Los Angeles is the United States’ second largest metropolis, and one of the 20 largest in the world. It’s famous for Hollywood, celebrities, and the extravagant wealth of neighborhoods like Beverly Hills and Bel-Air, and the designer shops of Rodeo Drive. The sprawling and famous city offers travelers a wide variety of things to do from family friendly Disneyland and Universal Studios, to celebrity worship at the Hollywood Walk of Fame and live TV viewing. I’m not enamored by Hollywood stars or crowded theme parks but I do enjoy visiting L.A. – these are some of my top picks for things to do on a weekend layover or 2-day road trip to the City of Angels.
Plan Your Trip
Before mapping out all your activities, figure out which part of the city you want base yourself in. Avoiding traffic and planning for some gridlock is just a part of any trip to a big city of this size. For an unforgettably luxurious visit, if you have the budget and want to go all out on your trip, you can even forget about hotels and instead book a stay in one of several luxurious Los Angeles vacation rentals, including ultra-modern villas and huge mansions overlooking the ocean.
If you’re only taking a 48 hour trip there’s no need to lug around giant suitcases. Savvy travelers are swapping out these bulky cases for light packs, some of which are even equipped with wheels. Eagle Creek has many, browse for the best travel bag to fit your needs and fashion taste.
Hike the Hollywood Sign
If you’re the active traveler who likes to get outdoors I suggest hiking up to the giant Hollywood Sign. There are multiple trails ranging from easy to difficult, and from just a couple miles to over 8 miles if hiking from the Griffith Observatory. You’ll want to be prepared and know what to expect from the weather before you set off hiking. It’s an uphill climb to the top but the views make all the sweat worth it!
Head to the Beach
Los Angeles is a coastal city, and it has no shortage of beaches. You should definitely head to the beach on a trip to L.A. but you should also do your homework and figure out which one(s) are right for you. Two of the city’s most famous are Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier. Such fame and popularity comes at a price however, these beaches are extremely crowded and parking can be a nightmare.
Venice Beach offers an ‘alternative’ vibe. The boardwalk has a bike path, skateboarding ramps, restaurants and plenty of homeless people. If you don’t mind the hefty numbers of people it’s a great location to spend a few hours walking and people watching. Being into fitness and working out, I was most interested in seeing the spectacle that is Muscle Beach. Also being a fan of street art, the Venice Beach Murals are a great free activity.
The Santa Monica Pier has a large ferris wheel and amusement park, and has been used a film location for countless movies. It’s got everything you need for a fun half or full-day at the beach from restaurants to souvenir shops.
My personal pick? Head over to Manhattan Beach (pictured above) to get away from the massive crowds and experience a much more laid back time. Here nobody is hollering to get your money, tourists aren’t crowding the entire beach, and you can enjoy the ocean to yourself. It’s especially nice to come for the sunset, where you can watch the sky change into several different beautiful colors, and there’s almost always a few surfers in the water to watch as well.
City Hall Observation Deck
If you love a good city view like I do, head over to City Hall. You’ll have to find a place to park (and likely pay for it) but once you do a visit to the top of building’s observation deck is completely free. You’ll find yourself with a 360 degree view of downtown L.A. – It’s open Mon-Fri from 8-5, so be sure to visit during opening hours.
Madame Tussauds Hollywood Wax Museum
I’m not huge on celebrity worship, but Madame Tussauds Celebrity Wax Museum is more than that. The numerous life-sized wax statues of famous people are incredible works of art – some more real looking than others. If you buy tix online you can save a few dollars on admission, and if you go later at night, you’ll save significantly more. Check online here.
Experience the L.A. Skyline at Hollywood Bowl Overlook
Just a few miles North of Downtown you can drive along the famous Mulholland Drive to the Hollywood Bowl scenic overlook. Although parking is limited it’s worth the hassle. The overlook is perched high up on the hill above L.A. with awesome views of the downtown skyline. The Hollywood Bowl is also just above the the amphitheater, and when they’re playing you can catch the music from your viewing spot.There’s a view right from the parking lot but if you make the effort to hike a hill just a couple minutes the views are even better. Best of all, this is completely free – no parking or entrance fees. You can catch the view any time, but it will be best during the glow of sunrise or sunset. It’s also just a two mile drive from Madam Tussad’s Hollywood Wax Museum, so you can easily plan to visit both before or after the other.
If you’ve already checked out the Hollywood Bowl Overlook, or want some alternative options with great downtown views – the Vista Hermosa Park offers a unique view of the skyscrapers, as does the Kenneth Hahn Recreational Area.