Los Angeles Itinerary – How to spend 3 days in LA
By Helen Wright
Welcome to LA! Valley of the stars (celebrity ones, that is), palm trees and year-round sunshine (mostly). Los Angeles is definitely a city on most people’s radar but it’s also one of those destinations that somehow feels too big and complicated to even begin to navigate. This Los Angeles itinerary for 3 days in LA is perfectly designed for your first visit. Unless you do your research, you could end up spending your entire holiday stuck in traffic, wondering how Disneyland could be so far away or pacing Hollywood Blvd asking why the ‘home of the Oscars’ is such a grubby wasteland. With our help, you can tick off all the tourist top spots and discover some of the lesser known places that make Tinseltown one of the most fun and fabulous destinations in the USA.
Header image: JΛCK-VIΞW
Getting to LA from the UK
Thanks to low cost airlines like Norwegian, air travel from the UK to Los Angeles has become much cheaper and more affordable, meaning you no longer need an A-list budget to hit up Hollywood. We flew from London Gatwick to LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) for just £285 each in Norwegian Air Economy (hand luggage only), which given the flight is 11hrs and 20mins is a proper bargain. If you’d rather guarantee yourself a designated seat, two meals and a checked bag, upgrading to Low Fare+ will cost you an extra £50 (£335) – which is still pretty competitive in our eyes. Flight prices do change throughout the year, so do like we did and check online using the fare-comparison calendar for the best prices.
Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood explained
Before we get down to our tried and tested three-day Los Angeles itinerary, I am going to give you a little bit of information about Disneyland California and Universal Studios Hollywood. The California theme parks seem to be a great source of confusion for a lot of people and I am often asked about them, so here goes…
(Skip this part if you are not interested in going to the theme parks anyway).
Firstly, if you want to enjoy these fab theme parks, you will need to extend your stay in California. You will struggle to fit them into your three days in LA itinerary without missing out on virtually everything else below, so before you book your flights, work out what your holiday priorities are in advance. The first reason for this is that Disneyland Park California is not actually in Los Angeles – I know, what Disney villain told you it was, eh? Disneyland California is actually in Anahiem, which is 35 miles south of LA and around an hour and 20 min drive. The Disneyland resort is actually two parks – Disneyland Park and Disneyland California Adventure Park (confusing names, we know…) and, ideally, you would aim to spend a day in each park, especially if you are visiting with kids.
(Affiliate links on this page mean I may get a small financial benefit if you buy tickets after clicking my link but this will come at no extra cost to yourself and would never affect my recommendations or opinions).
Disneyland Park is home to the classic family rides, such as Peter Pan’s flight and spinning teacups and is the more kid-friendly park of the two. This park is also home to the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge land, which opened in summer 2019. California Adventure is home to Cars Land, Pixar Pier and the classic retro fairground, Pacific Wharf. To visit both parks, you need a two-park ticket.
Read our post on the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland California
Universal Studios Hollywood is a bit closer to the action and can be found in Hollywood itself amidst all the big movie studios. Fun fact, Universal is still a working film studio with recent productions including Fast and Furious: Hobbs and Shaw, Iron Man and The Hunger Games. The theme park itself is home to the California offering of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the new Jurassic World Ride. My favourite attraction at the park is the 60-minute backlot tour, which takes you through actual film sets (keep an eye out for celebrities!), classic set productions for films like Jaws and Psycho and has a few surprise interactive elements too. Even though there are attractions for little ones, Universal Studios Hollywood isn’t that well catered for younger children, with Disney probably being the better option for the under 5s. You can visit Universal Studios Hollywood in just one day (£85 per adult), but buying the ‘queue jumping’ Express Pass (£149) is recommended as, being much smaller than the Orlando parks, lines can build up, especially at peak times.
