Ultimate Los Angeles Itinerary: 5 to 7 Days in LA
June 24, 2021
A Los Angeles Native’s Travel Guide to the City
It’s done. This LA native who has been a travel blogger for 6 years FINALLY wrote a Los Angeles itinerary. It was a daunting task because this “hometown” of mine has a lot to see and do, but sitting down to write an LA itinerary a day at a time helped ensure that I included all of the highlights and experiences you should not miss out on during a visit to Los Angeles.
It took me a minute to appreciate Los Angeles as a city. And by a minute, I mean 20 years or so. If you look at LA as a whole, it’s expansive and overwhelming. But, if you can recognize that Los Angeles is actually comprised of a series of diverse neighborhoods each offering something unique, then you really begin to value the city in its entirety. This LA trip itinerary methodically and deliberately divides up each day so that you can maximize your time in each of these various neighborhoods. You will not be crossing the city in rush hour traffic, I promise you that.
This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking the link at no extra cost to you.
Where to Stay in Los Angeles
There’s a battle in Los Angeles between urban and ocean. And honestly, both are great options. If you’d like to stay near the beaches, then I’d suggest an accommodation in Santa Monica or Venice. I shared my favorite in each neighborhood. And if you prefer a city lifestyle, then I would stay on the border between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. When you do search for hotels in Los Angeles, remember that Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills are their own cities, so some of the hotels might not show up in a generic LA search.
Shore Hotel in Santa Monica
Hotel Erwin in Venice
Petit Ermitage in West Hollywood
Day 1: Santa Monica and Venice Beach
On your first day in LA, get right into the swing of things and live your best westside life. That means soaking up all the beach vibes in Santa Monica and Venice Beach. I’m torn about whether to suggest you start your day in Venice or Santa Monica, but ultimately decided to begin in Venice because the stillness of the water and the early morning light at the Venice Canals will undoubtedly be a trip highlight.
Start your morning strolling down Abbot Kinney Boulevard – a popular thoroughfare in Venice with some of the best shops, bars, and restaurants in all of Los Angeles. Grab some coffee at Intelligentsia or brunch at Butcher’s Daughter or Gjilena.
That mile long road with all of the shops you just walked down is named after the man who built Venice of America or what is commonly known as the Venice Canals. And that’s where you should be walking to now. Abbot Kinney decided to recreate the Venice, Italy canals in Venice Beach California and it truly is one of the best spots in LA. The canals are pedestrian only which makes this small square of land a quiet refuge tucked away from the big city. It’s almost a right of passage to play the “which house would you live in” game as you walk along them. You might see some kayakers and get mad at me for not suggesting that you do this activity; but don’t be because you actually have to be a canal resident or a plus one of a resident to go boating.
After wandering through the canals, walk to the Venice Boardwalk. It’s the ultimate people watching experience and a bit of a shock to the senses, but hopefully in a good way. Check out the skate park, a basketball game, and of course, the ocean as you walk/ride/blade the most scenic 2.5 miles out of the 26 mile bike path toward Santa Monica. If you are on the beach during the late afternoon/early evening on Saturday or Sunday, look for the drum circle that happens at sunset.
A note about biking or blading: Unfortunately, you can’t ride one of the Lyft electric bikes you see everywhere down the bike path. That would be ideal because we really only need a one-way ride. So here are your options:
- 1) Walk the 2.5 miles or so to Santa Monica. The downside with this is that you’ve already been walking so your feet might get tired. You can always walk some of the way and then take a scooter or bike the rest of the way – you just won’t be on the bike path for that part.
- 2) Rent a bike or roller blades for an hour or two and make it a round trip journey. From there, you can Uber to Santa Monica.
- Rent a bike or roller blades for the day. You’ll have to return the equipment before the rental shop closes around dinnertime.
* I would not currently recommend a visit to the Venice Boardwalk especially if you are traveling with children as the area is considered by many to be unsafe right now. Rent an e-bike or scooter and head to Santa Monica instead.*
The bike path will end at the Santa Monica pier which I definitely recommend you visit, but would rather you save it for the evening. So once you make it to Santa Monica, you can hang at the beach or walk and shop along the famous Third Street Promenade. If you ate on the earlier side and starting to get hungry, Fig at 5 at the Fairmont Miramar hotel is the best happy hour on the westside. From 5 to 6 on Tuesday-Saturday, the entire menu (except for dessert) at Fig Restaurant is 50% off. And the ambience is absolutely beautiful to boot.
