Destination: Los Angeles
I spent years automatically expressing a dislike for Los Angeles but realized I never really had a reason why. Perhaps an extension of others around me not caring for the city or the automatic rivalry that develops between the northern and southern halves of California. Once I let myself actually experience the city from my own perspective, with my best friend who lives there, my husband and son, and on a solo trip and discovered that I actually really enjoy the city during my occasional visits to Southern California.
Time Of Year
Spring or fall, avoiding the hot summer months or the rare potential for rain in the winter.
Los Angeles is known for it's excellent, sunny weather with minimal rain. Like most California coastal cities, beware of foggy June gloom.
What I Like
The outdoor lifestyle. While this is a trend throughout California, the Bay Area necessitates layers no matter what type of year. In Los Angeles, you can leave for the day and not have to haul a small wardrobe with you in case of temperature and weather changes. There are loads of hiking trails everywhere and ample opportunities to be outside, whether it's dining al fresco or climbing the famous Santa Monica stairs for a view of the ocean.
What I Don't Like
The traffic, as most visitors to Los Angeles would say. That said, if you go prepared to navigate it with the idea that you're in a big city, it still takes minimal time to get most places in Los Angeles, thanks to it's ample network of freeways.
Hiking at Temescal Canyon (Pacific Palisades): Those new to Los Angeles will be surprised by how many canyons the city has which make for great hiking in a major urban area. This one, which gives you sweeping views of the Pacific, is one of my favorites and a fairly easy hike at around 3 miles, depending on which extensions you do.
Tongva Park (Santa Monica): A new park just a block from the ocean in Santa Monica. We stopped in late last year and absolutely loved this fun and innovative space for kids that, remarkably, used to be a parking lot. I highly recommend this park if you're looking for a place for your little ones to run around or even just a beautifully landscaped picnic spot. It was relatively quiet when we were there on a weekday.
Palisades Park and Rec Center (Pacific Palisades): A nice park that we stumbled across when looking for some green space for our little guy to run around.
Burton Chase Park (Marina del Rey): This park is really cool because it juts out into the bay and is surrounded by water on all sides. No play structures but lots of grass, trees, and hills.
Venice Canals (Venice): So much fun to wander through. The variety of house styles is amazing and we thoroughly enjoyed checking this out. Please note that some of the walkways are very narrow. Our stroller fit but it was a tight squeeze when we encountered another pedestrian.
Santa Monica Stairs: The famous Santa Monica stairs are tall and skinny, rising up with a fantastic view of the Pacific. They tend to be crowded especially on weekends but if you're looking for a workout, they're a great way to squeeze one in outdoors. That said, they're a nightmare with kids (both because of the steepness and the crowds) so keep this one adults only.
Full disclaimer: I haven't had many opportunities to stay overnight in Los Angeles other than in the homes of friends so this list is brief but I'm slowly adding to it.
The Huntley Hotel (Santa Monica): This super chic hotel with a very glam vibe is just two blocks from the ocean in Santa Monica and within walking distance to tons of shops and restaurants (something you can't always say in Los Angeles). When my best friend and I arrived at 3pm on the dot (check-in time) and discovered our room wasn't ready, the clerk at the front desk sent us up to their Penthouse Bar with a credit for drinks and snacks. It was quiet on a Friday afternoon (although picking up when we left) and we ended up sitting for two hours, talking and indulging in bellinis and sangria, as well as a yummy prosciutto and arugula flatbread, despite the fact that our room was ready after about 45 minutes. My friend had been there before for a work event and knew that if you pop into the last stall of the women's bathroom, you're treated to a gorgeous sweeping view of the ocean.
Kid & Coe (Venice): My husband, son, and I stayed at this property last year while exploring Los Angeles more extensively than we had in the past. We loved the location, just a few blocks from the central area in business and lots of shops and restaurants. I don't love the lack of a cancellation policy associated with Kid & Coe properties (as a family-friendly site, they should realize that kids get sick) and instead encourage you to invest in a travel insurance policy (also not a fan for a quick trip to Los Angeles) but we enjoyed this spacious property. After booking, I did find it listed on a few other home rental sites for a few dollars to cheaper so it definitely pays to do a quick search before booking.
J.W. Marriott (Downtown): I stayed here while on a solo trip to L.A. for a quick conference. I chose it for it's walking convenience to the conference site but appreciated the nice breakfast in the on-site restaurant that was included with my Marriott status as well as the familiarity that only comes with a chain hotel, especially when traveling alone. There are undoubtedly hipper places in the downtown area but for reliability, cleanliness, and service, I would definitely recommend this property if you have a reason to be downtown.
Somehow my "do" recommendations all ended up being on the beauty end up things. Check out the outdoor section for stuff to do with kids and I'll work on adding to this.
