Since we’re from the Bay Area, we’re obligated to turn our noses up at any mention of Los Angeles or Southern California in general as part of a friendly rivalry between the northern and southern California contingents. But, if we’re being honest, LA is a pretty cool city. Sure, it’s full of traffic, new age hippies driving Land Rovers, and really, really awful drivers. We got cut off three times IN A BLOCK (twice by Land Rovers) on one of our trips across LA, which really drives home all three points. And don’t get us wrong – over 5 days in Los Angeles, you’ll probably be spending PLENTY of time in traffic.
Would we move to LA? Probably not. It’s not our type (we like to walk, and learned that walking in LA isn’t super pleasant when there’s a six lane road next to the sidewalk). Is it a great place to visit? Definitely yes. There’s a ton to do, see, eat, and drink in LA and just outside the city limits. Alysha remarked that it’s like NYC in the sense that, whatever you’re into, you can probably find it in LA.
We also learned that LA is massive, which is why it’s important to think about how to organize your time to make the most of it and avoid spending your time in the car. This guide will arm you with the information you need to plan the perfect 5 day Los Angeles itinerary, from the logistics (yes, you need to rent a car) to the best way to spend your time.
Planning a Trip to LA? Read my other guides to discover something new to add to your itinerary!
- Where to Stay in LA: A Complete Guide to LA’s 3 Best Areas
- The Best Gluten Free Restaurants in Los Angeles
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.
Where to Stay for 5 Days in L.A.
Before we get to specific recommendations, let’s get one thing out of the way: do not stay in an Airbnb in Los Angeles. L.A., like many cities on the west coast including our hometowns of Seattle and San Francisco), is in the midst of a full fledged housing crisis. The city is trying to crack down on illegal rental units, but they’re still found all across the city. In fact, we’d venture to say that MOST of the Airbnb listings in L.A. are in a grey area, if not completely illegal.
We love staying in Airbnbs in places that aren’t cities, but it doesn’t feel like the right choice in Los Angeles.
Lucky for you, L.A. has a ton of great hotels. Our top recommendation would be to find a great hotel in one of L.A.’s best neighborhoods. If you choose to rent a car, be prepared to pay a little extra for overnight parking in places like Downtown and Santa Monica.
The two best neighborhoods to look at are going to be Santa Monica for all the beach vibes, and Silver Lake or Echo Park, which is hipster paradise (I mean that in the best way possible) and is our favorite part of LA to stay in thanks to its central location between Hollywood and Downtown.
DO NOT STAY IN HOLLYWOOD. You’ll thank me later.
One thing to consider – since you have five days, you could absolutely spend 2-3 days in each area, to experience the best of both worlds. Staying in Silver Lake puts you close to downtown and some of the more urban feeling parts of the city, while Santa Monica puts you right on the beach, which is a completely different vibe.
Don’t miss my guide to the best places to stay in Los Angeles.
Staying in Silver Lake
Silver Lake is a little more residential, though Sunset Blvd runs right through it and it is lined with all sorts of fun shops, bars, and restaurants. We loved the area north of Sunset between the two, near Elysian Park, where you’ll be super central to both Silver Lake and Echo Park. This area is right in the middle of Hollywood and Downtown, and will serve as a great home base for 5 days in LA.
There’s only a couple of hotel choices here, as the area is mainly residential.
We were THIS close to staying at the Silver Lake Pool & Inn, but ultimately decided to stay elsewhere to be closer to the beach. It’s a gorgeous property with all the amenities – including a pool, as the name suggests – and it’s smack dab in the middle of Silver Lake, walking distance to great bars, coffee, food, and more.
The other option we like is Noon on Sunset Hill, which is more of a cross between a B&B and a hostel, with private rooms (with private bathrooms) and some shared common areas, including a kitchen. It’s a small place, and it would be a more social stay than staying at a different hotel thanks to all the common spaces, including two decks.
Staying in Santa Monica
In Santa Monica, look at the northwestern part of the neighborhood near Montana Ave, which was our favorite “cutesy” street in all of LA. You’ll be within walking distance of great coffee, bars, and restaurants, and also the glitz and glam of Santa Monica State Beach and the Third Street Promenade.
Keep in mind, this part of L.A. is expensive. We have a suggestion below for people who are on a budget, but want to be near the beach.
Recommended Hotels: The Palihouse Santa Monica is nice, and is in a great location just blocks from the beach, Montana Avenue (our favorite stretch in LA), AND the Third Street Promenade. The Santa Monica Proper is equally gorgeous. More affordable options include the Shore Hotel and the Georgian Hotel, which are both right along the closest street to the beach.
On a Budget, But Want the Beach? Stay in Venice!
