If you’re wondering what to do in Los Angeles for a week, I can help. I traveled to this US destination twice (well, three times if you count that one dinner during a road trip) and have gathered my experiences into a one-week itinerary including places to go, things to see and where to stay.
I wrote about my trips to Los Angeles in the past but as I’d only just started blogging back then, the information was scattered over different articles and so I decided to compile everything in this one-week program for Los Angeles. It talks about all the things I did when I was there in 2012 and 2013, presented in a bit more of a pleasant form than it used to be. At least, so I hope.
One week in Los angeles – Day 1: Santa Monica
I visited Santa Monica on both of my trips to LA and twice on Labor Day in September. All the shops are open then, but it’s best to go early to get a parking spot right next to the Santa Monica Pier ($12 for a day at the time). We made sure to arrive around 10 a.m. twice and that was fine. It allowed us to wander over the pier and cover a large part of the shopping street Third Street Promenade before things got busy and when they did, we simply headed to the beach.
By the way, a fun place to stop for lunch when you’re shopping is the Pancake House (no idea if it’s actually called that way, sorry) on Third Street Promenade.
The beach, the pier and the stores really are Santa Monica’s three main attractions. At the pier, you can see street artists performing from early noon until late at night or people trying their hand at fishing. Santa Monica Place lies adjacent to Third Street Promenade and the entire shopping area is just a 5-minute walk from the pier and the beach. The beach is so wide that you’ll always find a spot although it can get crowded right along the waterline. If you’re looking for something a bit more active, you can always walk, rollerblade or bike along the beach promenade.
Something strange that I noticed the second time I visited, was that the little beach on the right of the pier was super full with families while it was a lot less crowded on the other side. It might just have been a coincidence, but it was striking, as if all families flocked together there.
One week in Los angeles – Day 2: Venice Beach
Venice Beach lies right next to Santa Monica and you can easily walk or bike there, but I twice took a separate day for it. There are several paid parking lots not too far from the beach. We once paid $10/day on Pacific Avenue, but saw lower prices elsewhere, so it might be worth driving around a bit if you’re watching your budget.
Now, most people know Venice Beach because of Muscle Beach, the outdoor gym, but what I mostly noticed is how diverse this beach town is. On the one hand, there’s the more touristy part of the beach which has a bit of a more grungy feel to it. There’s graffiti everywhere and street artists share the boulevard with beggars. You’ll find souvenir shops here as well, but they’re a bit darker and more alternative than the kind you’ll encounter in Spanish coastal towns, for example.
Although we’d seen beggars in Santa Monica as well, the ambiance here was entirely different. I had this feeling that there were two kinds of people living in Venice Beach: the ‘upper class’ that didn’t leave their house too often and went shopping at the more expensive Abbot Kinney Blvd and the more artsy and ‘alternative’ people who meet on the streets.
The beach itself is wide like in Santa Monica and in one spot there’s a pretty cool skate park right by the sand.
And then there are the Venice Canals, a beautiful area with big, often very modern houses. In summer, the water in the canals lies low, but we spotted several little boats so I imagine that when it rains for a while, people can actually do a little boat tour here. It’s a quiet neighborhood without any big roads or lots of people on the street. I even felt a bit like an intruder when I took photos, but I just had to capture some of the amazing houses we saw.
From the Venice Canals, it’s not too far to the harbor of Marina del Rey, but I found that to be a bit disappointing. I’d expected a harbor that would be nice to take a stroll around, but this was more just a collection of boats that you could spot from afar. Maybe my expectations were a bit too European?
One week in Los angeles – Day 3: Downtown LA
Now, you can perfectly walk around Downtown LA, but real Angelenos take the car for everything, and so did we. We drove to Olympic & Figueroa and walked up to the L.A. Live complex where we saw the Staples Center, the Nokia Theatre, the Grammy Museum and so on.
We then walked to Figueroa & 9th to have a look at the Original Pantry Cafe. “The Pantry”, as it is called by locals, opened in 1924 and has never closed since, catering customers 24/7, even though it switched locations once. In 1950, the Original Pantry Cafe moved to its current building because the government had acquired the old one to build a freeway ramp there. On the day of the move, the employees served lunch at the old location and dinner at the new one. That’s pretty badass.
To be honest, we wouldn’t have checked it out if it hadn’t been so close to where we already were. As we weren’t hungry or thirsty at the time we didn’t go in, which I kind of regret now. We did take a photo (oh yeah, we were that touristy that day):
From The Original Pantry it’s only a short drive to Angels Flight. Angels Flight is the shortest railway in the world, covering about 300 feet. It was opened in 1901 to carry prominent citizens up and down the steep hill between Olive and Hill Street.
