Surprise! You've been plopped down into Los Angeles for a weekend trip. This is your first time in the City of Angels. You don't know anyone here -- nor do you have anything in the way of an itinerary.
Fear not, as this piece will provide you with a play-by-play as to what you should go see, and what you should avoid.
Get Transportation Squared Away
There's really no other way around it: Rent a car. It may sound like a pain in the ass, but it's almost imperative when traveling to LA. You could get away with taking Lyft/Uber all over the place. It sounds like a good plan in theory...until you realize the expensive costs associated with inevitable traffic. While we have a public transportation system, it's rarely used by the locals. It also doesn't account for every neighborhood you'll be wanting to hit.
Duly, you'll have much more freedom to explore other parts of the city. Los Angeles is huge. Unlike most major cities in the country, it's not compact -- but rather vast and sprawling. Having a car will ultimately be a lifesaver.
Pick A Base
You'll want to find a location semi-central to everything. There are countless options to choose from. However, I personally would select West Hollywood as the spot to set up shop. There are a few reasons for this.
One, it's got arguably the best assortment of restaurants anywhere in the city. You'll also be afforded the opportunity to sample cuisine from virtually anywhere -- whether it be Italian, French, Persian, Japanese, or Ethiopian. West Hollywood has no shortage of bars. This includes bars of the dive variety, more upscale ones, sports bars, and even those appearing on the rooftops of ritzy hotels.
Most importantly, WeHo is a perfect pivot point for various sections of the city. It's essentially the halfway point between both the downtown area and Santa Monica/Venice. It'll take you roughly 20-30 minutes to get to each -- though I preface this statement by saying roughly. Traffic is all relative in LA. We don't operate with numeral distances in terms of mileage. Rather, we give minute estimates.
Day 1: Mid-Morning/Afternoon
Let's assume you get into LA on a Friday morning. Upon landing in LAX, rent a car and head for your hotel/hostel/AirBnb in West Hollywood. (Again) depending on traffic, you should be able to reach WeHo in approximately 45 minutes.
Once settled, you'll want to figure out a plan for the rest of the day. I would begin making my way west towards the beach. West Hollywood sits directly next to Beverly Hills. You'll surely want to see the iconic Rodeo Drive. Keeping it in perspective, it's a minute's walk down a tiny street of designer stores that'll probably be too expensive for you to walk into -- let alone purchase anything from.
From there, you can hop on the other side of Santa Monica Boulevard, where the famed Beverly Hills sign sits. It's a perfect selfie opportunity to make your friends back home jealous. It's always fun driving through the 90210. Houses resemble ornate palaces, and there are more palm trees dotting the residential areas than there are plastic surgery consultation offices (which you'll find is hard to believe).
Now that you've gotten your fill of Beverly Hills, it's time to head to Santa Monica. Before hitting the beach, you've got to take care of that insatiable appetite that's invariably been built up from flying earlier in the day. There are plenty of food options...though the only one that will suffice for lunch is Bay Cities Deli on Lincoln. It may look like a nondescript Italian deli from the outside. However, you'll regularly see a line wrapped around the establishment -- a telltale sign that this place is legit. The signature 'Godmother' sandwich is a must-get.
Fortunately for you, you're only a few blocks from the beach! The Third Street Promenade screams out of town tourist. The same can be said for the Santa Monica Pier, and the roller coaster/carnival games that accompany it. Walking through the promenade area is recommended -- though I would not hang around for an extended period of time. You'll see many of these same stores at home, with a tenth of the people present. As you keep making your way west, you'll hit the ocean. The Bungalow is a nice surf-themed bar adjacent to the water. It's a great spot to grab a drink.
Warning: If you head here on a Friday night/Saturday/Sunday afternoon, be prepared to see an inordinate amount of colorful short-shorts, rolled-sleeved button downs, and Sperry top-siders. Or in other words, The Bungalow temporarily functions as an overcrowded bar nicknamed 'Bro Central.' You won't have to worry about this scenario on a Friday afternoon, however.
Skip out on seeing the Santa Monica Pier, and instead walk parallel to the beach. Surely, you've played the 'throw the ping-pong ball to get a goldfish' game before. Even if you do win a goldfish, where are you going to keep it? Overpriced carnival games aside, Santa Monica is truly striking from an aesthetics standpoint.
It would behoove you to keep heading towards Venice. For those unfamiliar with it, the city is a grittier version of Santa Monica -- though the eclectic, quaint vibe is charming in its own way. A stroll through the Venice canals is both romantic and beautiful. There are countless bars present to check out for happy hour (The Whaler, The Otheroom). The Venice Beach walk is something you're going to want to do -- if nothing more than to see some weird shit. There's booths, stores, and knickknacks galore here (not to mention copious amounts of marijuana and odd characters). A more tranquil (and suggested) area would be Abbot Kinney. This street is quintessential Venice -- with its twee stores and trendy food trucks. It's also perfect for that late afternoon coffee/tea. Once you've hit Abbot Kinney, it's time to head back to the homestead.
Day 1: Nighttime
You've gone back home -- where you've presumably napped, showered, and gotten ready for the evening. Now it's time to select somewhere to eat for dinner.
Los Angeles is quite underrated when it comes to food. Many don't associate it with the best foodie places in the country. To clear up another misnomer, people here don't strictly live off different types of juices -- tangible food actually exists. In fact, our Asian/Hispanic cuisine is among the best in the world. If one has a hankering for high-quality galbi, koobideh, or a pupusa, you'll find it here.
LA has quickly gotten the reputation as a very good burger city. As such, it'd behoove you to hit up Plan Check on N. Fairfax Ave. It's in the vein of an upscale gastropub -- complete with cool takes on bar snacks. The restaurant is known for putting ketchup leather on their burgers. Picture a fruit roll-up made out of ketchup. One could do really well with the combination of a Chef's Favorite Burger and a side of sweet potato waffle fries (with peach ketchup). Don't worry, there are also salads for those straying away from meat.
Your post-dinner choice is key here. If you're looking for a quieter, more secluded bar/lounge, head across the street to No Name. Keep your eyes peeled for a gigantic brick building with a double door -- as No Name has no sign out front (hence living up to its name). Celebrities often come here for a reprieve from paparazzi and hoards of overzealous fans.
*If you see a celebrity whilst in LA, leave them alone. As the saying goes, act like you've been there before -- or in this case, act like you've seen one before.
If you're in the mood for a quintessential Los Angeles bar experience, head over to E.P. & L.P. Sitting on the corner of La Cienega and Melrose, this trendy rooftop bar gives you a birds-eye view of both West Hollywood and Los Angeles. I'd advise you to get there by no later than 9:00 p.m. -- as you'll likely be waiting in a queue otherwise.
Sassafras Saloon on N. Vine is a funky spot in Hollywood with live music and good cocktails. The Roger Room is a dive bar of sorts nestled right next to the famed Largo at the Coronet. Either spot will suffice as a solid night option. After multiple rounds of cocktails, you'll likely be hungry again. Tatsu Ramen on Melrose would be an excellent spot to quench your thirst for food -- whilst also hydrating you with the yummy broth. It's simply a win-win. The author highly recommends either the Cheeky or Soul Ramen. The pork chasu rice is quite good -- as is the next-level wagyu ramen burger.
You've survived your first day in Los Angeles! Pat yourself on the back for experiencing much of the west side. Get some rest for tomorrow -- as we're making our way Southeast to Hollywood and DTLA.
Image Sources: Eugene Garcia/EPA, all other photos courtesy of Jason Fray