Los Angeles may be one the US’s most misunderstood cities. Yes, public transport isn’t the best and one hour in LA traffic might shave twice that off your life expectancy, but the City of Angels has so much more to offer than just a Hollywood sign and the Walk of Stars. Whether you want to hit the beach, spot celebrities or get away from it all, here’s how to dodge the tourist traps.
Don’t do a celebrity home tour. Most celebrities don’t live in places where busloads of tourists can gawk at them several times a day and the ones who do have such high fences that you’d need a cherry-picker to spot them.
Instead, if you really want to spy an A-lister, your best bet is to hang out where they do. The ones who want to be seen head for obvious haunts like Beverly Hills Hotel and Chateau Marmont but the more low-key types can be found at the farmer’s markets in Santa Monica and Los Feliz, Little Dom’s (an old-school Italian joint favoured by Ryan Gosling, Jon Hamm and Michelle Williams), and hip eateries like Gjelina. Even if you don’t spot anyone famous, you’ll have had a great lunch.
Don’t do your shopping on Rodeo Drive. By all means window-shop, but in addition to being astronomically expensive the famous strip is also a little charmless.
Instead, head for the edgier Echo Park. Rodeo Drive and Melrose Place may dominate when it comes to big designer names, but for cooler, more under-the-radar brands, Echo Park is the place to go. This strip of hip boutiques, cafés, restaurants and thrift stores also has the rare advantage of being walkable.
Don’t go to Venice Beach to swim. It’s still one of the craziest places to people-watch – muscle men, rollerbladers, drifters, skate boarders and seemingly every misfit on the West Coast congregate here – but a relaxing beach day it is not.
Instead, head 15 minutes south to Playa del Rey, a sleepy little enclave that still feels like a small town. It’s a great place to watch the sun set and has enough restaurants, cafés and dive bars to keep hunger at bay. Playa Provisions, Bacari PDR and Hank’s Pizza get the job done.
Don’t jaywalk. While you can get away with this in New York or Paris without a second glance, the LA police will fine you $250 on the spot.
Instead, be a chill Californian. Wait the extra minute for the light.
Don’t hike Runyon Canyon, where every yoga instructor, tech bro, aspiring actor and their dog goes jogging. The trail is fine and you may even spot a celeb, but the views and scenery are nothing special.
Instead, choose a trail that’s less crowded and has points of interest to explore along the way. Murphy Ranch in Brentwood famously has an abandoned Nazi bunker that was allegedly built by white supremacists during World War II, while Grotto Trail in Malibu takes you past waterfalls, caves, boulders and the obvious – grottos.
Don’t queue all day to get into The Broad, LA’s hottest art gallery.
Instead, schedule a visit. The Downtown Los Angeles gallery founded by Eli and Edythe Broad has an impressive collection and is free to visit, which is why you can expect to wait in line 30 to 45 minutes on an average weekday, 60 to 90 minutes on an average weekend and two or three hours on a holiday weekend. What you’re actually looking at though is the standby line. It’s possible to book tickets in advance, but we’re talking way in advance. Reserved tickets are released on the first of every month at noon Pacific Time for the following month.
Don’t try to see everything in LA in a few days. The only thing you’ll get acquainted with is the inside of your Uber driver’s car.
Instead, accept that LA is sprawling and you can’t do it all. Think carefully about where you want to base yourself. For glamorous shopping and restaurants, go for Beverly Hills. Prefer a more creative, indie vibe and love live music? Try Silver Lake and Echo Park. Night owls should head for West Hollywood, close to the legendary clubs of Sunset Strip, while beachy types will like the quaint piers of Santa Monica.