few ways to experience the Chinese Theatre:
Walk around the front courtyard to see all of the iconic hand prints and autographs in the cement. [This always makes my old Hollywood heart happy]
Take a tour of the theatre.
See a film, or even attend a movie premier! Check their website for daily showtimes - while you're there, see what movie premiers are coming up. They offer a certain amount of free tickets to each premier so you can watch a film with the cast and creators.
All of you film buffs can experience some iconic movie history in this fun museum. Being located in the historic Max Factor building, it only makes sense that the original hair salons are preserved for you to check out - one for the redheads, and one for the blondes. You can see beauty products used by Hollywood's elite, like Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe. Speaking of Ms Monroe, the museum has several of her iconic outfits on display, as well as personal pieces from her Brentwood home. If you're into horror films then you should take a walk through Hannibal Lecter's jail cell. This museum has something for everyone, and also features rotating exhibits. If you love movies, I'd recommend stopping here.
Everyone knows about the Hollywood sign up in the hills, but finding a good spot to photograph it is another story. I mentioned Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood Bowl Outlook earlier, but my favorite view of the infamous sign is from a tree-lined neighborhood street. [see my photo below] You can find this view on Windsor Boulevard, between 4th and 6th Street. Click here for an exact Google Maps location. Remember to pay close attention to the parking signs [you will get ticketed or towed if you park somewhere you're not supposed to], and be respectful of the resident's yards. Real people live here, so just respect the neighborhood as if you lived here.
This downtown bookstore is full of character and art installations. Definitely worth checking out!
Drive out to Venice for a fun day of shopping, exploring the boardwalk and enjoying the beach. The boardwalk is full of culture, just like you've seen in every film made here. The skatepark is very entertaining to watch, and muscle beach is truly one of a kind. I'm sure you'll be shocked to know that my favorite thing to do at the beach is to sit down by the water and watch the sunset. Further down the beach you will find a pier that you can walk out on. Take a look at a map of the area before you park - parking is at a premium near the beach, so I recommend parking around the areas you want to explore, and stay put.
In my opinion, the coolest part of Venice is Abbot Kinney. This street is full of fun boutiques, delicious food and just all-around great vibes. Find a place to park and just start walking - you'll love it. [side bar - the little houses on the surrounding streets are swoon-worthy] Check out the Abbot Kinney website for a full listing of businesses - a few of my favs are The Piece Collective, Burro, Buck Mason, Stag, Aviator Nation, Lemonade and The Butcher's Daughter.
Get a taste of the rich and famous life in Malibu, where many celebrities reside in mansions overlooking the ocean. One of the nicest beaches near LA is Zuma Beach - while you're there, be sure to check out Point Dume. Shop among the stars at Malibu Country Mart [which is anything but country], and grab a bite at Malibu Farm for great food and incredible ocean views.
As the name suggests, this great outdoor spot offers delicious homestyle comfort food.
A changing menu in a modern blockhouse space, especially great for brunch!
Head to this gourmet marketplace for delicious food and great lattes.
Consistently ranked as one of the best rooftop bars in LA, Perch offers great food, drinks, ambiance and views.
Any place that offers American comfort food and a photobooth, instantly gets a place on my list of restaurants to visit.
This Californian eatery offers tasty dishes and a romantic outdoor patio - the perfect combination!
This bar is truly one-of-a-kind. Inspired by their father's love of late nights in his garage, twins Mark and Jonnie Houston created this 70s-esque bar. The entrance is like walking into a garage sale where you open the fridge door to a retro oasis. Only in LA!
A quaint cafe and bakery with a killer lavender vanilla latte!
Enjoy savory tacos and tasty margaritas at this Mexican restaurant with a rock and roll feel.
Drink like Don Draper at this historic landmark. Cole's is the creator of French dip sandwiches, has a killer grilled cheese, and features a legitimate speakeasy in the very back. Order an Old Fashioned and relax in the red leather seats.
This kitschy pub has been around since 1920, and has hosted just about every Hollywood icon you can think of. Their menu is endless, but they are most famous for their chili which was frequently ordered by Marilyn Monroe. They have awesome happy hour specials, pool tables and a real divey feel [in the best way possible].
You can't go to California and not visit a taco stand. With so many options, I recommend Cactus Taqueria #1 - I love their shrimp tacos!
This bar is located in what was once a hotel, so when you go inside you enter a bedroom where a girl is lounging on a bed. After giving you a rundown about the space, she moves and the bed slides back to reveal a staircase to the actual bar. Throughout the night there are tight rope walkers, burlesque dancers, jugglers, a DJ and often a live band. This is truly a unique experience.
Delicious farmer's market influenced comfort food matched with a great patio space.
Enjoy vegan and organic Mexican fare in this chic atmosphere while sipping on a delicious margarita.
With a few locations around town, check out the one downtown - I love the hanging plants and overall vibe. They also offer juices if you've hit your caffeine limit for the day.
Order a dirty chai and sit back in this ultra cute space.
There are several locations throughout LA, and every drink I've ever tried has been amazing! Try the Philz bagel if you go for breakfast.
Full of charm and delicious eats - they make the best blueberry muffin I have ever eaten!
Enjoy a wonderful meal inside a historic bungalow, or sip on your choice of wine, cocktail, craft beer, coffee or tea outside in the garden. Don't forget something sweet - choose from several baked goods or Alcove's own chocolate.
Located in the hip Silver Lake neighborhood, Dinosaur Coffee has a fresh feel and a great cup of joe.
I'm sure you've seen Alfred Coffee all over Instagram. They created the "But first, coffee" saying, and also have some of the cutest spaces you would hope to find in a coffee shop.
LA is a unique sunny place full of things to explore. This post doesn't cover everything, but I hope it sets you on the right path to experiencing LA like a local.
I've plotted all of the above places on this map so you can make the most of your time in each area. Enjoy!