On the first day, we visited the beaches, starting from Santa Monica. It’s a separate city with lively streets, full of shops and diners to choose from. The beach is enormously wide and separated from the streets by tall cliffs. The Santa Monica pier offers a breath-taking view of the Pacific Ocean and is the end point of Route 66, the famous road going all the way from Chicago across eight states. We also took a bus to Malibu, but the beach there wasn’t as nice as we’d hoped – not really suitable for swimming and mostly used by surfers.
Back in Santa Monica, we managed to catch a fiery sunset behind the cliffs, and then walked along the ocean to Venice Beach, where we visited canals similar to the ones in Venice, Italy.
Unfortunately, it was already dark, so we couldn’t appreciate the area in all its beauty, and it felt a bit dodgy. Also, despite the weather being very hot in LA, it was at least 10oC colder at the beach, and got really chilly in the evening. So my advice is to arrive at the beaches earlier to see everything before sunset.
We began this day by hiking to the Hollywood Sign. We started from the Griffith Observatory and took a path which was meant to lead us to the sign in around 90 minutes. On our way, we noticed signs warning hikers about rattlesnakes. Being mesmerised by the views of LA around us, we somehow managed to take the wrong turn which steered us away from the main path. We realised that a bit too late so the only option was hiking up and down every hill on the way to the sign, using narrow mountain paths, and holding onto stones in the ground to avoid falling over. There were no tourists – just a couple of fit locals who clearly used this route for training. Only then did we realised what we’d got ourselves into – but it was well worth it when we finally reached the sign! The highest spot is just above the letters, guarded by a tall fence – don’t even think about climbing over and sitting on them as it will result in a fine and possibly imprisonment!
We opted for finishing our difficult hike with yet another challenge – climbing the last hill to reach the Wisdom Tree, where you can enjoy the panorama of LA for the last time and appreciate the greatness of the city. You have the Hollywood Hills around you with Lake Hollywood and the cityscape at the bottom – a perfect interplay between natural and urban environments. Overall, our unexpected detour took us around three and a half hours (all in 35oC) – the struggle was real, but this was one of the most amazing things I’ve done in my life. Finally, we finished the day by heading to Hollywood Boulevard to see the Walk of Fame.
Day three was spent at the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. The ticket includes not only rides and live shows but also a tour of movie sets. You can also purchase a pint of butterbeer or Marge-Simpson-style cotton candy. After exiting the Studios, don’t leave just yet – a nearby place called Universal CityWalk is buzzing with shops, cafes, cinemas, and street performances, making it a perfect way to end the day.
The day started with the trip to Beverly Hills, where we walked along the main street, Rodeo Drive, lined with designer shops, and visited the Beverly Wilshire hotel featured in Pretty Woman. Besides that, you can take a guided tour of celebrity homes but it’s quite pricey. However, we spent the rest of our day on Hollywood Boulevard again since we had won tickets to the filming of the Jimmy Kimmel Live show. Many famous talk shows give away free tickets, you just need to enter a competition a few days in advance – this will give you a taste of how such shows work behind the screen, and will definitely be a memorable part of your LA visit.
Our last day was spent in Downtown LA, with majestic skyscrapers and the beautifully-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. We also visited City Hall, a high security institution offering panoramic views of the surrounding area (doesn’t top the Hollywood Hills though!), and Little Tokyo, home to Japanese shops, museums, and gardens. Finally, before departing to our next destination, we explored the area around the bus station, where LA was founded in 1781.
Even in mid-September, the weather is very hot (~35oC) so make sure to bring something to cover your head, and plenty of water. Also, whilst LA is infamous for trafic, we didn’t have any problems with using public transport – going places took time because it’s a huge city but it wasn’t nearly as bad as we expected. Finally, if you have even more time and run out of things to do, you can drive to San Diego, a city south of LA, or visit Disneyland in Anaheim.