All Articles 3 perfect days in Los Angeles

3 perfect days in Los Angeles

Stefanie Waldek
By Stefanie Waldek29 Feb 2024 13 minutes read
Couple viewing Los Angeles skyline from The Getty Center
The Getty Center
Image: Lydia Koh/Unsplash

It’s true, Hollywood put Los Angeles on the map, but you likely already know that there's far more to the star-studded city. For some, the appeal is the fantastic food. For others, it's the world-class museums. And some are lured by the sunny SoCal beaches.

I lived in LA, then left, and now visit as often as I can. And surprisingly, I love to explore the city most as a tourist. So, I've put together a three-day itinerary that hits as many highlights as you can fit into such a short stay, incorporating personal favorites and real Tripadvisor traveler reviews. To make your visit as convenient as possible, I've minimized cross-city drives (LA traffic is no joke) by keeping each day's activities to a specific area or neighborhood.


DAY ONE

Santa Monica Pier at sunset, in Los Angeles
Santa Monica Pier
Image: Derick McKinney/Unsplash

MORNING: Wander around Venice

If you've landed at LAX airport, Venice Beach is just seven miles up the road. Pick up your rental car, then start your day with breakfast at Gjusta, a Venice institution that's part deli, bakery, café, and market. Flight delayed? Don't worry—the breakfast menu is served until 2:30 p.m. and includes favorites like shakshuka, breakfast burritos, and salmon roe bagels.

Then, burn off your breakfast with a stroll around the tranquil Venice canals. Picture Italy’s famed waterways but lined with California bungalows instead of centuries-old palazzos. When you're ready for some good people-watching, make your way to the Venice Beach Boardwalk, where street performers, fitness junkies, and vendors make their rounds.

By late morning, the shops on Abbot Kinney Boulevard will be open. Some of my go-to boutiques are Brazilian fashion brand Farm Rio; Detroit-based accessories store Shinola; and the Brooklyn perfumery D.S. & Durga. (Sorry, LA, you can't take the New York out of a girl!)

AFTERNOON: Take a scenic coastal drive

In keeping with the day’s beach theme, make your way up the coast to see some of the dramatic landscapes along the Pacific Coast Highway. Just outside the city, the Santa Monica Mountains begin to rise, creating the waterfront cliffs for which this stretch of highway is known.

When hunger strikes, stop for a seafood-heavy lunch at Broad Street Oyster Company in Malibu. Or, if you can hold out a little longer, I recommend driving all the way out to Neptune's Net roadside diner, which is kitschy—in the best way possible. Order a signature sourdough bread bowl filled with clam chowder, and wash it down with a michelada.

Once you’re done, turn around and head back toward LA, stopping at some of the scenic spots (Zuma Beach, Point Dume, Malibu Pier) along the way. Need to stretch your legs? This region is a hiker’s heaven, with trails for all skill levels. Some moderate three-mile options include Solstice Canyon, a loop with spectacular views; Escondido Falls, an out-and-back trail that ends at a mossy waterfall; and Temescal Canyon, which locals frequently bring friends and family.

MALIBU TOUR OPTIONS

  • If a hike isn't active enough for you, book the Scenic Malibu Electric Mountain Biking Tour. This two-hour excursion takes you on some of Malibu's best trails; your guide will tailor the intensity to your skill level.
  • For a leisurely hike that rewards you with more than a pretty view, try the Small-Group Malibu Wine Hike. You'll traverse two and a half miles through a vineyard, wine-tasting and seeing Native American cave paintings. At the end, you'll take some wine home!
  • Want to hit the waves? Hang ten in a private surf lesson or try a chill stand-up paddleboard tour in Malibu.

EVENING: Catch the sunset in Santa Monica

Stop in Santa Monica at golden hour to see the sunset from the iconic Santa Monica Pier. Yes, it's a tourist attraction, but it does have some historical value—it's the end of Route 66, and there's a sign at the pier to prove it. While you’re here, walk around the amusement park and grab some cotton candy or funnel cake. When in Rome, right?

Now, let’s talk about dinner as there are a slew of options. Big Dean's Ocean Front Cafe is a laid-back sports bar with indoor and outdoor seating. The meals are nothing fancy—get a burger and a beer—and chat up your neighbor at the bar. The Golden Bull chophouse is an unpretentious Santa Monica classic, with ridiculously good steaks. Slide into a leather booth, order a cocktail to start, then grab your knife and dig in. For something a little more upscale, try Cassia’s creative Southeast Asian fare.

