Los Angeles: Mini Guide

Last fall, I wrote our personal Guide to NYC. But a few readers have also asked about our thoughts about LA, where we go every Christmas to visit Alex’s family. We LOVE LA–and the sunny skies, taco trucks and dudes on skateboards. So, even though we’re far from experts, I figured I’d share our favorite places in the city, and most of all I’d love to hear yours…

Where we stay in LA:

Los Angeles is peppered with cool neighborhoods, but we always choose to stay in either Santa Monica or Venice, so we can be by the beach!

1. We love the Oceana hotel (photos above), which I’ve raved about before. The Santa Monica hotel overlooks the beach, and you can swim in their huge pool, surrounded by comfy chairs and a fireplace in the evenings. Most of all, the service is impeccable. The friendly reception staff will greet you by name every time you walk in–which makes it feel like you’re staying with old friends.

2. We rented this cool Venice cottage during our babymoon trip before Toby was born. You can easily ride bikes to the beach and go to one of the delicious restaurants nearby. They also have a little outdoor space, where you can hang in the evenings and drink wine in the breezy ocean air. Note: It’s apparently on a somewhat dodgy street in Venice, we’ve been told by locals; but we felt perfectly safe while staying there. (FYI, these cottages also look cool.)

3. Recently we stayed in this wonderful rambling Victorian house on a “walk street” in Venice–which means it faces a quiet tree-lined sidewalk instead of a street. We loved the charming old character of the home–as well as the ridiculously comfy king bed. Toby liked the back garden (with a hot tub!), where he spent ages playing with his toy trucks and an old-fashioned top! Bonus: You can walk one block to the beach, or one block to Abbott Kinney–this place is perfectly located.

Where to eat:

For lunch in Santa Monica and Venice…
* Huckleberry Cafe. The best salads, sandwiches, soups, desserts. I could eat here everyday.
* Thyme Cafe. Go for the chocolate-chip cookies!!!!!!!
* Blue Plate Oysterette. Fish tacos in a breezy little nautical restaurant across from the beach.
* Abbot’s Pizza. Stop by for a slice of their famous salad pizza.

For dinner in Venice…
* Gjelina. Dark, sceney, fun vibe; sexy lighting. A fire pit in the back garden. You can go for lunch, too, when it’s a bit calmer. Also, they recently opened a take-out storefront, next door, which is awesome for picnics or an easy dinner at home.
* The Tasting Kitchen. We had such a romantic date here. Dark, lovely. Don’t miss the bread pudding.
* Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. A pop-up restaurant in Venice. Bustling and fun, laid-back in a cool way, rich flavorful dishes, great wine list.

What to do:

* Walk up and down Abbott Kinney, the main drag in Venice. Tons of cool little shops, bookstores and cafes.
* Stop by the Santa Monica’s Farmer’s Market on the weekends, which has live music, ponies for kids to ride, and delicious hot Mexican egg dishes.
* Visit the Getty Center. Just look at these photos!
* Admire views of the city from the Observatory, especially bathed in the golden light of the early evening.
* Drive to Malibu, which is about 30 minutes away from Santa Monica and Venice. Paradise Cove restaurant is an old-school tourist favorite, but it’s still awesome–you can share an enormous plate of calamari, drink a pint of beer, and then race each other on the beach! :)
* Walk on the beach in Venice and Santa Monica. You’ll pass cool swingsets along the beach that are so tall, they’re thrilling even for grown-ups. And you can rent bikes (there are rental places all along the beach) and ride down the (awesomely long) bike path on the water.
* Play games on the Santa Monica pier (although it freaked Toby out). You can ride the ferris wheel for panoramic views of the city, play whack-a-mole (my mom is a surprise genius at it), and watch the surfers to your heart’s content.

Have you ever been to L.A., or do you live there? Any favorite restaurants or tips? I’d love to hear…These are our favorite places, but we’re just once-a-year visitors! xoxo

(Photos by Jenna Park, Yolanda Edwards, and courtesy of the restaurants and hotels)

  1. Wow, thankyou for taking your time to write your great review on la,Santa Monica where I lived
    For several years. It was heartwarming to read and see
    About my old haunts?
    I loved it till I was in the 6.5 earthquake and I eventually ran
    Back to New England ,but your write up has me yearning to grab my husband & head back!
    Oh! I have missed the beauty of Santa Monica beach and those
    Incredible sunset and rises. Thanks,Joanie

  2. Really enjoyed reading this posts
    All of the images are eye-catching
    I love Los Angeles
    Thanks for sharing Information

  3. Los Angeles really is a place where you can forge your own path. There are so many lifestyles and subcultures that exist in our urban ecosystem. If you are a foodie, we have that. If you like media and fashion, we are the capital. If you want something cultural, we have many unique museums. Want to walk around? Actually LA has some incredible walkable neighborhoods (Melrose, Arts District, Sunset, Westwood/Sawtelle). I like the Westside recommendations but there definitely go out and venture further into the city!

  4. I used to live just 30 miles east of LA (now in Chicago). I recently went back and visited Venice, CA and I instantly fell in love with Abbot Kinney! Also, Plancha Tacos is worth trying in Venice.

    I’m coming back for a visit next month and can’t wait to try some of these other things you’ve mentioned!

  5. The list of things to do in Los Angeles is as long as the city is vast. If your time in town is limited, you could spend days in the museums alone, and never make your way to Hollywood. Hit up Venice beach, but don’t miss out on a hip eastside ‘hood. Finding the Cheapest Hotels in Los Angeles is hard. You need to check the rates and your budget as soon as you plan to stay there.

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  18. Hey Jo!
    I literally read you every day but hardly comment.
    I’m originally from LA and a transplant to Seattle and everyone time someone asks me for tips for LA I send them a template email I have for all my faves (including ticket hook ups for Conan, Ellen, and DWTS since I used to work in Reality TV) and then your Mini Guide. The pictures sum it up perfectly. Thank you for this amazing post!

    I just got engaged over Easter and to announce our engagement to our Santa Monica friends we were going to stay at our standard Viceroy but I remembered your guide and we decided to stay at the Oceana! Kate Jerkens there updated us to a grande suite to help celebrate and breakfast by the pool at the Oceana was so classy and comfy it made us feel at home again. We were so happy we listened to your rec!

