How To Enjoy The Real Los Angeles Like a Local
Have you watched the “Visit California” commercials that tout how fun California is? It really is a great place to visit (or live). If you are thinking of visiting California and don’t know which city to visit, consider a trip to Los Angeles. Los Angeles covers a lot of ground. There is so much to see and do that you’ll need to make lots of visits to see everything.
I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area for 18 years and I still haven’t seen or done everything! Since Los Angeles is spread out, it’s hard to hit every fun attraction in 72 hours, so I’m sticking with the West side for this post.
You may be wondering what the West side of Los Angeles is. I didn’t know what it was until I moved to Los Angeles. The West side of Los Angeles is basically any part of Los Angeles west of La Cienega Blvd. While Los Angeles doesn’t seem like a huge city, with traffic, it can take a really long time to travel from east to west so oddly enough, people who live on the West side, rarely go East and vice versa. We even joke about it in the dating world – someone is geographically undesirable if they don’t live on your side of time.
Three Days in Los Angeles
If you only have three days in Los Angeles, here are my best Westside recommendations for enjoying Los Angeles like the locals do. While Los Angeles has come a long way with public transportation, thanks to the Metro, we still have a long way to go. The best way to get around Los Angeles is still definitely by car.
Where to Stay in Los Angeles:
Your budget will likely determine where you stay. As you can expect, staying at a hotel in Santa Monica near the ocean will definitely cost more money. That being said, hotel deals can be found in Marina del Rey or Playa del Rey. You can also stay a bit inland for much less money. Inland cities to consider include Culver City, Westchester or West Los Angeles (in or near zip code 90025).
If you’ve never been to Los Angeles, one thing to remember is that the roads are busy pretty much all day. That being said, if you are traveling between 8 – 10 a.m. or 3 – 7 p.m., it will take you twice as long to get to where you need to go so be patient.
Los Angeles Adventure – Day 1:
After you’ve had breakfast (see my restaurant recommendations below), head to the beach! If you’re not really a lay on the beach person, you can visit Pacific Park, a mini-amusement park on the Santa Monica pier or walk the Santa Monica strand south towards the famous Venice Beach boardwalk. If Venice Beach isn’t really your scene, you can do a little window shopping on the Santa Monica Promenade. Watch the street performers and check out the best shopping in Santa Monica.
At this point, you’ll be ready for lunch. There are some really great restaurants right on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, as well as at Third Street Promenade, so you really don’t need to leave for lunch.
After lunch, drive north on Sepulveda Blvd to the Getty Museum. If you are traveling on a weekend, call ahead to see if their parking lot is full. If so, there are lots off Sepulveda Blvd. that will shuttle you up the hill. If the main lot is empty, you can park at the Getty and take their tram from the parking lot to the museum (my kids love the ride!).
Part of the charm of the Getty Museum is the garden and the view. Don’t take those in first though, wait until later in the day so that you can also enjoy a beautiful sunset.
After you’ve taken in the amazing sunset and views, it’s time to head back to the city for dinner. If you have kids, you’re probably done for the night after dinner. If not, there are some fun bars on Main Street in Santa Monica.
Los Angeles Adventure – Day 2:
On Day two, I suggest you take a trip to the East side to visit the renowned Los Angeles Farmers Market for breakfast. The Los Angeles Farmers Market has been around since 1934. It features dozens of small food stalls as well as an actual farmer’s market, butcher shop and upscale food market. You can also find the perfect Los Angeles souvenir to take home. If you’re a shopper, you can also take in The Grove, an outdoor shopping center.
After you take in The Los Angeles Farmers Market, head north to Santa Monica Blvd and travel west. You’ll have the chance to check out the cool street art in West Hollywood on your way to Beverly Hills.
No trip to Los Angeles is complete without a stop in Beverly Hills. There are several lots in Beverly Hills that are free for the first two hours, which is more than enough time to stroll around. Be sure to walk Rodeo Drive and Beverly Dr., as well as a quick stop on Wilshire Blvd to check out the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, made famous in the movie “Pretty Woman.”
