Planning a trip to a big city can be overwhelming. There’s so much to see and do, and even after doing lots of research, you might still feel like you’re missing something.
If you’re planning a trip to Los Angeles, you might be feeling this way. Not to worry, with some planning and extra tips from a local (that’s me!), you’ll be all set for your visit to the City of Angels.
Here are nine things to know before visiting Los Angeles.
1. Los Angeles a large, spread out city…
Los Angeles is made of dozens of neighborhoods within about 500 square miles. You could fit San Francisco, Pittsburg, and Boston all within the city limits and still have room for three or four more mid-sized cities.
Not only is LA big in size, but there are a lot of people here, too. About four million people live within the city limits, while more than 10 million people live in Los Angeles county. That makes LA the second most populated city in the United States (after New York City) and the most populated city in California.
So, what does this mean for you? As a visitor, this means a couple things.
First, plan your activities accordingly. Don’t try to fit in too many activities in one day spread around the city, or you’ll just end up spending more time sitting in traffic than enjoying the sights. Like, if you think you’ll want to see downtown, visit Malibu, and hike in Griffith Park in one day, I’d rethink that plan.
Second, this also means that places get crowded. If you’re going to a popular attraction or restaurant during a busy time (like on the weekend), be prepared for crowds. Make reservations whenever possible for any restaurants you really want to try, get everywhere early, and buy tickets for things ahead of time when possible.
Finally, you need to have a transportation plan. You’ll need to decide if you want to have a car or use public transportation. LA was built on its freeway system, and driving is the most common way to get around. Many people visiting Los Angeles rent or bring a car. Having a car can help with getting around, since the city is so big, but then you also have to deal with traffic. More on both of those next!
2. …But you don’t necessarily need a car
Yes, LA is quite spread out, but whether or not you need a car depends on the kind of trip you’re taking.
If you’re visiting Los Angeles for a long weekend and plan to spend most of your time in just a couple areas, you don’t need a car. If you’re staying in Santa Monica and want to hang out there all weekend, there’s no need to bother with a car.
However, if you’re going to be in LA for several days and plan on checking out Disneyland and Malibu and maybe taking a couple day trips, you’ll want to have a car.
So, whether or not you have a car with you in Los Angeles depends on the kind of visit you have planned and where you’re staying. Having a car can give you more freedom to go wherever you want to go, so it’s great for longer stays. However, having a car also means dealing with traffic and parking. For shorter trips, you can probably get around fine using the city’s buses and metro system (and maybe some ridesharing apps, if needed).
3. There’s a lot of traffic (throughout Southern California)
Los Angeles is consistently ranked as the worst city in the world for traffic. Yes, the world. The traffic is worse here than it is in London or Sao Paulo or Paris. It’s just as bad as New York City and far worse than it is in Atlanta.
Our “rush hour” traffic is roughly from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. Driving just a couple miles could take you more than an hour. This means you need to plan your sightseeing accordingly. Whatever you do, just avoid driving during these busy times as best you can in order to make your stay more fun.
Just keep this in mind as you make your plans. The more you can avoid LA’s terrible traffic, the better your visit will be.
4. It’s not always sunny
Yes, Los Angeles does have a mild climate. Sixty degrees Fahrenheit (about 15 °C) is considered cold here. However, don’t expect to always find those bright blue skies you see in the movies.
What might surprise some visitors is LA’s lack of sunny skies in the spring and early summer.
Here in Southern California we have what we call “May gray” and “June gloom.” In fact, May and June are generally the cloudiest months of the year in the region.
This just means that in May and June it’s usually overcast. Sometimes it’s just morning clouds that burn off by the afternoon, and sometimes it sticks around all day (and might even come with some drizzle).
While it’s cloudy, it’s not necessarily cold. The temperature is still mild, just with overcast skies. It’s just something to look out for when you’re planning which time of year to visit!
5. The ocean water is cold
The Pacific Ocean along the west coast of the U.S. is cold. Yes, even in California.
Los Angeles does have miles of beautiful coastline that are perfect for beach days, but just don’t expect warm, light blue waters. The water is usually warm enough to swim in during the summer, though! Just be ready for some chillier waters than you might have been expecting.
6. It’s more than just Hollywood
There’s no doubt that the film and television industry is a huge part of life in Los Angeles. It also provides some fun sights for locals and visitors — like Disneyland, Universal Studios, and film studio tours.
However, this focus on film and television has given Los Angeles a reputation of being fake and Hollywood-obsessed. Sure, there are some shallow, celebrity obsessed people here, but there’s so much more to our city.
Los Angeles is incredibly diverse. It’s diverse in its population, landscape, and sights. From miles of beaches to local mountain hikes, bustling downtown to the laid-back valley, and every kind of food you could possibly imagine, there’s a bit of everything in Los Angeles.
No matter what you’re interested in, there’s something for you in Los Angeles. Find a sampling of essential LA experiences here.
7. It can be expensive
Los Angeles is generally expensive.
However, classifying something as “expensive” does depend on what you’re used to paying. If you’re from New York or Norway, then LA will seem inexpensive. But if you’re from somewhere with more average prices, the costs in Los Angeles (and throughout California) will seem high.
With that said, there are more budget-friendly spots. Sure, you can get $20 avocado toast, but you can also get $2 tacos.
Just prepare your budget and know what to expect before you arrive.
8. There are lots of great day trip spots
There’s so much to do in Los Angeles, but don’t miss out on everything else Southern California has to offer.
If you hop in the car and drive for two hours, you can find yourself high in the mountains, relaxing by the pool in the desert, or sampling some pinot noir in wine country. You can even hop on a ferry and find yourself in an island paradise.
If you’re planning to visit Los Angeles for more than a weekend, make sure to plan a couple day trips in your itinerary. Find more about the best day trips from Los Angeles here.
9. Los Angeles is an awesome city!
Los Angeles often gets a bad reputation. People come for a couple days and just don’t have a good time — they sit in traffic and overpay for food and end up wishing they hadn’t bothered.
And, look, I get it. I’m from the LA area and it took me years to really love and appreciate this city. I’ve lived elsewhere, but Los Angeles always brings me back.
Perhaps Los Angeles can disappoint people because they’re either not prepared or it wasn’t what they expected. (Which can really happen visiting any big city.)
However, if you come to Los Angeles with a good plan and an open mind, you’ll see how wonderful it can really be. It’s a diverse, vibrant city, full of delicious food, great people, and all kinds of activities.
Find more guides to help you plan your trip to Los Angeles here. Also, feel free to drop any questions you have about LA in the comments — this local gal is happy to help! Cheers!