California had always been near the top of my travel bucket-list, so when my husband informed me that he had to go to a workshop just outside of Los Angeles, I was beyond thrilled. Of course, this was primarily a business trip (and we had to use our own vacation days to go), but we agreed to take an extra day at the end of the workshop to do some sight-seeing. Our words were: “Who knows when we will be able to visit California again?” (irony, as we vacationed in San Diego about six months later for our second anniversary). Since California has SO much to offer (it is, of course, the third largest state in the US), it may be
difficult overwhelming to create an itinerary for your trip; there is just so much to see, so much land to cover! How would one even know where to begin?! Thankfully, we are graced with the presence of the internet, and along with that comes the experience of other travelers in your shoes. Whether you are trying to cover California coast-to-coast, travel on a budget, or just take a short trip out to So-Cal*, here is how I would recommend spending your day in Los Angeles. (Click on any of the photos below to see them full size!)
*The locals informed us that So-Cal means “southern California”, not “So Californian!” as I mistakenly thought. (Hence, the phrase “Ooh, that’s So-Cal!” does not describe a cute, flirty tank top, but refers to a location. Oops. Blame it on my city-girl/East coast upbringing.”
9 A.M.- Our day began by visiting the Griffith Observatory.We ate breakfast at our hotel, but here are some recommended restaurants near the Observatory. A noteworthy point to mention beforehand is that admission to the grounds, general exhibits, and parking is completely free! The initial draw to this world-renowned museum of astronomy was the direct view of the Hollywood sign, and it surely did not disappoint! There was plenty of room to admire the iconic landmark and take photos in front of those famous letters. I could’ve just stared out at the view for hours; it felt so neat to see in person something that is featured in movies, TV shows, and magazines. We decided to explore more, and as we meandered across the property, it was quickly realized that the Observatory had many other gems to offer as well. The elevation at this location is 1,134 feet above sea level, which offers an expansive view of Los Angeles and the surrounding suburbs. Be sure to walk around the entirety of the outside of the building- it simply feels like you are at the top of the world! Once we finally were able to peel ourselves away from the amazingly gorgeous views, we approached the actual building of the Observatory, resembling a palace straight out of Naboo (Star Wars reference brought to you by my husband). The visually appealing and exceptionally informational exhibits covered all topics astronomy related: the seasons, the sun and moon, the periodic table of elements, the solar system, and beyond. They even have special shows and exhibits (check the website for times and admission) like the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater (for shows, films, lectures, and programs- again, check online or call for more information for their schedule) and the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, the most highly regarded planetarium in the world. State-of-the-art technologies provide an accurate, intensely detailed experience that will inspire all ages. In fact, the entire Observatory is a great choice for all visitors, young and not-so-young; it definitely remains one of the coolest places I have ever been.
1:00 P.M.- After a few hours, my husband and I decided to move onto our next destination: Beverly Hills! What else encapsulates the essence of the West Coast better than sprawling mansions, expensive cars, and glamorous, excessive shopping? We drove around the city for a while trying to spot some famous addresses; the homes (at least, what wasn’t blocked behind tall security gates and hedges) were absolutely gorgeous! For anyone who loves lavish architecture and bountiful landscaping, this is a must-see! The history behind each of the homes is interesting as well. It makes you feel so connected with the celebrity world to be able to see where well-known entertainers have (and still) called their home! Ultimately we made our way to Rodeo Drive- the culmination of luxury! Mostly comprised of first-class dining and over-the-top designer boutiques, even the most humble girl begins to feel like a diva walking down the iconic streets. I found myself feeling as if I was in a Glamour magazine, window shopping at stores I had only ever read about. We enjoyed our walk around the immaculate area, always on the watch for a celebrity doing some errands, or a fancy car that costs more than a house speeding by. It had been more than a few hours since we ate breakfast, but neither of us were too hungry yet, so we decided to grab a quick, cheap lunch at Fatburger. The food was fresh, hot, and, compared to eateries of similar style, one of the best meals I’ve had! If you do happen to stop in, do not skip the milkshake. Let me repeat: DO NOT skip the milkshake. If you have more time or a bigger appetite, check out one of these restaurants for a one-of-a-kind Beverly Hills experience.