    Our friends are leaving for LA next weekend and I sent them your guide and they plan to do everything on it! Thanks again.

    Here’s photos of our LA party at the Viceroy, a hotel you should check out too!!/media/set/?set=a.10100834083851173.2843190.10226928&type=3

  19. How fun! I live in Orange County but love to visit LA. Your travel guides are so fun – I just visited NYC for the first time this month and loved it! You really must add Father’s Office to your food list…such a great burger!

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  21. For an out-of-towner, you hit some great places in Venice and Santa Monica. You should venture east on your next trip. West Third Street has great boutiques and restaurants. Others have mentioned Joans on Third, and it is one of my favorites too. You should try her NY Breakfast Sandwich. As someone who has lived in NY and LA, there is no other breakfast sandwich like it in either city. On that same strip of Third Street you can also hit El Carmen for margaritas, AOC for wine, Simple Things for miniature pies and Magnolia for a cupcake if you’re feeling homesick. New Stone Age, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Cloud Noir, Plastica D.L. Rhein, and O.K. are all great stops for shopping. If you keep walking you’ll hit the Farmer’s Market where you can get grab albondigas (meatball) tacos at Loteria and a glass of wine at Monsieur Marcel and the Grove where you can marvel at all of the consumerism and people who think (1) an outdoor mall is a destination, (2) a good place for dogs in clothes, and (3) who take photographs in front of fountains.

    Some other favorites: Friday night jazz at LACMA and a cocktail at Stark Bar; brunch at Salt’s Cure; a meal at Campanile just for the architecture (it used to be Charlie Chaplin’s old offices – if you’re there on a Thursday try it on Grilled Cheese night); cheese or pasta at Cube on La Brea; seafood and cocktails at the Hungry Cat (I prefer the one in Hollywood but there is one in Santa Monica too if you’re sticking to the coast); the random art installations at Royal/T Cafe; Golden State for burgers, beers and mellow atmosphere; Korean BBQ at Park’s or Soot Bull Jeep; the Melrose Trading Post (flea market) on Sunday mornings; and Angelini Osteria for Italian.

    I also agree with those who told you to try Phillipe’s and Pink’s – total LA institutions.

  22. I’m a native Angeleno (3rd generation! There aren’t too many of us!) and I love the areas you described. Next time you’re in Santa Monica, you should try Pier Burger, on the Santa Monica Pier (very similar to Shake Shack ONLY AT THE BEACH) and Milo and Olive in SaMo. The Getty Villa in Malibu is also worth a visit.

    I myself am an Eastside girl (though I work on the Westside — I’m bisidal that way), and I’m lucky enough to call Pasadena home. It’s worth the drive (Only about 30 minutes on weekends) to visit the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens — an amazing Japanese garden, Chinese garden, Desert cactus garden, and (our favorite) children’s garden, with plenty of toddler-height fountains to splash in and tunnels to run through.

    As for food, I prefer the Hollywood Farmer’s Market (Sunday mornings Ivar and Selma off of Sunset near Cahuenga). It’s a little funkier than Santa Monica, and I think the produce is actually better. You should eat at Pizzeria Mozza after. And Downtown LA has so much to offer right now in terms of restaurants, the Disney Concert Hall, and other fun stuff!

  23. This is such a great post and comment thread! We are moving to Santa Monica with our 2 year old son Wolfie and our 4 month old son West next month. Beyond excited to know the city if angels better! Thanks for all the great inspiration everyone :-)

  24. The next time you go, you should head to Sweet Lady Jane, which is, in my humble opinion, the best dessert place on the planet. The one I always went to was on Melrose a little west of Fred Segal but they have one in Santa Monica (on Montana) now, too.

    I lived in LA for several years before I moved to New York. There are too many great desserts to mention but just a couple…

    Their Italian wedding cake, which we happened to have at our wedding. (It was actually the first dessert I ever tried there!)

    And their tiramisu. I am not even a big fan of tiramisu but theirs is extraordinary. They only serve it every other Friday though. One of my favorite SLJ memories is sitting outside with my sister sipping wine and eating tiramisu straight out of a giant trifle bowl. (I had it specially prepared for her birthday, at her request! : )

    Triple berry cake… I know that’s more than a couple but it’s hard to stop!

  25. I grew up about an hour east of LA and went to college in LA and while I was there, I…hated LA. But that was because I never went south of Wilshire and North of Sunset. Why should I when Diddy Reese (best ice cream sandwiches for $1!) was right.there. But when I graduated and moved south of Wilshire, I gradually fell in love with the city as I began to explore beyond the borders of Westwood. Santa Monica/Venice is also my favorite neighborhood of LA but there are treasures all around the city! However, to your credit, a weekend in LA is best spent exploring one neighborhood because there is simply too much to do here! And before you know it, you’re rushing from brunch in Santa Monica to a craft fair in Downtown to drinks on the Westside and then to dinner in Culver City and then back to Venice for some bar hopping. Talk about sick of being in a car! It’s tough keeping up with the Kardashians ;) But honestly, LA is a city with anything for anyone. Whoever you are and wherever you come from, there will always be a niche neighborhood for you. A lot of people come here and just feel lost. It’s a big sprawling city with not very good guidance so sometimes, you just have to know where to look for things. I should add that I’ve lived here for 10 years with no car and good friends with cars and a bike! I always recommend people taking the bus around since it’s a cheap and stress-free way of seeing the city through a local’s point of view, if you’re in no rush and enjoy hearing Spanish and can sometimes withstand uncleaniless. AND you don’t have to drive around for an extra 30 minutes looking for parking or pay $234489 for valet. You pass through multiple neighborhoods and can get off anywhere and take it back home.

    There are a million things I could say about LA but for tourists, here are some good bus lines that run on major streets for minimal lostness (fare is $1.50):
    The 20/720 (express) will take you all the way from Santa Monica through Rodeo Drive and Koreatown to Downtown on Wilshire.
    The 2/302 (express) will take you along the PCH and then Sunset, from the Pacific Palisades to Downtown. I usually just get off around Hollywood.
    And the 4/704 (express) will take you along Santa Monica Blvd from Santa Monica through Echo Park/Silverlake (the Brooklyn of LA) to Downtownish.