If you wanted to have dinner instead, Fia and Elephante are two trendy restaurants in Santa Monica. Forma and Tar and Roses are really good as well. The nice thing about Elephante is that it is close to the pier, so you could have dinner and then stroll back to the pier to ride the Ferris wheel, grab a hot chocolate, and watch the waves crash at night. Wherever you go, I would suggest making a reservation in advance. If you’re looking for a night out on the town in Santa Monica, Bungalow is the place – it’s also at the Fairmont Miramar – otherwise you can head back after the pier and get ready for Day 2 on your Los Angeles itinerary.
Day 2: West Hollywood and Beverly Hills
Out of all of the museums in the entirety of Los Angeles, I would recommend the Nethercutt Collection. But it’s not a realistic choice for most visitors because the location is really out of the way from tourist areas. If you are into cars or music, have been to Los Angeles before, and are looking for something truly “off the beaten path,” then you could consider adding it to your Los Angeles itinerary. But, for everyone else, the Getty Center is the most famous museum in Los Angeles – it’s rated #1 on Things To Do on TripAdvisor – and is probably the ideal museum to visit during your trip. The paintings are some of the best in the world – Cezanne, Gaugin, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh – and the panoramic views of Los Angeles are spectacular. The gardens are dazzling and the story of the design intriguing, so try and catch the tour if the timing works out. The museum itself is free but you have to pay $20 to park so consider that your entrance fee.
Once you finish at the Getty, start gearing up for the ultimate LA vibes: Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. LA is a driving city and as such, there are a series of drives in Los Angeles that simply cannot be missed and photographed. Roll down the windows, turn up the music, and follow Waze. The first drive is what I call “palm trees down Canon Drive” in Beverly Hills. You’ve seen it on Instagram and now you’re going to live it. From there, you can drive down Rodeo Drive which honestly, I’m not really a fan of, but it is so iconic so you definitely shouldn’t skip it. You can also park your car in the Beverly Hills flats in a 2-hour parking spot and walk down Rodeo.
Maybe you had breakfast at your hotel or grabbed a coffee at the plethora of shops along the way to the Getty Center, but now it’s time for a late lunch and where better to go than Urth Cafe on Melrose. It is a scene, but the line moves quickly and it’s a classic LA establishment. Menu suggestions include the turkey burger or Urth salad and if you aren’t too heavily caffeinated, the Spanish Latte Granita or the Organic Green Tea Boba are fun drinks to get. Don’t finish them up too quickly because it’s really fun to go up to the Restoration Hardware rooftop, which is right across the street from Urth, and enjoy the peacefulness and the views. Window shop along Melrose Place – there’s a Zimmerman, Mejuri, Reformation, and the RealReal – all within a mile of each other.
Our final iconic drive of the day is down Sunset Boulevard. It’s a lot to take in so you could either drive up and down a time or two or park the car around Sunset Plaza and walk that stretch of street. Selling Sunset’s Oppenheim Group office is right there, along with some beautiful restaurant patios, and the Cinerama dome. And if you’re comfortable, driving up into the Hollywood Hills to admire the mansions and the views from that vantage point is really a fun activity.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most chaotic, you can decide how you want to spend your evening in West Hollywood. 1 to 3 would be eating at a casual, but trendy LA spot like Guisados on Santa Monica Boulevard. 4 to 6 would include dining at a celebrity hot spot like Catch, Craigs, or Cecconi’s. E.P.L.P is a great rooftop bar for a drink or two after dinner. You’d be at a 7 to 9 if you decide to hit up the Vanderpump Rules restaurants – dinner at Sur or Pump and drinks after at TomTom – and if you really want to live it up in Weho at a level 10, then spend the night at the Abbey, the ultimate gay bar in Los Angeles.
- O.J. Simpson Tour
- Brunch or Bingo at Hamburger Marys
- UCLA campus
Day 3: Malibu
Not every day needs to be a go, go, go type situation and your day trip to Malibu certainly doesn’t have to. Treat Malibu as a vacation day during your trip to LA and embrace the fact that you are at the beach in such an iconic seaside destination. The marine layer doesn’t usually burn off until mid-day anyway.
Hop in your car late morning and make yet another celebrated drive down the Pacific Coast Highway toward Malibu. Park at the Malibu Country Mart, an outdoor mall that is bougie AF and consequently, very fun to walk around and people watch. Attached to the Country Mart is the Lumber Yard which is also an outdoor shopping and dining complex made of hardwood. Grab a coffee if you’d like and continue your walk down to the Malibu Pier which is about 3/4 of a mile away down Pacific Coast Highway to have lunch at Malibu Farm. There’s a sit down restaurant at the beginning of the pier and a cafe at the end – both are great for different reasons. The ambiance at the restaurant is fun and it’s nice to have a place to sit for a bit. The cafe, on the other hand, has a much better view of the ocean. Whichever you choose, the cauliflower pizza is delicious! At the end of your meal, take the stairs to the upper level at the pier and admire the view. I sit here for hours and hours watching the waves crash, the surfers catching them, and the seagulls flying overhead.
