I've lived in L.A. from 2013 to 2016 and I still go back and forth to visit friends every time I can, so I get a lot of people asking me tips and hacks about this fabulous city.
I thought I'd just share everything here.
Something that I get a LOT is : "I didn't like LA, LA is so ugly."
This is because Los Angeles is not the best city to visit, in my opinion, but it's the absolute best to live in. You gotta get to know it, you gotta get used to it. It's not super touristic, it doesn't have a specific center, it's not crazy glamorous... But I adore it. It has everything you've ever imagined and even more. It's my favorite town in the world and nothing can compare to it!
BEFORE YOU GO
- For European Citizens: you don't need a specific visa, just apply for ESTA (here's the link) a month before leaving. This allows you to stay in the U.S. for 3 months. Apply prior at your embassy if you need a longer tourist visa (3-6 months).
- Print out your flight back ticket. They'll probably ask you at the boarder a proof that you are getting out of the country in time.
- Get an adapter! This is what you will need:
- Get an International phone plan for your cellphone. Wifi is common but you might need connection to get around more than you think! I don't recommend buying a local SIM since phone bills tends to get crazy (I used to pay 70$ a month with T-Mobile).
- Stay open minded. L.A. is definitely not all glamour like they portray in movies, but it has a lot to offer!
I usally book my flights through Skyscanner.com or Volagratis.com. The cheapest airlines that cover Europe-LA are AirBerlin (German) and Aeroflot (Russian), but expect long layovers or your flights to be modified last minute if you pick these two companies.
HOW TO GET AROUND
From LAX I suggest getting a taxi to wherever you have to go. After that, never get in a cab again. I personally Uber (or Lyft) everywhere. You won't experience the stress about parking, which in LA is THE real nightmare.
If you plan on renting a car I recommend Avis USA or Budget Rent a Car. Be aware of the tickets! LA is famous for its crazy tickets given for even the smallest dumb reason (make sure you read the signs very well!).
Public transportation in LA is mmmm.. Not simple. The underground doesn't reach many points of attraction and the buses are likely to arrive late (they'll still bring you destination though). Again, if you are not on a super tight budget I recommend using Uber.
Despite all the things I've heard about LA, I've never felt unsafe in this town and nothing bad ever happened to me. There are some crazy people around though, so be mindful! Don't stay late in Downtown LA or Venice Beach alone (especially the Boardwalk). Buses can get dangerous after sunset and a lot of homeless people tend to remain on the buses forever.
If you arrive at LAX, try to not book your hotel nearby Inglewood (as a lot of people tend to do for apparently no reason), unless you plan to stay locked in the hotel at night.
WHERE TO STAY
I lived for one year in Westwood and two years in West LA (Sawtelle-Santa Monica).
I suggest you to stay as close as you can to the ocean, especially if you plan to spend some time at the beach or to visit Malibu as well. I wouldn't stay in Downtown LA unless if you have business to do. West Hollyood is a good alternative as well, an pretty central.
Get 25$ off when you book your first Airbnb stay with this link: www.airbnb.it/c/reneemooraf
WHERE TO EAT
Chateau Marmont Restaurant - West Holywood
Laurel Hardware - West Hollywood
Larry's - Venice Beach
Gaby's Mediterranean - Palms/Culver City (delicious greek food at a moderate price, you'll get obsessed with the garlic sauce!)
Cafè Roma - Beverly Hills
Bottega Louie - Downtown LA
Mr Holmes Bakehouse (sweets) - Pasadena
QUICK BITES (yummy but cheaper options)
Swingers - West LA (for Breakfast and always.. I love this place! Hip cool vibe and typical American breakfast food. Open until late!)
Mel's Drive In - Hollywood (Bomb Oreo Milkshake and fancy hamburgers in the American Graffiti movie's location)
The SideWalk Cafè - Venice Beach (yummy food with the best beach view!)
C&m Cafè - Palms/Culver City (quick and easy, try the avo toast!)