In the mood for a nightcap? The Chestnut Club is the place for cocktails, but be warned—flip-flops, shorts, and baseball caps are prohibited. If you're wearing any of those, head for The GasLite instead. This is less of a see-and-be-seen kind of spot and more of a local watering hole, with free popcorn on the tables and karaoke all night long.

Travelers say: “Opened in 1908 with beautiful coastline views, the Santa Monica Pier is exactly what one expects. Suffice it to say there's probably nothing here you haven't already seen, but after a funnel cake and Dance Dance Revolution showdown at the arcade, you probably won't care. Go, ride the ferris wheel and get your fortune read by Zoltar. Laugh. Smile. That's why you're here.” —@Michael U

Worthy detours along the way

DAY TWO

Steak frites and salad at Polo Lounge, Los Angeles
Polo Lounge
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

MORNING: Hop around the museums

Don’t let anyone tell you differently—LA has some amazing galleries, museums, and cultural institutions. Fortunately, a number of them are located on Museum Row, a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard south of Fairfax. That includes the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the Petersen Automotive Museum, the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, and Craft Contemporary. Will you have the stamina to visit all five? Probably not. Pick two based on your interests. Tip: Chris Burden’s Insta-worthy Urban Light installation at LACMA is actually public art and viewable 24/7 without a museum ticket.

Otherwise, you can’t go wrong at the Getty Center, a masterpiece of modern architecture filled with art dating back to the Middle Ages. The gardens and skyline views are worth a visit alone. Just be aware, it usually takes a few hours to browse the collection at this massive complex, and even then you might not see it all. Arrive early to hit the highlights before the crowds.

If you choose to visit the Getty today, fuel up at nearby Coral Tree Cafe, known for its healthy (but delicious) breakfasts. Don’t miss the Mediterranean toast, which pairs avocado with harissa, labneh, chickpeas, and Valbreso feta. And if you need a sweet treat after, the pastries are worth the extra calories. I was taught that you should never see art on an empty stomach, so I take my pre-museum meals seriously!

AFTERNOON: Go shopping on a famous strip

There are two options this afternoon: First up is a shopping spree at the ultra-luxe Rodeo Drive. This iconic street—really, a whole district rather than just a single stretch—is ideal for window shopping and people-watching. Keep an eye on the road, as you'll probably see some flashy cars drive by.

Next, make your way to the Beverly Hills Hotel. The Polo Lounge is the king of power lunches (think: martinis, caviar, and crab cakes) while the alfresco Cabana Cafe will give you a peek at the hotel's glam pool. If neither of those are calling your name, head to the basement to grab a bite at the Fountain Coffee Room, a retro 1950s-style counter.

If you’re a normal person like me—y’know, who actually has a budget—the Westfield Century City mall is a worthy alternative. This isn’t your local mall from the '90s—it’s a full-on destination, featuring a palm-fringed "oasis" with a reflecting pool and fire pit. For lunch, check out the mall's outpost of Din Tai Fung, a popular Taiwanese chain. The xiao long bao soup dumplings are a must. For a sit-down meal, head across the street to Fairmont Century Plaza, where you'll find French brasserie Lumière. The niçoise salad is a perfect light dish while the croque madame satisfies a brunch itch. I love that most of Lumière’s antique decor was sourced from France.

Travelers say: “Both of us assumed [Rodeo Drive] would be not to our taste, but felt obliged to at least see it! Much to our surprise, it was fairly subtle, not too crowded, and actually a lovely walk. [Salespeople] were not pushy. Window shopping and looking at the cars driving by was great fun. The street and sidewalks were clean as could be.”—@BelleArts

EVENING: Take a night out on the town

West Hollywood, or WeHo, is the beating heart of Los Angeles’ nightlife. That's half because it's technically a standalone city—bars are allowed to stay open until 4 a.m. here while last call is 2 a.m. in LA proper—and half because it's a major LGBTQ+ hub.

Whether or not you plan on staying out all night, you can’t miss dinner. For something splurge-worthy, snag a reservation at Sushi Ginza Onodera, a two-Michelin-star omakase restaurant with just two nightly seatings at its 16-chair counter. The price: a cool $400 per person. For a wallet-friendly meal, old-school Italian joint Dan Tana's has you covered.