    I hope I’ve sold some people on this even though LA is all shiny cars on TV. Be safe and have fun!

    And some personal can’t-misses:
    -Original Farmer’s Market at Fairfax/3rd
    -Hiking at Temescal Canyon and either a picnic on the lawn there or brunch at Mick’s Cafe after a nice long hike

    • grace b says...

      browsing old threads before I head to LA in 10 days and saving your comments about the bus routes (will verify in advance tho) thank you from an internet stranger!

  26. Anonymous says...

    This isn’t meant to be offensive, but this is really a mini-guide to the beach towns in Los Angeles County. I wouldn’t say Los Angeles (AT ALL) or even the West Side since that includes Westwood and Brentwood as well.

    Sorry to be so nitpicky, but since Los Angeles is so spread out, it really would be incorrect to call this a mini Los Angeles guide. Especially considering that Santa Monica and Venice consider themselves to be separate cities within the county, and that the part of the city that considers itself Los Angeles can be an hour away depending on traffic.

    It’s just that this guide is kind of misleading to anyone who doesn’t live in LA or has never been. Obviously, I’ve been born and raised in LA, and am very protective of the city.

  27. I live in LA and you’re more of an LA resident than I am. Sadly…because it’s so spread out…alot of the time I feel like a tourist myself. Thanks for your expertise.

    I plan on making NY my home very soon though. :)

  28. I live in awesome L.A and I’d recommend

    The Apple Pan, great burger joint (cash only)
    Fresh Corn Grill, amazing corn salad and chicken citrus sandwich
    Korean BBQ in Korea Town
    The Oinkster in Eagle Rock, perhaps a little of a drive if you’re off the coast but really good!
    Masa Resturant in Echo Park, great Chicago deep dish pizza (in my opinion it rivals og Chicago pizza

    Tourist spots–
    With kids, the Skirball, a life size Noah’s ark! and Griffith Park has a train ride, pony rides, and it s near the L.A. zoo
    Norton Simeon Museum in Pasadena
    2nd sunday of the month flea market in Pasadena

  29. michelleb says...

    I live in Santa Monica and have a 15 month old little guy. All of the above suggestions are great and spot-on. Here is couple more I would suggest:

    Will Rogers State Park (Pacific Palisades) – A beautiful park with a variety of activities for the family as well as great views. There is a huge expanse of lawn with former golf sand pits (now used by the little ones as sandboxes) as well as a polo field where busy little ones can roam and play. There is a fantastic hike up to inspiration point that is fairly low key and offers really amazing views of the South Bay as well as Catalina Island on a clear day. My husband, son and I often go for a family hike, then pack a picnic and hang out on the grass while our little guy plays in the sand. The one downside is that parking is $10. During the week you can park on residential streets but on the weekend it’s off limits so you might have to pay and park in the lot.

    Il Ristorante di Giorgio Baldi (Santa Monica)- This place is one of the best italian restaurants ever! It’s not for kids but great for a romantic dinner. My husband and I call their gnocchi ‘little pillows of heaven’ and their ravioli is a-mazing. Also, I think every wine I’ve ever tried there is outstanding. It’s a bit pricey but well worth it for a special occasion.

  30. This couldn’t have come at a better time!! My husband and I are planning a trip to LA for our 5 year anniversary in May! Thanks for the tips!!

  31. I’ve lived in Los Angeles (east side, Silverlake) for the past six years, and it’s nice to hear people admitting how great it is. There are so many people who badmouth LA (usually tourists who show up here with no idea what to do besides Disneyland, the beach and Mann’s Chinese, so all they encounter are other tourists and spend all their time driving across town, or people who think reality TV idiots represent more than just a minority group here), but there are literally hundreds of things you could choose to do any given day in the greater LA area. I have also never been healthier in my life since moving to Los Angeles, where you can be outside in warm sunlight nearly every day and many people hike, bike and eat fresh produce year-round.

    There’s so much more than just the beach cities at the coast. To the east, further inland we have charming hillside neighborhoods and mountains, parks, farmers’ markets, all sorts of connected towns and the entire gamut of people from all over the world (there are neighborhoods called Little Ukraine, Koreatown, Little Armenia, Little Ethiopia… that’s how diverse an area we’re talking about and you can get ANY kind of food), also the spooky desert to explore on the other side of the mountains or many other cities (like Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Tijuana) within daytripping distance. I love LA!

  32. I LOVE Los Angeles. I used to live in Santa Monica and it’s such an amazing place. I’d love to go back someday soon!

  33. This L.A. Guide will be helpful for my vacation to California this summer. Thanks for sharing!

  34. I love LA and can’t wait to try out your suggestions next trip. One of my favorite spots there is the inexpensive Loteria Grill – usually we go to the Hollywood location. Get a michelada.

    Also The Hotel Cafe is a fun place to hear live music. Some of the shows are only $10.

  35. Very good list — especially Gjelina. It’s my favorite restaurant in LA now that Evan Kleinman’s Angeli is shuttered.

    We live in Santa Barbara now but I miss all of my favorite places in LA — I would add vanilla bake shop and the fathers office…oh and Wurstkuche…the village idiot is fun at night but it gets kind of loud.

    Silverlake/Downtown/WeHo are amazing too!!

  36. So glad you mentioned renting houses/cottages in Venice! I stayed in someone’s guest house on a walk street for $130/night–hard to beat that kind of rate. Privacy and personality, all a few blocks from the action. I definitely like to check craigslist for vacation rentals instead of staying at a chain hotel!

  37. isabug, what on earth do you mean? UCLA is in an EXTREMELY nice part of town. It’s USC that’s not. That’s a local irony–the state school is in some of the most expensive neighborhoods in town, and the expensive private school is in what is now a rough area.

  38. You all need to venture east! Santa Monica/Venice takes up such a small percentage of such a big city. It lacks character and is constantly being torn down and rebuilt. Go visit historical Los Angeles, head downtown, or just take Sunset Blvd from the beach inland until it ends. There is so much more to see and experience!

