In this blog post I put together a list of what to do as a newbie in LA from the most famous landmarks to fun activities. Feel free to read all about my first time travelling to the city of Angels, find inspiration and enjoy planning your next visit to the amazing Southern California!
1. THE FAMOUS HOLLYWOOD SIGN
You have not been to Hollywood unless you have seen the iconic hill called Mount Lee. You cannot climb to the actual sign but there are several scenic points and hikes where you can admire the 13.7 meters high symbolic letters from.
Hiking is not a must, if you want to get a good photo there are places around Hollywood that offer decent views too. We were short in time on that trip, decided not to hike up and observe the great view from Hollywood Lake park instead. We were not disappointed at all, the sign was close enough for us to enjoy the landscape and take nice pictures. The best snap spot is actually not by the main grass area of the park but from the above hill which is really easy to access.
I won’t be able to tell you much about the hikes since we haven’t done it but I know there are two trails either from the Griffith Observatory or from the Hollywood Lake park (where we took our photos). You can find detailed maps and routes online or watch videos on YouTube.
Did you know that the sign was meant to be a temporary advert for the Hollywoodland real estate? Spare a few minutes and read a great article about facts and history here.
2. MELROSE AVENUE
This is a must in West Hollywood if you’re into shopping. You can find unusual stuff from fripperies to designers, I even read somewhere that Michael Jackson used to shop there.
Beyond the shopping, there is also a lot of eateries and awesome streets art around every corner which make it a great place to hang out. Keep your eyes open and hunt for the nicest murals.
To see the Made in LA sign we got dropped off at Cisco home (8025, Melrose place) and then walked down towards the direction of Paramount Studios. We walked for a while, took a few pictures and went for lunch to Osteria La Bucca. It’s a good Italian further down the avenue that serve comfort food, well deserved to recharge after a long walk!
3. VENICE AND SANTA MONICA
Don’t leave LA without enjoying a day by the California Ocean, you can start off the Santa Monica Pier and walk all the way down towards Venice.
Santa Monica has a laid back atmosphere with great views over the sea and beautiful mountains in the background. We got there in the morning, it was really quiet and nice to walk around the rides and enjoy the breeze. We were lucky enough to spot a seal by the end of the pier, definitely the best way to start a great day!
Then we went down on the beach and walked south towards Venice. We loved the walk by the sea side and it took us about 30-40 minutes to get to the main bit. For those who preferred hiring a bicycle there is a wide cycling lane along the beach.
Venice beach is so eclectic, we saw musicians, people selling really weird stuff, fortune tellers, roller skaters flipping in the skate park as well as marijuana shops and bodybuilders working out on Muscle beach.
The sad downside was having to witness the extreme poverty of those that live on the street, sleeping in tents or on the asphalt. They were not bothering us, not even begging much but living their own life. I read negative reviews about Venice, I can admit I didn’t expect to see that however in my opinion these people aren’t to be feared and shouldn’t stop you discovering new places.
It is also true that certain areas are not as clean as you would think but apart from that Venice Beach is still a fun and entertaining place to visit.
They were plenty of options for food on the boardwalk, restaurants, ice creams and candy shops but we instead we went to Gjusta about 10 minutes walking distance off the tourist zone. The ambiance reminded me a lot the cafes I used to go to when I was living in Eat London and the food was delicious. They made their own bread and serve awesome breaksfast, brunch, sandwiches and salads as well as very good pizza slices. You order at the counter and can either eat in the courtyard or take away and eat on the beach.
To end up our day we decided to have a last walk on the beach and then we made our way to the Venice canals. We really enjoying looking at the beautiful houses nicely decorated for Halloween, it was really quite and peaceful, just what we needed before heading back to the hotel.
4. STARS SPOTTING AT THE WALK OF FAME
We arrive in Hollywood in the early morning, the strip itself and the connecting streets were not as wow as we would have expected to be honest, there was a lot of trash on the pavement but it was still nice to walk around trying to find our favourite celebrities golden stars.
Our taxi driver told us that the atmosphere is better at night when all the lights turn on but the morning fitted our schedule better. We got there about 9am and it was really quiet, visitors started to arrive from 10am. There are loads of souvenirs shops and other things to do like Madame Tussaud or Ripley’s believe it or not, which we are not really into but might be interesting for others.
5.WANDER AROUND BEVELY HILLS
Let’s get started with a visit to Rodeo Drive well known for high end shopping or simply for window-shopping. It might not be a very interesting attraction but we have personally really enjoyed walking around the pretty and well maintained street.
A short walk from Rodeo Drive are the Beverly Gardens which is more like a famous picture spot of the Beverly Hills Sign. The landmarkis located just across the street of the City Hall and the Police station.
Not far from there is The Beverly Hills Hotel, a 20 minute walk by North Cresecent Drive. We liked the walk through the upscale residential area all the way up to Sunset Boulevard, it was nothing more than beautiful houses and trees but perfect to enjoy a peaceful walk.
6. BOOK A MOVIE STUDIO TOUR
This is definitely another fun activity to add on your list.
We were not sure whether to do the Paramount or the Warner Bros and after some research we went for WB as it seems to have more about the shows and films we like.
Tickets for the basic tour (about two hours) at the Warner Bros Studio were $64 each, we booked last minute for the day after and they were still a few time slots available to choose from.
We loved the tour! We were mostly shown behind the scenes of upcoming TV shows that we don’t know about but it was still very interesting to walk around the studios and understand how they film. We also saw props from famous movies and shows, the Batmobiles, costumes of Batman, Wonder Woman, Harry Potter as well as the movie sets of Pretty Little Liar, the Big Bang Theory and other which I can’t remember about.
The tour ended with a self guided part which was a lot of fun. It was mostly about Harry Potter and Friends. You can take photos on the couch in the original central perk set or on the broom of Harry Potter, the Nimbus 2000.
PHOTOS – Some areas are photo friendly but some are not, you can get photographed or filmed by the WB staff and get your pictures printed or digital at the gift shop. The service is quite expensive however you can pre-book online and get a little discount when you get your tickets.
Note that for the above Friends set with the couch you are welcome to use your own phone/camera or buy the WB version with has a better background and better lights.
7. ENJOY THE VIEWS FROM THE GRIFFITHS OBSERVATORY
That is an amazing spot to observe LA. The observatory offers spectacular views, you can see the Hollywood sign as soon as you arrive and if you prepared you might hike up to get closer to it. I’d advice to check the weather forecast before you go, it was a bit smoggy when we got there on our first day and we couldn’t really see much.
It is free of charge and a 20 minutes taxi ride from the Walk of Fame.
The Southern Californian city is so spread out, it can take some time to travel from a place to another but a bit of organisation you can get a lot done even on a short stay. We stayed 4 full days as part of our US tour and it was enough to see the main attractions but obviously not enough to explore beyond. Hollywood is a good based for central location, less than 20 minutes to most everywhere and about 45 minutes to Venice with no traffic.
Rush hour occurs on weekdays between 5 and 10 am, and between 3 and 7 pm in the afternoon.
HAVE FUN! x