A word of warning before we start: attempting to explore Los Angeles in just one day is certainly not for the faint hearted. Less a coherent city, and more a sprawling metropolis of diverse neighbourhoods (each the size of a large town), LA is a city that can swallow its visitors whole. Indeed, stay for a year, and you might find that you’ve barely scraped the surface of Beverley Hills. A city that stretches 5,000 miles, from the salty waters of the Pacific Ocean, down to the dried river beds of the Compton Creek, LA is a cultural hub carved from 224 different languages, with a population derived from over 140 countries. It is a city that is as culturally broad as it is geographically wide. However, it is also a place that can – if equipped with a focused itinerary and some clear directions – be experienced in just one day. Below is our complete guide on how to spend just one day in LA: a guide that we hope provides you with – at the very least – a tantalising taste of this city of lights.
Ready? Well, hold tight and let’s begin.
Given that you are spending just a short amount of time in the city, we’d advise that you immediately rule out the hire car option. Given LA’s notoriously bad traffic (more on this later) and limited parking options, you might find that your sacred day in LA is filled with traffic congestion, rather than adventures.
Whilst in LA, we were advised to rely solely upon Uber and Lyft drivers. With over 24,000 individuals a week using these apps for airport drop-offs alone, you won’t have to wait long for a driver. The Rideshare option is therefore an efficient and relatively stress-free way to navigate the city.
If spending a prolonged amount of time in just one neighbourhood (Venice Beach, for example), we’d also recommend downloading and using either the Bird or Lime apps. Offering the use of electric scooters (with rides beginning at just $1), these nifty little bikes are already proving incredibly popular.
Lastly, there is also an extensive public transport system on offer in LA, via the Metro network. Offering transport via the means of both bus and train, trips can be planned easily thanks to the Metro’s journey planner. Alternatively, you can download the LA Metro App, offering real-time data and the option to buy and store tickets. If this isn’t for you, you will need to buy and add value to a TAP card (available at all Metro stations), with the option to add a Metro Day Pass ($7).
When planning your one day in LA, one thing must be factored in: the city’s unavoidable traffic issues. Known as the ‘driving city’, and with 84% of LA’s commuters choosing to drive or take car share, traffic congestion is an unavoidable part of the LA experience.
As such, when planning your journey, be prepared to factor in an additional 30-40 minutes for each trip. Although things might appear close by on a map, you might find that a 3-mile journey results in a nearing 30-minute journey.
With limited time on your hands if spending just one day in LA (and given that this is not the cheapest of cites), we’d highly recommend that you purchase a ‘Go Los Angeles’ Card before you visit. Offering the option to save 50% (compared to on-gate prices), this card can be used at over 35 of Los Angeles’ main attractions, including the Pacific Park at Santa Monica Pier and the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. The card can also be used on your phone, via the Go City Card app.
If you’re visiting LA as part of a lay over or are due to take a connecting flight, we’d recommend you simply use either the Lyft or Uber apps to take you into the city. The cars can be found at the Departures Level, where you’ll find the ‘Ride Service’ pickup signs located curb-side (in Zones A-B and D-F). Please note, there is a $4 surcharge for trips to and from LAX.
Where: Egg Slut, Grand Central Market
Time Spent Here: 1 hour (although, be prepared to queue – especially at the weekends)
Address: 317 S. Broadway, Stall D-1, Los Angeles, CA 90013
You have just one day in LA – and it’s going to be a big one. So let’s begin by preparing you for the day the only way how: with a hearty breakfast.
Something of an LA institution, Egg Slut pushes the humble egg to its limit, offering egg-inspired cheeseburgers, the famed ‘Gaucho’ sandwich (boasting eggs, seared wagyu tri-tip steak and chimichurri) and the sensational (and more traditional) Bacon, Egg & Cheese sandwich. Prices begin at $6.
Although there are a few Egg Sluts across LA, we’d highly recommend the one found in Grand Central Market (note: if you are visiting LA at the weekend, then you’re likely to find long queues at Egg Slut. Arrive early to avoid missing out).
Situated in Downtown LA (or ‘DTLA’), the Grand Central Market feels like something you’d find in NYC rather than LA. A resident of the city since 1917, and situated within a handsome beaux-arts building, this historic market brings together a blend of cuisines and cultures; overflowing with chatter, smells and flashing neon lights. It’s an irresistible place, offering unbelievable food and a truly unique LA experience.
Activity: Bookstore Browsing
Where: The Last Book Store
Time Spent Here: 45 minutes
Address: 453 S Spring St – Ground Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90013
There was a small crowd of people when we arrived at The Last Book Store: each staring expectedly at the unassuming black shutters. Slowly, the shutters began to pull up, before the large doors of the Spring Arts Tower opened. Inside, fairy lights and row upon row of bookshelves waited; the crowds rushing in to meet them.
