My husband and I went on a little jaunt to L.A. on our way back to Toronto from Disneyland a few weeks ago. It was our first trip to Disneyland (you can read my post on 12 ways to maximize your time at Disneyland here), and since we were only there for 4 days, we wanted to spend some time in La La Land before returning to the harsh Canadian winter.
This was not our first time in L.A. But in the 5 years since our last visit, a lot had changed (while a lot had stayed the same).
Being the planner that I am, with only 36 hours in L.A., I knew we needed to cover a lot of ground quickly. Today, I’m sharing my suggested itinerary on how to spend 36 hours in Los Angeles, including where to stay, what to see, and where to eat, based on what we did.
Know Before You Go
If you’re a first-time visitor to Los Angeles, there are a few things to first point out:
- L.A. is BIG (right up there with some of the largest cities in the world) and things are really spread out. L.A. also does not have a centre, like many major cities. Once you get to a particular area, you may be able to get around on foot (e.g. Abbot Kinney/Venice Beach). But if you want to visit different parts of L.A., like Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Downtown L.A. etc., you’re going to need a set of wheels.
- Ubering and taking Lyft everywhere will add up, so rent a car. Relying on public transit, especially if you have only a little bit of time in L.A., is asking for trouble.
- L.A. traffic is BAD. The rumours are really true. Plan your routes and itinerary accordingly.
- Plan for the weather. Depending on the time of year you visit, mornings and evenings can be chilly. So can Winters. Bring sweaters and light jackets with you.
- Take a hike! If time allows (it didn’t for us ☹), spend one early morning going for a hike. Los Angeles has pretty epic hikes, and you’ll be able to enjoy the fresh air, get some exercise, and get amazing views of everything from the beach to the Hollywood hills and the Hollywood sign. L.A. has lots of trails to suit all levels of difficulty. Runyon Canyon is one of the most popular hikes, and Griffith Park is a popular jumping-off point. Try to find the most up-to-date information on the particular hike you want to go on, in case the terrain has changed or the route has been closed.
How to Spend 36 Hours in L.A.
Use this suggested itinerary, if you have between 36-48 hours in Los Angeles.
It makes the most sense to get your rental car right from LAX. If you’re arriving in the morning, your hotel room won’t be ready (and you’re not going to want to waste time waiting for it either). I recommend a quick freshening up in the airport, and then hopping in your car to hit the road.
Beeline over to Venice Beach. This is one of the most interesting areas in L.A. to explore – it’s a rough-around-the-edges, colourful, bohemian enclave. You don’t want to end up on the wrong street in Venice at night, so best to check it out during the day. While in Venice, you can easily stroll along Abbot Kinney Boulevard, go to the Venice Canals, and even go over to Santa Monica. Park in a designated lot, if you’re spending the day (street parking can be tricky and has time limits) and then do your exploring by foot.
Don’t forget to snap a pic in front of the famous Venice Sign at Pacific and Windward Ave.
For brunch, head to The Butcher’s Daughter on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. It has a super hip vibe, a beautiful interior, and the food is amazing. It’s also dog-friendly, so you can pet a furry friend during your brunch. We had the avo-toast and the “carbonara” (angel hair spaghetti squash, cashew ricotta and a perfectly poached egg on top), with a couple of cocktails (including one made with activated charcoal) to wash it all down with.
Abbot Kinney Boulevard, itself, is a primary attraction, so spend time here mural-spotting, shopping, and people watching. The street isn’t long and the main section is concentrated is from Main St. over to N. Venice Boulevard.
From Abbot Kinney, go to the Ocean Front Walk (also called Venice Boardwalk). Stroll casually (as one does here) taking in all the sights and sounds – it feels like you’re on another planet! If you understand the history of this area, I think you’ll find the people even more fascinating. Take time to speak with them and support their small businesses by purchasing a small souvenir.
