Los Angeles Travel Guide
Los Angeles both confirms and dismantles all of its stereotypes. Sure, it's a sprawling metropolis with eternally congested freeways, but it also contains one of the most diverse and unique sets of neighborhoods in the United States. La-La Land is filled to the brim with the glamour of chic Hollywood name brands and movie set backdrops, yet it's also home to renowned art galleries like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and ... continue»
See all Top Things to Do in Los Angeles»
See the Best Hotels in Los Angeles»
The best times to visit Los Angeles is from March to May or from September to November, when the air is more breathable and the crowds are less oppressive. Average temperatures during these times remain in the 60s or 70s, which makes walking around and visiting outdoor attractions much more comfortable. During the summer, average high temperatures hover in the mid-70s; the heat coupled with heavy smog levels often drive visitors and residents alike to the already crowded oceanside neighborhoods. If you're looking for deals, consider a winter trip. Just make sure to pack an umbrella, since you're bound to encounter some rainfall in January and February.Best Times to Visit Los Angeles»
Los Angeles Neighborhoods
The city of Los Angeles, bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, is made up of more than 100 neighborhoods. Citizens from about 140 different countries — who speak more than 224 different languages — live in the city, which creates a network of ethnically diverse towns. Plus, the varied landscape throughout L.A. allows travelers to tailor a visit to their interests: There are beaches, parks and mountains in addition to the cosmopolitan city.
Downtown/Los Angeles Metro
Downtown L.A., situated in the center of the city, is a business hub home to several banks, department stores, government buildings and financial institutions. The area has been experiencing a renaissance of sorts with more and more restaurants and nightlife venues opening. Plus, accommodations here are some of the more affordable in the city. One of the area's most impressive sites is the Walt Disney Concert Hall (designed by architect Frank Gehry and home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic) on South Grand Avenue. Just southwest are the GRAMMY Museum and the STAPLES Center, where NBA, WNBA and NHL teams play and musical acts perform. Next door, the Los Angeles Convention Center boasts more than 850,000 square feet of exhibition and meeting space.
On the outskirts of downtown are the largely residential neighborhoods of Silver Lake, Echo Park, Westlake, Chinatown and Koreatown. These areas can be seedy at night but some spots are worth a stroll: Chinatown, for example, is filled with dim sum eateries, relaxed dive bars and buildings boasting Chinese-influenced architecture.
Of course, L.A.'s most popular neighborhoods are those associated with movies, glitz and glamour. Located northwest of downtown, Hollywood — home to Paramount Pictures Studios, the oldest and last remaining film production studio in the neighborhood — is a must-see for any star-gazer. Stroll along the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame — located along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street — and see the names of the roughly 2,500 entertainment icons (fictional stars, too) that have earned a spot along the walk. On the walk is another legendary Hollywood locale: TCL Chinese Theatre (originally Grauman's Chinese Theatre). The theater's famous Chinese pagoda-like facade and regal interior are iconic in Los Angeles film culture. Another renowned venue (just a block north of Hollywood Boulevard) is the Dolby Theatre, which hosts the Academy Awards every year.
Sitting snug between Hollywood and Beverly Hills is West Hollywood, the epicenter of L.A.'s LGBT community — the neighborhood is where the annual gay pride parade is held each June. West Hollywood features plenty of lively restaurants and nightlife spots, such as The Abbey and the House of Blues. When looking for somewhere to hang your hat, you'll be pleased to find that hotels here are more affordable than those found in nearby Beverly Hills.
This trendy neighborhood is also home to the one of the busiest stretches of Santa Monica Boulevard, as well as the Sunset Strip — probably the most iconic and entertaining thoroughfare in all of L.A. A bit reminiscent of the Las Vegas Strip with its massive billboards and neon lights, the Sunset Strip is a great locale for celebrity-spotting and people-watching. Many of L.A.'s notorious music venues (like The Roxy and the Viper Room) also call the Sunset Strip home.
