Los Angeles can be an extremely confusing place, especially to a first time visitor.
When I first turned up to LA as a tourist, I would have had no idea where to start if it wasn’t for having a friend from the city with me – my very own local guide.
After spending a couple of weeks exploring one of America’s most popular destinations, I came to the conclusion that the best way to look at Los Angeles is as several smaller cities rather than one big city.
LA is split into numerous different districts which are separated by highways and quiet residential areas. Getting between the areas can take time by taxi or public transport, and therefore it’s best to plan your time in LA dependent on the district and the attractions you want to visit, taking in one or two areas a day rather than zigzagging around several.
To help you navigate the different districts of Los Angeles, here is my ultimate guide to 10 of the different areas of LA, plus what there is to do, where to eat and where to stay…
Los Angeles Neighbourhoods:
Wandering down Venice Beach Broadwalk had to be one of the highlights of my time in LA, with it’s quirky stores (Londoners, think Camden but even edgier), colourful street art and the electric mix of people doing everything from playing basketball on the beach-side courts or lifting weights at Muscle Beach, to taking part in peace circles and protesting against the big chains coming into the area.
But Venice is more than just the sandy beach and exciting Broadwalk (unbeknown by many tourists). Head away from the water and you’ll also find the peaceful Venice canals and the stylish shopping street of Abbot Kinney Road.
Venice is one of my favourite areas of LA and definitely not one to miss!
Things to do in Venice LA:
Venice Beach – a long stretch of sandy beach and world-class surf spots.
Venice Beach Boardwalk – shops, cafes, bars, coffee shops, street art, skateboarders, bodybuilders, street performers, tarot card readers, peace circles and so much more…
Venice Canals – luxury houses overlooking a series of pretty canals.
Abbot Kinney Road – a stylish mile-long stretch of shops, restaurants, and galleries.
Bonus – Where to eat and drink in Venice:
The Venice Whaler – a local spot serving tasty American dishes and cocktails with an outdoor terrace overlooking Venice beach. Make sure to try the breakfast tacos!
Want to see more of Venice?
Check out my post ‘32 photos that will make you want to visit Venice Beach LA‘
Follow the water-line along from Venice (you can easily walk this route on the beach itself) and you’ll end up at Santa Monica and well-known Santa Monica Pier.
Get lost amongst the crowds and take in the exciting atmosphere of the busy pier which is filled with rides, arcades, food stalls and more.
It is also the end (or start) of America’s iconic Route 66.
Must see in Santa Monica:
Santa Monica Pier – rides, arcades, restaurants and views back down the beach.
Bonus – Where to drink in Santa Monica:
The Bungalow – it’s where all the cool kids go. Just be prepared to queue.
The iconic Hollywood sign, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Chinese Theatre with the handprints of celebrities present and past stamped into the pavement outside… Hollywood is undoubtedly one of the best-known areas of LA thanks to its well-established connection with the movie industry.
But Hollywood isn’t exactly the glitzy celebrity hotspot that one might imagine. Despite having some must-see tourist attractions and fun museums, you’re more likely to see celebrities strutting around Beverly Hills than Hollywood itself (unless it’s award season).
For movie fanatics, Hollywood is an interesting area of LA to visit, however you’re unlikely to need more than a day here so don’t base an entire trip around it.
Things to do in Hollywood for movie fanatics:
The Walk of Fame – spot the stars belonging to your favourite celebrities.
The Chinese Theatre – take a tour inside or wander around outside to admire the handprints and messages from celebrities set into the pavement.
The Hollywood Museum – one of the best collections of movie memorabilia throughout the years.
Things to do in Hollywood for adults:
Museum of Broken Relationships – a collection of objects dedicated to failed relationships.
Museum of Selfies – selfie heaven for Instagram addicts.
Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard – an independent music store with a huge selection of vinyl, video and CDs.
The Museum of Death – the world’s largest collection of serial killer artwork, antique funeral ephemera, mortician and coroners instruments, Manson Family memorabilia, pet death taxidermy, crime scene photographs and more.
Things to do in Hollywood with kids:
Madame Tussauds – Hollywood’s wax museum.
The Guinness World of Records Museum – showcasing impressive world records.