  39. My aunt and uncle live close to LA and I’ve been there a few times…this guide made me want to go back!! :)

  40. Emily says...

    Five generations of my family have lived in LA (for an Angelena born & raised there, that’s pretty good going!) I think LA gets a lot of flak from people who don’t like it (usually because they wind up visiting tourist trap areas like Hollywood) — but having lived in NYC, London, Paris, and many other places around the world, it’s still probably my favourite city — there’s just so much to do there, and it’s constantly evolving.

    I always recommend Santa Monica, Malibu, Pasadena, Griffith Park and downtown LA for first time visitors (not a huge fan of Venice myself, I’m afraid)… having worked too at the Getty, LACMA and studied at the Huntington Library they’re top of my list too.

    When I go back home Philippe’s, the Grand Central Food Market, and the Reel Inn in Malibu are my comfort chow spots, although you will NEVER go hungry or unhappy food-wise in my beloved city!!

  41. Anonymous says...

    nice and very interestin location, i love los angles it is very interesting place thansk for informtion keep it nice posting,
    i have bookmark your site becase it is favourite to me,….

  42. I live in LA and love it. my favorite spots to eat- Elf in Echo Park (all veggie and the sweetest romantic little space in town) and Figaro Cafe in Los Feliz (the most authentic French place in town you’d swear you’re in Paris). I live near Larchmont Village. it’s cute, walkable, and full of shops, restaurants, and coffee spots. love it!

  43. I grew up in LA and now live in Austin and miss LA so much! Some of my favorite spots in LA are the Observatory (both night and day are beautiful), Barnsdall Art Park (beautiful view and the Hollyhock House), Larchmont Village (I’m loath to mention this because I love it too much), LACMA, Little Tokyo, Koreatown (yum- delicious food and bars open all night).. I could go on and on. The Standard downtown is beautiful at night and I love seeing the lights and billboards on Vine Blvd. in Hollywood. And lastly, no trip to LA is good without a visit to In-N-Out!

    Sometimes here in Austin I’ll read Yelp reviews of In-N-Out.. *cries*

  44. We lived in Santa Monica and Venice fr many years before moving to the O.C., but you’ve listed a few places I didn’t know of! Really missing it now. Great list.

  45. gjelina in venice is to die for.

    i was 5 months pregnant when I ate there, and maybe it was the hormones, but it was divine.

    the frites alone…

    this calls for another plane ticket to visit my childhood best friend…

  46. the cottage is so cute. it’s like your on your very own space. quite nice. and gosh so many things to do there. i hope one of these days L.A. will be my next stop! :-) thanks for all the heads up!


  47. I live in LA county (close to Pasadena) and want to try and experience it more than I currently do, since there’s so much here to do. It’s fun to be a “tourist” in your own city sometimes.

  48. this is awesome, thanks so much for posting this! we are going to LA next month, and are staying at the oceana per your recommendation. now, i’m so happy for all these other tips on fun things to do and places to eat. thanks jo!

  49. I simply adore L.A. Even though I live in Miami, and grew up in Portland, OR (two great towns!) I would move there in a heart beat if I could manage it.

    I am not a genius at Whack-a-Mole, but I did win (on my third try) and took home a lovely pink Domo doll. He sits in my guest room and is such a cheery reminder of a great town.

  50. We are planning a trip to LA in June (my husband and I and two small kids) so this post is PERFECTLY timed! We are still trying to find lodging… I may check out the home you stayed in – those cottages are adorable but they look like they are all one bedroom. Thanks for the recos!

  51. I love love love Gjelina! And now the Tasting Kitchen thanks to you! Huckleberry as well (maple bacon biscuits-yum!). You and I love the same foods! I’ll make sure to email you any other great gems I run across!

  52. I love living in Santa Monica!

    Other delish places to eat:
    – Rustic Canyon. Owned by the people who bring you Huckleberry
    – Urth Caffe on Main St. is an absolute must. It’s great for brunch, hot chocolate, tea and Spanish lattes!
    – Tender Greens. There are several locations in LA, but the people are super friendly at the SaMo locale…incredible salads, veggies and their ahi tuna is insanely good
    -Father’s Office. Beer and burgers. ’nuff said!
    -Holy Guacamole on Main is a perf spot for tacos before walking over to the beach.
    -Marmalade on Montana is sure to please anyone, and their dessert case is sublime.
    -Not far from Santa Monica, you’ll find the Brentwood Country Mart (Sugar Paper for cards and such, and Cafe Luxxe for the bestest coffee. The Huckleberry people strike again with their Sweet Rose Creamery)

  53. I went to college in LA, so I miss all the cheap and/or divey spots I frequented at that time in my life. California Chicken Cafe, Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles, Lucy’s El Adobe…many others that haven’t survived. Plus the original food trucks – roach coaches! Yep, freaked me out at first, but they serve the best breakfast burritos.

    The Getty is great, both for the art and the unbeatable views. But I also love the Norton Simon in Pasadena, and Huntington Gardens.

  54. Anonymous says...

    Two favorites with kids — Olivera Street, (it’s got the oldest house in LA) and the Tar Pit Museum.

  55. Oh so many places and so little time. LA has a lot to offer and quite honestly I think the food is even better than what’s being offered in SF (home), eeks!I live on the westside so thats what Im reppin below.

    Culver City musts: Father’s Office, best damn burger in this town. Alibi Room, tacos are yum and good cocktail selection,IPA’s on tap too.
    Sakura, sushi spot on Centinela. Its constantly packed and delicious. Closed on Mondays
    Kat and Dave’s Cantina has amazing happy hour in downtown Culver.
    City Tavern, also in dwtn Culver. Great beer selection.
    Bigfoot Lodge, yuuum drinks. Also one in my hometown :)

    Venice: Abbott Kinney has so much amazing food. I think the best however is my tried and true Gjelina, I’ve had brunch and somehow managed to get in for dinner (after the 2 hour well worth it wait)
    Next door is Gjelina to-go, pastries, small sandwiches, coffee.
    Hal’s, great turkey burger, great drinks.
    Mao’s Kitchen, Chinese restaurant on Pacific and quite good. Open until 3 or 4am, sounds strange but I promise its good!
    Chaya on Main Street, total meat market :) Good drinks especially jalapeno margarita! Check out the happy hour menu-well worth it.

