After a lifetime of longing to live in Los Angeles, I finally made the much-anticipated move a little over five years ago. In that time, I’ve fallen even more in love with this city. People all around are following their dreams, which makes for a very creative and inspiring atmosphere, and Angelenos get an average of 329 days of sun per year so the predominant mood is positive and happy. When I first moved to L.A., I found the blog Cupcakes & Cashmere extremely relatable; like me, founder Emily Schuman also moved from northern California to attend college and has since remained in L.A. I was inspired to create this guide, which features some known and lesser-known places for good measure, after Emily’s helped me navigate this big city. Whether you’re looking to visit, relocate, or already reside in this amazing city, I hope my first, comprehensive L.A. guide will make your experience memorable!
Griffith Observatory: This is without-a-doubt my favorite touristy spot in Los Angeles. The views are spectacular day and night, making it the perfect place to picnic or catch the sunset, and admission is free. One Saturday a month, the Observatory hosts a public star party where telescopes are free to use and volunteers from various astronomy/planetary societies offer up answers to any sky-related questions.
El Matador Beach: If you’re looking to escape the Santa Monica crowds, venture further up the coast to the more mellow El Matador Beach in Malibu. It’s not really a lounge-y beach, but this is precisely why I prefer it. The gorgeous rocks and crevices make for great photo-ops and the sunsets here are spectacular. You can opt for paid parking close to the trail or find someplace along the PCH.
Venice Canals: A few blocks from the boardwalk, this one-of-a-kind neighborhood of charming homes connected by canals makes for a relaxing post-brunch stroll.
Hollywood Bowl: Catching a concert in this iconic outdoor space is a must. Their diverse season schedule is sure to have something that will entice you (I especially love when L.A. Phil performs the scores to my favorite movies) and there’s honestly not a bad seat. Be sure to pack a picnic and a bottle of wine, which is permitted at LA Phil events.
J. Paul Getty Center and Villa: If you’re looking to be transported to the Mediterranean, look no further than the gorgeous gardens at the Pacific Palisades villa. The art collection and antiquities at the museum are equally as compelling. Even better: admission is free to both!
Warner Bros. Studio: While it’s not the biggest studio in town, the Warner Brothers studio tour is not to be missed. It’s home to backlots and sound stages from some of my favorite shows and movies, and the photo opportunities in the Stage 48 building are a fun end to the tour; you can ride the Nimbus 2000 around Hogwarts or the Bat-pod through Gotham, moonlight as a hobbit for the day, hang out on the Central Perk couch, and hold a real Oscar in your hands. Other perks include the studio’s clean and organized atmosphere and how it feels like a more personalized tour experience than Universal; it’s also much less crowded.
Norton Simon Museum: Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, this Pasadena museum houses an impressive collection of European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century, and South and Southeast Asian art spanning 2,000 years. Some of my favorite artists have their works in this more relaxed setting, including Degas, Van Gogh, Fragonard, and Botticelli. Don’t forget to venture out into the Sculpture Garden for a glass of wine and a leisurely walk around the Monet-esque lily pond.
Center Theatre Group: While L.A.’s theatre scene cannot be compared to New York’s, great shows are constantly happening at CTG’s theatre spaces. The Ahmanson is where pre-Broadway runs (as well as the best of Broadway and the West End) are produced, while the Mark Taper Forum presents plays that provoke deep conversation. I have yet to see a production at the affiliated Kirk Douglas Theatre. Arrive a little early so you can grab a pre-show glass of wine from the Pinot Grill, which is beautifully situated with romantic water fountain views.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: Although it may be targeted towards kids, this is a museum people of any age can appreciate. You can easily spend an afternoon exploring its three levels, which boast a spectacular dinosaur exhibit, several halls with startlingly-real-looking habitats of Northern American and African mammals, and an impressive gem and mineral vault. Don’t miss the “Becoming Los Angeles” exhibit, which Angelenos will especially enjoy, and the Nature Lab on the bottom floor. After you’ve combed through all of the exhibits, stop and smell the roses in the Exposition Park Rose Garden adjacent to the museum.
Griffith Park: Referred to by some as the rugged “Central Park of Los Angeles,” Griffith Park is a great place to hike, picnic, and play. I like beginning my hike at the abandoned site of the Griffith Park Zoo where ruins of the animal enclosures line the path, continuing up and on to the Vista Point; you can see DTLA, Griffith Observatory, and the Silverlake Reservoir. The trails don’t have the foot traffic of Runyon, which is another reason I prefer it. Other places inside the park you may want to explore include the Travel Town Train Museum, the merry-go-round (open most weekends during the summer), and the Autry Museum of the American West.