While you could so easily sit on the pier for the entirety of the afternoon, there is still a beach to explore. So walk down a bit until you find beach access and spend some time dipping your feet into the Pacific Ocean. Dinner reservations should be made at Nobu (sushi) or Taverna Tony’s (Greek). You are pretty much guaranteed to spot a celebrity at either option. You could even do drinks at Nobu either before or after dinner at Taverna Tonys if you wanted to hit up both places.
- Paradise Cove
- Rosenthal Winery
- Matador Beach
Day 4: Downtown LA and the Arts District
I want to provide a little more optionality on this day in Downtown LA. Because this part of Los Angeles is walkable, it’s easier to provide variety and then you can determine which track caters most to your interests.
If you love modern art and architecture, then you’ll want to start your morning off at the Broad Museum and nearby Walt Disney Concert Hall, home to the LA Philharmonic, which was developed by none other than Frank Gehry. If you want to see the Infinity Room at The Broad, sign up in advance for a morning time slot. The museum is free, but parking in the lot is $17 for 3 hours. The Walt Disney Concert Hall gives hour-long self-guided audio tours and guided tours on most days.
Have lunch at Grand Central Market, an open air food market that has been in existence since 1917. It has since been revitalized and blends new, trendier cuisine with some of the old time institutions. You can’t really go wrong, but my favs include Villa Moreliana, EggSlut, Sticky Rice, DTLA Cheese, Lucky Bird, and China Cafe. When you finish at the market, check out some important historical sights – Angel’s Flight and the Bradbury Building. Bradbury is supposedly the oldest commercial building in DTLA, opened in 1893. Similarly, Angel’s Flight railway was built back in 1901; it’s actually the world’s shortest railway at 298 feet. You can ride the railway up and down for a couple dollars or just admire it from the street.
I don’t think it’s really necessary to go to Staples Center because every city has their own sports venue, unless you grew up a huge fan of Kobe and the Los Angeles Lakers. In that case, you’ll need to see a game. But LA Live is a fun area to walk around. It’s also the location of the Grammy Museum which showcases a large swath of musical history of all genres. The museum is really well laid out and informative, but watch the movie before you start the tour.
Downtown Los Angeles has a plethora of great eateries including the most reviewed restaurant on Yelp, Bottega Louie. Personally, I die for the lasagna. There are no reservations, and while the floor is huge, plan on waiting a bit for a table if you go during peak time. Grab drinks on Perch’s famous rooftop, one of the three floors at Clifton’s Cafeteria, or behind the door with the music note at the Varnish, a speakeasy inside the famous Cole’s restaurant.
Arts District Option
A hotbed for creatives, the Arts District underwent a major revitalization and has emerged as one of the coolest LA neighborhoods. You’ll understand the vibe a bit better if you start out at Hauser & Wirth, an art gallery with a small number of ever-changing exhibitions. Admission is free, but save that coin for drinks and dinner. Grab some beer at Angel City Brewery or the Arts District Brewing Company or take a tour of a liquor distillery at either Greenbar or Lost Spirits.
The Arts District has some of the best restaurants in LA, and you could honestly spend all day eating in this pocket of Los Angeles. I know that’s not realistic, so try and make a reservation at Bestia or Bavel if you want a truly phenomenal meal. If you can’t get one, don’t worry, keep it cute and casual at Wurstküche. They are infamous for their rattlesnake sausage. End the night at one of two arcades in the area. The VR games at Two Bit Circus are insanely cool or you can go the traditional route and play some pinball and other vintage arcade games at EightyTwo.
- Karaoke and Korean BBQ in Koreatown
Day 5: Hollywood
Everyone always complains about how much Hollywood sucks, and I wish I could dispel that notion, but the truth is that everyone is right and I don’t like it either. You can still have a Hollywood-adjacent day though without the grittiness of this part of the city. So here it goes:
Begin your day with a little exercise. Hike Runyon Canyon or to the Hollywood sign. You have to force me to exercise so hiking isn’t my area of expertise, but I do know the basics: stay on the paved path on Runyon and parking is difficult. I hiked to the Hollywood Sign with my UCLA college roommates during finals week of senior year and don’t really remember how we did it; so, here’s a link to a post with good info on how to hike there.
