If I Had a Day in Los Angeles: A Driving Tour of My Favorite Things to See, Eat and Do in La

I constantly am being asked by friends, family and new acquaintances for suggestions on where to go in Los Angeles. It is a sprawling and intimidating city for tourists and newcomers, but there certainly is a lot to love in America’s second largest city. As a former Angeleno myself, I offer to you some of the places, restaurants and drives that made my years in LA so memorable for me. My suggestions also are those which are the favorites of locals too. Enjoy, and email me at todd@toddbouldin.com should you have questions.

One note about my recommendations: I love restaurants with local flavor, that are independently owned and I generally prefer farm to table options. I’ve also been known to like a dive if the food is good. Here is a list of the current hot new restaurants in LA, and the latest NYT tour of LA “36 Hours in Los Angeles”. The app “Five Every Day” lists five curated events in LA every day.

Below is a driving tour of Los Angeles that begins in Hollywood and that ends in Malibu. I have designed the tour for a one day overview, but it can be broken up into 2-3 day chunks of time. Please do me a favor though: drive outside of Los Angeles to Malibu, the Santa Monica Mountain Range or to Pasadena. Visitors who believe that LA is ugly have never really driven outside of the airport area or Hollywood (which I don’t think is ugly either). Take a few hikes, drive in the hills, and see the full breadth of what LA has to offer. For shorter trips around town, there is no better way to access LA than Uber. Click here for $25 off of your first ride.

Beginning in Hollywood at Hollywood Blvd and Highland Avenue.

Park underneath the Hollywood and Highland shopping complex and walk to famous sites such as The Kodak Theater, Graumann’s Chinese Theater, The Egyptian Theater, and the Walkway of Stars. Unless there is a particular interest, this should take less than one hour altogether. My favorite restaurants in Hollywood are Grub (brunch or lunch), Redemption Restaurant, Fabilous Cafe, Off Vine (New American), Cleo (Mediterranean), Pink’s Hot Dogs, Pizzeria Mozza (a must), Osteria Mozza, and Katsuya (sushi). It’s hard to beat the Redbury Hotel or W Hotel for accommodations, or the new The Line Hotel in Mid-Wilshire. The New York Times recently profiled Hollywood’s resurgence and places to see here.

Once you leave Hollywood, take Highland back south and make a right on Beverly Blvd. Go about 2 mi and the Grove Drive will be on your left. Turn left and park in the parking garage if you wish to go to the Grove and Farmers Market. I recommend Loteria Grill, the Brazilian cafe and Gumbo Pot for an affordable and quick meal. CBS Studios (American Idol, Dancing with the Stars , Price is Right) is next door. The Cafe Gratitude at Melrose and Larchmont captures the best of LA healthy and vegan cuisine, and it’s a perfect place for lunch.

If you don’t go to the Grove, proceed on Sunset Blvd. west from Hollywood, and watch for the Ralphs Store on your right. Take Fuller there towards the hills and go until it dead ends. Park on the streets. Enter Runyon Canyon park, and make a sharp right on the trail when it forks. Take the trail on the right side up to the first landing for a great view. If you wish to ascend to the top on the easier trail, take the fire road to the left. This is a popular walk with celebrities and offers beautiful vistas.

Returning to Sunset, you will soon enter the Sunset Strip once you pass Crescent Heights Blvd. I also recommend drinks, especially the Mint Julep, at the iconic Sunset Tower Hotel or poolside at The Standard. If time permits, drive south on La Cienega, right on Santa Monica and left on Robertson Boulevard. Shop along Robertson Boulevard to Beverly Boulevard. Other favorite West Hollywood restaurants: Newsroom Cafe (vegetarian), Mercato (Italian), Comme Ca (French), St. Felix (awesome sliders), Laurel Hardware (dinner or drinks), Pace (Italian in a cute cafe in the Hills), Salt’s Cure (brunch), Connie and Ted (seafood), Animal (meat lovers), Chin Chin (reasonable Chinese), Pump (Lisa Vanderpump’s new cafe and bar) and Tender Greens (salad). The Abbey is a wonderful and colorful place for an afternoon lunch or cocktail, but beware that the evenings give way to a raucous nightlife.

Proceeding west on Sunset, you”ll enter Beverly Hills. Turn right on Doheny Dr. and just wander the streets a bit to get a sense of living in the Hollywood Hills. At corner of Beverly Drive, you can park and walk around the Beverly Hills Hotel. Have brunch or a drink at the poolside cafe or at the famous Polo Lounge. If time permits, the new Bel Air Hotel further west on Sunset is one of my favorite city getaways, and you may just see Nancy Reagan dining there at lunch.

