Great Los Angeles Itineraries

The trick to having a decent quality of life in Los Angeles, claims one longtime Angeleno, is to live near where you work. The same adage holds true for visitors in that staying put in a single area of the city—being in a car for as short a time as possible—is a good rule of thumb. The best way to explore is one neighborhood at a time. Here's how to spend the perfect week in L.A. doing just that.

Day 1: Downtown Los Angeles

Formerly an unwelcoming neighborhood dominated by the glass-and-steel office buildings of Bunker Hill on one side and the poverty and despair of Skid Row on the other, Downtown Los Angeles has staged a major comeback.

Start your first day with some culture on Grand Avenue: the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Broad Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art are all next to each other and are home to priceless works of art and stunning architecture. At the concert hall, be sure to take the hour-long self-guided audio tour, which includes a walk through the venue's second-story hidden garden. It can be tough, but not impossible to see all three in one morning/afternoon trip.

After feasting on culture, grab lunch at one of the many stalls of Grand Central Market. Then Uber over to the art deco icon, Union Station, to admire the heavy wood-beam ceilings, leather-upholstered chairs, and inlaid marble floors. You can also stay for a happy hour drink or snack at one of the many restaurant and bar options now open inside.

For more L.A. history, walk across Alameda Street to stroll past the shops and restaurants of historic Olvera Street, where you'll find traditional Mexican fare. For dinner, venture into Little Tokyo for a wide variety of Japanese cuisine or head to Chinatown for authentic eats. With a full belly, head back into the historic core of Downtown, where you'll find a large concentration of bars on Spring Street between 5th and 7th streets, and on 6th between Main and Los Angeles streets.

Day 2: Hollywood

On your second day, you can join the tourists who flock to Hollywood Boulevard to see old movie palaces such as TCL Chinese Theatre, where movie stars have left their mark, literally, in the concrete courtyard of the theater since 1927. These days the theater's entrance is also graced by dozens of impersonators—from Marilyn Monroe to Spiderman—who are more than happy to pose for photos with visitors (they do expect to be paid, however).

To avoid the heaviest crowds, go to Hollywood & Highland Center in the morning, followed by a tour of the Kodak Theatre, which hosts the annual Academy Awards ceremony.

Wander the Walk of Fame, a 1.3-mile stretch of bronze stars embedded in pink terrazzo that lines Hollywood Boulevard, to pay homage to your favorite movie stars. For lunch, head into the famous Roosevelt Hotel and grab a spot by the pool. Look up and you'll see the Marilyn Monroe suite hovering over the sunbathers.

Pre-dinner, you should take part in a Hollywood rite of passage and see a movie in the town that made them famous. Some of the historic movie palaces, including TCL, still show films, but the real movie buffs should opt to see a movie at the ArcLight, a state-of-the-art theater on Sunset Boulevard that features gourmet food and reserved seating. Though all the theaters at the ArcLight are great, opt to see something at the iconic Cinerama Dome. The ArcLight also boasts an in-house café bar that is perfect for a quick meal before a film or an après-show martini.

Post-dinner, check out Hollywood's famous food scene and then make the night truly epic at one of the neighborhood's clubs, music venues, or dive bars.

Day 3: West Hollywood

Thanks to its central location, West Hollywood is the ideal place to spend a couple of hours without committing an entire day—not that there isn't a day's worth of things to do in this neighborhood.

Like most things in L.A., the early bird gets the worm. For shoppers, that means going to stores when they open and are less crowded. A shopping hub in its own right, West Hollywood has multiple indoor and outdoor shopping options like The Grove and the mammoth indoor Beverly Center. There are also countless small boutiques and specialty shops lining Beverly Boulevard, 3rd Street, and Melrose Avenue.

For lunch, grab a corned beef sandwich or some matzo ball soup at Canter's Delicatessen, a Los Angeles landmark since 1931, or head to the Farmers Market for a collection of ethnic food stalls and local products.

If you haven't had your shopping fill, tack Robertson Boulevard onto your agenda to find boutiques ranging from Chanel to Kitson. Swing by the picket-fenced Ivy, a restaurant which had its celebrity heyday in the mid-aughts, but you still may see a star or two.

Finally, West Hollywood is known for its buzzing nightlife, so afterward choose from hundreds of small restaurants for dinner, then follow up with a drink from one of the area's many bars.

Day 4: Beverly Hills and Mid-Wilshire

Depending on how hardcore of a shopper you are, you can easily check out the boutiques of Beverly Hills in a couple of hours. In fact, with all of the designer flagships and tony department stores, it might be dangerous to spend too much time (translation: too much money) in this ritzy neighborhood.

Hit Rodeo Drive in the morning for all the runway names, such as Chanel, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Gucci, Prada, Valentino, and Versace.

Of course, not all the action is on Rodeo; don't forget to wander the side streets for more high fashion. The department stores—Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue—are located nearby on Wilshire Boulevard. After you finish shopping, refuel with a dose of sugar at local dessert favorite Sprinkles Cupcakes.

After all that shopping, jump in the car to get some culture by heading east to the Miracle Mile in Mid-Wilshire, a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard that's home to the mammoth Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Petersen Automotive Museum, and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Depending on your preference of cuisine, have dinner in either Little Ethiopia or Koreatown.

Day 5: Santa Monica and Venice

With a couple of hours on your hands, it's a quick trip (if there's no traffic) to the beaches of Santa Monica or Venice. While they may not offer quite as much in the natural beauty department as their Malibu counterparts, they have plenty of sights of a different variety.

Start the day at Santa Monica Pier, where you can enjoy the old-school amusement park. Then walk (or bike ride) down the Strand, which eventually takes you to Venice Beach. Take your time browsing (and stopping for lunch) at the many beachside restaurants and quirky shops; you can even enjoy a few hours on the beach itself if you like.

Then end the day with a walk over the Venice Canals and a meal at any of the increasingly hip restaurants in Venice; don't miss sunset over the beach.

Day 6: Malibu

The ideal way to see Los Angeles's most beautiful beaches is to set aside an entire day for Malibu. Driving up the scenic Pacific Coast Highway is a treat in and of itself with sheer cliffs on one side of the road and ocean views on the other.

Stop at the Malibu Country Mart along the way for a seafood-laden lunch and gawk at the high-end shoppers and possible celebrity or two.

As you drive, you'll hit Topanga State Beach, Malibu Lagoon State Beach, and Malibu Surfrider Beach, which are all beautiful and popular spots to pass the day, but it's worth the extra drive time to see Point Dume State Beach, which is nestled away from the hustle and bustle of the highway.

Be sure to seek out the single-track trail that winds its way up a nearby coastal bluff revealing breathtaking views of Santa Monica Bay, the Malibu Coast, and Catalina Island. Stop for dinner at any of the seafood shacks that line PCH and catch an epic California sunset.

Day 7: Orange County and Catalina Island

If you want the California coastline all to yourself, head out in the early morning to one of the seemingly endless strings of beaches along this stretch of shoreline, extending from Long Beach to San Juan Capistrano. There’s plenty to do besides sit in the sand: check out one of the fascinating aquariums, explore a nature preserve, or take in some impressive art at the area’s surprisingly good museums.

Finding somewhere to eat lunch won’t be a problem, as this area is a major foodie destination. There are also plenty of reasonably priced family eateries.

If you’re traveling with kids, you’re going to end up at one of the classic theme parks, either Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm (plan an entire day around Disneyland). Grown-ups, though, will be drawn to the natural beauty of Catalina Island, and it's worth spending a whole day exploring. There’s a tiny town with its fair share of attractions, but make sure you see the unspoiled coastline.

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