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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 04 December, 2022
Expert travel writer: Luciana Bellini

It may be home to Hollywood and Beverly Hills, but the City of Angels is more than just a la-la land of celebrities and Real Housewives.

This vibrant metropolis manages to check all the cosmopolitan capital boxes, from a buzzy art scene to top-notch dining.

Of course, it’s not all metro-fabulous here, and LA’s near-perfect natural setting between ocean, mountains and desert is a dream for outdoor adventurers – and who couldn’t love the weather?

But at the heart of it all is Hollywood, the economic wheel that keeps this celebrity drop-top rolling on.

Orientation

Most people’s definition of LA stretches from southern seaside communities such as Redondo Beach up along Southern California’s coastline to Malibu, and from the Pacific east to Downtown and beyond.

Along the way, the 500-plus mile stretch encompasses some 30 beaches, fashionable districts such as Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Bel-Air, and the Santa Monica Mountains. In fact, LA is the only city in the US to be bisected by a mountain range.

Key hubs:

Downtown LA

Up until recently Downtown LA was strictly for business travellers, but these days you’ll find LA’s most talked-about new restaurants and contemporary art galleries in this bustling, skyscraper-filled neighbourhood.

It’s one of the only truly walkable areas in LA, but be warned that the vibe here is distinctly grittier than Beverly Hills.

West Hollywood

While it’s common knowledge that LA has no centre, if you had to pick one, you’d probably go for West Hollywood, which is well-placed for getting anywhere in the city.

It’s also one of LA’s most fashionable spots, filled with cool concept stores and buzzy rooftop bars.

Santa Monica

This beachside neighbourhood showcases the best of sunny So-Cal life, with its miles of sandy coastline and beach promenades.

Come to watch the surfers zip through the waves before taking a walk along the delightfully gaudy pier, where you can ride on the world’s only solar-powered ferris wheel.

Beverly Hills

LA’s swankiest neighbourhood is known all over the world, and with good reason – nowhere does high-octane glamour quite like it.

Cruise the designer shops on Rodeo Drive, keeping one eye on the souped-up supercars whizzing past, before going celeb-spotting at one of the area’s many upmarket restaurants.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Disneyland

Anaheim, California, United States of America (USA)

The mouse-tastic magic lives on at Walt Disney’s world-famous California theme park, the first, original Disneyland and reputably the ‘happiest place on earth’.

Best for ages: 4+ | £90

Hollywood

Los Angeles, California, United States of America (USA)

The indomitable heart of the movie industry, where dreams are still made. See the star-studded Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theater – where the biggest premieres still take place – and the Kodak Theater, home of the Academy Awards.

Best for ages: 8+ | Free

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Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

Los Angeles, California, United States of America (USA)

The world’s largest museum dedicated solely to the art of film, home to a collection of movie treasures, a rotating roster of exhibitions featuring industry creators and an experience where you can hold a coveted Oscars statuette.

Best for ages: 8+ | £22

Getty Center

Los Angeles, California, United States of America (USA)

A marble-clad modernist complex, opened in 1997, houses the late billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty’s art collection. Highlights include works by Titian and Van Gogh, illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages, Louis XIV-era furniture and decorative arts.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

California Science Center

Los Angeles, California, United States of America (USA)

Inspire your kids with physics, biology and more, at this seriously fun complex with interactive with exhibits demonstrating how the world works.

Best for ages: 4+ | Free

Cycle The Strand
Experience

Cycle The Strand

Los Angeles, California, United States of America (USA)

A 22-mile bike path called the Strand runs from Southern LA’s Manhattan Beach up to Pacific Palisades, just north of Santa Monica. It’s a fun ride if you’re feeling fit. Hire bikes from Hermosa Cyclery – there’s a detailed map of the Strand on their website.

