Los Angeles has envious weather year-round and doesn’t experience a traditional winter (though you could reach snow in a few hours from downtown if you wanted to). With mild weather and lesser crowds this is the ideal time to explore the city. After the holidays is personally one of my favorite times in LA, where I can embrace the colder weather and occasional rainstorm with more indoor-oriented activities. It probably has something to do with my Northern California origins since it rains a lot more in San Francisco. Here’s what to do in Los Angeles during winter, whether you want to seek out a cozy cafe or to experience the rich museum culture the city has to offer.
SoCal Museums-Annual Free-For-All Day
Los Angeles has a museum on seemingly every topic-from centuries of art at LACMA to examining the devastating effects of racism and prejudice throughout the world in the Museum of Tolerance (a personal favorite). Many of the city’s museums have free admission on January 25, 2020 (except for the Museum of Tolerance which is free on January 26th), including the Broad, Getty Center Museum, La Brea Tar Pits (another favorite!), and the California Science Center. There are also free days throughout the week for each museum. Check out the complete list here.
LA can get surprisingly chilly in the winter, especially after the sun goes down. One of my favorite ways to warm up is with a cup of hot chocolate and there are plenty of choices around the city depending on what type of cocoa you prefer. Here are a few places to get your hot chocolate fix:
- Demitasse – for a twist on tradition head over to this coffee shop which offers a creamy lavender hot chocolate topped with a giant blow-torched marshmallow. Locations in Santa Monica and Little Tokyo.
- Churros Calientes – for a late night snack (open until 11:30pm on weekends) the freshly-made churros and thick hot chocolate hit the spot on a cold night. Located in Sawtelle.
- ChocoVivo – a women-owned chocolate shop that sources its cocoa beans directly from a Mexican women co-op and offers both hot and cold chocolate on the menu. Located in Culver City.
- Intelligentsia – this uber-hip Chicago-based coffee shop makes excellent coffee, but they also excel in creamy hot chocolate that is not overly sweet. Locations in Venice, Silver Lake, and Hollywood.
- Lady Chocolatt – a family-owned candy store that has some of the city’s best Belgian hot chocolate. Located in Sawtelle.
There are so many good independent bookstores in LA and winter is the ideal time to hunker down and get lost in the aisles of one for a few hours. I love The Last Bookstore in downtown LA, which is housed in a former bank and has a wide selection of used books. Great runners-up include Book Soup in West Hollywood that is known for its friendly staff and excellent author events, and a bit further out Vroman’s in Pasadena, which is the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California and is truly massive with a newly added wine bar.
For themed bookstores, The Ripped Bodice in Culver City, which is a female-driven bookstore specializing in romance novels is highly recommended. Hennessey + Ingalls in the downtown Arts District has an impressive selection of books about art, architecture, and design.
Sure LA has its fair share of modern theaters, but for a memorable night out head to the beautifully preserved theaters around town that offer comedy performances, movies, and concerts. Located in the Broadway Theater District, the city’s historical theater district, the Palace Theater is one of the oldest theaters in LA and played silent movies at the beginning. The Orpheum Theater is also worth checking out in the Broadway Theater District, and has one of the last original theater organs in Southern California.
Over in Hollywood, Disney’s El Capitan Theatre is worth checking out for its pre-show theatrics including a light show and a live organ performance. Right next door, the TCL Chinese Theater, which is located right in the middle of touristy Hollywood, but the impressive Chinese architecture (some of the facades are imported directly from China) make up for having to deal with Hollywood tourists.
With its large Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese communities, LA is spoiled with seemingly endless choices of noodle soups. Sawtelle Japantown on the westside is a good place to start your search, where you can find anything from casual Marugame Udon to Tokyo-style ramen at Tsujita. Japantown is also a solid option, especially for ramen at Daikokuya (with a branch also in Sawtelle). The Taiwanese beef noodle soup at Pine & Crane in Silverlake, is worth a trip to the eastside alone.
A bit further from LA proper, there’s the San Gabriel Valley, where you can find a dizzying array of noodle soups like Kim Ky Noodle House for wonton soup. Take a road trip to Garden Grove/Westminster area in neighboring Orange County, where you can indulge in some of the best Vietnamese food, including noodle soup at Pho 79.
Join in the monthly star parties that are free and open to the public in this beloved observatory that boasts excellent city views. The telescopes are closed at 9:45pm, which means during the winter the viewing time is longer, since the sun sets earlier. The party goes from 2pm-9:45pm and is family-friendly with opportunities to talk to experts about the night skies. For 2020, the winter dates are as follows: February 9, and March 16. The observatory also has nightly telescope viewings if the weather is clear. Check out the full details here.
One of my personal favorite ways to spend a chilly or rainy LA day is at a Korean spa. Day passes are usually around $25 and include access to the jimjilbang (common area) with heated floors, various mineral saunas, single-sex floors with hot tubs and dry/steam saunas. Spa treatments like body scrubs are not included, but recommended if you literally want to shed your old skin. The Wi Spa is my favorite in Koreatown, with a relaxing rooftop lounge area, restaurant with traditional Korean dishes, and a gym. I’ve never stayed overnight, but if you pay a bit extra you can extend your day pass so you can sleep overnight.
A friendly Korean spa PSA: in the single-sex floor floors bathing suits are strictly forbidden and so you will have to be naked in those areas. Though you can always wrap one of the tiny towels they provide around your waist.
Lunar New Year Festivals
Celebrate the Year of the Rat around town with various festivals, including major festivities in San Gabriel Valley. The Alhambra Lunar New Year Festival is one of the largest with over 250 craft and food stalls, dragon dances, and kung fu demonstrations. The one-day street festival takes place February 1, 2020 on Valley Boulevard between Vega and Almansor and is free to attend.
Another worthwhile Chinese New Year celebration is the Golden Dragon Parade & Chinese New Year Festival in Chinatown Central Plaza in downtown LA. There are performance stages featuring music acts and martial arts demos, but the highlight is the Golden Dragon Parade, which has run for over a century.
January through the first week of February is awards season in LA. Here are key dates and locations you want to keep in mind for traffic purposes and locations you’ll want to avoid for road closures:
- January 26, 2020-Grammys (Staples Theater in Downtown LA)
- February 9, 2020-Oscars (Dolby Theater in Hollywood)
Weather in Los Angeles During The Winter
Los Angeles winters are mild with daytime temps in the high 60s, and nighttime dipping into the low 50s. The occasional rainstorm happens (and the whole city seems to freak out and cannot drive), but otherwise its mostly sunny, mild days. As long as you have a warm jacket and close-toed shoes, you should be fine. One word of caution is that if you are driving around the city and it rains take extra precaution, since the roads can be slick with oil and this can make the roads slippery.