As someone born and raised in Los Angeles, I can admit that, yes, L.A. is an insane city for tourists. It’s so massive that how can you possibly see it all in just a few days? A week? A month? Even a lifetime isn’t enough to unlock everything L.A. has to offer, and that can make it an overwhelming place. So what should you do if you have only one day in Los Angeles?
So many times I meet people, introduce myself and where I’m from, and the reply, “Oh, I hate L.A.” Um. First of all: rude. Why do you think you can, or should, say that to me? Second of all: ugh, you did it wrong.
Inevitably, those people say they were in town for just a day or two and visited Hollywood Blvd. and maybe Venice or Santa Monica beaches. They say it was too dirty and crowded and superficial and traffic was terrible. But, oh boy, you guys. If you’re going to go to the most touristy spots you can find, then of course they’re going to be overcrowded and exhausting!
The fact is, Los Angeles is massive. But it’s an amazing city, even for a quick trip—if you put the city into context.
It’s important to remember that, compared to other popular U.S. destinations, L.A. is actually like a dozen cities rolled into one, with more than 13 million people sprawled over its giant metro area. So there’s no one “main” area. It’s not like visiting New York, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, or many of America’s other wonderful cities, where you can find one central spot to explore when you’re short on time.
L.A. is a paradox of choice; there is so much to do and so much to see that it’s easy to shut down with indecision. And too many people try to pack in too much, visiting tourist landmarks that force them to battle traffic and crowds, leaving them exhausted.
That’s why I’m sharing the perfect day I spent in L.A. while visiting last month!
I cracked it, you guys. I had to show around a friend from Florida, and we figured out a wonderful day that didn’t attempt to tackle everything. Instead we focused on three quintessential L.A. experiences that aren’t the obvious choices of Hollywood Blvd. (seriously, don’t bother, there is no way you won’t be disappointed) and the beach. (L.A. beaches are lovely, but there are nice beaches on every coast, many with warmer water. You’ll be fine skipping our beaches, I promise.)
So if you’re hunting for the perfect itinerary for one day in Los Angeles, this one will leave you relaxed, culturally fulfilled, and feeling like you’ve gotten a great slice of the true L.A. and West Coast spirit!
Where to Stay
When I went back for a visit last month, I actually spent a day and a half in L.A., which means I had to spend the night somewhere. And picking a hotel, and therefore a home base, in Los Angeles can be as tough as picking an itinerary! What neighborhood do we stay in? Why is valet parking so expensive? How can I minimize the traffic I have to fight? If you’re following this itinerary, I suggest Hotel Angeleno, just off the 405 freeway.
Not only is a straight shot from LAX, which makes your arrival and departure super simple, but the Hotel Angeleno also offers free valet parking! That alone is worth any extra expense compared to a cheaper hotel in a less convenient area. Additionally, the hotel offers a free courtesy vehicle that will take you to spots near the hotel—including the magnificent Getty Center, if you wanted to skip the three-minute drive (and paid parking). It’s also a convenient location for getting to the other two spots on this itinerary, as you’ll read below.
None of this would matter if the hotel itself didn’t offer a comfortable stay. But my room was luxurious and modern, with insanely cozy beds piled high with fluffy pillows, and an awesome lighting setup with individual reading lights at each bed. Everything was spotless, too. And they have a free, daily wine happy hour for guests! I discovered Hotel Angeleno thanks to a Hotwire search, but now that I’ve experienced it myself, this will definitely be the only hotel I stay at when visiting L.A. in the future.
Grand Central Market
Downtown Los Angeles
Grand Central Market is a bustling, hundred-year-old downtown landmark, featuring dozens of delicious food vendors under one roof—and it’s a great place to visit at any time, but especially to begin your day if you happen to be in Los Angeles on a weekend. Heading downtown from Hotel Angeleno on a Saturday morning means a traffic-free east-bound drive. You’ll skip out on weekday downtown traffic and see an overview of downtown on your drive in, plus get cheaper weekend parking rates at the many conveniently located parking garages.
And then, of course, there is the food! From German to Salvadoran dishes, from seafood to pizza, there is something for everyone here—even if you’re vegan, gluten-free, or have another specialized diet. Spending time browsing all the different food stands is half the fun, so allow yourself time to relax and wander, in addition to having a proper meal. (Or, do what many people do, and buy something small from a handful of different vendors!)
The Getty Center
Once you’ve gotten your fill of tasty dishes, hop back in your car and head back west to visit the Getty Center, which houses one of two locations of the Getty Museum, founded by the late J. Paul Getty (the other location, the Getty Villa, is the Pacific Palisades). A billionaire and avid collector of art, Getty amassed an impressive collection and left behind enough money that the Getty’s multi-billion-dollar trust makes it the richest art institution in the world. That translates to a stunning space with fascinating collections and exhibitions—and free admission, which is unfortunately not at all common for major American art museums.
Located at the top of a hill with views of all of L.A., the Getty is accessed by a free and scenic tram ride next to its parking garage ($15 per vehicle, or $10 after 3 pm). Once there, take your time exploring the modern architecture of the Getty Center, wandering the courtyards and patios, strolling through the lovely garden, and taking in views of the museum itself but also of the city sprawled beneath you. This space truly captures the essence of Los Angeles and is just as lovely as the art housed in its museum! The collection includes paintings from European masters, such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Degas, Titian, Rubens, and more, but there is certainly something for everybody here. Check out the outdoor sculpture collection, Center for Photography, Family Room for kid-friendly activities, and more.
The Hollywood Bowl
The perfect finish to an L.A. day—especially a lovely summer day—is a concert at the iconic Hollywood Bowl. Here you’ll get a taste of the locals’ idea of a Hollywood experience, as opposed to the touristy version of it. Indeed, this outdoor amphitheater with a capacity of more than 17,000 is nestled in the Hollywood Hills is just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of the touristy Hollywood Blvd., but it feels a world away. One of the homes of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl frequently hosts world-class classical music concerts. But if that’s not your thing, there is also a robust schedule of everything from jazz to rock to musicals to movie screenings accompanied by a live orchestra.
After filling up at Grand Central Market and spending the afternoon at the Getty, you’ll be ready for dinner by the time you get to the Hollywood Bowl. That’s perfect, because you can either bring your own picnic basket or you can dine on some of the Hollywood Bowl’s surprisingly high class offerings. They have restaurants or gourmet picnic baskets you can pre-order, plus concessions like any other major venue. The difference is these concession stands serve things like bánh mì and charcuterie plates.
Just note that parking is a nightmare at the Hollywood Bowl. So, make sure you take advantage of the many affordable options for getting to the venue without the stress of traffic and parking. If you stay at the Hotel Angeleno, you’re in luck: there is a Park & Ride just five minutes away in Westwood, with a direct shuttle that’s only $7 round trip.
After the Hollywood Bowl, head back to your hotel and enjoy a good night’s sleep, knowing you hit up three icons of the city in three different neighborhoods. There was no beach, no Walk of Fame, no wax museum—but you didn’t miss out on a thing, I promise!
And those things are fun, too, don’t get me wrong. If you have more time, you can and should experience them all—but make sure to include a classic L.A. day. An itinerary like this one provides a well-rounded experience with the vibrancy, culture, and relaxation we L.A. natives know and love.