Visiting a new city can be a very daunting task. While you may have dreamed about visiting for years you will probably know very little practical info about the City at all. Our Los Angeles Visitors Guide is designed to break down that initial barrier and help you plan the trip of a lifetime to this amazing city.
One thing we often say in our City introductions is how small most US cities are. Often the urban areas that are of little interest to tourists make up the bulk of the City and the interesting tourist areas are quite compact. Even the Ultimate Urban Metropolis of New York isn’t that big, in terms of square mileage. LA is very different. It’s HUGE.
The City is a mind-bending 469 square miles. Compare that to Manhattan’s 33 square miles or San Francisco’s 47.9 square miles. You can see it’s some serious real estate! One of the best ways to appreciate this is on approach to LAX. The Built-up area begins from a long way out and just keeps on going and going. Check out the video below, 9mins of scrolling cityscape.
It can be quite a daunting prospect for the would-be tourist!
Los Angeles is laid out in quite a confusing fashion. While it uses a block structure to some degree the topography and sheer size of the city means this breaks down. The best way to understand the city is to use the Trunk roads that traverse the city as the baseline.
Both Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevard run from Venice/Santa Monica beach on the Pacific West Coast through the city, past most of the city’s places of interest and terminating in Downtown. These trunk roads can be used to move between most places. Of course, traffic can be horrendous at peak times
Here is a list on Wikipedia of the different districts in LA. As you can see there are LOTS. Over 80. We could leave it there and let you digest that but the reality is much simpler than that list makes out.
Really there are only a few districts you need to concern yourself with in terms of places to Stay and Visit. You can see on the Below Image where these are located.
This is the City area. High rise and built up its the heart of the business district. There are many large luxury hotels along with cheaper more budget offerings. And access to many restaurants. However, the Downtown area isn’t really catered for tourists, more business travelers and you won’t be near any of the “tourist” attractions most people come to LA for.
The Chances are this is one of the reasons you are in LA. Hollywood is probably one of the most well-known destinations in the world. Hotels in this area range from really quite cheap right up to incredibly expensive. We regularly choose Hollywood as our base as it puts you right in the heart of where you need to be. It may be better for shorter stays as it is not the most relaxing of districts, and far from upmarket.
Santa Monica / Venice Beach
The Beachside areas of LA offer a fantastic location to base your trip. Living the incredible LA Beach life, fairly close to most attractions and right on the beach. The only thing not to like is the higher prices. Look toward Venice Beach for more reasonably priced hotels.
Beverly Hills / Rodeo Drive
The location of some very upmarket very famous hotels (Beverly Wilshire!) It’s a great location for your trip with endless dining options and is centrally located for anything you may require. Not all hotels are super high-end and cheaper options can be found.
Lots of hotels will come up near the Airport but really we don’t rate this as a place to base your trip. It’s not a nice area and pretty far from anything. The Glut of reasonably priced hotels is mainly there to serve 1-night layovers or pre-flight overnighters. They are all fine for this purpose but you wouldn’t want to stay any longer.
For more detailed information on where to stay in Los Angeles read our guide here.
LA has a reputation for being a very violent and dangerous City. However, this reputation is largely outdated. While the City still has its problems with Crime it’s a far cry from the dark days of the ’80s early ’90s which were almost all-out war in certain districts.
Parts of the city are still considered “No Go” areas but the reality is you would be almost certainly fine if you did venture into these districts. But as there is very little of much interest to a tourist in these areas, we really don’t advise visiting the less “refined” areas much. There is so much to see and do in the tourist neighborhoods we don’t see the need to walk the streets of Skid Row and Compton…even though the worst you might face is a little petty crime!
As for the more tourist-focused areas, there is little to worry about. They are perfectly safe. It’s a big built-up urban area so there will ALWAYS be opportunistic crime. But all it takes is a little street-smart to avoid this. Venturing into quiet dark back streets alone while flashing expensive jewelry is asking for trouble. Stick to busy well-lit areas and you will almost certainly have no trouble. And that’s at night, during the day you are very unlikely to encounter any trouble at all.
Pickpockets will always operate in areas like these so valuables should be kept secure. But these are by no means L.A. only problems. They exist the world over and L.A. is not a particularly troubled city anymore. Our advice is simply to take sensible precautions, as you would in any major city, and simply enjoy the sights and sounds of this fantastic city!
Read our in-depth Transport Guide here
Really Los Angeles is a City designed for Cars. While the traffic can be hellish it’s still the most common and popular way of getting about. Mainly due to the large distances between places. We Strongly Recommend a Hire Car for touring LA.
But of course, for some people, this really isn’t an option for one reason or another. So there are of course other options.
Cabs are very easy to flag down anywhere in LA. While not particularly cheap they are easy to use and convenient. Using taxis for the entire trip would be pretty expensive though.
Uber / Lyft
Uber and Lyft both have an extensive presence in Los Angeles. If you are familiar with using these services then they are both cheap and reliable in LA. However, if you are less familiar it is probably not the best time to start experimenting with using them. We would stick with the old-fashioned Cabs.
LA’s Metro system is not in our opinion all that useful. There are a number of lines but they tend to not really go to of from the places we want to go. We often encourage the use of public transport systems in most cities but in LA we just don’t find the Metro very useful.
