A Little Misunderstood…Fall in Love (or at Least Like) with Los Angeles

Sometimes I hate Los Angeles. From the delightful orange smog coating the city skyline to a general lack of public transport, truly hellacious traffic (I’m not particularly prone to road rage, but the closest I come is when forced to navigate an LA rush hour) and the “Fake Factor” of plastic people and botox, there is a lot to hate

But I also love Los Angeles.

Cali Palms line the Street

Cali Palms line the streets of Los Angeles straight up into the clear blue skies.

And I feel like backpacker or passing travelers can easily come to LA and see all of the bad. But! with the eye of a local (I lived in the city for exactly and precisely two years to the day), it can be an incredibly fun city with awesome spots that aren’t in any guidebook.

So in defense of Los Angeles, and because I truly recognize it’s a hard city to love as a tourist (and this is partly referencing scathing words by another travel blog recently), I’d like to outline my perfect day in Los Angeles…and yes, it probably requires hiring a car to get it all done…or better yet, Couchsurf in the city and your host just might show you around! :-)

Spend a Day in Los Angeles…Shannon Style

So, here it is my friend, my perfect day in LA. Now that I no longer live in the city, these handful of spots are the “must-visits” every time I return. This will take you from breakfast until dinner and all of the snacks and fun you need in between…and if you visit just one of these places, make it lunch at Aroma…it’s truly my favorite LA restaurant.

Breakfast at an LA Institution, The Griddle Café

Start the day out right with a jaunt into West Hollywood for pancakes at The Griddle Café…the line can be absolutely ridiculous (just skip this recommendation if you’re visiting on a weekend…you’ll perish of hunger before you’ll be seated). On a weekday though, the experience is worth the small wait – they’re known for their enormous pancakes but the French Toast is also worth a try…this place makes my list of top ten breakfasting experiences.

A Trendy LA Lunch at Aroma Café

Located in Studio City (in the Valley) the Aroma Coffee & Tea Company was walking distance from my house while I lived in LA and has some of the best food in the city. It’s healthy, it’s quirky and even the fact it’s unbelievably trendy can’t take erode my love for this café.

Even during the very busy lunch rush you can usually snag one of the mismatched tables; then order up the Goat Cheese + Walnut Salad (my personal favorite – the dressing is killer and the herb encrusted goat cheese is generous and comes out pleasantly warm and candied walnuts hide underneath the layers of spinach), and either people watch (always fun in LA) or read a book.

Hike Runyon Canyon for a Look at the Hollywood Sign

Hopefully you’ve let your food settle and thoroughly relaxed at Aroma for a couple of hours because now it’s time for some exercise…LA style. Runyon Canyon is located right at the base of the Hollywood Hills and walking distance from the main touristy sites on Hollywood Boulevard – the Canyon has two main hikes (don’t go left at the start unless you want to partake in what my friend Jenn and I dubbed the Suicide Trail…it’s a bit hard) the path straight and then to the right is enough to get your blood pumping and also offers three awesome views:

  • A fantastic vantage point for the the Hollywood sign and all of the mansions in the Hollywood hills.
  • Clear views over Downtown LA, Hollywood, and straight out to the Pacific unless it’s a smoggy day.
  • Full opportunity to people-watch and hunt down some of those “plastic fantastic” people I previously mentioned…as well as the opportunity to see that LA really does have normal people too…they’re up there sweating and puffing just like you. :-)

Oh, and there’s never a dull moment in Los Angeles; in February 2010 the Hollywood sign was hijacked in an effort to stop the current plans to develop houses on the hill around the famous sign. People changed the Hollywood sign to say: “Save the Peak”.

The Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles saying Hove the Weak

Then, over the subsequent days after the hijacking it morphed. I caught site of this last month:

I can’t promise you’ll get quite so entertaining version of the Hollywood sign to look at, but you will get some great pictures.

Head back home after the hike for a shower (or stop off first at all of the touristy attractions in LA on nearby Hollywood Boulevard). Relax before heading out for dinner and drinks out in the city.

Feast on LA’s Best Indian Food at Electric Karma

It’s tasty and the closest you’ll come to feeling like you’re dining in India… Electric Karma has a great ambiance and opt for dining on the covered back patio at the low tables with cushy pillows. As for food ideas – their palak paneer (one of my favorite Indian dishes) is incredible and the garlic naan is spot on.

Head over to Venice Beach or the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica

Sunset on Venice Beach

Sunset on Venice Beach

Both Venice Beach and Santa Monica make a fun date night if you’re a couple. Stroll the along the boardwalk on Venice Beach and you’ll pass the very full paddle courts, games of volleyball and tons of street artists…don’t forget to dodge the roller-bladers though!

Santa Monica would be the more kid-friendly option. The Santa Monica pier is walking distance from the promenade…or you can hunt down any of the spots bars and nearby clubs for dancing and drinking.