    Santa Monica, I know I know everyone is always here. Urth Cafe, please try the Spanish Latte.
    Stella Rosa, another must.
    M-Street Kitchen, I love the brunch!
    BOA Steakhouse, if you feel the need to splurge on some amazing food then this is the place, directly across from the beach. More of a special occasion night.

    Downtown LA, I really have only been to some of the bars including Seven Grand (Whiskey bar), The Edison, Casey’s, the Library, J Bar. I love downtown so check it out.

  56. Anonymous says...

    I grew up in LA and, it’s so funny, I had my 13th birthday party at oceania (before it was renovated i think ;) my mom rented out a suite and I had about 10 girls there– it was so fun! Also, salad pizza at abbot’s its my absolute favorite!


  57. It’s really interesting to see what people do in L.A., on vacation or when they’ve just moved here. I think people need to diversify a bit more. L.A. is more than just the westside and the beaches. Or eateries. L.A. is huge. I think you should get in your car and just get out there! I’ve seen some diverse lists (Katie O. , Mrs. P. Vega). Staying in one location is about 1/1000th of the possibilities that exist in L.A. The beaches are a nice thing to do, but it’s just the first step to learning about the city. However if you don’t have access to a car, I understand.

    For a native’s perspective(my sister’s/mine by association):

    For a good website:

    and once you are here and want to know about events:

    Glad I got that off my chest ;)

  58. Venice and Santa Monica are great, but I’d encourage any L.A. area visitors to venture beyond the Westside–there’s so much more to the city!

  59. LA Is definitely one of those cities you have to find the right little pocket that fits or personality – I love (and live) in the Los Feliz/Atwater Village/Silverlake ara and there is no shortage of great eats, lovely shops and creativity.

    Happy to share a top 10 list the next time you come out!

  60. I love that you can live in LA for years and still uncover new gems everyday. I love these reader suggestions and can’t wait to check them out!
    Some of my favs are…
    THE ABANDONED ZOO IN GRIFFITH PARK -perfect for a picnic and exploring the old grounds. They do (free!) Shakespeare in the Park there in the summer.
    THE BOB BAKER MARIONETTE THEATER- You don’t have to be a kid to dig this trippy puppet show and they do an awesome bday presentation that will delight any kid or embarrass your grown up friends ;)
    THE RED LION TAVERN -awesome German beer garden AND fried pickles!
    THE MUSEUM OF JURASSIC TECHNOLOGY- Already mentioned – totally seconded.
    DEVIL’S NIGHT DRIVE IN -Bi-monthly downtown drive in on top of a parking garage- with LA Derby Dolls skating snacks over to your car!
    VELASLAVASAY PANORAMA -Insanely cool old-timey panorama with a sweet little garden out back.
    CLIFTONS CAFETERIA: Woodland theme-d cafeteria in the heart of downtown- complete with fishing bears, little ponds, and a tiny chapel. (Under renovation currently)
    LAST REMAINING SEATS: If you’re in LA for the May/June months you should def try to score tickets to the LA Conservancy’s classic movie showings in the historic old and GORGEOUS theaters downtown.

    I could go on and on…I love it here.

  61. Great post!! Definitely keeping them especially the tips on the rental cottages! Thanks!

  62. Have recently moved to U.S. from Ireland with my husband and 3 boys. Cali is on the hit list this summer. We wondered how realistic it would be to take the boys to L.A., this has just answered all of our questions. Cannot wait to book !

  63. What a great collection of suggestions! I feel like all my favorite places are well represented in these comments. LA represent!

    Next time you’re in town you should definitely check out one of Roy Choi’s restaurants. A-Frame is my personal favorite (the beer can chicken, house cured pickles and the furikake popcorn are awesome!) but Chego and Sunny Spot are also amazing and the Kogi Truck is a major highlight of the LA Food Truck Scene.

    For coffee, I would suggest checking out Luxxe Cafe on Montana and Balconi Coffee on Olympic. Luxxe has a great all around selection and Balconi does GREAT Siphon coffee and an almond latte that is totally distinct and delicious.

    Also, if you’re feeling like you want to stretch your legs there are some great urban hikes available at the Secret Stairs website ( and in the book. You’ll make use of some of the hundreds of secret stairways that allowed pedestrians in the 1920’s to traverse their hillside neighborhoods easier and to access the public transit lines. The Music Box Loop in Silverlake is really fun.

    And if you’re ever in town when CicLAvia is happening then you simply MUST come and bike around the 10 miles of closed streets downtown. It’s LA’s biggest block party! The bike ride down the Balona Creek Wetland is also super fun and puts you within pedaling distance of Father’s Office and a bus ride (#33) back to Venice.

    Plus the Expo Line is opening on April 28th so getting downtown from Culver City will be a breeze.

    Ah, LA, I love you so!

  64. Anonymous says...

    I live in LA! Spot on Abbot’s salad pizza it’s a westside favorite of mine!!

    Eastside favs: for classic hollywood scenes Chateau Marmont and the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel and while the best hiking is probably in Malibu, Runyon Canyon in Hollywood is where people go to see and be scene while they’re getting their work out in.

    Joan’s on 3rd is a fantastic little lunch spot– LA’s version of Dean and Deluca with delicious sandwiches and a fantastic cheese selection in the gourmet market. And just down the street is some of the best food in LA at Son of a Gun. I also love Osteria Mozza and Terroni for getting my pasta fix on. And I absolutely love the Melrose and Fairfax flea market every Sunday.

    For a fun night out try LA’s new Bagatelle, same fun supper party with yummy French food, music, Champagne popping, and hijinks. Another fun scene is Mr. C’s, LA’s Cipriani outpost.

  65. My mom is from LA and I grew up just south of the city. She educated us in the historical spots of Los Angeles, and so I comprised a little travel guide highlighting some of these places on my blog The Thirteenth. See here:

    I also recommend staying at the Avalon Hotel, eating at Bottega Louie, and exploring the garment district.

  66. I went to USC and my favorite places in LA were always the restaurants (oops) –

    1. Joan’s on 3rd (between the Grove and the Bev Center on 3rd street) – best chinese chicken salad ever. Becoming a little more “trendy” since celebs go there but it’s worth trying out for sure.