Spend an exciting day out at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Bonus – Where to stay in Hollywood:
Hotel Roosevelt – despite being on the pricier side, Hotel Roosevelt is a historic hotel which has many exciting links to the Hollywoods film industry. As well as hosting several awards ceremonies and featuring in movies including Catch Me If You Can, the hotel has had a number of famous guests over the years including Marilyn Monroe (who lived in the hotel for 2 years), Shirley Temple, Charlie Chaplin, Ernest Hemingway, Prince, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. There have also been rumours of hauntings and ghosts at the hotel, some including past celebrity guests.
Visiting LA for the first time?
Griffith Park is a large green space in the Santa Monica Mountains rather than a neighbourhood in its own right, however, there’s so much to do in the park that it only felt right to give it its own section.
One of the highlights of Griffith Park has to be the Griffith Observatory, which is not only a fascinating place where you can learn all about the cosmos and visit the Samuel Oschin Planetarium but also has one of the most breathtaking views out across LA and over to the iconic Hollywood sign in the Hollywood Hills.
Things to do in Griffith Park:
Griffith Observatory – learn about the cosmos at the free observatory and enjoy some of the best views over LA.
Autry Museum of the American West – a museum bringing together the history and stories of the people of the American West.
Travel Town Train Museum – an outdoor museum celebrating the rich railroad history of LA. Admire vintage vehicles and model trains, listen to talks by experts and take a ride on the Travel Town Railroad.
See a show at the Greek Theatre – the historic theatre which has become one of the most well-known entertainment venues in the USA.
Things to do in Griffith Park with kids:
LA Zoo & Botanical Gardens – LA’s 133-acre zoo and neighbouring botanical gardens.
Horse Ride at Sunset Ranch – a city-based ranch which offers day time and evening horseback tours around Griffith Park and its many attractions.
Beverly Hills… the real playground of LA’s rich and famous. Not only is every store filled with designer wears, but the majority of people you’ll see strutting around this part of town are swathed in them too. Plus, don’t forget to keep an eye out for one of the ‘Real Housewives’ who are often spotted out on a shopping spree or sipping a glass of fizz in one of the area’s most glamorous bars.
Things to do in Beverly Hills:
Rodeo Drive shopping district – one of the most famous and luxurious shopping areas in the world. You may not be able to afford a single thing, but its certainly still worth a visit.
Where to eat in Beverly Hills:
South Beverly Grill – delicious burgers and other dishes in an elegant setting.
Westwood perhaps isn’t as well known as other areas of LA, however, it’s one of my personal favourites and definitely a hidden gem in Los Angeles. Westwood is home to UCLA and much of its student population, meaning the area has a young, cool vibe and plenty of affordable places to eat, drink and party.
Westwood Village is one of the few heavily pedestrianised areas in LA, with rows of fairy-light lit streets lined with unique shops, casual restaurants and bars with great happy hours stretching out until the early hours of the morning.
Must see in Westwood:
Westwood Village – pedestrianised shopping and restaurant area.
Where to eat and drink in Westwood:
Daddy Riese – some of the best cookies and ice-cream sandwiches in town.
Barney’s Beanery – an LA chain of sports bar and grills with over-the-top American decor and affordable pub grub style food.
The Fairfax District is another lesser-known area in midtown LA and is home to two of my favourite places to visit in LA – the Grove and the Original Farmers Market.
The Grove is an entertainment complex which looks somewhat like a movie set due to its retro facades, 60-foot dancing fountains and the green 1950s double-decker trolly which makes its way around the Groves many shops and restaurants. Next door you also have the Original Farmers Market which hosts a huge collection of local and international gourmet street food.
Fairfax is an area known for its trendy shops, restaurants and numerous art galleries, including the most well-known Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Within the Fairfax District, you’ll also find the area of La Brea, predominantly known for one thing – its tar pits. The La Brea tar pits (La Brea is actually Spanish for tar pits) are the only fossil-rich asphalt deposits in the world that are located in a large urban area.
The tar pits are free to visit and provide an interesting gateway back to the flora and fauna of LA’s Ice Age, with well-preserved fossils including sabre-toothed cats, dire wolves and mammoths still being discovered by archaeologists today.
Must see in Fairfax:
The Grove – a large outdoor entertainment and shopping complex.
