Visiting Los Angeles with teen
June 21, 2022 12:22 PM   Subscribe

I am taking my teen to LA for a week in July. We will be staying in Laguna Beach for three days to go to the art festivals, that hotel is booked. I had planned to stay in Santa Monica for four nights but now think that may be too long and perhaps we could stay 2 of those nights somewhere else instead. But where?

Part 1: We're not interested in museums, or nature walks. Is there a funky neighborhood you can recommend? Some of our favorite places are Old San Juan, Greenwich Village, and Southbeach; places with shopping, interesting architecture, and cafes. Santa Monica doesn't sound like a great place to use as a base, but we're game for staying there if you can recommend some places not too far away by uber. I had thought about Venice Beach but figure we can go there on a day trip by bike from Santa Monica.
Part 1b: Can you recommend a place to stay in said neighborhood in the $250-350 range?
Part 1c: Is there a Hollywood or other tour you recommend or should we just skip that?

Part 2: We want a hotel with a pool while we're in Santa Monica. Would you recommend we splurge on Hotel Casa Del Mar, the Viceroy, The Shore, or somewhere else you were happy with? Shutters is just too expensive .

Any tips would be very much appreciated.
posted by waving to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Pasadena might be a great place to visit. It's easily accessible by the LA Metro system. The Pasadena City Hall is stunningly beautiful. Pasadena is also very walkable and has a lot of great architecture and cafes.

Downtown LA is a lot of fun, too. I don't know much about the safety of DTLA these days; you may wish to stay elsewhere and then take the train in. The LA Conservancy has a lot of amazing architectural walking tours that would be right up your alley. The Bradbury Building is a must-see! Grand Central Market is a really fun place in DTLA - former train station, now holds dozens of eateries. It's a great place to grab lunch; we usually take our food outside or on the grass. Note from a COVID safety perspective: it gets very crowded.

While you're in the Laguna Beach area, you might consider heading down to San Juan Capistrano to visit the mission. It's a fun day trip and offers interesting history.

Re: Hollywood - depends on whether you like touristy stuff. It's nice to go just to say you did it, but it gets really crowded, and it's not that interesting of a place.

Consider taking the Metro if you feel comfortable. It's a pretty decent train/bus network, and it may save you a lot of money on rideshares. You can get a TAP card at most/all train stations. I recommend the Moovit app to plan trips.
posted by aquamvidam at 1:04 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]

Our "still funky but gentrification has a tipping point" neighborhoods are Silverlake, Echo Park, and Eagle Rock. Alternately Koreatown, which is also a good base camp from a Metro standpoint. There are not a lot of hotels there - this is a problem all over LA, nobody wants hotels except in designated tourist areas. There are airbnbs, don't be surprised at the cost. July is high season here.

You know, you kind of can't go wrong with any tour in LA, because the tour guides are generally trained and highly-experienced actors and comedians. A friend of mine who's a playwright was once on Hell's Kitchen because the contestants were on her open-air double-decker bus tour. It's a good way to see interesting parts of the city without driving them yourself. If you wanted to see the San Fernando Valley, MyValleyPass has a number of interesting tours.

I've heard good things about ghost tours here, which is a nice safe way to get out at night.

People always say they want to see Hollywood, and I always ask for details. Did you mean the crowded dirty sidewalk packed with other tourists and dudes in Spiderman costumes who will take selfies with you for a fee? There is some stuff left in the neighborhood-district called Hollywood that are from the time of Old Hollywood, if that's what you actually mean, but they're not directly across the street from the spidermans, they're spread out. And the place that people imagine as Hollywood is better known as the Greater Los Angeles Area because the industry has almost always been spread around, so if you have a specific interest like costuming or animation, you should look for the (often amazing) museums and other preservation entities and plot your itinerary because they're often tucked away somewhere that you'll need a plan to get to.

But if you like architecture you should definitely see the Bradbury, and the conservancy offers tours of other architectural points of note - I may try to sneak one or two of those into my own schedule before we move away, I hadn't realized how many cool options they had.

If you want to do a hell of an eating tour, here's a recommended walking tour of Japantown/Sawtelle.

