Stories

3 days in Los Angeles

Sunset at Santa Monica Downtown
Sunset at Santa Monica Downtown

Last time we visited L.A. was on our West Coast road trip in late December 2013. I’ve been to L.A. before and honestly I didn’t like the city a lot. However, this time I gave it another try and I can say that I really liked it a lot mostly thanks to a great in-advance preparation. I’ve even set up 3 simple rules to enjoy L.A. from the very beginning:

Rule 1: You need a car to explore the city. Nothing is in walking distance.
Rule 2: You need to live in the right neighbourhood. More details below.
Rule 3: You need to accept 30-60 min long rides between interesting spots. Just invest time and get great impressions.

Day 1: Los Angeles, Santa Monica

L.A. International Airport (LAX) is the oldest airport I’ve experienced so far in the States. I believe its latest upgrade has been done prior to the 1984 Olympics, but this only means you need a bit more time to get in and out of there. For this road trip we’ve booked a rental car at Alamo. After a 10 min ride with the shuttle bus from the airport to Alamo and another 5 min self check in on-site (fast and very convenient service), we’ve got a Chevy Captiva which brilliantly  satisfied our needs in L.A. It was a mide-size SUV fully equiped with all necessary electronics and big enough for all 4 of us.

As a neighbourhood to stay we chose Santa Monica and never regretted. Santa Monica remains my favorite place in the big L.A. area which offers you the quintessence of all best things one can experience: a 3 miles long beautiful sandy beach, funny beach vendors and street performers, breathtaking parks with a great variety of trees and plants and, of course, a great choice of bars, cozy restaurants and shopping opportunities. We enjoyed our stay in an apartment – booked trough airbnb.com – on San Vicente Blvd. not far from the beachfront. It was impressive to observe all day long residents jogging and doing sports on the grass which divides the four lanes of San Vicente Blvd.

This is the way to our apartment on San Vincente Blvd.
This tropic paradise is the way to our apartment on San Vincente Blvd
Santa Monica beach
Santa Monica beach

On our first day we went for delicious food and some margaritas at Marix Tex Mex on 118 Entrada Dr, a Mexican restaurant few meters away from the Pacific Coast Highway. At 14:51pm sharp we rushed outside, crossed the street to get to the beach and admired the amazing sunset. In contrast to what we are used in Europe, we got in December in Santa Monica warm weather during the day (23° – 27°C) and it got fairly cooler at night.

Mexican chicken salad at Marix
Mexican chicken salad at Marix Tex Mex

Day 2: Los Angeles, Hollywood

Next day early in the morning we had a quick breakfast home and headed to famous Hollywood. They say that the best point to view the Hollywood sign is from Griffith Observatory (no entrance fee is required). In my point of view you find there way to many people pushing to take a picture of the sign that is away in the distance. The positive side of this place is that it offers a spectacular panorama of L.A.

L.A Downtown view from the Griffith Observatory
L.A. Downtown view from the Griffith Observatory

Doing some research in advance we discovered a much better spot to get much closer to the Hollywood sign. Up on the hills following the narrow road Lake Hollywood Dr you will find yourself almost standing under the Hollywood sign. This hidden hot spot called Lake Hollywood Park, a small park area initially designed as a dog park, offers the best viewpoint. As it is getting more and more popular make sure you get here early. There are few villas around the park area. They say that one of those villas belonged to Madonna in the 90s but was sold as she was constantly bothered by growing attention from tourists and fans.

Hollywood sign and Lake Hollywood Park
Hollywood sign seen from Lake Hollywood Park
Hollywood Lake Park Sign View
Hollywood sign view from Lake Hollywood Park

After we proudly captured the sign we drove down steep and winding roads through the Hollywood hills to Hollywood Blvd, considered the most visited street in L.A. It took half an hour drive to get there and another (almost) half an hour to find a parking place. Once we parked our car we headed to the most interesting part of Hollywood Blvd between La Brea Avea and Cahuenga Blvd. Do not miss the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where more than 2.500 stars like Bruce Willis, Jackie Chan or Woody Woodpeck got their pink star on the sidewalk. Also, worth seeing is the TCL Chinese Theater for the famous Hollywood premieres such as “Star Wars” or “The King of the Kings”. Noticeable is the fact that on Hollywood Blvd you experience the highest density of tourists per square meter in whole California, so we prefered to leave this areas as soon as possible.

As all these attractions made us feel very hungry and thirsty we stopped at Pink Pepper on 1638 N La Brea Ave for Thai lunch and some drinks. In fact, here I experienced the best tom yam in the States so if you are fan of spicy thai food, this you shouldn’t miss that spot. Thereafter our evening ended with watching the beautiful sunset, this time at Venice Beach, and enjoying some craft beers bought in Downtown Santa Monica.

