1-Day “Best of” Los Angeles Itinerary


Have one day in Los Angeles and want to see the city’s highlights? This step-by-step guide is a jam-packed plan with the top 5 things to do in L.A., including free museums, beaches, and great food. It’s an ambitious Los Angeles 1-day itinerary, optimized to avoid driving & time stuck in Southern California traffic. (Updated February 21, 2022.)

As a brief update, California is largely back to normal as of February 2022, dropping its statewide mask mandate last week. One of the few exceptions to this is Los Angeles County, which still requires everyone to wear masks indoors, without regard for vaccination status. Speaking of which, LA County also requires proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, museums, movie theaters, and more–essentially everything in this itinerary. It’s unclear when these rules will end, but they’re expected to be in place through at least early March 2022.

Additionally, many points of interest now have reservation systems or timed entry to control crowds. Some attractions are not operating with the typical schedules as they scale up operations. For example, the inside of Griffith Observatory is only open Friday through Sunday right now, while the exterior grounds are open daily. Our hope is that Los Angeles is once again firing on all cylinders and back to normal by Summer 2022. We’ll update this top section accordingly as things change.

While creating this itinerary, I tried to think of the best approach, which was a bit of a challenge. A shorter visit means either spending time commuting between what I think are the absolute best spots, or focusing on a more targeted area, and accomplishing more there by way of not losing time in traffic. Both approaches obviously have their drawbacks and upsides.

In the end, if you only have one day in L.A., I’d recommend going for broke, racing around trying to hit the highlights of Los Angeles (and beyond–a couple of the spots aren’t technically L.A., even if they’re really close). I’ve still tried to attain a bit of the best of both worlds here; the bulk of your driving is in a convenient loop and occurs mostly during off-hours.

If you have multiple days in L.A. or you would prefer to minimize drive times even further, don’t use this itinerary. Because of the sprawling nature of Los Angeles (without strong public transit), the best multi-day approach will have each day focus on a specific area of town. The longer your visit, the more focused that area can and should be.

For those spending two days in Southern California, refer instead to our 2-Day Los Angeles Itinerary, which covers a lot of the same ground (and then some) of this itinerary, but in a more organized manner. If you’re spending 3 or 4 days in Los Angeles, we’d recommend adding our 1-Day Downtown Los Angeles Walking Itinerary for your third day and our 1-Day Hollywood Itinerary as your fourth day.

1. Malibu Sunrise

There are a few reasons why this does not belong on this list: 1) the sun rises in the east, and the Pacific Ocean is (obviously) in the west; 2) the marine layer makes a pretty sunrise along Southern California’s coast rare, and; 3) it’s a bit of a drive from the next stop of the day. If you don’t want to get up early, skipping this stop is not a bad idea. It’s going to be a long day.

With that said, there are compelling reasons for getting up to (hopefully) see the sun rise. First, if the cloud cover is just right, you could have an amazing sky to the west. Second, it’s your only chance to see the beautiful beaches of Malibu. Finally, this drive includes a long stretch on Pacific Coast Highway, which is an awesome experience unto itself. If you want less of a drive, starting your day at the Santa Monica Pier is an option, but then you lose the PCH drive (and the Santa Monica Pier is overrated, in my opinion). On balance, we think the early wake up will be worth it, and strongly recommend El Matador Beach, which we called “Malibu’s Megastar.”

You should have time for breakfast between this stop and the next, and my recommendation for that is Malibu Farm Cafe. Located on the Malibu Pier, this is a relatively low-cost (and delicious!) way to have an ocean-view meal. Opt for something light, like an acai bowl, as it’s going to be an active day.

2. Wilshire (Blvd.) Drive


While you could stay on the highway for a more efficient route or venture down world-famous Sunset Boulevard for a meandering stretch passing through the gated communities of Pacific Palisades and Brentwood, we’d recommend driving along Wilshire Boulevard. Although it does not have the name cachet of Sunset Blvd (no films have been named after it, to my knowledge), Wilshire features just as, if not more, prominently in Los Angeles.

