Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States and the largest city in California. It is a sprawling metropolis full of movie stars, wannabe actors, musicians, surfers, and lots and lots of traffic.
Los Angeles takes some getting used to. It’s a love/hate city for most people. When I first visited Los Angeles, I hated it. The city was too big, too vapid, and too expensive.
But the more I came here, I the more I saw that this isn’t a city for tourists — it’s a city for residents. With only a few tourist attractions, this is a city where you enjoy life: eat, drink, go to the beach, go for a run, see a concert. It’s a city for living.
And, once you take the pressure of trying to fit Los Angeles into the tourist box, you see the magic of the city.
This travel guide to Los Angeles will give you everything you need to plan an affordable and enjoyable trip here!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Los Angeles
1. Take a day trip to Disneyland
2. See Hollywood Boulevard
3. See the Getty Museum
4. Explore Griffith Park
5. Relax at Venice Beach
Other Things to See and Do in Los Angeles
1. Tour Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood is the only working movie studio and theme park in the world. Their Studio Tour lasts for one hour and gives you a behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood, including a visit to the plane crash scene from War of the Worlds, Peter Jackson’s King Kong, and the Bates Hotel from Psycho. The theme park is home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic World, and The Simpsons ride. A one-day ticket costs $109-129 USD. If you don’t want to pay to go into the parks, you can also enjoy shops, restaurants, and atmosphere at Universal’s City Walk (though with so much to do in LA, I’m not sure going here just for this is worth it).
2. Party on Sunset Boulevard
Perhaps one of the world’s most famous streets in the world, Sunset Blvd began as a route between the stars’ posh neighborhoods and the Hollywood studios. It runs from downtown to the ocean, passing through the “Sunset Strip” with its beaches and movie studios on its way. Spend some time cruising the street and see if you can spot any celebs!
3. Explore Old Town Pasadena
Historic downtown Pasadena is located just ten minutes from Los Angeles. It’s a pedestrian-friendly zone stretching for twenty-two blocks. It’s filled with excellent boutique shops and restaurants and is also a popular nightspot for all of you party animals out there. It’s an eclectic area where people of all ages come to hang out.
4. Shop at the Farmers Market & The Grove
There’s a great farmer’s market here with loads of fresh bread, fruit, veggies, and a delicious food court. Nearby is an outdoor shopping area featuring all the major brands as well as a movie theater. It’s a nice place to spend an afternoon. You can also learn the history of the farmers market while sampling some of its food for $65 USD with Melting Pot Tours.
5. Take a walk on the beach
Los Angeles beaches are a great place to go for a walk, people-watch, or just lounge in the sun. Venice Beach and Santa Monica are two of the most famous beaches. The Santa Monica Pier, built in 1909, is also a fun way to spend an afternoon thanks to its carnival-like atmosphere right on the beach (it has several rides, greasy food stalls, and carnival games).
6. Visit the Huntington Library
This beautifully-designed library in nearby Pasadena includes a Chinese and Japanese garden. Additionally, the library has some incredibly rare and valuable books, including a a copy of The Canterbury Tales from the 15th century, and a 14th-century Gutenberg Bible (which you can see on display in the Main Exhibition Hall). It’s open 10am-5pm and tickets are $25 USD during the week and $29 USD on weekends.
7. Explore the California Science Center
This is a kid-friendly attraction has a variety of educational exhibits on topics ranging from ecosystems (complete with forest, river, and island habitats) to space and aviation. The biggest highlight is the American space shuttle, Endeavor. It’s free to visit, but parking is between $12-15 USD, and you have to pay extra for special exhibits and IMAX movies.
8. Go for a hike
Los Angeles has a lot of wonderful hiking and running trails, the most famous being Runyon Canyon. There are some well-marked routes, including a 1.9-mile (3-kilometer) loop and a 2.6-mile (4-kilometer) loop (with higher elevation gain). There’s also a more strenuous 3.3-mile (5-kilometer) hike to the top of the park too. Caballero Canyon (3.4 miles), Fryman Canyon Park (2.5 miles), and Los Liones Trail (3.5 miles) are three other easy trails around the city you can hike too.
9. See the iconic Hollywood Sign
You can hike up to the famous Hollywood sign using trails that are open from sunrise until sunset in Griffith Park. From the sign, you get a sweeping view of Hollywood (which is especially beautiful at sunset with the city lights spread out in front of you). The three trails to get here (from easiest to hardest) are the Mt Hollywood Trail, the Brush Canyon Trail, and the Cahuenga Peak Trail. Expect to spend at least a couple hours hiking.
