Falling Back in Love with LA:
The MOST Fun Activities in Los Angeles
Growing up in Los Angeles, I admit that I very much got caught up in the negative stereotypes that you constantly hear about LA…the people are so superficial and materialistic, public transportation is terrible and consequently the traffic sucks, and everyone here is a transplant looking for fame but no one actually does any work. Pretty harsh, am I right? I must admit that I believed these rumors throughout high school and college and was even happy to perpetuate these stereotypes as well. It was only after I moved back from having lived in Spain, that I truly began to appreciate the incredible city that is Los Angeles. Sometimes it really takes a clear mind and some time away to gain a better understanding of something and look at it in a different light, even your hometown! And, in my case, I have found that LA is pretty freakin’ spectacular. There are so many fun activities in Los Angeles. You can get from the mountains to the ocean in under two hours and every neighborhood has its own distinct character. Some parts are gritty and urban like DTLA, and there are those areas that ooze glamour and glitz, while other sectors maintain a relaxed beach California surfer vibe.
February is commonly referred to as the month of love, and as we close out the month, I wanted to reflect on what made me completely fall back in love with Los Angeles by sharing all of my favorite LA hotspots with you. This was not exactly an easy task considering I have lived here for 28 years and have lots of opinions, but luckily GMC helped me by sending me their GMC Terrain Denali to venture out in style and get all of the content I needed to share these glorious places with you. First of all, can I just say how cool it was to drive a GMC? All the celebs are driven around by their drivers in the larger GMC vehicles, so even though I was driving myself, I definitely felt like a boss. Also, the moonroof on the Terrain is massive. Who needs a convertible when you have a roof that opens up almost the entire length of the vehicle?! Plus, the 2018 version has all the bells and whistles you are looking for in a car. I couldn’t believe that the gears were simply buttons on the center console! I was a little nervous because it is such a change from how I have always shifted gears, but the buttons were actually extremely simple to use. Also, I dislike driving around in a sedan because some car is always blocking the view in front of me, so driving in the Terrain while exploring LA to film and photograph for this post made the experience so much better. Now, let’s get into the favorites. It’s kind of like my own Academy Awards of Los Angeles which is quite fitting since the Oscars are this weekend!
So here we’ve got a speakeasy in the back of the number one French dip restaurant in Los Angeles, which is actually a highly controversial statement because Phillipe’s rivals Cole’s but ya know, it sounds cooler that way. Cole’s/The Varnish sits right on the cusp of skid row and the financial district of Downtown Los Angeles. As you enter the restaurant, head straight back to an unassuming door with a martini glass framed on it and give it your best knock. A well-dressed human will open that door and will either lead you to the bar if there are not any tables currently available or you will be seated at an open table. Ok, I am going to be bossy right now. Unless you have a very good reason not to, you need to order the bartender’s choice. Your will be asked a series of questions and based on your preferences, the bartender will concoct an unbelievably tasty beverage. It’s quite a classy establishment as evidenced by the fact that there is live jazz Sunday – Wednesday after 9PM. And, here’s the most important thing. We are talking about a small room in the back of a restaurant. Do not come here Saturday night at 10 and expect a table. The Varnish is open 7PM – 2 AM nightly, so either come early on a crowded weekend day or take the edge off by coming during the week. These drinks are worth the commute, I promise!
Cento Pasta Bar
By now, we have all seen these “Instagrammable” pop up shops where the basic premise is—charge a lot of money because they have created an environment for you to take photos worthy of your Instagram feed. Needless to say, I prefer a different kind of pop up shop, and that is Cento Pasta Bar in Downtown LA. Now, I eat pasta on a daily basis, so I consider myself to be a pretty good critic and this was no joke, the best pasta I have ever had in my life. This is a one man show—chef, server, sommelier—Avner, you really mean business. I indulged in the beet spaghetti with poppy seeds and goat cheese, but their menu changes weekly and usually includes three or so pasta options along with starters and wine. I originally went to Cento on a food tour, so even though I absolutely loved it, I figured the prices must be insanely expensive for this kind of experience/quality of food. I was able to peek at the menu and discovered that the pastas are generally between $9 and $14 and the wine is $6…ummm…those prices are insanely good for LA! Cento is open Wednesday-Saturday from 11 AM to 3 PM.