4:00 P.M.- For the final stop on our itinerary, we traveled to the edge of the West Coast- the Santa Monica Pier! I could just feel the excitement in the air as we walked closer and closer to our destination, and then all of a sudden, there it was- the historic, internationally known neon sign, indicating that we had arrived at the Santa Monica Yacht Harbor. Perhaps misleading in our modern times, there were no yachts to be seen; restaurants, quirky shops, colorful amusement-park rides, and entertainers from all walks of life lined the massive pier, stretched over the beautiful Pacific ocean. It took quite a while to make our way to the end of the pier, as every few feet had something to captivate our attention. I personally enjoyed watching the trapeze artists fly through the sky so effortlessly- for those visitors who are braver than I, you can actually take a class and try your hand on the acrobatic equipment! We stopped at many little tents along the pier as well; artists create one-of-a-kind souvenirs, unlike anything you’ve ever seen before (so much better than purchasing another last-minute airport gift). For those wishing for a small break from the heat or sun, be sure to check out the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, located underneath the historic carousel building at the base of the pier. Then, once you have had a chance to rest, get your heart rate racing again at Pacific Park (located towards the middle of the pier), where you can ride the iconic Ferris Wheel, one (or more!) of the multiple coasters for adults and children, or win a prize at one of the many game booths! Finally, we made our way to the end of the pier where an up-and-coming band was performing and took a seat to listen. The music was good, and enhanced, in my opinion, by the wonderful, glistening waves creating a perfect backdrop for the performers. Sitting in the afternoon sun was starting to take its toll, so we decided to descend from the pier for a while onto the warm sand and dip our feet in the water. Many people were swimming and having fun in the shallow areas, but being October, the water was just a little too cool for my liking to fully submerge in the ocean. The view was beautiful and captivating, though, so we walked for almost a mile before our stomachs began to rumble. Choosing a place on the pier for dinner was the most difficult decision of the whole day! The restaurants range from casual/bar-type to more formal, quieter eateries, without forgetting the option to eat at one of the food stands in Pacific Park. Ultimately, we chose Ristorante al Mare and were seated on the upper level/patio, overlooking the entire pier and ocean. There is nothing better than sipping a nice cocktail while you watch the sun set over the ocean behind your significant other. We both agreed our food and drinks were wonderful, and the bill was just right for the quality of what we received, so it was a perfect end to an amazing day.
We made our way back home to the hotel since we had an early flight to catch the next morning, but your visit does not have to end here! If you want to endeavor to fit more activities in your schedule, here are some of the attractions that were on our list to visit but just couldn’t be squeezed in:
- Getty Center (museum, art collections, architecture, gardens, views)
- Runyon Canyon Park (hiking, nature, views)
- Grammy Museum (a music lover’s paradise)
It is possible to explore a massive city in one day, and if you are undecided or nervous about your trip, just keep some of these tips in mind! Careful planning and mapping out our route, combined with research ahead of time (parking, admissions, etc.) made for a wonderful, relaxed day in Los Angeles. Devising a plan beforehand helps avoid unnecessary gaps and “backtracking” while you are in between destinations, and also provides you with an opportunity to make the most of your allotted time to visit! For example, we started our day closest to our hotel and traveled West, hitting each attraction on the way. I made sure to print off directions (in case of GPS malfunctions/loss of “signal’) for each of our locations, and left some “leeway” time in our schedule open for traffic issues, lunch and dinner breaks, and other unanticipated stops along the way- and everything went smoothly according to schedule. We enjoyed the trip so much that to this day, it remains one of our favorite getaways. I know you will be able to make the same satisfying memories.
So, did you decide to travel to Los Angeles, or have you visited the city in the past? I want to hear your suggestions and recommendations for other travelers and what you enjoyed the most!