When I moved to Los Angeles ten years ago, I really had no idea of what I was getting into. I didn’t know how big it was or how there was more to it then just spotting famous people in the city.
But while living there, I had the opportunity to experience LA as a whole and know what it really had to offer. From it’s crazy food trucks to its different neighborhoods that promise culture and hole in the wall restaurants; I’ve found that the people are friendly and palm trees are in abundance.
But when you visit Los Angeles on vacation, you don’t have the time to explore all the ins and outs of Southern California. And to be honest, trying to fit everything into one trip is extremely overwhelming.
So I decided to create a 5 day itinerary for those of you who want the Hollywood/beach experience that everyone knows about, but also the insider tips and locations that only a local would know about.
Just know that you can mix and match which days you want to experience in a certain part of Los Angeles. It’s not a strict itinerary, you don’t have to follow it perfectly (in fact, I encourage you to go off of the beaten path and find the crazy cool things that LA has to offer), but it’s here for you to know where to eat and what to see and experience. It’s here to help guide you when you’re feeling overwhelmed at all there is to do in Southern California.
Day 1 – Your Hollywood Experience
I thought I’d start off day one with the whole Hollywood/tourist experience. It’s a great way to see many of the landmarks you’ve seen online or in magazines. Much of it centers around Hollywood Boulevard, but I will be taking you in a few different directions to give you more of a feel for the city.
Remember, my aim is not to overwhelm you, just make things a bit easier when it comes to decision making and planning.
Breakfast – Mel’s Diner
Insider’s Note: Come back after dinner or a long day of walking and grab one of their (large) amazing milkshakes. The Oreo milkshake is by far my favorite!
Location: 1650 Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Mel’s Diner has been one of my favorites since I was a kid. It’s a great place to eat if you want the 1950’s diner experience and great food.
Located just off of the famous Hollywood boulevard and blocks away from Grauman’s Chinese Theater, it’s a great way to start off your day before all of the sightseeing.
Practically everything you’ve seen about the heart of Hollywood itself is on this stretch. So whether you want to see the walk of fame, place your hands where actors have cemented their hand prints, or explore the ginormous Hollywood and Highland Center, the boulevard has got you covered.
The Chinese theater has showings everyday of newly released movies, but there’s also the El Capitan theater a few blocks away that will also give you a great old movie house experience with movie showings and plays.
The Highland Center is a great place to go if you want your shopping experience and fun snacks to keep you filled throughout the day. Also, it’s a pretty impressive sight to see with a grand entrance made to look like old Egyptian ruins and shops rising stories high in the open-air mall.
Lunch – Pink’s Hot Dogs
Insider’s Note: As I’ll tell you below, many famous people go to Pink’s Hot Dogs. And many times they’ll order their own personalized dog which ends up giving them a place on the menu (if it’s popular enough). So if you want to have the same hot dog that Snoop Dog or Ryan Lochte had, go for it!
Location: 709 N La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90039
It may seem strange that I’m taking you off of the boulevard for hot dogs, but I promise you that’s it’s worth your time. Pink’s Hot Dog’s has seen many famous people over the decades (opened in 1939), with pictures of them next to the owner on the walls for proof.
And there’s a lot more to their menu then just hot dogs; they also have huge burgers, Mexican inspired dishes, and awesome sides. Their selection is big and there’s a lot that goes into their meals; so whether you’re someone that likes complex hot dogs and burgers like the Mayor’s Dog or Jaws, or you like something simple and no-hassle like a chili cheese dog, then Pink’s has got you covered.
Check out their awesome menu here!
Location: 2800 E Observatory Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90027
To be honest, there’s no better place to walk off your lunch and catch the sun setting over Los Angeles and the ocean than the Griffith Observatory. A personal favorite of mine, it’s an awesome place to explore and it’s free.
The only thing that will cost you money there are the planetarium showings with tickets costing $7 for adults and kids 13 and up, $3 for children 5-12, $5 for students (with ID) and seniors, and kids under 5 are free. I’ve been to the Centered in the Universe showing and it’s an awesome experience.
However, if you’re not into those kind of things, the observatory has much to partake in and see as well as two different levels of beautiful viewing areas that overlook Los Angeles.
And lastly, the trail that takes you to the Hollywood sign itself is right there, so join the hikers and the tourists for an easy walk up to the main landmark in Hollywood.
Dinner – Cafe at the End of the Universe
Without having to travel back down to Hollywood Boulevard to get something to eat, you can have dinner at the observatory’s cafe. Grab one of their amazing drinks and meals, and find a seat that overlooks the direction of the ocean and much of LA.
