With so much to see and do in LA you could easily spend an entire week here exploring all the neighbourhoods. We used LA as the start and end of our California, Arizona and Nevada road trip, which unfortunately only gave us a couple days here to see as much as we could. If you’re on limited time like us, then this is the perfect itinerary to cram in as many sights as you can. Truth be told, you could probably fit in more than we did if you don’t stop to take as many photos like us.
Day 1: Bike Ride from Marina del Rey to Santa Monica
One of my favourite things to do in LA is rent a bike and cycle from Marina Del Rey, past the eclectic area of Venice Beach all the way to the Santa Monica pier. While it’s only a 30-minute bike ride, you can easily spend the entire day exploring the many sights along the way.
We started our bike ride in Fisherman’s Village, a replica of a New England seaport and fishing town in Marina Del Rey. The area is full of brightly painted buildings that house souvenir stores and outdoor restaurants, making it a fun and colourful place for a stroll and photo op.
Next up was the infamous Venice boardwalk, known as one of the best places in LA for people watching. It’s full of street performers, skateboarders, tattoo shops, marijuana stores, fortune tellers and markets selling tacky souvenir t-shirts. This is also where you’ll find some hard-core bodybuilders at Muscle Beach. The Venice Sign can be found a block up Windward Ave, though we found it a bit of a let down as it’s definitely one of those places that look better on Instagram than in real life.
A short walk from the beach are the ‘Venice Canals’, a man made addition to the area in 1905 by developer Abbott Kinney as part of his ‘Venice of America’ plan. For three canal-lined blocks you can meander past charming beach houses, perfectly manicured gardens and half a dozen footbridges. Sadly the water was very low when we visited so it didn’t look like the residents were getting much use from their canoes and dinghies.
Another few blocks back is easily my favourite area of Venice, Abbott Kinney Boulevard. This area is full of trendy boutiques, cafes and fun murals, making it the perfect place to spend a few hours shopping, eating and taking photos before continuing on your bike ride. One of the most recognisable murals would have to be the Love Wall, which can be found on the corner of Santa Clara Avenue and Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
Where to Eat:
Blue Star Donuts: Gourmet donuts with interesting flavours like blueberry bourbon basil and passionfruit with cocoa nibs. Having sampled 5 of their flavours so far, I can still say their OG is my favourite.
Salt and Straw: So addictive I drove from the airport while on a layover just for a scoop of their Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache.
The Butcher’s Daughter: Another one of those trendy plant-based cafes and juice bar. I came here after a 3-week road trip through America where I had been deprived of my daily smashed avo and eggs, a staple in the Aussie brunch world. Both times I went it was pretty crowded and a wait for tables, which is always a good sign.
Santa Monica Pier
Now it’s time to return back to the Venice Boardwalk and continue along the bike path towards Santa Monica Pier. This is where we also happened to ride into a film set, the first of at least three we randomly witnessed (sadly no celebs were spotted). If you still haven’t had enough of the shops, just a short walk from the pier is 3rd street promenade where all your usual brands are.
Hike to the Hollywood Sign
For one of the best views of LA hike your way to the Hollywood Sign. Have your Uber driver take you to the end of N Beachwood Drive just below Sunset Ranch Hollywood. This is as far as cars can go, but you’ll find a security gate and guard who’ll be more than happy to give directions to the Hollywood Sign. There’s a few different trails to take and if you miss the left turn, you’ll end up walking to the Griffith Observatory instead. You also have the option to follow the trail that will take you below the Hollywood sign (the easier option) or take a right up the hill on the Hollyridge Trail to finish behind the Hollywood sign, which is what we did. The actual hike takes about 45-60 minutes on a mixture of dirt and paved roads. If you need to get an Uber back to your hotel, you’ll likely have to walk a few blocks down from the hikes entrance gate until you find reception. If you time your hike in the late afternoon and then head to Hollywood Boulevard afterwards, you might happen to time it with a movie premiere. We were just checking out the Walk of Fame when we happened to spot Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard walking the red carpet for his new movie Chips.
Pink Wall at Paul Smith
This wall has become such an attraction there are even signs banning photo-shoots, professional cameras, belongings on the pavement and feet on the wall. We genuinely thought the valet guy was attempting to crack a joke when he told us to put our DSLR away because only cell phone pictures were allowed. That was until he brought out 3 large freestanding signs outlining all the ‘rules’ for taking photos on their premises. The wall can be found at 8221 Melrose Ave.
Made in LA Wall at Cisco Home
This mural made all the more sense once discovering it was on the outside of a furniture store that you guessed it, sell furniture made in LA. You can find this mural at 8025 Melrose Ave.
We only had time to visit their outdoor exhibits ‘Urban Lights’, a collection of 202 1920’s cast-iron street lamps that you might recognise from Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman’s film ‘No Strings Attached’. There’s also a sculpture garden and a 340-ton boulder known as ‘Levitated Mass’ that are open to the public and free of charge. If you have time though I highly recommend exploring the exhibitions inside the museum.
Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills
Can’t say there’s all too much to do here other than take a quick stroll down the European style cobblestone streets that you’ll recognise from classics like Clueless and Pretty Woman.
Where to Stay:
Marina Del Rey Hotel
The waterfront Marina Del Rey Hotel was such a delight after stepping off a 15-hour flight from Australia. With gorgeous balcony views of the surrounding marina and the beach just around the corner, it was such a scenic and peaceful location to come home to. Their baby blue beach cruisers also made for an easy and fun way to explore the neighbouring areas of Fisherman’s Village, Venice and Santa Monica. If your body is still feeling the effects of being on a different time zone like we were, then their all day breakfast from S.A.L.T will make hoping back into your robes to have breakfast in bed (in the afternoon) all the more appealing. Their outdoor restaurant with fire pits and blankets to snuggle into also made for the perfect place to try smores for the first time. Needless to say it was a life changing experience and I am now officially a smores convert.
The Kinney Venice Beach
After a few weeks road tripping around the USA we returned to LA and decided to once again base ourselves by the beach, this time in Venice at the super fun, colourful and trendy boutique hotel The Kinney. For someone who loves all things bright, printed and colourful, I was certainly in my element.
This is easily the most colourful hotel I’ve ever stayed, from purple, orange and teal striped carpet in the hallways to paint splattered wallpapers and comic book printed bedside tables. Even the outside walls aren’t forgotten, with murals painted in the courtyard and surrounding building. If you can bare to pull yourself away from your room (something I really struggled with), their outdoor courtyard has a heated swimming pool and spa, bar, lounge beds, ping pong tables, fire pit and my personal favourite, a canopy of lights across the entire courtyard.
Like any good hotel by the beach, The Kinney also has some stylish red bicycles to explore the area that conveniently match any street mural you pass. Venice Beach and Abbot Kinney are both just a 5-minute ride away, making it the perfect base for anyone traveling without a car.