If you’re on a budget but still want to be near the beach, look at nearby Venice Beach, which is like Santa Monica’s slightly odd cousin who sometimes forgets to shower, but is generally a good time.
Venice is… interesting. It’s an iconic part of L.A., and there are some great areas with tons of bars, restaurants, and things to do and see. A stroll through the canals is a must-do, as is a walk up Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Recommended Hotels in Venice: Hotel Erwin is right near the Venice sign, and is a perfect spot to base yourself for exploring the area. A little further off the beach (but still within walking distance) are two other good options – the Kinney and Inn at Venice Beach.
Your Complete 5 Day Los Angeles Itinerary
A quick note before we get into it – I have Celiac Disease, which means I need to eat strictly gluten free. In fact, this site started with my gluten free travel guides. Because of that, we don’t get to eat at most of the amazing restaurants in LA.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. You’ll find a few gluten free restaurant recommendations in the itinerary for LA below (don’t miss my complete guide to eating gluten free in Los Angeles), but for my non-gluten-free friends, here are a few resources to check out regarding the best restaurants in LA.
- The Eater Guide to LA
- 38 Essential LA Restaurants (Eater)
- Female Foodie’s Guide to the 25 Best Restaurants in LA
- A First Timer’s Guide to Eating in LA (The Infatuation)
Use those guides to plan your food stops if you don’t need to eat gluten free, like me. Eat all the tacos, Korean food, and avocado toasts you can!
With that out of the way, let’s get into it.
Day 1: The Beaches
On your first day in Los Angeles, soak up alllll the beach vibes with a trip out to Santa Monica, the crown jewel of LA’s west side, and its no-less-famous little brother that sometimes forgets to shower, Venice Beach.
This was among our favorite parts of the city, particularly along the most “cutesy” street in LA – Montana Ave on the north side of the area.
Morning: Santa Monica
Start your day on Montana Ave, before making the journey first to the Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Pier, and further on to Venice Beach.
Montana Avenue is a stretch that is on the north side of Santa Monica, and the piece of the street between 7th and 20th is one of our favorite parts of LA (also, one of the bougiest).
There’s enough here to occupy you for most of the day, but you should start with some of the best coffee in Los Angeles at Primo Passo Coffee Co, which almost always has a line out the door of people eagerly awaiting their morning fuel to tackle the day.
Next, head northeast along Montana Ave towards 20th, taking your time and browsing the wide variety of shops, stores, and cafes that line the street. Here are some spots not to miss along the way.
- There are TWO gluten free bakeries within a block of each other – Erin Mckenna’s Bakery and BreadBlok – the latter of which is one of the best gluten free bakeries in LA.
- If you’re more into shopping, Burro was one of our favorite stores in LA, full of all sorts of knick-knacks, cute cards, and offbeat gifts. Another great place to shop is Brentwood General Store, which sells a variety of handcrafted home goods.
- If you’re looking for a hard-to-find wine or bottle of craft beer, the Duck Blind has a great selection.
- Do you like cheese? We do. Andrew’s Cheese Shop is worth a stop in, even if you aren’t going to buy anything. There’s a huge selection of cheese (duh) but also gourmet food items like pepper jelly and Vermont maple syrup that make great gifts.
Once you make it to around 17th Street, the neighborhood becomes pretty residential, and it’s time to head to your next stop – the Third Street Promenade. It’s just over a mile, and I’d recommend walking.
The Third Street Promenade and the Santa Monica Pier
This is by far one of the most touristy spots in LA, but it’s definitely worth a visit. The Third Street Promenade is a pedestrian-only stretch in Santa Monica lined with all sorts of stores (mostly of the chain variety) and more importantly, leafy dinosaur fountains.
Start on the north end of the street and walk south towards the Santa Monica Pier.
If you find yourself craving more coffee, Demitasse is a great choice, and it serves as a perfect starting point for your journey down 3rd Street.
I don’t have too many specific recommendations for this stretch other than walking slowly, doing some people watching, and stopping into any stores that catch your attention. There’s an Apple Store and an Urban Outfitters, along with just about every chain store you can imagine.
Here are some neighborhood gems to check out.
- Misfit Bar and Restaurant is a good spot for lunch, or just a drink with plenty of gluten free options, including a dedicated fryer. They have solid happy hour deals too from open to 6pm. Note: They’re only open for lunch Thursday to Sunday.
- Chris + Mary is a cool little family owned boutique that reflects the interests of its two owners… Chris and Mary. They stock socially conscious products free from cruelty and inhumane labor practices.
I really loved this guide to Santa Monica from a local, which helped me discover a few of the places above.
