I’m the first to admit: SoCal is not my scene. For many years, I said that Los Angeles was the antithesis of everything I wanted to have in my life – and of the kinds of places I wanted to visit.
Then, I found myself with a day to spend in the city I never planned to visit. I was driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, and had a good friend in L.A. I wanted to visit. Despite my strong feelings about L.A. (which I had never visited), travel has taught me to be open-minded even when I already think I know what a destination is really like. I left that day in Los Angeles on my PCH itinerary, to see what it would be like.
Based on that trip, here are tips for how you can enjoy L.A. in just one day. No matter what brings you there, or how you feel about the city, it’s a fun destination (yes, it changed my mind!) and has sights you simply can’t see anywhere else: the Hollywood Walk of Fame! The Hollywood sign! Venice Beach!
Can You Really Visit L.A. in a Day?
I don’t generally advocate visiting anywhere for just one day. It’s too short a time to really dive in and get to know a place. However, there are some situations where it makes sense:
- On a layover
- On a road trip
- When you only have a day to visit because of some other reason
If any of those reasons apply, then you should take full advantage of the just one day and get out and see as much as possible!
Los Angeles is full of sights, smells, and flavors, but this quick itinerary will give you the greatest hits that L.A. has to offer. It will also convince you (like me) to visit again someday in the future.
Ready to dive in? Here’s the plan…
How to Spend One Day in Los Angeles
8:00 am – Start the Day at Manhattan Beach
No matter the weather, a great way to start your day is with a walk on the beach. Manhattan Beach and the pier are a perfect spot – there isn’t a ton of parking in the area, but if you get there early enough, it’s easy to find parking in the neighborhood right near the beach.
10:30 am – Stroll ALong the Hollywood Walk of Fame
From Newport Beach, it’s a 90-minute drive to Hollywood… but be prepared to experience some of LA’s famous traffic depending on the morning. Hollywood Boulevard and the Hollywood Walk of Fame is a tourist trap, and admittedly a bit seedy – but if it’s your first time in LA, it’s a must.
You can usually find parking along the street within a few blocks of TCL (formerly Mann’s) Chinese Theatre.
Using the Chinese Theatre as the epicenter, you can walk a couple blocks in either direction to spot famous names in the stars embedded in the sidewalk. There are even a few blank stars!
12:00pm – Lunch at In & Out Burger
Time for lunch. LA has a great food scene, but I admit I’m partial to cheap eats – especially of the ‘animal style’ variety. Yep, In N Out for lunch is the way to go.
There’s an In N Out Burger a few blocks south of Hollywood Boulevard, along Sunset Boulevard. It’s worth noting this In N Out is right near Hollywood High School, so you may have to wade through hungry high schoolers if it’s a school day.
12:30 pm – Find a View with the Hollywood Sign
Now refueled, it’s time to take in the most iconic Los Angeles sight: the Hollywood sign! If you’re feeling super ambitious, you can park near the sign and hike up to look out over all of L.A. I opted to explore the Hollywood Hills by car and found a few great viewpoints.
There’s also a great view of Hollywood Reservoir and L.A. proper at points along the drive back into the city.
2:00 pm – Head to Venice Beach
Hop back in the car and head for the coast. From iconic to irreverent (and nowadays, very touristy): it’s time to explore Venice Beach! It takes about 65 minutes to drive from Hollywood to Venice Beach, and you can avoid traffic if you time this right in the mid-afternoon.
There’s plenty of parking in lots near the beach, but expect to pay a steep fare for parking.
2:30 pm – Grab a Snack at Zelda’s Corner
First stop, Zelda’s Corner, home of their famous mini-donuts. These deep-fried dough treats are perfect piping hot from the frying machine… even on a warm LA day. You may have to wait in line, but these sweet treats are worth it.
Next, spend some time exploring Venice Beach. There’s a beautiful long beachfront trail where you’ll see rollerbladers, musclemen, and everybody workin’ on their tans. There’s also a nice path further back from the beach which is typically less crowded.
Along the boardwalk (term used loosely, as the boardwalk itself no longer exists), you can watch street performers, visit shops with the strong odor of marijuana, and browse art by local and national artists who set up along the wide sidewalk. Most people walk through this area, but keep an eye out for bikes and skateboarders anyway.
5:30 pm – Dinner Along the Venice Beach Boardwalk
For dinner (hungry again?), pop into one of Venice Beach’s many restaurants. Again – this isn’t the fancy food you’ll find in other parts of LA, but it’s hearty and (more) affordable. If you, like me, are never one to turn down nachos and craft beer, I recommend Venice Ale House for a skater vibe with a chill menu.
7:00 pm – Take a Sunset Stroll
After dinner, head onto the sand and enjoy the beach.
On clear days, you’ll have a stunning sunset opportunity. Even if the weather isn’t great, it’s still a great view.
9:00 pm – Enjoy the Nightlife at One of L.A.’s Famous Clubs
Depending on your plans the next day, your night may just be getting started. If you want to go out and enjoy Los Angeles’ famous night scene, there are loads of bars that feature live music basically every night of the week. TimeOut has a great list of them if you need inspiration.
If, like me, your trip to Los Angeles was part of a larger trip through California – say, driving the Pacific Coast Highway – turn in and rise early to hit the road before L.A. traffic picks up.
All the Important Logistics
If you’re visiting Los Angeles based on this itinerary, you need to book two things:
- A hotel for 2 nights
- A car so you can get around
Some great options for hotels include the ultra-luxe Shade Hotel (from $399/night) and the budget-friendly Wave Manhattan Beach Hotel (from $113/night), both near Manhattan Beach. You could also book a room up near Venice Beach and enjoy hearing the waves while you snooze. Good options there include the well-supplied, cozy Venice Beach Waldorf (from $150/night) or the funky, fresh Hotel Erwin (from $339/night).
For a car rental, I recommend Fox Rental Cars. Many people complain about their customer service, but I’ve always had decent experiences, and their prices can’t be beaten. They are also the car company I recommend if you plan to do a one-way rental to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, and have locations near both LAX and Burbank Airports.
Are there any other must-see sights in L.A.? If you have questions or comments, let me know below!
This post was originally published in June 2014, and updated in October 2017.