En Sushi - Sawtelle/Santa Monica (recommended at Happy Hour!)
Novel Cafè - Westwood (I had a million lunches here while attending Ucla- try the Shrimp Salad!)
True Food Kitchen - Santa Monica (very healthy and refreshing!)
CHAINS THAT I LOVE:
In-n-Out (Cheap and a lil healthier than the usual Fast Food chains)
800 Degrees Pizza (try the Truffle Oil Bread and thank me later)
Chipotle (I'm obsessed with their rice bowls. Gosh I want one right now.)
WHERE TO DRINK
The Bungalow - Santa Monica (most popular bar in Santa Monica, with a Wes Anderson vibe. Basically where all the cool kids are)
The Abbey - West Hollywood (most famous bar in WeHo)
Basement Tavern - Santa Monica
The Standard Hotel - Downtown L.A. (stunning, stunning view!)
Perch - Downtown L.A.
E.P. & L.P. - West Hollywood (very popular)
The Den on Sunset - West Hollywood (super cozy)
The Culver Hotel - Culver City (sophisticated and classy)
Cabo Cantina - Everywhere in town (endless Margaritas!)
TOP COFFEE SHOPS
The Grove - Mid Wilshire (since you are there stop by The Farmers' Market as well!)
Promenade - Santa Monica
Westfield - Culver City
Westside Pavillion - West LA
My favorites are Trader's Joe (so many delcious organic goodies!) and Ralph's (where you can find absolutely ANYTHING). If you want something fancier, try Whole Foods.
The first time I saw an American grocery store I was VERY impressed. They're HUGE compared to European ones and have all sorts of products! Have fun exploring ;)
WHAT TO SEE
If you don't have much time, go see Venice Beach and Santa Monica first, since they represent the essence of Los Angeles.
Then for sure go exploring West Hollywood, Melrose and La Brea, then over to Hollywood and Downtown LA.
Hollywood is NOT fancy as they like to portray in movies! There are gonna be plenty of homeless people around... Are you hoping to see celebrities on the Hollywood Blvd? I must warn you... You might get disappointed! They hang out in completely different places.
Book a tour in one of the studios! When one of my friends visited, we got tickets for Universal Studios and we had a blast! Plus, they recently opened a Harry Potter themed section as well!
Must see/do in the specific neighborhoods:
Ocean Front-Walk - Venice Skatepark - Muscle Beach - Abbot Kenney Boulevard - Venice Canals
It's possible to walk (or even better skate or bike) from Santa Monica to Venice Beach: it only takes about 30 minutes.
Santa Monica Pier - The Promenade
University of California Los Angeles UCLA - Fox Theater
Bradbury Building - The Last Bookstore - Walt Disney Concert Hall - The Broad - LA Art Exhibition - Grand Central Market - Sport events at Staples Center (Lakers and Clippers) - Union Station - Rooftop Bars (The Standard, Perch) -
Hike the Hollywood Sign - Dolby Theater (Oscars) - Chinese Theater - Milkshakes and hamburgers at Mel's Diner - Hollywood's Forever Cemetery - Hollywood Hills - Griffith Observatory/Hike Griffith Park - Hike Runyon Canyon - Universal Studios (Studio City) - Concert at Hollywood Bowl - Amoeba Music
WEST HOLLYWOOD / MID WILSHIRE
Gay bars and shops' strip - LACMA Museum - Shopping at The Grove - Farmers' Market
MELROSE- LA BREA
Vintage shops -Street Art - Art Galleries
Culver Studios - Downtown Culver
Rodeo Drive - Playboy Mansion
EXTRA: TOUR A STUDIO! :)
Universal Studios - Warner Brothers - Paramount
Again, LA is more of a place where I'd suggest people to MOVE and not just merely to VISIT. But if you just happen to visit, I hope you can get a little of its beautiful spirit.. LA got my heart forever and still (not so) secretly hope I can move back there one day!