You won’t want to miss the Santa Monica Farmers Market, which is where big name chefs go to stock up on produce for their restaurants in LA. It’s held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings from 8am to 1pm along Arizona Avenue right in the middle of the promenade. If your trip falls on either of those two days (which math tells me it must), then move day 1 to be either a Wednesday or Saturday. It’s worth it, we think.
Walk all the way to Colorado Avenue and turn right, which will lead you straight to the Santa Monica Pier.
To be completely honest, we had no idea that there’s a fully functioning roller coaster and arcade here. As we were walking up, I was thinking to myself “wait, is that… a roller coaster?”
Turns out, Pacific Park, the mini amusement park on the Pier, has a roller coaster, Ferris Wheel (is there a requirement that every city have a Ferris Wheel now?) and a handful of (overpriced and mediocre) restaurants. Still, it’s a fun stop, especially with kids, and it’s free to walk through.
Walk to the end of the pier and back, then head south along the beach path towards Venice Beach. You’ll be walking along Santa Monica State Beach, one of the most iconic beaches in LA and all of Southern California. This is the spot to bring your beach blanket and picnic on a warm day (so, every day) and lounge in the sun with thousands of your new best friends.
Next, head south to Venice, either on foot, or by renting a bike from Santa Monica Bike Rentals (but you’ll have to bring it back).
Renting a bike is actually a great way to explore Santa Monica, and would be a great addition to this first day of your LA itinerary. You could rent a bike, head up to Montana Ave, then ride back down near 3rd Street to the pier and onwards to Venice, and then bring it back at the end of the day.
Venice Beach, home of the boardwalk and famous bodybuilding gym on the beach, is full of contradictions. Particularly between the vibrant, lively, and sometimes sketchy boardwalk area, which is lined with family-owned shops and stalls selling all sorts of things, from “I <3 LA” thongs (not the sandal kind) to some really good tacos, and Abbot Kinney Blvd, which is cool, calm, and polished.
Here are some things to do near Venice Beach.
- Walk the boardwalk and take in the sights, sounds, and smells that make Venice special.
- Get coffee near the beach at Menotti’s Coffee Stop. If you’re in the mood for food, head to Great White instead, which is across the street near the famous Venice sign.
- Explore Abbot Kinney Blvd. Get coffee at Blue Bottle or Intelligentsia. Shop at Burro (again), Urbanic for all sorts of cards, notebooks, and stationary, and Grow Venice, which has all of the plants and pots to go with them. More stops include Salt and Bazaar. Erewhon Market is a high-end gourmet grocery store at the east end of the street that is worth a stop for foodies. Sweetfin is a 100% gluten free poke restaurant that is good for a quick bite to eat. There are a ton of shops here, including storefronts for a few of the direct-to-consumer online brands like Casper and Warby Parker. It’s very hip, and worth a walk all the way down and back.
- Explore the Venice Canals, which are full of incredible houses that we were daydreaming about owning someday before we looked at the Zillow values. Walk from the end of Abbot Kinney along N Venice Blvd.
- Devour delicious ice cream at either Salt & Straw or Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, two imports from Portland and Chicago respectively.
- Grab a drink at Venice Ale House, Roosterfish (a fun gay bar) or Venice Beach Wines.
That’s plenty of ground to cover on your first day, so grab some dinner either in Venice or back near your hotel, and relax (or, head to Roosterfish and get wild. Your call).
Day 2: Melrose Place and Hollywood
This is quintessential LA, I think. When I think of LA, I think of Sunset Blvd running through Hollywood and Melrose Place, which is lined with upscale boutiques and hip coffee shops, among other things.
It’s not really the most interesting part of LA, but every Los Angeles itinerary has to include a stop at the Walk of Fame, right?
Today, start in Beverly Hills before making a sweeping half circle all the way through Hollywood, with a stop at Melrose Place and the surrounding area in the middle.
Morning: Beverly Hills & Melrose Place
That’s where I want to be!
Anyone else get that Weezer song stuck in their head immediately after hearing the words Beverly Hills? Just me? Okay then.
First, start your day at the Beverly Gardens, which is where you’ll find the Beverly Hills sign. Alfred Coffee, the first real Insta-famous coffee shop, is right across the street if you need a caffeine fix (although there’s better coffee nearby – more on that in a second).
From there, walk down Rodeo Drive, which might be one of the most ritzy drives in the entire world. Shops with prices outside of our budget line the street, and you might even spot a celebrity ducking in or out of one. Although I will say we were in LA for over a week and saw exactly ZERO celebrities.
Then, if you skipped Alfred’s and held out for some of the best coffee in LA, you’re in luck.