    2. Fred 62’s in Los Feliz – THE BEST spicy thai salad. Amazing.

  67. I grew up just north of LA, I’m up in San Francisco now – I can’t tell you how much I miss the weather and the beach! Malibu is also a great place to stay in the LA area, it’s a beautiful community a bit north of city proper. Studio City is also a great neighborhood for shopping.

  68. AP says...

    I can’t believe only one other person has mentioned the south bay! I live in Playa Del Rey, a hidden little neighborhood inside the Ballona Wetlands, just north of Manhattan/Hermosa/Redondo Beach. These beach communities, “The South Bay” are my favorite part of the LA area. Walk/bike/dog/baby friendly, chock full of adorable boutiques, delicious restaurants, and ALL with ocean views. My sister and I take my 4 month old in the stroller to Uncle Bill’s pancakes weekly. It’s just a unique California experience, pancakes outside in the middle of the winter, with your baby in the stroller and a view of the waves. Can’t be beat :)

  69. This comment has been removed by the author.

  70. awesome, thank you! we are thinking of going to LA for our honeymoon (my fiance is from there) but were worried about hoteling it for as long as we want to stay! These cottages are amazing.

  71. Anonymous says...

    I agree with The Search for J Street and Mr.s P Vega – this mini guide is for the Westside, not really L.A.! Santa Monica and Venice are nice places to visit (and live), but by leaving out every other region in Los Angeles you’re only getting one small taste of what LA has to offer. (You wouldn’t write a guide to NY but only include places in Williamsburg, right?) Be sure to check out Midcity/Miracle Mile for the LACMA and La Brea Tar Pits/Page Museum, the Huntington Gardens near Pasadena, Downtown LA for the monthly Art Walk and the Natural History Museum (dinos! insects! more!) on First Fridays, and Silver Lake, Eagle Rock, Los Feliz for some great bars and delicious eats.

  72. I live in LA now–I’m about to embark on year number 2 here. Santa Monica is absolutely my favorite area, and I’d live there if it weren’t so expensive. Main Street in Santa Monica is one of my favorite spots! There are amazing (and affordable!) boutiques, as well as cheap & good mani-pedis. Next time you’re back you should try M Street Kitchen or Stella Rosa for pizza. Two of my favorite little spots!


  73. I live in LA. More specifically, I live in the “South Bay” which is the beach city area just south of LAX. It’s a slightly quieter, less traffic-y beach scene with just as much culture and good eats. My favorite restaurants are Fritto Misto, El Burrito Jr., and Izaka-Ya.

    Things to do: Beach, beach, beach. Surfing, play volleyball, ride beach cruisers, sit and read a book. Haha.

  74. I lived in LA for 3 and half years in the late 90s, but haven’t been back since I left to move to Denmark.

    I have been thinking of organizing a family trip sometime in the next year or so, and this post will definitely come in handy!

    Especially since I was a young workaholic when I lived there, so in my rare time off, when I wasn’t catching up on sleep, I would go to the movies, or to Universal Studios, or shopping at the Glendale Galleria or the Garment District, or if I had the whole day off, to Newport Beach.

    Needless to say, your list is much more fun now that I am an adult :-)

  75. Anonymous says...

    I was born, raised, and go to college in LA (go USC!) and there are so many places to visit!

    Some that I can think from the top of my head:

    There are many hiking opportunities in LA (Chantry Flats, Brand Library, Eaton Canyon, Hollywood Hills etc).

    If you want to see something scenic – beautiful flora and fauna – visit the Arboretum in Arcadia. And while you’re in Arcadia, visit the Santa Anita Racetrack.

    Old Town Pasadena has some great stores, restaurants, and cafes as well and is a must when visiting the LA area.

  76. I just recently moved to LA and I am always trying to find cool and different places to go eat besides the cheesecake factory! The restaurants you posted sound really cool! Great Post!


  78. I live in LA. By far, my favorite place to visit is the Griffith Park Observatory. I’m happy to see you mentioned it in your guide! Have you been to any of the planetarium shows? It is absolutely breathtaking! My favorite is Centered in the Universe. It is so amazing, it makes me cry every time (happy tears).

    And, of course, the views!

  79. When I moved to LA over ten years ago my post-grunge peers and parents alike asked me, why? Why would you want to move there. Not to become a movie star, but really all the reasons you outlined and more.

    Your post was unintentionally an affirmation of a what now feels like a lifetime ago. Brought tears to my eyes, but in a good way.

    Anywhere in LA early in the morning at about sunrise was my favorite place to be.

  80. I’ve never been to LA outside of the airport (one time I was stranded there for awhile on my way home to Seattle. My flight got re-routed from Korea, and then the plane tickets didn’t match up…it was cray cray). But I would love to visit one day, it’s so close! Thanks for your guide! :)


  81. H says...

    Joanna I love this post! I love Cali and since I haven’t been in a while I will definitely take your recommendations into consideration next time I plan a trip!

  82. Meg says...

    Go to Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica (Lincoln and Colorado) and order a Godmother sandwich…the best sandwich you will ever have!! GREAT spot to pick up lunch while enjoying a beach day…

  83. Anonymous says...

    Langers for a great pastrami dip with nippy cheese and The Pantry. They have such a cool story!

  84. Thanks for the list. I live in Santa Monica, so I love all the places you featured in my neck of the woods! You MUST, MUST, MUST take Toby to the Zimmer Museum, it has everything in kid size. Everything from a plane, kitchen, grocery store, you won’t be able to get him out of there! It is magical. It is closed Saturdays and Mondays.

    Also, other loves would be Father’s Office in Culver City, Stella Rosa on Main St in Santa Monica (saw Jessica Simpson there last week and the Burrata will change your life), a hike in Runyon Canyon, Hotel Cafe for the best acoustic music, Bottega Louie for the “it” restaurant (get the salted caramel macaron and you will be in heaven) and Wurstkuche (both in Venice and downtown for the most amazing sausage.

  85. I am in LA for the first time ever! Just arrived last night.. loving all of these suggestions!! Has anyone ever been to Palm Springs? I heard there are amazing spas..

  86. I recently went to LA (for my first time!) and stayed at Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar. I had stayed in one in Philadelphia and loved it and the LA hotel was no different! The staff is super friendly and there is a wine hour every day! Also a great price and it was on Selby Avenue, which is my last name.