Declared one of the 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world, the Last Bookstore has become something of a recent Instagram star. The largest bookstore in California – featuring both new and second-hand books – this shop not only serves a very real purpose (keeping ink and paper alive), but offers a dazzling display of book-themed sculptures and installations.
Head upstairs to the mezzanine floor and you’ll find books that appear to be ‘flying’; launching fearlessly from a nearby bookshelf. Continue onwards and you’ll discover a fairy-light lit tunnel made entirely from books, and secret peep-holes that are perfect for that secret ‘selfie’.
Perhaps not the most obvious thing to do when exploring the city, we would nonetheless highly recommend spending at least part of your day in LA visiting this veritable treasure trove of literary delights.
Activity: Exploring LA’s Architecture
Where: The Bradbury Building
Time Spent Here: 20 minutes
Address: 304 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013, USA
Once featured in the film ‘Blade Runner’, the Bradbury Building has long played host to film sets and glittering Hollywood actors.
Commissioned by millionaire Lewis L. Bradbury in 1893, the Bradbury Building was designed by George Wyman, who took his inspiration from the sci-fi novel ‘Looking Backward’. Featuring a Victorian – almost gothic design – with a soaring atrium, vast skylight, intricate cast iron railings, polished wood and large open-cage elevators (still operated by human conductors), the Bradbury Building is its very own film set.
Dubbed an ‘urban hidden gem’ due to its unassuming exterior, the building is a wonderful reminder of LA’s impressive architectural past, and is testament to the previous importance of the city’s downtown area.
Five stories high, visitors are only able to climb as far as the first floor – as offices continue to reside on the floors above. The building (conveniently) is also free to enter.
What trip to LA would be complete without a visit to Hollywood? We wholly agree, although suggest that if spending just one day in LA, you avoid the (slightly anti-climactic) Walk of Fame, and instead enjoy other hidden corners of this famous neighbourhood.
Where: Mama Shelter
Time Spent Here: 1 Hour
Address: 6500 Selma Avenue, 90028, Los Angeles, CA
Feeling a world away from the nineteenth-century designed streets of Downtown LA, lies the unimaginably colourful and wholly ‘LA’ Mama Shelter.
Posturing as both an incredibly stylish hotel and as a (sun-drenched) rooftop bar, Mama Shelter offers spectacular views across LA, including a coveted glimpse of the famed ‘Hollywood’ sign. Designed by Thierry Gaugain, the hotel is a rainbow of colours and soft lighting; towering over the nearby neon lights of Hollywood Boulevard.
Warm and inviting, we immediately headed to Mama’s rooftop bar, where we enjoyed a lunch of homemade (and extremely healthy) dishes. With a cool breeze rolling down from the nearby hills, and the heat and buzz of the city below us, lunch here was a true LA experience.
With guests lazing on huge kaftan rugs and cushions – colourful tarpaulins shading them from the midday sun – we watched as others played table tennis and foosball. It was an incredibly laid back and relaxed spot to wile away an hour, under the watchful eye of Mt. Hollywood itself.
Main lunch dishes at Mama Shelter begin at $16. The menu can be found here.
Activity: Cocktails By the Pool
Where: Dream Hollywood
Time Spent Here: 2 Hours
Address: 6417 Selma Avenue, Hollywood, CA, 90028
The Dream Hotel Hollywood is perhaps one of the city’s most luxurious spots to rest your head, boasting 360 degree views of LA and a rooftop pool that glitters under the hot Californian sun. It is also something of a celebrity hotspot, with A-Listers regularly checking in to enjoy its oh-so-soft beds and stylish ‘Highlight Room’ (found on the hotel’s rooftop).
As you are only spending one day in LA, it’s unlikely that you’ll require a hotel to stay at. Yet, that shouldn’t mean you should miss out on any poolside lounging. Conveniently, the Dream Hotel allows non-guests to access the pool at any time over the weekend (and after 6pm during the weekdays), meaning that if visiting LA on either of these days, you can still experience a small slice of LA glamour.
For those who really want to mingle with LA’s glitterati, then book a meal at the hotel’s neighbouring ‘Beauty & Essex’ restaurant, which has already made a name for itself in New York and Las Vegas.
(For those who wish to spend the night in LA, rooms at The Dream Hotel begin at £245 per night).
Having experienced a sprinkle of Hollywood glitter, head next to the equally illustrious Beverley Hills. The home of celebrities and – of course – that motley crew of Cops, the 90210 postcode has long been a tourist hotspot.
For those wanting to simply soak up the neighbourhood’s atmosphere – its carefully manicured lawns and Spanish villas – then spend an hour wandering Beverley Hills’ neatly symmetrical streets. With walkways draped in mango and fragrant Champaca trees, this is a peaceful, beautiful and quiet part of LA. Indeed, it is a radical departure from the self-conscious scenes of downtown Hollywood.
