Los Angeles is 503 square miles, so exploring this dynamic city could take a lifetime. But for anyone with limited time, I hope these three options will provide some things to see in Los Angeles in one day.
The beaches, museums, theaters, parks, shops and restaurants give any visitor an amazing array of opportunities for fun and relaxation. Whether you live in the area and want a staycation or are looking for a day trip from LAX, the three itineraries I present will help make the most of your time. (If West Los Angeles is appealing to you, then read this post). Most importantly, each of these options minimizes travel time between sites so you optimize your enjoyment and minimize time in traffic.
The Arts Distrcit
The Arts District is a new discovery for me, and boy am I enjoying it! The early history of this area was all about the citrus growing industry which meant that this section of LA was home to packing houses, rail-yards, and cheap housing for the workers. As the citrus industry moved south, this area began to attract musicians and artists because it provided cheap studio space. Eventually, in response to changing city codes, large warehouses were converted into live/work spaces and then the restaurants, coffee shops, bars and boutiques followed.
An entire day can easily be spent in the Arts District if you enjoy art. I recommend starting with a tour of the street murals. We enjoyed one offered by LA Art Tours which provides guides that are actual street artists. We spent two hours learning about the history of the area and its murals from Nuke, a prolific artist that has been painting in LA for decades. At the end of the tour he stood in front of one of his materpieces titled Undiscovered America and gave the background on how it was first painted as well as the process for its revitalization a few years ago.
Nuke shared with us the evolution of street art. Often it has been illegal in Los Angeles and artists were constantly at risk of harrassment by business owners and the police. Over time the city came to embrace street murals, recognizing their role in beautification of neighborhoods. Today, business owners in the arts district are often eager to have murals on their buildings and often pay for the supplies.
The DTLA Arts District has become so well known that international artists have visited and added their murals to otherwise blank walls. As a result, strolling through the streets in this part of LA is like viewing an international art exhibit with really large canvases.
Depending when you start your day, there are great food options whenever you get hungry. If starting early I recommend a visit to one of the area coffee shops. The Arts District has attracted all the trendiest options including Urth Cafe, Stumptown and Blue Bottle. Urth Cafe has both great coffee and delicious breakfast items. If you are looking for a snack, then I highly recommend Salt and Straw Ice Cream (even if you don’t feel like ice cream, I recommend popping in to check out their unique and sometime unusual seasonal flavors). For lunch or dinner my favorite restaurant in the area is Factory Kitchen which has one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten--hankerchief pasta with basil pesto. If you plan to have dinner in the area then reservations are highly recommended.
After touring the murals you may need a drink so I suggest a visit to Greenbar Distillery. Here you can take a tour which includes several liquor tastings or you can book a cocktail making class. Jason and I selected the tour, but I hope to take the class when we next visit.
If you still have time after a tour and meal, then consider visiting some of the galleries in the Arts District. Hours and public access will vary, but there are dozens of galleries of varying sizes and styles.
Downtown Los Angeles
There really is no way to spend one day in Los Angeles--even downtown Los Angeles--and do it justice, but there are definitely some top sites in the area that I recommend. (For a two day itinerary of DTLA, click here.)
Since I plan most of my travels around food, a stop at the Grand Central Market for breakfast is a must. There are only a few places open here for breakfast, but most people come for Eggslut. Be warned that a line starts about 30 minutes before the official opening time. Fortunately G&B Coffee opens even earlier so you can enjoy your coffee while waiting in line for your favorite breakfast sandwich.
Next it’s time to get to know the history of LA by booking a tour through DTLA Walking Tours. I have lived in Southern California for over thirty years and was amazed how much I learned during the tour. The owner, Neil, is passionate and knowledgeable about LA. We visited many well known sites like the Bradbury Building, Old Bank District, El Dorado building, the Biltmore Hotel and Pershing Square.
