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Los Angeles

First time in LA - How can I feel like a local?

Hi, I'm planning my first trip to LA and it's a little overwhelming because it's so big. I want to feel like a real local :) Where should I go to eat? What should I do? What I must try (food, beaches, road, etc.)? Many many thx! 

13 Answers

answered by
Kristin from New York City

JR J. provided an awesome response and I can definitely second most of the places he mentioned. To add a few local spots...

Hinano Cafe is an awesome dive bar in Venice and has great burgers. Yes, it's near a bit of a rowdy area near the boardwalk, but it's really really good for a beer and burger. Also, across the street is one of my favorite Italian places (and I'm from NYC). It's called  Casa Ado and you need to try the beet pasta. Killer!

If you're a hiker, you can obviously do the very popular (and touristy)  Runyon Canyon Park. You'll see loads of people here on the weekend. Personally, my go-to hike is  Topanga State Park up in the Palisades. It has awesome views of the water and is just strenuous enough to make you feel fine about that burger at Hinano. 

As a music lover, you might check out what's going on at  TroubadourThe Greek Theatre or  Hollywood Bowl. In the summer, these places are hopping. There's also awesome comedy acts at  Largo at the Coronet. Finally, if you do head to the Greek Theater, be sure to hang out in Los Feliz. It's a really fun neighborhood with awesome little shops, restaurants and bars. 

Hope this helps!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Hinano Cafe (restaurant)
  2. Casa Ado (restaurant)
  3. Runyon Canyon Park (attraction)
  4. Topanga State Park (attraction)
  5. Troubadour (attraction)
  6. The Greek Theatre (attraction)
  7. Hollywood Bowl (attraction)
  8. Largo at the Coronet (restaurant)
7 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Matthew from Boston

If you are looking for places on the west side ( Santa MonicaArea) you are obviously going to want to check out  Santa Monica Pierand  Third Street Promenade. For restaurants I would recommend La Sandia Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar, great margaritas. There is also  Sonoma Wine Garden, both are located on top of the  Santa Monica PlaceFather's Officeand  Umami Burger next to  Fred Segal are popular local spots. 

For nightlife, if you want a great place to grab a cocktail, I personally think the The Bungalow at Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows is the best bar in the area (it is to the left of the main entrance). If you want a view with the drink, the  Hotel Shangri-La or  Hotel Erwin both have great rooftop bars (unfortunately Erwin closes relatively early).

There is also Main street, with everything from Irish pubs like Finn McCools, more club like atmospheres with  31Ten Lounge, to places like  The Library Alehouse, which has a great beer selection.

If you have time and a car than definitely drive up the coast to  Malibu and grab dinner at either  Duke's Malibuor  Malibu Seafood, which is BYOB. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Santa Monica (city)
  2. Santa Monica Pier (attraction)
  3. Third Street Promenade (attraction)
  4. La Sandia Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar (restaurant)
  5. Sonoma Wine Garden (restaurant)
  6. Santa Monica Place (attraction)
  7. Father's Office (restaurant)
  8. Umami Burger (restaurant)
  9. Fred Segal (attraction)
  10. The Bungalow (attraction)
  11. Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows (hotel)
  12. Hotel Shangri-La (hotel)
  13. Hotel Erwin (hotel)
  14. Finn McCools (attraction)
  15. 31Ten Lounge (attraction)
  16. The Library Alehouse (restaurant)
  17. Malibu (city)
  18. Duke's Malibu (restaurant)
  19. Malibu Seafood (restaurant)
6 thanks

answered by
Courtney from Los Angeles

Hey, Alessandra,

Here are some of my favorite haunts in L.A.!:

  • Hollywood Bowl - this place will be in full swing in August and attracts some incredible names so be sure not to miss it. You can get super-cheap tickets here if you're willing to sit far up and back. 
  • Farmers Market - it's an old but super-lively place with dozens of eateries to choose from. My favorite there is  Monsieur Marcel which has great fondue. 
  • Los Feliz - building on J.R.'s suggestion to see  Silverlake, this is a great area right nearby. I used to live there and it's just full of great little stores and restaurants. 
  • The Dresden Room - my favorite bar in L.A. They have a piano bar where this couple who's been playing there forever do their stuff. 
  • Yuca's- classic place to eat in Los Feliz--I think it even won a James Beard award. 
  • Barnsdall Art Park -- great little place in a Frank Lloyd Wright building that always has great exhibits and/or events going on
  • Union Station - this is a breathtaking old train station that might be one of my favorite places in L.A.
  • Japanese American National Museum -- even if you're not particularly interested in Japanese-American history, this is a very interesting place with all kinds of great programs going on. I'm taking an indigo-dyeing workshop there soon. 
  • El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument -- love this place--saw the most amazing exhibit about the Day of the Dead last year. 
  • Vincent Price Art Museum -- I haven't been here yet, but I'm dying to go--I mean, how can you resist seeing Vincent Price's art collection???
  • Museum of Jurassic Technology -- if you've ever wanted a "cabinet of curiosities" this is your place. 
  • Koreatown (Los Angeles) -- I'd wander around here for some great Korean BBQ. I don't eat meat anymore and haven't for a while so I can't recommend a place, but they're very easy to find. 
  • Pink's -- this is a classic hot dog joint (again, not my thing) that's not exactly an insider secret, but something you should probably try while you're here. 
  • La Brea -- this is a great little stretch of stores and restaurants where you'll find great people watching and things to do. Lots of interesting art galleries, too. 
  • Larchmont Village - this is a smaller, less expensive La Brea. Very charming spot for lunch and/or people watching. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Hollywood Bowl (attraction)
  2. Farmers Market (attraction)
  3. Monsieur Marcel (restaurant)
  4. Los Feliz (neighborhood)
  5. Silverlake (neighborhood)
  6. The Dresden Room (attraction)
  7. Yuca's (restaurant)
  8. Barnsdall Art Park (attraction)
  9. Union Station (attraction)
  10. Japanese American National Museum (attraction)
  11. El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument (attraction)
  12. Vincent Price Art Museum (attraction)
  13. Museum of Jurassic Technology (attraction)
  14. Koreatown (Los Angeles) (attraction)
  15. Pink's (restaurant)
  16. La Brea (attraction)
  17. Larchmont Village (neighborhood)
6 thankscomments (3)

answered by
Annemarie from New York City

Hi Allesandra. You've already got some great recommendations from actual LA locals, so I'll just throw one more into the mix: Griffith Park. I tend to love to stay outdoors when I visit LA since I've from the cold Northeast, and this park has some amazing views, not-too-difficult hiking trails, and wooded areas.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Griffith Park (attraction)
4 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Michelle from Los Angeles

If you want to skip the tourist attractions and crowds, but still get the true California experience, you'll want to take note of these locals-only tips. As a former Marina Del Rey resident, one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday is head to Mother's Beach and rent paddle boards for $25 for an hour. The staff is super friendly and will give any beginners a tutorial if need be. You'll get your workout in while admiring a mix of quirky house boats and super yachts that sit pretty in the harbor. If you work up an appetite, ask the staff if they have discount cards to the Jamaica Bay Inn that sits in the harbor -- chances are yes!

For a great shopping destination san tourists, head to North Santa Monica to Montana Avenue, where the street attracts more young families than out-of-towners. You'll find everything from Planet Blue to home wares to coffee shops and a cute little indie movie theatre. 

If you're visiting on a weekend, visiting the Brentwood Farmers Market is a fun way to get outside and feel like you're living the true Cali lifestyle. Californians love their farmers markets, and it's practically ritual for locals to get up on Saturdays and Sunday, put on their workout gear and head to the nearest Farmer's Market with their reusable bags to scoop up veggies and locally made goods for the week ahead. Two other great West Side farmers markets are the Playa Vista Farmers' Market and Mar Vista Farmers Market

While visiting, you're inevitably going to want to go to the beach and Santa Monica is the ultimate tourist beach trap. Skip the crowds and go south to Marina Del Rey where there are plenty of spots to snag on the sand and the atmosphere is more calm and peaceful. The Whaler, Venice which sits just off the Venice Pier (at the Northern-most part of the Marina) is the perfect post-beach spot to catch the sunset with a beer in hand.

For happy hour and dinner, Rose Ave in Venice is a great area that attracts locals for after work drinks with friends and has ideal weekend date spots. There's a string of great restaurants including Oscars CervetecaCafe GratitudeSuperba Snack Bar and Venice Beach Wines, which means that if one place is packed all you have to do is pop over to the next one to ensure a great meal! 

Take it from a true local (moi), you can't really go wrong with any of the above! 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Mother's Beach (attraction)
  2. Jamaica Bay Inn (hotel)
  3. Planet Blue (attraction)
  4. Brentwood Farmers Market (restaurant)
  5. Playa Vista Farmers' Market (restaurant)
  6. Mar Vista Farmers Market (attraction)
  7. Marina Del Rey (attraction)
  8. Rose Ave (attraction)
  9. Oscars Cerveteca (restaurant)
  10. Cafe Gratitude (restaurant)
  11. Superba Snack Bar (restaurant)
  12. Venice Beach Wines (attraction)
3 thanks

answered by
Kelsey from Los Angeles

If you're here on the first Friday of the month, then check out the First Fridays in Venice. They line the streets with food trucks and it's a happening scene. It's a great way to sample from several different food trucks in one place.

You should also check out a Farmers' Market. I like the Mar Vista Farmers Market (Mar Vista Farmers' Market) on Sundays from 9am-2pm.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Mar Vista Farmers Market (attraction)
3 thanks

answered by
Katie from Long Beach

Don't miss the  Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County ... or the more local spot, the  La Brea Tar Pits on Wilshire, right next to  LACMA

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (attraction)
  2. La Brea Tar Pits (attraction)
  3. LACMA (attraction)
3 thanks

answered first by
Chris from Las Vegas

El Matador State Beach is a popular and very scenic small beach that is great for photos.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. El Matador State Beach (attraction)
2 thanks

top answer by
JR from Manhattan Beach

First tip: to be like a local make sure you have a car, it's a MUST.

To get started here are some really touristy things here in LA. I'm not implying that you shouldn't go see the touristy things (especially if it's your first trip to LA) but just so you know when you're at these places you'll be hanging out with a bunch of other tourists. Places like  Hollywood Walk of FameSanta Monica PierThird Street PromenadeVenice Beach BoardwalkUniversal Studios HollywoodDisneyland are the biggest tourist attractions in LA. These places cater to tourists and therefore you'll get everything from cheap souvenirs, street performers, and guys in super hero costumes asking for money to have you picture taken with them.  

If you want to see LA like a local you need to understand that LA is more like 30 little cites all pushed together into one expansive metropolis. So most locals really only feel like locals in their own neighborhoods. Here are a few places with some good spots to check out in each that will give you a good sense of the different parts of LA. 

Silver Lake has been emerging as the creative and hipstery area of LA. If you want to check it out the vibe up there, grab a coffee at  Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, and hang out with the cool kids. 

Venice Beach while the board walk is super touristy,  Abbot Kinney is very different and has a bohemian, creative vibe to it with a lot of restaurants and shops. I'd go to  Gjelina for dinner to really take it in. You'll need a reservation as it's one of the more popular restaurants in town. 

Beverly Hills avoid the tourists on  Rodeo Drive and go have breakfast or lunch  Urth Caffe. You'll dining with a bunch of actors, writers and other entertainment industry folks who will be dining and checking each other out. 

Santa Monica You'll go to Third Street Promenade because it's hard to avoid and even though it's touristy, it's still worth a stroll. If you want to grab a bite where the locals eat (breakfast lunch or dinner), go check out  Huckleberry Cafe and Bakery.

