I have actually visited Los Angeles on three separate occasions.
The city was included on my first Contiki tour from LA to San Francisco in 2009, then I visited again through another tour from NYC to LA in 2011. Seeing as Rob had never visited LA, we decided to spend a day exploring the city on our Big Sur road trip in 2016.
I didn’t feel particularly inspired by LA on my first and second visits, but my third visit gave me a different perspective of the city. It was the first time that I had explored the city by car, which meant I had more freedom to do some activities that I hadn’t been able to do before.
I used to think LA was just a city with a glamorous face put on for tourists, but now that I’ve explored it a little deeper, I realise that all those movie-related activities are actually part of the city’s identity. That Hollywood hype gives LA a real energy, and makes it unlike any other city in the world.
Los Angeles is a perfect destination to use as a stopover if you’re flying between North America and Asia, Australia, or the Pacific. Here are my recommendations for the best things to do if you have only 24 hours in Los Angeles!
I am usually not one to recommend hiring a car for city sightseeing, but Los Angeles is an exception. The city is huuuuge, and it doesn’t have a great public transport system. If you’re not too afraid of freeway driving, a car is definitely the easiest way to get around LA.
If you choose to drive, make sure you have a GPS or smartphone with Google Maps. I guarantee you will need it! Driving in LA is no cup of tea – there will be numerous times when you’ll hop from one massive 10-lane highway to another, and you will need a way of knowing which lane you should be in to take each exit.
If you’re not keen on navigating the highways by car, then the easiest way to see LA in a short amount of time would be to book a LA iconic sights day tour.
Hollywood is on the extreme end of touristy activities, but that doesn’t mean you should miss it. You can do these sights on your own, or if you’re short on time it might be better to book a half-day Hollywood tour.
Start with the Chinese Theatre, which has Asian-influenced architecture that looks almost out of place in its American surroundings. The theatre opened in 1927, and has since been the location for the biggest stars of Hollywood to place their handprints in wet concrete out front. I found it really interesting to spot the handprints of stars that have been set there for decades.
Next is the Walk of Fame, which consists of 2500 stars in the sidewalk. It would take forever to do the whole thing, so just stick with the ones on Hollywood Blvd. If you head to the Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame crosses directly in front of it and stretches out along the boulevard in either direction.
Pro tip: If you have a car and don’t want to spend loads of time doing the tourist thing in Hollywood, there are some 15 minute metered parking spots along Hollywood Blvd within a few blocks of the Chinese Theatre that will allow you to get out, check out the Walk of Fame, see the theatre, and walk back.
We weren’t particularly interested in stopping, so we saw Beverly Hills by driving down Santa Monica Blvd while checking out the area where all the rich people live (we naturally had Weezer’s Beverly Hills playing loudly though the car stereo as we drove by).
If you’re interested in seeing where all the celebrities live, then you can do a movie star homes tour around here.
Santa Monica is not as busy as some of the other touristy areas, and is a nice place to spend a few hours chilling by the Pacific Ocean. Here you’ll find Santa Monica Pier, where you can ride a rollercoaster if you aren’t going to any of the other theme parks, or just take a pleasant spin on the ferris wheel. We did this at night time – the view was superb!
The beach at Santa Monica is a pretty popular place for both locals and tourists to hang out. This is also the location of Muscle Beach, where you can watch men with extreme amounts of testosterone try to impress people with their muscles when they use the outdoor fitness equipment.
Venice is most well known for its bikini-clad chicks on rollerblades, medicinal marijuana stores, and hippie culture. It’s a nice place to take a slow stroll along the boardwalk and experience this wacky beachside suburb. You can also do this area along with Santa Monica on a Venice bike tour.
One of my favourite activities from my last trip to LA was wandering around the Venice Canals. These man-made canals are located just a few blocks inland from the Venice boardwalk. This activity is off-the-radar for tourists, which makes it a peaceful place to wander over the foot bridges and take a look at where the rich people of LA live.
I only managed to fit in Griffith Observatory on my third visit to LA, as until then, I hadn’t had a car. There are also public buses on weekends that will take you from Vermont / Sunset Station (which is kind of near Hollywood) up to the observatory every 30 minutes or so between 10AM and 10PM.
Griffith Observatory is a truly awesome vista point with arguably the best views of the Hollywood sign and amazing views of the city. Apparently the best time to go is at night when you get to see the city lights spread as far as the eye can see. I didn’t get to see this as our flight left in the evening, but the views were fab in the daytime.
Inside the observatory building is a museum with a planetarium, a theatre, and permanent exhibits. If you have the chance to go here when you’re in LA, I highly recommend it. It really is an awesome place with sweet views.
Keep in mind that if you are planning to only spend only 1 day in LA, you probably won’t have a lot of time leftover for other activities if you go to one of the theme parks. Still, theme parks are a staple of any visit to LA so it’s worth including one if you have the time.
Disneyland: You will need to put aside a fair chunk of time for Disneyland as this theme park is truly massive. Some people will spend days exploring the Disneyland and its neighbouring parks. Try out the new Disney MaxPass if you go!
Universal Studios: Universal Studios is kind of a theme park/movie studio combo. You absolutely must do the studio tram tour, which is included in the entry ticket. If you’re short on time, a front of the line pass is 100% worth the extra cost. I got it last time I was at Universal and it was awesome to be able to get on all the rides almost straight away. There was one time that I did The Simpson’s ride 3 times in a row. I regret nothing.
Knott’s Berry Farm: I have never been to Knott’s, but this place (which actually started as a berry farm back in the 1920s) is known for its thrill rides and water park. If you want a day of adrenaline rushes, this is the place to go.