July is the sweet spot of nighttime outdoor shows. Check the schedules at Hollywood Forever, Hollywood Bowl, and the definitive outdoor movie list - one of my absolute favorite things to do here.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:06 PM on June 21 [3 favorites]

RE: Santa Monica, I don't personally enjoy it, but it's a great base for travelers. It's walkable and bikable, and the weather will be much better there than most anywhere inland in July. Pasadena, for instance, will likely be HOT. Definitely try out Pasadena, though; it sounds like you'd enjoy it. If you like shopping and picking around, many people love the Rose Bowl flea market (on Sundays).

As for DTLA, definitely go for an architecture tour. Other highlights include The Last Bookstore, and the Little Tokyo area. Parts of the latter border Skid Row, so an especially troubled subset of the unhoused population may be visible. This is kinda true all through DTLA though, and in general, if you're unwilling to witness this type of societal failure, I wouldn't vacation in L.A.

Silverlake and Larchmont Village are bougied up but potentially still fun. Angelino Heights is where a number of whimsically painted Victorian homes hide themselves away; that would be a nice walk. Over in Echo Lake Park, it will be lotus season, which is gorgeous!

I would skip most Hollywood stuff, but the Paramount lot is compact and iconic and fairly easy to reach, and the tour is supposed to be fun. Plus there is a picturesque cemetery on the other side, with various dead Names.

In terms of driving, try to cluster activities together in the same general area, so that traffic isn't constantly disrupting your day. When parked, don't leave anything at all visible, no matter how small (or how obviously it's garbage), especially if you have out-of-state plates.
posted by desert outpost at 2:38 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]

LA is a nightmare if you're looking for a compact, walkable vacation like you'd get in Old San Juan or Greenwich Village. Just getting from Santa Monica to LA's Union Station (as good a spot as any to choose as "downtown" LA) takes 30-90 minutes each way to go 16 miles, even in the middle of the afternoon. All within what most people would think of as "LA". I have strolled around the Arts District and diamond district, and there's interesting architecture and great cocktails, but it's also close to some pretty rough areas, such as the original Skid Row. I have heard good things about Echo Park. Hollywood is fun if you have something to see (studio tour, TV taping) but there's no there there.

For something manageable and interesting, I would highly, highly recommend Avalon in Catalina. There are almost no private cars, so everyone is getting around on foot and taxi. Distinctive architecture, drop-dead gorgeous scenery, variety of cuisines, just a great place to spend a few days. The ferry is relatively cheap and frequent, and you can get a bus from LAX to the terminal in Long Beach. Another option would be Palm Springs.
posted by wnissen at 3:10 PM on June 21 [3 favorites]

July is hot, the temperature will be way more enjoyable in beach cities than farther inland. (Even 10 miles in can be 10 degrees hotter.)

The unhoused populations have grown, even in the past 2 years. It will be an unavoidable part of visiting Santa Monica/Venice, downtown, K-Town, and Echo Park. The Arts District/Little Tokyo part of downtown is the nicest, just try to stay north of 4th if you are east of Spring.

Also, LA is a pretty new city, architecturally speaking, and not very dense. Also very function over form. There are highlights downtown like Union Station, the Bradbury building, and the central library (plus modern pieces like the Broad and Walt Disney Concert Hall), but otherwise don’t expect too much. Unless you like murals.

Pasadena is nice, and walkable near its downtown, but leans more big box/suburban than you might be looking for. Same for Glendale. These two towns are more likely to have the kind of hotel you’re after than most neighborhood in LA proper. In general, neighborhoods in LA are 4-5 blocks of shops, then miles of residential. Maybe I’m jaded because I live here, but it’s hard to imagine any one area where it would be interesting to go and hang out for more than 4 hours at a time, unless I had a lot of money to spend. Also on the quasi-suburban list: the Magnolia Park area of Burbank. Getting 2 of each savory pastry from Porto’s and taking them to Descanso Gardens is a nice way to spend half a day.

