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Los Angeles is such a large, spread out city, it can be difficult to know where to stay when visiting. There are hundreds of neighborhoods within the city limits, plus several technically separate cities within or along its borders, like Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.
With so many neighborhoods covering such a large area, LA is diverse in its population, geography, and activities. With beaches and mountains to canyons and valleys, bustling downtown and popular Hollywood to laid back beach neighborhoods, there’s a ton to see and do in Los Angeles. While you can fit in different things around town, you should stay closest to the part of the city you most want to experience.
To make things more complicated, public transportation isn’t easily accessible from all parts of town. With an area of about 500 square miles built on freeways, the public transit system isn’t exactly convenient in every neighborhood. All the neighborhoods here have easy access to public transportation.
Whether you want to stay downtown or by the beach, near the film studios or in the middle of town, there’s a perfect place for you to call home in LA.
Here’s your guide to five different neighborhoods to stay in while visiting Los Angeles, California.
1. Santa Monica
Santa Monica isn’t technically part of Los Angeles, it’s a separate city that borders LA on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. While it may not be part of LA, Santa Monica is a great place to stay for first time visitors to the area. This beautiful beachfront city is easy to get around and full of fun activities.
Transportation in Santa Monica
Santa Monica has access to LA’s Metro system with stops on the Expo Line. The Expo Line runs from the beach in Santa Monica all the way downtown.
Additionally, Santa Monica has its own local bus system, the Big Blue Bus.
Santa Monica isn’t very large, so you can also get plenty of places on foot.
Things to Do in Santa Monica
The top attraction in Santa Monica is the beach. From Pacific Palisades to Venice, the city’s beaches line Santa Monica Bay and provide the perfect place for sunbathing, swimming, and relaxing. Several casual restaurants dot the beaches, and the miles of sandy shoreline are bordered by a walking and biking path.
Another popular place to visit at the beach is the Santa Monica Pier. The pier is home to rides, games, and restaurants. Plus, lots of events take place there, like the popular Twilight Concert Series.
Santa Monica is also a shopping destination. The most famous (and therefore crowded) spot is the Third Street Promenade. This pedestrian only avenue is filled with locals and visitors, and lined with shops, bars, restaurants, and street performers. At the end of the promenade is Santa Monica Place, a recently revamped mall with plenty of shops and restaurants of its own. From vintage shops to high end stores, you’ll find whatever you’re looking for in this area.
Where to Eat and Drink in Santa Monica
Finally, Santa Monica has got some great places to eat and drink as well. If your morning requires something sweet paired with something caffeinated, pop into Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee. For a great health-conscious meal, stop by Flower Child. To satisfy your bar food cravings, head to West 4th and Jane, and don’t miss out on the hot wings.
The beach area is also lined with fancy hotels, and even if you’re staying in more budget-friendly accommodations, you must stop by for a meal or a drink. The rooftop bar of the Hotel Shangri-La has some of the best ocean views in the city. You’ll find more great views from the penthouse bar of The Huntley Hotel as well. For a treat yourself meal, dine at FIG the Fairmont Miramar Hotel.
If you want to focus on the beach and have the freedom to get around on foot, Santa Monica is the perfect place to stay. Plus, if you want to explore further into the city, you’ve got the option to do so with the Expo Line.
2. West Hollywood
Whether it’s your first or fifth time in LA, West Hollywood is a fun area to stay in the Los Angels area. Like Santa Monica, the City of West Hollywood, also known as WeHo, is actually a separate city from the City of Los Angeles.
Transportation in West Hollywood
As far as public transit goes, the closest metro stops are in Hollywood, which could be a mile or two away. However, the city does provide additional transportation options. There is a free shuttle every Saturday from 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. that goes to Hollywood, for instance. Plus, there are other buses and ride sharing apps.
Things to Do in West Hollywood
The perks of West Hollywood are its nightlife, shopping, and proximity to Hollywood.
Many people visiting Los Angeles want to see Hollywood. There are plenty of sights to see in Hollywood, like the Walk of Fame, the Chinese Theater, the Hollywood Bowl, and many other theaters and live music venues. However, you really don’t want to actually stay in Hollywood. While there may be things you want to see and do there, the area is very crowded and full of tourist traps. By staying in West Hollywood, you’re close enough to all these attractions, but not in the mess of Hollywood.
West Hollywood is also close to the famous Melrose Avenue. The well known street is full of a variety of shops and restaurants, including the ever-popular Urth Caffe. It’s a great place to explore on foot, shop around, and grab a bite to eat.
In and near WeHo, you’ll also find plenty of energetic nightlife. The neighborhood is known for being LGBT-friendly, and as such is home to several gay bars, the most famous of which is The Abbey.
Many other lively bars and restaurants line Santa Monica Boulevard, which runs through the neighborhood. Not to far away, you’ve also got the notable Sunset Strip. This stretch of Sunset Boulevard is filled with bars, restaurants, hotels, and Hollywood lore.
If you’re looking to be in the middle of the city, particularly close to Hollywood, and like a bit of nightlife on your travels, West Hollywood is the perfect neighborhood for you.
If you’re a fan of city life or you’ve already been to LA a couple times, opt to stay downtown. If you’re not used to big city life and all that comes with it, it’s probably not the best idea to stay here. However, if you’re up for all the hustle and bustle, there is SO much to do downtown.
Downtown is a public transportation hub, so it’s easy to get around from there.
You can jump on the Metro Expo Line to head to the beach or take the Red Line to Universal Studios, for instance. It’s home to Union Station, a beautiful and historic building that’s worth visiting, even if you don’t plan on hopping on a train.
Things to Do Downtown
There are several different districts within downtown, like the Arts District, the Fashion District, and Little Tokyo. Plus, it’s home to a number of museums, historical sights, and plenty of food and drink.
