Los Angeles travel guide

Palm-fringed beaches and Hollywood A-listers.

Aerial view of Santa Monica beach

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“We are all citizens of Los Angeles because we have seen so many movies,” essayist D.J. Waldie said. Still, first-time visitors might be surprised by the sheer size of the sprawling megalopolis.

Under the watchful eye of the famous Hollywood sign lies Sunset Strip and world-famous landmarks and bars, Rodeo Drive and its rich clientele, studio backlot tours at Paramount Studios and Universal plus Santa Monica Pier with its bevy of sun-kissed bodies and palm tree-lined boulevards.

Our advice to first-timers? Organize your itinerary, take advantage of free museums and escape to the mountains, even if just for a drive.


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Tips for first time visitors to LA

1. Book a studio tour.

If you’ve only got funds for one touristy trip, treat yourself to a behind-the-scenes look at where movies are made. Top-rated studio tours in LA include:

  • Universal Studios. See sets from Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock, plus come face-to-face with Jaws.
  • Warner Brothers. Sit on the world-famous Friends couch inside the equally famous coffee shop and traverse the forest from Jurassic Park.
  • Sony Pictures. Stand in the Jeopardy spotlight and peer into the giant pool used for Castaway and Esther Williams’ Million Dollar Mermaid movies.
  • Paramount Pictures. Examine props from Star Trek and Transformers, and witness where the Red Sea was parted in The Ten Commandments.

2. Target one neighborhood at a time.

Unlike NYC, bopping between different neighborhoods in Los Angeles takes time and patience. Our advice? Choose one zone to explore each day. For example:

  • Day one: Hit up the top tourist attractions around Hollywood and/or Universal Studios.
  • Day two: Explore local life and museums on the east side, including downtown, Echo Park and Silver Lake.
  • Day three: Mellow out on the beach in Santa Monica or Venice, and take a drive into the mountains.

3. Recharge in nature.

Locals would probably agree that Los Angeles’s close proximity to nature is one of its major draws. Here’s how — and where — to dip an exploratory toe:

  • Traverse Mulholland Drive. Winding roads offer an escape from LA congestion plus stops for kissing…er…admiring the view. Many famous Hollywood chase scenes were filmed along Mulholland Drive.
  • Bike Manhattan Beach. Follow a glittering coastline on the Strand, a bike path along Manhattan Beach.
  • Hike the Hollywood Trail. See the giant block letters for yourself by hiking from one of the many trailheads at Griffith Observatory.
  • Follow Route 1 to El Matador Beach. Route 1 (aka Pacific Coast Highway) is a breathtaking oceanside drive, and El Matador is a hidden jewel of a beach surrounded by rock formations and tide pools.
  • Day-trip to Topanga State Park. Explore the Santa Monica mountains under wide-open blue sky. One Trip Advisor reviewer touts “deja vu moments”, as many famous films were made in Topanga State Park.

4. For a true taste of California cool, hit the beach.

Take at least a day to soak in surfer culture. You haven’t experienced essential Los Angeles vibes until you’ve watched tricks at the Venice Beach skate park or window-shopped along the Santa Monica Promenade.

5. Take advantage of free museums.

Another key difference between Los Angeles and NYC is that many of LA’s most prominent museums are free! Step back in time at the Getty or enrich your Insta-game at the Broad. Even the Walt Disney Concert Hall offers free tours with purchased tickets to a show.

6.Keep a layer handy for chilly nights.

It may be sunny during the day, but 70 degrees in the desert with an ocean breeze is far from balmy. Pack at least one cardigan or denim jacket, even if you’re visiting during warmer months. Plus, then you’ll be all set for a breezy climb into the hills.

Bottom line

The essence of Los Angeles is a far cry from what’s sometimes portrayed on TV. Discover the rich cultural diversity, blooming creativity and sweeping mountain views for yourself by booking a flight to this coastal metropolis. And don’t forget about the beach!

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