Los Angeles area guide
Beyond the Hollywood Walk of Fame and theme parks like Six Flags Magic Mountain, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott's Berry Farm, and the Disneyland Resort, these lesser known places in Los Angeles will give you a better idea of what the City of Angels really has to offer
Our favorite places to visit in Long Beach are the Aquarium of the Pacific, Shoreline Village, and Pike Street. The aquarium showcases wildlife throughout the Pacific, from the polar regions to the tropics. There are sea lions, penguins, sea otters, sharks, lorikeets you can feed, wading birds, and all manner of fish. And Shoreline Village is full of shops, food, and even live entertainment on the weekends. You can also take the Catalina Express boat from here to Catalina Island (see Catalina Island below).
Third Street Promenade and the Santa Monica Pier are our favorite places to visit in Santa Monica. The promenade is a pedestrian shopping district with many great shops, restaurants, and entertainment. There are also many street performers on the weekends. Our favorite hang-outs include Cafe Crepe for breakfast, and the AMC Santa Monica 7 theatre to catch a Sunday matinée. For lunch or dinner, try Mariasol at the end of Santa Monica Pier for outstanding views and some hearty Mexican food. And the pier has its own amusement park, Pacific Park. If nothing else, take the Pacific Wheel ferris wheel for great views of the coastline.
If you rent a bicycle, pair of roller skates, or a segway, the Bohemian and eclectic Venice Beach is just a couple of miles down the coast to the South. Here you can check out Muscle Beach, the Venice Skate Park, stroll along the boardwalk and peruse the wares of the street vendors, or head inland to observe the canals.
THE HUNTINGTON LIBRARY & BOTANICAL GARDENS
Established in 1919 by Henry and Arabella Huntington, and at an area of over 200 acres, this is a great place to go for a mix of beautiful botanical gardens with species from all over the world, and a few museum and art exhibitions as well. Some of our favorite gardens include the Chinese (which has been recently expanded), Japanese, Jungle, Desert and Rose gardens. You'll also find a few options for dining. And you must stop by the unique gift shop on your way out.
GETTY MALIBU VILLA
Some may be aware of the J. Paul Getty Center, which is a great collection of art and gardens in itself, but we prefer the architecture, gardens, collections, and oceanfront vista of the Getty Malibu Villa. Opened in 1974, the collections are primarily from ancient Rome and Greece. The architecture is modeled after the ancient Roman villa of Papyri. The gardens are also inspired by Roman models. Even the cafe and gift shop are Mediterranean-inspired. Just as with the Getty Center, tickets are free. You only have to pay for parking. Just ensure you get online tickets in advance, as they have a limited amount of visitors they admit each day.
Point Vicente lighthouse, museum (interpretive center), grounds and gift shop are a favorite neighborhood hangout for us. There's a great walking path through native coastal shrubs, picnic tables, and cliff top views of the Pacific Ocean. Parking and admission are free, although they do have a donation box at the interpretive center. On a clear day you can see Catalina Island to the Southwest. The lighthouse grounds are open to the public on the second Saturday of each month. And stopping at the nearby Yellow Vase Cafe on Palos Verdes Dr. is always a special treat.
Our favorite parts of San Pedro include Point Fermin park and lighthouse, the Korean Friendship bell, and the Marine Mammal Care Center. Parking and admission are free for each, although they request a donation if you attend an afternoon lighthouse tour. Cabrillo Beach is also a popular spot with locals, as is the historic downtown area of San Pedro. And if you're into Navy ships, the USS Iowa museum is conveniently located here as well.
There are many things we enjoy about our neighborhood Manhattan Beach - from the shops and restaurants, to the beach and aquarium on the pier. Our personal favorites are Ocean View Cafe or The Kettle for breakfast, Brew Co. for lunch, and Pancho's for some great Mexican food and atmosphere or The Strand House with sunset views over the pier and ocean for dinner. Get your sweet tooth fully satisfied at the Manhattan Beach Creamery. And check out what's in our local waters at the Roundhouse Aquarium at the end of the pier.
Manhattan Beach is the sand volleyball capitol of the West Coast. Many of our gold medal Olympians have trained and competed here, and you'll see their bronze volleyball plaques embedded on the pier. And here's an insiders tip on some local events we always enjoy - during the Halloween season come enjoy the Pumpkin Race festivities, and for the holiday season don't miss the Pier Lighting Ceremony and open house. Another tip - metered street parking can sometimes be difficult to find, but there are two metered parking structures on 12th Street.
