10 L.A Secrets for Travelers Visiting Los Angeles for the First Time

December 21, 2014 by Sina Lewis

There are so many things to do and see in Los Angeles that it can be overwhelming. Of course doing the same thing as every other tourist can be even more frustrating, especially when L.A. has so much to offer.

As a first time traveler it can be tough making the decision about where to go and what to do. After all, your time and money are precious resources. But there are some secrets to make the first trip to our city much easier. Los Angeles doesn’t have to be an overwhelming experience. In fact, it can (and should be) be an extremely diverse, rewarding, and fun way to spend your travel time.


Let’s take a look at some of the secrets to a successful first time trip to the city of angels, making sure you get to see the real L.A. while also getting the most bang for your buck.

Hermosa Beach Pier

Hermosa Beach Pier. Credit: Neil Kremer via flickr

1. Getting to Los Angeles

LAX is the largest airport in the Los Angeles area so it’s pretty much the airport everyone flies into. As a result parking and traffic are insane. Besides, it’s pretty far from most of the Los Angeles destinations outside of the beach cities. Instead try flying into Burbank Bob Hope Airport. Burbank Airport is a smaller airport that still accommodates major airlines and rental car companies. The Metrolink is literally across the street from the airport for access to various destinations in Los Angeles. Disney, Warner Bros. and NBC Universal are 10 minutes away, and Bob Hope is the closest airport to Hollywood, the Valley, downtown L.A. and Staples Center, Griffith Park, the L.A. Zoo, Dodger Stadium, the Rose Bowl and much more.

2. Where to Stay

The Valley has a bad rap, but don’t believe the naysayers. At first glance staying anywhere in the Valley doesn’t make sense. However, depending on where you stay in the Valley it can be very convenient. Check out North Hollywood.  The Metro in downtown North Hollywood will take you directly to Hollywood and DTLA. Parking is easier to find and there’s plenty of places to eat and entertain. There are hotels in the area minutes to major Hollywood studios. North Hollywood is also very convenient to most of the major freeways you will need to get to the beaches and other Los Angeles destinations. If you decide to fly into Burbank Airport it’s a 15-minute drive from North Hollywood.

Of course that said, depending on what your key interests and desired activities are, you’ll want to book a place that has a decent proximity to your core plans. L.A. is so spread out it that just picking the most random, cheapest hotel you find could backfire, so be sure to bust out your Google Map and do some estimations on car / transit times to your preferred destinations. 15 miles may sound close in your head, but that could literally take well over at hour at certain peak traffic times depending on where you’re coming or going from.

3. There’s more to Hollywood than Hollywood Blvd.

Every tourist inevitably wants to go to Hollywood Blvd. and no one should tell you not to. Who wouldn’t want to see the Walk of Fame or fun characters like Spiderman (equipped with a fanny pack for cash tips), Marilyn Monroe and Superman. But Hollywood is more than Hollywood Blvd. For a change of pace check out the Melrose Avenue District. It has a pretty eclectic vibe with tattoo shops, restaurant, and vintage shops to explore.

 4. Explore the Secret Staircases

Before the days of traffic Angelenos walked in some parts of the city. As a result, there are staircases hidden all over the city. In fact, Charles Fleming wrote a book that outlines all of the staircases and routes to follow. There’s a MeetUp group devoted entirely to exploring and climbing the hidden stairs. But before you hit the stairs pack water, sunscreen and plenty of energy. Some routes have up to 1500 steps!

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 5. Beaches

Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach are on the top of every tourist’s list. However, if you want to avoid the massive crowds and experience an authentic Los Angeles beach trip try Manhattan Beach, Long Beach or Malibu. Manhattan Beach is a wonderful beach city with a small town feel. There are adorable shops and restaurants to explore. Check out Manhattan Beach Creamery for their delicious ice cream, cakes and specialty candy. Long Beach has a great boardwalk with historic sites like the famous Queen Mary cruise ship. Stroll through the East Village Arts District to check out the galleries and boutique shops. Finally, Malibu is another awesome beach as an alternative. Duke’s is a great place to have a drink and watch the sunset after a long day at the beach.

Runyon Canyon View

Runyon Canyon. Credit: Ryan Vaarsi via flickr

6. Hike

Griffith Park one of the best parks with the observatory and the hiking trails plus the views are breath taking. During the Griffith Park hike you can see the Hollywood sign and a lot of the valley. Depending on your hiking level there’s a hiking route for every type of hiker. For those who are new to hiking try an easier hike, and for those of you who are hiking experts try one of the challenging hikes. Whichever hike you choose, it is a great way to spend time getting to know the city.

7. Los Angeles for Free?

There are tons of free things to do in Los Angeles, you just have to know where to look. If you plan your trip well you can take advantage of the free museum days throughout Los Angeles County. If you love yoga and being outdoors try a free class in Runyon Canyon.

Also, it’s very common for famous celebrity comics to drop in local clubs to try out new material but you don’t have to spend a fortune to see them. If you’re looking to save money, here’s how you can get in for free to a bunch of local comedy shows.


8. Eat and Drink like an Angeleno

No trip to Los Angeles is complete without a trip to In n Out. Order from the secret menu like a true Angeleno. Food trucks are some of the hotspots for good eats in Los Angeles, check out Brun’s Creole Soul Kitchen or El Chato Taco Truck. While you enjoy the food, explore the neighborhood for an out of the ordinary tourist experience. Or you can check out an authentic speakeasy style bar or a beer bar to take it easy after a long day of tourist activities. Finally, if you are celebrity obsessed eat at The Ivy where celebrity sightings are the norm.

9. There is an actual Downtown Los Angeles

Los Angeles is comprised of several downtown areas but there is an actual Downtown Los Angeles commonly referred to as DTLA. It’s possible to spend an entire vacation in DTLA alone. DTLA is relatively easy to do on foot but there are also public transportation options as well. If you decide to take the train walk through the glorious and historic Union Station. If you want a great guided tour the LA Conservancy Historic Downtown Tour is a great way to enjoy the city by foot. Check out the beautiful Disney Concert Hall, the City Hall observation deck, and Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

For fashion lovers the Los Angeles garment district is not to be missed. Finally, El Pueblo De Los Angeles the historic town where forty-four settlers of Native American, African and European heritage established in 1781.

Going to a Lakers or Kings game at Staples Center? Make sure you check out all the amazing things to do that are right around the corner from the arena.


And on top of  that, keep in mind that alot of the DTLA activities are free!


10. Take a day trip

There are some incredibly close destinations that are a great add on to your first trip to Los Angeles. You can reach Santa Barbara easily by train for a scenic route to your day trip adventure. While in Santa Barbara, there is plenty to do including wine tasting or a nice walk on the beach. Palm Springs is another destination to check out while you visit. There are the Desert Hills Premium Outlets to enjoy and wonderful Desert Hot Springs to relax after a day of shopping.

Getty Center View

View of L.A. from the Getty Center. Credit: Justin Vidamo via flickr

As you can see, there’s more to see, do and eat than you can probably get around to in on visit.

But we hope these few nuggets of advice will help to make your first trip to Los Angeles will be much easier to navigate. Enjoy your adventure!