Once you’ve digested all of your amazing Indian food, you CANNOT leave the Third Street Promenade without a visit to Pinkberry. They have this delicious frozen yogurt chain all over LA in case you’re all “foodied out” at this point…but make sure you don’t miss it.

Wrapping up the Day

At this point, the more party-tastic might be looking for the current hot-spot club in LA…and honestly, they can change monthly so it’s best you Google it…but you could easily entertain yourself for the whole evening in Venice or Santa Monica if you’re not seeking out the “scene” in LA. And I love the Getty Center, which has beautiful views over the valley, the city, and the ocean, so if you’re more into museums than beaches, check out my review of the Getty Center.

So that’s it! That’s my perfect day. I’ll be honest though, there’s no regard for budget here, just my favorite spots so doing all of them in one actual day could be pricey.

Oh, and cheers and thanks to my LA friends who cart me around to these spots now when I come to visit…would cry if I had to skip dinner at Aroma. 

Photo thanks to jleighb and rlerdof.

Quick Tips: Visiting Los Angeles

Transportation: Although I recommend renting a car if you’re comfortable with US city driving and have a lot you want to see outside of the downtown/Hollywood area, there is also great public transportation for the major tourist sites in Hollywood.
Budget: If you are on vacation and planning to sightsee, then budget at least US $100 per day to properly enjoy the city. You can get by on a lot less though if you couchsurf for free accommodation!
Flights: For internal US flights, consider leaving from Burbank airport in the Valley, it can be a lot easier and faster.
Sightseeing: Consider being a movie extra, or studio audience! There are also some great City Passes that save money if you plan to visit many of the tourist spots: Hollywood, Southern California, and other great ones.

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36 Responses to A Little Misunderstood…Fall in Love (or at Least Like) with Los Angeles

  1. enrolled agent exams March 18, 2010 at 3:09 am #

    Three years ago I went to LA but failed to visit a lot of places and see the Hollywood sign. I'm planning to go back this year ad hopefully I can have more of the LA experience!

    • ShannonOD March 18, 2010 at 3:56 am #

      You definitely need to go back to LA – there are some really neat aspects to
      the city both within the touristy arena and in the more “local” zone as
      well!

  2. ShannonOD March 17, 2010 at 8:56 pm #

    You definitely need to go back to LA – there are some really neat aspects to
    the city both within the touristy arena and in the more “local” zone as
    well!

    • ShannonOD March 6, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

      I can definitely see that being a big problem – it's not the most budget
      friendly country..and the cheap food options are just nasty fast food!! :-)
      Hope you guys are getting by!

  3. Ricca March 17, 2010 at 8:09 pm #

    Three years ago I went to LA but failed to visit a lot of places and see the Hollywood sign. I'm planning to go back this year ad hopefully I can have more of the LA experience!

  4. ShannonOD March 6, 2010 at 10:36 am #

    I can definitely see that being a big problem – it's not the most budget
    friendly country..and the cheap food options are just nasty fast food!! :-)
    Hope you guys are getting by!

  5. Marta March 5, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    funny, i wrote only a couple of days ago about how LA is such a misunderstood city. Maybe that's because we spent most of our time down in Laguna Beach but LA didn't impressed us much. Here is the post
    .

    • ShannonOD March 5, 2010 at 3:10 pm #

      Oh man, that's funny that you wrote a post too! I am so behind on my RSS
      that I missed it :-) Glad that you guys enjoyed it at least a little! :-)

  6. marta@atravelaroundtheworld March 5, 2010 at 9:38 am #

    it might be cause we've seen LA in so many movies that we got a different perspective and expectations. next time will surely follow your advice but will need to bring more cash, man USA is really draining our pockets

  7. ShannonOD March 5, 2010 at 8:10 am #

    Oh man, that's funny that you wrote a post too! I am so behind on my RSS
    that I missed it :-) Glad that you guys enjoyed it at least a little! :-)

  8. marta@atravelaroundtheworld March 5, 2010 at 8:02 am #

    funny, i wrote only a couple of days ago about how LA is such a misunderstood city. Maybe that's because we spent most of our time down in Laguna Beach but LA didn't impressed us much. Here is the post
    .

    • marta@atravelaroundtheworld March 5, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

      it might be cause we've seen LA in so many movies that we got a different perspective and expectations. next time will surely follow your advice but will need to bring more cash, man USA is really draining our pockets

  9. ShannonOD March 4, 2010 at 11:36 am #

    Thanks for backing me up Laura! You just have to dig a little bit to find
    LA's charm, but it's there…buried a bit under the smog perhaps ;-)

  10. ShannonOD March 4, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    When you do go you'll love it if you just get off the tourist trail a bit!
    :-)

  11. Gourmantic March 4, 2010 at 2:26 am #

    I haven't been to LA but I am sold on the signage and sunsets on the beach!

