I’ve encountered Los Angeles, affectionately known as LA, in many forms. I’ve been a resident, I’ve been a business traveler popping through, and my family has used it as our happy place for food filled vacations for years.
It’s because of these viewpoints that I’ve always found the concept of a 48 hour guide for this city so daunting. Unlike many other cities, Los Angeles can be exactly what you want it to be. It’s malleable, thanks to the many looks it provides.
Just as easily as you can sit by the beach sipping rose for 48 hours, you can explore gritty districts, sleep in the canyons, shop in ultra luxury or tick off some childhood dreams at one of the many parks or arenas.
You can probably watch someone film a TV show, or win an NBA title, too. Go Lakers! Well, maybe next year? At least the title is staying in California.
This 48 hour guide to Los Angeles is for people who want to go beyond the token photos, amusement parks and tourist sights, and actually experience parts of LA which I think are worth a trip, from wherever you’re coming from.
If you want Disney and Kodak Theatre photos, this is the wrong guide for you. But If you want delicious food, inspired neighborhoods and unique hotels, look no further. And of course, a touch of LA shopping too.
Feel free to skip around the 48 hour guide sections, including: getting there, where to stay, best coffee, must eats and key shopping and hiking areas.
Getting to Los Angeles
Obviously, Los Angeles International (LAX) is the main entry point to the city of Angels, but it’s far from the only one. If you’re coming from an international gateway, this is where you’ll end up, but domestic travelers have more choices.
If you’re a total baller, PS @ LAX, formerly known as The Private Suite easily makes the most exciting way to arrive at LAX, with a private car chauffeuring you directly from the plane to a private facility, or directly out of the airport!
Depending on when you’re scheduled to land, domestic flights into Hollywood Burbank (BUR) can also save a bit of time and occasionally money versus LAX too, particularly for people staying in the Hollywood area. If somewhere along the coast is where you plan to be, Orange County (SNA) is also an option.
Rideshare: Rideshare options are everywhere in Los Angeles, and LAX has a system for connecting with your driver called ‘LAXit’, where you take a shuttle to a different area of the airport. Be sure to familiarize yourself with this (and the extra time) before hailing any ride below ‘UberBlack’ level.
Car Rentals: Car rentals in LA are easy to come by, and it’s always worth comparing rates for airport rentals versus locations in Hollywood, Santa Monica and Downtown. A one way ride in a rideshare can save considerable money at times, renting from non airport locations.
Where To Stay In LA
This is such a tough one, because depending on the nature of the trip, you can find yourself totally displaced from things in other areas, or totally immersed in all that you need.
Let’s break it down by vibe and objective, and then we’ll get into specific hotel recommendations for each type, once you have a sense of the areas.
For any New Yorkers, or people familiar with New York, someone did an amusing overlay of what the various neighborhoods translate to in New York terms. I don’t endorse or deny, and some are definitely accurate.
West Hollywood, Beverly Hills or Santa Monica are going to do really well for family trips. Particularly in West Hollywood, you’re close to touristy stuff, but also in a great area for food, night activities, lovely hotel pools and plenty of boutique shopping, with some walkability.
Central Hollywood is going to place you near many photographable things, but with very little feel for the actual city of Los Angeles. It’s not Times Square, but it’s not far off.
Santa Monica is amazing for people who want to focus on West Los Angeles, which includes Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Santa Monica itself, Venice and even Malibu. It’s about 30 minutes into West Hollywood in good traffic.
Beverly Hills is a great hedge between both, for people who want a really tranquil or high end hotel experience in a slightly quieter area, with pretty quick access to the hustle and opportunities of greater Hollywood and the beach vibes of Santa Monica.
Artsy And Hipster Trips
Hipsters have many homes in LA. Some might even say the entire city is hipster.
But few places tick all the “alt milk” third wave coffee and truly independent boutique boxes quite like Los Feliz or Silver Lake near East Hollywood or — Venice Beach, and the Abbott Kinney area, or nearby Ocean Park which is between Venice and Santa Monica.
These areas thrive with Airbnb’s but also a fresh crop of boutique, artsy or budget hotels which make for the perfect trip. Plenty of luxury options also exist, particularly in the Santa Monica and Ocean Park area.
A artsy hipster would be just fine in Beverly Hills or WeHo, as West Hollywood is often referred, too. Downtown LA has sharp options too, but walkability in downtown isn’t the best, and you’re quite far from many cultural and culinary areas.