Beverly Hills and Bel Air
West of Hollywood is where the Fresh Prince made his name and many celebs make their beds. The super-chic, ultra-posh and overly pricey residences in Bel Air and Beverly Hills are home to stars such as Jack Nicholson, Madonna, Bruce Willis and Kim and Kanye. Aside from drooling over the lavish facades of celebrity homes, Beverly Hills is the place to go for retail therapy. When it comes to shopping, it doesn't get much better than Beverly Hills' designer boutique-lined Rodeo Drive. The street boasts more than 100 retailers —including everything from BVLGARI and Burberry to Prada and Valentino — prime for window-shopping and store-browsing.
Lodging-wise, some of the best hotels in Los Angeles can be found in Beverly Hills. But beware; since they're located in such a ritzy part of town, rooms will cost a pretty penny.
The Westside (which lies just north of Santa Monica and west of Beverly Hills) is chock full of top restaurants and bars, and visitors can find some affordable hotels here as well. Forming a 'C' west of Beverly Hills (with portions of the neighborhood lying south of West Hollywood), the Westside is also where visitors can get their fill of art and history. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Craft & Folk Art Museum and Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits all line Wilshire Boulevard (also known as "Museum Row") in this area of L.A. Just north of the museums sit the highly touted Farmers Market, filled with vendors hawking their best produce, flowers and handmade crafts. Situated in the northwest part of this area, the Brentwood neighborhood is home to the famous Getty Center, a 24-acre art museum renowned for its American and European art, sprawling grounds and provocative architecture.
If you're not in Los Angeles for Hollywood, you're probably here for the beach. With 72 miles of shoreline, there's plenty of sun and sand for everyone. L.A.'s coast is arguably the most popular part of the city thanks to fewer bouts of smog and a more laid-back atmosphere than seen downtown or in Beverly Hills.
Bordered by sandstone cliffs, Zuma is Los Angeles County's largest beach park and also the northernmost Los Angeles beach. Although it's about 36 miles west of Los Angeles proper along the Pacific Coast Highway, it's worth the trip for its clean water, impeccable beaches and impressive Pacific Ocean views. Seeing plenty of quality swell, this beach is pretty popular with the surfing crowd.
This exclusive neighborhood southeast of Zuma Beach boasts prime real estate and a posh atmosphere that have attracted such celebs as Mel Gibson and Cher. And similar to Beverly Hills, the houses here are massive and worth millions. Because of the stellar waves that crash on its shores, Malibu is where the die-hard surfers head for the best ride. Beaches here are technically public, but many are shielded by private communities meaning limited access for the everyday visitor. Residents often shield access with gates or shrubbery, or post illegal "private beach" signs. The "Our Malibu Beaches" app (free to download on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch) is helpful in offering maps, providing directions to beach accessways and identifying fake signs.
When it comes to exploring the coast, most people head to Santa Monica because it offers up sand and surf, and it's also home to some of the city's favorite sites. The Santa Monica Pier — complete with games, food and rides — is popular with the young and young-at-heart. The open-air Third Street Promenade is worth a stroll to see its quirky boutiques and quaint cafes. And if you can feel your wallet burning a hole in your pocket, this neighborhood overflows with primo shopping venues. Santa Monica is sandwiched between Malibu and Venice Beach just 16 miles west of downtown L.A.
To the south of Santa Monica is Venice Beach. This formerly run-down neighborhood is now one of L.A.'s most popular areas. Along the shore, Venice Beach's notoriously quirky personality thrives, with scantily clad bathers occupying the boardwalk and tie-dye T-shirt vendors' calls echoing in the air. This is the place to have your fortune told, enjoy a local musician's tunes, find the perfect vintage souvenir, and even star-gaze, as celebrity sightings are not uncommon. The colorful graffiti murals along walls and buildings are also a particularly interesting sight. Inland, a series of canals and foot bridges wind around the trendy eateries and unique boutiques of Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey
Built in the 1950s, Marina del Rey is one of the world's biggest man-made small boat harbors. Stroll along the marina (south of Venice Beach) to admire the expensive yachts and sailboats that float in and out of the inlet. The promenade that surrounds the marina is also home to a few restaurants and cafes for those looking to grab a bite to eat.
