This is a blog-post that came about following my holiday in Los Angeles, and subsequently my friend Alicia asking for recommendations of places to visit and places to eat. I maybe got a little carried away, and seeing as I hadn’t previously posted about that trip I figured I’d post on here as a kind of summary of what we did and what we enjoyed. Of course, it is addressed to Alicia, hence the direct address throughout, but it could equally serve as my own tips for anyone visiting LA from the UK, especially people with the same sensitivities as myself.
- Use your phone calculator. You’ll need it. Tax is added onto the base price tag of most things, so it’ll never be quite the price you expect.
- Remember to tip! Service staff in America have a really low minimum wage because they rely mainly on tips for their pay.
- Don’t try and avoid fast food, it’s different and often better in America, and you’ll be glad of the time saved when not eating in proper restaurants all the time.
- There is little to no public transport depending on the area, and certainly not much that’s easily navigable without a local on your side to help you out. Driving is really the only option for getting around efficiently, though it’s very congested, so I’d be prepared for that.
- For the love of God, take a laptop. You can likely charge it on the plane, and you’ll be glad of the distraction from the long flight. It also makes accessing social media a lot easier, and even when in a different time zone you’ll appreciate the connection.
- Take photos! Take loads of photos! As evidenced by my Instagram feed, you should take as many photos as you can. It’s normal and not frowned upon at all, and if you see something cool, you should snap it. Photos also help preserve memories, and you’re bound to have a lot.
- If you can, collect tickets and receipts. It’s a fun pastime, and it can create a cool journal or scrapbook. Postcards are great as well.
- Buy stuff. Don’t regret buying stuff. It’s a long way, it’s a rare opportunity. There’s so much in LA that even if you go again you’re unlikely to do the same things twice.
- Know the full address of where you’re staying. They will likely ask you as you go through customs, and ‘Los Angeles’ will not suffice.
- Try Hershey’s chocolate. British people will tell you that it’s awful compared to Cadbury’s. It’s not, it’s really good. Just, good in a different way.
- It will be hot. Really hot. Uncomfortably hot. Prepare for this.
- If it does, by some miracle, rain: don’t be self-conscious about laughing at everyone in wellies. There’s no need for wellies in a light drizzle. Everyone wears them anyway as a fashion statement, and it’s ridiculous.
- For flight music, buy a headphone splitter at the airport (Dixon’s) and have some prepared travel playlists. I’ll include mine below so you can download them and maybe give you a few mix CDs if you want, because I have a killer Cali playlist and a nice sleepy flight one too.
- Eat at the airport. Drink water on the flight. Bring your own entertainment even if you know they have movies. Movies are never enough (or maybe it’s because I have ADHD, I don’t know, but I prefer to have alternatives)
- Enjoy yourself!
In N’ Out (burgers, fast food, sit in or takeaway)
Right outside the airport is the best location, see the planes flying overhead while you eat awesome American burgers. I’d suggest looking up their menu options online, because there are a lot of ‘secret’ menu items that are easily accessible on the internet but not advertised in the actual restaurants.
800 Degrees (pizza, fast food, sit in or takeaway)
Fast food, but classy fast food. Doesn’t feel like a dive and there’s a lot of choices you can make regarding toppings. Everything is cooked right in front of you in proper pizza ovens. Also serves salad and meatballs. Various locations, but if you’re flying back from LAX it’s the best option to eat in departures.
Cheesecake Factory (sit in only, casual restaurant)
Can be a bit of a wait, but it’s worth it. Nice, well made meals with a famous selection of cheesecakes to choose for dessert. We went to the branch in Santa Monica, which is right next to a small beach and well organised.
Smash Burger (fast food, burgers, sit in or takeaway)
Not sure of locations in LA (we went to an outlet branch in Camarillo) but it’s a chain so I’m sure there’ll be some. Nice signature burger and sauce recipe, a nice change to some of the plainer options but the simple ones are available if you ask.
If you’re into it, Phillipe’s Original French-Dip Sandwiches (fast food, sit in)
Not particularly impressed by this one, but it’s a tradition. I wouldn’t go again, but if you’re interested it’s a classic fast food place that serves sandwiches dipped in gravy. Seems very love-it or hate-it, would suggest checking it out on Yelp for more opinions. Most reviews are positive, so I’m willing to bet that personal taste and delicate British sensitivities were the only things working against it for me. It’s close to Downtown, so it’s pretty convenient if you were looking to visit The Last Bookstore or other things in that area. Olvera Street (I’ll elaborate later) is within walking distance. There’s a cool atmosphere there, very traditional American diner-style, so I’d say it’s worth it for the experience even if you’re not so big a fan of the food.
