I’m a resident of Los Angeles, and I often hear a familiar refrain from visiting tourists–the city is too sprawling, traffic sucks, there’s no culture, you can’t walk anywhere etc. etc. blah blah blah. Of course I beg to differ on all these complaints (well, except for the part about traffic sucking), but I understand why many visitors feel this way–in a quest to see all the congested major landmarks and “must see” L.A. stuff, they frequently plan their daily itineraries without regard for the layout of the city. For example, if your Saturday to-do list includes the Griffith Observatory, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Getty Center, and a meal by the beach in Santa Monica followed by a Lakers Game at the Staples Center, then you’re going to spend a big chunk of the day stuck in miserable traffic and hating L.A.
My advice? Forgo some of the overrated tourist sights (ahem, Walk of Fame) and focus each day on exploring the highlights of a particular neighborhood or area. L.A. is really a city composed of smaller cities and neighborhoods, and there’s amazing stuff to be found if you give it a chance. Here are a couple suggestions for getting off the tourist track in L.A.:
Take a hike: Yes, there’s urban sprawl here, but there’s also incredible natural beauty that’s easily accessible. Why not start your day with a short, invigorating hike that culminates in an awesome view of the entire city? There are several options, and I recommend picking one that’s close to your lodging so you can avoid traffic. In the Hollywood area, try a hike to the top of Runyon Canyon, where you’ll get great views and maybe even a celebrity sighting (it’s a popular celeb dog-walking spot). If you’re staying around Beverly Hills/Century City/Culver City, check out Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, a new state park offering well-maintained (and novice-friendly) trails, clean bathrooms, and a superb bird’s eye view of Los Angeles.
Finally, if your hotel is in the Santa Monica/Venice/Malibu area, Point Mugu State Park provides more than 70 miles of beautiful hiking trails featuring views of ocean shoreline, rocky bluffs, sand dunes, rugged hills, two major river canyons and wide grassy valleys. Note that Point Mugu is a ways north on the PCH, so I’d plan to devote a good portion of your day to this excursion–after hiking, have a picnic on the beach or grab some yummy seafood at Neptune’s Net.
Hear live music: L.A. is chock-full of bands and musicians, and it’s also an obligatory tour stop for most groups. The best part about catching a show in this town is that there’s so many inexpensive, intimate settings where you can see on-the-cusp bands up close before they blow up and graduate to bigger venues. My favorite of the bunch is the historic Troubadour, but I also really like Silverlake Lounge, Hotel Cafe, Spaceland, Largo at the Coronet, The Smell and The Echo.
Keep in mind: Some L.A. tourist attractions are worth the traffic and hassle, so aim to check out a couple of these on your trip. My picks would be the Griffith Observatory (watch Rebel Without A Cause beforehand!), and observing the Venice boardwalk and Santa Monica Pier via a rented beach cruiser (the beach-side bike path makes this really easy and convenient).
Bonus tip(s): Pick your lodging wisely. Stay somewhere that’s close to a lot of the things you want to see, and know that Hollywood streets can get majorly gridlocked on the weekends. For a great alternative to hotels, check out airbnb, where you can find an apartment in the neighborhood of your choice.