    Very cool place though. Location might not be the best (UCLA), but we got around pretty easily.

  87. I was born and raised in LA and towards the end of my time there I started going to touristy places. I love the Getty, but the getty villa is by far my favorite, you have to make reservations, but still free and worth it.
    My favorite place to hike is solstice canyon right off of PCH.
    My favorite place to read a book and just take in teh beautiful city is Greystone Mansion as seen at the end of Amazing Race #17. It is completely free and sometimes hard to find but My mom and I use to spend all day there. Those are my top 3 places to visit. Love Inn-n-out too, favorite menu item is the grileld cheese and animal style fries.

  88. I live in LA and need to try some of these places! Another restaurant to add to your list is Tavern in Brentwood – it has a great brunch and happy hour menu (at a reasonable price), and while the dinner is expensive it’s worth trying (I mean, our President ate there when he visited!).

    mon amy

  89. I was there in 2008, so can’t remember the names of any specific restaurant or place…

    But for a European without driver’s licence it was a pleasant suprise to discover walking neighborhoods like Santa Monica (where I stayed).

    I also liked UCLA campus, one of the most beautiful campus areas I have ever seen in my life.

  90. If you like the Getty Center, you must take a trip to the Getty Villa in malibu as well! It’s a mini getaway to a Roman paradise.

    Father’s Office in Culver City has awesome burgers. The Counter as well- you can build your own burger from tons of different and unique toppings.

    I know it’s over rated but Urth Cafe does have delicious coffee. I also love King’s Road Cafe in the Beverly area.

    The Hammer Museum near UCLA is usually overlooked but has some of the best art shows in town.

    And my family’s favorite spot in Venice/Santa Monica is the Library Ale House on Main St.

    My absolute favorite spot in LA though is the Central Library downtown. The Children’s area is AMAZING. My friend and I spent endless hours here growing up. It’s really worth the trip and once a month they have book sales too. There’s the Library Bar downtown as well for some adult time after.

    I could go on and on…

  91. Jo, this is just what I needed. We’re planning a trip to L.A and New York this year (we live in London, UK) as the boyfriend has never been to either and I’ve been on the hunt for great places to visit.

    I always prefer to rely on word of mouth or ‘word of blog’ rather than travel books because they never seem to recommend anything that’s too far off the beaten track.

    Looking forward to exploring you recommendations.


  92. Hi Jo. I live in Pacific Palisades, a small sleepy town between Santa Monica and Malibu. If you like Huckleberry, you must try Milo + Olive, owned by the same couple. It is also in Santa Monica and it is wonderful. Community seating only but if you get lucky, you can sit at the bar and watch the chefs prepare the food for the day. Breakfast (the baked goods and eggs are to die for) and dinner (try the ricotta crostini) are not to be missed. Take care.

  93. I love LA! Venice, Santa Monica and the drive up to Malibu -including Paradise Cove- are some of my favorite options! I’ll keep in mind to rent a cottage in Venice Beach for next time! :) I would like to add Melrose Avenue as a great area for shopping! xoxo

  94. Viet says...

    I agree, these places aren’t really in Los Angeles proper, but great recommendations, nonetheless. There are a ton of great museums, for instance. I like Jenny’s list. You would definitely need a car to do it all though.

  95. I think Pizzeria Mozza and Son of a Gun should be on your eats list for next time. And, if you have a car to get to Arcadia, Din Tai Fung for the xiao long bao.

  96. I’m from Orange County, but live in Sherman Oaks now which is just over the hill forom Santa Monica. My FAVORITE place to eat is in Brentwood called Coral Tree on San VIcente! Westwood is also just next to the freeway and has some fun things like Diddy Reise where ice cream between two cookies for $1.50!
    I love SM, but have never really been down to Venice. One time you should fly in to Orange County airport and stay in Huntington Beach or Newport!

  97. I agree with Mrs. P Vega. While these are great suggestions, they are really really limited in a geographic sense. LA is so much bigger than the beaches. Joanna, your New York guide was well balanced, but this one leaves out so much. Next time you’re out here, you have to explore some new areas and see what you’re missing!

  98. Pitfire Pizza in Mar Vista is a hop, skip, and a jump away from Venice (which, let’s face it, cool as it may be, *is* a little dodgy), and is the best pizza this side of the 405. If you happen to venture east of the 405 for pizza, make it Batali’s Pizziera Mozza; it’s all the way in Hollywood, but worth the trek.

  99. Perfect timing – I am putting together a plan for a family trip to LA in the next few months! One thing that I LOVE about living today is the ability to get great recommendations on travel. No more silly out of date guide books pointing you in the direction of tourist traps!

  100. Jenny says...

    These are nice choices in Santa Monica and Venice, making this, more accurately, a mini guide to those two areas. There is a whole city out there to explore! A few of my favorites:

    –Malibu: Paradise Cove, the Getty Villa, and surfing (or surfer-watching) at Zuma!

    –West Hollywood/Hollywood: the Chateau Marmont (lunch in the garden), concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, hiking Runyon Canyon, Amoeba Music, shopping on Melrose, the Farmers Market (esp the Loteria Grill), and a ton of amazing restaurants including Mozza and Animal

    –Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park: long walks around the Silver Lake reservoir, LA Mill for coffee, Malo, Casbah Cafe, wine tastings at Silverlake Wine, Sunset Junction, Intelligentsia coffee, and the farmer’s market, the Griffith Observatory, Little Dom’s, Skylight Books, the Barnsdall Art Park, Echo Park Lake, El Prado, and tons of great music venues

    –Highland Park/Mt. Washington/Eagle Rock: the gorgeous leafy campus of Occidental College, Cafe Leche (with the sweetest kid/baby play area in the back), the York, the Oinkster, and a bunch of amazing taco stands and trucks including my favorite, La Estrella

    –Pasadena: the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center (so great for swimming, and great classes for babies & kids), the Rose Bowl Flea Market (overpriced but full of so much good stuff), Old Town (tons of shops and restaurants)

    –Downtown: the MOCA, Church & State (wonderful French bistro), the rooftop bar at the Standard (hit it early before it gets too cheesy — great views), Golden Gopher (fun bar), Bottega Louie (amazing Italian food in a huge, gorgeous space — has Dean & Deluca-esque takeaway market)

    I love LA!