Best for ages: 6+ | Free | 2-3 hours

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Farmers Market on Fairfax
Experience

Farmers Market on Fairfax

Los Angeles, California, United States of America (USA)

This LA institution in West Hollywood first opened in 1934 and is home to over 100 food stalls and grocers, who specialise in everything from doughnuts and ice cream to beef jerky and gourmet pickles.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Getty Villa
Experience

Getty Villa

Los Angeles, California, United States of America (USA)

John Paul Getty’s homage to ancient Rome and Greece is a Malibu gem, filled with ancient art, beautifully landscaped gardens offering up sparkling ocean views and a 500-seat amphitheatre that hosts some of the city’s finest outdoor classical productions.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Palihouse Santa Monica

Los Angeles, California, United States of America (USA)

An elegant 1927 Spanish Colonial Revival Mansion with a country estate vibe that combines history with a hard-to-beat location, complete with quirky interiors and beautifully manicured courtyards.

Official star rating:

The Hoxton, Downtown LA

Los Angeles, California, United States of America (USA)

Buzzy Downton high-rise hotel housed in a grand French Beaux Arts building, ideally situated for exploring the best of LA’s must-visit restaurants and contemporary art galleries.

Official star rating:

Hollywood Roosevelt

Los Angeles, California, United States of America (USA)

A Hollywood favourite is right in the thick of things; you can feel the neighbourhood’s energy pulsing through the property, whether you’re sipping cocktails in the Spare Room bar or lounging beside the David Hockney-painted swimming pool.

Official star rating:

Mondrian Hotel Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California, United States of America (USA)

Superbly-located West Hollywood hotel, right on Sunset Boulevard. One of LA’s sexiest hotels, with a hippest rooftop party scene.

Official star rating:

When to go

Despite what you may have heard, LA isn’t always sunny – though it’s pretty damn close to being. June Gloom, when the fog rolls in, can make the sky grey during the early part of the summer.

But LA’s high desert setting keeps things generally warm, from the high fifties (15°C) during the winter to the eighties (26°-32°C) and up into triple digits (38°C+), depending on how far inland you are in the summer.

July and August see the city at its most crowded.

Getting there and away

LAX Airport is just ten minutes south of Santa Monica and 30 minutes from Beverly Hills, traffic permitting – which means you’re pretty much in the middle of things as soon as you arrive. Grab your car at the airport and take off. Alternatively, there are plenty of taxis available at the airport.

Getting around

Los Angeles is a driving town and renting a car is a must. Unfortunately, this auto obsession means traffic can be horrendous.

You’ll frequently hear references to the ‘four-o-five’ and the ‘one-o-one’. These refer to two major LA freeways. I-405 runs south to north from Orange County through the San Fernando Valley (known as ‘The Valley’), passing LA Airport along the way.

The Los Angeles portion of US Route 101 travels from west to east through the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, and into downtown. Know where you are in relation to these two freeways, and you’ll have a generally good idea of how to get around.

Wherever possible avoid driving during rush hour, from 7am-10am in the morning, and from 4pm-7pm at night. The stop-and-go traffic that plagues literally every LA street will make you want to bang your head against the wheel repeatedly.

Where to stay

Thanks to its proximity to the beach, as well as great dining, shopping and nightlife, most LA visitors base themselves on the Westside.

Santa Monica is perfect for those who prefer to stay beachside while still having access to good restaurants and shops.

West Hollywood is a favourite for its vibrant nightlife and hip vibe; Beverly Hills and Bel-Air are for those who prefer their holiday on the luxury setting.

A little further east is Hollywood. The studios might have left the area, but iconic attractions such as the Kodak Theatre still remain.

Where to shop

Ground zero for the laidback look, style in LA is all about the breezy and easy. Think maxi dresses, organic cotton tees, designer denim and big shades. Head to the myriad independent boutiques lining Westside shopping streets such as Abbot Kinney, Melrose and Robertson to tap into this brand of California cool.

But LA also knows how to do chichi – flashy Rodeo Drive may draw hordes of tourists rather than Hollywood starlets these days, but it’s still the place to come for the big designer names, from Dior to Dolce & Gabbana.