Lake Hollywood Reservoir: Not an intense hike by any means, Lake Hollywood provides one of the best walking/jogging locations in the city. The paved walkway circles a chain-linked reservoir and offers great views of the Hollywood sign. You can’t bring dogs, but bikes are encouraged. If you’re looking for a slight incline and some even better views of Hollywood and the reservoir, take the uphill dirt trail off the Weidlake Drive gate.
Topanga State Park: High up in the hills of the artsy Topanga Canyon is a network of well-mapped-out hiking trails that provide gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean and the Malibu pier. For those who say nature doesn’t exist in L.A., these trails will prove you wrong! Hike to Eagle Rock, which is a fun, semi-short trail, and/or Los Liones if you have more time and are looking for more of a challenge. Topanga Canyon can be accessed from PCH via the 10 in Santa Monica or the 101 in Woodland Hills.
Wattles Garden Park: Basically the twin peak to Runyon Canyon, Wattles is an underrated, challenging alternative to the often overrun Runyon. At the foothill sits the Wattles Mansion with the trail really beginning past the dog park and Japanese gate. The path grows ever more faint as you climb into a narrowing canyon, so be prepared for unsteady ground and some difficult hiking. If you’re with friends, you’ll probably have to hike most of the way single-file-style, but the views of the city are spectacular.
Osteria Mozza: Owned by Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton (founder of La Brea Bakery), this semi-fancy restaurant has an impressive wine list and a menu filled with unforgettable bites. Their 1,150-selection wine list pays homage to Piedmont and Tuscany in particular, and wines comes in 250 ml carafes so you can easily share a few different ones over the course of the meal. I’m partial to the ricotta and egg raviolo with brown butter sage sauce, which looks small upon arrival but is so rich and filling. Around the corner is their more casual restaurant, Pizzeria Mozza, which has some of the best pizza in the city.
Gjelina: This rustic Abbot Kinney restaurant is a hot spot for locals and tourists alike, making it a tough place to get in for brunch if you don’t have a reservation. However, you won’t regret noshing on the Moroccan baked eggs or any of their pizzas. While you’re at it, surrender to the butterscotch pot de creme; it’s truly life-changing.
Tar & Roses: This moodily-lit Santa Monica restaurant offers a nice wine selection (they even pour half glasses if you can’t decide) and the menu is not so huge that you’re overwhelmed. Favorite dishes include the wood roasted baby carrots with cermula crème fraîche, lamb chops with moroccan spiced farro and eggplant, and the warm strawberry ricotta crostada with honeycomb ice cream.
Sugarfish: If you’re into sushi, Sugarfish is a great spot to check out. Their menu offers a la carte sashimi, sushi, and rolls, but most people (including me) tend to go the omasake route and order the “Trust Me”; it includes a little bit of everything from their menu. The best part is that they slightly warm all of their rice; it sounds rather simple, but it’s a total game changer. There are eleven locations in the city, making it extremely accessible for Angelenos.
Scopa Italian Roots: Chef Antonia Lofaso owns numerous restaurants stretched across Los Angeles, but this Venice Beach one is a favorite of mine. It’s old-school Italian food served in a buzzy, industrial looking space that reminds me of some of my favorite restaurants in New York City. The food is truly simplicity at its finest – crispy squash blossoms filled with warm with ricotta and mozzarella cheese, arancini rice balls, T-bone steak, and scrumptious desserts like the fluffernutter and affogato.
Joan’s On Third: This buzzy cafe is a great place to sit and chat or take things to go, especially if you’re preparing a picnic. They have an impressive marketplace, complete with a curated cheese and charcuterie counter, bakery, and specialty grocery section. Things you shouldn’t miss: their meatloaf sandwich, New York breakfast sandwich, chocolate chip cookie, and literally anything from their deli case/counter.
Bottega Louie: One of the more beautiful spaces in L.A., this light-filled restaurant and patisserie makes for an unforgettable place to brunch. Start by ordering the French 75 cocktail and then dive into the lemon ricotta pancakes, croque madame, and/or beignets with raspberry compote. Make sure to pick up some macaroons on your way out, too.
Night + Market Song: This Silverlake eatery gives traditional Thai food a fun, hipster twist. The lively atmosphere makes it a cool place to bring your friends who don’t mind a crowded, noisy restaurant, but you can also always opt for takeout. Things you shouldn’t miss: the pad see ew gai, larb gai, sticky rice, and roti with milk.
