Last updated on January 13, 2023
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.
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”.
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
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.
Quick Tips: Visiting Los Angeles
Transportation in Los Angeles
Although I recommend renting a car if you’re comfortable with U.S. 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. If you’re road-tripping California, you’ll definitely be driving, in which case—get ready for parallel parking as that’s the norm in L.A.!
Budget for Visiting Los Angeles
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!
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.