Ah, the City of Angels. You’ve seen it in countless movies and are ready to spend a day in Los Angeles and soak up that California sunshine. Seeing as much as you can with just one day in LA is a bold challenge, but not impossible!
Coming from NYC, one of the biggest contrasts I found to East Coast cities is just how spread out LA is. With an area of roughly 500 square miles, it would take days to see everything. That said, if you want to hit the highlights with your 24 hours in LA, I’ve come up with an itinerary for you!
Several years ago, one of my friends moved from the East Coast to LA and we drove across the country to get her car there. (I highly recommend a cross-country road trip!) I’ve since been out to visit multiple times and have formed opinions on what to see in LA vs. what to skip.
As I said, LA is expansive, so (unfortunately for the environment) having a car is the best way to get around. With this one-day LA itinerary, you won’t have to drive too much, but a car does help.
For those flying into LA, there are many rental car options near LAX, so you can easily pick up a car when you get off your plane.
Be prepared to pay for parking, whether in parking garages or metered spots on the street.
If you don’t feel comfortable driving, there are, of course, plenty of ride-share/cab options!
Pro Tip: Since almost everyone else in LA is also driving, try to avoid rush hour times if you don’t want to sit in traffic forever. Also, take advantage of the carpool lane if you have two or more people in the car!
How to Spend One Day in LA
Obviously with its proximity to Mexico, Los Angeles knows how to do breakfast burritos well! To fuel your one day in LA, you should absolutely try a breakfast burrito (or two…or three). Filled with anything you might like, from cheese to chorizo, breakfast burritos are one of my favorite things to eat in LA.
Favorite breakfast burrito spots include HomeState, The Rooster, and Cerveteca Culver City.
The Venice Beach area of Los Angeles is unique, to say the least. With gorgeous murals, cheap souvenir shops, and a well-known skatepark, Venice feels a little grittier than its neighbor to the north, Santa Monica.
You can walk or ride bikes along the ocean path or wander the name-brand shops on Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
My favorite part of Venice is the canals; and nope, I’m not talking about Italy! The Venice Canal Historic District is a series of man-made canals built in 1905, meant to imitate those in Italy.
While some of the canals have been filled in throughout the decades, about four blocks of canals remain. You can wander through the fancy waterside neighborhood along paved paths and bridges.
Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier is probably one of the most iconic spots in LA. You’ll be able to recognize it by its famous Ferris wheel, the Pacific Wheel. If you only have one day in LA, you should definitely head to the Santa Monica area!
The Santa Monica Pier has been around since 1909! Jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, the pier is full of carnival games and rides, vendors, street performers, and restaurants. I feel that the Santa Monica Pier combines the charm of a bygone era with updated technology.
Popular rides include the historic merry-go-round, the West Coaster roller coaster, and of course, the Pacific Wheel.
Riding the Pacific Wheel is actually really fun! It offers stunning views of the beach and ocean. Plus, the Pacific Wheel claims to be the world’s first solar-powered Ferris wheel; and it lights up with 174,000 energy-efficient LED lights after dark.
The Santa Monica Pier is also the official end of the historic U.S. highway, Route 66!
When you’re done exploring the pier, take the steps down to the beach and dip your toes in the ocean!
Tacos for Lunch
If you did burritos for breakfast, then you should do tacos for lunch! (Plus chips and guacamole!)
You can stay at the Santa Monica Pier and eat at Maria Sol, the Mexican restaurant at the end of the pier. Alternatively, you can head back toward Ocean Ave. and try Blue Plate Taco or Sol Agave Santa Monica.
Once you’re full of tacos, take a walk through Palisades Park. The whole park is 26.4 acres, so you can just choose a section of it. You’ll be walking along a coastal terrace above the beach, looking out onto the nearby bluffs and Pacific Ocean (if it’s not too hazy).
Depending on where you parked to reach the Santa Monica Pier, you can either keep walking up to Palisades Park or drive and park in the metered parking along Ocean Avenue.
Drive Sunset Boulevard
It’s time to head inland! This one-day LA itinerary doesn’t include stopping at all of the “typical” tourist sites in LA, like the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
You can, however, take a slightly longer driving route to Griffith Park and drive along Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards. This will save you time, and you’ll still get to see some of the famous Los Angeles attractions.
If you put Soho House West Hollywood (9200 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069) into your GPS as a stop between Santa Monica and Griffith Park, it should take you along Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards. You’ll be able to see the famous streets and buildings from your car as you cruise along the Sunset Strip.
(Note: Soho House is an exclusive club and not an actual stop on the itinerary!)
Griffith Park and Observatory
Visiting Griffith Park and Observatory is probably my favorite of all the things to do in LA. The natural beauty, the views…it’s just a gorgeous spot, especially at golden hour and sunset.
Griffith Park is over 4,000 acres; and it includes fun spots like the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, the Greek Theatre, and Los Angeles Zoo. There are many hiking and horseback-riding trails through the varying types of terrain.
On the slope of Mount Hollywood sits Griffith Observatory, an art-deco planetarium. Griffith Observatory is free to visit (although you have to pay for parking)! Explore the sky and cosmos through exhibits, high-tech shows, and telescopes. One of the most popular exhibits is the electric blue sparks of the Tesla Coil.
The area around the observatory also offers stunning views of the Hollywood sign, with the city of LA spread out below. At nighttime, the city lights look like stars as well! *cues the La La Land soundtrack*
You can’t spend one day in LA and not go to In-N-Out. Reward yourself at the end of the day with some greasy, drive-through deliciousness.
This fast-food burger place is a beloved California staple. Offering up the usual burgers and fries, In-N-Out still manages a retro 1950s vibe (even with orders taken on iPads). Try the classic Double-Double cheeseburger and a wonderfully thick milkshake!
If you are an early riser and can fit more into your 24 hours in LA, by all means do so! There are some things to do in LA that I still have not had a chance to try yet, that could fit into a day (especially if you were to skip Venice Beach at the start).
- Hollywood Sign Hike: It was too hot to do much hiking when I recently visited LA, but I would have loved to have done the Hollywood Sign Hike. You can park at the Canyon Drive Trailhead, and do an easy to moderate 4-mile loop trail to the sign. (Don’t forget to bring plenty of water!)
- Rodeo Drive: If you’re into high-end shopping, you can stop at Rodeo Drive on your way between Santa Monica and Griffith Park. This famous Beverly Hills shopping area is California’s equivalent to NYC’s 5th Avenue.
Although it is spread out, there is much you can squeeze into 24 hours in LA. Even with just one day, you’ll be able to get a feel for that quintessential, laid-back California vibe.
May the smog not be too bad, may you see your favorite celebrity, and may you enjoy your one day in LA!
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