Olive & Thyme: One of the first places I dined at in my neighborhood, the interior of this Toluca Lake’s cafe/marketplace is reminiscent of my Dream Kitchen board on Pinterest; it boasts gorgeous white marble countertops, copper pots and pans hanging from above, and fresh flowers throughout. Favorites include the avocado toast with burrata, chopped salad, Middle Eastern chicken sandwich, bacon wrapped dates, and winter citrus salad.
Barrel & Ashes: If you want good BBQ and sweet tea the way sweet tea is supposed to be made, Barrel & Ashes in Studio City is the place. Order the brisket, roasted corn, and the hoe cake (it’s sort of like a cornbread pancake that’s been doused in honey butter). In regards to sweet tea, they can make a California version, which is substantially less sweet, but traditionally it’s supposed to be pretty sweet.
Home: Serving up homestyle food and great mimosas in a cozy, indoor-outdoor setting, it’s no wonder that this Los Feliz establishment is called “Home.” Come for brunch and get a seat in their tree-shaded courtyard; you may want to make a reservation, as it gets crowded on the weekends. Get the chilaquiles, eggwich, or fried chicken & waffle.
Yang Chow: If you’re going to get takeout, get Yang Chow’s Mandarin and Szechuan cuisine. With three locations – Chinatown, Pasadena, and Canoga Park – anyone in the Los Angeles area can enjoy their slippery shrimp and house chicken. Don’t expect your usual, cheap takeout prices; this place is a little more expensive, but the quality is top-notch.
Canters Deli: Open 24/7, this deli/bakery on Fairfax is an L.A. institution; you can’t miss the neon sign. Since 1931, it’s been serving up deli cuisine loved by Angelenos. Dine here when your night of bar hopping ends and you’re suddenly craving a greasy burger, pastrami sandwich, or banana pancakes doused in maple syrup. Canters is nothing fancy, by any means, but satisfies those late-night diner cravings.
Perch: Located 15 floors up and flanked by the towering L.A. skyscrapers, this chic, downtown spot is ideal for jazzing up your usual dinner and drinks. After a bite on the patio, head further up to the rooftop bar for even more amazing views of Pershing Square and the surrounding Downtown. With live music, olive trees, and twinkly lights aglow, the mood is undeniably romantic and special. Take anyone here – a date, an out-of-towner, your parents – and they’ll instantly be impressed. Order a festive cocktail (like the “Lolita,” “Midnight in Paris,” or “French Maid”) and cozy up on one of their lounge chairs.
Good Times at Davey Wayne’s: If you love a funky, themed bar, this ’70s one in Hollywood is not to be missed. Once you enter through the refrigerator door, you’ll feel like you’re a guest at the Forman’s house from That’s ’70s Show; shag carpeting, wood paneling, and moody lantern decor instantly set the mood. The best part is without-a-doubt the music, which stays faithful to the era. Expect a line on weekends and don’t leave without enjoying one of their famous boozy snow cones.
The Normandie Club: I often judge bars by how they make one of my favorite drinks, an Old Fashioned, and this place does a cool play on the classic. Located in the heart of Koreatown, The Normandie Club is an unassuming hotel bar with a door that can be easily overlooked walking by. Once you step inside, the sophisticated yet relaxed lounge will make you never want to leave. It’s perfect for a date night or catching up with a friend in an intimate setting.
Sassafras Saloon: Step inside this Savannah townhouse and you’ll no longer feel like you’re in the heart of Hollywood. The draw is definitely the bar’s atmosphere – bayou-like moss hangs from the ceiling, live music can be heard from the balcony, Southern-style cocktails are made with house-brewed sarsaparilla and barrel-aged beverages, and there’s an overall down-home feel. Bring an out-of-towner who would probably be turned off by the pretentiousness of Hollywood nightclubs!
Angel City Brewery: Located in Arts District, the open, industrial space and relaxed atmosphere makes this a great spot to bring a big group of friends. Beer flights of five only cost $11, a food truck or two is always parked out front, and games of Jenga and cornhole are played all night long. Another great feature is the Yoga + Run + Beer event they host on Sundays; you get in a late-morning run, hour yoga class, and celebrate with a post-workout beer. I have yet to partake, but I love that it’s an option. Street parking can be hit or miss, so you may have to pay a little extra to park in a nearby lot.
The Blind Donkey: If you’re looking to enjoy an special whiskey in a small, rustic setting, this Pasadena bar is the ticket. Things you shouldn’t miss: whiskey obviously (they make a great Old Fashioned and also have a few whiskey flights if you can’t decide) and their loaded fries (namely the Buffalo Chicken and Carne Asada fries).