3 DAYS IN LA – THE PERFECT LOS ANGELES itinerary for first timers
Where we stayed:
Kimpton La Peer Hotel, West Hollywood
Choosing an area to base yourself in LA can be one of the trickiest parts of planning your Los Angeles Itinerary. We have stayed in various areas in LA, including Santa Monica, Hollywood, Venice and Downtown, but this time we opted for contemporary West Hollywood and it was perfect. West Hollywood perfectly captures the zeitgeist of California at the moment – fun, free-spirited, bold and unapologetic. The area is famous for celebrating LGBTQ culture and hosts the Gay Pride festival in LA each year. The hotel is surrounded by trendy coffee shops and bars (both gay and straight), cult restaurants, boutiques and galleries. I felt safe walking around on my own and the hotel is ideally located to kick off your 3 days in LA because it is right in the middle of the action.
We really lucked out with Kimpton La Peer, it is a seriously gorgeous hotel with staff and guests that looked like they’ve arrived straight from Fashion Week. The design hotel has an impressive art collection, very stylish bar and heaven-like rooms with a huge bed, top quality amenities and beautiful bathrooms. The ridiculously beautiful staff couldn’t have been nicer and the hotel even has a wine and cheese tasting hour each day at 5pm to sample some local wines and mingle with other guests. There is a boutique pool area and lounge and the adjacent restaurant Viale dei Romani, serves up some pretty delicious breakfast to fill yourself up before a long day sightseeing. If you want to arrive in LA and feel a little bit A-list, this hotel is the place to be and be seen.
lapeerhotel.com Rooms from £279 per night
Los Angeles itinerary – embrace the tourist trail and see the sights
Los Angeles is a sprawling city with lots of different neighbourhoods, each with their own personality. When you are visiting Los Angeles, to explore as much as possible and get around easily, it’s highly recommended that you rent a car for your trip. It’s a common joke that everyone drives everywhere in LA but the truth is, transport links are poor and everything is so spread out (especially if you plan on going down to the beaches), so it just makes life easier. However, on the first day of your Los Angeles itinerary, I recommend taking a guided tour around the city with someone else at the wheel. This will help you get a feel for the place and check out the sights without negotiating LA’s streets and (sometimes questionable) fellow drivers.
One of my favourites is the LA City and Beach Tour with Movie Star’s Homes (£62 per adult). This 5.5hr minibus tour does all the legwork for you. Picking you up from your hotel, a chirpy guide will take you to the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame – with a chance to hop out and take photos. The Chinese Theatre has a collection of hand and footprints from A-list actors, including Simon’s favourite, Sylvester Stallone. Along famous Hollywood Blvd. you will have to battle swarms of tourists, street performers in bad costumes and a handful of the city’s homeless but you might get a snap with your favourite celebrity’s star paving stone. Be prepared, it’s a lot grubbier than you’d expect for the home of the Oscars. The most popular star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame? Marilyn Monroe, of course. Followed closely by none other than Johnny Depp. That came as a surprise to me too!
Back on the tour, it then heads up to the famous Mulholland Drive to get a picture-perfect view of the Hollywood sign. Then, cruise though Beverly Hills for a glimpse at some show-stopping celebrity mansions, including homes that belong (or once belonged) to Tom Cruise, David and Victoria Beckham, Bruce Willis, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley.
Santa Monica beach and pier
In the afternoon, the tour heads to the coast and drops you off at Santa Monica Pier and Boardwalk, one of my favourite areas of Los Angeles. The iconic pier itself is over 100 years old but the famous Ferris Wheel is thoroughly modern, operated with solar panels powered by the warm California sun. The pier itself is a typical tourist space but it’s the promenade I love the most. The sandy beach has a path (nicknamed The Strand) that stretches 22 miles from Pacific Palisades in the north of coastal Los Angeles, to Torrance County Beach in the south and passing through Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Marina Del Rey. You can walk, rollerblade and cycle along the beach and alongside there are green spaces, playgrounds, independent shops and cafes. There is a huge sports park next to the pier and you can watch acrobats and muscle guys being generally otherworldly and amazing. Santa Monica also has a large pedestrian shopping mall, Third Street Promenade, which has general high street shops like Abercrombie and Fitch, Anthropologie and Victoria’s Secret.