I’ve had the awesome experience of watching the sun set and seeing the fog slowly start to roll in from the coast and creep through the streets of Los Angeles. It really is an awesome view and a great place to relax after much exploring and walking (and don’t forget the traffic).
Day 2 – Beach Day
When I moved to Southern California, I knew that it had beaches, I just didn’t know how beautiful or fun they could be. So with extensive knowledge of the Santa Monica/Venice area (I thought I’d keep it in one general area that you’d know of so as to not overwhelm you), I’ll show you the places to eat and experience around the well known boardwalk.
Breakfast – Norm’s
Location: 11001 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064
A local favorite for breakfast, it’s a great place to get an awesome hearty breakfast for a good price. Their lunches and dinners are good, but their breakfasts are what I usually go for (especially since it beats out a Denny’s or IHOP for quality and quantity when I’m feeling a diner run).
Their New York Steak and Eggs are a personal favorite of mine (served with two eggs, hash browns, and your choice of toast, English muffin, biscuit and gravy, or two hotcakes – see what I mean about hearty?), but you can choose anywhere from Blueberry Belgium Waffles to their Melting Pot Omelette.
Santa Monica Pier
Always a fun place to be during the day or night, the Santa Monica Pier holds awesome rides (that have been around for quite awhile), like the Pacfic Wheel that lights up amazing colors at night or their West Coaster. Also, don’t forget about their historic carousel with an awesome soda fountain inside to grab a tasty drink or treat.
To be honest, I’ve also found the underside of the pier to be fun as well. You’re able to wonder through the pier’s large wooden pillars and watch the tide move through them (it’s also a beautiful place to be during sunset).
Rent a Bike
Right next to the beach is a bike path that goes for miles in either direction and takes you to many different beautiful beaches and coastal towns. How far you want to go (whether towards Malibu heading north or towards Manhattan beach heading south), depends upon you.
But if you just want a casual bike ride in the general area and don’t want to do much work, then rent a bike from Blazing Saddles right next to the pier and head south just 5 minutes on bike or 20 minutes on foot to your lunch location.
Lunch – Perry’s Cafe Bike and Skate
Location: 2600 Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica, CA 90405
The reason for it’s name? Probably because it’s right on the path where people bike and skate the most. And to be honest, their location probably turns in a lot of profit.
It’s a great place to sit under an umbrella and relax drinking one of their awesome blended drinks and watching people skate or bike past and the tide roll in. Their menu includes their amazing pizza, burgers, south of the border dishes, salads, sandwiches, wraps, and even breakfast (if you want to go here rather than Norm’s).
The Original Hot Dog on a Stick Stand
OR – If you’ve ever been in a food court, you’ve probably seen Hot Dog on a Stick. Started in 1946 as a stand right next to the Santa Monica pier, you can sit on the beach and eat a tasty meal and slurp down one of their large cherry, lime, or regular lemonades that they’re famous for.
3rd Steet Promenade
Location: 1351 3rd Street Promenade #201, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Literally just a couple blocks from the pier, if you go down Broadway, you’ll hit the 3rd Street Promenade which is an awesome open-air shopping and cultural center. So whether you want to watch performers sing and play instruments or check out the cool shops it has to offer, it’s a great place to relax and explore.
Dinner – Albright
Located on the pier itself, Albright is a great place to get seafood, burgers, sushi, or soup, and watch the waves roll in as the sun sets.
Yes, I’m aware that I’ve already mentioned Santa Monica’s Ferris Wheel on the pier, but it’s definitely something you should do at night. What with it’s beautiful changing colors that play along the sand and waves, it’s an awesome experience and memory to have.
What’s an amusement park-like experience without funnel cake (or something equally as unhealthy)? The Funnel Cake Factory is a great way to complete your day at the pier.
For those of you who don’t know what funnel cake is, it’s dough that’s been poured and deep fried and topped with powdered sugar and the optional strawberries. Definitely an awesome but not so good for you dessert.
Day 3 – Culture and Exploring Day
This is the day where I want to take you to a few places that you’ve probably heard of before, that are also personal favorites of mine. Because let’s get real, many times a place can be well known but not worth the hype. I’ve had my share of experience like that; so here’s a day dedicated to doing things not like that.
Breakfast – Caffe Latte
Location: 6254 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048
If you’re wanting a cool trendy meal experience, Caffe Latte is definitely a place you want to check out. Also, their menu is awesome; tons of choices and great variety.
I mean just looking at the menu I’m about to link to you is starting to make me hungry (no joke). Just.. just look at it!