There is an extensive Bus network running across LA and this is a very popular mode of transport for many locals. It’s certainly a good way of getting about if you want to save money over Taxis.
There are not a lot of locations in LA that are within walking distance of each other. It is a very large city. Individual locations are of course explorable on foot, but getting between the different locations normally requires some type of motorized transport.
Los Angeles is not a city renowned for its Cuisine. There really are no historical delicacies hailing from LA. A lot of tourists love sampling the local specialties, as do we, like Pizza in New York City or Sour Dough Bread Bowls in San Francisco, but there really isn’t like that from LA.
That said, don’t for one second think the food is not incredible in LA because it IS! While the local delicacies are limited that is mainly because you can find just about any food from anywhere in the world. It is a real Fusion City where cuisine from all continents blends together. Mexican food is very big in LA being so close to the Mexican Border the city has a large Latino population and they have naturally brought their cuisine along with them.
Asia also has a large influence on LA cuisine with Sushi particularly being very popular. But most types of Asian Cuisine are abundant in LA.
Healthy food is big news in LA and many restaurants serve fresh health-focused fare using incredibly fresh ingredients from responsible sources. LA is one of the birthplaces of a lot of Health movements
Of course, there are all the Big name American chain restaurants available. American food is a big draw for Non-American Visitors.
Attractions/Things to do
The list of sights and attractions is almost endless. Many really need no introduction, especially the first two. For more detailed information read our guide on sights and attractions in LA
The original, and still the best? Well, that opens up a whole can of worms. However, there is no doubt both children and adults just adore a little bit of Disney magic. The site is now home to 2 parks. Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure, along with Downtown Disney, a shopping and dining complex, and 3 hotels.
Far too big a topic to really go into here, Disneyland really is a topic all of its own.
Another of LA’s big hitters. What started as simply a tour of Universal Hollywood Studios is now a fully-fledged Theme park with a full complement of rides and its very own Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Of course, the Tour is still one of the major attractions it’s been transformed into more of a ride/show than an actual tour now but still, a must-see in our opinion.
Hollywood Boulevard – Walk Of Fame
With the two big theme parks out of the way, we can look at more of what the actual City itself has to offer. First up is Hollywood Boulevard. The Main street of Hollywood this ultra tourist-focused location is shamelessly focused on entertaining the tourist. If garish, in-your-face Americanised tourism isn’t your thing then give this a wide birth. But for the rest of us just soak up and enjoy the spectacle.
The Hollywood walk of fame runs along 15 Blocks of sidewalk paying homage to a multitude of stars of the entertainment world. It’s great fun simply walking the walk and looking out for your favorites.
Also in this area is the TCL Chinese Theatre. Another world-famous attraction, you can while away your time searching for the foot and hand imprints of your favorite stars from both the past and present. Unless it’s Premier night when the actual stars will grace the red carpets, offering you a glimpse.
Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier
Most people’s image of LA is Palm trees, sun, sea, and sand. Venice Beach and Santa Monica Beach are where these imaginings become reality. Venice is a bizarre blend of hippy culture and beautiful beachgoers. Home to the famous Muscle Beach (although the original is next door on Santa Monica) and many colorful interesting residents it’s a fantastic place to experience something very unique.
Santa Monica Beach is next door and is more your conventional beach. Split down the middle by the incredible Santa Monica Pier. A 100-year-old entertainment spectacular. Packed with rides, games, restaurants, and, well, a pier. A must-see attraction for any trip to LA.
Shopping is BIG business in LA. People come from all over the world just to see the world-famous stores and shops. Rodeo Drive is an iconic shopping street, right up there with New York’s 5th Avenue and London’s Bond Street. A must-visit for anyone even remotely into luxury shops or just American culture.
But there is a lot more than just gawping at the windows of luxury brands. Just about every large US department store has a presence in LA along with just about every brand imaginable. And there are a good number of discount outlet malls offering top brands at incredible prices.
Jokingly known as Los Angeles’s only Landmark. The Hollywood sign is a BIG deal for most people visiting LA. While it’s not a location you can visit, and even if you could it loses a lot of its appeal from up close, it’s a must-see for many people. Most views of the sign are from quite a distance and getting close enough for a perfect selfie can be difficult. Of course, we have a guide on how to get up close and personal for that perfect holiday memento.
Of course, this is just scratching the surface of what’s available to experience and see in LA Our full attraction guide has more detailed information.
Money-Saving in Los Angeles
With so much to see and do L.A. is an expensive place to visit. We have developed over the years a number of strategies to both reduce costs and maximize our vacation on our trips to the City of Angels. Read our guide to saving money on your Los Angeles Vacation here.
Go Los Angeles Pass
We have visited the City numerous times and there is always one big deciding factor in how much we enjoy the City. And that is whether we have a Go City Pass or not! We really adore the Go Los Angeles Pass and find it completely transforms our trips to the City. Read our full Pass review here.
Have Your Say
Again this is just the briefest of overviews for the novice LA traveler, we will be writing in-depth about how to get the best out of the city. Let us know if there is a particular area of interest you want us to cover or if you have any further questions about the City.