All photos by Michelle Rae Uy
Year-round sunshine, a mélange of outdoor activities and a treasure trove of delicious cuisines are only a few compelling factors that make Los Angeles a dream vacation destination. However, a majority of those that visit the golden city only scratch its shiny, glittering surface, going for the obvious, more touristy stops rather than digging deeper. Beyond the Sunset Strip, Hollywood and Highland, and the Santa Monica Pier are a plethora of sights and diversions that really shape the city, little known to the tourists but popular amongst the locals. Here are ten things visitors can do to discover the true Los Angeles and experience it like the locals.
Skip Santa Monica, head for Malibu
Santa Monica might be the worse choice if you plan on spending some quality time at the beach in Los Angeles. It’s dirty and always overcrowded and better looking in photos than in actuality. Drive north to Malibu instead, where the beaches are considerably cleaner, arguably less crowded, and definitely more picturesque. Stretches of beautiful, sandy beach fringed by towering cliffs that offer scenic sunset views, tide pools, and rock formations that double as bird sanctuaries can be found here. Some of the most famous spots are Zuma Beach, considered one of the best in Los Angeles, Point Dume State Beach, and El Matador State Beach.
Rent a car as public buses are few and far between. Most beaches have paid parking, but if you’re lucky, you might find a free spot right along the freeway.
Steer clear of Hollywood
The Hollywood strip is one of those tourist traps that are only good for experiencing once and only once. After that, it’s a novelty you can afford to miss unless you’re going to a good restaurant in the area or you’re seeing a show in the Pantages. It’s overrated, overcrowded with struggling performers looking to make a quick buck, full of hyped up bars and restaurants, and teeming with star-struck tourists still under the impression that it’s where the famous celebrities hang out. Visitors are better off exploring the city’s lesser-known neighborhoods, ones with more character than Hollywood. Consider the hip neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silverlake and Atwater Village, upscale Manhattan Beach, the old world of Pasadena, or colorful Venice.
Go on a hike
If there’s one thing LA locals love, it’s getting their hiking shoes dirty. Hiking is one of LA’s favorite past times—even the celebrities do it. Do it in the morning or brave a night hike. And with hundreds of hiking trails all over the city, visitors won’t have to drive far to find one. Griffith Park, for one, offers several of them, as does Malibu. Favorites include the Runyon Canyon Trail, which is popular among celebrities; Eaton Canyon Trail, which boasts a 40-foot waterfall; Los Liones Trail in the Topanga State Park; and the trail in Malibu Creek State Park, home to the famous M*A*S*H set.
Visit a farmers market
Los Angelenos love their farmers market. Most neighborhoods in the city have at least one farmers market that takes place once a week, selling fresh produce, organic meats, fantastic coffee beans, baked goods and a number of street food, as well as handmade and vintage wares. A visit to the city, therefore, must include a stop at one, if only to sample the food and rub elbows with the locals. Skip the trendy Original Farmers Market located adjacent to the Grove, however. It may be the most popular, but many of the vendors there sell overpriced items. Instead, visit the Hollywood Farmers Market or one of the smaller neighborhood markets.
READ MORE: The Best Markets to Visit in Los Angeles
Avoid hiking in the middle of the day, slather on plenty of sunscreen, and bring lots of water.
Feast on Korean BBQ
Korean BBQ is a big deal in Los Angeles, so visitors must add it to their list of things to do while in the city. There are Korean BBQ restaurants all over the city, but for a better experience, head to the heart of Koreatown where many of the best ones reside. Soowon Galbi, Kang Ho Dong Baek Jeong and Magal are some of the most heralded. For a taste of LA’s food truck culture, keep an eye out for the Kogi BBQ food trucks, which offer an addicting mash-up of Korean BBQ served Mexican style in tacos and burritos.
Sample authentic Mexican tacos
One cannot visit Los Angeles without sampling the tacos. Los Angeles has the best tacos outside of Mexico. We’re talking about authentic Mexican tacos here, not those Tex-Mex ones that they pile with heaping amounts of ground beef, cabbage, and shredded cheese. Traditional Mexican tacos come with shredded or chopped up pork, chicken or beef and topped with salsa, cilantro and onions. A few of the best spots to feast on these include Carnitas El Momo, Guisados and Rodeo’s. The city is also teeming with food trucks that serve them and those are just as good.
Get in line for ramen
Like Korean BBQ, ramen is also huge in Los Angeles. It’s so big, in fact, that the city brags two ramen rows—one in Little Tokyo on the east side and another along Sawtelle Boulevard in Japantown in the west. Ramen joints are very popular that long lines are to be expected, especially for the most popular ones, but these hearty and comforting Japanese soup dishes are more than worth the wait. Among the best spots include Daikokuya and Hakata-style ramen joint Shin-Sen-Gumi where patrons get to “design” their own ramen.
While the greater Los Angeles area offers many shopping spots, among the most popular include The Grove and Rodeo Drive, there are also plenty of opportunities for vintage shopping. Whether it’s in Burbank or the more prominent vintage row along Melrose Avenue, vintage shopping is a great way to spend an afternoon in the city and a very local thing to do. The city boasts many vintage shops, not to mention the Long Beach Antique Market and the massive Rose Bowl Flea Market, so secondhand retail therapy here is easy and accessible.
READ MORE: 10 Unexpected Experiences in Los Angeles
Watch a movie under the stars
One of Los Angelenos’ favorite summer past times is watching movies outdoors under the stars. Thanks to the city’s many open spaces, these outdoor movie events are not only possible; more and more are popping up all over the city each year. From intimate ones that take place in a café’s garden or at a rooftop to massive screenings held in one of LA’s most famous cemeteries, there are so many to choose from. Local favorites are Cinespia’s Hollywood Forever Cemetery old movie events when attendees are expected to bring their own picnic supplies, and the Street Food Cinema where screenings come with food trucks as well as live performances.
Avoid Starbucks and go for quality coffee
Starbucks is practically in every single big city in most countries. Going to Starbucks, therefore, in a city whose coffee culture rivals that of Portland and Seattle is a real missed opportunity. Los Angeles has many wonderful cafes—both local and imports like Portland’s Stumptown and Chicago’s Intelligentsia—that serve amazing cups of coffee and coffee drink creations. Sample the Spanish Latte at Urth Café, the cappuccino at LAMILL or the espresso at Spring for Coffee.