Olive & June (Santa Monica): The absolute prettiest nail salon. I'm glad I don't live in Los Angeles because if I did, this place would eat a ton of money from me. With three locations, my best friend and I stopped into the Santa Monica location on Montana. We were glad we had made appointments in advance as it was packed on an early Saturday afternoon. Light, airy, with minimal and pretty decor, we immediately sank into the super comfy chairs (which I traced to here) and loved the fact that they brought out big bowls of sudsy water for our feet, which felt much cleaner than those available in a traditional nail salon.
Drybar (Multiple Locations): Throughout the U.S. now, Drybar started in Los Angeles and while there are many imitations, I appreciate their easy and consistent approach across their properties. I love to stop in when I'm in L.A. for a quick blow dry to make my hair look polished for whatever I have planned.
Coral Tree Cafe (Brentwood): A favorite spot for breakfast/brunch in Los Angeles. I love that that you can get breakfast at any time of day and appreciate their healthy and organic California spin on breakfast as well as it's casual vibe (order at the counter, then find a table). There are three locations although I always hit the one in Brentwood and despite always swearing I'm going to order something different, typically get their Mykonos omelette which is spinach and feta topped with avocado. Fresh-squeezed orange juice here is a must and it's not uncommon for me to order side of applewood-smoked bacon to balance out my vegetarian omelette.
Le Pain Quotidien (Brentwood): A small chain found in New York, Chicago, D.C., Philadelphia, Connecticut and Los Angeles. Great for breakfast and they also have a lunch menu. My best friend, a longtime L.A. resident, swears by their avocado toast.
Caffe Luxxe (Brentwood & Santa Monica): My favorite favorite favorite coffee place anywhere. Any city, any place. They have three locations in Santa Monica/Brentwood although two are definitely cuter than the third. Cute, charming, decorated in neutral greys and woods in a way that warms my minimalist-loving heart and with yummy coffee. Another L.A. favorite that makes me glad I don't live here because I would, again, spend way too much money. I always get their almond milk latte.
Blue Bottle Coffee (Venice & Beverly): A San Francisco favorite with Los Angeles outposts, we walked down to the Venice location every morning when we were staying nearby.
Alfred's Coffee: Definitely has a hipster vibe, more so than I would normally go for but I have to admit, I love their trademarked line "But first, coffee."
Blue Star Donuts (Venice): A Portland favorite that recently opened in Venice. I never eat donuts and don't particularly care for them but I was curious when I heard about the eclectic flavors Blue Star specializes in. I was pleasantly surprised by how tasty they were (although I ate mine as a dessert to lunch rather than a breakfast).
Superba Food & Bread (Venice): While we didn't sit down for breakfast or lunch here, we ordered breakfast pastries to go as well as treats for later like a hand pie and immediately regretted not getting more. Every single thing we had was good and I would love to go back and try other items on the menu.
Hugo's Tacos (Calabasas): My best friend's favorite spot over the hill in the valley for breakfast burritos and tacos. It's a bit of a trek but worth it on a weekend morning when you have nothing better to do.
Blue Plate Taco (Santa Monica): The wait on a Friday night to get in was 45 minutes but they had a nice outdoor area in front of the connected hotel with a view of the ocean so it wasn't bad. I enjoyed my plate of fish tacos as well as the chips and guac that my friend and I split. It's small but has a colorful, lively vibe and an outdoor patio overlooking Ocean Ave. and the ocean.
Gjusta (Venice): This spot has a wide variety of different items available, making it a nice place to stop in if you're trying to feed eclectic palettes and I appreciated their outdoor patio and light and airy vibe.
Sweetgreen (Santa Monica): My favorite salad place when I lived in Washington D.C. (where they started) and I was thrilled when they came to California, first to Los Angeles and now to the Bay Area. A must if you're looking for a fresh salad with local, organic ingredients.
Urth Caffé (Venice): My best friend and I stopped in the Venice location just before my flight home. It was packed on a Sunday afternoon and we were pressed for time so took our sandwiches and boba tea to go but they had a nice outdoor patio. Parking is at a premium in this area, however!
Gjelina (Venice): We picked up pizzas to go here on our first night in Venice and really enjoyed the thin crust and interesting toppings. I was, however, a little put off by a listing on the menu that said prosciutto could be added to any pie. When I requested this, Iw as told that it was actually only for one pizza and they refused to put it on my pie as they said it would "compromise the integrity of the pizza." That was a little too high maintenance for me but if you're looking for good pizza in the Venice area, they definitely have it.
Bottega Louie (Downtown): One of my absolute favorite locations in Los Angeles. I love the open, bright white space, the lofty ceilings, the pretty bar, the lovely bakery, the yummy food and drinks.
Perch (Downtown): For an adult trip. I haven't had the pleasure of dining here but my husband went on a work trip and raved about the food and location, on the 15th floor of a building in Downtown LA with sweeping views of the city.
Holy Cow BBQ (Brentwood): We picked up bbq to go on a total whim one day while across the street at the Brentwood Country Mart and were pleasantly surprised by the yummy meats and tangy sauce.
Sweet Rose Creamery (Brentwood): A local chain in Los Angeles, they have a mix of unusual flavors and more traditional options.