Angels Flight was taken out of use and dismantled in 1969 because the city wanted to renew the Bunker Hill Neighborhood. When it was eventually put together again in 1996, it was moved half a block south so that it could take pedestrians up to the California Plaza. The original station house, rail cars Oliver and Sinai and the station arches are still being used, but the driving mechanism is only there for ‘decoration’.
We took the railway up to California Plaza, had a look around and up.
It was only after we got back down that we discovered the Grand Central Market right across the street from Angels Flight. Woops!
Already indoctrinated by the American way of being on the move (read: never walk, always take the car), we took the car and drove about a block to the Disney Concert Hall (111 S. Grand Ave.), home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The architecture of the building really reminded me of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, which isn’t surprising as both buildings were designed by the architect Frank Gehry.
We got up to the little garden on the rooftop but were a little disappointed. The garden was a nice and quiet place in the midst of the city, but we had both expected just a bit more of it. You know, like a green oasis with a pond and ducks.
When we left the building, we walked up to the Cathedral on Temple. We first wanted to visit it, but then we got distracted by a frozen yogurt shop. What do you do.
One week in Los Angeles – Day 4: Hiking and shopping
You may not know this, but LA offers some great hiking opportunities. Really! Well, it’s no hiking in forests and bushes, but I can assure you that the hills of parks like Runyon Canyon and the climb up to Griffith Observatory are no joke, especially not in the heat. If you really want to do some walking, you’re best to go early in the morning, but be aware that Griffith Observatory only opens at noon during the week and at 10 a.m. on the weekends.
And let’s not forget about LA’s most famous hike: the one up to the Hollywood sign! We didn’t do this one when we were there but instead walked up to Griffith Observatory, from where you get a great view of the sign as well.
In any case, wear decent walking shoes, sturdy sandals or sneakers and keep in mind that you’ll mostly be walking on dusty paths, so best leave those white Stanley Smiths at home!
After hiking, it’s time for another kind of walking: the kind from store to store. Both times I traveled to LA I didn’t even pack half a suitcase to go there and I just filled it up over there. Not only were there sales on the time of year I went (in September) but in 2012 and 2013 the dollar was still much weaker than the euro and so I did a lot of shopping in stores we don’t even have in Europe, for prices much lower than I’d have paid here. Admittedly, I didn’t buy anything on Rodeo Drive.
Whether you want to get out of the heat in an air-conditioned mall, browse thrift stores or check out the big chains, there are plenty of shopping options in Los Angeles. I’ve listed some of the places I went shopping in Los Angeles at here.
One week in Los Angeles – Day 5: Malibu and the Getty Villa
Depending on whether you’re more interested in modern art or classical history, you can head to the Getty Center or the Getty Villa. The Getty Center is huge and you can easily spend a few hours there while an hour or two at the Villa are more than sufficient. At least, that was the case for me.
I visited both museums on separate trips and while I wouldn’t say the Villa is a must, it’s fun to combine with the beaches of Malibu if you’re in the mood for a beach day and want something else than the open beaches of Santa Monica and Venice. You might even bump into a photo shoot or two!
One week in Los Angeles – Day 6: The Walk of Fame, Chinatown and El Pueblo
A day filled with classics! You can’t go to Los Angeles and not visit the Walk of Fame, right? Now, I have to say that this was maybe my least favorite part of the city (of the places I visited, obviously, as I didn’t venture into any dodgy neighborhoods). It was so crowded and everything felt kind of fake. I walked part of the Walk of Fame twice as I did both my trips to LA with other friends, but we didn’t hang around in that area for long. A little bit of shopping at the Hollywood & Highland and that was it.
From the Walk of Fame, it’s not too far to two historically important places in Los Angeles: Chinatown and El Pueblo with the adjacent Union Station.
Let’s start with Chinatown. I’d thought it would be a vibrant and colorful neighborhood, but I was a bit disappointed in that. The neighborhood seemed so… normal. Except for some Chinese looking buildings you could have easily missed being in the Chinese quarter. Of course, there were some colorful shops, but not nearly as many and we were both disappointed not to find noodles and egg rolls on each street corner.
Maybe this Chinatown doesn’t look that much like a Chinatown is because it’s fairly new. You see, what we now know as LA’s Chinatown was actually only opened in 1938 as the ‘New Chinatown’. New Chinatown consisted of restaurants, shops, a bean cake factory and offices that had been relocated from the original Old Chinatown, less than a mile further down the road, into Little Italy.
With the arrival of the first Chinese in 1852 began the growth of an entire community that counted over 3,000 members at a certain point. However, US law prohibited the Chinese from becoming US Citizens, which meant that they also couldn’t own any properties. So to get their offices, stores, theaters and temples running, the Chinese just rented or leased buildings from Americans. This lead to problems later, when project developers turned their eye to Old Chinatown and several voices started asking for a new train terminal in that area. In 1931, it was decided that the new terminal, now known as Union Station, would be built on the site of Old Chinatown.
