LA is the classic driving city, but some parts of that are changing. From the earliest days, LA was planning to be a train or trolley city*, but this all changed with the mass takeover of the automobile. Naturally, if you’ve seen the movie Drive, not everyone is so desperate that they use the mostly concrete LA river banks to navigate the traffic, but there are some tips:
It is significantly easier to travel East and North in the morning, and vice versa in the evening. Crossing freeways is always more challenging than staying within them. Major freeways to consider include the east-west freeways that you’d cross north (the 10, the 110) or south (the 101). The north-south freeways to consider are always the 405, and the 5 to those living on the eastside.
Though the commute is highly variable, LA is such a neighborhood city. If you’ve fallen in love with espresso martinis and back room record shops with small venues, perhaps the eastside of LA is best for you. If your hair is sunbleached, salt kissed, and your ideal day begins with a matcha latte and a 50 minute all-body workout, it is probably best to live on the westside. As you’ll notice, most residents live on the westside, because the commute is a fraction of living elsewhere. Do not be fooled, though, because at the end of your day, going to your favorite spots or being cozy in a bigger apartment may mean a different neighborhood for you.
Choosing a convenient location is probably different from other cities that you have lived in. As you see above, the direction of the reverse commute can help you make some of these decisions.
Depending on where you live (see above), you may have immediate access to the Metro stops. There is the blue Expo line that travels along Exposition Blvd from the 3rd street promenade in Santa Monica to Downtown in about 35 minutes, with stops at notable locations like the LAFC (soccer) stadium, Banc of California Stadium, USC, the California Science Museum and the Culver City platform along the way. The unfinished purple line will travel from Brentwood - specifically our VA location’s parking lot - through Westwood, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, into Downtown.
LA is one of the rare sorts of food and dining cities that could not be a bigger landscape to explore. There are a few ways to slice up the dining situation, and some useful apps or articles that can give you a framework to explore.
One of the most reliable resources to review restaurants of basically all types. They have the city broken down by neighborhood, cuisine, and even venue specific (like what to eat at Dodger stadium). Notable neighborhoods to explore around UCLA include Westwood, “Tehrangeles” or the Persian Square, Sawtelle, Culver City, Venice, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. All of these places are a short (<30 min including traffic) drive from your primary sites at Ronald Reagan, Santa Monica, and the VA hospitals.
Talking about LA without mentioning the late great LA food critic would be a disservice to us all. Here is an article about Jonathan Gold’s top 101 LA restaurants. We also recommend the City of Gold documentary about him, and his commitment to making LA the food destination that it has become.
Word of mouth is extremely helpful in this city, and especially in the era of food drops and mini kitchens via social media. Lots of things bring people to LA, as you’ll see in other sections, but we believe the diversity of food experiences is one of the most commonly beloved parts of LA. Everyone has their local food (usually taco) truck. Everyone has their own local cafe. Everyone should have a deli. If you ask, good things will happen
Some of LA’s greatest food exists in the back of something else. Hidden in strip malls across the sprawl are precious gems run by lovely people with incredible stories. The Donut Kings, Tehran market’s weekend grill, Dr. Sandwich, Bar Nine, and Venice’s First Friday food truck festival are all stories of highly talented chefs and “producers” who put together something special in an easily overlooked place. Now, these are just some examples, but basically anywhere that looks like your college bar with a line on a weeknight is probably fair game.
OK, this is not London, New York or Paris; however, where there are fancy people there are fancy things. Yes, there are your usual reliable chains, but with a little extra work you can find good coffee close to you no matter where you are. Similar to the food and dining scene, coffee and tea have interesting stories in LA.
LA and music are synonyms. With all the stars of Hollywood are numerous major agencies, labels, production companies and soundstages that have produced some of your favorite records ever. As always with LA, the sheen of the glossy buildings (see Capitol Records, ICM, Walt Disney Concert Hall, etc.) come with many other terrific opportunities to hear music.
Yes, this is a real way to hear live music. The classic locations for busking are on 3rd street in Santa Monica, the Venice boardwalk, and on the strip in Hollywood. Depending on what farmer’s market you are in, you may have an opportunity to pass by someone serenading. Pay attention though, because you wouldn’t want to miss something good.
Where to even start! Ok, I’ve got it. You cannot miss music at a small venue in Los Angeles. There are too many acts that are worth seeing, and some iconic places to hear them.
Here is where you’ll see phenomenal acts, done like their album without fancy tricks, but intimate enough that you’re not watching the act on a screen projector.