Just to the South, we enjoy Fiesta Hermosa every Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend, the Redondo Beach Riviera Village Holiday Stroll, and celebrating New Year's Eve outdoors at Hermosa Beach Pier Plaza.
The best trifecta of museums in Los Angeles! LACMA or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. Each one very different from the other and unique in its own way. The La Brea museum gives you a glimpse into Los Angeles' prehistoric past, with mammoths, saber tooth cats, and giant sloths! The Academy museum gives you a glimpse into Hollywood's film industry, both present and past. And LACMA is the largest art museum in the western United States, with a collection of more than 100,000 works covering over 6,000 years of art around the globe.
THE GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY
The site of many Hollywood films, from Rebel Without a Cause, to The Transformers, to La La Land, you can't beat the scenic views of the L. A. basin or the famous Hollywood sign from here. Admission is always free. Learn about our fascinating solar system, see a show in the planetarium or Leonard Nimoy Theater, or just walk the grounds. The best way to get there is to use the DASH Observatory bus. Day or night, we're certain you'll enjoy your visit.
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES
There are a few nice places to visit in downtown L.A., if you know where to go. Grand Park has a nice water fountain area and offers iconic views of Los Angeles City Hall. Angels Flight Railway funicular, built in 1901, takes you up and down Bunker Hill. At the top of the funicular is California Plaza shopping mall and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), and at the bottom is Grand Central Market, a true foodies paradise! And The Broad museum conveniently lays between Grand Park, the Music Center, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall to the North, and MOCA and Angels Flight to the South.
The L.A. Live entertainment complex contains the Crypto.com sports arena, Microsoft Theater, the Grammy Museum, a Regal theatre, and the Los Angeles Convention Center. There are also many restaurants, and even a few hotels. We love visiting during the Christmas holiday season, when Xbox Plaza transforms into a Winter wonderland with skating provided by LA Kings Holiday Ice!
Exposition Park lies a little to the South of downtown, across from the University of Southern California's University Park campus. Here you'll find our Natural History Museum, California African American Museum, California Science Center, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Banc of California Stadium, Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, and the Rose Garden.
For evening entertainment, the Music Center performing arts center provides comedy, drama, musicals, dance, and even opera at their respective venues. And the Walt Disney Concert Hall is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and other special guests for all seasons except Summer, when they perform at the Hollywood Bowl.
MALIBU CREEK STATE PARK
If you're into nature and hiking, this is a great place to do it! Rock Pond, the M*A*S*H television show filming location, and Malibu Lake are all great places to see. Spring is our favorite season to visit due to the wildflower blooms. Parking fees are currently $12 as of this post, but please check the website below for the latest updates. And we highly recommend stopping by the Visitors Center to learn about native wildlife and the filming history of the park, open weekends from noon to 4 p.m.
Officially known as Mount San Antonio, the locals call it Mt. Baldy because of the large rocky escarpment along one side of the peak. At 10,069 feet, it's the highest point in Los Angeles County. Ice House Canyon is a great hike in the area. From the trail head to the saddle it's approximately 7.5 miles round-trip. Bring cramp-ons if you hike during the Winter months, because yes, Los Angeles County does get snow! And be sure to stop by the Mt. Baldy Visitors Center before you hike to get your required wilderness permit.
Further up the road from Ice House Canyon is the Mt. Baldy ski lift. You can take this up to The Notch for spectacular views of the San Gabriel Mountains without the need to hike. In the Winter, you can enjoy skiing and snow tubing. Regardless of which method you choose to get up the mountain, be sure to enjoy a good meal at Mt. Baldy Lodge before leaving this scenic, little known area of Los Angeles. You may even want to spend a night or two in one of the lodge's rustic cabins.
We love Santa Catalina Island, and try to get there at least once a year. I call it "the poor man's Hawaii" because it's got that laid back island vibe, but much cheaper to get to than the Hawaiian Islands. Summer is our favorite season to visit because we enjoy snorkeling the kelp forests when the water's at its warmest, usually between August to mid-October. If it's still too cold for you, rent a wet suit at Descanso Beach. We recommend snorkeling at the marine sanctuary off of the casino, at Descanso Beach, and Lovers Cove. If you don't want to snorkel or scuba dive, you can still enjoy a semi-submersible boat tour to see the abundant wildlife under the sea.
