Los Angeles is one of those cities that divides opinion – you either love it or hate it, or if you have yet to travel there, are bound to have a pretty set idea as to what you think Los Angeles is about. It’s safe to say that this can single-handedly be attributed to the myth of Hollywood and the bi-product of celebrity culture that is pushed out to the rest of the world through everything from film and TV, tabloids and even fashion and music.
Yes, Los Angeles has about 500% more Paris Hilton types than any metropolitan city in Australia, with their miniature dogs in their designer handbags. And yes, Los Angeles is populated with struggling actor types and aspiring writers and producers that ask ‘so what do you do?’ immediately after being introduced. But Los Angeles is also a thriving hub of art and culture with near immaculate weather all year-round, blissful watercolour sunsets, iconic photo opportunities at every turn, world-class live music every night of the week, and the ease of access to the diversities of the Californian wilderness with coastline, mountain ranges and desert all within a day trip away. Plus, it is home to the best Mexican food north of the border. Read on for our guide to the real LA.
#1 Where To Stay
#2 How To Get Around
#3 What To Pack
#4 The City & The Suburbs
#5 Go Here For A Breathtaking View
#6 Take A Hike
#7 Parks & Rec
#8 Where To Eat
#9 Where To Have A Night Out
#10 Where To Shop For Bargains
#11 Worth The Hype
#12 Avoid It
#13 Don’t Leave Without
Where To Stay
Hollywood is only one small neighbourhood of it’s sprawling urban existence, but it is of course home to many of the world’s most famous and successful – The Hollywood Hills, Burbank and Beverly Hills on the west side are among the wealthier suburbs. Hollywood is also home to some of the most iconic and luxurious hotels such as the exclusive Chateau Marmont on the infamous Sunset Strip.
Prices from: $640/night
WON’T BREAK THE BANK
Stay on Main
Prices from: $200/night
Prices from: $215/night
CHEAP AS CHIPS
Moving more into the heart of Hollywood, there are more affordable accommodation options as it’s the epicentre of one of the world’s busiest tourist destinations. For backpackers, Banana Bungalows is a popular hostel, with a vibrant atmosphere for young travellers who are looking for like-minded party people with a gung-ho approach to exploring.
Prices from: $38/night
How To Get Around
The first thing you’ll notice about Los Angeles is that it’s a city dominated by cars. Locals are slaves to their vehicles, but hate driving due to the consistently congested traffic and the terrifying prospect of having to find a parking space. However, that’s not to say there aren’t any alternatives.
Hiring a car is the most ideal if it fits within your budget and you are over 25-years-old – the city quickly becomes your oyster once you overcome the initial shock of driving on the right side of the road. There are also private car apps like Uber and Lyft that are less than the cost of regular taxis. Download both apps on your smartphone with an invite code from any current user and get your first rides free. But you definitely can’t go wrong with the old fashioned LA Metro. An underground subway system, there is almost a line for every corner of LA and they run pretty close to schedule at only $1.75USD per ride. Stops are a little fewer and far between, but it will least help you get closer to your destination if you are trying to get across town quickly, and connecting buses are only $1.50USD one-way.
To and from the airport, you can’t go past the Flyaway Bus. At only $8USD per ticket, this is similar to Melbourne’s Skybus. A spacious and clean coach, it departs from major train stations like downtown’s Union Station (go early and check out the stunning architecture and its old-fashioned fixings), it will get you there in record time, and won’t hurt the purse strings when compared to an average taxi fare of $50USD.
What To Pack
LA is famously temperate all year round and will rarely be burning hot or freezing cold, so you’ll be pretty safe with light layers. Shorts are a staple in LA but temperatures do dip at night, so keep your jeans and a light jacket close by.
Feel free to embrace the vintage casual dress code of LA but be sure to pack sensible walking shoes, as the city is so vast you’ll be spending a lot of your time walking from place to place.
Work out gear is a must if you want to fully embrace the ever-expanding wellness industry that’s taken over LA. Consume your vegie juice and liquid nitrogen popsicle and head over to SoulCycle for a 45-minute spin class that will burn muscles you didn’t even know you had. But be careful, you’ll need the rest of the afternoon off to recover.
The City & The Suburbs
After navigating your way around on public transport, you will be close to getting a grip on the layout of Los Angeles. It’s a sprawling concrete jungle, spread out and mostly flat. The main life source of Los Angeles lays in the central Hollywood and West Hollywood areas, but it also has a CBD called Downtown with a financial and fashion sector. Not too long ago, people would tell you this was an area to avoid. However the last three years has seen a huge resurgence in the popularity of DTLA as international retailers and fashion labels relocate there (ACNE, Aesop), chic hotels (The Ace Downtown) and burgeoning coffee connoisseurs open their doors in converted warehouses and abandoned artist lofts (Stumptown and Daily Dose of the Arts District).
