Los Angeles is home to almost 4 million people and is one of the richest and most powerful cities in the world… to everyone else, it’s known as the largest entertainment capital in the world, and some people dream their entire lives to come here.
Let’s just say, this is not going to be one of those blogs describing the best and cheapest things to see and do, in the shortest amount of time, on a mini budget, staying only in hostels.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles (and the suburbs of Los Angeles) my entire life. This city review will outline some of my favorite things to do and see while visiting. It is by no means the gospel on what there is to do here, as you could live here your entire life (like me!) and still not have seen everything. My biggest tip is to read about Los Angeles, and find the things that interest you and visit those things.
Things to Do and See in Los Angeles: I will start with Hollywood, since I know it best:
One of my absolute favorite places to visit (which I had never been to until just a few years ago) is the Magic Castle on Franklin Ave, in Hollywood. This place is literally a castle with various rooms (and bars!) with different magic shows each night. Unfortunately, you have to be a member (or know someone with a membership) and you have to have a reservation for a pretty pricey (but delicious) dinner. Keep in mind, there’s a pretty strict dress code as well, but that just makes it more fun!
Just imagine visiting a castle that looks much like something from the Harry Potter movies, and getting to see various magicians do some really rad tricks! There is also a Magic Castle Hotel, located directly next door. I’ve never stayed there, but I’ve heard great things about it (though I think it can be pretty pricey!)
Another restaurant pretty close to the Magic Castle, is Yamashiro. This restaurant is a Japanese Dojo sitting on top of the hills of Hollywood with a fantastic view. It has some great Koi ponds and a great bar. I’ve been to many Holiday parties there and it has great food a great atmosphere. It can be pretty pricey too, but its definitely worth it.
If you’re looking for a show with dinner, Ivan Kane’s Café Was is a pretty great place. If you are at all familiar with Ivan Kane’s Forty Deuce (there used to be one on Melrose, and now there is one in Las Vegas) than you’ll know that its famous for its burlesque shows. I’ve seen many burlesque shows around Hollywood, and the dancers here are some of the absolute best! Not to mention the band is fantastic and highly entertaining. The bass player will literally stand on his upright bass during his solos, and the girls hang from an amazing wall of beads doing tricks and spins.
Obviously, the Pantages Theater has been around forever and has an amazing line up of musicals, plays & comedy shows each season. It’s across from the new W hotel Hollywood, and has a few great restaurants and bars nearby that you can hit up before the performances. I would recommend Wood & Vine (Tapas) directly across the street, or Katsuya (Sushi) on the corner of Hollywood and Vine.
If you’re looking to do some of the more traditional tourist activities, you should head to Hollywood & Highland shopping center. It’s a giant outdoor mall with shops & restaurants right in the heart of Hollywood. There is convenient (ish) parking underneath the structure and more importantly, this is where all the tour buses and trams pick up and sell tickets. You can see the Hollywood Walk of Fame here, visit Grauman’s Chinese Theater, or Madame Tausaud’s famous Wax Museum. If you have children, you can also visit the El Capitan Theater, which not only will have the latest Disney Film playing, but also has a gift shop, a Soda Fountain and a Live Pre-Show with dancing Princesses. If you possibly want to see some celebrities, there are many premieres at the El Capitan and Chinese Theater. You may also want to check out Jimmy Kimmel Live, which is in the building right next door to the El Capitan Theater and you can sign up for free tickets on the street level.
For another really amazing movie theater, you should visit the Arclight on Sunset blvd. It has a restaurant and bar, art displays and more. It’s also home to the Cinerama Dome, which is a famous landmark and fantastic place to see a film. A nearby restaurant that I would recommend is Fabilous café (on Sunset Blvd). It’s home made Italian, and it’s fantastic! If you are a film buff, I’d also recommend scoping out which film festivals are in town and buying a day pass to see some of the films and attending the Q & A’s. Film Festivals always have emerging talent - also sometimes celebrities – but mostly fresh takes and perspectives that you’ll get to see first!
In the summer, Barnsdall Park (which is known for its art center built by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright) sponsors wine tasting & beer gardens with a movie, and also Shakespeare in the parkperformed by a local company.
East Hollywood/Los Feliz/Silverlake Area:
There is a small village in East Hollywood called Los Feliz Village that has some great shops and movie theaters. One of my absolute favorite vintage stores is located here on Vermont st. and it’s called Squaresville. I have found many designer dresses and purses here such as Betsey Johnson and Diane Von Furstenberg.
Further down the street, is a great cabaret called Barre on Vermont. If you are a broadway fan at all, than this place is great! I’ve seen tributes to John Hughes films, Quentin Tarantino’s films, and even a couple workshops for shows headed to broadway. They have great drinks, and there are a lot of Broadway and Television stars that perform here.