Sandwiched between Marina del Rey to the north and the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX to the south, the Playa del Rey area is primarily residential and families and younger, active Californians live here. Meanwhile the marshy Ballona Wetlands, also in this neighborhood, feature flora like lavender-hued lupines and canary yellow southern tar plant as well as wildlife like the snowy egret and Great Blue Heron.
Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach
Neighbors Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach are the quintessential southern California beach spots. These shores are packed with beach bums enjoying the sun, whether they're playing volleyball, paddleboarding or surfing in the Pacific, or just soaking up rays. A pedestrian-only pathway connects the three beaches, so walkers, joggers, rollerbladers and bikers often populate that stretch. Plus, eateries abound just a few blocks off the sand.
The piers at Manhattan and Hermosa beaches make for good spots to fish or to snap photos as the sun sets. Manhattan Beach is known for its cameos in TV and movies, such as "The OC" and "Point Break," as well as for its popular breakfast joints The Kettle and Uncle Bill's Pancake House. Hermosa Beach hosts national and professional beach volleyball tournaments, the Endless Summer Classic Car Show, a few art festivals and some concerts. Finally, Redondo Beach boasts its own marina and small shopping mall. These sandy strips are south of Playa del Rey.
Nicknamed the "Aquatic Capital of America" thanks to its mild year-round climate and calm sailing waters, Long Beach is where water sports enthusiasts flock. Travelers fond of boats can rent their own, take a gondola tour or hop the Catalina Express to visit Santa Catalina island just off the shore. Keep an eye out for the massive cruise ships, which dock in the Port of Long Beach. Surprisingly enough, though, Long Beach's physical beach isn't much to write home about — recent travelers bemoan the amount of trash they encountered on the sand. But visitors say a walk along the boardwalk makes for a nice evening activity.
Also south of Long Beach are even more beachside towns: Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach in Orange County. These neighborhoods are also home to some good hotel choices but staying here would put you a little far from the action in downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood.
To see where all the movie magic is made, head about 10 miles north from downtown L.A. to the San Fernando Valley (or just "The Valley") and the neighboring towns of Studio City, Universal City and Hollywood Hills. The best attractions in these areas include Griffith Observatory and Griffith Park (where you'll find some of the best views of L.A.), the popular-with-families Universal Studios Hollywood and the Hollywood Bowl, an outdoor concert venue that hosts a variety of musical acts. Meanwhile, North Hollywood — or "NoHo" — bursts with independent theaters and small boutique shops.
The main tourist points in L.A. remain relatively safe, but a bit of caution can go a long way in this huge and sometimes dangerous city. Neighborhoods on the outskirts of downtown, south central L.A. and even parts of the city center (like Skid Row) can be seedy as criminals tend to frequent these areas. Pickpocketing and petty theft are common, so be sure to safeguard all belongings; credit cards are accepted almost anywhere, so there's no need to carry around large amounts of cash. Homelessness also remains a problem, but it generally poses little risk to your safety. For more information on crime statistics within specific neighborhoods, visit the Los Angeles Times' detailed analysis online.
Also, you should avoid people who approach you on the street saying they're from a production studio or scouting agency. If someone does approach you, ask for his or her business card and check credentials before pursuing anything. Casting call scams have increased over the years, with scammers imploring people to fill out applications for shows that don't exist with the intent to steal personal information for identity theft.
The best way to get around Los Angeles is by car. Los Angeles is spread out over about 500 square miles, and while there is a public transportation system, it's severely lacking compared to those found in other major cities. You can rent a car from one of the approximately 40 rental agencies at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) — located about 20 miles southwest of the downtown area — or at any of the rental agencies located around the city. You can also take a taxi from the airport into the city, but that can be expensive: Rates average about $60 one-way. The light rail and bus systems also serve the airport, but be prepared for a slow ride.Getting Around Los Angeles»