72 Hours Exploring LA with Locals

Los Angeles, an Intriguing Utopia

Two of our friends moved to LA about seven years ago and last month we flew out for a weekend to visit them. Every day was sunny and in the 70s, and there was no humidity. It felt like a strange utopia with perfect weather and beautiful people.

Often, first-time visitors to LA complain about the sprawling city and that it’s hard to get around. The traffic can be crippling and there’s no reliable public transportation. Yet, the city continues to draw visitors every year. While planning our trip to LA, we told our friends, who have lived there for nearly a decade, to take us to their favorite spots. We asked them to show us where the locals go, not the tourists. What ensued for three days was a combination of hikes with stunning views, delicious food, and time at the ocean, giving Nic and me the energy we need to get through the second half of winter in Minnesota.

1. Start the Day with Coffee

Joan’s on Third is a great spot in LA to grab a coffee or a quick breakfast bite. Order your omelet, egg sandwich, or pancakes at the counter, then find a spot out front at the tables and chairs lining the sidewalk to sit and enjoy your meal. It’s a great, quick spot to grab breakfast as you start your day.

2. The Academy Museum

LA has a ton of museums and I wish we had time to visit more! We decided to check out the Academy Museum and ended up spending nearly three hours walking around this massive space. The museum is devoted to the history, science, and cultural impact of the film industry. You can learn about the process of creating films from casting, costume design, and sound, to directing, lighting, and more. See old equipment that was used to make films in the 1920s and 1930s, see the costumes and nunchucks used by Bruce Lee and the full-body prosthetic suit from the Shape of Water, worn by Doug Jones. And be sure to snap a photo of the red shoes from the original 1939 Wizard of Oz, worn by Judy Garland. There’s also a large domed observation deck, which seems like the perfect spot for a wedding or private party.

3. Griffith Park

Griffith Park is a large park with over 4,000 acres of land, making it one of the largest urban parks in North America. Here you’ll find plenty of hiking trails, picnic areas, and playgrounds. Take a hike (or drive) up to the Griffith Observatory. We chose to hike and while it was extremely steep and quite a workout, the views of LA and the Hollywood Sign were incredible. Once you’re at the top, head inside the observatory to look through telescopes, watch a show in the planetarium and enjoy epic views of LA. It’s totally free but you will need to show proof of vaccination and wear a mask as of January 2022.

4. Malibu Farm

Malibu is a one-hour drive from LA, making it an easy day trip. Drive along the Pacific Coast Highway and see stunning views of the ocean. Then stop at Malibu Farm for a bite to eat and frosé (frozen rosé wine). It’s a cold and refreshing drink to sip in the hot sun. Be on the lookout for seals and dolphins, both of which we saw! And keep an eye out for Gordon Ramsey. According to our waiter, he frequents Malibu Farm.

Pro tip: Parking can be tricky and there is often a line of people waiting to get into Malibu Farm. If you’re with another person, drop one person off to wait in line at Malibu Farm while the other person finds parking. This local hack probably saved us at least 30 minutes of waiting.

5. El Matador Beach

From Malibu Farm, drive a few miles north to El Matador State Beach. This unique ocean beach has incredible rock formations and killer views of the sunset. You’ll probably see a lot of engagement photoshoots taking place. Walk along the beach or have a picnic and enjoy the incredible view.

Pro tip: This parking lot is really tiny and there was a line of cars waiting for spots when we pulled up. If you don’t see a spot right away, don’t wait. Continue driving down the road and you should be able to find free street parking easily. Just be careful walking along the busy road as you head back to the beach entrance as there is no sidewalk.

6. Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills is certainly not a local’s secret, but it’s still worth checking out. It’s fun to drive around and look at the stunning homes with gorgeous gardens.  It’s also a quiet community with sidewalks so you may want to park the car and take a stroll. And be sure to get an LA classic photo with the giant palm trees!

7. Enjoy Brunch

If you’re looking for a special place to enjoy brunch, check out Bacari. Our friends took up to this beautiful outdoor patio, which was covered in trees and hanging chandeliers. The breakfast pizza, French toast, egg’s Benedict, and mimosas were all delicious! We ate every last bite.

Pro tip: This restaurant can get crowded, especially during late morning weekends with bachelorette parties. We went at 10am, which is considered early for brunch in LA, and we beat the rush.

8. The Hollywood Sign

Taking a photo in front of the Hollywood Sign just feels like something you should do during a trip to LA. One of the best views is on the way back down from the Griffith Observatory. There are several unmarked dirt paths so unfortunately, I can’t easily explain which trail we took, but it’s definitely one of the main trails and is not hidden in any way. The sign was first built in 1923 and actually said “Hollywoodland.” Click here to read 20 interesting facts about the sign.

9. Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach is a short drive from LA, and it’s less than 10 minutes from LAX airport. It’s a great place to spend a few hours before your flight. Have a picnic in the sun, or go swimming and surfing. When you’ve had enough of the beach, head into town where you’ll find a beautiful, upscale bustling neighborhood with restaurants and shops. We stopped into Culture Brewery, and I highly recommend the Simcoe Pilsner and Belgian Saison.

10. Take a Food Tour

LA has an incredible variety of quality restaurants, one of the many benefits of big cities. When planning where to eat, we told our friends to take us to the spots they normally go. In addition to the breakfast spots mentioned above, I recommend:

  • Sushi Fumi, for excellent sushi that’s made fresh-to-order. I highly recommend the spicy tuna and salmon rolls.
  • Din Thai Fung, is the spot to go for dumplings. They literally take days to prepare and the dumpling wrappers, which are the lightest and thinnest wrappers I’ve ever had. I also recommend the pork rolls and the chocolate dumplings for dessert, which are tiny dumplings filled with warm, chocolate and mochi that melts in your mouth.
  • Honor Bar is a great spot for burgers, deviled eggs, and fried chicken sandwiches. Grab a seat at the bar and watch the game, or sit in a cozy booth.
  • Eataly, grab a table and enjoy an Italian meal, or sit at the bar and watch the chefs make wood-fired pizza. Then walk around the store, which is like an upscale grocery store. Pick something out to bring home, like fresh pasta, cheese, meat, or wine. If you’re from the Twin Cities, think of Eataly like a combination of Surdyk’s in NE Minneapolis and Cosetta’s in St. Paul.

Of course, there are many more places to eat in LA, but these four spots were incredibly memorable. And if you prefer to take a food tour, check out Sidewalk Food Tours or LA Foodie Tour.

We Can’t Wait to Return to LA

Our trip to LA was so much fun and so rejuvenating. We want to take a trip to sunny LA every January! We are so grateful to have friends who live there because we know they truly made the trip so special for us by showing us all the spots the locals love. For many more suggestions on things to do in LA, check out this great blog post by Nomadic Matt.

Looking for more winter travel inspiration? Check out my blog posts on 9 Reasons to Visit Crosby During Winter, 11 Winter Things to Do in Mankato, and 37 COVID Safe Outdoor Winter Activities.

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