Visiting L.A.? Do's and Don'ts
There's plenty of paid adverts major corporations like Disney and Universal dish out to win your tourism dollar. But if you've only got one day, or five, and you're interested in some experiences that locals appreciate, here's my two cents. But in L.A. that two cents may cost you $10, so come prepared.
(Note this is not a complete list, and is subject to change or suffer from businesses that come and go - so take my lead, but do your research)
PS - I've done everything listed here, so it's all my personal experience or opinion.
GRIFFITH PARK - There's a lot of roads in them-there hills. If you feel like getting lost, just turn off your GPS or Apple Maps and wander around looking at the park and homes in the area. Along the way you might: stop for a picnic, see a concert, visit a train museum, go on a merry go round, play golf, see the stars, ride a pony or get caught up in a patchouli stench drum circle... just to name a few things.
DRIVE THE MALIBU COAST - Starting in Santa Monica, head north up PCH (Pacific Coast Hwy). This is a beautiful drive. Plenty of places to stop along the way, jump in the ocean, get a sunburn, buy some overpriced drinks, and eat seafood while looking at your meal's ocean home. Anywhere along PCH you'll get a great sunrise or sunset if you plan your day right. I suggest a couple of places for you to aim for on your drive. First is MALIBU SEAFOOD, the fish tacos are so fresh they will bite you back. Wanna see a bit more coast? Drive up to NEPTUNE'S NET. It's been in movies, the foods decent, and if you go on the weekend you can pretend you're in a biker gang. "Just make sure you be cool man... BE COOL! Don't stare at that dude or he'll cut ya!" (Just kidding, all the bikers in LA are friendly, yoga practicing vegans).
DODGER'S BASEBALL - Here's the facts... the parking SUCKS at Dodger Stadium, always has, always will. So, get there early. You've gotta get a Dodger Dog (Don't bother getting whatever fancy up-sell dog they've got on the menu,. Basic, old-school is the way to go). If beer is your ballpark thing, then pregame. Park prices for brews are ridiculous. Use the time rooting or heckling the team to sober up. And note... the upper deck is not a great place if you're afraid of heights or easily prone to vertigo. PRO-TIP, wear sunscreen if you're sitting in the field for day games.
FAMOUS PEOPLE doing FAMOUS THINGS: You've gotta go to LARGO. This lil' gem is a fertile spawning ground for a lot of talented people. Get your tickets in advance and enjoy the show. If you threw a dart at their calendar, it'd be near impossible to find something that sucked. Seating is tight, and even though you've got a ticket, that just gets you in the door. PRO-TIP arrive early to claim your seats. There's good mingling before and after the show. Sometimes the people on stage who just made you laugh, cry or dance on your butt-cushion even come to mingle after - so enjoy the night.
STUFF YOU CAN'T AFFORD - There's not much I can afford in Beverly Hills. Not the jewelry, clothes, homes, art, or many of the restaurants... but it sure is fun to look (for my wife). And lucky for me... one thing BH has lots of, and doesn't cost much, is PARKING. They have a ton of public lots that are free for 2 hrs, and a few bucks for longer. So find a spot to park, buy you-and-yours a STARBUCKS, and go "shopping". North of Wilshire Blvd. Rodeo Drive (of course), Beverly and Canon are the best for strolling. PRO-TIP, dress decent. If you want to get the most of pretending like you can afford a $50k bag, $100k watch, or $250k painting, you gotta look the part.
FUNNY PEOPLE - There's nothing funny about how much funny business goes on in this town. Seriously, throw a stick in any direction and if a dog doesn't fetch it, an improv or method actor will. My two choices are either stand-up at THE COMEDY STORE, or some improv sketch comedy at GROUNDLINGS. Check show listings and I'm sure you can find something that fits your budget and schedule.
CLASSIC FILMS & CELEB SIGHTINGS - Nothing says Los Angeles like hanging out with celebs, under the stars, while having a picnic and watching classic movies. That's exactly what CINESPIA does at Hollywood Forever Cemetery most weekends Spring-Fall. Did I mention the celebs are dead? #OOPS - Check the listings, get your tix in advance. PRO-TIP: Whether you're paying extra for parking or standing in line, get there 1.5-2 hrs early. The line forms quickly and picking your "plot" is first come - first served. Trust me, you don't want to get stuck behind Hitchcock's headstone... He had a notoriously big head and it obstructs the view of the screen. ALSO read the rules & BYOB,F,B, etc (beer/wine, food, blanket, etc)
LACMA - it's centrally located in my neighborhood, so you can stop by and say "HI!" Lots of cool picture ops, always good exhibits, and sometimes free music & entertainment (check the schedule). PRO-TIP, don't bother eating there unless it's a snack. The food is overpriced and tastes like, well, it tastes like it was made at a museum.
Eat at IN-N-OUT BURGER Good price, good food, don't sweat the line it moves quickly.
GRAND CENTRAL MARKET - A lot of choices to taste in this vintage L.A. market. My suggestions are the Pastrami Sandwich from WEXLER'S DELI or the Margarita Plus Pizza from OLIO; and then a slice of the Coffee Crunch Cake from VALERIE CONFECTIONS. (BONUS - walk off those calories by going across the street to see the Bradbury Building where they filmed scenes from Blade Runner, Chinatown, (500) Days of Summer and more.)