While in L.A. area we also recommend to go to a basketball game. The city has two NBA teams: several times champions Los Angeles Lakers and underdogs Los Angeles Clippers. If it’s challenging to find tickets for Lakers just go to a Clippers game the probability for available tickets is higher. Usually you can find tickets starting from $30 ($15 initial price +service fee+tax) and for sure you will enjoy a great show before, during and after the game.

It's a basketball time: LA Clippers vs Utah Jazz
It’s a basketball time: LA Clippers vs Utah Jazz

Day 3: Downtown L.A, Santa Monica, Malibu

On our third day we tried to mix L.A. downtown impressions with the beauty of the Pacific Coast beaches. Thus, we started with Downtown L.A. which is located 30 minutes away from Santa Monica. It was Sunday, so the downtown – actually pretty small – was rather quiet with no heavy traffic.

The Angel's Flight - World's shortest railway in Downtown L.A.
The Angel’s Flight – World’s shortest railway in Downtown L.A.

The Angels Flight, the world’s shortest (cable) railway was, unfortunately, closed for repair so we made a long walk thru downtown and found out its most interesting attraction on 317 Broadway: the Grand Central Farmer’s Market. It was pretty busy and full of locals having a Sunday lunch at one of the dozens food stands serving Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, American, Arabic and other delicious food. They offered also fresh fruits and juices or even fresh brewed coffee. We ordered an Americano at G&B and were impressed by this unique espresso bar – located at the main entrance to the Farmer’s Market – and its tasty cafe.  The baristas are so passionate about their job so they  tell you all details about the coffee beans, roasts and even what milk farm their milk comes from. No doubt, this place will be a lasting impression from Downtown L.A.

Espresso bar at the Farmers market in LA Downtown
Espresso bar at the Grand Central Market Downtown L.A.

After experiencing L.A. Downtown we drove towards affluent Malibu (50 minutes drive), which is home for many Hollywood movie stars and other rich people who have the most impressive luxury villas and swanky spots. A stop at the so-called boutique mall Malibu Country Mart is more than worth, not only that you might have the chance to meet one of your favorite Hollywood celebrities (we did not have our luckiest day) who go and shop there outdoors or enjoy the sun with their kids at the playground. In Malibu we stopped at one liquor store to buy a bottle of Malibu, the famous Caribbean coconut rum and the best and tastiest summer drink I know!

View of Malibu Westward Beach
View of Malibu Westward Beach
Rescue office at the Malibu beach
Rescue cabin on Malibu Beach

Heading further to Malibu you will have two challenges: the first one is to find the road to Malibu beach and observation spot and the second one is to find a parking spot. Don’t be bothered by a tiny and ever-full parking lot at Cliffside Dr. just go down to Westward Beach Rd and you’ll find a big parking lot there.  Park your car and cross the road to the sandy beach to sunbath at the Westward Beach or head further to the Pirate Cove’s Beach.  Forget about the rest of the world you’re now enjoying probably the best beach area in the whole US.

Views of Malibu beach
Views of Malibu Beach
still Malibu beach: empty and beautiful
…still Malibu Beach: empty and beautiful
Spirit of Pacific! Invaluable!
Spirit of Pacific! Priceless!

What if you decide to stay longer than three days in the L.A. area? Easy one, we propose a beach-hopping tour for the next day.

Neighbourhoods to live:

If you don’t want to waste time or miss the hot spots and great drinks in the L.A. area you need to select the right neighbourhoods for your stay.

If you are interested in laid-back coastal atmosphere, we highly recommend Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach or Redondo Beach. They all are close to the airport, downtown and highways. They also offer great coast life: long white sandy beaches, great breakfast and dining, outstanding walking and shopping opportunities.

Sunrise in Santa Monica
Sunrise in Santa Monica

If you are more interested in a celebrity atmosphere, go for West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, but expect to move by car much more than in the coastal area. This area is also convenient if you’re planning to visit Universal Studios.

If you want to be far away from noisy and crowded city, go to Pasadena, laid-back area with rich houses also famous due to “The Big Bang Theory” TV sitcom, which heroes are living in Pasadena.

Drinks of the Day

Purchase a bottle of Malibu for $12 at the Pavilions, mix it up with bitter lemon or ginger ale 1:1 and take it with you to Malibu Beach. It is indeed the best place to enjoy this drink independent on weather and time of the day. Note: Don’t drink and drive in the US!

We also liked Blue Moon Belgian Pale Ale which you can get at every grocery store or gas station for around $9  a 6-pack.

Blue Moon Belgian Pale Ale
Blue Moon Belgian Pale Ale

Marix Tex Mex: web, foursquare
Lake Hollywood Park: foursquare
Pink Pepper: web, foursquare
Grand Central Market: foursquare
Malibu Westward Beach: foursquare
Pavilions Santa Monica: foursquare

Map Location

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