LaLa’s Grill (sit in restaurant, not too fancy)
Located on Melrose Avenue, LaLa’s grill is in the perfect place to eat if you want to go to the Groundlings (which you should, in fact I think I’d be disappointed if you didn’t go to Groundlings at some point), and the food is nice. Lots of garlic, but fairly simple meals that aren’t too complicated or difficult to order and understand. Named after a Spanish nickname for ‘grandmother’, the atmosphere of the restaurant is nice while offering warm outside seats which allow you to look along Melrose.
Sprinkles/Black Velvet Cupcakes (cupcake shop)
Not a restaurant, but it’s famous for the ‘Cupcake ATM’ that’s outside as well the freshly-baked cupcakes on offer. A lovely range, good for a snack and you can get little spoons so that you can walk as you eat. A nice snack to have as you wander Rodeo Drive, there’s also a famous ice-cream shop next door that belongs to the same company.
Coldstone’s Creamery (ice-cream chain shop, various locations, sit-in available)
Coldstone’s is an ice-cream branch that our American relatives enthused over. You choose a base flavour of ice-cream, which includes bubblegum and cake-batter amongst more traditional flavours. Then you can choose your toppings, but unlike other ice-cream places they mix the toppings into the ice-cream on marble slabs, which explain the company’s name. It’s delicious, quite large servings but definitely a good snack.
Manhattan Beach Creamery (ice cream and sweet shop)
If you want some awesome ice-cream sandwiches and a place to watch the sunset, get some from the Manhattan Beach Creamery before heading two minutes down the road to the pier, one of the best sunset views you’ll ever see. They have a selection of American sweets as well as their ice-creams and ice-cream sandwiches, but I’d recommend the sandwiches above all. You just don’t get them as much here, but they’re delicious.
Yogurtland (frozen yogurt shop, sit in or takeaway)
Yogurtland is the best place to try frozen yogurt. Similar to Coldstone, they offer sample pots to test their flavours and almost all are low-fat or fat-free. You can mix flavours from yogurt taps into different size tubs before adding toppings of your choice, ranging from fruit to mini oreos and more. The end result is priced by weight and therefore always a fair cost for what you have. Many nice flavours too, a common branch that can found in many places.
Griffith Park Observatory
The best views of LA and an awesome planetarium show, I’d recommend this for the pure enjoyment of the science museum alone. The show is projected in the planetarium dome as you lean back in cinema seats. Not boring at all, there are practical demonstrations of some awesome astrophysics stuff, not to mention the meteorites and the room with the scale model planets. You can also find out what you weigh on each planet, which is awesome.
Calle Olvera Market
Won’t take long but it’s worth a visit, Olvera Street is home to the oldest building in LA and also an everyday market with the most colourful stalls. It’s a Mexican market with Mexican restaurants and snacks all around, not to mention some fantastic souvenirs! Clay calavera and silver crosses, lots of candles and ceramics. It’s truly a beautiful, fun market. There’s usually a mariachi band around somewhere. Might be an idea to brush up on your Spanish for when you actually buy things though, just for authenticity.
The best thing I can recommend to you is the Groundlings theatre, a small comedy club with a little auditorium and some great talent. I expect the Thursday improv show, Cookin’ With Gas, will still be running weekly during your visit, so please try and go if you can. It’s one of the best comedy performances I’ve ever seen, and there are some pretty notable performers involved. Tickets can be bought online beforehand (though we bought ours on the night a little before the show, that’s because Shannon knows the place well; I’d definitely suggest booking online). Other than the Thursday improv show, there are other shows going on all the time.
StarLine Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour (Red Route)
Alright, so it looks a little cheesy. It is a little cheesy. However, the Red Route offers a really good coverall tour of Hollywood and La Brea, with opportunities to get off and look around at whichever stops you want. You can start at any of the stops, which include the official start point at the Chinese Theatre, the Guitar Center, the Beverly Center, the La Brea Tar Pits and Melrose Avenue. This, naturally, includes the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Dolby Theatre, the Rock Walk of Fame, the Sunset Strip, and more. All of the places I mentioned are worth at least a quick visit, but the Guitar Center and La Brea are two I would definitely recommend which may not have stood out to you beforehand.