COLE'S - There are two places that claim to have invented the French Dip sandwich... I like the one at Cole's the best. Opened in 1908, the place still has the vibe of a young Los Angeles on the rise. I wouldn't be surprised if grungy steel workers were stopping in for a meal and a drink after a hard day of walking the beams. Save for the fact that it's now populated with business people and hipsters debating life's challenges and absurdities. (BONUS: Wanna make a night of it? Inside Cole's is a not so secret bar called THE VARNISH - Grab a cocktail and listen to some savory tunes after you've stuffed your face with a juicy dip)
Meat, meat, meat! MAPLE BLOCK MEAT CO. is so freaking good... they catered my wedding. They're located in Culver City, so it's sort-of on your way to or from the beach cities and Hollywood or vise-versa. They've got a parking lot, and street parking available (that means something to us Angeleno's). Ask about their specials. One time they had BBQ carrots... sounds weird, but my mouth just watered as I typed it out. #SOgood - Their homemade sodas are delish (my fav is ginger). This place is family friendly and proves that us city slickin' "left coasters" can put a smile on the face of ya meat loving folks from the Bible Belt. PRO-TIP: get there early for lunch or during the dinner rush for the freshest, juiciest, smokiest ribs and brisket you've ever had. The only thing that rivals the marbled coloring on their meat is a California sunset.
PETIT TROIS - A taste of France infused within our City of Angels. Everything here is good, but if you can find better butter on planet earth lemme know. Seriously, I'd go here just to have a drink and eat the bread and butter. It's just that the Big Mec (burger), French Onion Soup, Steak Tartare, Croque Madame, and Steak Frites are so freaking good, I gotta eat it all. Seating is tight and first come first served. I don't recommend kids eat here. It's simple, expensive, sophisticated food. A large party here would suck, so keep it small and sexy.
Fine-ish dining at ROSSOBLU - don't be put off by the "ish", I wanted to add that because one of my favorite things about Rossoblu is that it lacks the pretense of many fine dining establishments. Cocktail attire in the evening, or dress casual for brunch. This place is hip, and has enough Los Angeles swagger to lend you if you ain't got none.
>EVERYTHING ON THE MENU IS A WIN<
The entire staff works as a team and treats you like family. (I know this because many of my friends work there). I could go on for hours about the menu, but it's all good. Everyone here is working to elevate the dining experience, and it shows. The staff is happy, this makes the food happy, the drinks happy, your meal happy, and you leave a better person for having eaten there. *Make a reservation. Bring the kids, tell your neighbors, Uber if you wanna dive into their wine cellar - but man, spend the coin and treat yourself to a restaurant that is doing it right.
Read all street parking signs. L.A. parking cops are really good at giving out costly souvenirs.
Don't waste your money by ignoring signage. HERE'S a helpful link to double check your spot.
This IS the entertainment capital of the world so, if you're going to see a movie in town you might as well check out whatever is playing either at EL CAPITAN or in the main house at
THE CHINESE THEATER. That way you get some culture and a show. Both are Hollywood icons. Make time to arrive early or stay after to appreciate the exhibits and architecture.
We don't have much "great outdoors" here in L.A. so we like the little hiking we can get. And by hiking I mean walking up fire roads with any old shoe will do. But when you're hiking why not knock a few sights off your list? SO, here's two options. HIKE TO SEE GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY. There's usually a lot of parking on Fern Dell Dr. and as a bonus you can grab some hippy food at Trails Cafe when you return. Click the link for more info and directions. OR you can HIKE TO THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN. Literally, nothing says Hollywood like the Hollywood sign. This hike takes a while, maybe pack a lunch or some snacks, but there are tons of great views, so bring lots of MEGS to burn on your phone or fav DSL camera card.
Hiking not your thing, but you still wanna see Griffith Park? How about by horseback?
SUNSET RANCH (this is L.A. so don't get too excited cow-pokes, it's ranch-ish) has a bunch of tame critters you can ride to see local nature and great views of the Los Angeles basin. My dad grew up in Oklahoma and put me on horses all the time. When I told the guide that "I'm a decent "rider", they gave me Lighting... a sweet ol' mare who hadn't see much more than a spark in at least five years! This kid friendly activity is a fun way to spend an afternoon, or go for a sunset ride. It may be slow, and make you uncomfortable in the seat of your pants... but so does rush hour traffic. Trust me, this is more fun than the 405.
Horses freak you out? Already spend too much time around them? Want something authentic to Los Angeles and California? How about a little sun and surf? ZUMA SURF LESSONS My friend Colin runs this surf school - take a lesson, or a few and go home with a new skill, lots of stories, and some real Pacific Ocean sea water stuck in your noodle.
Don't waste your time looking for stars homes. They all live behind 15 foot fences and hedges. It's no fun to see unless you're into wrought iron, privet, laurel, cypress or boxwood.
Don't "play your day by ear". There's a lot to do in Los Angeles, and 20 minutes of planning will do you and the fam a world of good.
Don't take pictures of/with celebs without asking their permission (especially if you see them in a restaurant). The moment may be big for you, but they just wanna enjoy their pasta carbonara in peace for crissakes! (BTW - celebs in LA don't eat pasta. They survive on meditative breathing, yoga, and white liquors)
Don't eat at fast food places you've got at home. There's only one good place for fast food in Los Angeles and it's In-N-Out Burger. Otherwise, there's too much good food in this town, so don't waste your dollars on crap.
Don't be put off by the fact that Los Angeles has a lot of homeless people. You might be surprised to find a popular beach, five star restaurant or world class museum around the corner from skid row. Most of these places have private carparks or valets, so don't worry about your wheels. And the people themselves are just trying to make do best they can, one day at a time. Some might be down on their luck, off their meds, or just plain crazy, but not one has ever threatened me or my fam. Use it as a teachable experience to appreciate whatever you might enjoy about our city, and be grateful for what ya got. We love you like we love them and maybe someday we'll all rise together. Enjoy Los Angeles!