10. Visit the Grammy Museum
With exhibits, interactive experiences, and numerous films, this museum walks you through the entire music industry and its history as well as the careers of previous Grammy winners. It’s not a highlight of the city, but if you’re a music aficionado, it’s one of the best things to do. Admission is $15 USD.
11. Browse The Last Bookstore
This is one of my favorite bookstores in the country (and one of the few remaining big independent ones). They sell books and music records, have art displays, and there’s a cool upstairs area too with books all priced at $1 USD each. Located downtown, this space is huge, and you can get lost browsing the shelves for hours. Come here, get a coffee, and read and buy some books!
12. Visit LACMA
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is the largest museum in the western United States. It boasts a massive collection of artwork including works by Rembrandt, Cézanne, Ansel Adams, and Magritte. There’s also ancient artwork from around the world, including Egyptian, Greek, and Roman sculptures. There’s modern art here too, including Michael Heizer’s 340-ton boulder which is wedged over a narrow walkway. Tickets are $25 USD.
13. See La Brea Tar Pits
These natural tar pits are in Hancock Park, where the tar has been trapping and fossilizing animals since the Ice Age. More than 3.5 million fossils have been found here, ranging from small honeybees to giant mammoths. This includes over 200,000 dire wolf specimens! And scientists are still uncovering fossils here nearly every day of the year. It’s right next to LACMA too so you can do both together. Admission is $15 USD.
14. Explore downtown
Downtown has experienced a complete revitalization in recent years, including a brand-new pedestrian center with museums, concert halls, theaters, and dining options. If you do just one thing here, visit the Grand Central Market. It’s a 30,000 square-foot area filled with some of downtown’s best food vendors, including the original Eggslut and Press Brothers. You can find literally any type of food here. I love it.
15. Walk Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Near Venice Beach, this boulevard is chock full of diverse shops, galleries, restaurants, and bars. There are all kinds of quirky businesses to pop into, including Waraku (limited-edition Japanese clothing) and Mystic Journey (a specialty bookshop that regularly hosts readings from up-and-coming authors). On First Friday (the first Friday of each month), the street gets taken over by live music and food trucks.
16. Visit the Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center
This center is one of the most successful literary arts incubators in the country, with alumni like Tom Waits and Wanda Coleman. There’s regular programming here like readings, workshops, and musical performances, as well as a bookstore and archive with over 40,000 books. If you’re a book nerd like me, you’ll love this place!
17. Hang out in Palisades Park
Palisades Park in Santa Monica is a eucalyptus-filled park between the beach area and Ocean Avenue, where you get scenic views over the ocean and of the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s a chill spot to relax and explore. Make sure you stop by the Camera Obscura, an antiquated camera that offers a unique view of the world outside. It’s free to visit.
For more information on other cities in the United States, check out these guides:
Los Angeles Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Prices here vary widely depending on where you stay in the city. A bed in a four-six-bed room costs anything from $30-80 USD while a room with eight beds or more is $25-50 USD. Prices are around the same all year. A basic private room with an ensuite bathroom costs around $90 USD per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels also have self-catering facilities.
Budget hotel prices Budget two-star hotels cost about $100 USD per night. Expect basic amenities like Wi-Fi, AC, a TV, a tea/coffee maker.
There are also lots of Airbnb options in Los Angeles. A private room costs around $85 USD per night while entire homes/apartments average $180 USD per night.
Food – Los Angeles has lots of street and fast food options for under $10 USD. It’s the city of food trucks and anything and everything can be found here. You can get a hearty crepe or sandwich for about $9 USD, or an El Salvadorian pupusa for $4 USD. Tacos go for about $2-3 USD each, a bowl of ramen starts from $9 USD, and burritos start at $9 USD.
At casual restaurants, most main dishes will cost around $10-12 USD. A cheeseburger with a side goes for $15 USD while pasta costs under $20 USD. You can also find healthy salads and bowls from $12 USD. For fast food (think McDonald’s), a combo meal is around $9 USD.
Since LA is the home of the wealthy, you can find some incredibly expensive dining options here. For example, Sushi Ginza Onodera flies in fish twice weekly from Japan and their omakase costs $400 USD! If you want a more reasonable splurge, expect steak and seafood dishes at nicer dinner restaurants to start from $35 USD and pasta/veggie dishes to start from $25 USD.
