Visiting Los Angeles for the First Time
May 18, 2009 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Visiting Los Angeles for the first time What do I need to see and do?

In three weeks, I'm taking my first trip to Los Angeles (June 9-12) and I haven't really taken the time to figure out what I want to see and do while I'm there. I'm flying into the Ontario airport and renting a car. Please help me plan my adventure.

While I'm usually a foodie, I am trying to make this trip as inexpensive as I can. What do you recommend for inexpensive ($10-$20 a person) dining? What do I have to eat while I'm there?

I love bookstores. Which non-chain bookstores do I have to visit? Also: what other "shopping experiences" should I consider?

I'm open to any suggestions on museums I should see and museums I should avoid. I'm drawn mostly to photography and smaller galleries, but I'm willing to visit the classics, too.

Please suggest quirky theaters (think: Alamo Drafthouse) where I should see a movie in LA. The film itself is not really as important to me at the moviegoing experience. Also: the first night I'm there, June 9th, I want to go see the Comedy Death Ray show at the UCB Theater. What should I expect? I've never been to a comedy club.

The friend I was planning on staying with has flaked on me, leaving me without a place to sleep in Los Angeles. Please suggest 1. which part of town I should stay in 2. which parts to avoid 3. specific hotels. I'm not very picky at all. Preferably something inexpensive and secure.

And finally: What other advice can you give for someone visiting LA for the first time? Thanks.
posted by ColdChef to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, LA (52 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
I'm no L.A. expert, but you should definitely check out Amoeba music.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:39 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I always recommend The Museum of Jurassic Technology. It's like nothing else.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:49 AM on May 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Wow, so much to cover, but let me throw a few things out there:

Food. There are a zillion choices in literally every variety of food known to man. If you just want good restaurants that don't cost too much, you can't go wrong on Westwood Blvd., south of Wilshire. If you like Indian and want to experience real Indian food made by real recent immigrants from the subcontinent, head out to Artesia.

Museums: Getty Center for sure, if only for the setting (and it's free)

Lodging: Boy, it REALLY depends on what you're looking for. As you may have heard it's a big city and there is traffic. Stay near the things you want to see.

UCB: it's not a comedy club, it's a theatre. Except a chill, laid-back, funny experience. There will be no 2-drink minimum and you will not have to hear about the difference between white folks and black folks. While you're there, the Bourgeois Pig is a very cool coffee house, just a few doors down.

General advice: L.A. is a great city and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else, but it has no obvious tourist attractions like the statue of liberty or the Empire State Building. The ones that do get marketed that way (Walk of Fame, Hollywood/Highland) are just absolutely horrendous in my opinion.

The things that make this city great are the diversity of people, food, and lifestyle. if you wanted to drive a lot you could go to Beverly Hills, the beach, hang out in artsy/hipster Silverlake (if you do, go to Pazzo gelato- great gelato and you'll probably see me), eat authentic Indian food, and hike in the mountains all on the same day. All the while dealing with the most friendly people anywhere for a city this size.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:55 AM on May 18, 2009

The central library is pretty cool.
posted by jzed at 8:56 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh and movie-wise, the revival showings at the Nuart on Santa Monica Blvd. Friday at midnight are pretty special.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:58 AM on May 18, 2009

ColdChef! ColdChef! ColdChef! Come to LACMA! I'll give you a tour!

On that note, I'm actually leaving for work right now, so I will chime in with more suggestions later this morning. Whee!
posted by scody at 9:00 AM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: Also, Venice Beach is kind of a must-see at least once in your life. While you're down in Venice, walk down Abbott Kinney Blvd. to see some really cool restaurants and boutiques (full disclosure: my friend owns one of them, Urbanic).

I highly recommend Venice over 3rd St. promenade up the road in Santa Monica, which is considered a tourist attraction for no reason I have ever been able to fathom.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:01 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What do I have to eat while I'm there?
An In-N-Out burger. 2x2 with fries (animal style) and a chocolate shake. Nummy.