Foodie And Shopping Trips
Ok, sometimes these are disparate things, but they often go together. When it comes to food and shopping, LA is too large and wonderfully diverse to pigeon hole just one area as a place to stay. Unless you just want to eat sleep and breathe Koreatown.
If you’re really a shopper, or a serious food fanatic, you’re going to be covering some ground no matter what, so just stay wherever feels like the best place to call home.
I love the shopping around Abbot Kinney in Venice, so I often stay in Beverly Hills or Santa Monica, but there’s equally if not more amazing shopping in West Hollywood, Silverlake, LaBrea and Downtown too.
When it comes to food, it comes in all prices and sizes, but with few better budget options than Koreatown. Sure, there’s Nobu in Malibu for crazy high end see and be seen, but LA is about tacos, Asian delicacies and incredible produce from the area.
And also, Nancy Silverton pizza, found in the La Brea area.
Pure Luxury And Relaxation
This one is a bit easier. Stay in a five star Beverly Hills Hotel (or the Beverly Hills Hotel), or one of the stunners along Santa Monica, like Shutters. Soho House has some truly amazing places along the coast too.
You can even go further out to Malibu and enjoy a retreat where you’ll hardly see a soul. But for most people, a choice between Santa Monica and Beverly Hills is going to be the right answer in this category.
An honorable mention definitely goes to home rentals in LA, which open up more strategic neighborhoods, like Laurel Canyon, or Ocean Park.
Where GSTP Stays in Los Angeles
I approach Los Angeles three ways: either a home or Airbnb rental in Laurel Canyon, a great hotel in Santa Monica nearest Ocean Park, or a high end hotel in Beverly Hills.
If I’m trying to see a bunch of things and move around a lot, I’ll stay in Beverly Hills or a home in Laurel Canyon with a rental car. If I’m not, and want to stay mostly local and let the food from all around the city come to me – I’ll go with Santa Monica.
GSTP’s Top Hotel Picks
Viceroy Santa Monica, Shutters Santa Monica, SLS Beverly Hills, 1 Hotel West Hollywood, Peninsula Beverly Hills and Chateau Marmont. The Beverly Hills Hotel is an institution and always a treat, but there are many fair objections to supporting the hotel too.
If it’s a very short, in and out, work focused trip, The Ritz Carlton Marina Del Rey is utterly convenient to LAX and a lovely spot with access to Venice. And if you’re using points, hotels like the Andaz West Hollywood, Kimpton La Peer, and the W Los Angeles are great too.
But First, Coffee In Los Angeles
There are few Los Angeles coffee institutions quite like Alfred, and though it may not be unique to Alfred, this coffee shops bears the catchphrase “but first, coffee”. I could not agree more.
You can find Alfred locations in Beverly Hills, at Melrose Place and in Venice, among others. This is LA coffee in a nutshell, with all sorts of crazy pastries and breakfast burritos, as well as excellent brews.
Another incredible LA institution is Go Get Em’ Tiger, which has some of my favorite breakfast options on earth, in addition to excellent coffee.
You’ll find them scattered around well curated neighborhoods, including Los Feliz, DTLA, West Hollywood and Santa Monica. The vegan strawberry muffin and “the bun bun” are literally worth flying for.
Top Picks: Best LA Restaurants For Lunch And Dinner
Ugh, where do you even start. If you’ve been hesitant to visit LA, fearing the glitz and the glam aren’t for you, ignore all that $#!t and come for the food. I’m not sure there is a more culinary focused city in America, with wider choice. Maybe it’s such easy access to amazing produce.
Guides from Eater, The Infatuation and TimeOut are always worth cross referencing for added choice and variety. Like many cities, the city of Los Angeles changes so often and new places can become instant highlights. For me, there are always a few which are “must eats”, which always bring me back,though.
Night & Market
This is Thai food done so well, with a few locations around the city, from the beaches to inland areas. Even the natural wines are well curated from micro producers to bring a twist on what you’d expect from Thai. The food though, totally authentic and potent. Night + Market is as good as any other Thai food you’ll find in the USA.
Nancy Silverton is an icon in Italian food. She challenged decades old recipes to bring pizza dough to new levels while exploring Italy and brought all the wisdom and delight back to Los Angeles. For delicious, fresh food that’s not over priced, in a relaxed setting you really can’t ask for much more than Pizzeria Mozza. For a more upscale meal, go for Osteria Mozza next door.
