LA is the 7th largest city in the US. With 87 neighborhoods to choose from, it can be difficult for anyone to select an itinerary for a week, let alone a weekend getaway. Good thing I’ve narrowed it down for you! I’ve planned a few days of delicious food, great shopping, and the most beautiful spots to hang. Here’s my LA travel guide to getting the most out of a weekend in LA.
Where do you begin with a sprawling city of over 4000 square kilometers? By choosing a few nearby neighborhoods, it can focus your options tremendously. I’ve chosen to highlight the best places to hang in Santa Monica, Venice Beach, and West Hollywood, all conveniently located within 15 – 30 minutes’ drive of each other. Rather than battling traffic, you’ll be able to make the most out of your weekend in LA.
I recommend making Santa Monica your first stop and home base. It’s central to all three neighborhoods and has the best range of hotel options. A view of the Santa Monica Pier and its iconic Ferris wheel is a great way to kick off a classic SoCal experience. I always like to spend an afternoon at the Third Street Promenade to shop, snack, and people watch. If I have time, I’ll venture east of the beach for a less touristy experience.
Where to Stay in Santa Monica
If you wish to indulge, luxury hotels like Viceroy, Shore, and Shangri-La may start around $350/night, depending on the season. I stayed at the Shangri-La in Delhi, India and it was heaven. For a less expensive option, boutique hotels like Palihouse, Huntley, The Ambrose, and The Georgian tend to start around $250/night. To save the most money, reserve an Airbnb or similar vacation rental.
What to Do in Santa Monica
Santa Monica Pier
This spot is perfect for family or for making memories with your friends. The famous solar-powered Ferris wheel is a must-see. After you’ve ridden the wheel, enjoy the rest of the attractions at Pacific Park, including an aquarium, arcade games, and souvenir shops. I like to grab a stick of cotton candy to complete the cliché and always enjoyable fair experience.
If you want to avoid the crowds of the pier, head toward the Pacific Palisades side. Palisades Park overlooks Santa Monica beach. Relax under the trees with a picnic, enjoy a local food truck, or admire the art and sculpture on the grounds.
Third Street Promenade
Already seen the pier? Spend the day instead at the Third Street Promenade. Brand name stores and restaurants pepper a pedestrian stretch of four blocks. Coming from out of town, I like to visit stores we don’t have like Zara or stock up at larger versions of my favorite stores like J.Crew and Topshop. There are plenty of spots along the way to sit and relax or enjoy performances by local street artists.
Climb the Santa Monica Stairs
If you want to get an early morning workout in the next day, visit the Santa Monica Stairs located on 4thSt and Adelaide Dr. It’s a popular spot for locals and celebs to tone their lower body.
Where to Eat in Santa Monica
For a brunch spot away from the boardwalk’s crowd, head to The Gables. I love a restaurant that’s so pretty, I never want to leave. Full of natural light, the restaurant’s colorful patio first catches your eye. Patterned blue tile and hanging greenery sandwich a chic set of tables, perfect for dining alfresco. Try the Devil Toast for a flavorful, yet healthy breakfast option. If you’re in the mood for lunch, opt for the Kale Caesar or the Patty Melt.
With bright turquoise walls, this Mexican cantina is full of cheery beach vibes. If you’ve got a craving for Mexican, Tallula’s has guacamole, ceviche, fish tacos, enchiladas, plenty of grilled meat, and margaritas.
Huckleberry Café & Bakery
Order the Organic Fried Chicken Sandwich or Dad’s Pancakes at Huckleberry, a popular breakfast spot that usually has a line out the door. Or try one of their sweet baked goods, which may make you want to get back in line for more.
Indian steet food goes modern and flashy at Tumbi. You won’t find samosas here. But you can order Pani Puri shots, a farmer’s market mushroom dosa, Butter Chicken crepes, and more inventive and flavorful fare.
Venice Beach may be my favorite neighborhood of all on this LA Travel Guide — the place I’d settle in if I had millions of dollars. The locals are cool yet laid back even though tourists are around. This beach is a popular place for people watching, considering the number of street performers and artists. But it’s also got one of the coolest streets that locals love to hang out on – Abbot Kinney Blvd. And of course you can’t miss the Venice Canals.
What to Do in Venice Beach
Venice Beach Ocean Front Walk
Look for the Venice Beach sign and you’re steps away from the walk. You’ll find great people watching opportunities. Last time I visited, there was a crowd of people witnessing street performers try to jump a line of people. I also saw talented artists working on commissioned murals. It’s fun to walk around because something is always happening.
Abbot Kinney Blvd
A short walk from the beach is Abbot Kinney Blvd. Named one of the coolest blocks in America by GQ, the street offers a seemingly endless array of boutiques, trendy restaurants, and artsy galleries. I like to wander from end to end, stepping in and out of shops or spaces that catch my eye. You’ll also find fun murals here and there and plenty of places to grab a snack or drink. If you’re there on First Friday, you’ll have the chance to try food from the dozens of popular food trucks that stop by.
Venice Canal Historic District
If you’re looking for a tranquil spot amidst the craziness of Venice Beach, you’ll love exploring the Venice Canals. Walk around three blocks of man-made canals, located within South Venice Blvd, Pacific, Ocean Ave, and Washington Blvd. Each canal has a bridge that cuts across it, perfect for picture taking and admiring the houses along the water. It’s easy to imagine the slow life people enjoy there. I saw someone take out their paddleboard (although it was a short strip of water), and another group enjoy drinks on their makeshift floating dock. What a life! I just need to develop a multi-million dollar app so I can buy a place and retire there.