If you’re ready for lunch, there are a ton of restaurants on Beverly Blvd, as well as all of the surrounding streets. Many of the restaurants have kid-friendly options.
After lunch, you can hop back into the car and drive through Beverly Hills (just head north on Beverly Dr.) to see some of the large Beverly Hills homes. You can travel up to Sunset Blvd. and make a left to make your way back to Santa Monica or right to Hollywood (famous Sunset Strip).
If you are traveling with kids and want to hit a fun restaurant on the famous Sunset Strip, I highly recommend Carney’s. The extremely kid-friendly hamburger and hot dog menu is served up in an old train car. My boys LOVE this restaurant!
If you are visiting Los Angeles sans kids, there are several great restaurants on Sunset Blvd or in Westwood. After dinner, you can enjoy the nightlife.
Los Angeles Adventure – Day 3
On day three in Los Angeles, I recommend hitting the South Bay. Head down to Manhattan Beach for breakfast and then take a walk on the strand (sidewalk near the beach). You can head south to Hermosa Beach and walk back up for a nice five mile roundtrip walk.
If you have kids with you and don’t want to take a nice walk, visit the aquarium at the end of the Manhattan Beach pier. It is donation-based, which makes it a great affordable activity. My kids enjoy visiting and checking out the starfish and eels.
Since you’re at the beach, if the weather is nice, I definitely recommend hanging out for a while. Manhattan Beach is our favorite beach to visit since it is usually quieter and cleaner than Santa Monica beach. If you get hungry for lunch, there are several places affordable places to eat near the beach. You can also stroll around on Manhattan Beach Blvd and check out some of the shops.
Spend the late afternoon of day three doing whatever you skipped on day 1 or two in Los Angeles. Take a stroll on Main Street, Santa Monica, visit the Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park or visit the Santa Monica Promenade.
If none of those activities sound appealing, you can leave the West side and hit Downtown Los Angeles to visit Olvera Street, Los Angeles’ “first street.” This quaint street is in the middle of downtown Los Angeles but makes you feel like you’ve traveled back in time. The best part? The food is amazing so definitely stay for dinner!
If you aren’t a fan of Mexican food but you decided to visit downtown, head on over to Grand Central Market where you can make everyone in the family happy with the amazing food offerings.
For your last evening in Los Angeles, head back to Santa Monica and either take a picnic to enjoy at the beach or dine at a restaurant with an ocean view so that you can enjoy a California sunset.
I hope you enjoy your three days in Los Angeles, exploring like a local. This is basically how we spend our weekends with kids, with a lot more downtime. If you’re traveling with kids who don’t want to do a ton of site-seeing, make sure you schedule some pool or beach time, weather permitting.
Los Angeles Recommendations:
Following are a few of my favorite restaurants in the Los Angeles area. The best part about most of them is that after you eat, there’s plenty of stuff to see nearby.
Best Los Angeles Restaurants for Breakfast
1415 Montana Avenue
Bread & Porridge
2315 Wilshire Blvd
1611 Pacific Ave
822 Washington Blvd
Uncle Bills Pancake House
1305 Highland Ave
Best Lunch in Los Angeles
4243 Overland Ave
Bay Cities Italian Deli
1517 Lincoln Blvd
The Farm of Beverly Hills
439 N Beverly Dr
8935 Santa Monica Blvd
Carney’s Sunset Blvd
8351 W. Sunset Blvd
The Kettle (also good for breakfast)
1138 Highland Ave
Petros Hellenic California Cuisine
451 Manhattan Beach Blvd
Happy Hour or Dinner
Ocean and Vine
1700 Ocean Ave
31 Washington Blvd
Marina Del Rey
1025 Wilshire Blvd
8800 Sunset Blvd
Manhattan Beach Post
1142 Manhattan Ave
1025 Manhattan Ave
9635 Santa Monica Blvd
Joan’s on Third
8450 W. 3rd St
Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee
631 Wilshire Blvd.
Diddy Riese (cookies and ice cream sandwiches)
926 Broxton Ave
Los Angeles (Westwood)