LA’s been on your list for a while, the kids are dying to go to Disneyland and you wouldn’t mind trying to catch a glimpse of Channing Tatum or Beyonce & Jay Z.
To many LA is one of those “necessary-evil” in-and-out destinations: it’s only about Disneyland, Universal Studios and Hollywood. As an Aussie living in LA I can tell you that’s what I used to think. Some 20 something years ago my boyfriend and I (now my hubby) came to LA for a few days on our way to the UK. When I hopped on the plane UK-bound I looked at him and said, “been there, done that never coming back.”
It was true to say that I was completely underwhelmed. Even though we met my best friend and her boyfriend and we did Disneyland and Universal Studios—and got in a taping of Growing Pains where Kirk Cameron was so totally checking me out—I was still underwhelmed.
LA was too hard to navigate, our hotel was “in the middle of nowhere” (even though it was on Wilshire in Westwood and convenient to Beverly Hills and Santa Monica). We were young, we relied on public transport and we had a work out how to make the trek down to Disneyland.
Well I’m here to help you plan your trip so you don’t feel underwhelmed by LA and you love it just like I do now.
Where to stay
LA is really spread out, there are so many different choices of areas to stay at every budget. The first thing you have to realise is that, while your hotel is ideally located, you may not be able to step out and walk to restaurants and shops from it. Many of the top hotels, like the Beverly Hills Hotel for example, are located in quiet pockets so take this into account depending on what you’re after.
The three areas I’d consider when looking for accommodation are:
- Beverly Hills
There is lots of great shopping in Beverly Hills without the need to shop on Rodeo Drive. One of my favourite shopping strips is Beverly Drive with everything from Sunglasses Hut to Pottery Barn, Alice and Olivia and The Gap and everything in between.
There are also lots of great restaurants in Beverly Hills and many to suit different budgets.
- West Hollywood
West Hollywood is a great part of LA with great restaurants and fabulous shopping. It is also really convenient to get around from here—not far from Beverly Hills and Hollywood and close to the freeways to go wider afield. While West Hollywood is a smaller area there are still different pockets to consider. Most of the hotels are on Sunset Strip and cover varying budgets.
- Santa Monica
Santa Monica is another great spot to call home while you’re in LA. Sure there’s the beach but there’s also good shopping, lots of hotels and fabulous restaurants. In fact, Santa Monica has an outpost of most of the hip LA restaurants so you don’t need to leave. Staying in Santa Monica is a different LA experience from Beverly Hills and West Hollywood and well worth considering.
There are two other area options for you to think about:
Disneyland is in Anaheim in Orange County (as opposed to LA County) which is anything from an hour’s drive from LA or 2-3 hours depending on the time of day and traffic.
For us going to Disneyland is a bit of a hassle! You need to time yourself leaving LA to beat the traffic (around 8:30am) and wait for the traffic to die down to leave again (after 8:00pm). If I do it this way I can handle the commute in an hour each way.
During peak times it’s hard to do Disneyland in one day so I recommend two days—one for Disneyland and one for California Adventure. If you’re planning to do this it’s worth spending the night there—either on site in one of the many Disney hotels or nearby in the cheaper but appropriately Disney’d hotels.
Don’t—I repeat don’t—plan to use Disneyland as your base and do the LA stuff from there. Get in and get out because it’s worth packing and checking in and out of the hotels. Trust me.
5. Downtown LA
Once upon a time the advice you’d be given is you don’t need to go to Downtown LA as there’s nothing there. Now that couldn’t be further from the truth. Downtown LA is a destination well worth checking out with museums, galleries and (again) fabulous restaurants and roof-top bars.
Research your hotel well though, you don’t want to end up in a dodgy part of town. If you’re not willing to chance the accommodation, do consider visiting.
Once you’ve decided on an area do look up their location on Google Maps and remember that some hotels have “Beverly Hills” in their name and location but technically they’re not in Beverly Hills. Check out what landmarks, shopping and restaurants surround to give you a good sense of whether it’s a quiet area or you can walk around for convenience.