Los Angeles, California Travel Guide

As many of you may already know, my husband, Trey, and I decided to live and work from Los Angeles for the month of March. I’m going to do another post about why and how we could do that, what it was like, etc. And if you have questions about that, leave them in the comments or hit me up on IG, and I’ll try to work those answers into that post. But this post is all about awesome things to do and places to eat that we discovered during our trip. It’s mostly focused on east/central Los Angeles (Silver Lake, Echo Park, Hollywood, Downtown), but it’s also got a lot of things all over the place too. So if you are making a trip to LA soon and want to hear my recommendations, here you go! 🙂

First, let’s start with things to do. I feel like I always start my travel recommendations with places to eat, and trust me, I have plenty of those to share with you too. Ha! But first, here are a bunch of different and super fun things to do while in LA.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art — There are tons of great museums and attractions to check out. I personally loved visiting LACMA. They often have great special exhibits, so if you plan to visit, check their site to see if there is one you are interested in and buy tickets ahead if needed. There was an exhibit I wanted to see, but it was already sold out for ALL of March when I checked the first week we got there. So it pays to buy tickets ahead on those if you’re interested. The La Brea tar pits are in the same area and really fun to check out too if you are visiting LACMA. And if possible, I recommend going around sunset so you can enjoy the museum, and then go check out the outdoor lightings (above) in the dark. Although they are cool during the day too. 😉

The Grove / The Americana — If you are looking to shop, you might consider checking out one of these two outdoor shopping areas. They are in slightly different areas and very similar (so you don’t necessarily need to go to both). There are lots of shops (think Top Shop, the Container Store, etc.) and cute spots to eat or grab a quick coffee or treat. I personally like to hit up Sprinkles if possible—cupcake lover for life over here. 😉 And they also both have theaters, so if you want to catch a movie later on, it’s pretty convenient. We went to the Americana and saw Logan when it first came out because we are both big X-Men fans, and my celebrity crush will forever be Hugh Jackman.

Amoeba Music — Great place to go record shopping. They also have pretty good but random in-store concerts now and again. This is very close to other fun shopping (like Urban Outfitters and Free People) and lots of restaurants. So would make a good brunch + record shopping morning. 😉 It’s also very close to the walk of fame and Chinese Theatre if you want to go be a tourist and do that.I am never afraid of being a tourist in cities—in fact I usually LOVE doing touristy things. So, of course I went and checked that out one night even though I used to live about four blocks from there. 😉 It’s just fun to walk along and see all the stars and find ones that you are a big fan of. I loved Breaking Bad, so of course I had to stop and get a picture of Bryan Cranston’s star.

Griffith Observatory — If you’ve never been, I highly recommend checking out the observatory. The building itself is beautiful and you can check out some of the telescopes they have. But even if that sounds too science-y to you (it’s not, it’s cool, geez), there are also just really amazing views of the city that you can enjoy from the observatory. Totally worth the $4 parking just for that. If you are wanting to catch a show at the planetarium, check their website before you go because you can only buy tickets when you arrive, and you’ll want to get in line with enough time to make the show you are wanting to see.

Griffith park also has great hikes you can take and see beautiful views of the city. I personally like getting to do something physical or in nature even when visiting bigger cities, and I love that LA totally has this option in a few areas. The hikes are pretty moderate, totally doable for a family and many you can take dogs on leashes on, or even push a stroller on the trails. You will want to wear appropriate shoes, but the hikes are great for any level. So if you don’t think you’re an experienced hiker, don’t let that stop you!

Groundlings — If you like improv or you just like laughing (and if you don’t… who are you?!), check out a show at the Groundlings theatre. This is a theatre and school that many famous comics have come from. Many of their shows feel similar to SNL — funny, short skits!

The Comedy Store — There are quite a few great spots to catch some standup. Trey and I went to the Comedy Store one night and saw so many hilarious people, and then randomly Louis C.K. showed up and did a set. Whoa. This is totally the kind of thing that can happen in a city like LA since so many people are there working in TV and film, but I still kind of can’t believe that we got to see one of our favorite comedians so randomly. It was awesome!

The Largo — This venue has lots of really awesome shows, so check their site out for a calendar. We went to see a live taping of the podcast, How Did This Get Made, which we love and being in the live audience was even better. SO much fun! So do some research if you are planning a trip to LA because there is probably a comedian, band, or other show that you are already a fan of that you can see while in town.

OK, let’s talk about beaches.