You could hit up the beach or watch some fancy skateboard tricks at Venice Skate Park. We had a blast renting bikes. You can easily ride to Santa Monica to check out the Pier (heads-up: it is VERY touristy here), grab a snack, or spend time at Santa Monica Beach. There are also some really cute lifeguard stands scattered along the beach, which make for the perfect photo op!
By mid to late afternoon, you’re going to want to make your way to your hotel. I recommend staying in West Hollywood (WeHo) – one of the most prime locations in L.A. You’ll get the real ‘LA experience’ here, with Melrose Avenue, Sunset Strip, and lots of cafes, restaurants, hotels, and bars concentrated in one area. We stayed at the Mondrian Los Angeles, which is right on Sunset Blvd. You can park your car at the hotel and then explore on foot.
As you might be hungry by now, duck into Shake Shack for a quick bite to eat. Their burgers and fries are the absolute best, and this is a non-negotiable any time I’m in the U.S. Chances are, you’ve heard about ‘the other guys’ (In-N-Out Burger), and might be wondering which one is better. Try for yourself, but there really is no comparison. Shake Shack is in another league altogether.
Since you only have 1 night, you can base yourself at The Mondrian (especially if you want an early start the following day). The hotel has a really lively atmosphere, with a restaurant on-site and a great rooftop bar (ask for a room on a higher floor, if you are concerned about the noise). You can have dinner at Ivory on Sunset before heading to Skybar (open till 2 a.m. every day), which boasts some of the finest views of L.A. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can step out for dinner and then experience some of L.A.’s nightlife.
L.A. is known for having great sushi. We had dinner at Nori Sushi, which has locations in Los Angeles, Scottsdale, and Phoenix. It was authentic, but not an elevated experience.
Unless you spent the previous night partying, you’ll want an early start on your last day in L.A. Check out of your hotel early, otherwise you’ll have to return before check-out time. Go to Alfred for coffee or tea. There are 2 Alfred locations on Melrose Ave. within a stone’s throw of each other (both open at 7 a.m.), and an Alfred Tea Room (which opens at 8 a.m.) right around the corner.
For breakfast, head to Gratitude Kitchen & Bar in Beverly Hills. It’s the sister restaurant to Café Gratitude (an L.A. institution) and Gracias Madre, which are all-vegan restaurants. There are Café Gratitude locations in Hollywood and downtown L.A., but the Beverly Hills location is bigger and more beautiful.
From Gratitude Kitchen & Bar, drive east to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Either spend a few hours exploring the museum, or if you don’t have time, join the hoards of people trying to get the perfect Instagram shot in front of the Urban Light lamp installation outside.
For a colourful photo op, get in your car and drive further east to the Micheltorena Stairs, the most Instagrammed staircase in Los Angeles! These steps are among many other “secret stairs”, which are painted staircases hidden in various neighbourhoods in L.A. After that, head over to Melrose Avenue to spend a few hours. Park your car and do this strip on foot (most of the spots are concentrated between Highland Ave. and La Cienega). There are tonnes of vintage and high-end designer stores along Melrose Ave., and if you’re in search of the most photo-worthy places, go to Sorella Boutique (for the Girls Tour wall), the Paul Smith Store (for the famous pink wall), Carrera Café (for the cutest latte art), Wings by Colette Miller, the “Made in L.A.” mural, the Mansur Gavriel Store, and Vivienne Westwood.
By now, you’ve probably worked up quite the appetite with all that walking (and snapping). Drive to The Beverly Hills Hotel for a late lunch at Cabana Café. It closes at 5 p.m., so give yourself enough time. The food and drink are expensive here, but it’s definitely worth it to potentially brush shoulders with celebs and dine at one of the most iconic places in all of L.A. The truffle fries are to die for! If you have time before heading to the airport, make a pit stop to see Rodeo Drive.
I hope you’ve found this little guide on how to spend 36 hours in L.A. to be helpful. Have you ever been to Los Angeles or are you planning a visit? Let me know if you have any other spots to share!