Los Angeles for beginners: Make the most of your first visit

Los Angeles is a sprawling megatropolis with an overwhelming amount to see and experience, including 75 miles of golden sand beaches, Hollywood stars, fantastic nosh, shopping, world class museums, and even a movie theme park. Thanks to the abundance of great value fares from Virgin Atlantic*, LA is within easy reach of the UK - hop on the direct flight from London Heathrow and you'll be delighting in the joys of the City of Angels before you know it.

Los Angeles for beginners: How to get the most out of your first visit
Los Angeles for beginners: How to get the most out of your first visit © FiledIMAGE - Fotolia.com

Renting a vehicle is a good option for accessing the city's attractions (preferably a convertible!). However, Los Angeles' metro and bus system has expanded greatly, and is a more user-friendly option for getting around. Using the subway is one way to avoid the city's congested streets and freeways.

Santa Monica Pier & Yacht Harbour

Possibly the biggest draw for Los Angeles is its interminable sunny weather followed closely by its ridiculously gorgeous coastline. Pics of beautiful people roller skating or skateboarding along a promenade in blazing sunshine are most likely to have been taken at Santa Monica or Venice Beach with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop. Surfing, swimming, and bodyboarding are always popular activities here, as is lazing on the sand.

Don't miss Muscle Beach - a section of Venice Beach set up for celebrity body builders to do their work outs - all for the delight of spectators. Hermosa Beach is one of the film locations for "La La Land", and its historic Lighthouse Café is still a top venue for jazz performances.

Summertime on Venice Beach, Los Angeles
Summertime on Venice Beach, Los Angeles © Curved Light USA - Alamy Stock Photo

Santa Monica Pier opened on 9 September 1909, and was the first concrete pier built on the west coast of the USA. During its early heyday, the pier had a variety of attractions including aquariums, fishing excursions and an immense ballroom. In 1934, a breakwater was created, followed the next year by the construction of the yacht harbour. You'll now find an amusement park, top restaurants, shops, and plenty of space for angling enthusiasts.

Olvera Street & Grand Central Market

The first street in Los Angeles was constructed in 1781, and still exudes its original Spanish charm. The street is now called the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, and is more of a market plaza these days. Situated near the Union Railroad Main Station and the City of Angels Cathedral, this is one of the places in town to get authentic Mexican food such as tamales and enchiladas. There is also a vast array of souvenirs to be purchased such as zapatas (Mexican shoes and sandals), piñatas, and peasant style shirts, tops and dresses.

Olvera Street, the oldest part of LA
Olvera Street, the oldest part of LA © Ken Lund - Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

About a mile away, Grand Central Market has grown with the city and is celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2017. Originally, this was the place to buy fresh produce, fruit and veg and meat. It now also has tiny food stalls and restaurants where city workers congregate for breakfast and lunch. Egg Slut is a popular choice for breakfast, any of the Mexican stands (La Huerta or La Tostaderia) offer a mean burrito or seafood taco; and, for great Thai food, try restaurants Ramen Hood or Sticky Rice.


There was a time in the 1970s when Hollywood had lost some of its sparkle. It was no longer the glamourous epicentre for the cinema and entertainment industry as it had been in the twenties, thirties and forties, and began to deteriorate. In recent years, however, much has improved and no matter what its state of repair, there are still many places worth visiting at the home of the film industry.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood © Traveljunction - Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Grauman's Chinese Theatre is an ornate art deco cinema that opened in 1927 and has been screening films ever since. Neighbourhood tours of the stars' home are always hugely popular, while famous nightclubs such as The Troubadour on Sunset Strip are atmospheric places to catch the latest music acts and where artists such as Linda Ronstadt had their start.

West Hollywood is well known as a shopping precinct with iconic shops such as Tower Records and the Book Soup Bookstore. If you don't mind being parted from a considerable amount of cash, pop into the Fred Segal Boutique or the Kitson outlet on Melrose Avenue. A very trendy Urban Outfitters can be found here, too.

Iconic sign on the Hollywood Hills
Iconic sign on the Hollywood Hills - public domain image courtesy of Ben Sherman - Wikimedia CC0 1.0

Need a meal break? Chefs Curtis Stone and brother, Luke, opened Gwen on Sunset Blvd in July 2016. The restaurant comprises 83 seats in an art deco-style dining room with adjoining European-style butcher shop.

Shopping & food

At Mateo is a new creative hub, which consists of top-tier restaurants and trendy boutiques. FigAt7th is another popular shopping mall with eateries, a profusion of retail outlets and a farmer's market operating every Thursday. Meanwhile, Citadel Outlet Mall, with its 50 shops and assyrian-style frontage, was built in 1929, originally a tire factory. It was scheduled for demolition after falling into disrepair but declared an historic monument by forward thinking council members.

Try Craft Los Angeles for farm-to-table New American fare by chef Tom Colicchio in a sleek setting. Republique has Modern French cuisine served in a space with communal tables, plus a bakery and cocktail bar.

Griffith Park & Universal Studios

Griffith Park is the majestic and picturesque backdrop to Mia and Sebastian's budding romance in "La La Land". It is worth taking a few hours and exploring this urban park on foot, on horseback or by bike. The famous Hollywood Sign is located here and visible from the bridle trail; plus, the Los Angeles Zoo and Griffith Park Observatory can both be found on the property.

Stunning architecture of the Griffith Observatory, LA
Stunning architecture of the Griffith Observatory, LA © Ana Paula Hirama - Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Universal Studios Hollywood is well known for its backlot tour where hundreds of movies and TV programmes have been filmed. The studio tour takes visitors through King Kong 360 3-D as well as its latest addition - "The Walking Dead" attraction - an interpretation of AMC's award-winning television series. Universal has now added the immersive Wizarding World of Harry Potter to its movie-based theme park. There is also the Universal CityWalk with restaurants, shops and an enormous multiplex cinema.

Museums of Downtown LA

Downtown museums in Los Angeles make a great cultural day out. The Museum of Contemporary Art has lots of quirky exhibits to enjoy, while the vast Los Angeles County Museum is famous for its early Colombian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman art. La Brea Tar Pits, next door, is full of prehistoric animal remains, and provides a fascinating glimpse into this area's distant past. Then there's The Broad, a relatively new addition to the city with its collection of modern pieces and curious contemporary exhibitions.

There is so much to see and do when exploring Los Angeles that the city will leave you exhausted for all the right reasons. Virgin Atlantic operates daily flights to LA from London Heathrow with many great deals available when you book online. The weather in Los Angeles may well be perpetually fine but you can see when we think is the best time to go for ideal city break conditions.

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Lynn Houghton

Lynn Houghton

Posted on Tuesday 7th March 2017 in: City Culture North America Virgin Atlantic

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