While this part of the city doesn’t have a ton of interesting spots, at least in my opinion, it does happen to have some pretty good coffee options. Head to La Colombe, which is at the northwest corner of the area on Santa Monica Blvd, or Blue Bottle Coffee (a Bay Area native) or Aharon Coffee (fun latte art) which are both along S Beverly Drive to the south of Rodeo.
Wander down Rodeo Drive, then onto S Beverly Blvd. There are all sorts of restaurants and cafes along S Beverly, so take your time, wander a bit, and make a few stops along the way.
The Original Farmers Market (and the Grove, I guess)
Next, head to the Original Farmers Market and the Grove.
The Original Farmers Market is a cool spot, full of a ton of different vendors including a bunch serving fresh food, a store full of French products, and spices and coffee boutiques. See them all here. Walk the market and take in all the smells and sights. It’s a great spot to buy food-related souvenirs or gifts too.
The Grove is just a mall. But somehow it’s super famous, and I can’t pinpoint where I first heard about it. But it’s really just a typical SoCal indoor/outdoor mall.
Nearby, Melrose Trading Post is worth a stop if you’re in town on a Sunday, which is the only day it’s open. It’s like a big flea market, with a combination of local artisans (like a guy selling clocks made of books – imagine Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with a working clock on the front cover) and people who must hit all the thrift stores in LA, then sell their best finds at the market. It wasn’t really our scene, but it’s definitely worth a stop and a walkthrough. It costs $5 to enter.
3rd Ave & Melrose Place
The stretch along 3rd Ave is one of the best in the city if you like coffee and gluten free food. Here are the highlights.
- Verve Coffee Roasters: A Santa Cruz based coffee company that I love. Amazing pour over coffee and espresso drinks.
- Fonuts: 100% gluten free baked donuts (so they’re more like cake than a fried donut). The Blueberry Earl Grey is to die for. Plenty of vegan options too.
- Sweetfin: 100% gluten free poke bowls. Great fast casual lunch option.
- Ecco un Poco: Amazing 100% gluten free gelato – yes even the cones! The owners were the ones behind the counter when we went, and painstakingly explained to us where the pistachios, hazelnuts, and lemons they use were sourced from. In case you’re wondering, it was Sicily, Italy, and the Santa Monica Farmers Market.
Melrose Place is worth a stop, but it’s really just high end shops that are out of your price range, along with a few gems like Alfred Coffee.
Afternoon: Hollywood – East and West
The two parts of Hollywood are…different, to say the least. This is just our opinion, but we think West Hollywood is young, hip, and lively, while East Hollywood, near the Walk of Fame, is old, stuffy, and boring.
It’s worth a stop in both to see them for yourself.
It’s about lunch time, and you should head to Guisados for lunch. It was one of our favorite food spots in Los Angeles.
Unlike most taco shops in LA, which tend to serve up grilled taco fillings, Guisados is focused on slow simmered, uber flavorful stewed fillings known as “tacos de guisado.” We first came across these delectable delicacies in Mexico City at Tacos Hola, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in the US before our trip to LA.
Guisados is the gold standard, and they put their stewed fillings like cochinita pibil, a succulent stewed pork with achiote and peppers, and my favorite, chorizo, on top of thicker-than-usual handmade corn tortillas. If you want to try a bunch of different fillings, opt for the sampler platter, where you can choose six of them as mini tacos. That’s what we did.
Gluten free note: everything is gluten free with the exception of the shrimp and vegan tacos, and some of the specials. Definitely double check with the staff, who were friendly and helpful in my experience. Moles are safe here!
West Hollywood is nightlife central in LA, and is also the heart of the LGBTQ+ community in the city, which you’ll notice as you walk down Santa Monica Blvd and see the endless string of gay bars lining the wide street.
Here are some things not to miss in WeHo (because everybody loves abbreviations a little too much).
- Explore the Design District, which is just south of WeHo and has a Verve Coffee location along with all sorts of boutiques, design firms, and restaurants. The Museum of Contemporary Art is also cool.
- Come back and catch a comedy show at the Comedy Store, one of the most famous comedy clubs in the world.
- Browse for your next great read at Book Soup, a great bookstore on Sunset in West Hollywood.
- Eat at Night + Market, which dishes out incredible Thai food that is beloved by LA residents from all walks of life.
Next, continue along Sunset to Hollywood, which is a great place to end the day.
Hollywood gets all the fame, but it’s really not that cool, if we’re being completely honest. It’s full of tourists and lacks a lot of the character that some parts of LA exude.
There are exactly three things you should do in Hollywood.