Sprinkles Ice Cream (Beverly Hills): One of the few Sprinkles Cupcake locations that carries their ice cream is in Beverly Hills. While the line is perpetually out the door (we waited 45 minutes the first time we went), it is very yummy and fun that they can add in something different like a cupcake.
The Penthouse at The Huntley Hotel (Santa Monica): I mentioned above that my friend and I popped up here when our room in the same hotel wasn't ready and I'm so glad we had the opportunity. The views were incredible, the bartender was friendly, and the drinks were strong and yummy. While I didn't get the impression that it would be a low-key space after hours, it was extremely mellow and pleasant on the afternoon we were there. Again, as mentioned above, pop into the last stall in the women's bathroom (not sure about the men's) for an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean.
Laurel Hardware (West Hollywood): A former hardware store in West Hollywood that's been converted into a restaurant and bar.
Village Idiot (West Hollywood): A low-key restaurant and bar in West Hollywood.
Brentwood Country Mart (Brentwood): A small chain with fun food and shopping spots, I'm also a fan of their Marin, Montecito, and Malibu locations. This particular spot has a Caffe Luxxe, Sweet Rose Creamery, Jenni Kayne, Poppy (a great although pricey kids store), and Sugar Paper (my absolute favorite places for cards, journals and other paper products). It's a fun space to wander, with narrow alleys and it twists and turns. Parking can be challenging although there is a valet in a pinch and we've found that by going a block or two off the main road will often yield free street parking.
Sugar Paper (Brentwood): Mentioned above in the Brentwood Country Mart listing but deserves a mention of it's own. If you're a fan of paper products, particularly those accented in pink and trimmed with gold, you absolutely must stop into this jewel box of a shop. It's one of my favorite stops and I've easily spent an hour in here despite the small size. I also frequently order their paper goods when I'm back home and am in need of cards or notepads.
Clare V. (Santa Monica): If you're looking for a fun, chic, made-in-the-U.S. bag, Clare V. is your stop. Although her bags and accessories are now widely available online and in shops around the country, her own stores are always fun to pop into to see how they style items, peruse a wider selection, and my favorite, check out their collage wall.
Urbanic Paper (Venice): Such a fun paper store in Venice. If you're a paper lover at all, stop in for a wide selection of cards, notebooks, and wrap as well as some fun gift items.
Aesop (Venice): I'm partial to body lotion with sunscreen but even though I can easily order it online, I love to pop into their stores. The Australian company makes a point of making each location interesting and unique, although they all have a similar peaceful, calming vibe.
Marine Layer (Venice): A San Francisco company but with a store in Venice, this brand makes the absolute softest cotton t-shirts that I've ever felt, for both men and women.
Baby Burro (Venice): A super cute store with kids clothes and toys on Abbott Kinney in Venice. They also have a store with adult clothing, books, and gifts next door.
The General Store (Venice): Another San Francisco favorite with an L.A. outpost, they always have a beautifully curated selection of clothes, jewelry, and gifts
Tips for Visiting Los Angeles
1. Focus on one area.
Los Angeles is a sprawling city (with the greater metro region covering a little less than 34,000 square miles, per Wikipedia). While I once walked from Battery Park in Manhattan up to the mid-70s over the course of two days, LA is a completely different kind of city. Had we opted to visit multiples areas, we would have spent half our time in the car and seen very little. For a recent visit as a family, we opted to rent an apartment through Kid & Coe in Venice (an area I wanted to explore more). We didn't even get in our car one day of our two-and-a-half-day visit, instead opting to explore the commercial area of Venice in the morning and then wandering over to Marina del Rey in the afternoon.
2. When you do get in your car, stick to one side of the city.
Since we were staying in Venice, we opted to spend our second full day in neighboring Santa Monica before venturing towards Brentwood and Pacific Palisades. While there were things I really want to check out on the east side of the city and in downtown (Huntington Gardens, LACMA, and The Broad), the time in the car just wasn't worth it for our short visit. We've added these things to our list for a future trip.
3. Consider renting an apartment for space, ease, and the ability to be centrally-located.
I probably would say this for any city but renting an apartment or house with a child makes life so much easier. While not inexpensive by any means, we were able to stay in a more centrally-located area with drastically more space for a cheaper price than a hotel would have cost. We were able to bring groceries including Jack's favorites for breakfast. He was able to run around and had his own room (which he slept better in than he had in months!). We were just a few blocks from the central business district in Venice which made it easily within walking distance, a really nice feature.
4. Plan in advance.
Some people like to fly by the seat of their pants. I am not typically one of those people. That said, some cities are meant for meandering down side streets and wandering in and out of neighborhoods. LA isn't one of them, especially not with an 18-month-old. While I love wandering the streets of New York, Washington, D.C., and London, LA requires a plan. We had a list of things we were interested to check out and made a loose plan for each day before heading out. While not written in stone, we followed it pretty closely, were happy with what we got to see and do, and I think time not spent trying to figure out what to do made us all calmer and happier.