La Brea Tar Pits
Location: 5801 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Not sure if anyone else thinks of this, but I find it weird and awesome at the same time that there are tar pits (with an on going archaeologist excavation) right in the middle of Los Angeles. Seriously, how strange is that? Right in the middle of the land of palm trees and famous people is a place where you can find dinosaur and woolly mammoth bones.
Getting back on track, La Brea Tar Pits is seriously a great place to explore and even relax. The first time I went was when I was a kid (before moving to LA), and it was so memorable that I went back as a teen and adult.
It does cost to get in, $12 for adults, $9 for students, seniors, and youth, as well as $5 for children (it does cost more if you want to see certain showings). But thankfully the Tar Pits have free days; the first Tuesdays of every month (excluding July and August), as well as every Tuesday in September.
If you want any more info on admission, check out their page that goes more into depth.
LACMA – Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Literally right next to the La Brea Tar Pits (How convenient is that? You don’t have to hassle with any of the LA traffic!), the LACMA is a great place to explore. So whether you want to see classical or modern pieces, or check out their themed galleries (their Japanese exhibition is one of my favorites), you’ll have a lot of fun seeing what it has to offer.
General admission is $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, and free for everyone 17 and under, but you can check out their page that talks about the free days they offer.
Lunch – Food Trucks
Insider’s Note: Roaming Hunger is a great site to go on if you want to search for food trucks that are serving in certain parts of LA at a certain time (or any city near you for that matter).
You can’t have a real LA experience without trying one of their famous food trucks. All throughout the city, kitchens on wheels park in great locations to offer regulars and people passing by a unique and delicious experience.
And you don’t have to go far! In the parking lot right next to the La Brea Tar Pits, you can walk over (around 11-1PM) and search through the food trucks and see which one sounds the best to you. So whether you’re in the mood for crepes stuffed with delicious savory or sweet goodness or a traditional taco truck, there’s plenty to choose from.
The Grove and The Farmers Market
Insider’s Note: If you plan on making your trip to Los Angeles at Christmas time, this is the place to go. Decked out for the holidays, it’s an awesome (and kind of magical) experience.
Location: 189 The Grove Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90036
I was going to start this with “Another personal favorite of mine…” but that would be too repetitive. I really need to stop that.
Five minutes away from the Tar Pits and LACMA, is The Grove, a place where the stars and common folk like you and I go to shop and eat in the open air mall and Farmers Market.
Going through the shops, riding on the trolley, and watching the dancing fountain play to music every hour is pretty fun (and The Grove is laid out beautifully as well), but the Farmer’s Market is what I love best. Within the same vicinity, there’s more to do than just buy fresh produce and meat.
You can eat from places like the exotic Singapore’s Banana Leaf to the American Marmalade cafe. Or explore Dragunara Spice Bazaar or the T (Tea Shoppe).
You can see all of their eateries and shops that they have to offer at Farmers Market merchants page.
It really is a fun place to roam around and grab a drink or a quick bite to eat and listen to live music on Friday nights.
Dinner – Pampas Grill
Ever had Brazilian barbecue? Well if you haven’t (and even if you have), you need to head over to Pampas Grill (still located in The Farmers Market).
Slow turned cuts of meat display before you as you choose the sides and main you want. They’ll offer you steak, sausages, and even bacon wrapped chicken. This is seriously the place to go if you’re a carnivore.
Day 4 – Pasadena
I’ve dedicated this day to being your low key relaxing day. If you choose to do all of these things, whether in this exact order or not, you’re going to need a day where you’re not running around so you don’t overwhelm yourself. And Pasadena, more specifically South Pasadena, is just the place to do it.
A lot of tourists flock to Colorado Boulevard when they visit Pasadena (and yes, you will get to experience some of that on day 4), but I mainly want to focus on a different part of the city that will allow you to see Pasadena as the locals do.
Breakfast – Novel Cafe
Location: 1713 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91106
Serving breakfast all day, the Novel Cafe is a great place to go for American fusion dishes and a hearty meal to start off your day. It’s also great if you’re looking for a good atmosphere (the interior is pretty awesome), and a fun menu with items like Novel Chilaquiles or their California omelette.
You can check out their menu here and see ahead of time what you’d like to get.
Fun Faction: If you hear squawks from above, just know that they’re green parrots that were let loose a few years ago from a nearby zoo and have been multiplying in their numbers and migrating around Southern California ever since. To be honest, I think it’s given the area a more fun (tropical?) appeal.
South Pasadena is a great place in the Los Angeles area that makes you feel like you time traveled back to a slower pace of life. Only 7 minutes away from Colorado Boulevard, you can explore its small downtown and wonder through it’s neighborhoods filled with beautiful houses, shading trees, and blooming flowers. Or check out the old churches and cathedrals and their amazing architecture.