Thirsty? I suggest starting at one of the rooftop bars found all throughout WeHo. They’re usually calmer after dinner. Take in the twinkling city lights from E.P. & L.P. or The Roof at The West Hollywood EDITION. As the night progresses, things will get, shall we say, livelier. Skybar at Mondrian Los Angeles has electric DJs sets, and if you keep partying, there's a very good chance you'll find your way to Hi Tops, Stache, or Schmitty's—or all three—for some late-night revelry. After bar-hopping, soak up the alcohol with a 4 a.m. snack at NORMS 24-hour diner.

WESTSIDE AND HOLLYWOOD TOUR OPTIONS

Worthy detours along the way

DAY THREE

People walking past The Broad, in Los Angeles
The Broad
Image: S. Greg Panosian/Getty Images

MORNING: Wave hello to Hollywood

Brace yourself—it's time to venture into the Valley. Your first stop is the legendary Porto's Bakery and Cafe in Burbank. There will likely be a line out the door, but it's worth the wait for the best Cuban pastries in town. Then, it's off to learn about the magic of movie-making just down the street on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. This is by far the best studio tour in LA, as you’ll wander around the active Warner Bros. backlot to see the exterior sets from dozens if not hundreds of films and shows, from Gilmore Girls and Friends to The Dark Knight and Gremlins. The tour usually includes a visit to a soundstage, too, though this depends on the shows' filming schedules. (Tip: You're less likely to get onto a soundstage during weekday working hours, since that's when most filming takes place.) As a former Burbank resident, I took the tour no fewer than five times in a single year—and I saw something new on each one.

Afterward, climb the hills on the Eastside to Griffith Observatory for a direct view of the Hollywood sign—and a panorama of LA, all the way to the Pacific. You can park at the bottom of Griffith Park in Los Feliz and hike to the top, or you can drive up and cross your fingers for a parking space.

Wondering why I skipped the Hollywood Walk of Fame? Well, it feels a little like Times Square. It’s a bit dirty, and it’s always packed with people, day and night. But if you really want to go, I recommend looking up the locations of specific stars in advance to maximize your time.

Travelers say: “[Griffith] Observatory is set in a park at the end of a long windy road. I suggest you take the free DASH bus from the subway at Vermont and Sunset. Otherwise, it’s an uphill journey and parking is limited.” —@Stephen T

AFTERNOON: Check out the art and architecture in DTLA

Downtown LA has mixed reputations—have you heard of the Cecil Hotel?—but there's no denying the fact that the neighborhood is an arts hub and an architecture lover's paradise. Visit The Broad to see an extraordinary collection of modern and contemporary art, including Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away. (Reservations are required for entry.) And don't forget to look at the structure itself. The building's unique perforated form was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

Cross the street to see another impressive sight: the Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry. On select Sundays, you can catch a matinee performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, otherwise you can book a self-guided tour to explore the facility. And for a bit of movie history, make your way to the Bradbury Building, a filming location for Blade Runner and (500) Days of Summer, among numerous other films. Though it's an active office building, visitors are welcome on the ground floor of the atrium, which is lined with intricate ironwork.

Now, what to eat for lunch? The most popular spot is Grand Central Market, where food vendors have been hawking their dishes since 1917. Just to the north, Little Tokyo is a little more under-the-radar. Stop at Daikokuya for ramen or Rice & Nori for onigiri.

DTLA TOUR OPTIONS

EVENING: Eat your way through the Eastside

On your final evening, I propose a smorgasbord of Eastside fun. Dine and drink around Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and Echo Park, each of which has a walkable stretch of restaurants and bars. You can even stroll between the neighborhoods' main thoroughfares via Sunset Boulevard if you're an ambitious New Yorker like me, though most LA locals will be quick to call a cab.

If there's one LA staple you need to try before you leave, it's tacos. Swing by Simón in Silver Lake and El Ruso #1 in Echo Park for traditional food truck fare. If I had to pick a personal favorite, I'd choose Guisados in Echo Park, a Mexican chain known for its sampler platters (yes, I know this is a controversial take, but let me enjoy my chorizo tacos and horchata!).

The cool kids mingle in this area—join them for cocktails at Bar Flores in Echo Park or Tiki-Ti in Los Feliz, or mingle over a glass of wine at The Ruby Fruit, a "sapphically-inclined" wine bar. Then, hit the dance floor at dive bar The Short Stop in Echo Park or gay bar Akbar in Los Feliz.

