The following post was submitted by Leesa Mealing of Makers Society.
Not too long ago, we visited LA for a couple of days on our way to Georgia for a friends wedding. It was our second trip to the USA and we’d already done all the usually tourist stuff in LA…even a fun-filled day in Disneyland. This is the itinerary we came up with!
Pro Travel Tips for LA
Hire a car! – When you’re staying in LA, unless you want to spend most of the day on a bus or you don’t plan on leaving the hotel, you are going to need a car. Everything is fairly spread out and takes a bit of time to get to, but parking is usually quite easy to find and fairly cheap if not free.
You can use Expedia to search and compare deals for car rentals. All the rates are similar, and it doesn’t seem to matter if you use Dollar, National or Alamo – but if you find an awesome deal online, it probably doesn’t include insurance and you’re going to get hit with a bunch of extra fees on pick-up so be wary.
Also, and I can’t stress this enough, book a GPS. They have lane guidance for the 6 lane LA freeways which is a real lifesaver!
Maximise your duty-free – If you’re heading to Sydney from the USA, have a day to kill in LA, and like to drink – stock up on your booze now. Currently, the alcohol allowance per person is 2.25L and can be pooled if you’re traveling on the same ticket.
We did our research early on when we needed to swing by a CVS Pharmacy and Ralph’s for various cables and toiletries that were forgotten slash thrown out by airport security.
We compared the prices to some of the local liquor stores and found CVS Pharmacy to be the cheapest for alcohol. Just make sure you go to a bigger store so you have a wider range of spirits to choose from. And if the price wasn’t already cheap, we got 10% off for buying 6 bottles! Woohoo! This still works out significantly cheaper than Australian duty-free – we are talking decent quality spirits here for $20-30 a bottle. Wrap them in your jumpers and pack them tightly in your luggage and you’ll be fine! All six made it home safe and sound.
We arrived from Sydney at around 8 or 9am but by the time you’ve gone through customs and hired your car, it should be nearly lunchtime and you aren’t going to want to drive very far! Plus it is a touristy place that isn’t intimidating and allows you to ease in to LA – you can do some light shopping, grab some food and get your bearings before you go exploring! There’s 2hrs free parking stations surrounding Santa Monica Place. And if you go over, it’s only a couple of bucks per hour.
Santa Monica Place is an open air shopping complex with a variety of retailers, food court, fresh food market, restaurants and bars, that leads out onto the main shopping strip with H&M, the Apple Store, Johnny Rockets and so much more.
We checked out Johnny Rockets for a greasy but delicious lunch! It’s essentially a 50s style diner chain that is what Hungry Jacks wishes it was. And damn, their sweet potato fries are good!
Now’s a time to start getting into the habit of tipping – the best way to ensure you’re not ripping off your server is to double tax! I’d suggest stocking up on some $1 bills and don’t be afraid to put your money on the table and walk out – everyone is pretty comfortable with that arrangement.
Once you’ve shopped a little and filled your tummy, you can wander down to Santa Monica Pier, maybe ride on the ferris wheel, swim at the beach or just take in the locals – snake charmers, buskers and roller skaters, just to name a few.
At this point in time, the jet lag was starting to kick in for us, and we could check into our hotel after 3pm, so we headed on over for an early night. We were only staying in LA for a short time so our hotel was chosen for it’s proximity to the airport and good reviews.
We stayed at Customs Hotel, and followed advice we read to upgrade to an elevated room (7th floor and up) so you get minimal street noise. The rooms are basic but modern and clean and if you’re not spending much time in them, that’s really all you need!
If you’re staying longer, I’d suggest staying closer to the city – previously we stayed on North Beachwood Dr. West Hollywood, just off Franklin Ave booked through AirBnB and found that to be good too! If you do stay through AirBnB, just make sure the place has air-conditioning! It can get quite hot which can make it tough to sleep.
And speaking of sleep, that’s what we did. We checked in and crashed out at around 4pm, woke up at 8pm starving and not wanting to leave the hotel. We googled, found a well-rated italian takeaway joint, ordered our weight in pasta! Best. Idea. Ever.
Since we’d been to LA once before, we’d already covered most of the cliché hollywood tourist traps (if you’ve never been before, do check it out, but don’t expect to kill too much time or be overly impressed), so this time we were looking for things that interested us!
We had a yummy breakfast at Joan’s on Third and even if you don’t eat specifically at Joan’s, Third St has lots of cool cafes, bars and restaurants that look stylish and appealing! Make sure you don’t have too early a start to the day because everything opens later in the day but stays open for longer at night than we’re used to in Australia!
After breaky, we headed over to the Beverly Centre which opens at 10am, and this is where we did the majority of our shopping! There’s all the good stuff like H&M, Forever 21 and Footlocker (seriously, my Nike’s were like 1/2 the price of what I’d pay in Australia!) and we bought most of our family’s souvenirs there with stores like Tiffany & Co, Lids (for awesome LA Dodgers caps) and Bloomingdales. There’s also an awesome view of LA from the Beverly Centre if you walk into the kids section at the back of H&M, where the big glass window is!
