Los Angeles City Guide

Nestled between mountain ranges and the Pacific Ocean, Los Angeles is an urban sprawl filled with breathtaking valleys, rivers, canyons, waterfalls and beaches. Home to Hollywood, scenic coastlines, a lauded culinary scene and endless opportunities for nature enthusiasts, there’s no city in the world like Los Angeles. After all, it’s one of few places where you can ski and surf on the same day.   

Given Los Angeles County is home to 88 diverse cities, moving to the second largest metropolis in America is like relocating to a small country. Each neighborhood is vastly different, offering unique attractions and living experiences based on where you rest your head.

Immerse yourself in what Angelenos know with Mayflower’s Los Angeles City Guide.

Where to Get a Culture Fix in Los Angeles

With over 840 museums and art galleries, Los Angeles has more museums per capita than any other city in the world. Housing everything from contemporary art to the works of Van Gogh, Los Angeles also has some of the most expansive collections in the United States. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Get your culture fix by visiting these must-see locales.  

Situated on 20 acres off Wilshire Blvd on Museum Row, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is the largest art museum in the western United States.  

Adjacent to the La Brea Tar Pits and down the street from the Petersen Automotive Museum, LACMA attracts around one million visitors each year. Its collection spans the globe and features a rich collection Asian, Latin American and Islamic art. Want to visit LACMA for free? There’s complimentary general admission for L.A. County residents after 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. (Note that the museum is closed on Wednesdays.) Another bonus: all visitors receive free entry to LACMA on the second Tuesday of every month.   

Located in downtown Los Angeles, The Broad — pronounced brode — is a popular contemporary art museum. Although general admission is free, you can also reserve a spot online to ensure that you’re able to visit the museum at a specific time. Additionally, note that exhibits like Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors require additional (but still free) ticket reservations. Enjoy artwork from Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Andy Warhol and more.  

Boasting an impressive art collection and jaw-dropping views of Los Angeles and the Santa Monica mountains, The Getty Center is a go-to for viewing pieces from Van Gogh and Monet, as well as Renaissance paintings, historic manuscripts and sculptures. Spread across six stone-structured buildings and multi-leveled gardens, the Getty Center invites you to explore amazing artwork in between fountains and courtyards.  

Have you ever explored a museum after hours? First Fridays at the Museum of Natural History delivers an unforgettable experience. With live music, DJs and multiple bars proffering craft cocktails — not to mention Angelenos dancing alongside dinosaurs and mammals.  

Just minutes away from the UCLA campus, the Hammer Museum is a three-story contemporary art museum with varying exhibits, a restaurant, and a gift shop. This center also features public programs, including film screenings, lectures, and panel discussions on culturally relevant topics. Want to feel like a kid again? Take a spin on Thomas Heatherwick’s spun chairs in the courtyard. Admission to the museum is free.  

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Things You Can Only See and Experience in Los Angeles

There are several quintessential landmarks in Los Angeles, including the Hollywood sign, Santa Monica Beach and the Venice Boardwalk. That said, there are many hidden gems and under-the -radar experiences that locals prefer. After checking the touristy places off your bucket list, try these lesser-known activities for a truly unique Los Angeles experience.  

Instead of quiet nooks and reading corners, you’ll find vaults, flying books, local art, artist workshops and live music at The Last Bookstore. Housed in the atrium of what was once a multi-level bank, you could spend hours getting lost in fascinating reads, art or straight-up people watching. The Last Bookstore is metro accessible in downtown Los Angeles.  

A Victorian mansion on a hill is home to The Magic Castle and the Academy of Magical Arts. Promising an unforgettable night, it features multiple stages and bars. Guests spend the evening in semi-formal attire, enjoying drinks, interesting conversations and — as one might expect — magic tricks. Here’s the catch — it’s invite-only, and you must know someone who knows someone in order to enter. Or, you could stay next door at the Magic Castle Hotel and they’ll reserve your spot without any funny business.   