Jon & Vinny’s
Not that anyone gets the munchies in LA, but if you had them, this would be a truly fabulous choice. Jon & Vinny’s is to the Westside of Los Angeles as few others are. It’s the place where it doesn’t matter if you’re rich and famous or just hungry, because everyone wins once they start eating. The salads, pizzas and spicy fusilli are just so insanely good.
My wife once convinced me to take a chance on a trip to downtown LA to try Badmaash, and it was so worth it, I make a point of stopping in on every trip. Not that a munchies theme should be developing here, but if you’re really hungry and craving umami, this has it. All the best of Indian food you know, some you don’t, and then really, just some total stoner twists. Like masala fries with cheese.
I adore this all day eating spot, but breakfast, either dining in or just taking out is a true pleasure. The courtyard is gorgeous, the pastries are some of the finest in the world, let alone Los Angeles and the feeling of the area is unmistakable. If you try to picture where the beautiful but laid back people of LA go for breakfast, you wouldn’t be wrong picturing Gjusta.
Looking for some of the best Cantonese and Hong Kong style food outside of Asia, look no further. Needle is a restaurant at the absolute top of its game, with everything from low key eats in a fun neighborhood to an extensive tasting menu. There’s endless good Chinese food in Los Angeles, but this is both approachable and wonderful.
What To Do With 48 Hours In Los Angeles
If you’ve only got 48 hours — you should totally book more if you can — then outside of eating there are a few quintessential things you’ve gotta do to experience the city in a way which will make you love it.
Go Hiking — Seriously
First, you’ve gotta do some hiking. Yes, really. Either Griffith Park or Runyon Canyon will wow you, providing unparalleled views of the city, and on a clear day, even down to the ocean. It’s very “LA”, but you just won’t appreciate Los Angeles fully until you take yourself up or down one of these hills. It’s great fun, really.
If you’re not up for the exercise side of it, just take an Uber or Lyft to the top of Runyon Canyon and walk down into West Hollywood, where you can find food as soon as you fulfill your obligations.
See The Sunset From The Beach
The endless summer. Though I have no idea what beach framed Andy Warhol’s inspiration for the ‘Sunset’ series, I’ve always imagined it to be somewhere along Ocean Park.
Grabbing a carafe (or few bottles) of wine and a picnic blanket to watch the sun slowly dip into the Pacific is so beautiful and worthwhile. There’s usually some amusement provided by roller skaters, boarders and assorted characters too.
See The Sunset Strip
You don’t necessarily need to leave your car, though you totally can. Seeing the Sunset Strip allows one to see some of the most famous billboard space in the world, while weaving from Beverly Hills into the Hollywood Area.
You’ll see where virtually all of your favorite comedians and bands got their starts, and if you do get out of the car, discover friendly neighborhood shopping delights like Kith Treats, Fred Segal and more. There’s plenty to do, and Melrose Ave provides quality shopping nearby.
Hit The Underrated Museums
Where to even start! Probably, the Getty. Los Angeles doesn’t get nearly enough play for its collection of world class museums, but if there’s a recognizable name, it’s likely the Getty. Just across the 405, this Museum is hard to miss and full of amusement.
If you want to feed this style of curiosity, the LACMA, the Broad and the Annenberg Space for Photography are all immensely cool and well curated.
Putting It All Together Into A Great Day
Start the day off with coffee at Alfred Melrose Place, and maybe grab a bagel from the Yeastie Boys truck, which is usually around. You can walk up and down this area a bit as shops open, or tuck back into your hotel to change.
Next, head up to Runyon Canyon and watch the sun make its way into the sky, while snapping pics of the DTLA skyline and planes on approach into far away LAX. Once you feel like you’ve earned some lunch, head over to one of the incredible restaurants listed above.
For the afternoon, head down to Abbot Kinney for some boutique shopping and a look at the slightly less busy side of LA. Take a nice long stroll down to Ocean Park and watch the sunset dip ever so beautifully into the ocean.
At that point, it’s probably time for dinner, and making Jon & Vinny’s or any of the other spots a priority will leave you buzzing. Whatever you didn’t make happen on this day, make it happen on the next. And if you’re really smart, add a few more days to the trip. There’s just too much of Los Angeles to fit into 48 hours.