Instead of another diary and recap of the trip, I decided to put together a travel guide after my most recent trip to Los Angeles. I’ve been to this city more times than I can count and have explored every inch of it from Malibu to Studio City to Redondo Beach. L.A. has become my second home since graduating college; I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Last year when I was freelancing full-time I would escape to L.A. about every other month and sometimes every month. I’m a big fan of traveling solo. And because I quickly became so familiar with this place, I felt really safe jetting off on my own every chance I got. Plus, I do have a few friends on the West Coast. (Not all of them are bloggers, so I try my hardest not to put them in the spotlight.)
L.A. is a lot different than New York City. I explain it simply by saying, I love New York because it’s where I’m from and I love L.A. because it’s not not where I’m from. That is the best way for me to compare the two cities.
That being said, there was a bit of a learning curve when I first began visiting Los Angeles. The best example took place during my first-ever visit on a spring break trip my junior year of college…
I had always heard that L.A. isn’t a walking city like New York is, but as a stubborn 21-year-old, I refused to believe it until I learned the hard way. Twenty-five-year-old me looks back and laughs—and gives my younger self a *major* pat on the back for trekking from Marina Del Rey all the way to Venice Beach (and back!) in platform sandals!
In New York I spend almost an hour of my day walking (or running, depending on how late I am), so I really have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I can’t do the same in L.A. While I don’t have a car on the West Coast, I am thankful that Ubers are much cheaper and much (much!!) more reliable.
After a couple trips I found that it is best to plan your days so that you’re visiting spots that *are* walking distance from one another. (This may seem totally logical, but it does take a bit of configuring and strategic planning.)
For example, I always visit Downtown L.A. and Little Tokyo on the same day because it’s easy to walk back and forth between the two. The same can be said for Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Melrose Ave is a walkable journey in and of itself, and I can definitely spend the better half of a day there (especially on Sundays when Melrose Trading Post is open). The city buses are also inexpensive and reliable from my experiences with them. When I took a bus from Santa Monica to Pacific Palisades in 2015, it only cost $1!
In L.A. I always wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go! I hardly ever set an alarm when I’m there and I’m almost always up by 8 or 8:30 a.m., so I accomplish a lot in a day. Which brings me to my next point…
If it’s your first or even your second time in L.A., you’ll definitely want to spend at least a week there—there is simply too much to do, especially if it’s lay-on-the-beach-all-day weather! But if you are a regular like me, you know that you can hit all your old favorite spots *and* a couple new ones in five days or less. There’s even time to squeeze in a mini getaway to the desert (a must-do)!
L.A.’s Asian cuisine is unreal. Visiting for the first time I thought the Mexican food would be best, but Thai and Korean instantly stole my heart (and stomach). If you’ve never tried Thai iced tea, you can find it at any authentic Thai restaurant in L.A. You’ll notice it’s distinct pale orange hue on almost every tabletop. It’s life-changing.
Night + Market Song: The best Thai food you’ve ever had in your life is worth the usually lengthy wait. And while you wait, Night + Market Song is located on a trendy street in Silver Lake, so feel free to do a little window shopping.
Dan Sung Sa: For the best Korean food and karaoke, you’ll of course want to dive into the heart of Koreatown. My favorite spot to eat is located a short walking distance from a karaoke lounge where you can unleash your inner k-pop star. I’ll warn you though, the environment inside Dan Sung Sa is dark and grungy, so be prepared to drink water out of what appears to be a pet bowl—that’s what makes it so unique!
Pho Cafe Los Angeles (Silver Lake): Vietnamese-style dishes like vegetable rolls, bún chả and (of course) pho are impossibly fresh at Silver Lake’s Pho Cafe. Much like Night + Market Song, this restaurant is within walking distance to other cool spots in the area.
Cafe Solar: This Hollywood gem is my go-to breakfast, brunch and lunch spot. They have classics like French toast and lox bagels, as well as new favorites like avocado toast—plus there’s kombucha on tap! Cafe Solar is a great place to go solo or with a friend.