Rosie’s Beach — Since we were traveling with one of our dogs, we decided to check out Rosie’s in Long Beach one weekend. This is a dog beach, meaning you can let your dog off their leash (provided they can get along with the other dogs that are present). Even if you aren’t bringing your dog, I would totally still recommend this beach as you can just watch all the cute dogs running around. I’m sort of a crazy dog-lover, so this was one of my favorite things we did on our trip because it was so fun to watch my Midwest pup enjoy the ocean. 🙂

El Matador Beach — If you have time to go check out the Malibu area, I would. It’s beautiful and much less crowded than some of the other beaches that are closer to LA. We went with a few friends to the El Matador beach, and it was just breathtaking. While we were in the area, we also hung out and got lunch at the Malibu Cafe, which felt kind of like the Midwest to me. It has BBQ options and yard games. Really cute spot to hang out with friends for a leisurely lunch before or after visiting the beaches nearby.

Laguna — The Laguna area and beaches are about an hour out of LA. In between La and San Diego. So this is a bit of a drive, but it’s a really pretty drive, and the beaches and the town are really cute and less crowded. So we really enjoyed it.

Are you ready for some food/drink recommendations yet? Good! Because I have a LOT. I’m going to divide these up into a few categories so it’s a bit easer to read. But first, coffee. 😉 Here are a few recommendations for great coffee shops and light/quick breakfast options.

Matcha Bar — I bet you can guess what they serve. 🙂 Lots of hot and cold tea options and also pastries. I got a matcha latte with turmeric added, and it was delicious!

Civil Coffee — Probably my favorite more traditional coffee shop we visited. Just good coffee, but they serve all the staples as well. Also great pastry and quick breakfast options, I especially loved their breakfast sandwich!

Kindness & Mischief— Another great coffee shop just down the street from Civil. Smaller and very chill, would be a great place to get a little work in if you bring your laptop.

Mr Holmes Bakehouse — Known more for their pastries (known for the Cruffin—croissant, muffin) than their coffee (although the coffee was good too!). Really fun, rotating flavors for filled donuts and other delicious pastries as well. It’s really cute too, check out their IG feed.

Intelligentsia — I’ve always loved Intelligentsia coffee, as they serve it at lots of coffee shops across the country (including some in Springfield), and their location in Silverlake did not disappoint. There was also lots of outdoor seating, so a great spot to meet a friend or do some computer work if the weather is nice. And it’s LA, so it’s nice basically 99% of the time. 🙂

Moon Juice — I recently got their cookbook, and it’s super inspiring, so I had to visit one of their locations while in LA. It’s more about juice and plant-based food and drink options. I actually forget what I got the morning I went, some kind of latte that was really delicious but very different from a traditional latte. I also got a few of their dusts and a plant-based protein powder that I am currently using and enjoying for morning smoothies at home.

And here’s a few brunch, lunch, and more casual dining options.

Kitchen Mouse — Awesome brunch. I really loved this spot, and it’s super vegetarian/vegan friendly as well. Yum!

Sqirl — Really unique and delicious breakfast/brunch options. I keep meaning to buy their cookbook too. I was checking it out while waiting in line, and it looked awesome.

The Standard — This is a hotel downtown that has a beautiful vintage/modern/yellow restaurant inside that is totally worth checking out. Good breakfast, but the real treat is probably the atmosphere.

Bottega Louie — I only stopped in for a few macarons, but I would have loved to grab a meal here as well. So beautiful and based on the DELICIOUS macarons I had, I’m sure everything is amazing.

Jitlada — Loved this casual little Thai spot, excellent lunch option if you like Thai (my favorite!).

Orochon and Daikokuya — Ramen! If you are looking for good ramen, check out either of these (they are within walking distance from each other). Daikokuya is the original ramen joint and was recommended to us by a lot of people. But when we arrived, there was over an hour wait time, and we were already really hungry. So we decided to try out Orochon instead, and we LOVED it. We were able to get in right away, and the ramen did not disappoint. Cute, casual spot inside a shopping area that had other things to check out before and after.

If you like burgers — Umami Burgers are awesome, and I love their falafel (vegetarian) burger option as well.

Shake Shack is delicious and totally lives up to the hype in my opinion… also have been to and love their NYC location.

And of course, when in California, one must visit an In-And-Out Burger at least once while on your trip. Best drive through option, and they even offer a “pup patty”, which is the patty only (no salt) in case you are driving through after a visit to the dog beach and your pup’s hungry too. 🙂

OK, let’s talk dinner and drink options. The following were my favorite spots for a night out.

Gracias Madre — Expect long waits (get a reservation in advance if you can), but this plant-based (vegan friendly) Mexican spot is totally worth it. Delicious food and amazing drinks. We loved it!