Highland Park, Atwater Village, Sawtelle, and Los Feliz are areas that could fit your vibe, but might be light on hotels and subway access. (Actually, Sawtelle might be decent on both of those.) You also would probably like staying in West Hollywood (near Fairfax/Fountain), though it’s pretty far from any freeways, so getting in/out of the area can take a while.

The suggestion of going to Catalina/Avalon actually isn’t a terrible one, but maybe on the pricey end. Similarly, coastal towns farther north (Oxnard, Carpentaria, Santa Barbara) or south (San Clemente, Oceanside, Encinitas) might be more the feel you’re looking for.

If you’re set on LA proper, I recommend a multiple mile walk down an east/west street until you give up and take a bus/Uber back to where you’re staying. Taking Sunset west from Echo Park is a classic example, but there are neat segments of Melrose and Santa Monica as well. Wilshire/Olympic/Venice are this adventure on hard mode.
posted by itesser at 2:42 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: All great suggestions, thank you so much for these insights!
posted by waving at 6:04 AM on June 22

I'd pick Hotel Casa Del Mar out of the Santa Monica hotel choices. For westside LA walking, you might like Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Fairfax Ave. If you go to Fairfax Ave, check out Canter's and the Original Farmer's Market.

If you want to stay in a neighborhood away from Santa Monica, you might like the Silverlake Pool & Inn . Other than Silverlake, you might like walking around Hancock Park and Atwater Village. I second the Echo Park recommendation. LA also has great flea markets that could be fun to walk around. If you are there the right weekend, you can go to the huge Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena. There's also the Los Feliz and Silverlake flea markets and Melrose Trading Post (at Fairfax High) on the weekends.
posted by JuliaKM at 8:30 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]

With a teenage kid - any interest in surfing lessons? Santa Monica has them.

Seconding Catalina Island - lots to do there. Ferry is from Long Beach, Dana Point, or Newport Beach. Zip line, glass bottom boat, snorkeling, scuba lessons even. Food, sailboats (sailing excursion?).

Long Beach itself (harbor area anyway) has a ton of cool stuff to do - the aquarium is great, there are harbor tours (Long Beach harbor is the busiest/biggest shipping harbor in the nation and it's fascinating), a U-Boat, the Queen Mary, maybe a Liberty Ship still (can't remember if they moved it or not), etc.

July is also whale watching season for blue whales - there are tours out of Long Beach harbor (as well as most other harbors, including Dana Point, which is pretty close to Laguna).

Another option is Santa Barbara - you could take the train from San Clemente or San Juan Cap up there. Lots of fun stuff there and great food (La Super Rica!). I took a cool glass-blowing "class" there once with a groupon once.

I guess another idea is to stay in Marina Del Rey. It's within easy reach of lots of things you might choose to do (as well as LAX). MDR itself has sailing excursions/lessons, kayaking/paddle boarding, and eating, but not a lot else. Oh and MDR has the largest Home Depot in the nation, haha.
posted by bluesky78987 at 9:05 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]

Lots of good advice in this thread.
I would just add Culver City as a place that hasn't really come up, but is really funky and interesting and conveniently located. Culver has its own little downtown & arts district. You could get breakfast at Destroyer, visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology, see the Samitaur tower and the various shops at Platform and assorted little galleries and boutiques scattered throughout. There are Hare Krishnas and tasty and cheap vegetarian Indian restaurants and all sorts of interesting things.

Culver City has some nice but reasonably priced hotels you could stay at, and the Expo line will easily (if sometimes slightly sketchily) take you West to Santa Monica or East to DTLA.
posted by kickingtheground at 12:26 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]

I was thinking about this question some more, and wondering if you want to go to San Francisco instead. It's true that it is much rougher than it was, but it's a still a beautiful city and a great place to visit. There's a ton of distinct neighborhoods, each with its own feel. The Panhandle leads into Golden Gate Park, to Ocean Beach. Or walk across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Presidio. Hike the steep Filbert Steps to Coit Tower, and into Chinatown. Hike to see the mansions of Nob Hill or Pacific Heights. Enjoy the murals of the Mission and a picnic with the hipsters in Dolores Park. LA is more a region with a collection of destinations, SF is a destination.
posted by wnissen at 9:30 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]

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