A glass of wine costs at least $10 USD while beer is around $8 USD. Expect to pay $4.75 USD for a latte/cappuccino. Bottled water is $2 USD.
If you cook your own food, expect to pay $70 USD per week for groceries. This gets you basic staples like pasta, rice, vegetables, and some meat.
Some of my favorite places to eat are Jitlada, Thai Pepper Restaurant, and Meals by Genet. For drinks, check out No Vacancy, Hotel Cafe, Roosterfish, and Good Times at Davey Wayne’s.
Backpacking Los Angeles Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Los Angeles, expect to spend about $75 USD per day. This budget covers a hostel dorm, public transportation, cooking your own meals, and free attractions like the beaches and hiking. If you plan on drinking, add $10-20 USD more per day.
On a mid-range budget of $190 USD per day, you can stay in a private hostel room or Airbnb, eat out for all of your meals at food trucks, have a few drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around, and visit some museums or go to Disneyland.
On a “luxury” budget of $400 USD or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink as much as you’d like, rent a car to get around, and do as many tours and activities as you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you spend more, some days you spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Los Angeles Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Los Angeles can be super expensive. After all, some of the country’s wealthiest people live here! But, thanks to all the food trucks and starving artists, you don’t have to be rich to visit. If you want to lower your costs, here are some ways to save money in Los Angeles:
- Purchase a Go Los Angeles Card – If you are going to do lots of sightseeing, this card provides discounts to 40 museums, tours, and attractions. It’s priced to save you money when compared to buying separate tickets. A one-day/two-attraction pass costs $54 USD with prices increasing from there (you can build your own pass).
- Avoid celebrity hangouts – Hollywood and Beverly Hills are the two areas you can see the most celebrities but also the two areas where you can spend the most money. Avoid them if you can!
- Redeem hotel points – Be sure to sign up for hotel credit cards before you go and use those points when you travel. This is especially helpful in big cities like LA, where accommodation is expensive. If you have lots of points, use them here and get free rooms! Be aware that most hotels charge parking fees if you have a car.
- Couchsurf – There are plenty of Couchsurfing hosts throughout the city who can show you around and let you stay for free. In an expensive and ever-changing city like LA, having a local guide can be extremely helpful!
- Take a free walking tour – This is a great way to learn the history behind the places you are seeing and to avoid missing any must-see stops. Free Tours By Foot has a few interesting walking tours that can show you what the city has to offer. Just make sure to tip your guide!
- Save money on rideshares – Uber and Lyft are way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to take a bus or pay for a taxi. The shared/pool option (where you share a ride with other people) offers even better savings. You can save money off your first rides with the following codes: Lyft (MATTHEW999 to save $10 USD) and Uber (jlx6v to save $15 USD).
- Bring a reusable water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your single-use plastic consumption. LifeStraw makes a reusable bottle with a built-in filter that ensures your water is always safe and clean.
Where to Stay in Los Angeles
Accommodation is expensive in Los Angeles. It’s also spread out. Before you book, make sure you have a hostel in the location where you want to spend most of your time. Here are my recommended places to stay in Los Angeles:
- Freehand Los Angeles
- HI Los Angeles Santa Monica
- Walk of Fame Hollywood Hostel Los Angeles
- Samesun Venice Beach
For more hostel suggestions be sure to check out my list of the best hostels in Los Angeles.
How to Get Around Los Angeles
Public Transportation – The Los Angeles Metro involves both rail service and a bus service. It’s the most accessible and most affordable way to get around the city, with tickets costing just $1.75 USD each way.
It’s easiest just to get a TAP Card (you can find them at TAP machines within bus or train stations) where you can load a preset cash value onto the card to be used on all buses and trains.
You can get a day pass for $7 USD or a seven-day pass for $25 USD.
Flyaway buses go from LAX to downtown and Hollywood for $9.75 USD one-way.
Car Rental – Everything in Los Angeles is super spread out so renting a car can make your trip a lot more enjoyable. You can rent cars for as low as $30 USD per day. However, keep in mind that parking is a real hassle, with limited spaces costing up to $8 USD per hour. Use apps like BestParking or ParkMe to find parking spots around downtown L.A., Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Long Beach. ParkMe even lets you reserve a parking spot in advance.