Augustine War Bar: It’s kind of out of the way for most, but I love the low-key, romantic atmosphere of this quaint wine bar on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. It’s dimly-lit with wine bottles lining the shelves and antique items like a vintage typewriter and piano serving as decor. The staff are extremely accommodating and let you taste wines until you’re satisfied and ready for a full glass. There’s also the chalkboard menus, which offer special vintage wines by the glass that you may never get the chance to taste again.
Magnolia House: Just as the name implies, this Pasadena craftsman bungalow-turned-bar feels a lot like you’re catching up over cocktails at a friend’s house. The vibe is undeniably cozy and relaxed, attracting a easy-going neighborhood crowd and offering indoor-outdoor seating. I like ordering the “Notes From Granny” cocktail or whatever their featured “Cocktail of the Moment” is.
El Tejano: This festive NoHo hotspot has quickly become the place to be on Friday nights in the Valley. It’s ideal for catching the game or welcoming the weekend with friends over a Texas-size margarita or beer. The vibe that’s been created here is perhaps the biggest draw; people play beer pong, cornhole, and Connect 4 on the front patio as if they’re at a college kick-back. Fill up on complimentary chips and salsa.
The Otherroom: Known for their hard-to-find selections of beer and a specially-curated wine list, this Venice Beach bar is a chic, moody hangout that’s perfect for a more relaxed evening out. Bring your friends who appreciate a nice class of Gruner Veltliner or a local Pilsner and stay awhile.
Golden Road Brewery: Tucked off the 5 and 134 freeways along the railroad tracks, Golden Road is a laid-back brewery that is pet and family friendly. Come for spontaneous brunching after hiking around nearby Griffith Park (you’ll want everything on their food menu) and order one of their IPAs. Street parking isn’t nearly as difficult as ACB, but you can also always opt for valet if you find yourself out of luck.
Intelligensia: Located in the Sunset Junction district in Silverlake, this Chicago-born coffee bar is the perfect place to meet up with friends or get some work done. If you can, get a spot outside or cozy up to the Instagram-worthy blue-tiled bar. Things you shouldn’t miss: their cappuccino, oatmilk latte, and pastries from Mr. Holmes Bakeshop.
Alfred Coffee: Another social media-worthy stop, this cute place on Melrose Place popularized the “But first, coffee” phrase that circulates social media. Like many places in L.A., the coffee here is pricey, but they make a mean almond latte and macchiato. Make sure to check out L.A.-based chocolate shop Compartes next door for delicious chocolate that looks like art.
Coffee Commissary: The small Burbank location of the hip coffee company is my favorite of the four because it’s the only one to offer food; they have a delightful weekend brunch menu. I also can’t resist their pink logo and strong cappuccino.
Verve: The industrial-chic vibe of their Melrose Ave. location makes this a great place to sip and stay awhile. Get the nitro cold brew, Americano, or a juice flight.
Aveda Salon: I’ve been a religious Aveda salon-goer for years. The entire experience feels spa-like, from the complimentary tea to the signature “sensory experience.” Every salon does service a little differently, but a proper Aveda does some sort of massage, whether it be a scalp, hand, or back massage. My current salon gives a scalp massage with essentials oil before shampooing and an arm/hand massage during conditioning. I also love the smell of Aveda products they use on my hair.
Dry Bar: Nothing beats a perfect blowout (which I unfortunately cannot replicate at home) and Dry Bar is the ultimate. For a little less than $40, you can get your hair washed and blown out, all while watch a classic movie. It’s the perfect treat if you’re getting photos taken or going to a special event, as it takes some of the stress away and feels slightly indulgent.
Wax LA: This trendy spot on Melrose covers all of your waxing needs and is open six days a week. While most of us probably don’t look forward to a wax, I prefer this salon’s stylish and inviting atmosphere over some of the more stark, clinic-like ones I’ve been to in the past. If you live closer to Santa Monica or Silverlake, Wax LA also has locations in those areas.
If you’re looking for consignment/vintage: Wasteland is great for consignment, especially if you’re looking for higher end pieces at decent prices. Unlike many consignment stores, it isn’t overwhelming or packed with duds. I love perusing their organized racks and almost always fall in love with something. Playclothes in Burbank has the best retro dresses and vintage slips; they specialize in styles from the 40s, 50s, and 60s.