I love bookstores. Which non-chain bookstores do I have to visit?
Wacko, at the far east end of Hollywood Blvd. One of my favorite books-and-weird-things stores on the whole West Coast. Also Baby Melt (West Sunset) if you are into 'alternative' comic books and graphic novels.
posted by rokusan at 9:02 AM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: This fits in none of your categories except for advice, but as a very recent first-time LA visitor myself, I think it is mandatory that you go to one of the spots with a great view of the city. The two I know of are Runyon Canyon Park and Griffith Park/Observatory.

Getty Center is the standard museum suggestion, and although big and popular, the grounds are so gorgeous that I think it's almost mandatory. There's some interesting photography there too.

For food, In N Out burger is a must (I don't eat meat, but they have shakes and fries) for the California experience. Also, if you can find a place to prep, the Santa Monica Farmers' Market is great, and it looks like you can hit it on a Wednesday. I had a sandwich made out of produce from there that melted in my mouth. The 3rd St. Farmers' Market is also a perennial must-see/favorite, and has lots of cheap food choices.
posted by hellogoodbye at 9:03 AM on May 18, 2009

And Dr Jimmy is right, Venice is cooler and less plastic-tourist-annoying than Santa Monica's outdoor arcades.
posted by rokusan at 9:04 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

More on UCB: the line for the popular UCB shows starts to form about 45 minutes before the showtime, so show up if being up close is important to you. It's a small theater so they're aren't really bad seats, except some people occasionally have to sit on the floor when it's packed.

Comedy Death ray is a mix of sketches and stand up, each about 7-10 minutes. I personally prefer the all-improv Asssscat show, but you can see some pretty big comedians as they try out new bits.
posted by sharkfu at 9:04 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Boy, I can see I am going to be coming back and thinking of stuff all day.

if you like smaller galleries, the Silverlake/Echo Park area is dotted with them. The place I get my hair cut actually doubles as a gallery!

Oh and the Griffith Observatory is open again! Go to the Planetarium show or just walk around and pretend to be "Rebel Without a Cause!'

And for the unique movie experience, the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax does just what the name says, with live music accompaniment too.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:04 AM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: FOOD:

Zankou chicken. Like In-N-Out, but less well known, and Armenian yumminess rather than burgers. Get the Chicken Tarna. Speaking of Armenian food, Carousel is ridiculously yummy. For Ethiopian, go to Little Ethiopia and eat at the vegetarian one. I forget the name, but it's wears its vegginess (perhaps even veganness?) on its sleeve. If you want to be a hipster, go to Pinks. Also, be sure to get some hipster cupcakes, I suggest Auntie Em's in Eagle Rock.


Here I am going to cry in public about the fact that the best used bookstore in LA (Acres of Books in Long Beach) lost its lease and shut down recently. Meh. Vromanns on Colorado in Pasadena is ok, though I prefer the random used bookshop roughly across the street from it. Alias Books is right next to the Nuart. And, I dunno, Book Soup or something. Oh, and Iliad Bookshop. Other shopping suggestions will have to come from people with money.


Nuart, Santa Monica. They probably still have a midnight Rocky, incidentally.


Meh. I don't do the photography thing, so can't help you there. Personally quite fond of the Getty. Don't waste your time at MOCA. I like the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach a lot.


posted by paultopia at 9:06 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Non-chain bookstores: Skylight in Loz Feliz and Book Soup on Sunset in West Hollywood.

Zankou chicken.

I've been thinking about foods original to LA and came up with:

The french dip sandwich
The chili size--a hamburger patty submerged in a bowl of chili. Get it here.
The Oki Dog.

Stock upon cracked wheat sourdough bread from Trader Joes and order off the secret menu at In'n'out
posted by brujita at 9:07 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm sure lots of great suggestions are forthcoming, but here are a few off the top of my head (based on 3-4 visits I've made in the last seven years or so):

- A friend and I had a great late morning, early afternoon by doing a late breakfast at The Waffle, followed by an hour or so poking around in Amoeba Music just down the street, then we caught an early show at the Arclight Cinerama.

