When it comes to traveling, some of us might not have the luxury of spending many days in one place. Whether it’s due to rushed planning or limited vacation time off from work, it can be hectic trying to research and cram in as much as possible into sightseeing a city or country. In the end, it might be exhausting, and it perhaps could detract you from enjoying your adventure away from home.
Having been inspired by the many Internet articles (one of the most-famous including the New York Times’ “36 Hours in…” segment) that showcase ideal itineraries in a set destination, I’d thought that I would also start a similar series on this blog to offer some of my own suggestions of things to do, see, and eat in well-renown cities in the world.
What makes my series different from the others online would be the fact that I’m by no means a professional traveler (e.g. no sponsors, all-paid resorts, etc.), and that what I will suggest are based on my own personal experiences having visited a certain place at least twice, in order to ensure a more-comprehensive outlook on the city itself.
Many online articles in the same vein also tend to cater towards mid-to-upper class travelers who can actually afford hotels and fine-dining restaurants, which I assume many people in their 20’s, even 30’s, can’t have. That’s why I’m catering this series to the budget-friendly, backpack-traveler nomad who doesn’t mind staying in hostels, taking overnight buses, or eating at hole-in-the-wall joints while still getting a fulfilling experience in traveling. This one’s for you, folks!
PS Check out more of my “72-Hour” posts here!
72 Hours in Los Angeles: Things to See and Do
City of Angels. La La Land. Entertainment Capital of the World. There are millions of nicknames given to this city in southern California, all of which conjure up dazzling images of Hollywood, the Red Carpet, and fame. This is where people from all over make the pilgrimage to try their shot at being an actor, a screenwriter, a YouTuber, as the city provides the opportunities. This is also where people come to “find themselves,” to be a grander version of themselves from back home– all the while enjoying the good beach and weather.
I know of people– visitors and transplants– who have found Los Angeles disappointing when they arrive. It’s true: everything’s expensive, traffic is horrible, and pollution is never-ending. Plus, there really aren’t as many things to do as one may imagine. Even my peers have vehemently told me that they would never visit (or consider visiting) LA for this very reason. While they make good points, I can’t help but feel low-key insulted as a native Angeleno, born and raised.
The way I see it, there is a difference between visiting/recently moving to Los Angeles and being raised in Los Angeles. “Duh, obviously,” you might say, but hear me out: what most people think of when they think of the city is concentrated in a very-small part of a sprawling metropolitan area, most notably the Westside. Think places like Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, etc. Heck, even throw in Hollywood. These are the places that are shown in so many TV shows, films, even Instagram photos, but they do not reflect the city in its entirety. Really, there is much, much more to Los Angeles than the glitzy, trendy, and beachy vibes that such neighborhoods give off.
I am aware that Los Angeles is a big city with major issues like homelessness, pollution, and high cost of living. And I would personally advise people not to move here unless they have the savings to do so. But don’t tell me that such issues aren’t a huge problem in any major city in the world– yes, some have bigger issues than others, but don’t tell me that it’s exclusive to Los Angeles. I acknowledge that the city isn’t perfect, but it remains my hometown, and I’m proud of it.
Having made several “72 Hours In” posts over these last few years, this one is more of a personal one. Considering that I was born and raised in Los Angeles and have explored both the touristy and local scenes, I truly believe that the city is worth visiting at least once in your lifetime. Especially if you haven’t even been to Los Angeles, you can’t say that you hate the city without even stepping foot in it. Here, I offer an itinerary that you can use to plan your trip someday– I hope that by the end of this post, I can convince you to give my hometown a chance!
PS For the sake of this post, I’m limiting the activities to the city of Los Angeles, as there’s also the county of Los Angeles to consider. However, I’ll mention the things that one can do in the county, should one have more time to explore afterwards.