Where: Rodeo Drive
Time Spent Here: 1 Hour
Address: Rodeo Drive
Of course, it would be sacrilegious to visit Beverley Hills and to not stop by the infamous Rodeo Drive. An iconic LA site – having debuted in that 80’s classic, ‘Pretty Woman’ – Rodeo Drive is a vision of dazzling white marble, palm tree-lined roads and roaring sports cars.
As we arrived, the seemingly endless Californian sun shone overhead, making the streets glitter. The air was fragrant with the scent of the designer stores that lined the street; notes of oud, bergamot and vanilla mingling in the air. It was precisely the LA that I had imagined: that unmistakably glamorous and unapologetically pretentious slice of Californian living.
Part of LA glamour since 1961, when store owner Fred Hayman opened the strip’s first boutique – Giorgio Beverly Hills – Rodeo Drive now spans three blocks and is well-worth a visit. Indeed, even if (like us) you can’t afford to purchase anything here, simply walking these illustrious streets – the scent of jasmine and roses hanging overhead – is an experience in itself.
Activity: Shopping and a Visit to the Cat Cafe
Where: Melrose Avenue
Time Spent Here: 1 Hour
Address: 7924 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90048
A slightly more affordable shopping experience is offered on nearby Melrose Avenue. A roughly 10-15 minute drive from Rodeo Drive, Melrose boasts a host of independent, quirky and edgy designer stores.
Yet, when we visited, it was not shopping that we had in mind, but something else entirely: a trip to the street’s feline-inspired, Cat Cafe.
Claire first experienced Crumbs and Whiskers whilst visiting Washington DC, her cup of tea here apparently one of the highlights of her trip. When she discovered that LA also hosts one of these furry cafes, she was intent that we visited.
Offering a 70 minute experience (we advise that you book ahead to secure your slot), the Cat Cafe allows small groups of visitors to enter what is essentially a giant ‘cat playgroup’. Here, rescued kittens and cats (who were saved from ‘High Kill Centres’) tumble and pounce; snooze and wash, as visitors quietly sip from steaming mugs of hot chocolate.
A little like an open day at an orphanage, visitors are not only allowed to play and pet the cats, but adopt them too: happy stories of adoption filling the cafe’s walls. It is not only a very cute place to visit, but a genuinely fantastic initiative.
Of course, with only one day in LA, a visit to a cat cafe may not be high on your list of priorities (particularly if you consider yourself to be a ‘dog person). However, if you are interested in popping by, then the 70 minute experience will cost you $25: a contribution that goes towards the running of the Cafe and supports the charity’s rescue activities.
The sun now beginning to set on your one and only day in LA: the sky turns a sugary pink. Perhaps overhead you’ll notice that the city’s backdrop – its towering, cinematic hills – are now turning a glittering gold; the sun gilding their peaks. This is where you’ll be heading for your last LA experience: one that will ensure this is a day you’ll never forget.
Activity: Hike Into the Hollywood Hills
Where: Hollywood Hills
Time Spent Here: 3 Hours
A frenetic, traffic-riddled and dynamic place LA can be. Yet, climb the dusty hills and mountain ranges that surround it, and you’ll be transported to a wholly different place: a city of nature, birdsong and quiet.
When visting LA, we had the pleasure of taking a tour courtesy of LA Bikes and Hikes; a fantastic company that organise a number of activities throughout the city. We opted to take the ‘Hollywood Hills’ hike; one that would not only take us past the historic Hollywood Sign, but to one of LA’s crowning features: The Griffith Observatory.
We began our hike in the late afternoon, just as the sun began to dip behind the San Gabriel mountain range. Meeting at the Greek Theatre in Griffith Park, we began our hike up into the hills, the pathways completely deserted. Passing through the Park’s Bird Sanctuary and up its winding tracks, we eventually reached a peak: LA falling away below us. The sun now casting a violet haze across the city’s skyscrapers, we were afforded unbelievable views across the city.
Our tour ended at the famous Griffith Observatory – the most recent star of the film, ‘La La Land’. As crowds began to gather, twilight descended across LA, and we watched as lights flickered on in skyscrapers and apartments; neon signs also springing to life. It was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever witnessed, and perhaps the most perfect way to end your one day in LA.
The Hollywood Hills Hike costs $48 per person and lasts approximately 3 hours. It is deemed a moderate-to-easy hike.
Attempting to see LA in just one day is, as we warned, not for the faint hearted. Offering incredible diversity, a multitude of experiences, and an almost endless list of unmissable sights, you might find yourself a little paralysed with indecision when first arriving in this city of angels.
Although this guide is by no means a definitive list of things you must experience whilst visiting LA , it nonetheless provides (what we hope) is a feasible blueprint for a whistle-stop tour of some of the city’s most prominent neighbourhoods, and its most magical experiences.
Indeed, you might only have one day in LA, but it surely won’t be a day you’ll forget.