What To Do in Los Angeles When Visiting (or Moving There)?

Whether you're looking to find your tribe, or just exploring the city, here are some tips to make your trip, or move, worthwhile.

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A friend of mine once exclaimed that he couldn’t understand why someone didn’t just give me a green card already. After all, I was more Californian than the Californians. Someone else told me that he hadn’t known me long, but one thing was clear: I couldn’t live without Los Angeles.

Has that ever happened to you? You go to a place and somehow you just know you belong there? It’s happened to me twice. Once in Paris, once in Los Angeles. It’s as if the land speaks to me. I’m happy just knowing I’m there. It’s home.

As much as I love Los Angeles and Paris, I also know the cities have pitfalls. Many, many pitfalls. I don’t know how many people have gone to LA and left disillusioned, because guess what? LA didn’t make them famous. Every time, I wonder what they gave to LA? If they even once stopped to admire her beauty? If they gave thanks to her valleys and mountains? I get tears in my eyes when I drive through the canyons in LA because they’re beautiful and I have this amazing sense of coming home. Some people just swear at the traffic. Sometimes I do too. You certainly should avoid rush hour and if you want to drive to Hollywood on a Friday night, get a good audiobook, because it will take you half an hour to get a mile. I kid you not.

What gets to me, is that people go to LA, not because of all the amazing things that make up LA, but because they want to be famous. Or they want to own a startup. They want something. But what do they give in return?

LA is an amazing place, filled with amazing people, but if you want to fuck your way up the food chain in the film industry, or party with the coke heads in Hollywood, your experience won’t be a great one. You need to know where you are going and who you'd like to meet when in town, or your trip will be wasted. This is why I sometimes freak out when people say they’re visiting LA. It’s easy to get lost in traffic (really: avoid rush hour and be prepared that traffic is part of LA), or with the wannabes, whether it’s the wannabe spiritual people, or wannabe famous people.

You also have to bear in mind cultural differences. In Sweden, people don’t generally talk to strangers and once they start talking to someone, they tend to mean it if they say “let’s meet up again.” In LA, people talk to each other. Smile at each other. But that’s just friendliness. It does not mean you’ve made a new friend. So don’t expect it to. Know that Angelenos are flaky and you’ll meet tons of people who just want a chat, not a new friend. You’ll make lots of great friends in LA, just don’t expect everyone you talk to, to become your friend.

I think an old friend of mine nailed it once when she said (quoting someone else): if you want to visit, go to New York, if you want to live, go to LA. LA is not a happening metropolis like New York, London, or Paris. It’s a place where you flip flop about town and enjoy the brilliant weather, the many hikes, the short drive to the mountains/desert/vineyards/San Fran/Vegas/Palm Springs, the artsy population, the healthy food places, the many startups, the film obsession, the surf, etc. It’s a great place to live. It’s probably less of a blast if you’re looking for short-lived entertainment.

As a friend of mine is setting out on a trip to California and Los Angeles I promised to create a list of things to do. Including things, I’ve never even done myself because I never got round to it. So, I thought I’d write one article about road tripping through California, one about San Fran and one about LA. This is, if you didn’t already notice, the one about LA…

Saturday Nights

Saturday nights are for drinks at Chateau Marmont. Alternatively Thai curries at Toi On Sunset, or dinner at Pace in Laurel Canyon. I like sitting atop the hills in Laurel Canyon and looking out over the city too, but then I like doing that any night. I have a secret lookout spot that only the initiated know about. Mainly because I lived around the corner from it and, admittedly, the view from my place was just as good. I enjoyed the view from my place as we also had a fireplace, so I got the view AND the fireplace. You can, of course, drive to the Observatory instead — the view is as great from there. Visiting the Observatory is a must anyway.

If it gets late, then heading to Mel’s Diner for a midnight (or 3 am) snack, is in order. It’s your traditional 24-hour diner on Sunset. And everyone goes there after a night on town.

Of course, there’s a ton of things to do on a Saturday night in LA — all the clubs in Hollywood, the funky places in downtown, the hip hangouts in Venice…there’s endless opportunity.

Sunday Mornings

Sunday mornings are for breakfast at The Griddle on Sunset Boulevard and the Farmer’s Market in Hollywood. There’s also an epic second-hand clothing store in Hollywood — Jet Rag — that does $1 sales on a Sunday. At least they used to. I used to buy supersized hoodies, as it’s one of my favorite things to wrap up in. Their store has some seriously epic vintage items, but they don’t go on the $1 sale…for obvious reasons…

There’s also a pretty good flea market on Fairfax and Melrose — from shabby chic furniture to vintage goods, you’ll find it all here. Last time I checked, it was pretty pricey though. Melrose Avenue in WeHo should be explored anyway. Tons of cute and cool boutiques.