The Catalina Museum displays the history of the island, including when it was owned by William Wrigley Jr. If you can, we highly recommend spending a night or two on the island. Spending the night allows you to enjoy the island without the day-tripping crowds. And if you're there at night between Memorial Day weekend and mid September you can enjoy the fabled flying fish tour as well. Parasailing and ziplining are additional activities you can try on the island. Use the Catalina Express out of Long Beach to get to the island.
THE PANTAGES THEATER
There are many classic Hollywood theaters, but the Pantages has the best off-Broadway shows in town. We've enjoyed Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Wicked, The Book of Mormon and others from this beautiful, Golden Age of Hollywood-themed theater. For the best view of the shows and the beautiful art-deco ceiling, we recommend sitting in the front mezzanine up top.
THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL
Open during the Summer months, this is the most iconic place to enjoy a concert anywhere in Los Angeles. This is the Summer residence of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The remainder of the year they perform at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown. We've listened to jazz concerts, the music of John Williams, Frozen Planet in Concert, and opera here. They have something for everyone, and encourage you to bring your own picnic meal to the park. Not to worry though, good food is available for purchase within the gates as well. Oh, and if you sit in the lawn area or bleacher seating, bring a blanket to sit on.
MAJOR EVENTS IN LOS ANGELES
There are many annual events which are worthy of traveling to L.A., some of which include the Tournament of Roses Parade (January 1st), LA Marathon (March), Grand Prix of Long Beach (April), Coachella Music Festival (April), The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire (April/May), LA County Fair (May), LA Gay Pride (June), X Games (June/July), 4th of July Celebration at the Hollywood Bowl, West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval (October 31st), Dia de los Muertos (October/November), LA Comic Con (December), and see my Christmas in California blog entry for some great places to visit during the Christmas season!
The Association of Volleyball Professionals, or AVP, normally hosts a sand volleyball event here. And L.A. or Orange County usually host a World Surf League competition as well. Los Angeles also hosts many champion professional sports teams, where you could catch a game with the Rams, Dodgers, Lakers, Kings, or Galaxy.
WEATHER IN LOS ANGELES
Any time of year is good for visiting Los Angeles. Temperatures are mild and we rarely receive any rain. But along the beach cities and coastline, from late May through June, we get what we refer to as a marine layer. These "May gray" or "June gloom" clouds are low and gray, which form as a result of the difference in temperature between the land and sea. They do not bring rain, and they are usually burned away by the sun by midday. They return by sunset. Just be aware that, if you envision sunny beaches and beautiful sunsets, late May through June may not be the best time to experience them.
Our rainy or wet season in Los Angeles is from approximately November through March, although you're more likely to be dry than wet on any given day. We normally receive only 10 to 12 inches (200 to 300 millimeters) of rain each year. And temperatures are mild, usually staying above 55 F/12 C degrees in the Winter and below 90 F/32 C in the Summer. However, we do have extremes within Los Angeles County. Our San Gabriel Mountains receive snow each Winter, and our deserts can reach temperatures of well over 100 F/38 C in the Summer.
And our ocean temperatures are cool, ranging from 55 F/13 C in Winter to 72 F/22 C in late Summer. It's our ocean temperatures which help maintain our cool, Mediterranean climate along the coast.
TRANSPORTATION IN LOS ANGELES
Los Angeles does not provide adequate public transportation. It will take a long time, and many transfers, to travel significant distances by bus or rail. You should expect to drive yourself around the area. If the freeway system intimidates you, drive instead on local streets. But just remember that many people are able to drive on the freeways. It may seem daunting, but you'll soon grow accustomed to it. For more information on driving in California please refer to the California Driver Handbook.
We do have a light rail system provided by Los Angeles Metro, but the routes do not cover everywhere. You'll be restricted on where you can go if you rely on this light rail system. And for safety reasons, it's better to use this during the day and avoid it at night. At night you can be harassed or injured, as the passengers working during the day have left and homeless or even criminals are more likely onboard.
For additional information on Los Angeles, I recommend visiting Discover LA