Go to the Walk of Fame. Let me make an important caveat here. The Walk of Fame is not terribly impressive. In fact, I’d probably skip it. But when in Rome, right? Except, in this case, there are no Romans are going to the Walk of Fame. But if you’re in the area and you want to take a picture with your favorite actor’s star, it’s worth a quick stop. Given your limited time in LA, I’d recommend spending your time elsewhere.
Eat at In-N-Out, a California institution. They have a set menu of burgers, fries, and shakes, along with an extensive not-so-secret menu. Animal style fries. You’re welcome. The fries are hand cut, the burgers are fresh, and it’s one of the best value meals you’re going to find in all of LA. We try to make it to In-N-Out as often as possible since they have a solid gluten free offering (order “protein style with a gluten allergy, and no special sauce – special sauce packet on the side please!”)
Day 3: Downtown LA and the Arts District
Downtown LA and the nearby Arts District are up and coming areas in LA, and are a great example of the changing city.
Blocks away from notorious Skid Row, where streets are lined with homeless encampments that serve as an in-your-face reminder of the housing crisis in cities on the West Coast, you’ll find the Arts District packed with all sorts of specialty coffee shops, Instagrammable bars and restaurants, high end boutiques, artist collectives, and more.
Let’s talk about the ever-growing homeless population for a second. When you are in Downtown LA, you will see homeless folks and people struggling with addiction and other mental health issues. Take a second to recognize that the homeless are real people with real feelings and issues just like you before you pass judgement. They are victims of a society that has left them behind to fend for themselves, either in terms of affordable housing or mental health issues.
Morning: Downtown LA
Start your morning by heading downtown.
Coffee lovers should make a quick detour up to Chinatown to visit Endorffeine, a coffee shop run by a literal scientist-turned-barista who is the only person that will craft your precisely made drink. It’s worth the detour, and I think it’s among the best coffee shops in Los Angeles.
Otherwise, start at Grand Central Market, the beating heart of this part of Downtown LA.
If you’re not eating gluten free, then you need to grab breakfast at Eggslut, the highly acclaimed breakfast sandwich spot who happens to have a stall at Grand Central Market. Once you’re fueled up, explore the rest of the market. There are all sorts of vendors – from produce stands, to taco shops, to pupuserias, and Thai street food – and it’s easy to spend an hour walking around and trying them all.
Once you’re done at the market, head out to explore the area just to the north, which has several sights worth seeing all in a convenient little four block radius.
- Grand Park is the open green space that most of the sights here are set around.
- LA City Hall is a towering building at the southeast corner of Grand Park.
- On the north side of the park is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, an impressive cathedral that blends in nicely amongst the modern buildings of Downtown LA.
- Several theaters line the northwestern edge of the park, including the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where you’ll find the LA Opera, and the Ahmanson Theatre, which is where you’ll find the smash hits straight off of Broadway.
- The Walt Disney Concert Hall is just off the southwest corner of the park, and is home to the LA Philharmonic. If you want a Beethoven concert, this is where to find it.
- A block south is the Broad, the best museum in Los Angeles. It’s full of rotating modern art exhibits, and is free to enter, though lines can be long, and you need tickets for some of the exhibitions they bring in.
Next, head over to the Last Bookstore and SUPPORT INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES. It’s somewhat dark and dingy inside, but they have a huge collection of books from all genres, along with a wide selection of used books (they’re mixed in on the shelves with the new ones, mostly).
Exploring the Arts District
After making the rounds of that area, either drive or take a Lyft over to the Arts District. I say drive or take a Lyft (rather than walking) because you’ll basically need to go right through Skid Row to get there. Better safe than sorry.
First, start at Verve Coffee Roasters at the north end, and make your way south along Mateo Street, ending at Wine Stop DTLA.
Here are a few highlights along the way.
- Food (not gluten free, sadly): Zinc Cafe, Urban Radish (part grocery store, too), and Guerilla Tacos (the OG LA taco truck, or at least one of them, now has a restaurant).
- Coffee: Verve and Blue Bottle have outposts along Mateo Street.
- Bars: Everson Royce is the best of the bunch. Little Bear is good for beer lovers with their huge selection of Belgian beers on tap and in bottles, along with plenty of local California options too.
- It should come as no surprise that there’s an urban distillery in this industrial-chic part of LA – Greenbar Distillery – who makes all sorts of organic and sustainably made spirits in their space at the south end of the Arts District. Book a guided distillery tour or a guided spirit tasting for an afternoon of learning (and drinking, obviously), which will cost $15 a person.
- Wine Stop is a good spot to pick up a good and unique bottle of wine. Their helpful staff will help you find a bottle that fits your taste and budget.
Once you’ve finished that stretch, head over to Row DTLA, which is a unique anti-mall sort of mall, which is more than a little bit ironic. It’s an open air mall of old warehouses packed with all sorts of hip boutiques selling everything from bikes to cider. And some of the most creative and innovative companies in LA have offices on the upper floors.
