My 11 Best Los Angeles Travel Tips
Let's be honest: Los Angeles isn't a city. It's more like a state, or even a country, evident by Los Angeles County encompassing nearly 5,000 square miles (more square miles than Delaware and Rhode Island combined), having a population of more than 10 million people (that's more than the countries of Paraguay, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, and Norway), and holding nearly 100 incorporated cities. It's not somewhere you become an expert in a long weekend or even a series of weekend trips, anymore than you can be an expert in quantum physics by listening to a podcast about it.
But having lived in Los Angeles for three years, I feel like I learned a thing or two about how to do Los Angeles as a traveler (and for that matter, a local). So it seemed fitting to share my best Los Angeles travel tips today. But not just any Los Angeles travel tips. Sure, I could tell you to avoid driving during daylight hours between mid-afternoon and early evening, or tell you where to get the best tacos or freshest sushi. I could tell you to skip the long waits at Pink's Hot Dogs or tell you my favorite hotel in Los Angeles (a tie between The Line and the Ace Hotel). However, today I wanted to share some of the more local, insider Los Angeles travel tips that you may not get from just any magazine article or guidebook.
See below for my 11 best Los Angeles travel tips.
11 Best Los Angeles Travel Tips
When possible, fly in and out of Burbank or Long Beach airports, rather than LAX. Simply put, there is no good time to fly in or out of Los Angeles International Airport. You'll likely be waiting before you even get into the airport, with it not being too unusual to take 10-15 minutes to reach your terminal once you've passed the LAX entrance. The same exists when you exit the airport, too. However, flying in or out of Burbank or Long Beach is a breeze, from the convenience of entering and exiting the airport to quick check-in and security procedures. The downside being that since these are much smaller airports, you may have an additional layover on your flight itinerary.
Many of the best restaurants in Los Angeles are in a shopping strip. Los Angeles has been acclaimed more than once (such as by Anthony Bourdain) for its great strip mall restaurants. So you're probably not classing up the joints, but these restaurants are essential to the great food scene of Los Angeles. A few of my favorites include Koreatown's Beverly Soon Tofu, East Hollywood's Jitlada, Little Tokyo's Sushi Gen, Westwood's Hamasaku, and Hollywood's Trois Mec. Many of Los Angeles' best bars are also in strip malls, such as Sunset Beer Company and The Woods.
Stay in the neighborhood you'll spend the most time in. Unless you want to spend most of your trip to Los Angeles in a car, this is the most important L.A. travel tip I can offer. If you only plan on spending most of your time in Santa Monica, don't stay in Hollywood or downtown Los Angeles. Similarly, consider some of the lesser-known, but convenient parts of Los Angeles for accommodations, such as Culver City, Westwood, or West Hollywood, which are some of the more central locations that are convenient to Hollywood, downtown Los Angeles, and the beach cities.
Take the metro. Yes, as a matter of a fact, Los Angeles does have metro, and it isn't shabby, as long as you're staying somewhere that's convenient to it. When I lived in Hollywood/West Hollywood, I would regularly use the metro to travel to and from downtown Los Angeles. Additionally, just this past year, the metro was extended to downtown Santa Monica. This is yet another good reason to stay in Westwood or Culver City, for example, since you can easily get to both downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica using the Expo Line. Best of all, there's no traffic.
Walk the hidden staircases. That's right, hidden, secret staircases. Back in the day, before Los Angeles was connected by highways, it was connected by hundreds of staircases. For people who lived in the hills, this was how they got from schools, markets, and transit lines to their homes. Today, many of these staircases still remain, and you can explore them while also getting a good workout. Some of my favorites explore the Hollywood Hills, including the Beachwood Canyon Stairs and Hollywood Bowl and Hightower Loop. Bring some water and a good pair of shoes; these aren't your grandma's stairs.
Go to an actual speakeasy from prohibition. During the early 1900s, Los Angeles was a hotbed for illegal activity during prohibition. Secret passages, tunnels, and underground stairs led the way to true speakeasies. And today, you can visit and have a drink at some of those very bars that were actual speakeasies during prohibition. Among them are a couple of my favorite bars in all of Los Angeles, King Eddy Saloon in downtown Los Angeles and the Del Monte Speakeasy, located in the basement of the Townhouse in Venice.
Attend a television show taping. Perhaps there's nothing on this list that's more L.A. Yet this isn't something you can do just anywhere. By attending a television show taping (typically free), you get to be in the audience of some of your favorite shows, such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Price is Right, and Tosh.0. Check out websites like 1iota to score free tickets. If it's a high-demand show, you'll want to try to get tickets weeks in advance.
Go to the movies...outdoors. I know, I know, you're probably not traveling to go to the movies, yet there's possibly no city in the world where it's more iconic, and unique, to see a movie. The uniqueness of the movie-going experience in Los Angeles ranges from attending movie premieres to fancy theaters where they serve cocktails and comfort food, like iPic, to historic theaters like New Beverly Cinema, owned by none other than Quentin Tarantino. However, my favorite L.A. movie experience consists of the many outdoor movies that take place around Los Angeles during the summer, such as Cinespia's "cemetery films" and Vineland Drive-In's drive-in movies (featuring new releases). The best part of these? You can bring in your own food and drinks!
Utilize free public transportation, such as the WeHo PickUp. Unbeknownst to many are the public transportation options available in Los Angeles, some of which are even free, such as the WeHo PickUp. The WeHo PickUp is a free shuttle that runs on weekend evenings (and select holidays), stopping at more than 30 places on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Other free shuttles in Los Angeles include one that connects LAX and the nearby Metro Green Line Aviation Station, and during Dodgers games, connects downtown Los Angeles' Union Station and Dodgers Stadium for ticket holders.
Pack some s'mores and fire wood for a beach bonfire at Dockweiler Beach. Amidst the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, there's a certain nostalgia and simplicity from being able to start a bonfire on the beach while the sun goes down over the Pacific Ocean. And the only place to legally do that in Los Angeles is Dockweiler Beach, just south of Venice, where you can enjoy one of the beach's many fire pits under the light of the moon reflecting off the ocean as planes fly overhead from LAX. BYOS'mores.
Some of the best shopping is at local Los Angeles flea and farmers' markets. While farmers' markets have become everyday in many cities around America, they've been mainstays in Los Angeles culture for years. While L.A. may seem like a concrete jungle, just beyond the highways are acres of farmland that stretch as far as the eye can see. Thus, you'll likely find a farmers' market happening in an L.A. neighborhood at just about every time during every day of the week. Beyond fresh produce, you'll also find a number of local craft makers, restaurant owners, and merchants selling everything from specialty coffee to handcrafted jewelry to fresh street food. A few of my favorite flea and farmers' markets in Los Angeles include the Arts District Co-Op, Melrose Trading Post, Rose Bowl Flea Market (get there early!), Hollywood Farmers' Market, and Santa Monica Farmers' Markets (downtown and Main Street).
What are your best Los Angeles travel tips?