Let’s begin with the museums. A newer addition to the city, The Broad museum is one of the most popular around. The museum houses a collection of primarily modern art, plus super popular rotating exhibitions, like Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room. Tickets to The Broad are free and may be booked online in advance. The ticket does not include admission to temporary exhibitions like the Infinity Mirrored Room, you obtain that ticket separately once inside. If you prefer to wing it, there is a standby line outside the museum you can join the day you visit (just be prepared to wait).
The Museum of Contemporary Art, or MOCA, has three locations in the city, and its main branch is located downtown. Founded in 1979, the MOCA is home to a variety of modern art, including pieces by Roy Lichtenstein and Jackson Pollock. You can purchase tickets when you arrive; general admission is $15, with reduced prices offered for students, seniors, children, and visitors with a TAP Card (a reusable card used for public transportation fares).
The Last Bookstore
Another great place to visit downtown is The Last Bookstore. This large bookstore features new, used, and rare books, plus vinyl records and local art. Pieces of art also adorn the walls throughout the 22,000 square foot space, making it the perfect place to spend an afternoon wandering and finding hidden treasures.
Grand Central Market
There are so, so many places to eat and drink downtown, but the one spot you can’t miss is Grand Central Market. Grand Central Market is a smorgasbord of international fare. From breakfast food to falafel, burritos to ramen, barbecue to dessert, Grand Central Market has got it all.
Landmarks and Historical Sights
You’ll also find some famous landmarks downtown. One is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a massive, modern structure next door to The Broad.
Another is the historic Bradbury Building, built by Lewis L. Bradbury in the 1890s. Now an office building, it’s famous for its intricate interior and has been featured in several television shows and movies, like the 1982 film Blade Runner.
Yet another is Angels Flight Railway. This historic funicular is more than 100 years old and was recently featured in the movie La La Land. To ride the funicular, it’s $1 each way, with discounted fares for TAP card holders.
Olvera Street is also a historical sight to see downtown. Olvera Street is a Mexican marketplace that was founded in 1930. Today, the tree-lined avenue is lined with gift shops, street vendors, and restaurants. Many festivals and celebrations take place here throughout the year as well.
Phew, see! There is so, so much to do downtown, particularly if you like visiting museums, cultural, and historical sights when you travel. Plus, as the public transportation center, it’s easy to get around town from there. So, if you’re up for the big city bustle, downtown is a great spot for you.
4. Universal City / Studio City
If you really want to focus on the entertainment industry aspect of Los Angeles, staying in the area of Universal City or Studio City is a good option. Located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, these neighborhoods are more laid back.
Universal City/Studio City Transportation
Things are more spread out in the valley, so it can be less walkable than other neighborhoods on the list.
However, Universal City does have its own Metro stop on the Red Line, which can take you up to North Hollywood, or down through Hollywood and into downtown. The usual city buses serve the area as well.
Plus, if you travel through the Burbank Airport, it’s very close.
Things to Do Near Universal City
The main attraction in this area is, of course, Universal Studios Hollywood. The theme park is home to several rides, attractions, the famous studio tour, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Plus, just outside the park is Universal City Walk, a lively pedestrian area filled with shops and restaurants.
There are also several film and television studios in the area you can visit. Warner Brothers Studio is just a couple miles away. Fans of Friends, Gilmore Girls, comic books, and movie magic can take a studio tour to catch a glimpse behind the scenes. CBS Studios is also nearby in Studio City. In addition to tours, you can also sign up to join the audience of a talk show, like Ellen.
Also nearby is Griffith Park, home to Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood Sign. Make sure to make a stop here for a bit of hiking, great city views, and a piece of Hollywood history. (Fun fact: the Hollywood sign used to read “Hollywoodland” until it was shortened to simply “Hollywood.”)
If you plan to focus on exploring the entertainment industry on your visit to LA, then the Universal City/Studio City area is a great option!
5. Culver City
If you’ve been to LA a few times and want to get away from the popular tourist spots, Culver City is a great neighborhood for you. Once again, Culver City is also a separate city within the City of Los Angeles. It’s a cute and centrally located without being touristy, plus it has access to public transit.
Transportation in Culver City
Culver City is located along the city’s Metro Expo Line and has its own buses as well. It’s also the closest neighborhood on the list to Los Angeles International Airport.
One of the draws of Culver City is that it’s located between the beach and downtown. Get on the Metro one way and you’re headed to Santa Monica; get on the other way and you’ll be in the heart of downtown.
Things to do in Culver City
Plus, Culver City also has its own downtown. This charming area is home to shops, restaurants, and a movie theater. You’ll find several fun bars near there as well.
This neighborhood has a few studios of its own as well. One is Sony Studios, where visitors can take tours on weekdays to see famous sound stages and memorabilia from film and television.
If you’ve been to LA a few times and are looking for somewhere away from the tourist areas, but still conveniently located with plenty to eat, drink, and do, Culver City is a fitting choice for you.
Getting Around Los Angeles
Many visitors choose to rent a car while visiting LA, which can make it more convenient to get around, but then you’ll have our world famous traffic to deal with.
As long as you’re staying in certain neighborhoods, you can get around using public transportation, without the headache of navigating our ever-clogged streets and freeways.
All of the areas suggested here have easy access to public transit.
Plus, with the prevalence of ride sharing apps like Lyft and Uber, getting around is even easier.
Los Angeles is so big and spread out, where you choose to stay should depend on your interests.
Whether you want to focus on local history and museums, Hollywood lore and theme parks, or just relaxing at the beach, there’s a place for you in Los Angeles. Make one of these neighborhoods home and you’ll have a great time here in the City of Angels. Cheers!