Since so much of LA culture comes from the Westside, let’s start the trip off on the Westside:
Begin your morning in Venice, where you can check out its eponymous beach and stroll the quaint, residential canals. I’d recommend getting breakfast/brunch, or even a cup of coffee at any of the numerous restaurants/cafes on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which has plenty of cute, Instagram-worthy joints that may be a bit over-priced, but offer that quintessential al-fresco experience.
Spend your afternoon in Santa Monica, which is just next door to Venice. Both are one of the most-famous beach areas in Los Angeles, and it’s convenient that they’re right beside each other. While Venice offers that more-alternative, artsy vibe (and 420-friendly, if you’re into that), Santa Monica is its more prim-and-proper cousin that offers a more-classic, touristy experience with its beach and old-fashioned boardwalk with a Ferris Wheel. There’s also the pedestrian Third Street Promenade to stroll along to window shop and enjoy the music from buskers (fun fact: singer Andy Grammer was discovered while performing on Third Street Promenade!).
For dinner/happy hour, you can choose to stay in Santa Monica and try any of the restaurants: it’s an eclectic blend of high-end places, Mediterranean-seafood eateries, and classic American sports bar/burger joints. Or you could choose to head over to Sawtelle, which is just three miles away, for some solid Japanese food. Sawtelle is dubbed “Japantown” for the Westside community, and the various restaurants serve up some of the tastiest tsukemen, sushi, and okonomiyaki outside of Japan. You can also get Korean and Taiwanese food here, along with dessert (shaved ice, boba, Asian-inspired pastries) afterwards.
If you’re into nightlife (and let’s pretend this is post-COVID), you can head over to West Hollywood to spend the rest of your night. This is the mecca for all things LGBTQ– even if you’re not LGBTQ, you can still enjoy the lively atmosphere as you have fun with friends and strangers– this is where you make memories (and sometimes bad decisions)!
Transport: bike from Venice to Santa Monica, bike/Uber from Santa Monica to Sawtelle, Uber from Sawtelle to West Hollywood.
Whereas your first day was about the beach/influencer life, your second day in LA is about getting “cultured.” This is a day filled with art and history, all of which will be concentrated in Downtown LA. One thing to know is that DTLA has made incredible strides in the past two decades, going from run-down to Renaissance of its cultural roots. You’ll especially see it in its architecture, with plenty of buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries preserved in time. Even better is that DTLA is very compact, so you can just walk to each site within minutes.
Start the day off at The Broad, a contemporary art museum dedicated to the works of modern American artists like Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol. It’s a colorful museum with plenty of abstract and pop culture art that’s worth spending a couple of hours in. There’s also Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Room, which is truly a magical experience.
Just before lunch, head down towards Pershing Square/Historic Core to check out a few of the historic sites within a block of each other: take the funicular ride down Angels Flight Railway ($1 USD one-way) before going through Grand Central Market that’s home to dozens of food vendors selling cuisines from all over the world (Salvadoran, Japanese, German…). You can choose to eat there, or save your appetite for Japanese food in Little Tokyo or Mexican dishes on Olvera Street, all within a 20-minute walk from the Historic Core.
Right across the street from Grand Central Market is the Bradbury Building, the oldest building in Los Angeles dating back to 1893. It has been featured in popular films like Blade Runner and (500) Days of Summer, and it’s worth a pop-in to check it out.
Spend part of the afternoon at The Last Bookstore, an independent book store home to over 20,000 new and used titles. You don’t need to be a book lover to enjoy this two-story store, which has a few cool, architectural designs– all made out of books!
The rest of the afternoon is up for grabs, as you have several options to explore Little Tokyo, Olvera Street, or even the Arts District, which is an up-and-coming neighborhood with art galleries, street art and murals, and third-wave coffee shops and breweries to enjoy. You can have dinner in any of these districts, all of which serve up incredible Japanese, Mexican, and fusion cuisines. Due to its gentrification, DTLA has a growing nightlife scene, with cocktail bars and night clubs worth checking out afterwards.