Dave’s Hot Chicken: The first time I dined here (I used the term “dined” very loosely), it was on a folding table in a parking lot. A group of guys on small grills drew crowds to this unconventional eating spot with their—you guessed it—hot chicken. It had a 40-minute wait time even on weeknights!
The mouth-watering Southern-style recipe (complete with toast and collard greens) has since gained enough popularity for Dave’s Hot Chicken to open an actual restaurant. But I always say, the sketchier the restaurant, the better the food.
Pink Taco: My favorite Mexican restaurant in L.A. is Pink Taco, a somewhat casual spot on Sunset Boulevard with photo-worthy decorations around every corner. But it’s not only the aesthetic that draws me in–Pink Taco has tons of yummy options, including modern takes on traditional Mexican cuisine. Equipped with any tequila you could ever want, this restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating, as well as vegan/vegetarian choices. I absolutely love the Ape Tacos, which are filled with fried sweet potato and cactus salsa.
Salt and Straw: A West Coast exclusive, Salt and Straw is the best ice cream around! Unique flavors like Avocado with Oaxacan Fudge and Honey Lavender win me over every time. Salt and Straw also has amazing seasonal flavors, such as Gingerbread Cookie Dough, to help get you in the holiday spirit.
Food trucks are also plentiful in L.A., especially in the beach cities. They are the perfect place to pick up a taco (maybe two!), fruit with tajín (an L.A. staple) or a churro. Of course you can’t visit the Southwest without stopping for a burger and fries at In-N-Out, either.
You’ve probably heard the stereotype that L.A. is super-chill, and I’m here to tell you that is entirely true. In fact, it’s a little too chill if you’re a hard-partier. Thankfully, I am not, so L.A.’s relaxed nightlife scene is more my speed. The best part? Most places don’t charge cover. (Although I would appreciate it if bars stayed open later than 2 a.m.—that’s a lot of pressure to get glammed-up quickly.)
Keep in mind recreational marijuana use is legal (for adults 21 and older) throughout California, so you won’t find too many reliable places to go crazy drinking. Instead, the best spots to drink in L.A. have a laidback lounge environment.
Good Times At Davey Wayne’s: My first pick for a night out in L.A. is a 1970s-themed spot known as Davey Wayne’s. After showing your ID outside, you’ll be let into a garage, and when you open the refrigerator door, you’re in what appears to be a typical 70s home. It’s an amazing atmosphere, even on the most crowded nights. And yes, there is a backyard compete with heat lamps.
The Bungalow: This upscale Santa Monica spot has the same concept as Davey Wayne’s—except instead of a 1970s middle class home, you’re in a posh beach bungalow (hence the name), the likes of which are probably owned by rockstars, fashion designers and wealthy heirs and heiresses. With seemingly endless places to explore both inside and out, Bungalow is a must-do if you’re staying in one of L.A.’s beach cities. (I highly recommend the sangria! If you’re a heavy drinker, it’s awesome with a shot of Maker’s Mark.)
Jumbo’s Clown Room (NSFW): Google it. And bring $1 bills.
Weather in SoCal is almost always favorable and I make the most of it during every visit. Even if it’s too chilly to take a bikini-clad beach or poolside nap, with leggings and a tie-it-around-your-waist sweatshirt, Los Angeles is the perfect place to go hiking all year long.
Redondo Beach: For a laidback beach day you’ll want to hit my favorite Redondo Beach. It has a relaxed boardwalk with casual seafood options and plenty of places to grab ice cream. The beach itself doesn’t get as crowded as Santa Monica does, and most people are families with young kids or couples on a quiet date.
Venice Beach: Legendary Venice Beach and its world-famous boardwalk are the complete opposite of Redondo, but I love them both equally! Full of excitement, Venice offers plenty of inexpensive food and drink options if you get hungry, and it is within walking distance to another world-famous spot, the Santa Monica Pier. Abbott Kinney Boulevard in Venice also has amazing shopping and cafes for when you need a break from the beach.