Agape — the church run by Michael Beckwidth — is another great option for a Sunday morning. It’s the one church I actually attend as it’s open to all faiths. I like that. I’ve only heard one sermon I didn’t like there. I really didn’t like that one — some woman was certain that humans had evolved in a certain way that was pretty out there to say the least. You get the new age hippies at Agape, but you also get a lot of common sense, love and good morals. It’s a community worth exploring.

Monday Mornings (and Any Other Morning)

I like my coffee and I like neighborhood spirit. So getting a coffee at the Canyon Store (next to Pace) is a great idea. The vibe is wonderful and I like their vanilla lattes.

If you feel like something a little bit more sophisticated, then head to Primo Caffe on Sunset. Now, Primo is probably one of those places you could describe as soulless, in a way. It’s big. The decor last time I checked was less than impressive. It’s expensive. But, the salads are totally decent, as is the ice cream and the cappuccinos will have you ticking along for hours on end. It’s my preferred place for sitting working on my Mac. It also happens to be next to the Equinox gym on Sunset Plaza, so you get all the fit bods dropping in for protein shakes. If nothing else, it’s worth the view. And it’s next to H&M too, which makes it convenient for shopping.

Randomly, I like the café au lait at Peet’s. Almond milk version.

These happen to be favorites of mine because they were close to where I lived. There are a ton of specialty coffee shops in LA though. Walk around Venice/Santa Monica, downtown, or Los Feliz and you’ll be spoiled for choice.

There is a really good chain of coffee shops (yes a chain) that’s called Ruth Caffé. It has a wide variety of foods…and cakes.

The best thing about coffee shops in LA (apart from all the healthy menu items and the fact that they totally get that you want almond milk)? Everyone’s sitting writing on scripts. It makes me feel right at home.

Runyon Canyon

I once read in an article that listed things that make you an Angeleno and one item read: you wear make-up to go running in Runyon Canyon. Because, well, you could get spotted by a casting director, run into a film executive or just end up next to a gazillion fit and extremely good looking people… I love going jogging up and down the Canyon, not least because the super fit 80-year-olds inspire me.

They also do donation-based open-air yoga in Runyon Canyon.

Midnight Drives

Driving along the PCH any day is a pleasure. If it’s not rush hour traffic. I also like driving through the different Canyons and to places outside town so you have to cross through the hills and mountains.

In LA I love driving along Mulholland at night. As it snakes and turns you get epic views of LA. And then you stop at a lookout spot and enjoy the view. Most of us also, erm, climb a fence and get an even better view. People gather up here, particularly on a full moon to watch the beauty of the glittering lights below.

A note of warning: driving in the hills, or along a snaking road like Mulholland, is best on days when it’s not foggy. I’ve driven in the Hollywood Hills when the fog was so thick I couldn’t see the edge of the road. And if you drove off that road, you drove off the mountain. People think London is foggy. Try visiting LA… Apparently, it’s even worse in San Francisco. But I like the fog. I used to love sitting atop my hill and see the city below disappear as the fog moved in. Power cuts when you were up there were also epic — the city below just disappeared at night. All the lights blacked out. And power cuts in LA for some reason are pretty frequent, the whole of Beverly Hills and part of WeHo blacked out one time on Christmas Day. Six hours. We barbecued the turkey…

Abbott Kinney and Venice Beach

When in LA you have to stop by Abbott Kinney, just as you then have to head down to Venice Beach and check out the freak shows, pot shops and Muscle Beach. Abbott Kinney is eclectic. Filled with as much specialty anything as you’d like. Think of it as the Spitafields of LA. It’s hip, basically.

Santa Monica

I usually call this the area where posh hippies live. It’s the kind of upstanding neighborhood of your dreams. You go there to stroll along the 3rd Street promenade (one of the few streets without cars in LA) and head down to the beach — usually walking all the way to Venice Beach. My favorite is to head down there on a Sunday and go slacklining. This is when all the fitness enthusiasts gather on the edge of Santa Monica Beach and Venice Beach. Some hang by the acro-mats, some do the rings, some do the slacklining.

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Malibu

Malibu has a reputation as the poshest of all suburbs. And it is. Nestled in the hills you’ll find the kookiest, quirkiest and fanciest places here. Topanga Canyon is particularly new-agey.

Malibu is great for hiking, hanging out on the beach, eating at Inn of the Seventh Ray (a new age kind of hang out that I love, it’s adorable) and drinking at Moonshadows (something I seem to never get around to), which is right by the beach along the PCH.

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Beverly Hills

While I find the gingerbread looking houses in Beverly Hills adorable (there are quite a lot of them), I’ve never really hung out there. Going to Rodeo Drive is like going to the poshest place in town and it’s nice and clean and filled with boutiques with the latest (and most expensive) fashion. To me, it’s pretty boring. It’s pretty calm though and they do have Le Pain Quotidien there so French pastries are on hand.

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach is...cute. It's this beach community that's just really, really nice. I don't even know how to describe the vibe, more than it's a beach community that's friendly and generally awesome.

The thing with LA is that each area is different. I happen to be in love with the Hollywood Hills. That's my home. To someone else home is Manhattan Beach, downtown, Venice, Malibu...and the vibe is really different in each area. To get to know LA you need to explore all the different neighborhoods.  

The Grove

Now, the Grove really is just an outdoor mall, where at night they have lots of fairy lights and other light arrangements by the pond that makes it look like something out of a fairytale. I go there to sit and read at Barnes and Nobles (but if Starbucks still hasn’t upgraded their decor, the coffee shop is seriously depressing), window shop at Anthropologie (I have a thing for their window displays in that particular shop), watch movies at the cinema (my fav in LA as it’s beautifully old fashioned and fancy) and eat giant salads at The Cheesecake Factory and drink just as giant hot chocolates in the same place. I used to go there with my besties for movies and dinner all the time. Though, admittedly, often dinner consisted of takeaways from Whole Foods.

What’s On

From food festivals to concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, from the Renaissance Fair (usually takes place in May and is so worth a visit) to gigs at the Comedy Store and book readings at Book Soup. Oh, and movie screenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Yes, it's a thing. A lot happens in LA. And contrary to popular belief there’s an art scene, there are theatres and plenty of museums to visit. It’s just…it’s not New York. There isn’t something happening in every street corner. LA is laid back. It’s a place to go and chill, or work your butt off to get somewhere with your career, or startup. It’s a city filled with entrepreneurs, film enthusiasts and spiritually conscious people, as well as health nuts and fitness freaks.

If you are visiting LA, or moving there, a great way to meet people is MeetUp.com and InterNations.org. InterNations is for anyone from overseas, but it’s become a popular way for locals to meet people coming from overseas as well. They organize cocktail nights, parties, etc. There are also groups on there for meet-ups surrounding whatever takes people’s fancy.

MeetUp let’s you meet up with people with similar interests. And the group organizers of the active groups organize brilliant meetups. I love it. In Athens I attending a “Shut Up and Write!” group that met to sit and write. Another one I attended there was for hikers. A friend of mine attended a group for pagans in LA. Another friend of mine a group for scriptwriters in LA. I have attended one for French-speaking people in London. There’s everything from people getting together to slackline, to people getting together to listen to inspirational speakers. And there’s something happening every day in bigger cities. It’s great for networking and making new friends.

For what’s happening in the city in general, have a look at TimeOut, as well as UrbanDaddy.

Grocery Shopping

So, for that late night, I need something quick, you head to the super expensive, super well-stocked Bristol Farms on Sunset (well, if you live in WeHo). Their sandwiches are to die for. I discovered them on my first trip to the US when I was in San Francisco and I still love them.

When you feel rich, you head to Whole Foods and buy half the store. I am in love with a certain kind of olives they sell in their olive bar, I’m obsessed with their herbed popcorn, I love their loose incense (not edible) and their ice cream section is swoon-worthy. Particularly if you’re a health nut, or vegan. I can spend hours drooling over all the food at Whole Foods, so I try to limit myself, but if I was rich, let’s just say I’d shop there. A lot.

Then, there’s Trader Joe’s. Free coffee. Happy staff. Brilliant, free-from-additives foods. I love Trader Joe’s. I mean I LOVE Trader Joe’s. Their frozen mango is like candy on hot California days. My best friend is obsessed with their chocolate covered berries. Their almond milk is brilliant for hot chocolate (really thick and creamy). I could go on, but before I tell you that their mocha ice cream is to die for, I better stop. Oh, I still told you, didn’t I? (Notably Trader Joe’s frozen yogurt is not to my liking — rather go to Pinkberry’s. Definitively go to Pinkberry’s.)

In Closing

I think LA is all about settling in and actually living there. Attending meet up groups to socialize, chilling in coffee shops, finding your perfect spots for surfing, or hiking. Going for runs in Runyon Canyon, looking at the moon from Mulholland. Attending local festivals and getting your dose of fresh veggies at the farmer’s market on a Sunday. LA is a place to both chill-out and enjoy the nature, the specialty coffee shops and the film obsessed population, but it’s also a place to work your ass off to get somewhere.

I get a high the moment I land in California. Not even driving through Inglewood dampens my spirits. You do want a car though if you wish to get around. You can live by Venice and Santa Monica and just walk about, but in general, a car makes life a lot easier. Personally, of course, I think the place to be is Laurel Canyon. If not, then Malibu. I like to be surrounded by hills and nature. Downtown is cool, and Santa Monica has the beach, but the kooky quirky hills with their way too many wind chimes and coyotes are home. 

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