High Rooftop Lounge
Every LA travel guide needs a visit to a rooftop lounge. To get a great view of Venice Beach, visit High Rooftop Lounge atop Hotel Erwin. It’s the only rooftop bar and lounge in Venice. If you’re looking for a fun night out, this spot has a locally inspired menu and great nightlife.
The Mosaic Tile House
Every surface of the Mosaic Tile House has been covered in ceramic tiles, glass, mirror shards, and other found objects over the last 20 years. You’ll need to make an appointment to see this unusual and stunning space, open on the weekends.
Where to Eat in Venice Beach
The Butcher’s Daughter
Set in the middle of Abbot Kinney Blvd, The Butcher’s Daughter offers healthy vegan-friendly fare. You’ll love the Margherita or Mushroom & Arugula pizza. The cheese actually tastes like cheese. And the delicious smell of the truffle oil from the mushroom pizza is strong enough to get a contact high. Try and get a seat on their shady patio during Happy Hour for more fun people watching.
There’s something for every mood on the menu at Gjelina, a rustic chic spot. The dim lighting makes it a perfect date night spot. But it’s got a solid brunch menu too. Open since 2008, it’s a popular and reliable staple on Abbot Kinney.
Blue Star Donuts
Need a quick sugary pick-me-up? Reward yourself for all those steps around LA with a brioche doughnut from Blue Star Donuts. Choose from crazy fun flavors like Valrhona Chocolate Crunch, Blueberry Bourbon Basil, or Horxata Glaze.
This luxe café features two patios, a bar, and a bakery with all-day Californian fare. Whether you want Shashouka in the morning, Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe for lunch, or Wakame Noodles for dinner, there’s a diverse array of cuisine to choose from at Rose Café.
Eggslut was recommended to me by my sister and is close to Ocean Front Walk. Egg sandwiches are the star of the menu. You’ll want to try the Slut: cage-free coddled egg on top of a smooth potato purée, poached in a glass jar, topped with gray salt and chives, and served with slices of baguette. The space is small though, so you’ll want to grab a quick bite.
West Hollywood is a great place for a different kind of people watching. You’ll see celebrities, models, and other beautiful people walking around West Hollywood. While it can be intimidating, it’s also fun to see who you might run into. There is no shortage of pretty places to eat or shop, especially if you like designer boutiques. After you’ve shopped till you drop, watch a performance on the legendary Sunset Strip or enjoy the fabulous nightlife.
What to Do in West Hollywood
Whether you’re looking for designer or vintage, you’ll find endless options on Melrose Avenue. Shoppers love to frequent Crossroads Trading Co. for vintage, Fred Segal for an eclectic mix of current styles, or Decades for glamorous vintage gowns. There are also plenty of glam home stores such as Kelly Wearstler or Design Within Reach. On Sundays you can shop the open-air market for vintage clothing or antique goods at the Melrose Trading Post. There’s also plenty of cool walls to snap for your Instagram from the famous pink wall by Paul Smith to the Made in LA wall by Cisco Home.
Not too far from Melrose is The Grove, an outdoor shopping mall filled with high street brands like Topshop, Anthropologie, Nordstrom, and Banana Republic. Spend the day padding your closet, picking up sweet bites from Dylan’s Candy bar or Ladurée, or grabbing a bite at Blue Ribbon Sushi. There are lots of fun activities including pop-up shops, celebrity hosted events, and more depending on the day.
Where to Eat in West Hollywood
Alfred Tea Room
If you love millennial pink, you’ll love visiting this cute tea spot, the sister store to Alfred Coffee. Choose from 28 teas on the “Fancy Pink Tea List” as well as matcha, boba, and on-tap drinks. Alfred Tea is prime for Instagram moments. I went for the Golden Drink tinted yellow from turmeric. Feel free to be extra by ordering the Raspberry Dipped Rose Croissant.
The Butcher, The Baker, The Cappuccino Maker
This super fashionable café and patio features modern California farm-fresh fare with a European influence. The menu includes house-butchered meats, fresh baked goods, specialty coffee, and craft cocktails. Enjoy your meal on the outdoor patio at BBCM shaded by olive tress, or indoor in one of their bright yellow banquettes.
This garden inspired rooftop restaurant is a feast for the eyes with breathtaking views of the city. Nosh on Asian inspired seafood and sushi as well as vegan options. And enjoy celebrity sightings because you never know who you’ll see at Catch. It’s the place to see and be seen. Get here early if you want to grab a table or know someone who knows someone.
This upscale West Hollywood restaurant makes you feel like you’re inside a lush greenhouse that just happens to serve modern Peruvian cuisine. Dishes are meant to be shared at Rosaline. Start with the ceviche (there’s a whole bar for it) and work your way through the extensive menu from snacks, to grill meat, seafood, inventive salads, and plenty of dessert options.
If you can’t hit up the rooftop lounge at Catch, Mama Shelter also has a space in the sky. Enjoy foosball tables, outdoor movies, and day beds in case you need a mid-afternoon nap. Good food and movie-themed cocktails round out the experience.
Any LA Travel Guide recommendations or neighborhood spots I’ve missed? Where do you love to go when you visit LA?