Joining the tour again, you’ll be taken further along the coastline to edgy Venice Beach. This vibrant area is the grubby, colourful sister of wholesome Santa Monica. Famous for its eccentric street performers, street art and Arnold Schwarzeneggerr’s ‘Muscle Beach’ gym – Venice is a completely different ballgame, but equally fascinating. Choose from a selection of breezy bars, beachside diners or street sellers for a snack or drink. If you’re in the market for tacky T-shirts and cheap souvenirs – this is the place to stock up!
Don’t miss Marina Del Rey
The tour will drop you back at your hotel but we opted to skip the ride home and stay at the beach for the evening. Renting bikes at one of the many bike rental beach huts ($15 for three hours / $20 all day), we explored even further along the coast, stopping at Marina Del Rey, a cute harbour just south of Venice beach. Mother’s Beach at Marina Del Rey, is a wide sandy cove with a fantastic playground for kids and the opportunity for watersports.
We rented Paddleboards from Pro SUP Shop, which was right on the beach, ($25 for one hour) and dipped our toe in the water for a chance to cool off. After an early dinner at Beachside, the harbour-front restaurant at the Jamaica Bay Inn, we headed back to Santa Monica, just in time to see a dramatic sunset over the pier (a Los Angeles must do!). To get back to the hotel, an Uber to West Hollywood was $23.
Go behind the scenes at the movies with the Warner Brothers Studio Tour Hollywood
Day two of the Los Angeles itinerary for 3 days in LA and it’s time to take in some of LA’s Hollywood heritage with a tour around a working studio. You can book the Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood from the UK at Attraction Tickets Direct and I do recommend it because this is one of the most popular studio tours you can do. Booking in advance means you are guaranteed a space and wont have to join the queue on the day you decide to go.
I LOVED this tour and was like a big, excited kid all the way around. Hopping on a guided trolley ride, you are first taken between the soundstages that provided homes for hit TV shows and films. These giant warehouses are where all the movie magic happens and have been used to create films such as Harry Potter, Batman, The Matrix and Lord of the Rings. A lot of cult TV shows have also been filmed here, including Pretty Little Liars, The Big Bang Theory and The West Wing but I was most excited about Stage 24 – the ten-year home of F.R.I.E.N.D.S.
They make you wait right until the end of the tour before dropping you off at a fully reconstructed set of Central Perk. Possibly one of the most recognizable TV places ever, it’s brilliant to see it come to life in front of your eyes. After joining a short queue, you can even pose on the famous sofa with your real pals, which makes for the perfect Instagram snap. There is also a small museum with photographs and memorabilia and a coffee shop selling ‘Central Perk’ coffee and cake.
The tour takes around three hours and other highlights include a walk through a hot (active) set (they were filming a TV show called The Americans while we were there) and a nose around the giant prop room containing furniture, ornaments, lamps, signs – you name it. I even got to sit at President Bartlett’s desk from The West Wing. Best day ever!
What to do in West Hollywood
Since we were staying in West Hollywood, we took the time before lunch to explore the area. Leaving the hotel, we went for a walk along Sunset Blvd. One of the main thoroughfares through LA, it’s an eclectic mix of high-end boutiques, edgy bars, restaurants and cafes. The area is widely known as being LGBTQ friendly and so you’ll see most businesses and places decorated with colourful rainbow flags too. At the end of Sunset Blvd you’ll find the iconic Chateau Marmont – a 1929 hotel infamous for being a legendary celebrity hangout. Lunch will set you back a tidy sum but you could always pop in for a cocktail in the dark and slinky cocktail bar and pretend you’re a star of the silver screen.