The reason for driving along Wilshire is because it passes a diverse lineup of architectural styles that define Los Angeles. From the Googie architecture of Zucky’s to the Spanish Colonial Revival style of Wadsworth Theater, there are a number of cool buildings to see along this stretch. Wilshire also helps give you a “feel” for Los Angeles, old and new. This map from the Los Angeles Conservancy can help you identify what you’re seeing along the drive. This is not a wow-worthy experience, but it’s worth doing.

3. The Getty Center


Boosting the best and most valuable art collection in Los Angeles, the Getty Center has numerous galleries spread out in multiple buildings in a beautiful outdoor campus. The Getty Center is a seriously impressive place–not just one of my top places to visit in Los Angeles, but one of my favorite art museums in the world.

Fair warning: you’re not going to have enough time at the Getty Center to enjoy all–or even half–of its incredible collection. You should stay here until 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. at the absolute latest. My recommendation would be to look at an online map ahead of time, focus on 2-3 galleries you think will appeal most to you, and thoroughly enjoy those, as well as the excellent outdoor ambiance. You can always revisit the Getty Center on a future trip to Los Angeles. Here are my tips for what to see and how to spend your time at the Getty Center, among other thoughts.

4. In-N-Out for Lunch


While it’s not the best meal you’ll find in Los Angeles, it is the most iconic. Moreover, with this itinerary, we’re looking for something that is, literally, in and out, to make it to the next stop fairly quickly. I’ve already belabored the point that In-N-Out Burger is a California institution that you must visit when in California, so I won’t rehash that here.

Even though it has many locations throughout Southern California (you’ll want to stop at the one located at 4444 Van Nuys Blvd in Sherman Oaks–it’s right on the way), In-N-Out is perpetually busy. Fortunately, the restaurant is incredibly efficient. Even if the drive-through line is long–and it probably will be–you can expect to have your order in 10 minutes or so, particularly with a mid-afternoon visit like this.

5. Studio Tour


Although our Sony Pictures Studio Tour Review indicated that we preferred that one, it also expressed a lot of potential downside. Not only is the “safer” option the Warner Bros. Studio Tour (read our review of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour), but it’s the tour that’s more conveniently-located for this itinerary, which makes it our recommendation.

Studio tours are a distinctly Hollywood experience, and even though it’s not technically in Los Angeles, it’s a stone’s throw away. You need to book this in advance, and we’d recommend booking the 3 p.m. tour to accommodate the final stops on this itinerary. (If you arrive slightly early or late, you’ll still be accommodated.)

Another alternative, albeit one we do not recommend if you have only a single day to experience Los Angeles, is Universal Studios Hollywood. We love Universal Studios Hollywood, but the problem here is that it’s an all-day experience with the studio tour only being one element of that experience. With this itinerary, you only have a few hours to allocate towards a studio tour.

However, if money is no issue (1-day tickets are roughly double the cost of other studio tours) and/or you’re really into Harry Potter, you might want to give Universal Studios Hollywood consideration. If you do opt to go this route, you’ll probably want to cut the Getty Center from the itinerary, and also plan on doing dusk at Griffith Observatory, rather than sunset.

6. Sunset at Griffith Observatory


When people come to visit us from out of state, there are only three things that are must dos: Victoria Beach (it’s in Laguna Beach, so too far south for this itinerary), In-N-Out Burger (check!), and Griffith Observatory. For me, this is the crown jewel of Los Angeles, and a visit to Griffith Observatory offers much more than meets the eye.

First of all, the approach will take you through the residential side of Los Feliz, seeing some ritzy homes of L.A.’s more affluent residents and getting a feel for charming residential architecture. (If you take a detour up Glendower Ave, you can spot Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Ennis House from the street.)

Second, Griffith Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States, and offers a number of hiking options. We highly recommend hiking from Griffith Observatory to the Hollywood Sign for sunset. It’s one of the most satisfying hikes in Southern California with great views–and you’ll have plenty of time to do it!

Third, it’s a beautiful observatory and contains quintessential examples of Art Deco styles. Finally, it offers incredible views of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and the Hollywood sign. Regardless of what you do, be sure to stick around for both sunset and dusk at Griffith Observatory. Watching the sun light fade away and the skyline light up is really fun to watch.