Take the metro in and spend the day wandering – from the artisan a la carte bites of the Grand Central Market, to the neglected architecture of the Theatre district on Broadway, to the noodle bowls of Chinatown (where Rush Hour was filmed) and Little Tokyo, and the bargains of the Jewellery and Fashion districts – Downtown has something for everybody. Thursday nights offer free art walks along the rows of galleries artist compounds throughout the city, and if you’re wondering where some of the best Mexican food can be found – try the historic Olvera Street. A paved laneway full of native Mexican fares and trinkets, you will also find street-style tacos for $1.25USD.
#1 ACNE Studios (855 South Broadway, Los Angeles)
#2 Aesop (862 South Broadway, Los Angeles)
#3 The Ace Downtown (929 South Broadway, Los Angeles)
#4 Stumptown (806 South Santa Fe Avenue, Los Angeles)
#5 Daily Dose (1820 Industrial Street, Los Angeles)
#6 Grand Central Market (317 South Broadway, Los Angeles)
Go Here For A Breathtaking View
For a sprawling view of LA at its most quiet and serene, head to Griffith Observatory for a sweeping vista from Downtown to the coast of Venice. On weekends, you can take a bus from the Vermont/Sunset Metro station to the observatory and play eye spy for landmarks like the Hollywood Sign and the Pacific Ocean.
Entry into the observatory is free so don’t miss out on seeing a mammoth collection of space and science related goodies inside including education about the cosmos, the Tesla coil and the Samuel Oschin planetarium theatre. If you’re up for an additional hike of the surrounding areas, start at Griffith Park on the east side for a moderate walking trail towards the observatory.
Take A Hike
A stereotype of Los Angelenos is that they are health and fitness obsessed and love to hike barely clothed. This is true to some degree, as LA tends to be populated by models. actresses and actors who juice and eat raw on the daily. It is also happens that LA’s suburbs are surrounded by mountains – hikeable inclines in nature reserves that provide the most cost effective day out and workout combo. Runyon Canyon in Hollywood is the best for people watching and an up close and personal view of the Hollywood Sign, while Beachwood Canyon provides for a cardio workout if you take the road behind and above the Hollywood sign for a reverse view.
Nature lovers can venture slightly out of the main ‘burbs to Angeles Crest National Forest, Vasquez Rocks or Tujunga Canyon to rockier paths, less foot traffic and hidden waterfalls like Switzer Falls and Falls Creek Falls in San Gabriel Valley. Pack a picnic and stay for the sunset – Los Angeles has some of the most vibrant, candy floss sunsets in America, but pack a jacket as it gets chilly quickly after the sun falls behind the ranges.
#1 Angeles Crest National Forest (701 North Santa Anita Avenue, Arcadia)
#2 Vasquez Rocks (10700 Escondido Canyon Road, Agua Dulce)
#3 Tujunga Canyon (Tujunga Canyon Boulevard, Los Angeles)
#4 Switzer Falls (34-14 Angeles Crest Highway, La Canada Flintridge)
#5 Falls Creek Falls (Big Tujunga Canyon Road, San Fernando Valley)
Parks And Rec
An urban oasis, Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area is sometimes referred to as LA’s Central Park. One of the largest urban parks in the Los Angeles area, Hahn Park is notorious for its connecting walking and hiking trails; head north to the Hollywood sign, east to downtown LA, south to Los Angeles Harbour and west to the Santa Monica Mountains. The park is usually bustling with picnickers, and can get quite busy on weekends if the weather is good. Head over to the Japanese garden for the waterfall and spy all the wild flora and fauna.
A short bike ride from downtown LA, Echo Park is a gorgeous escapist dream. Sit beside the placid man-made reservoir and catch a glimpse of the lotus flowers and paddle boats. On the Fourth of July the park comes alive with one of the biggest amateur open-air fireworks displays in LA.
Where To Eat
A trip to LA is not complete without the obligatory fast food night out. In N Out burger is a must; sit down with a Double-Double and some animal fries (cheese, grilled onions and In-N-Out’s secret spread) and you’ll be set. Venture outside the box to the newest hip burger joint Umami Burger where an Original Burger includes the infamous Parmesan crisp, shitake mushrooms, roasted tomato, caramelized onions and a 6-ounce beef patty seasoned in Umami Sauce. Delish.
If you find yourself in East LA be sure to look up the Mariscos Jalisco taco truck for a shrimp taco like no other. The Dorado de Camaron is stuffed with a creamy mixture of fresh shrimp and some other secret ingredients then deep-fried and lathered in salsa and avocado. For a flurry of different cuisines and ingredients, hit up Grand Central Market on South Broadway and experience a historic downtown landmark.