Los Angeles is full of hidden gems, including the Griffith Park Old Zoo (4801 Griffith Park Drive), an erstwhile, abandoned zoo in Griffith Park. Opened in 1912 and closed in 1966, the old zoo has been featured in movies like Rush Hour and Starsky & Hutch. Now part of a hiking trail, you can explore the old zoo grounds and observe the remnants of vintage animal cages.  

Watching your favorite classics in a cemetery might not initially seem enticing, but Cinespia movie screenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery are unlike any outdoor movie you’ve experienced. Bring blankets and pillows, along with your favorite snacks and drinks and take in a classic flick in a grassy field. Tickets are required and early arrival is suggested to snag a great picnic spot, enjoy themed photo booths and dance to pre-show DJs. Guest appearances by actors, actresses and filmmakers are common, so don’t be surprised if you see your favorite star in the crowd.   
   
Celebrating a birthday? Catalina Express will gift you a free, round-trip ferry crossing to Catalina Island. The ferry ride takes about an hour each way and you can leave from ports in Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point. Here’s the fine print: you must travel on your birth date with a person who pays full price for a round-trip ferry ticket. Round trip tickets cost $74 to $77, depending on the port you leave from. Upon disembarking, spend the day enjoying a scenic tour, hiking, kayaking, scuba diving, ziplining or just relaxing by the ocean.  

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Where to Get Outdoors in Los Angeles

Los Angeles brims with natural beauty. From rose gardens and museums to lively boardwalks with skate parks, its outdoor attractions are as diverse as the people who frequent them. Our advice? Spend a few minutes or a few hours exploring some of our favorite outdoor spots.  

Explore immersive garden environments across many continents at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. These gardens sprawl across 120 acres, inviting guests to everything from Chinese gardens with waterfalls to Japanese gardens with bonsai and koi. Wander the paths at your own pace as they lead you through miniature rainforests and colorful rose gardens. While you explore the gardens, you’ll discover art galleries, restaurants, wine bars, sculptures, and much more. With such an impressive space, each trip to The Huntington Library means unearthing something new to appreciate.  

Located next to USC and right off a metro stop, the Exposition Park Rose Garden is a historic seven-acre public garden with free access to the public. Visitors are encouraged to walk down rows of grass in between fragrant, formal displays of rose beds. The Rose Garden is open daily from 9 a.m. until sunset, closing from January 1st – March 15th each year for annual maintenance. As a bonus, the Rose Garden is situated near several museums, including the California Science Center, making for a great, full day of cultural explorations.    

For prime people watching, spend an afternoon exploring the Venice Boardwalk. Rent bikes at Santa Monica Beach Bicycle Rentals or simply walk up and down the boardwalk, stopping along the way for views of the beach, skate park and local vendors selling crafts, paintings, handmade jewelry, sunglasses and more. Not far from the public basketball courts you’ll find Muscle Beach, an outdoor gym where people with toned bodies work out on display for passersby.   

An absolute must is a hike at Runyon Canyon. From celebrity sightings to incredible views of Los Angeles, this off-leash dog-friendly hike offers multiple trails to the top. Start the loop from Fuller Avenue or Vista Street, ascending up the canyon on pavement or dirt depending on your trail of choice. People watching is especially entertaining during rush hour (4 p.m.-7 p.m.). Street parking can be found in the neighborhood surrounding Runyon Canyon.   

Known for its rugged coastline, recreational activities and nature preserves, Point Dume State Beach is a family-friendly Malibu beach that invites you to spend an afternoon taking in ocean views. If you’re lucky, you might spot a whale or dolphin in the distance. For visitors interested in a hike, cross the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to access Point Dume and tranquil coastal trails and bluff viewpoints alongside rocky coves and sand dunes. There’s a parking lot that charges about $5 per car.  

The Wisdom Tree (Lake Hollywood and Wonder View Drives) was the only tree to survive the 2007 Barham fire on top of Cahuenga Peak. Depending on when you visit, you might find a trunk at the top underneath the only shade on the mountain. What’s inside the trunk? Journals and pieces of paper filled with confessions and advice from those who’ve reached the Wisdom Tree’s summit.  Park along Lake Hollywood Drive; the dirt trail begins on Wonder View Drive. The trail is short and steep and features views of the Griffith Park Observatory, Runyon Canyon, Los Angeles, and the Valley. If you head East when you reach the top, you’ll extend the hike as you head to the back of the Hollywood sign.  