Favorite Nightly Happy Hour:
Fig at 5
Sometimes you just want to feel a little bougie, and trust me when I say that walking down Rodeo Drive, won’t quite do it for you. Instead, go to the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalow’s poolside FIG restaurant for happy hour. From 5PM-6PM daily, the restaurant has a special called Fig at 5 where you can order from their fancy menu and everything is 50 percent off. I love coming here because I feel like I am on a mini vacation. All of the actual out-of-town visitors are right there poolside while you eat and drink delicious, high quality food at a fraction of the cost. The Fairmont is a quick walk away from the Santa Monica Pier right along Ocean Ave, so I definitely recommend a sunset stroll to the pier after happy hour!
Favorite Lunch Joint:
Bold statement: there is no better spot in Los Angeles to have lunch than at Malibu Farm. Why? Because the food is actually quite good and the atmosphere is unbelievable. While this may be “just a lunch,” plan on spending at least 2-3 hours here because the views are just too good to not sit and watch the waves crash and the surfers and paddle boarders doing their thing. There are actually two different options for lunch, the cafe and the restaurant; while I have always been a die hard cafe fan because it is on the end of the pier and the views are better in my opinion, I ate at the restaurant on my last trip to the pier and I gotta say the food was so delicious. I had the spaghetti squash and the cauliflower pizza (which is at both the cafe and restaurant) and the family and I just had the best time. After lunch, you can saunter around the Malibu Country Mart or take a garden tour of the Getty Villa.
Favorite Overcrowded Tourist Attraction:
No matter how crowded it is, Griffith Observatory is still one of, if not, THE best sight in Los Angeles and it is absolutely worth seeing despite the thousands of humans blocking your perfect sunset time-lapse video. As a local Angeleno, I don’t go all too often because who actually has time to re-frequent the same tourist spots in your own local city more than once every few years. That’s why I used this opportunity to make sure I made it up to the observatory so I could share photos of this gorgeous spot. If you want to make more of a day or even a date of it, I highly suggest bringing a picnic along…some bread and brie of course and some playing cards and set up shop along the grassy area in front of the observatory a few hours before sunset. I once planned a date up there and brought the board game – Battleship – to play and it was so much fun. Getting up to the top of the observatory is not too difficult at all. Park at the free parking down near the Greek Theatre and take the shuttle bus up to the top. It’s only $.50 a person. At the end of the night, I ended up walking down because the line for the shuttle was quite long and it’s only a 10-15 minute walk completely downhill.
Favorite Outdoor Movie Venue:
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
It took me ages to finally see a summer movie at Cinespia, which is the company that puts on outdoor movies at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Because the experience is so fun, the movies sell out weeks in advance so you really need to plan ahead. That being said, there is no better way to spend your summer evening in LA if you want to watch a movie outdoors. The cemetery vibe is not especially eerie unless that sort of thing really creeps you out, but I absolutely loved seeing all of the old tombstones on my way in to watch. You can drink alcoholic beverages (huge plus) and people really go all out and dress up in costumes for the movie. You do have to arrive on the earlier side, but they have a DJ, photobooth, and other activities to keep you occupied. Plan on bringing a picnic dinner with you and enjoy this spectacular setting for an oldie but goodie.
Favorite Green Space:
Los Angeles isn’t really known for a famous park like Central Park in New York, Millennium Park in Chicago, etc. but we do have beautiful gardens at some pretty awesome landmarks that make for a fun, relaxing day. The Getty Center and Huntington Library are two other great spots for outdoor gardens, but I am including Descanso because their gardens are wonderful year-round (for the most part). During the spring, summer, and fall, you will see gorgeous blooms; however, holiday season might be the best time to visit because of their light show, Enchanted: Forest of Light. I visited this month and honestly, it was mostly a bunch of stems and not very many blooms, so make sure you go at the right time. It is such a perfect spot for a summer read!