Restaurants on Sunset Blvd – where to eat in WeHo
Heading the other way along the Sunset strip, stop for brunch at one of my favourite hangouts in LA – Pearl’s Rooftop. The hot chicken sandwich with cayenne pepper, pickels and aioli ($15) is my favourite but you can’t go wrong with the fried chicken and cinnamon toast with berries and cayenne honey butter ($18). But let’s be real, the best thing on the menu is the Agua De Cortes cocktail – if you catch Happy Hour, even better!
On your walk back, get a look at the Viper Room on the other side of the road. This famous rock bar has reached legendary status and was also the tragic scene of River Pheonix’s death from an overdose on the street outside in 1993.
One last place I never miss when I’m here is eccentric ice cream bar Salt and Straw – we went to the original in Portland, Oregon and this is the California branch. Choose from unusual flavours like Pear and Blue Cheese and Honey Lavender as well as seasonal specials – which, during our visit, included the far too-weird option of Berry and BBQ Beans (I tried it, it was grim).
Limber up for a Hollywood sign hike
If you can’t indulge the healthy outdoor lifestyle in LA, then where can you? Yep, it’s time to work off lunch with a Hollywood sign hike. Those A-list stars don’t get in killer shape scoffing ice cream on the Sunset Strip, after all? We’d booked a guided hike, which seemed like a good idea, rather than get lost in the wilderness above LA. We met our energetic guide, Elizabeth, at the entrance to Runyon Canyon in Griffith Park and began our Hollywood hike into the hills. It was moderate to hard, but with plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy the view. The panorama across Los Angeles is incredible. especially on a clear day.
As well as a bit of exercise and a chance to stretch our legs, Elizabeth also pointed out lots of LA landmarks from our viewpoint and stopped at various points along the Hollywood sign hike that were famously used in films, including La La Land. This was so much more than your average hike and I really recommend it to anyone who doesn’t like being cooped up in the car and wants to see a bit of LA from the hills.
The Hollywood hike takes around 2.5 hours, finishing at the famous Griffith Park Observatory, a planetarium and home to a giant telescope where visitors can view the night sky for free. There is also a museum, café and exhibition space here and you might even spot the odd wedding. The Observatory and position in the hills overlooking the city is one of my favourite places to go in LA. Even if you don’t fancy the hike, you can drive up to the top of Griffith Park and there are also (seasonal) shuttle buses. It’s a peaceful place in LA to sit and relax, read or have a picnic. There are two guided hikes a day in the summer and the later one finishes at the peak just before sunset. Plan to stay a while and watch the sun go down and the city begin to light up. It’s a bit of Hollywood magic that doesn’t cost a thing.
Non-touristy things to do over 3 days in LA
Another place high (literally) on my Los Angeles Itinerary is the Getty Center, which also sits in the hills overlooking the city. The gallery has static and temporary art exhibitions but is also, itself, a stunning architectural gem. The free 45-minute architecture tour is excellent and I was fascinated to hear and see how the building was designed to match the shape of the mountains that surround it. The Getty also has a café and beautiful gardens, and is the perfect place to find a breeze when the weather in LA gets too hot. There are also outdoor concerts and events thoughout the year so check the calendar for updates.
If you don’t make it up to the Getty, a wander around the Hollywood Bowl is another hugely underrated and non-touristy thing to do in LA. In fact, most locals don’t even know you can enter the Bowl for free in the afternoon (when there are no events on) and you might even see a rehearsal going on. You can even bring a picnic and lunch here for a cheap afternoon in the sun. The Hollywood Bowl museum is small but interesting, so aim to pop in for a peek before you leave. It goes without saying, if you can see a gig during your 3 days in LA at ‘The Bowl’ definitely go for it – it’s a beautiful setting for live music.
Where best to go shopping in LA?