Pacific Palisades: An L.A. suburb, Pacific Palisades is what made me first fall in love with the West Coast. Hiking trails offer a stunning panoramic view of both Downtown L.A. and the Pacific ocean (whereas most other hiking hotspots have views of one or the other). Because it’s the suburbs, these trails are far less crowded than the better-known hikes in L.A.
Runyon Canyon: If you’re looking for an intense workout, come to Runyon Canyon. It’s equal parts tourists-taking-in-the-view and locals-getting-their-daily-workout-in.
Griffith Observatory: This is definitely a major tourist destination, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it truly is a great spot. Griffith is easy to access from the Hollywood area and has a ton of different trails to choose from and because it is so populated, you’ll feel really safe going alone. It’s my first choice for a solo hike!
The Broad: LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) gets all the hype (I’m sure you’ve seen photos of the street lamp installation all over social media), but I really love The Broad, a museum in downtown L.A.
This spot has huge pieces of work from Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and Pennsylvania-native Jeff Koons, as well as smaller works by *the* Andy Warhol.
There’s a fee to see temporary installations, free general admission is a major perk.
The Last Bookstore: A hidden gem in downtown L.A., The Last Bookstore isn’t as much of a shopping experience as it is a immersive art experience. The downstairs is comically huge and has a wide variety of genres, authors and titles. The upstairs, however, turns literature into a visual art with interesting sculptures and arrangements.
Are You Am I: Blogger-turned-fashion designer Rumi Neely’s namesake label is a must-see IRL, if not only for the photo op. You’ll want to design your entire home after this dreamy L.A. loft where you’ll enjoy a private, no-pressure shopping experience. (See my photos above for a sneak peek into AYAI!)
Wasteland: The best vintage and secondhand styles can be found at one of Wasteland’s three L.A.-area locations. Melrose Ave, Studio City and Santa Monica are all home to Wasteland stores, which is where I scored a vintage Missoni sweater and an amazing pair of Givenchy trousers for under $200 each!
During my last trip to L.A., I was also able to stock-up on pullovers and button-down shirts that I love wearing to the office, as well as unique edgier pieces for dressing up, all at extremely reasonable prices.
Melrose Trading Post: Open only on Sundays, Melrose Trade Post is a vintage and handmade mecca. It was here I found a killer pair of pre-loved Levi’s that fit like a glove—something extremely hard to do if your waist is a size 26 or smaller, especially for under $100. The good news is, I only paid $50 for my dream pair in a size 25 (and the stand was stocked with dozens)!
Another amazing Melrose Trading Post find is my Harley Davidson bodysuit, which was actually a vintage t-shirt someone (who is much more creative than I am) transformed into a bodysuit.
My advice for shopping at Melrose Trading Post? Get there early and bring cash.
Reformation Vintage: Why can’t there be more of these? Across the street from the nauseatingly famous L.A. pink wall is a Reformation-curated vintage shop. Ref did the hard part for you, so you won’t spend hours sorting through the shelves only to leave empty-handed. And if you are a fan of the regular Reformation store, it’s only a short walk from Ref Vintage.
Joyrich: A favorite of YouTube megastars Ethan and Grayson Dolan, Joyrich is an indie store best known for its collabs with Playboy. With mostly unisex styles, you will always find something fun and modern at Joyrich.
Glossier: We have one of these in New York, but I love visiting my L.A. Glossier fam when I’m in town. And with a great location on Melrose, it’s easy to do. One thing the NYC location doesn’t have? A replica of Antelope Canyon, complete with a selfie mirror and true-to-life sounds on loop.
Make Asobi: A beauty-lovers trip to L.A. isn’t complete without stopping at Make Asobi in Little Tokyo. Although this Asian skincare and makeup shop has another location on Sawtelle Boulevard, I prefer Little Tokyo’s, which is larger and has a much better variety of products. Plus, it’s a great excuse to get mochi or matcha ice cream afterwards.
At Make Asobi I stock-up on authentic Asian sheet masks, Bioderma micellar water and more. Everything is priced low, so I always go a little crazy.