- Please, please, please go to the Getty.

- For a first-time visitor, stop by the Hollywood and Highland touristplex, just to get it out of your system. Don't spend too much time there because, really, it's just a mall, but it's cool to see the Kodak theater, Mann's Chinese, and all the other iconic things right around there.

- There are lots of great taquerías in LA. I really wish I could remember the name of the one we stopped at on Highland(?), but you should be able to find recommendations on Chowhound or Eater LA.

- The last time I was there I stayed at the Hollywood Downtowner, which was conveniently located right off the 101 and not too expensive. There's not much to do around there, but if you have a car you'll be driving everywhere, anyway. It's near a subway stop, too.

Overall, my favorite thing to do in LA is to just drive around. Get a GPS unit with your rental car, so that you can't get too lost, and just start driving around through all the neighborhoods you've heard referenced in thousands of TV shows, songs, and movies.
posted by arco at 9:07 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm only here to second otherworldlyglow's recommendation of the Museum of Jurassic Technology. It's a TRIP.
posted by ORthey at 9:08 AM on May 18, 2009

Also, ignore the Pazzo gelato recommendation. The best gelato in L.A. is Bulgarini. Go there. Be happy.
posted by paultopia at 9:08 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

You should find one of the Kogi BBQ trucks and get some delicious and cheap Korean BBQ-style tacos and sliders. They twitter their schedule and location.
posted by sharkfu at 9:11 AM on May 18, 2009

Food is the best part of L.A. Check out some of the single-food-item blogs like The Great Taco Hunt or Noodle Whore to find awesome and authentic food. In those two categories, I like La Taquiza near USC (get a mulita!) and the boat noodles at Sapp Coffee in Thai Town. Zankou Chicken, at least the one in Hollywood, is a grossly overrated experience IMO. For my money, the real chicken of note is at Pollo A La Brasa on Western. It's Peruvian spit-roasted chicken, served by a Spanish-speaking Japanese man in a shack in the middle of Koreatown. And that is Los Angeles in all it's glory right there.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:16 AM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Forgot to mention the excellent walking tours offered by the LA Conservancy. I did the Historic Core tour a few years back and loved it.
posted by arco at 9:16 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A few opinions from a nearly lifelong Angeleno - all of these are Google-able:

Food: tacos. You HAVE to eat tacos. Preferably from a truck. And Zankou chicken, if you're near one.

Shopping: I love Book Soup in Hollywood on Sunset. Aside from that and Amoeba, I find the shopping to be better in other cities and online than in Los Angeles.

Museums: lesser-known: the Craft and Folk Art Museum. The classics: LACMA, the Hammer, and the Getty.

Entertainment: probably the quirkiest are the Silent Movie (which doesn't just show silents) and the New Beverly. The poshest is the Arclight.

Lodging: the Farmer's Daughter on Fairfax, and the Figueroa downtown are a couple options.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by chez shoes at 9:17 AM on May 18, 2009

Food: Beard Papa's custard-filled cream puffs. They have locations in the Hollywood and Highland mall, Little Tokyo Shopping Center, and aT 2130 Sawtelle Blvd.
posted by soelo at 9:25 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Free things I love most about Los Angeles that haven't been mentioned yet:

Griffith Observatory is very accessible and significant in popular culture, but on a clear day the view from Mt. Wilson Observatory is absolutely phenomenal.

The Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades is a neat place to visit in the spring if you don't mind the new age yoga feel to it. I recommend taking a long drive along Sunset Blvd. from wherever you are staying to the coast. You'll pass it just before you reach the Pacific Coast Highway (another great drive).

Hollywood Forever Cemetery is like a history of 20th century memorialization techniques.