The Moroccan Lounge
Here are the unbeatable sites to see top billed artists doing top level productions. No details are missed at these venues. You will be inside of one of these during your time in LA whether or not we inspired you.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Walt Disney Concert Hall
LA is known for elaborate displays, and events are reliably unreliable. There are at least hundreds of major events annually, from fried chicken and whiskey festivals to pop up museums, and everything in between.
It needs no introduction, but there are ample choices to belt out your favorite song sans judgment. Occasionally you’ll hear fantastic singing and fully committed routines at your local karaoke spot.
If you desire plays and musicals, you will find many options to see them and/or participate. Though many productions have closed, and theaters are struggling to reopen after COVID, there are some locations still available to see live theater.
These gems are all around town, so a quick search could show you some local stages. Here are a list of small to medium sized theatres for obscure productions.
Geffen Playhouse - Westwood
Kirk Douglas Theater - Culver City
UCLA Little Theater
These tend to be downtown. They will have the musical or play you were waiting to see.
LA is known for its many fine art museums, and especially how indoor/outdoor they are and can be in the temperate climate we have. Here are the classics:
There are so many fine galleries, shows, and pop up events, as mentioned previously. Keep your eyes peeled to learn more about the city, its diverse population, and cultural heritage at landmarks like the Watts Towers, The California African American museum, Norton Simon, and many others.
There are ample places to enjoy some combination of human player, ball, racket, stick, bat and turf. Of course, LA is the home of many sports dynasties, and where they play is a prime cultural experience, depending on your disposition.
In a short list, the professional teams include the Dodgers, LAFC, LA Galaxy, LA Sparks, LA Lakers, LA Clippers, LA Rams, LA Chargers and the LA Kings. Fortunately for you, the majority of these teams play at Staples Center, Dodger Stadium, and Banc of California. As the new stadium is built for football in Inglewood, the SoFi stadium, we will probably have many more events to see.
The college teams include all of UCLA and USC’s iconic rivalries across so many sports. There are the well known Rose Bowl and Coliseum for football, and the unmatched Pauley Pavilion for basketball.
If you’re reading this section, you have probably not learned anything new, and we like it that way.
Once you arrive in LA, the chances someone asks if you want to go on a hike nearly triples from baseline1. Though not advertised as a “green” city, there are numerous spots to run, bike, wingsuit, paraglide, and bird watch. The classic California chaparral and woodlands features a large variety of sages, wildflowers, and grasses underlaid with lizards, rodents, not-too-venomous snakes and the occasional mid-sized feline. The bonus is of course phenomenal views through the mountains toward the sea, or in the forests ~1 hour outside of LA.
Of course, not to miss the Venice canals, the Venice boardwalk, and the beautiful gardens around LA, like the Getty Villa, Getty Museum, Huntington Gardens, and Descanso for a lighter walk.
1 UCLA IM Chiefs et al. 2021.This is based on entirely fraudulent data made up for the purpose of making a point.
For those who are more adventurous or consider themselves part-time career hiker/backpackers, Los Angeles is at the crossroads of some of the finest trail systems in the United States. Situated two hours south of the terminus of the John Muir Trail, Los Angeles is flanked by the Angeles National Forest, San Bernardino Forest, and San Gorgonio Wilderness, through all of which the famous 3,000+ mile Pacific Crest Trail runs. Beautiful Joshua Tree National Park is two-hours to the east, and Catalina Island is a 30 minute drive (and 1 hour boat ride) to the south. Here’s some serious outings for serious people:
The Pacific Ocean is the world’s largest ocean, and California takes up a sizable percentage of the US Pacific Coast. But, more importantly, there is a culture around the Ocean and the beach that California does best. The Beach Boys obviously said it, when they wrote, “the West coast has the sunshine.” Even in the movie Ironman, Tony Stark had his stunning home built in Malibu, financed by his fictional billion dollar corporation’s profits.
Digressions aside, the beach in LA spans from Malibu down past the South Bay, and there is soft sand and cold water to play in the whole way. You can rent a boat from the Marina, take a ferry to Catalina, scuba dive in kelp forests, deep sea fish, and ocean kayak. You can set up Spikeball, Volleyball, or any other ball sport well over two thirds of the year without interruption. There are dog friendly beaches, and beachside parks. There are places to host a bonfire, and excellent restaurants with window seating over the wave break. You can have fish and chips at Malibu Seafood or Neptune’s Net, and dinner at Mastro’s. There are piers to play on, fish on, and take a date on. For some people, living in Marina del Rey, Santa Monica, or Venice is the aspirational dream, and you can do it from day 1 at UCLA.