Then head over to Kaldi’s down the street from downtown (Mission Street) on the corner of Diamond and El Centro, grab a coffee, and walk right across the street to the beautifully shaded square that holds South Pasadena’s beautiful old public library. There’s a path that leads all the way around the library, so you can relax, take in your drink, and have a good conversation with the person you’re with.
Also, if you’re a coffee addict like many of us out there, Buster’s Ice Cream and Coffee Stop is a great option as well. Located at 1006 Mission St. South Pasadena.. or just down the street from Kaldi’s.
Lunch – Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain
Location: 1526 Mission St, South Pasadena, CA 91030
Originally opened in 1915 as a drug store where people came to eat and drinks sweets, pick up a prescription, mingle and buy souvenirs and goods, it was restored in the 90’s to its former glory. With a set of antique pharmacy fixtures and an original soda fountain brought in from Joplin, Missouri on Route 66, it really is a step back in time.
You can come here and sit inside or out and enjoy an AMAZING dessert (seriously, check out their menu, they have an awesome selection), and an entree. I know it’s a side, but I particularly love their cheese fries; there’s something so about the cheese melted on the over-sized fries that tastes so right.
Then browse their selection of goods throughout the store and explore the rest of their interior. It’s definitely a great place to hang out (especially if it’s starting to get hot outside).
Location: 1750 Mission St. South Pasadena, CA 91030
Right down the street from the Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain (a 4 minute walk), is Garfield Park. A beautiful place to grab a blanket and relax after a huge lunch. See what I mean about this being your slow and relaxing day? Just take in the scenery as the sun filters through the trees and watch life go by.
Or you can walk around the park, check out the blooming roses, and lose a few pounds (I’m assuming you’ll over eat at Fair Oaks since their food is pretty awesome).
Also, on every other Sunday in the summer, there are concerts in the park from 5PM to 7PM. So if you time it just right, this is something you can catch.
Dinner – 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria
Location: 2 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105
Now you can head back down to Colorado Boulevard and grab an awesome pizza for dinner. You can either make it yourself and choose your own base and toppings (their toppings are pretty awesome, check out their menu here), or you can order one of their own pizzas such Quattro Formaggi or the Angry Bee… just go check out their menu, it all looks so good!
Dessert – 85C Bakery and Cafe
Location: 61 S Fair Oaks Ave #120, Pasadena, CA 91105
Originally started in Taiwan, 85C is a great place if you want to finish off the night with dessert and try something new as well. Offering plenty of coffee and tea drinks and desserts that basically look like art pieces, you can hop on over from the pizzeria to the cafe (No joke, it’s right down the street; an easy 2 minute walk. How convenient right?).
Try anything from Coffee Creme Brulee to Mango Panna Cotta. You can stay safe and get something that you know (we all love our common comforts), or try something new and exotic.
Definitely check out their menu (it’s just fun to look at).
Or you can try Hello Gelato, which is less than a minutes walk. Literally, you head right once you walk out onto Colorado Boulevard and it’s the next shop over.
I love this place, their gelato is all colorful and delicious (and hard to choose from). So if you want something refreshing after a heavy dinner, then definitely walk on over and check this place out.
Take a Stroll
Now if you have enough energy after the long day, you can take a stroll along Colorado Boulevard before heading back to your hotel. Take the lights, people, shops, music, and night air all in (and remember to take it slow). Walk off your meal and head into any stores that sparks your curiosity or just window shop and watch life go by.
Day 5 – Ethnic Day
I call this Ethnic Day because a large part of it revolves around one of Los Angeles’ biggest ethnic spots, Chinatown. It’s one of my most favorite places to go in LA and explore; there always seems to be something different or new to find. But first, I’ll start it off with an old local classic for breakfast.
Breakfast – Philippe The Original
Location: 1001 N Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Started in 1908, Philippe’s is the home of the French dipped sandwich and located right in Downtown Los Angeles itself. You can grab one of their 45 cent coffees (not much has changed since “the old days”), and a big breakfast to start off your day right.
Just like the soda fountain in South Pasadena, it’s almost like a step back in time when you walk through the doors (or see it from the outside for that matter). It’s an awesome corner restaurant that offers a lot of variety and history.
Echo Park Stroll and Pedal Boats
Insider’s Note: Every Year around mid July, Echo Park holds the Lotus Festival when the lotus flowers on the lake are in bloom. It’s an Asian inspired festival with great food, performances, and shops. I’ve gone quite a few years and have had a lot of fun. It’s held on a weekend, so if you can make it during that time, then definitely check it out (you can check out their Facebook page here for more info).