If you’ve never been to LA before and feel the need to see the Walk of Fame and the Dolby Theater where the Academy Awards are held then I totally understand and won’t stop you. Hollywood and Highland is actually another interesting drive; it’s when you start looking for parking that things begin to go downhill. But you can find a outdoor paid lot or park in the Hollywood and Highland shopping mall where parking is only $3 when validated by participating shops and restaurants. Spend a little time walking around and snapping a few photos with the stars of your favorite actors and actresses. But,let’s get in and get out because there are more exhilarating things to do in Los Angeles today.
Psst: Check to see if you’re in town during Paley Fest, try to get tickets! That’s such a fun series of events and the second best way to see the interior of the Dolby, going to the Oscars being the first.
From here, I’m going to give you a couple of options. If you’ve never had In-N-Out Burger before and aren’t vegan or a vegetarian, then it’s kind of a necessity that you do. And what do you know? There’s an In-N-Out Burger a couple of blocks away from Hollywood and Highland. Animal style is the way to go and I also like to add a Neapolitan shake to my order. These are not-so-secret, secret menu items.
From here, you can decide whether you’d prefer to visit the Original Farmer’s Market and the Grove, the La Brea Tar Pits, LACMA and the Urban Lights, or some combination of them all. If you have been to In-N-Out before, then I’d suggest eating at Joan’s On Third which is a very trendy gourmet marketplace located nearby these three attractions. I’m obsessed with their mac and cheese and the Chinese chicken salad. You must get the Nutella poundcake for dessert! Your final lunch option would be to go on a food tour of the Original Farmer’s Market at the Grove. This is hands down the best way to experience the market; otherwise it’s a series of food stalls with very low ceilings.
Whichever activities you decide on, you need to keep an eye on the clock because you don’t want to miss the final hurrah – sunset at the Griffith Observatory. Griffith is one of those attractions that is touristy for a reason, it’s absolutely incredible. There is free parking down near the Greek Theatre. Take the shuttle bus up to the top. It’s only $.50 a person. After sunset, I usually walk down to the car because the line for the shuttle can be long and it’s only a 10-15 minute walk downhill.
There are so many dinner options for your last night. Sushi at Sugarfish, Thai food at a restaurant in Thai Town, or dinner at my all-time favorite LA restaurant, Osteria La Buca. If you’d like to cap off these five days in Los Angeles with a drink or two, there are some famous bars in Hollywood. Good Times at Davey Waynes is a fun dive bar and I’m personally dying to visit Tramp Stamp Granny’s, a 1920s themed piano bar owned by Glee star Darren Criss and his wife.
- Cinespia at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery
- Horseback ride to the Hollywood Sign
- concert at the Greek Theater or the Hollywood Bowl
Optional Days: 6 and 7
Are you including Disneyland and California Adventure on your itinerary for Los Angeles? I never really understood the obsession with Disneyland until I went with a family who was obsessed with Disneyland and learned how to visit the right way. The key? It’s simple. You need two days at the park with a stay overnight at a hotel in Anaheim walking distance from the park. Lines are long for the rides and if you’re only at The Parks for one day, you’re going to stress the entire time about whether or not you’re able to fit it all in. Two days allows you to be much more relaxed and enjoy the Disney experience.
If you have a week in LA, I’d suggest going to a taping of a show or if you can’t get tickets to one, a Warner Bros. Studio Tour. The tour is expensive, so I held off going for years. But, when the Gilmore Girls Holiday Event ran as an exhibition, I bit the bullet. Even as an LA native, the tour was phenomenal and I could not recommend it enough.
Do You Need a Car in LA?
You do. With the emergence of Uber and Lyft, there is certainly less of a reliance on having your own vehicle, but it would be so expensive to ride share everywhere during the course of your time in Los Angeles, that it seems impractical to me. I use Priceline to find the best deals on rental cars and compare prices between the various companies.
How Many Days Do You Need in LA?
5 to 6 days is an ideal amount of time to experience Los Angeles. I would not spend less than 3 days unless you are merely stopping off here on a road trip up or down PCH. If you have plans to visit Disneyland and California Adventure, 7 days in LA and Anaheim would be best. And if you are following my itinerary and only have 3 days, I would eliminate the Malibu and Downtown days.
What is the Best Month to Visit Los Angeles?
April – Early June and Late September – November are great months to visit Los Angeles. The coldest it gets during the winter season is 50 degrees, which makes it easy to explore the city year-round. The two major impediments to your visit would be rain and wildfire smoke. It’s difficult to drive in Los Angeles in the rain and you don’t want to spend too much time outdoors if the air quality is unhealthy from local fires. It can get really hot in the summer, but it’s mostly a dry heat which is much more bearable then cities with massive humidity.
Would you include any other activities on this Los Angeles itinerary? Let us know in the comments below! And don’t forget to check out these other posts on WOAW!