If you’re looking for boutiques/misc. shops: Abbot Kinney in Venice (Burro, Le Labo, Marine Layer, Huset, Scotch & Soda are a few of my favorites); Larchmont Boulevard in Hancock Park (Malin + Goetz, Diptyque, Landis Gifts & Stationary); Ventura Boulevard in the Valley (Soto Lifestyle, People’s Project LA, Dungarees, Urban Outfitters Surplus Store are a few of my favorites); Tujunga Ave in Studio City (Swag, Scentsability, Serendipity, Alisa Michelle Jewelry)
If you’re looking for luxury or high-end designer: Most regard Rodeo Drive as being the epicenter of high fashion and it’s true; however, Melrose Place (tucked behind the much larger Melrose Avenue) is much more my pace. It’s less overwhelming and offers a few great luxury shops like Isabel Marant, The Row, Monique Lhuillier, and Violet Grey. Robertson Boulevard is another street known for celebrity sightings and packed with designers like Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Reiss, Ted Baker, and Tory Burch. Lastly, Scent Bar on Beverly Boulevard is worth visiting; you can sample niche fragrances and find a special, signature scent no one in your squad will have.
If you’re looking for home decor/inspiration: While you’ve probably been to plenty of Restoration Hardware galleries, I can guarantee you you’ve never seen one like this. Located in the heart of West Hollywood’s design district, RH’s Melrose location is one of the biggest in the country; it occupies a full block and is three stories tall. But the best part of the entire store is without-a-doubt the rooftop; it’s filled with trees, fire pits, couches, and even a ping pong table that remains open to the public anytime the store is open. I’ve seen so many people bring their Urth Caffé lunch up here and hang out for the afternoon!
If you’re looking for everything in one place: The Grove is an outdoor oasis that has some of my favorite stores (Anthropologie, Madewell, Topshop, J. Crew, Zara, Barney’s and Nordstrom) in the most charming setting. The music of Sinatra can often be heard amidst the sounds of the fountain, which I especially adore. Don’t miss the chocolate macaroons at the newly-opened Laudree, the Cabernet Sauvignon ice cream at Bennet’s inside the Original Farmers Market, or a cupcake at Sprinkles on your way out. Be prepared for The Grove to be busy!
Hotel Amarano: If you’re in town to visit the film studios (Universal, Warner Brothers, Disney Animation) or want a getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city, this boutique hotel in the Valley is the ideal spot to stay. The vibe is California-chic and rooms start around $250. I absolutely love this little gem, which my mom discovered years ago, and how close it is to Olive & Thyme, one of my favorite brunch spots.
Millennium Biltmore Hotel: This historic hotel is located right in Pershing Square, so you’re right in the heart of DTLA. Built in 1923, the Biltmore’s ornate interior (particularly the lobby, galleria, and Rendezvous Court) perfectly captures that Old Hollywood glamour. I’ve stayed here a few times and have found its close proximity to many major downtown attractions and cool restaurants very convenient. Don’t miss the a trip downstairs to the sauna and a dip in the Roman-style pool during your stay! Standard and deluxe rooms usually average just under $250.
Farmers’ markets: Most frequent the farmers markets in their neighborhood (mine is the Studio City one), but it’s always a fun idea to hit up one in an area you’re planning on spending the day in. The Hollywood Farmers’ Market is a good time because the selection is endless, the street food always hits the spot, and the live music makes for a fun Saturday morning. If you’re looking to spot celebrities while picking up your weekly produce, hit up the Beverly Hills or Brentwood Village Farmers’ Market.
Specialty grocery shopping: I have a few favorite grocery items that cannot be found at the regular supermarket, so I’ll swing by Gelson’s; favorites include edible cookie dough, cornmeal crust pizza (Vicolo’s goat cheese and tomato), and a budget-friendly Petite Sirah I haven’t been able to find anywhere else (McManis). The Cheese Store of Silverlake is a great place to visit if you’re planning a cocktail or dinner party; they have a superb selection of artisanal food, cheeses, jam, olive oil, wine, etc.
Wine merchant: There’s a few places I recommend in L.A. Firstly, K & L Wine Merchants on Vine has a superb selection of wines ranging from value to luxury labels; I adore their sparkling wine selection. Domaine LA is also another great spot for lesser-known wines at great prices and they have some fun, affordable tastings. Lastly, Wally’s in Beverly Hills is ideal for higher-end wine purchases; the wine staff is extremely knowledgable here.
Flea market: The Rose Bowl in Pasadena puts on a great flea market the 2nd Sunday of every month, offering a large selection of antique, vintage, and new merchandise. Bring cash, a cart, and barter your little butt off!
What are some of your favorite places in Los Angeles?