Location: 751 N. Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90026
I’ve gone here since I was twelve and it’s been one of my favorite places to go ever since. With the Los Angeles downtown skyscrapers as a background, a fountain shooting up in the middle of the lake, a trail that leads all the way around, play areas for the kids, and pedal boats, it can make for a fun late morning or early afternoon.
Food carts patrol the area, so you can grab a quick salty snack or freshly cut pineapple and mango.
Now let’s get to the pedal boats! Right next to the Echo Park lake, is the Echo Park Pedal Boats Concession. You can rent a pedal boat for up to an hour ($5 for kids and $10 for adults) and go around the lake and have fun. It really is relaxing and a great way to see the different parts of the park.
You can check out their site for more info (the pictures don’t do it justice).
Lunch – Master Chef
Location: 937 N Hill St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Insider’s Note: Their Peking duck is the best! Very savory and it comes with a great sauce and fluffy Chinese pancakes to stuff the meat into. Also, I’d suggest their salted calamari and orange chicken (yes I know that sounds cliche, but their orange chicken is a lot different than other places.. I promise). Also, try any of the dishes that have Chinese sausage or their hot pot.. ok, just try it all!
I’m excited to get to this because this is probably my most favorite Chinese restaurant in all of Los Angeles… or anywhere for that matter (if you can’t tell from the food rant above). The portions are big and the quality is great (and it has a nice atmosphere to boot). Their lunch menu has great prices ranging from around $6-$8, but you can order off of their regular menu as well and still get a good price.
Your meal comes with complimentary tea and soup, so you can sit next to one of their big windows, drink a cup of tea while you wait for your amazing food to come, and watch life go by outside.
Last Insider’s Note: Whenever I go to a Chinese restaurant, I usually order family style, which means you all order a certain dish and then share, taking your own portion and putting it on your plate. It’s a great way to sample a lot of things.
Only a two minute walk away, across the street, is Old Chinatown. Filled with awesome shops like K.G. Louie or Import Bazaar, you can find almost anything you want to take back with you as a souvenir (they used to sell swords in the shops as well but I’m sure some city politician made sure to get rid of them).
Also, I’d recommend trying out Wonder Bakery at the very end of the main walkway, next to Broadway. It’s one of my favorite places to go when I want something sweet to eat or drink. So grab one of their coffee or tea drinks, an Asian pastry (if you still have room), take a walk and admire the pond, architecture, shops, and explore any winding alleys that you find.
Old Chinatown will also have performances and events from time to time. The main celebration is the Chinese New Year parade and festivities in February, but they have events all throughout the year. These can be anything from music or film festivals to martial arts performances (you can keep up to date with what’s happening on their Facebook page).
Other Parts of Chinatown
You can make your way onto Broadway right next to the main Old Chinatown plaza, take a right and run across many cool stores or go across the street to Dynasty Center and explore the alleyway of small shops and eateries. There are plenty of hidden gems in Chinatown, and the Dynasty Center was one I found by accident and was surprised with how far back it went. Definitely a cool place to check out!
Dinner – Brite Spot
Location: 1918 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026
Now if you’re not still full from the huge meal you had at Master Chef (or you don’t feel like making the lunch leftovers your dinner), then head back towards Echo Park and just a few blocks away, you’ll fine the Brite Spot. Literally, it’s colors are very bright, so it’s hard to miss it.
Serving breakfast all day, it’s a great way to wind down the evening, have a nice dinner, and watch the city life roll by outside.
Then once you’re done (and if the weather’s right), you should definitely walk back down to Echo Park and see the amazing view of Los Angeles’ skyline. The lights and colors are definitely something to take in and perhaps you’ll feel in the mood to take one last walk around the park along side the evening joggers and couples.
To be truthful, I had no idea that this was going to be such a long post. I knew it was going to be helpful and insightful for others who aren’t locals, but I didn’t know how much I’d end up talking about all the things there are to do in the Los Angeles area. And in reality, this is just scraping the surface. There’s still so many cultural enclaves to see, so many more beaches to swim, and so many more restaurants and food trucks to eat from.
I lived in Los Angeles for around ten years, so I had been given a great opportunity to explore its different facets. So I’m glad to give you an agenda for your trip to Los Angeles. It’s a big area, and sometimes you need all the help you can get so it doesn’t become overwhelming.
Now I hope I was able to provide value to you in this post. However, if there was something that wasn’t answered, I did or didn’t do, or you want to know more about the subject, email me or let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear you out and answer you as best I can.