Even after all these years, Los Angeles is a city that never ceases to surprise me in the best way possible. The ironic thing is that I hated living there in my early twenties, but now in my early thirties I cannot visit enough. Especially the range of diverse restaurants in LA.
The truth is that planning a Los Angeles itinerary for 5 days can be overwhelming and trying to fit a hundred things into one trip just isn’t practical. Instead focus on a few main sights a day, ideally within the same area (because otherwise you will just spend your time in the car, most likely in traffic).
Los Angeles can take time to reveal itself, and when you visit it’s important to experience different parts of the city. Five days is a good amount of time to get a taste of what this city is all about.
Here’s a mix of popular sights as well as a few lesser-known spots to visit.
Los Angeles Orientation
Los Angeles is roughly divided up into the following areas:
West (Santa Monica, Venice, Beverley Hills)
Central (Hollywood, West Hollywood, Fairfax)
Downtown (Koreatown, Little Tokyo, Chinatown)
East (Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Pasadena, East LA, San Gabriel Valley)
The Valley (Burbank, Studio City, North Hollywood)
South (Long Beach, Manhattan Beach)
There are of course many more neighborhoods within these areas, but these are the ones you will most likely encounter on your visit.
Getting Around Los Angeles
The city is sprawling and large, and renting a car is your best bet to getting around with relative ease. There are public transportation options like the Metro, but it doesn’t go everywhere you’ll want to go (though you can now get from downtown to Santa Monica if you really want to).
If braving Los Angeles freeways are not your thing (I hear you) car sharing services like Uber and Lyft, are aplenty and also a great option for when you want to go out at night.
Los Angeles Airports
Los Angeles has a few different airport options within the city, each with their own list of pros and cons.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)-main airport located on the west side of the city. Crowded, chaotic, and likely where you’ll be coming through if you are on an international flight. The upside is that there are some good food and drink options, like Shake Shack, Umami Burger, and Angel City Brewery.
Long Beach (LGB)-the opposite of LAX, where rumor has it you can get there a mere hour before and easily make it to your gate without breaking a sweat.
Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR)-located in the land of film and TV studios, and as a smaller airport it usually promises a pleasant experience. Coincidentally, it is the shortest distance to Hollywood.
Safety in LA
One of the biggest issues that Los Angeles continues to struggle with is the staggering homeless population. From downtown to Venice Beach, do not be alarmed if you see entire streets filled with homeless encampments. In general, homeless people are harmless, but use precaution when walking in areas like downtown, especially at night. Just like you would in any other major city, be aware of your surroundings.
Los Angeles Weather
Los Angeles has near perfect weather, with mostly sunny days year around. There is of course the odd rainy day, especially in the winter. It can also get chilly in the winter, especially at night. The weather in June is famously known as June Gloom, because of the fog that rolls in off the ocean and keeps the city cool. The ideal time to visit is in March-May or September-November when the weather is a bit cooler, the air is cleaner and there are fewer crowds.
Day 1: West LA
For breakfast, head to Gjusta for their in-house smoked lox on an open-face bagel or a breakfast egg sandwich. Don’t be scared off by the homeless hanging around or the complicated ordering system. Venice is indeed a city of contrasts.
Walk the few blocks to the beach and wander around the Venice Beach Boardwalk for some prime people watching. Afterwards, drive to the Venice Canals for some solitude (and serious waterfront house envy).
For lunch, Café Gratitude that’s as LA as it gets with its creative vegan food. Afterwards, stop by Moon Juice for an array of juices that will cure anything (just not sticker shock).
In the afternoon, make your way to Santa Monica Pier and after you get your fill of the sights, walk over to the adjacent beach and stick your toes in that warm California sand.
For dinner, Milo and Olive, an popular Santa Monica restaurant for carbs heaven in the form of pizza and pasta. The garlic knots and burrata pizza is highly recommended.
The Urth Caffe, is a great after dinner spot to hang out on the heated patio with a pot of herbal tea and a fruit tart if you still have room.
Day 2: Central LA
Start your day off at Kismet with a Turkish-ish breakfast, a sharable platter of small dishes including soft-boiled egg with sumac and marinated Persian cucumbers with labneh.
Take the short hike up to the Griffith Observatory and soak in the view of this sprawling city.
Head to In-N-Out for a late lunch out of the classic double double (two burger patties), because when in California.
Take a stroll down the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. It’s not at all like it’s portrayed in the movies, but it’s worth checking out the different celebrity stars. Sights like the Chinese Theater and Roosevelt Hotel are also noteworthy for stopping by.
For dinner, Otus Thai Food in West Hollywood is ideal for clean, healthy Thai food.
For night owls, the iconic Hollywood Forever Cemetery hosts movie nights, get your fill of comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater on Sunset Blvd., or if you’re tired and just want a little sweet treat Yogurt Shop is the place to go for frozen yogurt with excellent homemade topping options.