Taxis – Taxis can be hard to flag down, but you can download the Curb app to request one in advance. Everything is meter-based, starting at $2.85 USD and then $2.70 USD per mile. They aren’t cheap since everything is spread out, so avoid them if you can.
Ridesharing – Uber and Lyft are way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to take a bus or pay for a taxi. The shared/pool option (where you share a ride with other people) offers even better savings. You can save money off your first rides with the following codes: Lyft (MATTHEW999 to save $10 USD) and Uber (jlx6v to save $15 USD).
When to Go to Los Angeles
March-May and then September-November (the shoulder seasons) are the best times to visit Los Angeles. It’s warm, but there’s no sticky heat and the crowds are less oppressive. Temperatures during these months are between 50-80°F (10-27°C), with very little rain.
December is the coldest month overall, but it’s much cheaper for accommodation if you want to save some cash. Just pack some rain gear if you’re coming in the winter.
Summer is the peak season for tourism with temperatures in the 80s°F (upper 20s-30s°C). This drives everybody to the beaches. Attractions get crowded and accommodation prices increase. One plus side: it hardly ever rains!
How to Stay Safe in Los Angeles
Overall, Los Angeles is a safe place to backpack and travel. If you stick to touristy areas like Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills, you’ll be fine. There are some dangerous areas downtown (like Skid Row) as well as nearby South Central, which should be avoided. Avoid Compton too.
You may encounter petty crime, like theft, especially around famous tourist landmarks or on crowded public transportation so always keep an eye on your belongings. As a general rule, don’t wear flashy jewelry or wave around cash.
If you have a vehicle, keep it locked at all times and don’t leave any valuables in it.
Los Angeles also has some pretty unique scams. For example, if you’re approached by someone who says they’re a Hollywood producer, director, or casting agent, they could be legit. However, chances are they’re just trying to scam you into paying fees upfront. Ask for a business card and do your due diligence. Additionally, be wary of people offering Hollywood tours or discounts on open-air bus tours. Do your research and stick to well-known providers to avoid getting ripped off.
If you experience an emergency, dial 911 for assistance.
Worried about other travel scams? Read about these 14 major travel scams to avoid. There aren’t many here in the states though.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Los Angeles. Follow that rule, and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Los Angeles Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel around Los Angeles. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and, overall, are better than their competitors.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around the United States, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you get a discount when you click the link!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Los Angeles Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Los Angeles Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, by Mike Davis
Few cities are loved and hated like LA (I hated it originally, but now love it). It’s been called both a utopia and a dystopia, a place where dreams can both blossom and crumble. This book examines the city’s past to help us understand who the city came to be. From its political and power brokers to those crushed under the city’s weight, City of Quartz addresses it all in this sweeping portrait of the City of Angels.
Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, by Kevin Starr
Golden Dreams highlights some of California’s most formative years, illuminating the economic and cultural forces that help shape the state — and LA in particular. From the creation of the suburbs to the Beatniks and hippies to the beginning of the environmental movement, Starr brings it all together to show exactly how California has grown to be the wealthiest state in the Union — as well as one of the largest economies in the entire world!
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
Forgetting the hype of the book (and the subsequent movie), I really did like this book. Cheryl Strayed’s book is about her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail when she was 26. She sets off in hopes of finding herself and coming to grips with the death of her mother, break-up of her marriage, and drug use. She’s looking for a fresh start. Along the way, she encounters kindness, happy fellow hikers, and a deep sense of belonging. Filled with wonderful prose, I found this book deeply moving. It’s easy to see why the book became such a hit.
Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon
Set in the early 1970s, this quirky detective story is part noir, part psychedelic trip. It can be hard to follow at first, but the unique writing style is both engrossing and liberating. There’s a lot of sex, drugs, and rock and roll as Doc Sportello stumbles his way through his quest. There’s mystery, humor, and some amazing writing that brings to life LA in its heyday. It was turned into a film with Joaquin Phoenix in 2014.
The Black Echo, by Michael Connelly
This is the first book in the Bosch book series (which is also now a TV series). The first book in the series is about maverick LAPD detective Harry Bosch and his struggle between justice and vengeance as he hunts down his friend’s killer. The books are fast-paced, brooding, and paint a grim but thrilling picture of life in LA. If you want some gripping fiction and love a good page-turner, this is the series for you!
Los Angeles Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on United States travel and continue planning your trip: