Our Los Angeles itineraries offer step-by-step 1-day plans for every area of the city, and we also have some itineraries for areas of Southern California outside L.A. These touring plans offer tips and strategy for the best things to do (and skip!), museums to visit, where to eat, and more. (Updated April 15, 2021.)
Note that at present, Southern California is in the midst of reopening via its “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” plan. Presently, both Los Angeles and Orange Counties are in the moderate tier, allowing museums, restaurants, tours, theme parks, beaches, hiking trails, and virtually every relevant business to operate in some capacity.
However, some are still in the process of reopening or are operating at a reduced capacity. Accordingly, if you’re visiting California this spring or early summer, we’d suggest cross-checking each stop on these itineraries with the official site of the recommended destinations. In particular, you should do this because some places are requiring timed and ticketed entry to manage capacity. California has announced it will fully reopen on June 15, 2021, at which point we anticipate things being more or less normal once again.
When it comes to visiting California, the importance of efficiency cannot be overstated. We’ve found out the hard way that a lot of California “itineraries” are simply lists of things to do, and clearly were not tested by anyone as none account for one important, stress-inducing variable: traffic. We’ve done these plans ourselves, redone them, and shuffled around various stops to minimize parking costs and drive times. This will help you avoid the headache that is Los Angeles traffic, and spend less money in the process.
One of these Los Angeles itineraries doesn’t even require a car at all, which is a small miracle given the sprawl of Southern California. We also try to avoid paid parking as much as possible, and maybe seem abnormally giddy about that, but traffic and paid parking are two very big deals when it comes to visiting Los Angeles. Of course, that’s immaterial if the stops on the itineraries are garbage. Obviously we’re biased, but we think the places included in these Los Angeles and Southern California touring plans are pretty good.
Our L.A. itineraries balance must-see points of interest with hidden gems, while also encouraging a sense of leisurely exploration and “stopping to smell the roses.” Los Angeles is defined by its rich tapestry of neighborhoods, each one of which has its own distinct character and brings something special to the table. While museums and the like are great, simply spending time being there in Los Angeles is a quintessential part of the experience, and we strive to highlight that in these itineraries.
1-Day Los Angeles Highlights Itinerary – Our first and most popular Los Angeles itinerary, this is for people who only allocate a single day to L.A., and are attempting to see all of the best points of interest. While this is also the foundation and first day for multi-day itineraries, we’d recommend moving a couple stops from this itinerary to another day for those with more time in SoCal.
2-Day Best-of Los Angeles Itinerary – My favorite one of the bunch, this basically takes the Highlights itinerary above, gives it more breathing room, while also adding some things and rearranging stops to increase efficiency. It’s still a pretty packed schedule, with several museums, a couple hiking options, pretty drives, the area’s most beautiful beach, and more.
1-Day Downtown Los Angeles Walking Itinerary – “There’s nothing to do in downtown Los Angeles” or (worse yet) “Los Angeles doesn’t really have a downtown” is antiquated thinking that really sells DTLA. To the contrary, this is my second-favorite itinerary overall and probably my favorite 1-day itinerary if you set aside the fact that it doesn’t hit as many iconic spots as the ‘Highlights’ itinerary above.
1-Day Hollywood Itinerary – Parts of Hollywood are the most overrated places in California. Tourists flock to Hollywood Boulevard because it’s iconic, but there’s a lot to dislike about that area of Hollywood. This itinerary starts from that perspective, and focuses on the “real” Hollywood, hidden gems, while also spending a bit of time at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, TCL Chinese Theater, Dolby Theater, El Capitan Theater, and other recognizable points of interest.
1-Day Los Angeles Westside Itinerary – Between Santa Monica and Downtown L.A. are a number of areas on the Westside that have great things to do. While Beverly Hills is the most renowned of these, Culver City, Brentwood, Century City, Bel Air, and Westwood all have great museums and things to do, including the Sony Pictures Studios Tour and great dining in Little Osaka.
1-Day Pasadena Itinerary – Known nationwide for the Rose Bowl, there’s actually a ton more to Pasadena than its famous football game and parade. We highly recommend Pasadena for a change of pace from Los Angeles, a lovely walking tour featuring some of California’s most iconic residential architecture, and a trio of glorious gardens. Being a short drive from Griffith Park certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
1-Day Santa Monica & Venice Beach Itinerary – The most popular beach cities to visit if you’re staying in Los Angeles. Venice and Santa Monica are famous for their trendy and hip locales, which can make them intimidating places with too much emphasis on “places to see and be seen.” We largely eschew that, highlighting the interesting things to see and do in Venice and Santa Monica via this walking tour, along with excellent places to eat and drink.
1-Day Laguna Beach Itinerary – We are really partial to Laguna, which we think is the best beach city in Southern California. The “problem” with it, which is also an asset, is how far removed it is from Los Angeles. It’s quite the drive, but it’s absolutely worth the effort. This itinerary provides a flexible approach, allowing you to see multiple coves, points of interest, and restaurants…if you want. Or, you can just spend all day lounging at our recommended hidden gem beaches.
1-Day Walt Disney-Inspired Itinerary – This is the lone oddball that doesn’t fit neatly with the others, as it’s more of a niche interest option for Disney fans who want to ‘walk in Walt’s footsteps’ through Los Angeles and beyond. There’s a lot to see, but we don’t recommend this to anyone but the most dedicated Disney enthusiasts.
If you have a full week in Southern California, we’d recommend splitting your time between Los Angeles and the beach cities. Additionally, consider adding on Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Joshua Tree National Park, San Diego, or one of the many other excellent cities outside of Los Angeles.
Finally, for those who have even more time in California–and are considering some time in Northern California, too–our Pacific Coast Highway Ultimate California Road Trip is a great plan. If you have more time, we’d recommend spending it in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, and perhaps extending that itinerary south to San Diego.
Speaking of which, we currently are still “field-testing” our itineraries for San Diego, Long Beach, Malibu, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, Palm Springs, and Pasadena, but those should be coming relatively soon. More to the point, we’ve spent extensive time in each, and can make recommendations if anyone has questions in the comments.
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!
If you’re planning a trip, how much time are you budgeting for Los Angeles? Need help with any other beach cities or towns near L.A.? Have you done a day in any of these Southern California cities? If so, which do you recommend? Spots we recommend that you do not agree with? Any additional tips to add that we didn’t cover? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!