    • ShannonOD March 4, 2010 at 6:35 pm #

      When you do go you'll love it if you just get off the tourist trail a bit!
      :-)

  12. Laura March 4, 2010 at 2:45 am #

    I agree that the Fake Factor is a total turn-off in LA. However, if you can get past that and find the cool local digs, it has it's charming moments :) I don't think I could live there but it can be a fun place to visit!

    • ShannonOD March 4, 2010 at 6:36 pm #

      Thanks for backing me up Laura! You just have to dig a little bit to find
      LA's charm, but it's there…buried a bit under the smog perhaps ;-)

  13. Jennifer @ Approach Guides March 3, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    I am so glad that you decided to profile what you like about LA! I love the city – it is warm, friendly and fun. I will have to try the Aroma Cafe the next time I am there!

    • ShannonOD March 4, 2010 at 1:17 am #

      Glad to hear a vote in favor of the city! Do try Aroma, you'll love it,
      promise :-)

  14. Gourmantic March 3, 2010 at 7:26 pm #

    I haven't been to LA but I am sold on the signage and sunsets on the beach!

  15. Laura March 3, 2010 at 7:45 pm #

    I agree that the Fake Factor is a total turn-off in LA. However, if you can get past that and find the cool local digs, it has it's charming moments :) I don't think I could live there but it can be a fun place to visit!

  16. Candice March 3, 2010 at 7:28 pm #

    I can't hear “LA” without singing that damn Bran Van song. If I ever make it there, I'm doing everything you outlined here…especially the canyon!

    • ShannonOD March 4, 2010 at 1:16 am #

      Just Googled that song – it was new to me! I can see how that can get stuck
      in your head, nice, though not one I'll listen to all the time, lol. Let me
      know when you pass through and I can give you a few club tips :-)

  17. ShannonOD March 3, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    Glad to hear a vote in favor of the city! Do try Aroma, you'll love it,
    promise :-)

  18. ShannonOD March 3, 2010 at 6:16 pm #

    Just Googled that song – it was new to me! I can see how that can get stuck
    in your head, nice, though not one I'll listen to all the time, lol. Let me
    know when you pass through and I can give you a few club tips :-)

  19. ShannonOD March 3, 2010 at 6:13 pm #

    Next time I go back I may just have to hit you up for a great place in Thai
    town – I actually never really went into that part of LA much so I bet you
    know more than me about it!

  20. ShannonOD March 3, 2010 at 6:12 pm #

    A local is essential so when you give it that fourth chance, make sure that
    you have him show you his fav spots, it's definitely a city where you
    benefit from an insider's knowledge! And let me know how you like it once
    you go! :-)

  21. Amy @ The Q Family March 3, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    I agree that LA is not for the faint of heart tourist. It can be very intimidating to visit there. However, we enjoyed our visit (even for just a short 3 days stint). Would love to go back and check out your perfect spots. But for me, I have my own perfect spot in Thai Town. :) It's cheaper for me to fly to LA than to Thailand to get some authentic Thai food anyway. :)

    • ShannonOD March 4, 2010 at 1:13 am #

      Next time I go back I may just have to hit you up for a great place in Thai
      town – I actually never really went into that part of LA much so I bet you
      know more than me about it!

  22. Jennifer @ Approach Guides March 3, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    I am so glad that you decided to profile what you like about LA! I love the city – it is warm, friendly and fun. I will have to try the Aroma Cafe the next time I am there!

  23. Kyle Crum March 3, 2010 at 1:52 pm #

    Maybe it is a city that I'll have to live in to love. I have a friend that just moved there and he loves it. For now, the only thing that keeps me from cursing out the city is In N Out Burger. Next time, I'll definitely have my friend show me around. I'm into giving places a third or fourth chance :)

    • ShannonOD March 4, 2010 at 1:12 am #

      A local is essential so when you give it that fourth chance, make sure that
      you have him show you his fav spots, it's definitely a city where you
      benefit from an insider's knowledge! And let me know how you like it once
      you go! :-)

  24. Candice March 3, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    I can't hear “LA” without singing that damn Bran Van song. If I ever make it there, I'm doing everything you outlined here…especially the canyon!

  25. Amy @ The Q Family March 3, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    I agree that LA is not for the faint of heart tourist. It can be very intimidating to visit there. However, we enjoyed our visit (even for just a short 3 days stint). Would love to go back and check out your perfect spots. But for me, I have my own perfect spot in Thai Town. :) It's cheaper for me to fly to LA than to Thailand to get some authentic Thai food anyway. :)

  26. kyle_crum March 3, 2010 at 6:52 am #

    Maybe it is a city that I'll have to live in to love. I have a friend that just moved there and he loves it. For now, the only thing that keeps me from cursing out the city is In N Out Burger. Next time, I'll definitely have my friend show me around. I'm into giving places a third or fourth chance :)

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