Even with the pound weaker against the dollar these days, I can never resist a bit of shopping when I’m stateside and the cutest place in LA to do this is The Grove. It’s true, The Grove is sneered at by locals for not being very cool but, hey, we’re tourists and we love something a bit twee! Essentially, it’s a regular shopping mall (with an excellent Farmer’s Market next door) that has general American stores (Sephora, Banana Republic etc) but the design looks like a fake movie set, complete with speakers playing Rat Pack songs as you browse the stores and a Disney-esque tram running up and down the middle. Undoubtedly, it’s an odd concept but if you want to see something different than your average Westfield, you can’t go far wrong here! If you are by the beaches, I also love the, more normal, Third Street Promenade for high street shopping and the hipster Abbot Kinney area for independent designers and boutiques.
Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills (for normal people)
If window-shopping is more up your street, then obviously make like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and go for a stroll along Rodeo Drive. All the top designers are here and at the end of the street you’ll come across the Beverly Wilshire Hotel – also famous for being the hotel in Pretty Woman and, apparently, the residence of choice for our Royal family. With rooms starting from $600 per night, you might not want to stump up for a stay here but it’s fun to pose for a picture outside. Rodeo Drive is at the centre of Beverly Hills, so this is the place you’ll want to be on alert for a little star spotting. Top tip: watch out for the rich and famous cruising past in their posh cars – we spotted Tyra Banks*
another secret spot in LA
If you have time, another lesser known place to go in Los Angeles is the The Paley Center for Media – a brilliant public archive of television and radio programmes going back over 100 years. You can request any piece of television or radio that you want to see and, if available, get to watch it in your own private booth. Fancy the first ever episode of Saved By The Bell? Or maybe the first radio interview with John Lennon? How about the ‘Del Boy falling through the bar’ episode of Only Fools? You got it! This place is your field of dreams – the hardest thing to do is work out what you want to see! They also have ticketed events, talks and exhibitions, including costumes from significant TV programmes and celebrations of long-standing shows like The Muppets and The Simpsons.
3 days in LA – the perfect end to your Los Angeles itinerary
In the late afternoon, I recommend heading back to the beach at Malibu for your last Los Angeles sundown, but not before a slightly strange (possibly inappropriate) stop along the way. Halfway between Beverly Hills and the sea, and hidden behind some ugly office buildings, is the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park. This is not a tourist attraction, but a real cemetery containing the last resting place for thousands of people, including its most famous crypt – the grave of Marilyn Monroe. If you decide to go, be respectful of mourners and don’t lark about taking tacky selfies – it’s just not the done thing. The cemetery is actually a beautiful place, but for something creepy, check out the grave next to Marilyn’s… it belongs to none other than the original Playboy himself, Hugh Hefner who died in 2017 but bought the plot next to Marilyn in 1992 (for $75k) so they could rest in peace side by side…
dinner with a sea view in Malibu
Continuing on to the coast, this time head further north to Malibu. Follow the famous Pacific Coast Highway 1, passing million dollar beach houses that look blissfully out onto the blue Pacific. If you look up at the cliff that sticks out on the right as the road winds around it, that is rumoured to be Cher’s pad – now that is some fancy real estate. For dinner, around 10 minutes north from Santa Monica on the right hand side, is somewhat of a California institution. Malibu Seafood is a roadside hut serving fresh fish (and chips), seafood and local catch to, virtually always, a queue of people. The food isn’t super cheap – but it’s very good. Expect to wait around 15-20 minutes in line. There is limited seating indoors but we always get takeaway and eat it on the beach across the road with the sand between our toes. When you’re by the sea, this always makes seafood taste better, don’t you think?
From here, watch the sun go down and tweet us on @passporstampuk or tag us on Instagram to tell us whether you liked our Los Angeles Itinerary for 3 days in LA. We really appreciate your support and shares on social media and, of course, we have Facebook too!
On this trip, our hotel stay at Kimpton La Peer was hosted by the Visit West Hollywood Travel and Tourist Board and some tours were provided free of charge from Attraction Tickets Direct.
Watch the video from an earlier Las Vegas, Arizona, Palm Springs and Los Angeles road trip.
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