When people think of Los Angeles, thoughts inevitably turn to movie stars and swimming pools. There’s plenty of that in LA, but there’s more to this city than the film industry. This tour highlights the best the city has to offer.
Day 1. Fortify yourself for a whirlwind day with pancakes and coffee with the locals at the Farmers Market on Fairfax Avenue. Then drive north on Fairfax to Sunset Boulevard. Turn left and you’ll soon be in the middle of the nightclubs and giant billboards of the fabled Sunset Strip. Continue on Sunset as it snakes past the lush estates of Beverly Hills and Bel Air. As you approach the San Diego freeway (I-405), follow signs to the Getty Center. After perusing the museum’s galleries and outdoor garden, drink in the incredible city views over lunch.
Or skip the Getty and keep heading west on Sunset through Brentwood until the winding road gives way to breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Have lunch at one of the fresh-fish eateries along Pacific Coast Highway and spend the afternoon lolling on Will Rogers State Beach or farther up the coast on Malibu’s Zuma Beach. As the sun sets, head south on PCH to Santa Monica for dinner.
Day 2. Start on Hollywood Boulevard, following the pink terrazzo stars of the Walk of Fame to see the concrete celebrity footprints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Leave your car at Hollywood & Highland or another parking lot with an all-day flat rate, and hop on the Red Line Metro for the 20-minute ride downtown to Union Station. Head over to Olvera Street for a stroll through the open-air market and adobe buildings that make up El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument. If you’re an architecture buff, the Bradbury Building on Broadway (across from the market) and the Central Library’s eight-story atrium a few blocks away on 5th Street are worth a look. Then head up Grand Avenue to see the swooping Walt Disney Concert Hall. If you prefer to drive downtown, head south on the U.S. 101 from Hollywood, keeping in mind that morning rush hour traffic and lack of parking make this a frustrating trip on weekdays.
Before dark, drive or catch the Red Line Metro back to Hollywood for dinner at an old-fashioned Tinseltown stalwart like Musso & Frank’s or at one of the tempting contemporary restaurants near the main drag. Then take in a movie at one of the grand old theaters on Hollywood Boulevard: the Egyptian for hard-to-find classics or Grauman’s Chinese for first-run flicks. To dip into the local club or live-music scene, start in Hollywood and work your way west to the Sunset Strip.
Day 3. Get an early start and head to the theme park of your choice. A trip to Disneyland and California Adventure requires a freeway drive to Anaheim and will take up the entire day. If you’re looking for the adrenaline rush of monster thrill rides, drive up the I-5 for a day at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Universal Studios Hollywood is just off U.S. 101 and can be combined with a visit to the adjacent CityWalk or dinner at one of the many restaurants that line nearby Ventura Boulevard.
Day 4. Hop onto the Ventura Freeway (Hwy. 134) and go east to Old Town Pasadena. Have an early lunch and spend a little time browsing your way down Colorado Boulevard, or duck into the small but exceptional Norton Simon Museum on the western end of Colorado for an hour of art gazing. Swing by the cluster of Greene and Greene Craftsman houses on Arroyo Terrace; then drive to San Marino’s Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Return to Pasadena for a low-key dinner.
Day 5. Spend a day catering to your cravings. Curious about the entertainment studios? Head to Burbank and take a studio tour of either NBC or Warner Bros. If you prefer urban wilderness over show business, go for a hike in Griffith Park or around the Hollywood Reservoir. If you’d rather exercise your credit cards, choose the neighborhoods that seem most up your alley — Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood for luxe; Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and Echo Park for funky stuff. Or explore the southern part of L.A. County by taking the Pacific Coast Highway to Long Beach. Wind up the day with dinner at a coastal restaurant, be it one of the chic hotel restaurants in Santa Monica or a mellow local spot in Malibu.