This seven-day itinerary is an expression of the belief that the true heart of a metropolis is rarely found on Main Street, that the sights and flavors most worth pursuing are often time-tested and trend-resistant. Traveling from the forgotten canals of Venice Beach to a side of Anaheim beyond its theme parks, this trip will explore some of the lesser-trod pathways through Greater Los Angeles and Orange County, embracing the expressive, the alternative, and the multicultural culinary, artistic, and architectural highlights lurking just beyond the mainstream in these sprawling, eternally sunny cities.
Though there’s no wrong time to visit, springtime just might be the best time to sidestep the crowds. The region is also supported by a wealth of international airports, including LAX, John Wayne, and Long Beach, so whether you choose to fly into Los Angeles and out of Orange County or some combination therein, you should have no trouble finding a route that works for you.
ItineraryPLAN YOUR TRIP
Day 1Getting Lost in Venice and Culver City
Be sure to save room for a bite of Peruvian ceviche at the rooftop pool of The Hoxton, a design-forward hotel housed in a 1922 Beaux Arts building in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles’ Broadway Theater District. Once you’ve checked in, head over to Venice Beach to trace the old canals which give it its name, then explore the kaleidoscope of street art via bike along the boardwalk. Those who book their visit in advance will have much to ponder at Culver City’s Museum of Jurassic Technology, whose tiny, eclectic exhibitions consistently defy description.
For dinner, keep things casual with some fish tacos and drunken fries next door at Cerveteca. If you’re still feeling the pull to go out on the town, head to one of the many lively bars on Venice Boulevard, like Bigfoot West, before cabbing back to the hotel.
Day 2Turn Back the Clock in Downtown L.A.
It’s a short bus ride from there to Olvera Street, where you can explore the setting of the city at its infancy, including two popular and important sites in El Pueblo de Los Angeles and Avila Adobe. While there, hop a few doors down for the legendary French Dip at Phillippe, one of Los Angeles’ most enduring institutions.
Unlike much of the city, Downtown L.A. is easy to navigate on foot, starting with Bradbury Building—made famous in Blade Runner, among many other films—on through Pershing Square and the streamlined skyscrapers surrounding it. Browse the books and vinyl at the surreal, surprisingly friendly Last Bookstore, grab an ice cream at the neon-lit Grand Central Market, and then slide into a booth at Yang Chow, one of Chinatown’s many historic restaurants. End your evening with a drink at Clifton’s Republic, a recently restored madhouse of kitsch that must be seen to be believed.
Day 3Say Hello to Hollywood
Such a feast merits a hike and the trip up to Griffith Observatory, free to visit Tuesday through Sunday, is well worth the effort. Matching its many peeks into the universe above, the site offers the same unforgettable views of the city below as were enjoyed by James Dean’s Jim Stark in Rebel Without A Cause, arguably the most iconic of many films to have been filmed there.
Head down the hill for dinner at Grandmaster Recorders, perhaps Los Angeles’ only Italian-Australian restaurant located in a former recording studio which once hosted such luminaries as Stevie Wonder and Rick James. While you’re in the center of Tinsel Town, after catching a glimpse of the Capitol Records Building, then inspecting the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of the famed Chinese Theater, be sure to drop by Hollywood Forever Cemetery for a summertime screening under and among the stars with Cinespia.
Day 4Rolling Down the Miracle Mile
Once you’ve polished off dishes like a lobster omelet, cruise over to the broad stretch of boulevard known as the Miracle Mile to spend a few hours at the Marciano Art Foundation, an impressive collection of uber-contemporary works housed in the city’s former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple. If you find yourself still hungry, there’s no lack of celebrated options in the area, but Son of a Gun sets itself apart with its seafood-centered concept created by the team behind Animal, another favorite of Angelenos in the know.