With over 4,000 acres, Griffith Park is one of the largest urban parks in North America. There are over 50 hiking trails with options for all skill levels, including kids. Interested in exploring the bat cave from the 1960s Batman series? Take a short hike to the Bronson Caves. Need to relax on a shaded path? Take a stroll through Fern Dell or Amir’s Garden. Want a five-plus mile workout to the top of Griffith for amazing views of the city? Enter Fern Dell and park in the lot toward the back (right before the road begins inclining uphill).    

Offering easy, moderate or difficult hiking trails, Solstice Canyon is ideal for both families and adventure junkies. Stroll on a shady trail alongside the creek or opt for a more difficult hike on the Rising Sun Trail. The highlight of this hike? Besides the waterfall, you’ll encounter ruins from several homes that were burned in forest fires decades ago.   

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Local Eats in Los Angeles

Thanks to the wide array of international cuisines and access to farm-fresh ingredients — not to mention lauded chefs — Los Angeles is a food enthusiast’s dream. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or a meat lover, there’s a dish with your name on it. Wondering where to begin? Read on.  

This isn’t your everyday Italian food. Located in downtown Los Angeles, Bestia offers seasonal food that you may or may not have even known you wanted. Consider its charcuterie — Bestia offers a huge selection of house-cured meats that change often, ensuring diners regularly encounter something new. Then, alongside a glass of vino, dive into homemade pasta and pizza paired. You’ll need to plan ahead for the privilege, though. Bestia is so popular that you have to book a reservation about a month in advance. You can also call the night of to ask about last-minute cancellations.   

A restaurant in an old, abandoned church? Yes, please. Redbird is a high-end dining experience located downtown near Walt Disney Music Hall and The Broad Museum. Enjoy ricotta blueberry pancakes at brunch or a bacon-wrapped saddle of rabbit at dinner. With a great happy hour menu, three outdoor dining areas and a space that pays homage to the cathedral, you’ll never forget the ambient experience.   

Working with local farmers to source ingredients, Hatchet Hall turns out seasonally inspired small plates. That may mean sour milk cornbread with shishito and honey, steak tartare, or fried Pacific oysters. Dine at the back of the restaurant for dimly lit candles and speakeasy vibes.    

Bottomless chips and salsa, flaming margaritas and an all-night mariachi band makes El Compadre Restaurant the go-to spot for Mexican food and flair. Located on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, El Compadre gets busy…fast. With vinyl red booths and parts of Spanish tile roofs extending into the dining area, it’s a fun spot for a tipple and talk. If you can’t snag a dinner table before the rush, grab a drink at the bar while you wait.  

Whether you prefer traditional ice cream flavors or more exotic slicks like rose water-saffron with pistachios, satisfy your sweet tooth with a trip to Mashti Malone’s Ice Cream. Lactose intolerant? Try the shop’s refreshing and vibrant pomegranate sorbet. With so many unique flavors, you’ll want to try them all — and, luckily, you can. Mashti Malone’s allows you to sample everything on its menu.  

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Locally Loved Los Angeles Coffee Shops

Situated in Santa Monica, Interstellar pours some of the Westside’s best beans. In addition to serving Arkansas’s storied Onyx Coffee, there’s a roster of sandwiches, pastries and creative coffee drinks. 

The original location set in the century-old Grand Central Market, Go Get Em Tiger teams house-made pastries and other to-go goods and the likes of almond and macadamia milk cappuccino.  

Fancy a lavender latte? Make fast tracks to House Roots Coffee in Granada Hills, where you’ll also find a nice lineup of sweet and savory pastries sure to start the morning right.  

Pasadena’s humble Copa Vida features a weekday morning, $2.50-a-cup honor bar, plus traditional counter service. Coffee-related classes, performances by local musicians, and brunch are among the other allures.  

