Perpetually-perfect weather, adaptogenic lattes, endless traffic, and some of the nation's best food can all be found in the city of overnight success stories and broken dreams. Yes, that is Miranda Kerr sweating it out next to you at SoulCycle.
There is more to Los Angeles than meets the eye: it’s not only the image-conscious epicenter of the entertainment industry, but also a legitimate destination for design, fine art, and restaurants. In LA, every day is casual Friday, your car is practically an extension of your being, and getting your aura read is far from fringe behavior. Outsiders may love to hate it, but we’d recommend taking a different approach: lean in and embrace its diverse neighborhoods, gorgeous weather, and chill vibes.
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Near-constant sunshine makes Los Angeles an ideal destination any time of year. Winter months rarely see temperatures drop below the 50s, while summer numbers peak around the mid-80s. Visitors should note that LA experiences two seasons: wet and dry. During the dry season (May-September), it almost never rains; this lack of humidity makes hot summer days far more bearable than in places with muggy weather. The rainy season (October-April, with February being the wettest) is typically pretty mild, but having an umbrella at hand is not a bad idea. No matter the season, evenings can get chilly, so packing a light jacket is recommended. And don’t forget that sunscreen — this is the Golden State after all.
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Notoriously sprawling, Los Angeles feels more like a cluster of diverse suburbs and micro-cities than a dense metropolis. Naturally, driving is a way of life for Los Angelenos and visitors to the city; renting a car is more or less a must. On the upside, these neighborhoods are all connected via a vast toll-free freeway system; the downside: be prepared to sit in bumper to bumper traffic during rush hour, no matter where you’re going.
Major ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft are popular and readily available, and are a great option if you'll be drinking. As always, they provide a fixed price depending on distance and surge pricing.
While far less useful than in denser cities, public transit does exist here. If you’re staying in central LA (i.e. Downtown), it’s possible to rely on the subway for sightseeing. The Metro Red Line runs from Downtown Los Angeles to North Hollywood; you will find some of the biggest attractions along this line. DASH, the city’s bus system, operates 30 routes in central and outer areas, making it an option for getting around if you opt to stay in more distant neighborhoods like Santa Monica and Venice.
You'll need to purchase a TAP Card ($2 at vending machines, onboard buses and at TAP Vendor locations) to access subways, light rails, and buses. Otherwise, be prepared to pay with exact change. While public transportation can be limiting compared to driving, you can't beat the prices. One-way tickets cost $1.75, or $7 gets you a one-day unlimited pass.
US dollars is the official currency. Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere but it's not a bad idea to keep some bills on hand for small transactions and for picking up the tab at the rare cash-only establishment. It's also a good idea to have cash on hand for valet parking charges and tipping parking attendants. Note that all parking meters now accept coins and credit cards as payment options.
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The multicultural food offerings in Los Angeles are kaleidoscopic. Asian and Mexican cuisines are particularly well-represented and wide-ranging: travel throughout LA county and you’ll find everything from Korean soon tofu (silken tofu stew) specialists to superlative omakase dinners and some of the best tacos and mole you’ll find in the US. (And that’s barely scratching the surface.)
Bountiful, beautiful farmers market produce informs and inspires chefs and home cooks alike. If a visit to the famed Santa Monica Farmers Market isn’t on your agenda, rest assured that you’ll dine on its spoils while eating at the city’s higher-end establishments.
A locus of the wellness movement, LA boasts an abundance of spots serving up adaptogenic tonics, chia pudding, turmeric milk, and other high vibes fare (this is the land of aura readings and Moon Juice concoctions, after all). Vegans, gluten-free folks, and paleo-diet-adherents will also find ample dining options here. Not surprisingly, the natural wine movement is strong here, as well.
Be sure to make room in your itinerary to dig into at least one of LA’s iconic dishes, be it a French dip sandwich at Philippe’s or Cole’s, chicken and waffles at Roscoe’s, a pastrami sandwich at Langer’s, a hot dog at Pink’s, or Korean BBQ tacos from Roy Choi’s food truck, Kogi.
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Sprawling and diverse, Los Angeles can be overwhelming to first-time visitors. Here are a few highlights that shouldn't be missed:
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Rodeo Drive may be practically synonymous with luxury, but Melrose Place steals the show with its carefully-curated stretch of high-end shops. Smaller crowds, cute cafes, and leafy landscaping attract a crowd of Hollywood stylists and chic shoppers with ample money to spend.
Head just north of Wilshire on La Brea Avenue if upscale home decor is what you’re after; this strip also boasts incredible vintage finds, trendy restaurants, and boutiques. Hollywood is your best bet for thrifting, whereas audiophiles should make the trip to Amoeba Music for all things vinyl.
A slew of hip boutiques dot Silver Lake on the Eastside, selling everything from Scandinavian children's toys to vintage glassware and small-batch spirits. If you prefer retail therapy in the form of flea markets, there's plenty to choose from across the city: Pasadena, Woodland Hills, Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, and Silver Lake hosts some of the best, but keep in mind that some these only occur once or twice a month, or in the case of Silver Lake, weekly.
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While still pretty gritty, Downtown (aka DTLA) has undergone a wave of development over the last decade or so. Once-abandoned Art Deco and Beaux Arts buildings now house startup offices, luxury apartment buildings, restaurants, and bars. It is also home to over 40 museums and galleries and a free monthly Art Walk. While a lot of institutions are concentrated in this neighborhood — one of Los Angeles's few truly walkable ones — don't miss other spots further afield, such at the Getty (Brentwood), Getty Villa (Malibu), or LACMA (Miracle Mile).
