Los Angeles is a dream destination for many people, but if you aren’t familiar with the area, there are definitely some things you should know before visiting LA for the first time.
While Los Angeles is beautiful and filled with tons of cool stuff to do and see, if you don’t plan your trip right, you could end up spending hours of your precious vacation time stuck in traffic! As a Los Angeles native, I wanted to share my tips to making the most of your trip to the Golden State’s biggest city. Here are 7 things you should know before visiting Los Angeles for the first time:
1. Los Angeles is Huge
If you’re not from the area, it can be hard to imagine just how sprawling Los Angeles is. But believe it or not, most locals don’t even know their way around the whole city! Visitors should be aware that they aren’t going to be able to see the entire city, and that’s okay (if anything, it’s an excuse to come back to visit again)! In order to make the most of your time in the City of Angels, it’s important to do your research and make a list of the places that you want to see most before you go. When you’re planning, take a look at a map, too—that way, you can group your activities by location so you aren’t zig-zagging across town!
Because of its size, LA is comprised of many unique neighborhoods, each with its own charm and sights to see. Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and Downtown are obvious picks, but Venice Beach, Silver Lake, and Echo Park are home to a number of worthwhile attractions, too. You could spend a full day in Downtown just exploring the fashion and arts districts alone! Having a plan will help you tackle this big city and ensure you get to everything on your must-see list.
2. Rent a Car
Despite the city’s vast size, its public transportation system is pretty lacking. Unlike some other major U.S. cities, it’s nearly impossible to get around LA without a car. Of course, you can hail an Uber or Lyft from anywhere, but I’d recommend renting a car. That way, you have the freedom to jump between neighborhoods as you wish, and you won’t be subjected to those surge fees during peak hours! Plus, if you’re planning to take any day trips or want to spend a few hours hiking some of the area’s beautiful trails, having a car gives you the freedom to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city center.
3. Watch Where You Park
Parking in LA is plentiful, but be careful—the city is notorious for its complicated parking rules! Be sure to check the street signs when you park. You definitely don’t want to add a parking ticket, or worse yet, a towing charge, to your vacation expenses! Paid parking lots are plentiful, though, and they can definitely be worth the money for their convenient locations and the peace of mind they give, knowing your car will still be there when you come back! Include some room in your budget for parking charges, or be extra careful when parking street-side.
4. Factor in Traffic Time
If you think the opening scene in La La Land was an exaggeration, just wait until you see LA’s freeways for yourself! Native Angelenos are all too familiar with the traffic that comes with rush hour, and yes, it really does get that bad, so be prepared! Try to plan your day so that you won’t be in transit during rush hour to save yourself the time and headache of getting stuck in bumper to bumper traffic.
Google Maps is pretty good at giving estimates that account for delays, but it’s always a good idea to factor in some wiggle room just to be safe. If your dinner reservation is at 7:00, give yourself a buffer of 20-30 minutes in case of an unexpected jam or troubles finding parking. Better to arrive early and have a drink at the bar while you wait for your table than to rush in late or lose your spot altogether!
5. Split Your Stay
You get it by now—LA is huge. But one of my favorite pieces of advice, and one of the best ways to avoid the pain of criss-crossing the city a million times, is to stay in a few different neighborhoods over the course of your trip. Consider splitting your stay between two or three spots and planning your activities around where you’re based each day.
I’d suggest spending a few nights in Santa Monica and tackling the attractions in Venice, West LA, and Brentwood, and then relocating to Downtown to be closer to many of the city’s museums, like the MOCA, and gems like Koreatown and Little Tokyo, or to catch a game at Dodger Stadium. That way, you get a feel for the different vibes of different areas and cut down on your time in the car to boot. It’s a win-win!
6. Get Ready for Hollywood
Spoiler alert—Hollywood isn’t quite as glitzy and celebrity-filled as you might have imagined. In fact, Tinseltown might prove to be kind of a shock if you don’t know what to expect! That’s not to say that it’s not worth visiting, though; the Walk of Fame and Grauman’s Chinese Theater are quintessential landmarks that shouldn’t be missed. However, Hollywood Boulevard is definitely on the crowded side and certainly hasn’t won any awards for cleanest street in LA. It’s a worthwhile day trip for sure and a lot of fun to look at all the stars and handprints, but don’t expect to see your favorite celebrities just walking around!
7. Prep for the Weather
By weather, I mean a light breeze. Yes, LA is sunny pretty much all year round, but the weather is often breezy and the marine layer means that mornings can be foggy with a bit of a chill. Be sure to pack a sweater, and don’t forget your sunscreen!
If you’re headed to the beach, you should know that the water isn’t like Florida or Hawaii and can be cold compared to the air temperature. So you’ll probably want to rent a wetsuit if you plan on surfing those famous California waves. If warm weather is what you’re after, the best time of year to visit is mid-July to October (be warned, “June gloom” is very real!). You really can’t go wrong any time of year, though; as any native will tell you, there’s a reason they call it the Golden State.
Another thing you should know before visiting Los Angeles for the first time is book a tour for your first day to get a lay of the land! This is essential in LA given the size!
LA truly has something for everyone: whether you’re a foodie, film geek, nature-lover, or artsy type, you’re sure to find your scene in the City of Angels. I hope these tips on things you should know before visiting Los Angeles help you make the most of your visit!
Have you been dreaming of a trip to LA, or are you already familiar with this awesome city? If you have any other tips or questions, be sure to share them with us in the comments!