Transport: Uber to DTLA, then walk everything!
When in Los Angeles, one can’t leave without visiting the area with its claim to fame: Hollywood. However, a disclaimer: the actual Hollywood district is very underwhelming, as it’s very kitschy with tacky souvenir shops and seedy people in costumes whom you shouldn’t take photos with. If you really want to visit this district, though, just be quick to take your photo on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (and maybe the TCL Chinese Theatre) before getting out– trust me, you won’t see any celebrities there!
Instead, I recommend you reserve for a Burbank Warner Bros Studio Tour, which offers a three-hour tour of visiting filming sets and studios for well-known shows/films like The Big Bang Theory, Friends, and Harry Potter. If you’re into theme parks, you could spend an entire day at the nearby Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, before heading to Griffith Observatory in the late afternoon/early evening to check out the planets and some of the best views of Los Angeles from above (as well as the iconic Hollywood Sign in the distance). Definitely a beautiful way to end your time in the city!
For food, the nearby neighborhood of Silver Lake offers trendy eats at their numerous coffee shops and restaurants which focus on fresh, sustainable food. Call it hip or hipster, but Silver Lake is a fun and happening place to check out. Another option would be to head down to Koreatown for incredible Korean food and a great nightlife scene until the morning.
Transport: Uber all the way. However, you also have the option of taking the Metro B line (i.e. Red Line) from Hollywood to Koreatown, or bus 2 from Hollywood to Silver Lake.
…so there you have it. To be fair, this 72-hour itinerary barely scratches the surface of Los Angeles– maybe only 5% of it. This itinerary is best for first-timers to the City of Angels, so if you either are returning to the city or have an extra week in town, I would recommend expanding your horizons to Los Angeles County:
Compared with Venice and Santa Monica, the city of Long Beach is more of a local’s beach and offers plenty of sites close to the port: Aquarium of the Pacific, the Queen Mary, and Shoreline Village to spend an entire day in. There’s also the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) and Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park to entertainment yourself. My personal favorite is exploring the Naples Canals, a quiet and residential part of town built on water. Overall, Long Beach offers a blend of Santa Monica and Venice, but less-gimmicky and less tourists!
Similar to DTLA, Pasadena is a hub for historic architecture, as well as arts and culture. The city is especially known for its Victorian homes located in Old Pasadena, in which you could do a walking tour to admire them all. There’s also an option to spend a day at the Huntington Library and Gardens to check out the botanical gardens, original manuscripts from Chaucer and the Bible, and great place for afternoon tea at the Rose Garden Tea Room. For art, check out the Norton Simon Museum known for its sculptures. Pasadena is considered the cleaner, “wealthier” cousin of DTLA, all the while offering similar activities to enjoy.
**San Gabriel Valley**
Technically, Pasadena is considered part of the San Gabriel Valley, but the rest of this area needs to be discussed, too. Located east in Los Angeles County, it has a predominantly-Asian community with plenty of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean cuisines to try out. You can also check out the massive Santa Anita Mall in Arcadia for all of the food and shopping to your heart’s content, as well as get a solid hike at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains near Altadena and Monrovia. It’s not a touristy location, but it does offer the perfect blend of eating, shopping, and the great outdoors.
Made famous on TV, Malibu is nothing short of stunning with its 21 miles of scenic coastline. Visitors flock to its shores, but it still retains its secluded, residential feel, given that it’s very northwest of Los Angeles County. You can check out any of its beautiful, rugged beaches, including El Matador, Zuma, or Point Dume. There’s also the Malibu Pier to stroll upon, perhaps enjoy a drink or meal at its restaurants overlooking the sea. Just nearby in the Pacific Palisades is the Getty Villa, a museum which offers art works from ancient Greece and Rome. Affluent and sublime, Malibu is a must while in Los Angeles.
Whew, this was a long one! Thanks for reading, folks, and I hope this entices you to come to Los Angeles someday. 🙂