If you want to visit a nice beach, Point Dume SB in Malibu has great views of Santa Monica Bay.
posted by mrmojoflying at 9:27 AM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: Regarding Movie Theaters, some of my favourites:
New Beverly Cinema: I'd consider it quirky. It's a smaller old theater that almost always shows double-features, usually interesting selections, for a very reasonable price. Unique audiences, which usually makes for an interesting experience.
Silent Movie Theatre: They show more than just silent movies, but I find it a bit pricey unless you really want to see what they're showing. It's a small, but quite nice theater.
Egyptian Theatre: Less quirky, but historic and nicely-restored.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre: Historic and beautiful, like the Egyptian.
ArcLight: Definitely a nice experience, but in my opinion, it has no quirks that weren't designed by committee.
posted by kidbritish at 9:28 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of The Apple Pan, which is basically what an O.G. burger joint was prior to the chains.

If you're driving, taking the 10 all the way to the PCH is a fun experience. The transition from urban highway to beachfront drive is like a video game.

In n Out is OK of course but Fatburger is a lot better and more localized to LA.
posted by toroi at 9:31 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

We Love it. Deal with it.
posted by charlesv at 9:36 AM on May 18, 2009

Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. You will not regret it.
posted by tobiaswright at 9:38 AM on May 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

Off topic: Fatburger is "localized to LA"? There's one just up the road from me in Maryland.

In-N-Out, on the other hand, is strictly a West Coast thing.
posted by arco at 9:40 AM on May 18, 2009

Has this thread really gone on this long without any mention of Canter's Deli? Sad.
posted by rhizome at 9:55 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some of these are places people who live here avoid but probably should be seen at least once:

-Hollywood Blvd, between La Brea and Vine (anytime, street performers, landmarks)
-Sunset Blvd, between Crescent Heights and Doheny (go at night, cheesy bars and nightclubs, even worth just a quick drive down the street)
-Venice Beach (go during the day, street performers, people watching, general nuttiness)
-Griffith Park Observatory
-The Getty Museum
-Santa Monica Pier (carnival rides at the beach, near the Promenade which has mostly chain store shopping and eating as well as street performers)
-Melrose Ave, between Fairfax and La Brea (shopping, mostly 'vintage' clothing, people watching)
-Drive to Malibu along the Pacific Coast Hwy (called PCH, gorgeous views, beaches, eat at Neptune's Net for great relatively cheap seafood)
-Drive thru the Hollywood Hills on Mulholland Dr. (views of the city and the valley, rich people's houses, some hiking in parks)
-Amoeba Music (gigantic independent music store, allot approximately 56 hours)
-Cinerama Dome at Arclight in Hollywood (classic Hollywood theatre next to Amoeba, go to a 21+ showing for drinks served at the film, buy assigned seats in advance online)

That's all off the top of my head. #1 thing I see you already know is YOU NEED A CAR (also, no one has mentioned this, but Ontario airport is a ways out of the city... be prepared to drive for a bit to get to LA proper). We Angelenos drive everywhere, and it's the most authentic part of the LA experience. Hence it doesn't matter quite as much where exactly in LA you're staying, since you'll be driving everywhere anyway (just stay somewhere west of downtown). As far as food, you obviously need to eat Mexican food but everyone and their mother will have different favorites. Use citysearch, it's your friend -- there's so much good food in the city it's hard to go wrong. Good luck and have fun.
posted by rooftop secrets at 9:59 AM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

oh, and strongly second the Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles experience -- come hungry.
posted by rooftop secrets at 10:00 AM on May 18, 2009

ack, sorry to post again, but this related thread has a lot of great suggestions.
posted by rooftop secrets at 10:10 AM on May 18, 2009

1. Go to the Getty.

2. Take a trip to Malibu.

3. Grauman's Chinese Theatre

4. There is a youth hostel in Venice Beach.
posted by cda at 10:23 AM on May 18, 2009

We went to Griffith Observatory on an amateur stargazing night, and it was amazing. All sorts of astronomy geeks were there with gigantic scopes, letting people look at nebulas in orion, or the fine details of the moon. The exhibit hall was also open late, and it's worth a walk through as well. I believe they do these things monthly.