After lunch, you’ll find plenty to keep you stimulated on Museum Row, including LACMA, the largest art museum in the western United States, or the La Brea Tar Pits, whose bitumen has been bubbling in that very spot for tens of thousands of years. Alternatively, toward the trend-setting enclave of Los Feliz. The relatively uncrowded Barnsdall Art Park offers many artistic outlets to the public, including a municipal gallery, a theater, and educational center, all housed in and around Hollyhock House, a UNESCO World Heritage Site designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
If you’ve opted to stay in the Westside, Uovo is a beloved local chain offering Italian tasting menus centered around fresh, handmade pasta. Not to be outdone, Los Feliz is yet another hub for approachable fine dining, and indeed Atrium can be easily stumbled upon just down the hill from Barnsdall Park for colorful fusion plates and juicy cocktails served in an artfully industrial space. From there, be sure to head a block south to The Dresden, an L.A. institution for martinis and music in its vintage, landmark lounge.
Day 5Getting Started in South Central
This begins with the expansive Exposition Park, which features several of the city’s major museums and sports arenas, plus a seven-acre rose garden that calls for exploration. After you’ve spent a few hours at the California African American Museum, the California Science Center, or a Los Angeles Football Club match at BMO Stadium, head down to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles on Manchester Avenue for a sweet and savory dose of the city’s most iconic soul food.
Pointing further south, a visit to the fabulously ornate Watts Towers Arts Center should be on your list. Extending beyond Simon Rodia’s famous spires, the site now features several art galleries and hosts an ongoing calendar of activities to help visitors connect with the community. While there, don’t miss the pozole at the modest yet flavorful Clemen’s Kitchen, located just a few blocks away. Add a stop at Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum, the site of the first Spanish land grant and home to a museum and peaceful gardens, to delve into another part of the area’s history.
For something completely different, continue south to Long Beach for a stay aboard the Queen Mary, a first-class transatlantic ocean liner that made its inaugural voyage in 1936. Moored in Long Beach since 1967 and renovated several times since, the Queen Mary now offers guests the chance to dine, drink, and sleep amid its well-preserved Art Deco style within easy reach of Long Beach’s bustling port.
Day 6Understanding Orange County
Start in the coastal hamlet of Laguna Beach, checking into Montage, a world-class resort which covers 30 lush, beachside acres and includes a 20,000 square foot spa. You can spend a few hours soaking up the sun on its adjacent beach, take a kayak out to Seal Rock for a closer look at its protected marine life, or go skimboarding further south at Thousand Steps Beach. After you’ve enjoyed a treatment such as the Laguna Glow Stone Massage with polished Himalayan salt crystals in the Montage Spa, head down to Costa Mesa’s The LAB “Anti-Mall” to browse its blend of local boutiques and health-conscious cafes.
Once you’ve done a bit of shopping, pay a visit to Newport Beach’s quaint Balboa Island, where you can rent paddle boards to explore the protected waters of the harbor or simply take a stroll among its charming shops. Finishing off another fun-packed day right in the heart of the harbor, A Restaurant makes for an excellent choice. First opening in 1926, its handsome wood-and-leather decor and refined, classic menu—with everything from diver scallops to Japanese A5 Miyazaki Beef—portend another century of success for Orange County’s oldest restaurant.
Day 7A Different Side of Anaheim
Next, head to Garden Grove to take an architectural tour of the Christ Cathedral, a building designed by the renowned architect Philip Johnson and renovated in 2019. The guided tour will give you a behind-the-scenes look at the cathedral’s stunning glass and steel design—considered the largest of its kind upon its completion in 1981—including a glimpse at its massive Hazel Wright Organ as well as an impressive collection of religious art and artifacts. Even for the secular traveler, it’s an awe-inspiring spectacle.
Sports fans should be sure to catch a Ducks game at the Honda Center or watch the Angels play at the Big A. Each team’s schedule varies, of course, with the hockey season spanning from October through April and baseball running from April to October, so check in advance to see if there’s a game coinciding with your visit.
After the game, head back to the Anaheim Packing District to Poppy & Seed, one of Anaheim’s most talked-about restaurants. Featuring modern, Italian-inspired dishes made with locally sourced ingredients and a considerable wine list, the restaurant also features multiple tasting menus for the particularly adventurous.
Finally, end your day with a nightcap and a panoramic view from Top of the V, an elegant rooftop bar and restaurant located in the nearby Marriott hotel. The bar offers a wide selection of drinks and late-night Basque small plates called pintxos, paired with the perfect vantage to enjoy the nightly fireworks show from the neighboring amusement park, making this an especially happy place to visit.