Here’s what we discovered (and loved):
- Pikunico: Japanese-style fried chicken – ”karaage” – where everything except the buns are gluten free (double check that though – things may have changed). I was devastated when we showed up and they were temporarily closed. Next time.
- Go Get Em Tiger and Paramount Coffee Project are both among the best coffee shops in LA.
- Flask and Field is a great wine store, with plenty of hard-to-find beer and cider to choose from too.
- Hightide is a cool Japanese stationery shop right next to the parking structure. By Japanese, I mean it’s a Japanese brand, not that everything is in Japanese. Pop in to pick up a new pen, or find the perfect birthday card.
If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, then you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO stop by Smorgasburg, a huge open air food market with hundreds of local food vendors serving an eclectic and diverse collection of food. You can see all the vendors on their website. Come with an empty stomach. It’s behind the Row on Sundays.
Day 4: Silver Lake & Echo Park
Saving some of the best for last, Silver Lake and Echo Park are two incredible neighborhoods perched between Downtown LA and Hollywood.
You’ll start in Echo Park, make your way to Silver Lake, and end with a sunset at Griffith Park and Observatory. Along the way, you’ll discover some of the best food, drinks, and coffee in the entire city.
Smushed between Downtown LA and Silver Lake and home to Dodger Stadium, Echo Park is an up and coming neighborhood, although I think it has probably reached the crest of its transition to mainstream by now.
Silver Lake is the more upscale between the two, but Echo Park has plenty of charm in its own right. It is one of the neighborhoods that has undergone a major transformation in the recent past, with gentrification transforming the area from a predominantly LatinX neighborhood to one full of coffee shops, trendy restaurants, vintage boutiques (including a candle store) and dingy dive bars that trendsetters and creatives love.
Whatever your feelings about gentrification may be, Echo Park is well worth a morning of exploring.
Start with coffee at one of the three incredible coffee shops in this part of town.
- Eightfold Coffee: Eightfold uses Heart Coffee, one of my favorite coffee shops in Portland, and the coffee is outstanding. The cafe also has a curated wall of books along with plenty of seating including some individual tables, and a communal table.
- Bloom and Plume Coffee: This black-owned cafe brands itself as a community meeting place. The owner, Maurice Harris also owns a florist shop and has decked the coffee shop out in beautiful floral arrangements. Come here for delicious coffee in a stunning environment.
- Woodcat Coffee: This locally owned cafe is an institution in Echo Park and is always packed with locals grabbing their morning caffeine fix. It offers a small breakfast menu, fresh pastries, and great classic coffee.
Next, get to exploring! Here are some of our favorite spots that we discovered in Echo Park.
- 600 acres of greenery and LA views at Elysian Park. Hike the 3 miles (round trip) to Angel’s Point for some of the best views in the city.
- Rent a pedal boat on Echo Park Lake, though we didn’t actually do this, it would be a great family-friendly activity.
- Catch an LA Dodger’s game at Dodger Stadium and marvel over the sunset over the stadium with the mountains in the distance.
- Get breakfast at Honey Hi, a super hip 100% gluten free cafe that serves breakfast bowls and avocado toast made with locally sourced organic ingredients. They were briefly closed when we stopped by, and it was tragic to miss it.
- Best places to come back to later in the day for a drink: for wine, including a good selection of natural wine, head to Bar Bandini. Bar Caló is an agave-based cocktail bar, using mezcal to craft unique cocktails alongside Mexican bar snacks. Next door is Sunset Beer Co, which beer lovers should definitely not miss – they have a good selection of gluten free beer and cider too.
- Browse the shelves at Stories Bookstore. This bookstore’s shelves are full of preloved books from classics to rare finds. On the outdoor patio is a small cafe where you can sit and enjoy the book you just purchased.
- Shop for an eclectic selection of things you didn’t know you needed at Shout and About, and stop by Cookbook LA for a high end grocery store focusing exclusively on locally grown and produced food, which there is plenty of in LA.
Silver Lake, in comparison to Echo Park, has significantly more polish. The stretch along Sunset Blvd is lined with record stores, coffee shops, and all sorts of restaurants, and when you turn north on Silver Lake Blvd towards the neighborhood’s namesake lake, it gets residential FAST. Though there are stretches lined with gems like the area surrounding LAMILL, where you’ll find a couple of cool shops – Mush and Lake.
Silver Lake itself is a little underwhelming compared to Echo Park. It’s less scenic lake, and more industrial reservoir, complete with a chain link fence surrounding it and plenty of concrete. Still, the neighborhood is a veritable hipster paradise.