Also, if you don't have In N Out burger in your neck of the woods, it's worth eating at once. Yes, it's a fast food burger, but it's a damn good one.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:47 AM on May 18, 2009

La Brea Tar Pits
posted by Flood at 10:55 AM on May 18, 2009

oh re this:

Hollywood Forever Cemetery is like a history of 20th century memorialization techniques.

Hollywood Forever does outdoor classic movie screenings on weekend nights in the summer. They just started the season with "Cool Hand Luke." Personally, I'm a bit over it, because of the hassle of getting in and out, but seeing a classic movie sitting on the grass having a picnic while surrounded by crazy huge Armenian grave monuments probably qualifies as a unique experience. It's a bit too popular these days though, you have to line up way early or it will sell out.

"cinespia" is the key term to google.

re: the Kogi taco truck. I am yet to eat it- I went and stood in line for 40 minutes as the line literally did not move, watching them cook amazingly slowly while the two pro photogs they hired snapped pictures of the line to show how popular they were. It's really hyped right now, but "meh."

Also, ignore the Pazzo gelato recommendation.

Thanks, pal. I didn't necessarily say my place was the best, just that is very good and the staff is very nice and it is in a cool neighborhood and not Altadena.

Oh but if you do go way the hell out east, The Huntington museum and botanical gardens is really cool. They have really diverse gardens outside, and an excellent museum inside. Last I was there they had an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and other awesome colonial stuff.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:04 AM on May 18, 2009

Jumbo's Clown Room
posted by dogwalker at 11:04 AM on May 18, 2009

I'm gonna hold my breath unless there's a meetup! MEETUP!

(Swamped at work but will post more later)
posted by Space Kitty at 11:12 AM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: Late getting back to the thread, so you've got tons of great info here. I'll just chime in with everything I would second, or a few things that might not have been mentioned yet.

Affordable, tasty food: Zankou Chicken, oh my god YES. Canter's Deli. Farmer's Market on 3rd. Roscoe's. For gelato, I like Al Gelato on Robertson (the new chestnut flavor is divine). In the eternal struggle of In-n-Out vs. Fatburger, I am a Fatburger girl all the way.

For some serious Hollywood history, please consider Musso & Frank's -- it's not cheap for dinner (but it's certainly not prohibitively expensive), so lunch or breakfast might be more up your alley. If you do decide to drive up Pacific Coast Highway, definitely go to Neptune's Net, as suggested upthread.

Sights: Griffith Park (esp. the observatory -- it was totally overhauled in the last couple of years, though, so sadly most of the awesome postwar installations and features have been dismantled. The bust of James Dean is still out front, though!), the tar pits, the Hollywood Forever cemetary.

Movies: The Silent Movie Theater is awesome. Grauman's Chinese Theater is genuinely one of the most gorgeous old movie palaces I've ever been in (I saw The Fellowship of the Ring there when it first came out, and it made it all the more fun). A friend of mine puts on the drive-in horror movie series at the Steve Allen Theater, but I think you'll be leaving the same day as the one for that week is showing.

Books: we've lost several good independent bookstores recently (RIP Dutton's), but there's still Book Soup and Skylight. I would also say that the book store at the Hammer Museum is one of the best museum bookstore in the city.

Speaking of museums: definitely the Getty (and/or the Getty Villa) -- being into photography, you will esp. be interested in the Paul Outerbridge exhibition that's at the Getty right now. There is also the new Annenberg Space for Photography, which I have not yet visited. We've got a good photography collection at LACMA, but I don't know if much of it will be in rotation next month; I'll check with the curator.

You must certainly experience the Museum of Jurassic Technology; I'll say no more other than go. The Petersen Automotive Museum is great fun if you like vintage cars. The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits is also great. (Bonus: Page/LACMA/Petersen are all within walking distance.)