When in Santa Monica, be sure to visit goodboybob coffee for a pick-me-up. Beyond its Cup of Excellence beans, you’ll find regular roasts and a notable menu to match. There is also a Culver City location inside Citizens Public Market food hall.  
 
The Arts District location of Verve Coffee Roasters carries on the tradition of the Santa Cruz original in a 7,000-square-foot, two-story café and roastery that has become the L.A. flagship. Accompanying global cuisine is joined by coffee-based mocktails — along with nitro cold brews, by-the-cup varieties, and espresso standards.  

Don’t pass by The Boy & The Bear in Redondo Beach when you’re in need of an espresso jolt, enjoying it in welcoming, warehouse-chic environs. There are locations in Westchester and the Culver City area, too. 

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Los Angeles Nightlife Happy Hour Haunts and Nightlife

A break from the chaos, local bars invite you to experience Los Angeles from a chill vantage point. Whether you’re searching for a low-key bar to wind down after work or a vibrant crowd to mingle with, the city is full of go-tos for craft cocktails and delicious bites — like these.   

Set in Washington Square with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the bustle, Beach and Brew Venice boasts a seafood-centric menu and 40 tap self-pour system. Our advice: settle in, pick your pour and relax over raw bar selections, from oysters to shellfish platters. Or go for the memorable aguachile with hamachi, Santa Barbara uni, rock shrimp and salmon roe, accented with cucumbers and avocado. 

A hip neighborhood pasta joint, Mid-Wilshire’s Met Him at a Bar is a whimsical spot serving tried and true family recipes for a song during weeknight happy hour and a solid lineup any time you dine. Then again, you can just go for the creative cocktails, too, like the Hot Passion, crafted from house-infused jalapeno tequila, passion fruit juice, boba, lime, and tajin. 

Take in sky-high views of the Los Angeles skyline from the 73rd floor on top of the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown at Spire 73. The tallest open-air bar in the Western Hemisphere, the sleek lounge is outfitted with cabanas and fire pits, making it a perfect perch for sipping and supping. There’s also a vodka bar on the hotel’s 70th floor with equally jaw-dropping views.  

For a change of pace, make your way to Tokyo Hamburg in Koreatown, known for its top-tier Japanese bar food, like okonomiyaki, cheese katsu, and its eponymous Tokyo hamburg, a smash-it-your-self-grass-fed patty that arrives sizzling on a hot stone. 

Mingle over tapas outdoors at Manchego, a lively Santa Monica staple with a superior small-batch selection of Spanish wine; bottomless, house-made mimosas and sangria during Sunday brunch; and menu offerings that range from gazpacho Andaluz to membrillo-glazed pork belly, Marcona almonds. 

Tucked into a strip mall in the Koreatown neighborhood, Potions and Poisons features a speakeasy vibe, karaoke rooms and “medicinal” potables, including the Elixir Flight, antioxidant-rich test tubes filled with unusual drinks that are sure to spark conversation.  

Known for its unique, wood-grilled tacos, Solita Tacos & Margaritas is a go-to on weekdays for happy hour street tacos — like crispy fish, oak-roasted chicken, wood grilled chicken or sweet potato and bacon — plus a house margarita for just $10. 

Enjoy half-price cocktails, spirits and wines by the glass during daily happy hours at The Misfit Restaurant + Bar in Santa Monica, where selections include a basil gimlet with organic vodka, fresh basil and kaffir lime cordial and the Hop Girl Summer, a mix of Gray Whale gin, Cocchi vermouth di torino, Campari, grapefruit and Topa Topa Spectro hazy IPA.

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Hidden Gems in Los Angeles

Angelenos avoid tourist traps, opting instead for beach bonfires and street tacos at local food trucks. Skip a few well-known destinations (like Hollywood Boulevard) and experience Los Angeles like a local. From bonfires on the beach to epic day trips, take your friends and family to these spots for an authentic Angeleno experience.  

There’s only one beach in Los Angeles with bonfire pits and that’s Dockweiler Beach. Grab firewood, snacks, smores, drinks, blankets, music and your friends and family and gather around the flickering flames. The pits are first come, first serve and they fill up quickly, especially during the summer when kids are out of school. Admission to the beach is free, but parking costs between $5 and $10 per car.  

