Visiting Los Angeles for the first time can be thrilling. There are so many exciting things to do and places to see in the sunny coastal city. But if you don’t organise your trip correctly, you may stumble into common tourist pitfalls that could cause huge disappointments and ruin your entire trip.
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To ensure you get the most out of your stay, I’ve compiled a list of mistakes people make when visiting Los Angeles. Avoid these errors and you’ll not only save time and money, but also have the best possible experience in the City of Angels.
Thinking LAX is the only airport in town
Many first-time visitors to Los Angeles make the mistake of flying into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). As the city’s main airport, LAX is massive and crowded. And during peak tourist season, it can get even more hectic. If you’re flying internationally, you, unfortunately, can’t avoid it. But for domestic flights, there are several smaller airports in LA County that are far less congested. It can also sometimes be cheaper to fly into one of the other airports.
Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) is only 7 miles from Hollywood Boulevard and much easier to manage than LAX. Other hassle-free options include Long Beach Airport (LGB), John Wayne Airport (SNA), and Ontario International Airport (ONT).
Booking a hotel close to Hollywood
There’s more to Los Angeles than Tinseltown. Booking a hotel in Hollywood? Famous for movie sets, celebrities, and some of Los Angeles’ most iconic sights, it may be tempting to. But there’s more to see and do in LA besides walking down Hollywood Boulevard, snapping photos of your favourite actors’ stars, and pushing through crowds of tourists. Not to mention the annoying people trying to sell you something.
Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Downtown LA are fantastic alternatives to stay in. In these neighbourhoods, you can still feel the glitz and high life of La La Land minus the never-ending sea of starstruck sightseers.
Only visiting famous beaches
And then complaining about the crowds… and smell. When you think of beaches in Los Angeles, you might only think of Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Despite being the most famous stretches of sand in the city, they are also 2 of the busiest and dirtiest beaches in Los Angeles.
A good alternative is to drive south along the coast, where you’ll find clean beaches with gorgeous views. You won’t need to elbow your way through hordes of people, either. The quaint towns of Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach offer a local vibe and a quintessential California beach experience.
Underestimating the traffic and size of the city
Traffic congestion isn’t a cliché… it’s really that bad. When you visit Los Angeles, don’t expect to see multiple tourist spots in 1 or 2 days, let alone in one trip. It’s a massive, sprawling city, and getting from point A to point B can take much longer than expected. When you hear Angelenos complain about the notorious traffic congestion, they’re not being dramatic. The roads are the worst during peak rush hours.
Whether you’re driving around in a rental car, taking the bus, or ordering an Uber, you must plan your trip carefully. Give yourself at least 30 to 45 minutes to arrive at your destination. A smart plan is to find accommodation close to most attractions you want to visit. You can use map apps that can analyse traffic and offer alternative routes.
Walking only in the city
Head to the hills for impressive views. Exploring Los Angeles on foot is a fantastic way to discover the city one district at a time. But don’t just stick to the sidewalks. Make time to visit some of LA’s gems dotted in the surrounding hills. Griffith Park is a lovely place to walk. Take a short hike to Bronson Caves (better known as the Bat Cave) in the southwest corner of the Park. Walk through the caves to enjoy glorious views and snap photos of the famous Hollywood Sign.
Hollywood Reservoir in the hills west of Griffith Park is a walker’s paradise, offering a flat, paved 3-mile path around a picturesque lake. Runyon Canyon in Hollywood Hills offers spectacular views of the city spread out below. The trails can get crowded, so go on a weekday if you’re looking for solitude.
Eating at the wrong place
And then complaining about the price. Los Angeles is an exciting place to eat, thanks to its rich cultural diversity and expertise in blending culinary techniques. The city boasts a staggering number of restaurants, serving a wide variety of cuisines from around the world. But don’t think that an expensive menu means authentic dishes. Some of Los Angeles’ best eateries are holes-in-the-wall in Koreatown, French-bistro gems in strip malls, and affordable farmer’s markets. Check out Night + Market in Silver Lake for some tasty Thai food or head to Sushi Gen in Little Tokyo. At the Original Farmers Market, there are dozens of sit-down restaurants and food stalls to choose from.
Missing out on free museum days
Save money while enjoying world-class exhibitions. From modern art and science to ancient artefacts, Los Angeles is home to some prestigious museums. Many of the cultural attractions offer free entrance year-round or on select days of the week. If you plan your trip well, you can visit a different museum every day of the week without paying a dime. The Broad, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the California Science Center are worth visiting. Griffith Observatory and Getty Villa both offer superb city views and exhibits.
Not buying a Go Los Angeles Pass
Save money on sightseeing! The Go Los Angeles Pass is a great buy if you’re keen on visiting major theme parks and taking film-related tours but don’t want to blow your entire budget on entrance tickets. There are 3 pass types to suit most budget levels. The all-inclusive pass gets you into over 40 of the best attractions in the city for one heavily discounted price. You can also pick a few attractions and build a custom pass. Buying the Go Los Angeles Pass not only saves you money at some attractions but also helps you to skip the line.
Expecting to spot celebrities in Hollywood
The rich and famous don’t hang out in tourist hot spots. Despite what your hotel brochure says, it’s improbable that you’ll bump into a celebrity on Hollywood Boulevard. There’s even less of a chance of seeing an A-lister on a celebrity homes tour. To catch a glimpse of a movie star in Hollywood, you can do a couple of things. Either register to be a studio audience when a show is being filmed or apply for Academy Awards bleacher seats.
You can also research online to find out when the next Walk of Fame or Hand and Footprint Ceremony will take place. And remember, celebs are regular people like you and me. You’ll more likely find them shopping, dining at popular restaurants, and enjoying the sights around the city.
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Such a great article! I’ve lived in Los Angeles myself for a few years, and this is so spot-on. Helpful info for someone planning a visit.