After spending way too much money, we headed over to Amoeba Music on Hollywood Blv. and perused for a good few hours and came away with some solid gold. There’s free parking underneath but you have to be in store for it to be valid – don’t just park there and go somewhere else!
Not too far down the road is The Bowery, a cute little bar tucked away amongst all the tall buildings. We grabbed a yummy lunch of buttermilk onion rings and a big salad.
One thing that takes getting used to is their way of eating and menus tend to be quite different to Australian (or at least, for us) style of serving food. We would often just order an appetiser or two and a salad because we felt like not everywhere served enough greens and the meals were too large…waiters would be like “Really? That’s all you’re having?”
That afternoon was a tad beer focused… We drove out to Eagle Rock Brewing which was a far drive, only to find they were closed. We should have checked that one! Next we headed to Beer Belly back in Downtown LA. Beer Belly is a craft beer bar that also had a pretty good-looking menu, although we didn’t grab any food! Exhausted from our travels, we headed back to the hotel for a shower and change before we grabbed dinner.
That evening, we kept it local and headed back over to Santa Monica for Mexican – we checked out La Sandia and got lucky because it was both $2 Taco Tuesday AND Happy Hour! $5 cocktails…um, I’ll take ten. And we ordered the fresh guacamole made at your table! Dinner and a show! The food is Americanized and not super authentic Mexican, but it hits the spot nicely.
After dinner we wandered back down to the Santa Monica Pier, which is beautifully lit up at night! You can still ride the ferris wheel and there was lovely musician serenading us as we meandered down the wharf. It was all very romantic and I joked that my husband of almost seven years, Sam, was going to propose.
Full from dinner and still a little out of whack thanks to the timezone changes and jet lag, we headed back around 10pm and crashed pretty hard.
Our final day in LA for a while. This was the first leg of our trip, so we were still in the “OMG everything is amazing and we’re in a different country” phase of traveling where you wake up at the crack of dawn and try to do all the things in one day. So once again, we jammed a lot of activities into one day.
We kicked things off with a trip Downtown to Grand Central Market. There’s free parking, just make sure you get it validated – don’t worry there’s signs telling you what to do.
After perusing all our options, we chose to have breakfast at Egg Slut (how could we not? I mean, come on. That name) but there is a wide variety of cuisines and even a kombucha bar if that’s your cup of fermented tea. See what I did there? Ha, I’m brilliant.
If you wander a bit further down the street you can check out the LA Times building, plus there’s Union Station nearby which is an opulent old train station.
Next we headed into the somewhat new, but vibrant, Downtown Arts District. There are a few great little stores and cafes all close by, so you can park the car (paid on street parking) and go for a wander.
Don’t miss Poketo! They have some fun little knick knacks and I got a kick out of seeing the exact watch I was wearing made by Melbourne brand AARK, for sale in there! Go ‘Straya! There’s some awesome street art in the area too, so it’s really worth taking the time to head down there, even if you just drive through.
For lunch we headed to a different market again, the Farmers Market! There is a huge range of cuisines to choose from, and we just stuck with something simple after our indulgent eggy breakfast.
I got a little addicted to frozen lemonades and went through 2 in the short time we were there… and cheese flavoured popcorn. America does fake cheese flavour like no other! The Farmers Market connects to The Grove, and you pass by Dylan’s Candy Store along the way, so naturally, we bought a mixed bags of treats to enjoy later.
The Grove is mostly made up of high-end retail stores that aren’t really our cup o’ tea BUT it is such a nice shopping centre that we didn’t really mind. Plus there’s a Barnes and Noble where we stocked up on some books – florist for her, beer brewing for him.
I’d like to point out that across the road from the Grove is a Wholefoods and while we didn’t go there that particular day, we did find it useful on our way home. They have what is essentially a self-serve cafeteria that is actually pretty decent, with every kind of salad ingredient you’d ever want plus a range of hot food too! We grabbed it for one meal and really enjoyed it!
After our time at the Market and the Grove, we headed over to the Griffith Observatory because we knew we wouldn’t get a chance to go at night. And if you think it’s going to be rubbish in the day, you are dead wrong. It has incredible panoramic views of the city, plus the architecture of the building itself is just stunning.
You can take in one of the educational shows or just explore the little museum inside for yourself. Also, behind you is a nice view of the Hollywood sign! We also took a little drive afterwards up a few of the nearby streets just exploring the neighbourhood and admiring the houses and the views.
Once we got bored of pestering the locals with our driving, we decided to head over to Golden Road Brewing for… you guessed it! Beer! Sam really enjoyed a brown ale while I grabbed their cider. We hung around for a second drink and dinner which was freaking delicious! Once dinner was finished we basically had just enough time to get our car back to the hire place and take their courtesy bus to the airport to catch our flight to Georgia!
Have you been to LA? Got any suggestions for activities or things to see? Share with us in the comments!