7. Hollywood Nights


You’ll find a lot of itineraries that fixate on Hollywood. This is not one of them. I can appreciate that Hollywood is a defining aspect of Los Angeles and it’s what many tourists come to see and experience. Guidebooks and travel bloggers realize this, and recommend seeing things in Hollywood to give readers what they (think they) want.

The problem with this is that the most accessible elements of Hollywood to a tourist are, well, really touristy. Touristy to a fault. The Hollywood Walk of Fame is filled with costumed characters looking for money, and pushy street vendors selling junk. Other aspects of Hollywood Boulevard are run-down, shadows of their former selves.

Instead of recommending that you spend any time in Hollywood during the day when it’s overrun with other tourists and these vendors, we recommend a nighttime visit when the lights are bright, the temperature cooler, and fewer people are out. Most of the most iconic Hollywood spots are fairly superficial, so it won’t take you long to wander around, snap a few photos, and be on your way.

For a real slice of Hollywood, consider seeing a concert at the Hollywood Bowl (if visiting in summer) or seeing a movie in the Cinerama Dome, TCL Chinese Theater, or El Capitan, all of which are iconic and excellent theaters. For other things to do or not do in the area, see our Tips for Visiting Hollywood California post.

8. Daikokuya Dinner


With a location conveniently located on West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, Daikokuya is our pick for dinner. Whatever your preconceived notions about ramen, throw them out the window. Daikokuya is one of our favorite restaurants in Los Angeles, and is so popular among locals that its original Little Tokyo location has spawned several satellite restaurants.

As we note in our Daikokuya v. Tsujita LA post, we slightly prefer the latter. Theoretically, you could stop at Tsujita LA, but it’s a long drive from WeHo to Sawtelle. Considering the potential wait at Tsujita–and afternoon traffic–I think that might be cutting it too close. Just as well, as Daikokuya is incredible ramen, and probably a better “gateway” option if you’ve never had high end ramen before.

Phew, that’s it! All told, this itinerary is 61.1 miles (excluding the commute to Malibu from your hotel and from Daikokuya to your hotel) and the driving will consume roughly 2 hours of your day in normal traffic. Considering the sprawling layout of Los Angeles and everything you’ll see, I’d say that’s not too bad.

Hopefully this 1-day Los Angeles itinerary helps you have a jam-packed experience if you only have one day to spend in L.A. For those who have a bit more time, we’ll have multi-day itineraries soon!

If you’re planning a trip, check out our Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles or our California category of posts. For even more things to do, The Best Things to Do in Los Angeles: 1001 Ideas is an exceptional resource, which is written by other locals. If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!

Your Thoughts

Have you visited any of the places in this itinerary? If so, what did you think of them? If you’re an Angeleno, what do you think of this itinerary? Anywhere you’d recommend that didn’t make the list? Anywhere you’d recommending skipping that did make the list? Questions? Hearing from you is half the fun, so if you need personalized advice or have suggested revisions to this Los Angeles itinerary, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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28 replies
  1. AllyC
    AllyC says:

    I really enjoyed the Getty, what an experience that was, starting with the futuristic tram from the car park to the museum. We did the opposite of what everyone was doing and started from the end with Van Gogh’s Irises and worked our way from the more recent works to the older works. The Griffith Observatory was also a highlight, as well as In-N-Out Burger XD Wished we headed to Malibu, though we also enjoyed Santa Monica Pier

  2. David Chun
    David Chun says:

    It is not possible to exploring the second largest city in the United States in one day may sound daunting. However, with proper planning, it is possible to use your time to see the most famous sights and eat some good food.

  3. Robert Harris
    Robert Harris says:

    Great job with the article, Tom! For those who have just one day in L.A., your step-by-step guide covers all the best parts of this city. Nothing beats watching the sunset at the Hollywood sign near Griffith observatory. Although Santa Monica Pier is a bit over-rated, as you said, I still think it is worth a trip for the first-timers. After all, it is one of the most filmed locations in Los Angeles that most of us have seen in hundreds of movies, music videos, commercials, and TV shows. The Pier does have a lot to offer – mesmerizing ocean views, wide, sandy beaches, and an amusement park and classic boardwalk midway. One cannot regret making this place a part of their itinerary.