Luckily the Chinese had a man who stood up for them. Peter SooHoo was a native Chinese American who’d graduated as an engineer and spoke both fluent Cantonese and English. He became the spokesman of the Chinese community and, what’s more important, found a spot for a new Chinatown.
The Chinese would control this project. They would finance the new venture and own the buildings. It was agreed that New Chinatown would be a place appealing to both Americans and Chinese, which might explain while New Chinatown doesn’t look so Chinese as other Chinatowns, but contains more of a mixture between Chinese and American elements.
New Chinatown “opened” in 1938 and Union Station was built one year later. It’s not the beautiful Central Station of Antwerp, but it’s worth a look nonetheless. The old ticket hall has been preserved and there’s marble everywhere.
From Union Station, you only have to pass the street to get to the center of El Pueblo with the Plaza and Olvera Street. This is where Los Angeles originated and if you look around closely, you’ll see plenty of historic (in American time terms) buildings in this neighborhood.
One week in Los Angeles – Day 7: Festivals and festivities
As I was in LA twice during Labor Day, I attended the Fiesta Hermosa festival at Hermosa Beach two times, but there are plenty of other small local festivals throughout the year. Attending one of these is a fun way to mix with locals and for me it was also interesting to be able to compare that festival, for example, with similar events in Belgium. Just looking at the street food alone… I don’t think we’d ever sell spam here at home.
TimeOut Los Angeles is website that lists “everything” that’s going on in LA so make sure to check their list of events.
I didn’t go out nearly as much as I’d anticipated while I was in LA. Partly because most clubs close at 2 a.m., which is simply ridiculous. Of course, there are after parties and after-after parties, but we weren’t that eager that we tried finding out where they were. We usually had a late dinner and spent the night at the hostel or around Farmers Market.
One night we went to Boulevard 3 on Sunset Blvd. It was a night out organized by the hostel, so we figured we’d check it out. We had high hopes for Boulevard 3. I mean, going out in Hollywood, that must be fun, right?
Well, let’s start with the look of the place. It had a roman theme going on, with a big rectangular dance floor in the middle, surrounded by galleries (on the ground, 1st and 2nd floor). The galleries were in white and between the different columns were little lounge areas with some sofas and a table. The entrance area was also a big rectangle with little open ‘rooms’ on the sides, again separated from each other by columns.
Spectacular was the big swing hanging from the ceiling. At last, we also found a smaller area with a bar and some couches. Interesting here was the lady dipping strawberries into hot melted chocolate. Yummie 🙂
Now let’s get to the most important part: the party atmosphere. When we got there, somewhat before 11pm, there were about two people on the dance floor and another 20 in the galleries. An hour later the room was full and people seemed to be in the mood to party. They played hip-hop and although that’s the kind of music I like to go out to, it wasn’t that great because they played the same kind of hip-hop all night long. After a while, it felt like we’d been listening to the same song for over an hour. Not the best party experience.
Much better are the parties at The Federal, a club upstairs from a bar in North Hollywood. It regularly hosts 90ies and other cool hip-hop parties, including performances with dance crews. Yup, this place is known among the many dancers that flock to LA to take classes there.
If you’re not in the mood to party but do want to enjoy the nightlife a bit, there are several venues that program stand-up comedy, theater, dance performances and more. We attended the So-Cal Dance Convention at the Ford Amphitheater and went to see a stand-up comedy show in North Hollywood. Good fun!
Food, accommodation and our rental car
I wish I could tell you where all the trendy food spots are in LA, but I can’t (yet!). I did mind my budget a bit on both trips and that was easy to do by minding what I ate. Our hostel frequently organized free diners and we stayed close to Farmers Market, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods (mmmm, Whole Foods), which meant that we often grabbed some street food to go or cooked dinner at the hostel.
For lunch, we would just grab something wherever we were. As it was rather warm both times we were in LA, we often had enough with a salad, although I do have to admit we dropped in at In’N Out Burger a couple of times… and once that even saved me.
Both times I was in LA I stayed at the Banana Bungalow West Hollywood hostel. It was quite the bargain, with large private rooms and a fun inner courtyard.
If you’d rather not stay at a hostel, check Booking.com for a large choice of hotels for all tastes and budgets.
If you’re looking for an apartment rather than a hotel, I recommend checking airbnb. Sign up through my link and get a discount on your first stay!
When you go to LA, you need a rental car. There’s public transportation but it’s slow and impractical. The first time I went, it was mostly my friend Sylvie doing the drive but the second time it was me behind the wheel. I’ve written about our first rental car experience in LA, what it’s like to drive and park around the county and how my second rental car experience there took off with a bit of a false start.
How to get to LA
I flew to Los Angeles from Brussels via New York. Click here to find the best flights for your trip.
And that’s it! I hope this post gave you some ideas for things to do in Los Angeles and… let me know if you decide to go!
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