Worthy detours along the way

Know Before You Go


Thanks to SoCal’s sunny weather, there's truly no bad time to visit Los Angeles. Winters are extremely mild temperature-wise, but December through February might have showers. And LA is not equipped for rain. Summers can get quite hot, depending on your location in the city: The Westside is usually significantly cooler than the Eastside and the Valley. Spring and fall—well, they're pretty much perfect!



Many Los Angelenos don't subscribe to the typical Monday-to-Friday workweek, so it's not unusual to see people out and about every day. And that's not to mention all the visitors, who operate on their own schedules. Weekends do tend to be a bit more crowded outdoors, like at the beach, in parks, or on hiking trails. Keep in mind some museums are closed on Mondays.



LA business hours are fairly typical. Restaurants are generally open between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., depending on which meals they serve, whereas shops are often open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a later start on Sundays. If you're looking to go out on the town, most bars close at 2 a.m., except in West Hollywood, where bars stay open until 4 a.m.



Santa Monica: If you're dreaming of an LA beach vacation, stay in Santa Monica. The stately Hotel Casa del Mar and its breezy younger sister, Shutters on the Beach, are two true oceanfront spots. If you're willing to go inland a few blocks, trendier options include the Santa Monica Proper and 38-room Palihouse, both of which are renowned for their interior design. The former is more of a beach-chic affair while the latter goes for Old World Spanish-style opulence. And finally, there's The Georgian, an Art Deco tower known as "Santa Monica’s First Lady" as it was opened in 1933.

West Hollywood: WeHo is a hotbed of hotel (and nightlife) action. Three of the best are the eco-conscious 1 Hotel, whose rooftop pool is a must-visit for the city views; the Pendry, which you know is cool because it has a members-only social club; and the eclectic Petit Ermitage that feels more residential (perhaps because it's housed in a converted apartment building).

The Westside: For luxury seekers, the Westside is the only place to stay. Here, you'll find the heavy-hitting hotels from days of yore, such as the Beverly Hills Hotel, with its iconic pink walls, storied private pool, and lush gardens. There are updated takes, too, such as the Fairmont Century Plaza, a mid-century gem that’s fresh off a $2.5 billion facelift.

Downtown: If you plan on spending more time on the Eastside, DTLA is a good home base. Conveniently located near hip neighborhoods like Silver Lake and Los Feliz, this district is actually walkable, which is ideal if you don't have a car. I recommend Hotel Per La, a Jacques Garcia–decorated property in a former 1920s bank building, and the Beaux Arts–inspired Hoxton, part of the stylish London-based brand.



Public transportation: I admit, I’m biased coming from NYC. Although LA does have public transportation—a very limited Metro network and a vast bus system—it pales in comparison to other major cities. If you're visiting LA, I would dissuade you from taking public transit.

By bike: If you’re staying in South Bay—an area consisting of Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach, among others—biking is very convenient. The 22-mile Marvin Braude Bike Trail, also called the Strand, is a paved path that essentially covers the city's coastline from Will Rogers State Beach to Torrance Beach. Inland, cycling gets a bit tougher as there are fewer bike lanes. That said, the Metro Bike Share does have stations throughout both the Westside and Eastside. Overall, cycling is more a leisure activity in LA than a mode of transportation—you'll find plenty of mountain bikers on the trails just outside town.

By taxi: If you aren't renting a car, taxis are your best option, although you probably won't be able to hail a cab on the street. You'll either need to head for a dedicated taxi stand or use a rideshare app like Uber or Lyft. Taxis and rideshares can be fairly expensive, particularly if you hit traffic (and there is always traffic).

Airport transfers: Most people use rideshare apps or taxis upon arrival to LAX. There's a massive parking lot called LAX-It (pronounced LA exit—get it?!) that's dedicated to rideshares and taxis. Otherwise, your options are limited to rental cars, public buses, a shuttle to the metro, or hotel shuttles (of which there are very few). Book a seat on a FlyAway bus if you’re heading downtown to Union Station.


Stefanie Waldek
Stefanie Waldek is a freelance writer covering space, travel, and design for outlets like Space.com, Travel + Leisure, and Architectural Digest, among many others. Her passions include Antarctica, aviation, and The X-Files. Find her on Twitter and Instagram at @stefaniewaldek.