Outside of private events and house parties, LA is not necessarily known for its nightlife, nor does a centralized bar neighborhood exist, but there are a handful of great spots to be found. The Eastside neighborhoods of Silver Lake, Echo Park, and Los Feliz might first come to mind for their hip restaurants, but rest assured that some of the city's best bars also call this chunk of LA home. In DTLA and Koreatown you'll find everything from rooftop bars to late-night karaoke and spots lauded for their cocktails. Head to the Sunset Strip (a 1.6 mile-stretch of music venues, bars, and nightclubs between West Hollywood to Beverly Hills) to scope out sceney hotels like the Chateau Marmont and Sunset Tower Hotel.
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You don't have to venture to Joshua Tree or Angeles National Parks to get in touch with nature. Just north of Los Feliz sits Griffith Park, a green oasis sprawling over 4,000 acres with abundant hiking trails and museums, including the observatory and zoo. It's not only served as a backdrop for countless Hollywood films, but also allows for a great view of the Hollywood Sign on Mount Lee.
Many stars call Hollywood Hills home, and so does Runyon Canyon, a 160-acre park west of Griffith. It might not seem impressive at first glance — think wide fire road rather than winding forest trail — but as you make your way up the hillside, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the city and the sprawling homes of the surrounding neighborhood. Northwest you'll also find the Hollywood Reservoir, an artificial lake built in 1923. A loop around the lake is 3.5 miles of mostly flat terrain, making it perfect for a weekend stroll.
None of these parks offer particularly strenuous hiking, but their location within city limits makes them popular destinations, especially on the weekends. Arrive early to beat the crowds, as parking can be really tricky. As neither boasts much in the way of shade, sunscreen and a hat are imperative. Also, chances are that the famous-looking person you spot trying to hide behind a baseball cap and sunglasses, is in fact, actually famous.
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Los Angelenos are privileged to have some of the most picturesque coastlines in the country. Thanks to the perpetually warm temperatures, sunbathing, surfing, or just playing in the sun is possible year-round. Head to Venice Beach for people-watching — especially at Muscle Beach. This bohemian neighborhood is also a prime spot for skating or cycling, and is home to some of the Westside’s best restaurants.
Outside the city proper sits the South Bay region, an area flush with some of LA county's best beaches. The buzz of airplanes taking off from nearby LAX might distract sunbathers at Manhattan Beach, but it is a favorite destination for surfers. Landlubbers can utilize the volleyball courts and bike paths, or walk down the pier to the Roundhouse Aquarium (free of charge).
Those traveling with dogs, take note: your pooch can dig, bury and swim to their heart’s content at Rosie’s Dog Beach in Long Beach, where off-leash romps are allowed. Playa Del Rey's Dockweiler State Beach is one of the only beaches in LA county to allow bonfires. It also boasts a wealth of picnic areas, volleyball courts, and bike paths. (Do note that like Manhattan Beach, Playa Del Rey sits adjacent to LAX's runways.)
Some of Los Angeles's most picturesque beaches are clustered north of LA in Malibu, which offers numerous waterfront getaways along the Pacific Coast Highway. Here you will find bluffs with hiking trails, secluded sandy beaches, tide pools, and enough calm waters and waves to accommodate paddleboarders and surfers alike. While a trip to this oceanic paradise requires some serious driving time from LA proper, your journey will be well worth it.
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Throngs of tourists flock to Hollywood to seek out the immortalized hand- and footprints of their favorite stars on the Walk of Fame, and to set eyes on the famed '20s-era movie palace, the Chinese Theater. If you're lucky, you may walk by during a movie premiere. Although a more residential area today, Studio City is home to the CBS Studio Center, where the silent film industry was born. Directly south of Studio City sits Culver City, where moviemaking is the name of the game. True film fans can sign up for behind-the-scenes tours at Sony Picture Studios, once the original studios of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
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Santa Monica's pristine waters and scenic pier are paired with luxurious beachfront properties and mellow vibes. Here, you'll find a glut of award-winning restaurants, both on the fine-dining and casual ends of the spectrum. For something more centrally located, opt for Beverly Hills, the epitome of luxe neighborhoods: five-star hotels, high-end shopping, and enough greenery will make you feel as if you've escaped the city altogether.
A stay in Malibu feels wholly transportive. While it would be ill-advised to stay in this beachside community if you envision spending much time in the heart of the city, it's an ideal choice for those seeking rest and relaxation. Fine-dining restaurants along the PCH come with waterfront views (and hefty price tags), while miles of pristine beaches are perfect for long morning walks and sunset yoga.
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Museums abound in DTLA — from art and history to a museum solely dedicated to "disgusting" foods. Sightseeing is also easy to do in DTLA, like taking the kids on a ride on the Angels Flight Railway, riding the train to and from Union Station, or during the winter, going ice skating near the Los Angeles Convention Center. Just south at Exposition Park you'll find the California Science Center where the kids can experience hands-on activities and IMAX movies.
If time at Disneyland is on the agenda, staying in the city of Anaheim will save you hours of driving to the beloved theme-park and more time with Mickey and the gang. For an epic amusement park closer to the heart of LA, consider Universal Studios near Griffith Park.
For a mellow family trip, Malibu is a top choice. Here kids can play for hours on its sunny beaches while parents lounge and catch up on summer reads.
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