Huntington Museum/Gardens is also great if you're in the Pasadena/San Marino neck of the woods (in which case, you might also consider the Norton Simon Art Museum). I don't know what's currently on at MOCA or the Hammer.

Misc.: Amoeba Records! Jumbo's Clown Room!

Advice about L.A. in general: Traffic and parking are usually pains in the ass, but it's the price we all pay. Avoid the 405 most times of day if possible; there are usually alternate, non-highway routes (i.e., "surface streets") that will be handier (this will require A) a map, and B) a local to advise you). People can kind of drive like maniacs (if you're merging, be prepared TO MERGE!!!!). Have your route mapped out ahead of time or use GPS; I usually have a very reliable internal compass, but I was perpetually lost the first year I lived here. (And speaking of getting lost: remember that the tall, skinny palm trees arc toward the ocean.)
posted by scody at 2:49 PM on May 18, 2009

Oh, P.S. (like I should add on to that epic I just wrote): regarding lodging, I have some emails out to people who would know better than I, but I think I've heard good things about the Magic Castle Hotel. Speaking of which, the Magic Castle itself is a blast. It's a private club, so let me see what I can do (the same friend who runs the horror movie night at the Steve Allen is either a member, or has a friend whose membership he regularly uses).
posted by scody at 2:57 PM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: Paletas! I like La Michoacana on 7th downtown. My favorite is the yogurt, fruit and nuts!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:56 PM on May 18, 2009

Response by poster: All wonderful suggestions so far. Keep them coming. Thanks!
posted by ColdChef at 5:39 PM on May 18, 2009

Larry Edmunds on Hollywood Bl. for cinema books.
Samuel French for ditto and theater( the Hollywood location is better).

Children's Book World for kids's books.

*sorely mourns Dutton's*
posted by brujita at 9:37 PM on May 18, 2009

posted by brujita at 9:38 PM on May 18, 2009

Oh, nobody's mentioned the K-town one-two punch: Korean BBQ (meat incredibly tender and delicious which you grill at the table and pitchers of Soju [read: alcoholic koolaid]) followed by Korean Karaoke (Koreaoke I call it).

I don't have scads of experience, but I really loved Manna (food) and Orchid (karaoke) respectively.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:31 PM on May 18, 2009

@drjimmy11... You stood on line and didn't have the food? Well, I can tell you why you're meh about the experience: you stood on line and didn't have the food. I'm meh about standing on lines too. The food was cheap and delicious for me, but I guess I lucked out with a short line. If you're not a truck-line guy you could always go to the Alibi Room bar and get the Kogi BBQ food there.

@coldchef... isn't it kinda odd that you're marking favorites before your trip? How do you know if the suggestions are your favorite until you try them?
posted by sharkfu at 11:39 PM on May 18, 2009

Response by poster: @coldchef... isn't it kinda odd that you're marking favorites before your trip? How do you know if the suggestions are your favorite until you try them?

I'm marking as "Best Answer" the things that I definitely want to try and marking "Favorites" as back-up items.
posted by ColdChef at 12:15 PM on May 19, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the help, folks. I look forward to meeting y'all at the meetup.
posted by ColdChef at 6:49 PM on May 20, 2009

Response by poster: I want to thank you all again for the great advice. Things I enjoyed on my trip: King's Road Cafe, The Getty, Book Soup, Omi Sushi, Canter's Deli, The Museum of Jurassic Technology, Loteria, some pancake place near the Farmer's Market whose name escapes me, and In-n-Out Burger.

Because I was blind for most of my trip (long story), I was unable to go to many of the things I'd have liked to...but thank you all again and I look forward to seeing all of you again in the future.
posted by ColdChef at 1:11 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I look forward to seeing all of you again in the future.

Or even seeing us for the first time!
posted by scody at 2:58 PM on June 17, 2009

Response by poster: Actually, I could see just fine. I pretended to be blind so all of you would let me feel your faces.
posted by ColdChef at 3:13 PM on June 17, 2009

Uh, that wasn't my face.
posted by scody at 3:19 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

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