The Last Bookstore
The largest new and used books and record store in Los Angeles, it’s famous for it’s artistic decoration (see: the piano and the tunnel of books) and also the sheer amount of books and records. The building is innocuous from the outside, but inside stand imperial columns and impressive shelves. There’s a really nice atmosphere in the bookstore, and there’s a massive section on theatre and scripts in amongst the old records and newer genres like comics and graphic novels. There’s also a horror vault upstairs and ‘the labyrinth’, along with several small artists’ studios that are rented to independent artists who use them as a workspace and shop.
If you’re into music, it’s a must-see. This is the largest new and used record and CD store in LA, I’d guess, and it’s definitely the most impressive. One thing you’ll notice in America is the lack of a large chain music store like HMV, which means that there’s a massive reliance on old-style indie music stores, especially in an area as arts-based as California. Amoeba is the biggest of these, where you can find DVDs upstairs along with the huge collection of CDs and records of all genres, and also music-themed books and genuine vintage posters as well.
#1: The Nights And The Flights
- Paris // The 1975
- Four Walls // Broods
- 505 // Arctic Monkeys
- I Walk the Line // Halsey
- N.M.S.S. // Elvis Depressedly
- If I Believe You // The 1975
- Hey Lacey // Electric Century
- Hiding Tonight // Alex Turner
- Dead Sea // The Lumineers
- Weird Honey // Elvis Depressedly
- Drugstore Perfume // Gerard Way
- Clean // The Japanese House
- Pressure // The 1975
- Heaven [feat. Betty Who] // Troye Sivan
- Barcelona // George Ezra
- L.A.F // Broods
- Mad at Nothing // Patrick Stump
#2: Look For Me On The Coast
- Golden Days // Panic! at the Disc
- The Only Place // Best Coast
- It’s The End Of The World As We Know It // R.E.M
- Beverly Hills // Weezer
- Electrolite // R.E.M
- West Coast // Coconut Records
- It Never Rains In Southern California // Albert Hammond
- California Dreamin’ // The Mamas and the Papas
- Santa Carla Twilight // Tiger Army
- Donde Estas, Yolanda? // Pink Martini
- Take Me to L.A. // Nights and Weekend
- L.A. Devotee // Panic! at the Disco
- We’ve Had Enough // Alkaline Trio
- Sleepless in Silverlake // Les Savy Fay
- Time Spent in Los Angeles // Dawes
- We Don’t Need Another Song About California // My Chemical Romance
Death of a Bachelor // Panic! at the Disco
It’s practically a love-song for Los Angeles. It actually includes one literal love-song for Los Angeles, LA Devotee, but it fits the mood for an LA holiday.
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys // My Chemical Romance
Both the concept album and the comic are set in post-apocalyptic desert California, and the album is very lively with a few calmer songs at the end. I’d suggest getting the deluxe version, as it contains two of my favourites, Vampire Money and We Don’t Need Another Song About California.
Total Life Forever // Foals
This album is one that I bought in Amoeba Records, so maybe I’m a little biased, but this is a brilliant album for travelling and for evoking that sun-soaked, lazy atmosphere of holidays. Enough of the album is upbeat that you won’t find it dull, but the nostalgic sense it gives is more than enough for it to make it onto my recommendations list.
I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It // The 1975
Okay, so this is an album I would recommend for any situation, but the mix of beautiful slow tracks and more upbeat pop numbers really makes it good one to have playing in your ears in California. There are pop-culture critiques and themes throughout which are pretty topical considering the city you’re visiting, but it’s a fun album that I think you’ll enjoy.
The Lumineers // The Lumineers
This just really makes me feel like travelling. Similarly, George Ezra’s Wanted on Voyage evokes a similar feeling. It’s a great one for flights and drives, and the historical themes and folk sound really create a homely album that feels like a cosy reflection on all your favourite travels.
Badlands // Halsey
I know, it’s pretty new and was incredibly popular upon its release, but this is a really good album if you like pop music. A lot of it is calming and a lot of it is more fast-paced, but Halsey’s voice is nice to listen to and it’s an easy one just to start listening to at any time, if you haven’t already.
Soul Punk // Patrick Stump
Soul Punk, and the deluxe tracks, are one of my favourite things to listen to on flights and while driving. It’s got a really lively sound with some cynical lyrics and themes, and it’s been a favourite of mine for a while before my friend told me it was great for travelling music.
Lastly, I’m sure you’ll have a fantastic time. Remember that these are my opinion, and feel free to throw them all out the aeroplane window if you don’t agree. And also, please add your own recommendations in the comments, anyone, if you have any; I’d love to see them!
Have a great time in Los Angeles!