Favorite Coffee Shop:
Not only is the coffee absolutely delicious and comparable in price to other trendy coffee shops in LA, but Carrera is only one of a few stores in Los Angeles that allows you to use the Coffee Ripples app to print a selfie directly on your coffee! Sure, it’s a tad narcissistic, but who isn’t in this day and age? The best part is that you can order any kind of coffee whether it be a latte, cappuccino, chai latte, etc. and they will imprint the photo for $1.50 extra. It is located right in the heart of Melrose next to the famed pink wall, but personally I think a selfie with your coffee selfie is a way better photo. Upon seeing the location, I was worried that the cafe would be packed, but there were available tables inside and outside. They also have delicious sandwiches and salads for around $12-$13.
Favorite Outdoor Beach Activity:
26-Mile Bike Path
Don’t freak out. You’re looking at the least athletic person possible who doesn’t even know how to ride a bike so while the path may go on for 26 miles, the best part from the Santa Monica Pier to the Venice Boardwalk is only about 2.5 miles long. You have options too. There are bike rentals, rollerblading rentals, Segways, or you can walk alongside the path. It’s a must do for any tourist and an activity that as a local I might not get out and do as often as I wish, but absolutely love every time I actually do. Bike rentals and roller blades are all quite inexpensive and the amount of sights and people watching you will get to see between the pier and the boardwalk will be well worth it. I have a whole post that details specifically with what to do in the coastal parts of the city…Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu which I will link to here.
Favorite Free Activity:
Shakespeare in the Park
If you are looking for things to do in LA at night and want a free summer activity, then you have to go to Griffith Park for Shakespeare in the Park. Each year, there are a couple of productions throughout the summer and you bring picnic blankets, food, and a group of people and sit and watch the show. The best part is that even though it is free, the actors and the production value are extremely high quality. Two important things to note. 1) Read the synopsis of the show before if you have not read the particular Shakespeare play that is being performed. I didn’t and as my Shakespeare lingo has never really been up to par with what it should be, I must admit I was a tad lost until I got onto my phone at intermission and hastily started reading Spark Notes. 2) You will be outside in a park and there will be bees flying around while the sun is still up, so don’t bring a gourmet feast to eat that is difficult to cover up with a napkin should one fly by. A sub sandwich or something that doesn’t have to stay hot is probably your best bet!
Favorite Drives in Los Angeles:
It is well-known that LA is a driving city. I know that can be a turn off for some as I constantly read stories online from travelers who came to Los Angeles for a trip and didn’t rent a car and didn’t enjoy their stay. Well, if you have your license, then rent a car! Sure, the traffic isn’t exactly the greatest, but driving in beautiful weather with the windows down and the music blaring loudly is actually really fun. I wanted to include some of my favorite drives because driving is such a key component to LA. These are drives that no matter how many times I do them, I always feel a sense of exhilaration going down these streets as they are iconic LA landmarks in their own right.
Topanga PCH to the 10 West
Hollywood and Highland Blvd
Sunset Strip from Beverly Hills into West Hollywood
On the Bucket List:
I always have a list of fun activities in Los Angeles either on the notes section of my phone or in a Google Doc somewhere of ideas, so that when I am in the mood to get out and do something, I have options ready to go! I thought it would be fun to include some of the activities I have on the list, but have yet to do. These are all a little more off-the-beaten-path adventures, but I think these unique things to do in LA all will be a ton of fun.
Drag Queen Bingo at Hamburger Mary’s
Drive in Movie Theatre at the Electric Dusk Drive-In
The Nethercutt Collection
Bob Baker Marionette Theatre
Heading elsewhere along the coast? Check out some of my other posts for more of that Cali lifestyle!
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What are your favorite LA activities? Let’s add some of your top Los Angeles attractions to the list in the comment section!