Here are some of the best things to do in Silver Lake:
- Catch the Silver Lake Farmers Market. On Saturday mornings and Tuesday afternoons, you’ll find a farmers market at the corner of Sunset Blvd and Edgecliffe Dr.
- If you missed it in West Hollywood, head to Night + Market Song on Sunset Blvd for Thai food that will blow your mind.
- Craving more coffee? Dayglow (I subscribe to their beans!), Dinosaur Coffee and Intelligentsia are the spots in Silver Lake.
- For wine tasting and to find the perfect bottle, head to Silver Lake Wine. Tastings are on Thursday nights. They also have a great cider selection to choose from!
- ‘Grammable Stairs: Head to the Piano Mural Staircase and the Micheltorena Stairs – two perfect backgrounds for your Instagram pics for your weekend in LA.
To close out your fourth day in LA, head up to the Griffith Observatory and watch the sunset over Los Angeles. You can see the Hollywood sign from here (I bet you thought we forgot about it!), along with the LA skyline.
The Observatory itself is worth a visit too, particularly for the planetarium (which is not free). It’s a beautiful building, and it’s worth walking around a bit and checking out the grounds.
Day 5: Choose Your Own Adventure
On your last day in Los Angeles, it’s time to choose your own fate.
But don’t worry, I have three options for you to choose from. All three are all day excursions.
Option 1: Hiking, Pacific Palisades, and Malibu
If you’re not interested in the themes parks (spoiler, that’s what the next two options are) then this is the option I’d recommend for you.
Start your day with a 4 mile hike on the Los Liones trail, which is just up the coast to the north of Santa Monica. Your reward will be sweeping views over the coast in both directions.
Post-hike, head down to Sunset Blvd in Pacific Palisades and explore a little bit, but make sure to stop by Sweet Laurel for unbelievable gluten free pastries. Alfred Coffee, just around the corner, is the best bet for coffee here. Wander down to Will Rogers State Beach, which is a lovely place to relax and listen to the waves crashing and seagulls whining.
Next, continue the drive up the coast along Highway 1 to Malibu. Head to Zuma Beach, which is where we always went with our SoCal family growing up and is emblematic of classic SoCal beaches (you can sometimes see dolphins from the shore!), and drive back south from there. Stop at Point Dume and the Malibu Lagoon and Pier, along with anywhere else that catches you eye.
Option 2: Disneyland OR California Adventure
If you or your kids have never been to the happiest place on earth before, that should be your first amusement park to check off the list.
I have fond memories of Disneyland from growing up, when we went about once a year when we visited family in Southern California. And, even as an adult, I still enjoy it immensely.
NOTE: If you’re going to go to Disneyland or California Adventure, you want to get there early and stay late, so I’d recommend staying near the park. Plus, if you stay at the Disneyland Resort Hotels, you get into the park A FULL HOUR EARLY, which means you can beeline for the best rides and avoid literally hours of waiting line. But it will cost you. Dearly. Like hundreds of dollars a night dearly. Instead, stay at one of the MANY hotels across the street. I have stayed at the Anaheim Mariott, but if I were to go back I’d choose Hotel Indigo.
In the Disneyland complex, there are actually two separate but related theme parks, Disneyland and California Adventure.
Here’s the important part: if you only have one day, I don’t think you can do both of them. I’d pick one and focus your time, and unless you’re tired of Disneyland because you’ve been SO MANY TIMES, I’d choose Disneyland. If you have two or three days, get park hopper pass and tackle both of them. There’s plenty to do and see.
Disneyland is the classic, with everything from roller coasters like Space Mountain (which I think is branded as a Star Wars ride now?) and Old Thunder Mountain Railroad, to kids rides featuring Disney characters like Dumbo, Snow White, and Peter Pan. And everything in between.
Here is a good guide on how to spend a day in Disneyland.
California Adventure is a relatively new park, with a distinctively California theme. The roller coaster is the highlight, with it’s signature mickey-face loop, but my favorite ride was 100% Toy Story Midway Mania.
Here’s a guide on how to spend a day in California Adventure.
Option 3: Universal Studios
I have only been once, and it was “blah” in my honest opinion.
HOWEVER, it is significantly closer to downtown LA – you won’t need to book a separate place to stay closer to the park – more affordable, and it has the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for all my fellow Harry Potter nerds out there (Goblet of Fire is the best book, I still remember reading “KILL THE SPARE” and having chills run down my spine).
Someday I’ll make it back to explore the Harry Potter attractions, but unless you’re sick and tired of Disney and their effort to take over the world, or you’re a huge Harry Potter fan, I’d opt for Disney instead.