The Original Farmers Market – LA’s Original Farmers Market has been around since 1934 and has developed into one of the most exciting places in LA for great food and produce, now with over 100 grocers and food vendors making up the iconic market.
La Brea Tar Pits – visiting the historic tar pits themselves are free, however, the neighbouring museum about the pits and the fossil discoveries requires a ticket.
LACMA – Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the largest art museum in the western United States.
“Urban Light” installation – an art instillation outside of LACMA which features a collection of lamp posts from across the state by artist Chris Burden.
I’ll keep this section short and sweet…
Head to Koreatown for delicious Korean food and a night of karaoke!
Where to eat:
Pretty much anywhere! Try a Korean BBQ for an unlimited feast of meats cooked right at your table.
If you don’t hear the word Bel Air and immediately start rapping the Fresh Prince theme tune then you must have been living under a rock for the last 20 years!
Bel Air is located in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains and is one of the most expensive residential areas in LA, filled with lavish mansions belonging to celebrities and the entertainment industry elite.
The main thing to do in Bel Air is to drive around and admire the huge gated mansions. Other than this, there’s not a lot else to do in this part of town.
Downtown LA is Los Angeles main business district, with a number of towering skyscrapers filled with banks and law firms. During the week the neighbourhood is filled with office workers, while at the weekend it becomes significantly quieter.
There are certainly some interesting things to see and do in this neighbourhood, such as the Last Bookstore, a book lovers dream, and Grand Central Market, which has some seriously delicious street food on offer. However, despite looking like a pretty central place to base yourself in LA, Downtown isn’t the most tourist-friendly part of the city.
Downtown LA is home to Skid Row, an area with one of the largest homeless populations in the country. Unfortunately, there’s a number of the homeless population with mental health issues and therefore it’s best to keep an eye out when walking around the streets. Don’t let this put you off visiting, but after my own experience of a homeless woman swinging a heavy bag at my friends head, I’d personally prefer to get taxis around Downtown LA to the main things you want to see.
One part of Downtown LA which is certainly worth a visit is Olvera Street, the site where Los Angeles was founded by Spanish settlers. It is now home to a Mexican marketplace, as well as the oldest building in LA, Avila Adobe, which you can go inside of and learn about the history of the original settlers.
As a tourist, you’re most likely to end up in the LA LIVE District, an area on the outskirts of Downtown LA which is home to 6 live entertainment venues, including the Staples Centre, many restaurants and a number of attractions such as the Grammy Museum. A much more tourist-friendly area of Downtown LA.
Must see in Downtown LA:
The Last Bookstore – LA’s largest new and used bookstore, a booklovers dream (with a few cool photo spots too).
Olvera Street – the street where Los Angeles was founded and home to the oldest building in LA.
The Broad – an amazing contemporary art museum.
LA LIVE District – a tourist-friendly area which is home to numerous live entertainment venues, restaurants and attractions, including…
A basketball game at the Staples Centre – grab a beer and a hotdog and watch a game… An absolute must!
The Grammy Museum – an interactive museum devoted to the history and winners of the Grammy Awards.
Where to eat in Downtown LA:
Grand Central Market – a downtown landmark which has been around since 1917, bringing together the cuisines and cultures of LA.
Malibu is more of a city in its own right, located in Los Angeles County around 30 miles up the coast from the other areas of LA discussed above. The city is known for its long stretch of coastline, beautiful beaches and the abundance of celebrity oceanfront homes. Away from the stunning coast (if you can tear yourself away from the clear blue waters), Malibu is also a great area for hiking through the many scenic hills and canyons, filled with wildflowers, waterfalls and a number of vineyards.
However, it is worth noting that that the tragic wildfire (known as The Woolsey Fire) in late 2018 caused a lot of devastation to the area, something which you can still see now by the charred remains of trees and plants around rural Malibu.
Must do in Malibu:
A wine safari or wine hike – explore the vineyards and sample plenty of local produce.
Or try a vintage VW tour with wine tasting.
The Getty Villa – the original home of the famous Getty Museum which focuses on Ancient Greek and Roman Art (admission is free, but you need to make a reservation).
Sing the song ‘Malibu’ by Miley Cyrus.
I hope this guide to the different areas of LA has helped you understand the city a little better and start planning your own trip. Let me know in the comments below if you have any suggestions or questions about LA…
How to get from London to Los Angeles: