The 4 Things You Gotta Do if You’re Visiting L.A. For Only One Day

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“I’m going to be traveling to Los Angeles and I’ve got one free day to myself, what should I do?”

I’ve heard this question before. I seen it on forums and Reddit and on social media. I’ve thought long and hard about my answer.


And now, for the first time, I’m going to lay down my step-by-step guide to what I would do if I only had a single say to explore the city of angels.

Here goes nothing…

The Primer

To start, I think we have to be realistic in terms of how much ground you’ll be able to cover (given the vaunted L.A. traffic) in a single day. That means you probably can’t put together a list of 20 some-odd objectives and expect to hit them all.

Keep it simple stupid.

Secondly, I’m going to make some assumptions about your situation while visiting Los Angeles. Those assumptions would be a) You have access to or are renting a car, b) you’re willing to sit in traffic for at least a small portion of your day, and c) parking/transit costs are not going to be an issue.

The reason I’m going to posit access to a vehicle is that it vastly simplifies things in terms of getting around, but if you’re dead set on doing it all via public transit, it is possible.

There are definitely bus lines that’ll connect you to the waypoints I’ve identified below, and if you use a combo of buses, Metro, and ride-sharing apps effectively, you could manage to replicate the journey I’ve outlined without having to rent a car. If you want to give it a try, the city of Los Angeles just put out a new Go LA app  to help you calculate public transit travel times and plan trips. I suggest you give it a look!

With those criteria and caveats in mind I made some judgement calls and narrowed my choices down to only four items I recommend you try to tackle.

And your day of adventure starts below…

Grand Central Market in Los Angeles
Grand Central Market in downtown. Credit: Heather Harvey via flickr

1. Start Your Day at Grand Central Market


Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and so it is with the starting point of your L.A. experience.

Assuming the morning travel impediment isn’t prohibitive, I think it makes sense to start your day in downtown since it condenses the most cultural experiences per square mile of any neighborhood in the city (at least in my opinion), and there’s no better food hub in all of Los Angeles than Grand Central Market.

The market itself provides a cornucopia of eating possibilities, with dozens of new/gourmet/hipster vendors contrasted against a few long-standing veteran dining stops. Options will not be a problem.

Moreover, there’s a lot history here. GCM is situated at the base of the Homer Laughlin building, one of the oldest buildings in all of Los Angeles, designed by the same architect (John B. Parkinson) who ended up working on the L.A. Coliseum and L.A. City Hall.

In the early days of the market it was the go-to grocery stop from the citizens of Bunker Hill who lived just north of (the appropriately named) Hill Street and would take the Angels Flight Railway down the way to do their shopping.

Rumor has it that Frank Lloyd Wright even held an office at the Laughlin Building during the 1920’s. Sometimes when I’m walking around the myriad stalls and vendor displays I wonder what inspiration Wright might have had taking an afternoon stroll through the market once his work day was over.

It’s kind of neat to think about.

If you’re feeling like you want to explore more of downtown while you’re there, head over to previously mentioned Angels Flights Railway, the Bradbury Building, or The Last Bookstore, all within about a 5 minute (or less) walk from the market.

But don’t dally, because you’ve got a lot left to do…

Bradbury Building Interior
Credit: Brian Champlin / We Like L.A.

2.  Go for a Midday Excursion to LACMA


After your downtown adventure, the next move is to head west.

Your destination: Museum row along Wilshire Blvd.

More specifically, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

LACMA’s 20-acre campus is a work of art until itself, featuring outdoor installations like Urban Light and Levitated Mass in addition to the tens of thousands of square feet of permanent exhibition space showcasing master works from thousands of years of human history.

If you’ve never been to the museum the $15 adult admission is well worth the price.

Wilshire Blvd outside LACMA
Credit: Brian Champlin / We Like L.A.

And while I think it’s fair to ask what the rationale is behind choosing to go to LACMA over, say, The Getty or the new Broad Museum in DTLA, remember part of our mission here is to cover as expansive a swath of the city as possible in as short a timeframe as manageable, so location is pretty darn important.

That said, if you decide to pivot your day and go museum hopping instead of continuing on with the rest of this list, you’ve got the newly reopened Petersen Automotive Museum, the La Brea Tar Pits, the Page Museum, and the Craft Folk Art Museum all situated in close proximity along Museum Row.

Once your museum tour is over you’ve also got limitless options for food all within about a 2 mile radius.

My personal recommendation is to swing down to Pico Blvd. and try one of the Jewish delis. I’m a bit partial to Jeff’s Gourmet Kosher Sausage, but there’s plenty of others too.

If you don’t want kosher sausage, you could opt for Mexican food kosher style at Mexikosher, and then there’s always the In-N-Out location on Venice Blvd., about 4 miles southwest of the Miracle Mile (just beware of the lines).


In N Out Double Double
Double Double with fries. Credit: stu_spivack via flickr cc

3. Spend an Afternoon at The Santa Monica Pier


I’m identifying the Santa Monica Pier as the third leg of your adventure because… well… if you’re in L.A. you gotta hit the beach, right?

With the nearby Expo Line scheduled to open its Downtown Santa Monica stop sometime in early 2016, the pier and nearby Third Street Promenade are going to become imminently more accessible, and there’s much to see and do here.

Yes, we could argue it’s a bit touristy, but so what? Check out the Pacific Park rides, walk the boardwalk, relax on the sand, or head over to the Promenade to take a stroll, do some light shopping or simply buy a cup of coffee and enjoy the weather.

I figure by this time we’re hitting late afternoon and you’ve done a fair bit of walking, so this is definitely the point of your day where you need to rest and recuperate for quick moment. It’s not realistic to think you’ll be going a mile-a-minute for 14 hours straight without taking a siesta or two.

And keep in mind you’ll have to brave traffic one last time to cross town and hit the final leg of the journey…

Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel
Credit: Brian Champlin / We Like L.A.

4. See The Griffith Observatory at Night


I there’s something fitting about beginning your day in the thick of downtown and getting to see it at a glance from high up in Griffith Park to finish you evening. Start with the trees, then see the forest in the end.

If you’re going to put an exclamation point on your day, there are few views of L.A. you can experience at night that are more majestic than what you’ll glean from Griffith Observatory. I’ve always loved the fact the Griffith J.

Be warned that getting from Santa Monica up to the Observatory in the later afternoon or early evening is going to be a bit of a bear. But the good news is the Observatory is free to explore, there’s tons of great exhibits showcasing the history of astronomy , and you’ll get rewarded with some pretty special views of the city.


Griffith Observatory at Night
Credit: Brian Champlin / We Like L.A.

The Upshot

The truth is you could spend a lifetime in Los Angeles and still never get to everything this city has to offer.

But I suppose the point of this little thought experiment in one-day planning is to illustrate just how many options you have, and that with every option comes a unlimited set of audibles you could call to mix up your experience and make your adventure unique unto itself.

That said, if you do manage to pack the above list into a single-day of fun, you’ll at least be covering a few of the core basics and be giving yourself a strong introduction to the city of angels. Frankly, it’ll probably put you ahead of a great many locals who haven’t truly taken the time to get to know the city they live in.


Of course even if you get through these four, you’ll still need to hit up the other 99.999% of things to explore in Los Angeles.

Better book that return trip now!

Additional Resources You May Find Useful:

75 Fun & Free Things to do in L.A.

A Handy List of Free Museum Days in Los Angeles

16 Fun Things to do in Downtown L.A. Next Time You’re in the Neighborhood

17 Fun Things To Do in Santa Monica Next Time You’re in the Neighborhood

So what would you do if you only had a single day to explore L.A.? Let us know in the comments below!


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