Manhattan Beach best beach town in LA (and where I live so i'm biased). For view go to  The Strand House, for oysters go to  Fishing with Dynamite for burger  Simmzy's, and for splurge dinner go to  MB Post. Walk on the  Manhattan Beach Pier and rent a bike and ride down the strand. yes, that's what we locals do :)

Malibu go to  Point Dume State Beach and hike around and down the bluff to the beach, or grab a bloody mary for brunch at  Paradise Cove Cafe.

Hope that helps :)

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Hollywood Walk of Fame (attraction)
  2. Santa Monica Pier (attraction)
  3. Third Street Promenade (attraction)
  4. Venice Beach Boardwalk (attraction)
  5. Universal Studios Hollywood (attraction)
  6. Disneyland (attraction)
  7. Silver Lake (attraction)
  8. Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea (restaurant)
  9. Venice Beach (attraction)
  10. Abbot Kinney (attraction)
  11. Gjelina (restaurant)
  12. Beverly Hills (neighborhood)
  13. Rodeo Drive (neighborhood)
  14. Urth Caffe (restaurant)
  15. Santa Monica (city)
  16. Huckleberry Cafe and Bakery (restaurant)
  17. Manhattan Beach (city)
  18. The Strand House (restaurant)
  19. Fishing with Dynamite (restaurant)
  20. Simmzy's (restaurant)
  21. MB Post (restaurant)
  22. Manhattan Beach Pier (attraction)
  23. Malibu (city)
  24. Point Dume State Beach (attraction)
  25. Paradise Cove Cafe (restaurant)
17 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Supun from Carson (California)

Since you are asking about what locals do in LA, I'm going to assume you will be here for more than a few days. The popular main stream places that the locals go to won't need much explanation since everyone will know about them as soon as you get into the airport.

LA has a subway!
In case you won't have a car, one option you have is to use the Metro Red Line. If you are staying near a station, it's the best way to get to the  Hollywood & Vine/Hollywood & Highland area and Downtown. You can get a day pass for $5 or pay $1.50 for each time you jump on a train. You can check schedules and travel times in Google Maps.

Everyone in LA can tell you about the  Staples Center and the  Nokia Theatre at LA Live . You can check their schedules online to see if anyone you'd want to see is playing. There's some decent restaurants in that area, but nothing exceptional. You can explore more options going towards  Pershing Square, which has a Red Line station right under it, and Gallery Row. If you come out on the 2nd Thursday of the month, during theDowntown LA Art Walk, you can see a bunch of Angelenos in one place. You can start at 634 S. Spring St. and see what's featured. The art on display has never been mind-blowingly cool in my experience. The Art Walk feels like it's for the cafes and bars more than the artists. There's a few lounges you can go to, if you feel like getting dressed up. I've been to Perch. It has a rooftop lounge, although you might have to wait in line on a busy night. If you want more of a ritzy LA experience you can come to Grand Ave, near the 2nd Street/Civic Center Red Line Station, where the  Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and Grand Park are located. I highly recommend the free outdoorGrand Performances. If you take the Red Line all the way to the end at  Union Station you can see some of the outdoor performances that happen at Olvera Street. Be aware that it's a tourist trap, but it's a place to go if you want buy a poncho and a taco while in LA. If you feel like taking a day trip out to Santa Barbara or San Diego you can take the Amtrak from Union Station for about $30-40.

Hollywood & Vine or Hollywood & Highland
There's a lot of tourist traps in this area, but it's also a popular spot among locals too. Catalina Bar and Grill that has some good performers from time to time.  The Groundlings Theatre is a fun sketch comedy place to visit and is about 2 miles away from Hollywood and Highland. If you want to see a concert at the  Hollywood Bowl, there's a shuttle that can take you from Hollywood & Highland. The  Pantages Theatre is the most popular place for musicals and is right across the street from the Hollywood & Vine train station. The  House of Blues and the sunset strip is a 20 minute bus ride from here. 