Cafe Birdie — Super cute, small plates style spot. Great food, great drinks.

Sawyer — Very similar to Cafe Birdie in their interior decor. We loved the drinks here so much that after popping in for just a drink, we came back another night for dinner and that was awesome as well.

Pine & Crane — More on the casual side, but totally night-out worthy. I recommend the dumplings, sweet potato fries (super unique!), and the scallion pancake.

Kettle Black — Really cute, Italian spot. I felt the decor and drinks felt a little art-deco meets speakeasy meets greenhouse in a way. Trust me, it’s pretty inside. 🙂 And this was just a great little spot for dinner or drinks.

Mama Shelter — A hotel and restaurant / bar in Hollywood. They have an indoor bar and lounge area as well as a rooftop. I highly recommend heading up to the rooftop because you’ll get a great view of the city, and you can even see the Hollywood sign. Yummy food and drinks here. I recommend the sticky, glazed cottage fries (not your average “fries”, more like housemade thick potato chips).

Sugarfish — We were hesitant at first because they have so many locations (sometimes that indicates a place is going to feel more like a chain than a unique spot), but we ended up loving it! I think we had sushi three or four times while in LA, and this was Trey’s favorite spot by a lot. I’m not a big sushi person, I usually go for cooked rolls or other menu items, but Trey is all about it, and he loved this spot.

The Little Door — A friend of ours actually booked us dinner here as a gift (she’s the BEST friend, I know!), and it was amazing. So unique and romantic inside, it almost feels like you’re in a courtyard or forest. And the food was delicious. This is a great upscale date night spot if you are in need of a special dinner out.

Good Luck Bar — We really wanted to try Tiki Ti while we were in town since it’s sort of a must-go-to for any tiki lovers out there. But, they were closed for the month. So another awesome rum bar, nearby Tiki Ti, that we decided to try out instead was Good Luck Bar. Would totally recommend checking out both if you can—very fun inside and great drinks.

Los Angeles is a BIG city, so there is no shortage of great places to go and things to do. These are just some of the things I personally did, so I feel good recommending them all to you guys, but don’t be afraid to just explore if you are planning a trip and won’t be near any of the areas that I was in. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, so I’m sure you’ll have a great experience regardless. 🙂 Thanks for letting me share! xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with either the NEW A Beautiful Mess actions or A Color Story for iPhone pictures.
  • Great recommendations!! We hope to get out to cali some day I have been but my husband has not. So random but you still have both dogs right? I am a dog lover as well so I was just curious 😉

    • http://abeautifulmess.com/wp-content/themes/a-beautiful-mess/assets/images/gravataricon.gif

      Yes, we still have both dogs. The pug (Love Love, whom we call Lovers) used to live in LA with me when I lived there after college. He also loves road trips and we drove from MO, which is about 22-23 hours (two days for us). Steve does not do well in the car, and he’s an extremely anxious dog. So we didn’t think he would do well in the city as he’s used to the quiet area we live in (no cars, no real noises except occasionally wildlife). So, we decided to take Lovers but not Steve for the month. It was easily the worst part of the whole trip because we LOVE Steve so much and missed him, but I think it was for the best. The gal who house sat for us and watched Steve works at a vet and is great with dogs so he was in good hands, but we missed him and am glad to be home now to snuggle him!

      • I think you meant to say The coffee shop in highland park is called kindness & mischief. Not patience. As an LA native I love most of these places & now I have some new ones to check out!!!

  • The whole time you were here I was secretly hoping I would run into you and could tell you how awesome this blog is (but in a not creepy sort of way!). “What to do in LA” posts are so hard to do, simply because our City is so huge and has soooo many great things to do and see. I think you did a great job and even pointed out a few places I need to try now. Hope you enjoyed your month here!

    • http://abeautifulmess.com/wp-content/themes/a-beautiful-mess/assets/images/gravataricon.gif

      Awe, sorry to have missed you! Would have been fun to meet.

      I agree! I actually hadn’t really totally planned to do one of these bc I thought it would be too overwhelming (it’s SUCH a big city with so much to do). But I go so many requests and did end up going to so many great spots that I would recommend that I figured, why not? 🙂

  • Thank you for putting up such a great travel guide! I have never been to LA before but have always wanted to go – and I am definitely going to refer back to your guide when I do! (soon I hope :D) Have a wonderful week! xx

    Jacqueline | Sail Away to Neverland ♡

  • I loved this guide so much! You definitely highlighted some of my favorite spots around LA (Griffith Park, The Americana, Daikokuya…) and introduced me to so many more. I’ll have to make my way over to Matcha Bar and Civil Coffee next time I’m in town visiting my family.