Day 3: West/Central LA
Bob’s Coffee and Doughnuts to help fuel your morning with a bit of sugar and caffeine. For all the juice shops and grain bowls in LA, there are cult followings for donuts shops and this one has standed the test of time.
The choice is yours: for art enthusiasts the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is one of the largest art museums in the western U.S. or for archeology fans the adjacent La Brea Tar Pits is not to be missed. The tar pits are personally one of my favorite sights in LA, because they’re quite educational and also it’s so unexpected to find in the middle of the city!
For another essential LA experience, head to The Grove and get gourmet burgers at Umami Burger. For dessert, grab a Sprinkles cupcake on your way out to the (overpriced) parking lot.
Walk along Rodeo Drive, and be prepared to see wealth on display. If you want to get away from the commercial madness, head to the quieter residential neighborhoods behind the Beverley Hills fountain, to get a glimpse of where the rich and famous live.
Stop by Jon and Vinny’s for pizza and pasta that will not disappoint. Make sure to make reservations in advance.
Walk down Melrose Avenue and stop by Milk, for their macaroon ice cream sandwich in flavors like Thai ice tea and red velvet.
Day 4: Downtown LA
There’s nothing better than a classic diner in downtown LA and Nickel Diner has it all: a retro interior, memorable diner fare, and most importantly delicious maple bacon donuts.
Take a free audio tour of the Walt Disney Concert Hall and admire its impressive architecture by Frank Gehry that optimizes the interior acoustics. Head out to the shaded elevated garden for a break and to take in the view of downtown.
Head to Grand Central Market, a trendy food court that offers everything from tacos at Villa Moreliana to Thai Street food at Sticky Rice.
Walk off lunch by taking the cable car up to Angels Flight (across the street from Grand Central Market). Take in the view of downtown from above.
Make your way to Japantown, in the late afternoon to walk around this historic neighborhood of LA before dinner. Pop into Fugetsu-Do, one of the oldest mochi shops in the area. Get in line early for Daikokuya for ramen, because there will be a line. For dessert get freshly made imagawayaki (red bean cakes) at Mitsuru Café
The 24-hour Wi Spa at Koreatown is a great place to unwind in the various sauna rooms and single-sex hot tubs (be prepared for a no swimsuit policy that’s strictly enforced). There’s also a rooftop area for lounging amid the skyscrapers of downtown.
Day 5: Malibu
Grab breakfast at Bagel Nosh Deli in Santa Monica on your way out to Malibu. The bagels are some of the best on the Westside, and they also offer heartier options like eggs, bacon and pancakes.
Visit the stunning Getty Villa (if you want to get technical it’s in Pacific Palisades). Admire the impressive collection of art and enviable view of the ocean. A tour of the grounds can be done in about an hour and it’s recommended that you go before noon to beat the crowds. Entry is free, but reservations are recommended. Parking cost $15.
If you’re going to be in Malibu, you should definitely take advantage of the fresh seafood. Malibu Seafood is a popular spot known for its fish and chips, clam chowder, and ahi tuna burgers. Seating is limited to outside, so make sure to bring layers in case the sea breeze picks up.
Since you’re on the coast, you might as well go beach-hopping. Start at Point Dume, afterward head to Zuma, and finish off with the rugged El Matador that tends to be less crowded than the other two.
Get dinner at Malibu Farm Restaurant, where you’ll have a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean, and can enjoy a California-style menu with fresh produce and locally sources ingredients in the form salads, tacos and small plates.
Go for a drink at The Surfrider Malibu’s rooftop bar and soak in yet another view of the Pacific, because honestly it never gets old.
Where To Stay In Los Angeles
Ideally, if you’re planning to visit all around Los Angeles, the central part of the city is a good spot to call home. A home base in West Hollywood for example will give you easier access to the west and east parts of the LA, instead of staying on the Westside and having to drive all the way across town to sights on the Eastside or vice versa.
Banana Bungalow West Hollywood-a great hostel for travelers traveling solo or those who want to have a build-in social life with their accommodations. Private rooms and en suite bathrooms are available.
Trylon Hotel-a smaller independently owned hotel that is centrally located in Hollywood. A great alternative to the bigger chains in the area.
Kimpton Everly Hotel–A modern hotel that boasts scenic views of the Hollywood Hills or the LA skyline from each room. Centrally located in Hollywood, close to many popular attractions like the Walk of Fame.
There you have it, a brief introduction to Los Angeles and all it has to offer. Once you have your first visit under your belt, if you come back again continue to dig a little deeper beyond the main sights. There’s so much the city has to offer that’s there if you are willing to take the time to explore.
Like I mentioned above, it took me awhile to adjust to the city, and look beyond the grit, traffic and urban sprawl, but then I began to explore specific areas like downtown LA and started to see the city in a different light. Whatever you do take your time and soak it all in on your own schedule, and embrace what makes LA so weird and wonderful.