  101. Agree with Mrs P Vega. Atwater Village, Eagle Rock, Silverlake areas also have so much to offer over on this side.

  102. I live in LA (near The Grove) and I absolutely love it! There’s always a different restaurant to try. Hopefully you’ll venture out into the Miracle Mile/ West Hollywood area next time! So many great restaurants & shops and it’s great for people watching :)

  103. I live in LA (near The Grove) and I absolutely love it! There’s always a different restaurant to try. Hopefully you’ll venture out into the Miracle Mile/ West Hollywood area next time! So many great restaurants & shops and it’s great for people watching :)

  104. Venice is awesome but personally I’m a fan of Culver City (but you do need a car to get there). Father’s Office has the best burger I’ve had anywhere (bacon marmalade!) + great beers, the Mandrake is a fantastic bar (Elijah Wood once dj’ed a soul night there!), the Culver City Ice Rink is retro-charming, and The Museum of Jurassic Technology is one of the best museums/galleries in the world! And I swear I don’t work for the Culver City Chamber Dept ;-)

  105. I’ve never been to the west coast, but my husband and I want to make a CA trip soon. Definitely going to be referring back to this post when we plan!

  106. All the above are fantastic places (just took my 2 year old daughter to the observatory yesterday)! As a westsider in l.a. one place you must check out is the Venice canals. Perhaps you’ve already stumbled upon them, they are just 2 blocks east of the venice pier. Great for lazy walks on a sunny day.

    Watching planes take off from the Santa Monica Airport is a great kid activity too (you can watch planes take off from just a few hundred ft away). Kids love it!

    As for restaurants, A.O.C. in the west hollywood area is amazing. Food, service, music, etc. is fantastic.

    I love your NYC guide, thanks for giving me something to daydream about. ~Stacy

  107. A really cute breakfast/brunch restaurant in Santa Monica is Jack & Jill.

    Great lunch and bottomless mimosas at World Cafe and then you can go shopping on Main Street.

    Love your blog!!!
    LA gal Jessica

  108. K says...

    Where to begin! I live in LA, and adore it. I’ve lived lots of other places, but this is by far my favorite.

    The beach towns might have walk streets, but the east side has hidden, overgrown stairways through the hills (made famous by Laurel and Hardy in The Music Box).

    I could describe a million little vignettes that would make anyone love LA (even maybe Avy above?), but it would take forever.

    So glad you love it too, Jo!

  109. My best friend is moving to LA! She was visiting friends out there and met a guy and two months later, she’s moving across the country for him. Sounds like a movie, huh? I am so sending her this!

  110. This is so helpful, thank you! We’re going to LA for our honeymoon, so I can’t wait to try some of these places out! It’ll be both of our first times there, so I’m excited to explore!

  111. I live in Santa Monica, a few blocks from the pier, and a few blocks from Main St. in Santa Monica. I would have to “ditto” everything that you mentioned, but I’m going to add a few of our faves, since we’re locals:

    – M Street Kitchen on Main St. (fleur de sel chocolate chip cookies, and the banana chocolate chip cookies)

    – Salvation Army on 11th and Olympic (the best thrift store on the west side…awesome finds, and some gorgeous vintage dresses)

    – Sunny Blue on Main St. (the best omusubi!)

    – Virginia Park and Clover Park for kids (besides the beach parks, which are great, these parks offer an awesome time for little ones. Virginia Park has an amazing toddler and older park, things that twirl, etc. Clover is right beside the Santa Monica airport, and children love watching the planes take off, and climbing the stairs to the top of the huge rocket structure)

    – Bob’s Market on Ocean Park a few doors down from Thyme, which you recommended (looks like a liquor store on the outside, but the BEST small market. This is the place for picking food up, it’s small, independently owned, with real butchers, and they make their own sausages!)

    – The Goods on Ocean Park about a block from Thyme and Bob’s (small unique gift store, owned by local Santa Monica moms with ties to South America and Eastern Europe…turkish towels, hostess gifts, woven bags)

    I could go on and on, but during the summer, last but not least, the Annenberg Beach House. The pool is open to the public, and sits right along where all of the private beach clubs are in Santa Monica. It’s gorgeous, locker rooms, showers, splash pads for kids, first come first serve beach pop ups on the sand, volleyball courts, fitness room, beach soccer, it’s the best club on the sand in Santa Monica, and it’s open to all!


  112. i grew up in LA, it’s it’s really a magical place! i went to the most idyllic school in the santa monica canyon (the library is a one room schoolhouse, over 100 years old!).

    my favorite spots are: joan’s on third, OK, lost & found, hollywood forever cemetery, MOCA, the page museum, the magic castle…ughh hello homesickness!

    thanks for the post joanna :)

  113. Thank you the great guide! Being a midwesterner, I’ve been dying to go somewhere sunny and warm! I’ll definitely be using this guide when I go to LA someday!

  114. I was just dreaming about LA! I visited a friend there for the first time last year, and fell in love with the weather, the beach, and the food. I was especially surprised by the number of doughnut places there.

  115. I’ve lived all over the map – but consider Santa Monica home. I miss long bike rides on the beach and long brunches with friends… I’m trying to convince the hubby we should move back… fingers crossed we’ll be enjoying those spectacular sunsets on the beach again sometime soon!

  116. Jennifer says...

    Go to Koreatown for some phenomenal Korean food.

  117. I’m convinced I lived in LA in a former life – or that I’m meant to live there in this lifetime… I love that city! Pizzeria Mozza was a stand-out for me the last time I was in town, as was a super-authentic Korean place called On Dal 2.

  118. aren’t walk streets amazing, lisa? so beautiful and peaceful. i felt like we were out in the country, especially in the quiet evenings–even though we were in the middle of a big city.

  119. This is so neat! I may be going to LA next year so this was really helpful! I love those places to stay because they are not like reg hotel rooms!
    Thanks JO!

  120. I love LA but I’m thinking of moving to Santa Monica. It’s so beautiful. I’ll have to try out some of these spots!


  121. I never knew those were called walk streets! I grew up in Louisville, and we have a handful of those inside facing blocks, but no one knows what they are called!
    in dramatic fashion