Besides the popular beaches like  Hermosa Beach
Bolsa Chica State Beach,Santa Monica State Beach or Zuma Beach, I also recommend going up to Malibu for quieter beaches mentioned in the other answers. If you're in Malibu and like hiking, go to the  Mishe Mokwa - Sandstone Peak trail. I also like Griffith Park--it's LA's version of Central Park. If you go to The Trails Cafe, there will be about 10% chance you'll see a celebrity and you'll get to see how expensive a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be in LA. You can walk up to the  The Griffith Observatory to get some nice views of the city. Hiking to the Hollywood Sign from the observatory is still popular among us locals too.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art
and  The Getty Center has some great exhibits. The Space Shuttle Endeavour @ California Science Center exhibit has been very popular among locals during the last year. 

Since you specifically asked for places to eat, I'll throw in a couple diners that have a "very LA" menu.  Brite Spot Family Restaurant, if you are near the Silver Lake/Echo Park neighborhoods, andSwingers, in Santa Monica, are popular and have friendly wait staff that you can talk with for recommendations.

Since LA has an over-abundance of actors and writers, you may want to try going to a small playhouse like the  Santa Monica Playhouse or the Moving Arts. It's hard to recommend a place since going to small productions in LA can be hit or miss. You have to go by word of mouth. It's totally worth it to see good raw talent up close if you can find a good show. We joke that the best people to ask are the waiters since most likely they are struggling actors by night.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Hollywood & Vine (attraction)
  2. Staples Center (attraction)
  3. Nokia Theatre LA Live (attraction)
  4. Pershing Square (attraction)
  5. Downtown LA Art Walk (attraction)
  6. Perch (restaurant)
  7. Walt Disney Concert Hall (attraction)
  8. Grand Performances (attraction)
  9. Union Station (attraction)
  10. Catalina Bar and Grill (attraction)
  11. The Groundlings Theatre (attraction)
  12. Hollywood Bowl (attraction)
  13. Pantages Theatre (attraction)
  14. House of Blues (restaurant)
  15. Hermosa Beach (city)
  16. Bolsa Chica State Beach (attraction)
  17. Santa Monica State Beach (park)
  18. Zuma Beach (attraction)
  19. Mishe Mokwa - Sandstone Peak (attraction)
  20. Griffith Park (attraction)
  21. The Trails Cafe (restaurant)
  22. The Griffith Observatory (attraction)
  23. Hollywood Sign (attraction)
  24. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (attraction)
  25. The Getty Center (attraction)
  26. Space Shuttle Endeavour @ California Science Center (attraction)
  27. Brite Spot Family Restaurant (restaurant)
  28. Swingers (restaurant)
  29. Santa Monica Playhouse (attraction)
  30. Moving Arts (attraction)
10 thankscomments (2)

answered by
Gary from Thousand Oaks

I would suggest you get a book.  L.A. and areas around have so many great restaurants, you couldn't possibly do it without a book.  Same thing true of what to do.

If you are an art buff, I would highly recommend both the Getty Villa (you have to make reservations) of the Getty Museum.

We have dozens of museums, hundreds of attractions.  Incredible beaches.  There are good things for everyone, so it really depends on what you like.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Getty Villa (attraction)
  2. Getty Museum (attraction)
1 thanks

answered by

Malibu Restaurant just off PCH 

Sit outside on the sand and have drinks - Paradise Cove Cafe

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Paradise Cove Cafe (restaurant)
1 thanks

answered by
Enchanted from Los Angeles

LA has great museums; must visits include The Getty Center and Getty Villa in Malibu; LACMA in mid city; MOCA for contemporary art; further afield you have Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. While downtown be sure to view some great architectural gems like Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehri; Union Station and also for local mexican flavor check out Olvera Street Plaza. Happy travels!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. The Getty Center (attraction)
  2. Getty Villa (attraction)
  3. Malibu (city)
  4. LACMA (attraction)
  5. MOCA (attraction)
  6. Norton Simon Museum (attraction)
  7. Pasadena (city)
  8. Walt Disney Concert Hall (attraction)
  9. Union Station (attraction)
  10. Olvera Street Plaza (attraction)

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