When to Visit LA
LA is a lovely place to visit basically year round.
In the summer, weather is warm and the days are long, but prices are high and tourists are everywhere. Plus, “June Gloom” might make visiting the beach a cold and windy affair.
In the spring and fall shoulder seasons (April/May and Mid-September/October), which are the best time to be in LA in general due to cooler temperatures and mostly clear skies, you’ll find less people and lower prices than peak summer.
Winter in LA is definitely cooler, but it’s still going to be in the 60’s and 70’s during the day, for the most part, and it doesn’t rain too often in Southern California.
Sadly, it is worth talking about fire season, which we are intimately familiar with as Bay Area residents. As temperatures rise and precipitation drops, California has gotten drier and drier every single year, creating the perfect conditions for huge fires in the blazing hot summer. Fire season now runs from late summer through the fall, often leaving LA and the rest of California covered with a layer of dense smoke for weeks at a time. And it’s not getting better. Quite the opposite, in fact. Every year, there are a couple of fires in Southern California that make it unpleasant to be outside for weeks at a time. It shouldn’t prevent you from visiting, and you can’t really plan around it because it’s so unpredictable, but it’s something you should absolutely be aware of. Climate change is real.
How to Get In and Out of LA
Chances are, you’re probably flying into LA. Growing up, our extended family lived in LA while we were up in Seattle, and our family had exactly one rule. Never, ever, under any circumstances, fly into LAX. Mostly because getting to and from LAX is a mess in terms of traffic. But that’s going to be your cheapest option, with the most flights going in and out per day.
Other options include Burbank, which is generally where we flew in and out of every time when we would visit, Orange County, and Long Beach.
How to Get Around (AKA Do You Need to Rent a Car?)
More and more, LA is making big investments in public transportation. There’s even a train connecting downtown LA to Santa Monica now! But at the end of the day, public transportation in LA is underwhelming at best, and useless at its worst.
You might also be thinking that you could use ride-sharing, like Lyft and Uber, to get around, which is totally possible. But by the end of the trip you’ll probably have spent more on ridesharing apps than you would have by renting a car for the whole time.
We think you need to rent a car to get the most out of LA. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to always be driving everywhere – ride share apps are super popular and useful – but having a car will give you the flexibility to make trips across the city, which you’re almost definitely going to want to do over the course of five days.
Plus, if you want to visit the theme parks, particularly Disneyland, you’re going to want a car.
Renting a car at the airport is going to be the most convenient option if you’re flying in. I like to use Rentalcars.com to compare prices across different companies because they give you the rating of the specific location that you’re looking to rent from. Some locations, even within the same rental car company, are just plain garbage, and Rentalcars.com helps you figure that out BEFORE you get there and find out for yourself.
With just 5 days in LA, you’ve truly only scratched the surface of all the city has to offer. I mean, you didn’t even make it to Disneyland, one of my favorite places on earth, or Universal Studios! Or Malibu. Or the Santa Monica Mountains. Or to the top of Mt. Baldy.
Don’t worry, there’s plenty waiting for you on the next trip.
While we liked LA, one of the things we look for in a city is “walkability.” As we were strolling along Sunset Blvd, walking from Silver Lake to Echo Park, we turned to each other and said “this is not the most pleasant place to walk.”
And that theme continued throughout the trip. Walking along a street that has 4-6 lanes full of cars whizzing by constantly is not pleasant at all, we learned.
While there certainly are stretches in LA, like Montana Ave in Santa Monica and Abbot Kinney in Venice (among others) that are walkable, overall it’s not a walkable city. You’ll be driving everywhere, which for us, makes LA a great place to spend four days, but not a lifetime.
More to Explore in California
Heading to the great state of California? Here are some other posts you might like.
- One Day in San Francisco: How to See the Best of San Francisco in a Day
- 4 Days in San Francisco: How to Plan an Amazing San Francisco Itinerary
- Where to Stay in San Francisco: A Local’s Guide to the Best Places to Stay
- Gluten Free San Francisco: A Complete Travel Guide for Celiacs
- The Best Day Trips from San Francisco: 10 Amazing San Francisco Day Trips
- 5 Days in Los Angeles: How to Plan a Perfect Los Angeles Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Los Angeles: A Complete Guide to L.A.’s Best Places to Stay
- Gluten Free Los Angeles: A Complete Guide for Celiacs
- 3 Days in San Diego: How to Plan a Perfect San Diego Itinerary
- Where to Stay in San Diego: A Complete Guide to the Best Places to Stay
- Gluten Free San Diego: A Complete Guide for Celiacs
- How to Plan an Amazing San Francisco to Los Angeles Road Trip
- Northern California Road Trip: The Best of the Northern California Coast