Go south on Beverly or Rodeo, and you’ll be in the middle of Beverly Hills. I love the happy hour at McCormick and Schmick at 2 Rodeo, or try out the wine at Porta Villa on Beverly Boulevard. Of course, the restaurant options are outstanding. My favorites are Mastro’s (steak), The Farm (brunch), Il Pastaio (pasta), and Spago (try the hamburger at lunch — my favorite in LA). Pretty Woman was filmed at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel at Beverly and Wilshire.

Proceed west on Santa Monica Blvd., get on the 405 South, and an immediate exit on to I-10 West towards Santa Monica. It will dead end at PCH / Route 1. If time allows, exit 4th Street and go right. Park in the public parking garages between Broadway and Arizona, and explore the 3rd Street Promenade as well as the Pier. My favorite restaurant in Santa Monica is Border Grill, or the sandwiches at Ocean Bay Seafood (take one to go for the beach!). Should you venture to Venice Beach, I enjoy the Indian pizza at Larry’s and the night time outdoor seating at Marina Del Rey’s Cheesecake Factory.

Go north 10 miles to Malibu. Once you come through the town of Malibu, you’ll see the entrance to Pepperdine University. Ask the guard to see the campus, and proceed to the very top at the Graziadio Graduate Campus. The campus affords an astonishing view of Malibu and the Santa Monica Bay.

Go north on PCH, and on the left you will see a huge compound with palm trees lining the drive. That is Cher’s home. Keep going another 5 miles or so, and turn left on Paradise Cove Drive. The Cafe is one of my favorite places to eat in LA, but particularly if you are looking for an ocean view to accompany your dinner. The Cafe will be there at the parking lot, and that’s also a great beach for the kids. The sunset is great there, or you can go a little further north to Zuma Beach at the corner of Kanan Dune Road. Take Kanan Dune Road east about 10 miles until you reach the 101 (you’ll be in mountains), and go south towards Los Angeles. Should you prefer mountains to beach, I also highly recommend the M Cafe at Calamigos Ranch, just off of Kanan Dune Road on Mulholland Drive. If time affords, my favorite beach in Los Angeles is El Matador State Beach, about 10 miles or so north of Malibu.

From Kanan Dune or Las Virgenes Road, return to Los Angeles on the 101 South.

If I had more than one day in LA: I would begin downtown which is experiencing a revolution in culture, architecture and food. Experience Eggslut or the many offerings at the Grand Central Market, see the country’s newest contemporary art museum The Broad, experience Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall, and take in the beauty of the Cathedral of LA. Go west to hike on the trail that leaves from Griffith Observatory. I would go to Griffith Observatory. I would take the Warner Brothers back lot private tour (not the public tour). I would go to Manhattan Beach and stroll the beach among beautiful homes. I would check out the hip neighborhoods of Silverlake and Los Feliz while catching some tacos there at Mas Malo, a burger at Fred 69, a beer in the biergarten at The Red Lion, coffee at Alcove Cafe, or a drink at funky Akbar. I would go to Pasadena, visit Huntington Gardens and Museum, tour the Norton Simon Museum, and have dinner downtown on Colorado Boulevard.  I would see the Broad Gallery of Contemporary Art at LACMA, or the new Broad Museum downtown. I would visit The Getty and The Getty Villa to see the astonishing architecture and the views.

Enjoy my former home, and a true City of Angels.

This blog entry is part of a larger series of travel articles on Toddbouldin.com called “If I Had a Day” covering New York City, New Orleans, Nashville and Los Angeles.

Todd is available for travel consultation and reservations to these cities and more for a negotiated rate per hour. Todd is a travel writer and Yelp Elite based on his restaurant and travel reviews. If you are interested, please contact Todd at Todd@toddbouldin.com.

2 Responses to “If I Had a Day in Los Angeles: A Driving Tour of My Favorite Things to See, Eat and Do in La”
  1. Maryanne Larsen says:

    Thanks for the wonderful driving tour and dining tips. Wonderful job.

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  1. […] The thought of impending holiday regret eventually pushed me, and a fairly nonplussed Eva (“I don’t mind if we go or not, so anytime is fine”), out of the shoebox at around 2pm, with a plan to follow Todd Bouldin’s  If I Had A Day In LA. […]

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