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The Best Los Angeles Travel Guide

The Best Los Angeles Travel Guide

Los Angeles is one of the best cities in America.  As a resident for almost three years I may be slightly biased, but the combination of unbeatable weather, great food, culture and nightlife is hard to top.  However, it is kind of hard to know how to see Los Angeles if you're visiting for the first time.  Everything is so spread out and there aren't a ton of "sights" as there are in a place like New York where it's pretty easy to list Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Broadway, off the top of your head for example.  In LA, the first thing that comes to mind is The Hollywood Sign...and then I seriously struggle to name anything else other than the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  So here's a list of some of the best things to do and see in Los Angeles as suggested by a local:

Photo by franckreporter/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by franckreporter/iStock / Getty Images

Where to Eat

Brunch: Gjelina, in Venice

Brunch is the queen of Saturdays and Sundays and there is no better place to turn brunch into a verb than Gjelina.  Amazing food right on Abbott Kinney in Venice so you get a good feel for the area while enjoying some avocado toast.  They don't take reservations for groups less than 6 people so be prepared to wait for a table, but it's worth it.  Plus there are so many shops on Abbott Kinney, you can occupy yourself until a spot opens up.

On the Water: Malibu Farm, in Malibu

If you're willing to drive about 20-30 minutes north of Santa Monica to Malibu, there is no other place I would recommend first than Malibu Farm.  It's situated on the Malibu Pier, so you are quite literally eating on the water.  Everything is organic and fresh farm-to-table.  And you know everyone in LA loves a good juice, so if juice is your thing, Malibu Farm has the best.  Walk to the end of the pier after your meal and check out the cute little boutique too.  They have great souvenirs and gifts.  

With a Group: Toca Madera, in West Hollywood 

This Mexican spot is best described as a lounge that happens to serve food.  The DJ spins live during the weekends while the bar is an active bar scene all to itself.  If you want a fun place for a birthday dinner, or a restaurant that offers up a lot of activity, ambiance and excitement, Toca Madera is it.  After dinner, walk to The Phoenix a few doors down to wrap up the evening.  

Near the Beach: Simmzy's, in Manhattan Beach

If you're willing to drive about 20-30 minutes south of Santa Monica, you find the best little gem of a town.  I'm in love with Manhattan Beach. It's beachy, relaxed, and is an instant stress reliever due to its sweeping ocean views.  Simmzy's is the perfect spot to highlight what Manhattan Beach has to offer because it's located on the main drag and is a short walk to the beach.  It's my favorite for brunch, but can be equally as good for lunch or dinner.  

To See PaparazziThe Ivy, in Beverly Hills 

If you're the mood to get a taste of the Beverly Hills version of Los Angeles, The Ivy is a go-to for lunch. It's pricey but the service is always fabulous and the food is ridiculously good.  When you arrive you're greeted with a free glass of champagne and it's decorated like a French country cottage so it has tons of character.  If you're looking to splurge a little bit, or want to do something special, it's a great restaurant to consider.  

Like a Local: République, in West Hollywood

This West Hollywood restaurant is no-fuss but has a cool LA vibe.  Place your order at the counter and they'll bring your food to the table.  The pastries = bomb.  The coffee = also bomb.  Their salad = also very bomb.  Their breakfast sandwich = extremely bomb.  (Okay, I go there a lot.)  The wait on the weekends is on the longer side, but they have a walk-up window where you can order coffee and bakery items while you wait.  Highly recommend all the way around.  

And Grab CoffeeAlfred Coffee, on Melrose Place or in Brentwood

Coffee and juice fuels most LA residents on a daily basis.  There is no shortage of artisan coffee shops in the city, but one of my favorites is Alfred.  If you're in West Hollywood, the one on Melrose Place is super cool, but if you're staying in Santa Monica, the one in Brentwood is a very close second.  They have some grab and go food options but for the most part it's coffee, juice and tea.  But if you're looking for a caffeine fix, it's worth the stop. 

To Feed Your Inner Hipster: Laurel Hardware, in West Hollywood

This is continually one of my favorite restaurants in LA, mostly because it has a little bit of something for everyone.  It has great ambiance and is kind of a "scene" without being too pretentious or over the top (many of those places exist in LA as you can imagine!), the bar menu is interesting and they have signature cocktails, and it's equal parts bar as it is restaurant.  And the food is always amazing.  

Tapas: Zinque, West Hollywood

For tapas and wine, think Zinque.  It's chic and cozy and the food is so good.  It's also easy to find something on the lighter side here.  This spot is probably best for a girls dinner due to the smaller plates, but also would be perfect for a casual, big group dinner.  Lots of patio space make it ideal if the weather is nice.  They also do take out, so if you want to dine on the beach it's a great option.  

What to Do:

With a Group: Malibu Wines & Wine Safari, in Malibu

This small winery up in the canyons of Malibu is a must for anyone 21+.  They have live bands on the weekends and you can set up picnic-style with a big group of friends with food and wine.  (It's all outdoors though, so keep weather in mind before you go!) If you reserve a table ahead of time, you can request food from the winery, but since these book up quickly the good news is that you can set up a picnic blanket wherever there is space and they let you bring in food. A quick stop to Trader Joe's for some pita and hummus, (or whatever else you'd like!) is an easy fix for your Malibu Wines day.  They also have a wine and safari tour if you really want to do something different!  Check it out by clicking the link above, and then looking at "experiences" for more information about how to book.  

On a Sunny Day: Manhattan Beach's Public Beach

This is pretty straight forward, but Manhattan Beach is a great spot to head if you want to get in a beach day.  (I highly recommend either Manhattan Beach or Malibu's Zuma Beach over the Santa Monica Beach.)  It's clean, quaint and there's plenty of volleyball nets to get competitive and sandy.