After the tour it’s time to visit The Broad, an impressive contemporary art museum that opened just three years ago. If the idea of contemporary art makes you cringe, I understand. Nevertheless this is a place you should visit. Why? First, there are many iconic works here by artists like Warhol, Koons, and Haring. Second, the building itself is a piece of art. Finally, it’s free. Advance reservations are recommended and can be booked online. One final note, The Broad offers a free app so you can learn more about the artwork and the building. I'll bet that after a visit to The Broad you might start appreciating contemporary art.
At some point you’ll get hungry, so I’ll recommend some restaurants in the downtown area. For a lovely sit down meal consider Redbird, the former St. Vibiana’s Cathedral and Rectory. The entrees here are both creative and delicious. If Vietnamese food is enticing to you then Little Sister is a great option--I had some of the most delicious dumplings of my life here. However, if you are looking for something more casual head to RiceBar, a Filipino restaurant that specializes in rice bowls.
If you still have more time there are several other sites to consider; Grand Park, The Last Bookstore and Olvera Street. Grand Park is a lovely outdoor space that offers free outdoor concerts and events, so be sure to check the website. The Last Bookstore is by far the coolest bookseller I’ve ever experienced and is also a great place for Instagram photos. Finally, Olvera Street--the birthplace of Los Angeles--is home to historic sites, some amazing Mexican restaurants and fun shops. As I said earlier, there is a long list of things to do in downtown LA.
K-Town and the Miracle Mile
You could go to Seoul for authentic Korean food or you could simply make a trip to K-Town (Korea Town for anyone less hip). Since Jason is Korean and we’ve made many trips to Korea, I feel comfortable making this statement. There are dozens of good Korean restaurants in this area, but our current favorite is Sun Nong Dam. This place specializes in galbi jjim, a stew of beef ribs and vegetables in a rich red broth that can be made as spicy as you like. For an extra special twist you can order it with cheese. That may not sound so special until the waiter comes to your table with a blowtorch to melt the cheese. The combination of creamy cheese, tender ribs and a slightly spicy broth is perfection. Be forewarned, to keep the line moving at this very popular restaurant, they may ask you to order before you are seated. So after writing your name on the waiting list take a look at the menu and choose your entrees.
Even if you are not a fan of Korean food you can still visit K-Town for a delicious meal. One of the oldest restaurants in the area is actually Mexican. Guelaguetza serves Oaxacan food and is especially known for their mole--a rich, thick, smoky sauce often served with chicken. Many Mexican culinary experts describe Oaxacan food as the best in the country, so this is not your typical chain restaurant, but instead specializes in a regional cuisine that I'm confident you'll enjoy. Guelaguetaza is large and lively and a popular destination for Mexican families in the area celebrating special occasions.
If you are in the mood for shopping there are some great malls including Koreatown Plaza and Koreatown Galleria. There are also a number of Korean grocery stores and specialty shops in this part of LA. For lovers of Korean spas there are several good ones in this area, with Wi Spa being my personal favorite.
Just a short trip east on Wilshire Blvd. is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), a world class museum that just keeps getting better. I’ve been visiting this museum for almost three decades and never get tired of it. As it has expanded a number of outdoor artworks have been added which are now famous on Instagram, including Chris Burden’s Urban Light and Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass.
How long you spend at LACMA is up to you. We typically allow 2.5 hours. But it is large enough to spend an entire day and with restaurants and coffee shops on site this could be a single destination for an avid art lover.
Two additional museums are in this part of the city; the Petersen Automotive Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits. Like LACMA, the Petersen is among the top rated destinations in Los Angeles on TripAdvisor. I recommend La Brea Tar Pits for anyone visiting with kids or grandkids.
Each of these itineraries offers things to do in Los Angeles in one day, but ensures that the sites are close to one another, even sometimes within walking distance. This is a enormous city that is unfortunately famous for its traffic and its high cost of parking. Instead of allowing that to deter us from visiting, instead we plan our trips carefully to maximize our fun and minimize hassles and expense. I look forward to offering even more options in the near future!