Around the corner from all this, on Hollywood blvd, is another great vintage shop called Ozzie Dots. It’s more costume-ish, but has some great clothes and side walk sales. It also has a barber shop next door called Sweeny Todds and then on the other side a great restaurant called Umami Burger. This place has the most amazing burgers and fries! You must try it!
Further east in Silverlake, is the famous Intelligentsia coffee house. Just recently, they started making cold press juices (from the juice maids) that are really delicious. I once saw Jake Gyllenhaal buying coffee here, which is maybe the top reason why you should try some, but also, it has great coffee (duh). You should also visit Mohawk Bend and have brunch at Dusty’s on this side of town.
Another great village to visit is called Franklin Village. This has a fantastic coffee shop called the Bourgeois Pig that has a lounge room that looks like its straight out of the movie E.T. – trees and rocks and stars all over the ceiling. They also have great coffee.
Next door to the Pig, is a restaurant called Birds. They have a great anti- valentines day party and some great drinks at the bar. Further down from Birds, is the Upright Citizen’s Brigade – which, if you like comedy, then this is the place! The tickets are usually around five dollars and celebrity comedians often participate in these shows. They also have classes and acting workshops here, which I have heard great things about.
One of my favorite places in West Hollywood is Hamburger Mary’s. I’ve seen some fantastic drag queen reviews here, and they double your drinks for just dollars! It’s very entertaining and a fun way to spend a Saturday night.
Another great place (if you can handle it) is The Abbey. This is obviously predominantly a gay/lesbian hang out, but it’s definitely a really fun place to dance. They have great dancers that perform hanging from poles on the ceilings – they also have great burgers (random, I know).
Mid-Wilshire/Los Angeles Area:
The LACMA museum always has really amazing displays (I saw the Tim Burton exhibit here) and during the week, has a giant food truck party outside on Wilshire blvd at lunch time. If you are a fan of the food truck movement (which most people from LA are obsessed with food trucks) than you should definitely hit this up. One of my favorite food trucks is “Let’s Be Frank” which sells organic hot dogs and there is an ice cream truck that sells ice cream named after the characters on Mad Men (The Don Draper…mmm!)
A good place to see bands play in this area is the El Rey theater. I’ve seen a lot of Los Angeles based groups perform here, and it’s a great space (with great drinks!)
One of my favorite things to do since I was teenager, are the shops on Melrose Ave. The shops here have really different stuff (sometimes expensive) than you see anywhere else. They have great jewellery and I’ve seen some amazing leather motorcycle jackets for sale there.
Lastly, you can’t miss the Farmers Market and The Grove in this area. The Farmers market has great prices on fruit and desserts and a fantastic little crepe place in the middle. The Grove is a more traditional out door mall type place, but has a lot of great shopping!
Studio City/Universal City:
If you are a movie buff at all you should definitely visit Universal Studios and hit up the back lot tour. It’s definitely one of my favorite things to do and has been since I was a kid. Universal City Walk has some cool restaurants and a movie theater (IMAX!) & there are also a couple major hotels in this area if you want to stay here. Universal has some great events at Christmas time (Grinchmas) and at Halloween (Halloween Horror Nights) which are both really great and definite must-sees if you have a family.
Obviously, some people like to visit the beach while visiting California. I admittedly, don’t go much due to traffic and the crowds, but if you’ve never been here you should definitely go visit 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica and the beaches in Malibu. The drive up to Malibu can take a while, and the winds can get super gusty, so you have to be careful. You can also visit Venice Beach, which is super fun (but beware, the parking is super expensive!)
Just outside Los Angeles:
If you are here in California, you MUST go to Disneyland and California Adventure! I don’t care if you think you’re too old for this, it’s the most fun ever. Not to mention, they have churros and Mickey pretzels!!!
For People who are interested in Television and Film, I would also recommend taking the Warner Bros back lot tour or signing up for free tickets to see any of the free tapings around town (there are a million!)
My recommendation for visiting LA is to definitely rent a car, and then try to explore places based on the areas they are in. LA is known for having heavy traffic that can infuriate even the most patient of people on a bad day. You don’t want to be shopping in Silverlake and staying at a hotel in Santa Monica and then trying to see a show in Hollywood that night. Chances are, you won’t make it to anything on time. So play it safe, and plan to hang out in different areas on different days to make the most of your time.
The biggest airport is obviously LAX, which is also known for traffic and congestion (most of us avoid it like the plague). If you can help it, you might want to try to travel into the Burbank airport, which is much smaller and has way less traffic than LAX.
There are a million hotels here in Los Angeles, it really depends on price range and the area you’d like to stay in. There are hostels available as well, but I don’t have any personal recommendations (and probably wouldn’t stay in one either!).
Would you recommend this City: Yes
Overall rating: 5 out of 5