On Another Sunny Day: Malibu's Zuma Beach

Zuma Beach is a picturesque beach that is full of California surfer vibes. It's well worth the drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to spend the day.  

To Get Your Sweat On: Hike Runyon Canyon, or the Hollywood Sign

Both of these hikes aren't overly strenuous so it becomes a great way to see sprawling views of the city.  Both hikes are typically well-trafficked so it also become an unexpected way to meet people and get social.  

If You Want to Feel Like a Local: 3rd & Fairfax Farmer's Market

This farmer's market has been around since 1934.  There's over 100 different merchants in the farmer's market ranging from artisan specialty foods to locally sourced produce, farm fresh eggs and old fashioned ice cream.  

If You Want to Get a Dose of Hollywood: Get Tickets to a Live Taping

There are so many options available if you want to get tickets to a taping.  Google can be your best friend for this, but a great start is to head to 1iota.com for some free shows.  

If You Want Something Different: Hollywood Forever Cemetery Movie Screenings

Admittedly, I haven't actually done this yet.  I can't quite get over the cemetery aspect of this, but Cinespia (the movie screenings at Hollywood Forever) have really become a Hollywood institution.  Johnny Ramone, Jayne Mansfield and many other entertainment legends are buried here so you can come to pay your respects while also screening one of your favorite movies. It also hosts pre-show DJs, themed photo booths and picnics under the night sky. 

Where to Imbibe:

For An Unbelievable View: The Huntley Hotel, Santa Monica

Take the lobby elevator up to the Penthouse floor where their restaurant, aptly named "The Penthouse", offers the most spectacular view of Los Angeles.  You can see all the way up the coastline to Malibu.  Grab a table for brunch, lunch or dinner, or sit at the bar for mixologist-inspired cocktails and stay late for the DJ.  

For a "Day Scene": The Bungalow, Santa Monica

I always like to say that people at the Bungalow dress for the Bungalow the same way people at Coachella dress for Coachella.  (And it's basically the same crowd.  In fact, during both weekends of Coachella every year the Bungalow is suspiciously empty...) The coolest thing about the Bungalow is the ambiance.  It's truly an old beach bungalow that's been revamped into an amazing Los Angeles bar.  Don't let the name fool you though, this place isn't tiny.  They have four different bars and plenty of outdoor seating so you won't feel too cramped.  

And Explore: Main Street in Santa Monica

This stretch in Santa Monica is perfect for sampling all that the area has to offer.  Walk up and down Main Street and stop in wherever looks interesting to you.  There's plenty of options for food, drinks, and shopping.  

For a "Night Scene": Delilah, West Hollywood

Okay, so this one deserves some explanation.  Delilah is one of the nightlife spots in LA that doesn't allow photography inside so celebrities feel more comfortable.  (Seriously.  They'll escort you outside if you break the rule, or they'll mandate you delete the photo). And if they're being honest, I'm sure it also has to do with creating a mysterious air around what Delilah is actually like. (Just try looking up some pictures of the interior of Delilah on Instagram. They're hard to find!)  I can reveal some of the mystery though: It. Is. Awesome.  And not for the celebrity aspect (although it's almost a guarantee you will see someone), but because it's the perfect combo of restaurant and lounge.  They sometimes have impromptu performances by some pretty big names, but the music is always on point and there is always a place to sit down and comfortably talk with your friends without having to yell.  They serve dinner and the food is fabulous, the drinks are delicious and there really isn't one thing that Delilah doesn't do incredibly, incredibly well.  The trick to getting a reservation is grabbing the earliest time slot available for dinner (usually around 7:30pm) and then staying there past dinner service so it turns into the bar scene.  Plus, it really is cool enough to warrant an entire evening.   

For Karaoke: Blind Dragon, West Hollywood

Blind Dragon is one of the best bars in LA that happens to also offer karaoke.  Reserve one of the rooms to sing karaoke in a big group, or you can head in without a reservation to just hang at the bar.  The music is always great.

Near the Beach: Shellback, Manhattan Beach

This is the ultimate beach bar.  Relaxed and oh so fun, it has a juke box so you can control the music and they offer up bar food for those who need some sustenance.  It's right off of the beach in Manhattan Beach, so it's the perfect spot to stop in after a long day in the sun.

At a Sports Bar: The Nickel Mine, Brentwood

Sometimes when you're traveling, you just want a good ole sports bar.  The Nickel Mine is just that, but turned up a notch.  Giant TVs and really great bar food (try their pizza!) make this sports bar unique from your typical beer and wings place.   

For a Fancy Date Night: The Bar at the Hotel Bel Air, Bel Air

If you want to splurge, this is a cozy, romantic spot to nestle in.  They have a roaring fireplace, an extensive wine list and an intimate ambiance that makes this the ultimate in sexy date night drinks.   

For a Great Classic Bar: The Chestnut Club, Santa Monica

This is one of those bars that guys will love as much as girls do.  Their cocktail list is long, but they make classic old fashioneds, and Manhattans better than most.  They also have plush couches for groups to sit comfortably - which is great because not only is it a perfect place for hanging out with your crew, but it also gets pretty packed on most nights.  

Where to Sleep:

$: For options that aren't that pricey, but still give you a great spot in the city, try AirBnB.  It's hard to find a reasonable hotel in a good location so why not crash at someone's house while they're away!

$$: Hotel Beverly Terrace, or Farmer's Daughter

$$$: The Shade Hotel (Manhattan Beach), SIXTY Beverly Hills Hotel

$$$$: The Mondrian, Shutters on the Beach

Alfred Coffee

in Brentwood, Los Angeles. 

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