Escape the City of Angels and drive 2.5 hours east to Joshua Tree National Park for hiking, rock climbing, camping and glimpses of shooting stars. From off-the-grid Airstreams to lavish desert homes, there’s a lodging option for everyone. The desert is also notorious for art installations. Be sure to check out Noah Purifoy’s Desert Art Museum for several acres of sculptures made from recycled materials.   

Hosted outside on Friday evenings from April to November, Jazz at LACMA features concerts from leading local and international ensembles, including classical, jazz and Latin music. While there’s limited seating, there’s plenty of standing room and guests come and go throughout the concert.    

There’s a reason why you’ll drive past El Chato Taco Truck at 11:30 p.m. and see a line of 20 people eagerly awaiting their food. Located on the corner of Olympic and La Brea, this late-night food truck has a large meat selection, including steak, pork belly and beef tongue, along with veggie options for tacos, quesadillas and burritos. Ask the cooks to add salsa inside your quesadilla. You won’t regret it.  

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Getting Around in Los Angeles

Unlike a lot of major U.S. cities, navigating Chicago is relatively easy, thanks to its grid system, starting at Madison 0 Most public transportation in Los Angeles County is handled by Metro. In recent years, Metro has much upped its game; however, the system is still not particularly popular and somewhat limited for a city of this size. 

Public Transportation

To ride Metro trains and buses, buy a reusable Transit Access Pass (TAP) card at any Metro Customer Center or from one of 400 sales locations throughout LA. TAP cards allow you to add a preset cash value or day passes. The regular base fare is $1.75 per ride, or $7.25 for a day/week pass with unlimited rides.  

Rail  

The Metro Rail network consists of two subway lines and four light-rail lines: 

  • The Red Line links Downtown’s Union Station to North Hollywood 
  • Purple Line Subway runs between Downtown Los Angeles, Westlake and Koreatown 
  • The Expo Line light-rail connects USC and Exposition Park with Culver City and Santa Monica to the west and Downtown L.A. to the northeast 
  • The Blue Line light-rail line runs from Downtown to Long Beach 
  • The Gold Line light-rail line runs from East L.A. to Little Tokyo/Arts District, Chinatown, Pasadena (via Union Station), Mt Washington and Highland Park 
  • The Green Line light-rail service runs from Norwalk to Redondo Beach 

Bus  

Metro operates about 200 bus lines across the city, with three types of service: 

  • Metro Local buses (painted orange) make frequent stops throughout the city
  • Metro Rapid buses (painted red) stop less frequently and are great for covering a lot of distance in a shorter time period
  • Metro Express buses (painted blue) are commuter buses that connect Downtown L.A. and other business districts and usually travel via the various freeways.

In addition, DASH Buses (run by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, operate along 33 routes, serving local communities (50¢ per boarding and 25¢ for seniors and passengers with disabilities).

Ridesharing  

As in most major urban areas, Uber, Lyft and other app-based solutions are extremely popular. However, carpooling is cheaper, more social and environmentally friendly. Check out the carpooling guide from the County of Los Angeles Internal Services Department to find an option that works for you.  

Taxi  

You’ll just about always need to call (versus hail) a cab in L.A., the exception being taxi stands at airports, bus stations and the bigger hotels. In the city proper, taxi rates are $2.85 at flagfall, plus $2.70 per mile. Additionally, cabs leaving from LAX charge a $4 airport fee.

Shuttles and Limos

Los Angeles is a limo kind of town! Though a variety of options are available, three of the most popular are Affordable Downtown Car Company, Alliance Limo, and Crown Limos

Biking  

Los Angeles boasts thousands of miles of beautiful bike trails. Generally, though, they’re used for recreational reasons, not commuting or shopping. Automobile traffic combined with the sheer size of Los Angeles makes depending on a bicycle as your primary mode of transportation somewhat impractical. 

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Looking for more ways to immerse yourself in Los Angeles or others states and cities? Be sure to check out our blog for ideas that will help you settle in and start feeling like a local.  

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