    -Helen
    http://www.sweethelengrace.com

  • The best thing about LA is that it is so HUGE and such a melting pot of cultures, that there is really, truly something for everyone. Happy you guys enjoyed your stay here! So many places to recommend, but I’d add UCB (for improv – it’s my favorite!), Commissary (for coffee – I can legit gulp that stuff down …SO GOOD), and Street Food Cinema (outdoor movies during the summer). The other amazing thing about the city is that it’s near tons of awesome weekend destinations – San Diego, Sonoma/Napa wine country, Joshua Tree/Big Bear/Yosemite for camping, skiing, the beach, etc. etc. Endless opportunities for fun. 😉

    http://www.wonderlandsam.com

  • As an LA girl, it’s fun to see your recommendations! But, did you mean Kindness and Mischief?

  • How cool that you saw Louis C.K.! That’s a great story! A friend of mine does stand-up and he unknowingly opened for Norm McDonald in LA once. I love that!

  • You must go to Good Times at Davey Wayne’s! Go on a week night or even during the day if you can. The interior is to die for and the drinks and food and delicious. Alcoholic sno cones and yummy Mexican food!

  • Wow, you were in my hood so much I’m surprised I didn’t run into you! We live within a few blocks of Civil, Cafe Birdie, Mr. Holmes, etc…but I’m SO glad you mentioned Kindness & Mischief! They are our absolute favorite and have such a local, neighborhood vibe.

  • i’ve always been really intrigued by the idea of living in a different city for a short chunk of time so i’m looking forward to the next post about how and why you did it! i am very curious and have lots of questions, sorry in advance… 🙂

    how did you pick a neighborhood/area of such a big city? how did you find your house/apartment and how did you set up the rental? was it an airbnb-type situation? (i’m assuming that can’t be cheap!) also how did you deal with your home back in MO? are you still paying your mortgage so therefore two rents/mortgages for the month? did you rent out your home while you were away or would you consider doing that? or like a home exchange?

    ok i’ll stop, thanks for sharing!! 🙂

    • Ditto to Katie’s questions! Emma please share the nitty gritty of your experience!

  • Thank you for this travel guide! These posts are always so enjoyable, feels like taking a 10 minute-mini vacation. 🙂

    I will be travelling to the United States the first time in June and my boyfriend and I are not sure yet which cities we actually want to check out for a few days (San Diego, Miami and San Francisco are set). After reading all your recommendations, L.A. definitely moved up in my list. 🙂

  • Loved this post!! Lived in New York but never got over to the west coast. It’s on the bucket list for sure. Stored all your recommendations for the future! Xx

  • Looks like you had a wonderful time!
    Question: Celebrities! did you see any?

  • I will never stop wanting to visit Laguna after being such an avid fan of the MTV series.

    I’ve never really been interested in LA proper, but this post has me reconsidering that. Thanks for the review, it looks like you’re having a blast!

    Lo
    http://www.themixtures.com

  • Next time you’re in LA or Portland(OR), check out Salt and Straw, an amazing ice cream shop. Unparalleled. I literally stopped eating any other ice cream while I lived in LA because of that place.

  • Amazing recommendations! I need to bookmark this in case I end up in L.A next year for my upcoming trips in America 🙂

  • I love that you did this! (jealous that you were able to do something like this as well 😉 ) What an amazing experience! I can’t wait to hear more – how you were able to do it. I wonder also if you’ll attempt something similar with other places?

  • As an LA native, I would agree those are some great recommendations, and there are still so many more options because the city is huge! (I second UCB and want to add farmer’s market, Pasadena flea, the Broad museum). And thank you for starting with things to do!! I get irked when travel posts focus on places to eat and shop, and where to stay- it feels way too consumeristic. I travel to various places with an intention to experience the culture of that place, and appreciate a focus on things to do.

    • http://abeautifulmess.com/wp-content/themes/a-beautiful-mess/assets/images/gravataricon.gif

      Thanks! When a native says nice things about a travel guide makes me breath a sigh of relief. 🙂 And yeah, I love to eat and shop as much as anyone but I also LOVE traveling to places that offer more. I am such a big photo nerd that I love taking photos so getting to do that while hiking or on a beach is awesome. Anyway, thanks for the kind words

  • Wow, I never even thought about half of these things when I was there – in fact I swore I’d never go back. BUTTTTT, now I am thinking about how I need to go back for round #2.