  4. Minnie
    Minnie says:

    Hi there! Is it possible to do the 1 day trip backwards? We would be heading towards Santa Barbara so probably a good idea to visit Sta.Monica last.


  5. Eleanor
    Eleanor says:

    Awesome itinerary for 1 day!

    My flight lands into L.A at 10:11am and our flight departs at 10:30 back to Australia.

    Do you think we could do all that within that given time frame?? I’m worried about checking in and out… It’ll end up eating up a lot of our time. I hope we can do at least 2 of those things! haha

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      No, you can’t do all of these things in that amount of time. Cut out a couple and go to the In-N-Out that’s literally within walking distance of LAX. Or just do Shake Shack in the airport.

    • CJ Smith
      CJ Smith says:

      Grab in and out and eat it at Griffith Park at Sunset. Keep in mind that you will probably have to park a bit down the hill…. Option to park at the Greek Theater and take the bus up (exact change only). If you want it piping hot, then grab one to go as you depart from the location close to LAX … Personally, I love Stout more

  6. Lise-Anne Bonneville
    Lise-Anne Bonneville says:

    Hello Tom and Sarah, I must say I am addicted to your blog. Before starting to read it, going to South California was an idea, but now, many weeks later, the planes are booked, the rooms are booked and we are headed to South California for a 11-day trip in August 2018. We are doing 3 nights in an Airbnb in Los Feliz, 3 nights in San Diego and 4 nights at Disneyland (in your number 1 rated hotel). Now we are ready to start planning our daily itineraries. I was going to do this based on what you have suggested in your 1-day « Best Of » LA, but I thought I would write to see if you had any plans to write a 2-day itinerary? Or maybe a 1-day in San Diego itinerary ? We are travelling with a 9 year old and a 4 year old. We’ll be hitting most of your food suggestions, the Malibu Beach for sure and the Griffith observatory for sure, and a movie at one of the places you suggested. Thank you so much for your blog. It really is incredible and a great ressource.

  7. james
    james says:

    All the places are beautiful to see. I always a a dream to visit LA. but till now never got a change to visit. but once i visit then definitely see these places those you have mentions in your article.

  8. Kayla
    Kayla says:

    Of course I’d be interested in a Walt Disney itinerary! I’d also be interested in like a part day LAX area itinerary. We’re splitting up flights between days, but not sure what’s practical to reach in a short time.

  9. Victoria Shingleton
    Victoria Shingleton says:

    YES!!! As a west LA resident, I prefer Daikokuya is far better than Tsujita (while my S.O. favors the latter). Other favorites on Sawtelle – Seoul House of Tofu (not ramen, warm Korean soup and rice – so good!) and Shen-Sen-Gumi which is a little further north on Sawtelle.

  10. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    I really like the choice of photos for Wilshire Drive! I wonder if people named Wadsworth get free admission…

    The only part of this that we followed on our 1-day in LA was the lunch stop at Inn-n-Out (We saw Hollywood, drove along Sunset/Mulholland, and saw the Endeavour; followed by dinner at Downtown Disney).

    • Kevin
      Kevin says:

      I also have to admit that when I saw the title of the article I wondered if the recommendation would be for 1 meal at In-N-Out or double dipping for lunch and dinner…

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Two stops at In-N-Out would be excessive if you only have one day. Even though it’s not one of the objectively-best restaurants in Los Angeles, it scores major points for it’s “National Burger Landmark” status, value for money, and taste. 😉

  11. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Tom, If you like Thai Food, you really need to try TOI on Sunset Blvd. It’s a little whole in the wall “Rock N Roll” Thai food place that is open until 4am. LOVE the atmosphere! Try the Yellow Curry Chicken or the Garlic Pepper Beef! The TOI fried rice is also great as are the spring rolls! I lived in LA for my entire life (just moved to Portland Oregon), and it was my favorite Thai food ever. A runner up would be Siam Cabin on Ventura Blvd in Sherman Oaks;)

  12. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I would love to see a 1 day Walt Disney itinerary…but also maybe weeklong California itinerary- Disneyland, Universal, LA, and San Diego?


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