Where To Have A Night Out
Another thing people come to LA for? The nightlife. A city so full of options it is literally impossible to get through it all. Pick your poison – whether you want upmarket cocktails in the lobby of the Hotel Roosevelt, or a beer at a dive bar like Ye Rustic Inn or Cha Cha’s, Los Angeles has an after-hours hangout for everyone.
Able to splash the cash? Hire a private bowling lane at the ambient Spare Room at The Roosevelt, or grab a drink and an entrée at Bar Marmont (next to the Chateau Marmont – world famous for the myths about celebrities that have stayed there.) Love rock ‘n’ roll? You can’t bypass the Rainbow Room, Whiskey Go-Go, and the House of Blues along Sunset Boulevard for shots in the same room as old school rockers like Mötley Crüe. After the 2am curfew the best places to grab a late night bite are all-American diners like Fred 62’s off Vermont Ave in Los Feliz, Swingers on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood and the famous Mel’s Diner on Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards. You can’t go pass the peanut butter shakes, and the retro feel of their décor make the simplicity of a diner feed all the more cinematic.
#1 Spare Room (7000 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles)
#2 Bar Marmont (8171 West Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood)
#3 Rainbow Room (9015 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood)
#4 Whiskey Go-Go (8901 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood)
#5 House Of Blues (8430 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood)
#6 Fred 62 (1850 North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles)
#7 Swingers (8020 Beverley Boulevard, Los Angeles)
#8 Mel’s Diner (1650 Highland Avenue, Los Angeles)
Where To Shop For Bargains
It’s no secret Los Angeles hosts the world’s most exclusive labels and shopping experiences within Rodeo Drive and Fred Segal. There’s also Melrose Place if you’re after anything from Isabel Marant and Balenciaga. Sneaker and street wear lovers ought to know that Fairfax Ave is the heart and soul of hip-hop and skateboarding culture, including Odd Future’s store and Diamond Supply Co to name a few.
But don’t stress if you don’t have a budget for the high-end; Los Angeles’ best stuff can be found in it’s thrift and second hand recycle stores and flea markets. Thrifters, Sunday is your day. Rise early and head to the Melrose Trading Post for well-curated vintage home goods, leather and fur jackets, military boots and the biggest range of old Levi’s. The Rose Bowl Flea Market (held on the second Sunday of the month), is the largest flea market in size and has an amazing selection of ’70s band tees, kitschy sportswear and old leather goods. The fashion selection is so good at Rose Bowl, fashion buyers from Japan and the world over travel there to buy en-mass for re-sale in their vintage stores, or to get inspiration for new season designs. Also look up Long Beach and Pasadena Fleas for a less crowded shopping experience. And if you’re happier to hustle for serious bargains, try any Goodwill or Crossroads store for second-hand basics and the occasional designer gem for only a few dollars.
Worth The Hype
Noted as the festival known to induce the most intense FOMO, Coachella is still one of the top priorities for anyone who’d like to involve themselves in a truly inspired LA experience. Just 45 minutes east of Los Angeles, Palm Springs hosts a spectacular desert party with a diverse lineup and sun-soaked imagery up the wazoo. The holy grail of festivals, Coachella is notorious for its celebrity spotting and the best music of the year.
Hollywood Boulevard is over-hyped and crowded. You’ll be inundated by excruciatingly bright tourist shops and people in costumes. It’s not worth it to see some names on the ground. You’re better off trying your luck spotting real life celebrities in hip enclaves like West Hollywood or Silver Lake.
Do Not Leave Without
While we are inundated with the over-saturated images of iconic Hollywood, it is truly surreal and awe-inspiring to see the classic landmarks that you’ve always seen through a screen IRL. Or at least take a quick look. The Hollywood sign holds such cultural significance it lives up to the hype when you see it creep into view. The Venice Beach Boardwalk is another popular tourist spot. For the best experience, hire a bike for $10USD an hour and ride the path alongside the roller-skating babes in denim short shorts over to Santa Monica Pier, where you can take aerial landscapes from the ferris wheel overlooking the water, and eat a hot dog and some fairy floss on the sand watching street performers.
But in all seriousness, before you head home, you simply can’t leave without going to a pool party. A good start is The Standard or The W, but in the summer, every hotel with a pool boasts a stylish affair with some hot-new DJ and only good-looking attendees. These parties are the epitome of stereotypical Los Angeles, but are also a heap of fun. Leave your pride at the door and pay no mind as you sip cocktails from the pool, or wear heels with your swimsuit (OK, maybe not that part), as you absorb the sun and people watch. Guilty pleasure anyone? That just about sums up what the city is about.
(Lead image: Neil Kremer/Flickr)
Tegan Butler is a Melbourne transplant living in Los Angeles. With a professionally diagnosed case of "heart fire", Tegan is restless and a wanderer, chasing an endless summer and every single swimming hole, hot spring and waterfall she can dip her toes into. She Instagrams from @teganlee.