After receiving a $500 airline voucher, I decided to fly to the West Coast and explore Los Angeles, California for the first time. My mom met me out there and we spent 7 days trying to fit in as many touristy things in a week as possible. LA has so much to see and do that you could live there for years, and still not have done it all.
I bought the 5-day Go Los Angeles city card pass that gave me admission to 35+ Los Angeles attractions and experiences. The pass is also available in 1,2, 3, and 7 days, although Universal Studios is only included in the 3+ day options. The pass comes with an easy-to-use app with a guide of the city. This helped me plan out our days. I used the pass for 5 days on days 2 through 6 of my trip. I also made an itinerary on Sygic Travel that you can view.
After traveling for 24 hours, I was exhausted so the first day of the trip was a day to relax. We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel close to the airport on the first night before transferring to our AirBnB the following day.
After getting settled in, I walked to the La Brea Tar Pits, which are a group of tar pits around Hancock Park. Natural asphalt has seeped up from the ground in this area for tens of thousands of years. Over many centuries, the tar preserved the bones of trapped animals. You can walk around and see the tar pits without paying for the museum. The George C. Page Museum is dedicated to researching the tar pits and displaying specimens from the animals that died there, including several animals from the Ice Age. The price to enter the museum is $12 or can be used with the Go Los Angeles card. However, I did not start my 5-day pass until the following day.
Directly beside the Tar Pits, is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This art museum is located on Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile vicinity. It is the largest art museum in the western United States and holds more than 150,000 works spanning the history of art from ancient times to the present. In addition to art exhibits, the museum features film and concert series. The admission price is $25.
Here, you can also find “Urban Light“. Let there be light – is definitely the thing that will come to your mind when you see the 202 street lamps arranged into one sculpture by Chris Burden. Even though the lamps are of the same color, they differ in heights and types so it is not a totally uniform sculpture.
Right down the road from these two attractions is the Peterson Automotive Museum. Tickets cost $25. I did not go in, but it is something to consider if you are in the area.
Santa Monica, Malibu, and Venice Beach
Today was the first day that I used my Go Los Angeles pass. I started off by catching an Uber to the Santa Monica Pier. On this popular pier, you will find many attractions like an amusement park, aquarium, arcade, shops, an iconic carousel, and many places to get food.
I arrived right at 9AM and went straight to the Starline office to ask if there was room on the 9:30AM celebrity homes tour. I was in luck! This is free with the Go Card on a standby basis so as long as they still have room on the bus, then you can go. There were only about 9 people on the tour and the bus could fit roughly 20.
On the tour, I enjoyed the bus ride from Santa Monica to Malibu along the pacific Coast Highway, where I admired elite beachfront communities. Homes I saw on the tour included: Leonardo DiCaprio, Bruce Willis, Cher, Adam Chandler, Jennifer Anniston, Courtney Cox, Matthew Perry, Ellen, David Beckham, Paris Hilton, Jim Carrey, and more. These are there summer/vacation homes, so don’t be expecting anything overly extravagant. My favorite homes were actually the ones on the hills, like Cher, Ellen, and David Beckhams, versus the beachfront homes. The tour lasted about 2 hours and ended back at the Santa Monica Pier.
Our tour guide, Leo, recommended a few places to eat at for lunch. I ended up eating at an authentic Italian restaurant called Bruno’s. It was very good.
After lunch, I headed back onto the Santa Monica Pier. I took photos with the Route 66 sign. This was cool seeing because I just taught my students about it when learning about the Westward Expansion. U.S. Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America, or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System. US 66 was established on November 11, 1926. The highway, which became one of the most famous roads in the United States, originally ran from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, covering a total of 2,448 miles. US 66 served as a primary route for those who migrated west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
I next used my Los Angeles Go Card to redeem my unlimited ride wristband at Pacific Park. This normally costs $35. This park looks directly out on the Pacific Ocean, in the direction of Catalina Island. It is the only amusement park on the West Coast of the United States located on a pier and LA’s only admission-free park.
There are a total of twelve rides in Pacific Park, including the world’s first and only solar powered Ferris wheel that provides a view of the Pacific Ocean and a roller coaster that circles the majority of the park. It has appeared in over 500 movies and television shows, so was definitely cool to finally experience in person.
After riding a couple rides, I took a walk along the beach toward Venice Beach. After about 15 minutes of walking, I picked up a bike at Perry’s Cafe and Rentals. The Go City Card offers free bike or skate rentals at this location for the entire day. I enjoyed the bike ride along the bike path for the remainder of the way to the Venice Beach pier.
Venice Beach is the most visited beach in Los Angeles. It is a great place not only for sunbathing and swimming in the sea, but also for taking a stroll down the “Ocean Front Walk” promenade, playing tennis, basketball, or visiting some of the bars, restaurants, and shops the promenade is lined up with.
If you prefer exercising to sunbathing, you can head to the Muscle Beach which is part of the Venice Beach that serves as an open-air gym.
Venice Beach Boardwalk is a parade of street musicians, mimes, fortune tellers, and quirky talent show-offs. Aside from the observing entertainment, it is also a home to numerous souvenir stands. After buying a few souvenirs, I made my way back to Santa Monica Pier, where I ended my day.
On the way back, I took a slight detour to look at the Binoculars building, which was designed by architect Frank Gehry, and was his last project in LA until the Walt Disney Concert Hall began construction in 1999.
*Note: if you are in the area on a Saturday, the Abbot Kinney Marketplace is also worth stopping for.
This day was filled with a TON of walking, even though it was supposed to be all done via The Big Bus tour. Included with the Go City card is a one-day classic ticket on the hop-on hop-off bus. The company advertises that buses run every 30 minutes. They have two loops – the Hollywood loop and the Beach loop. I chose to get my ticket for the Hollywood loop since I thought it would save me from a lot of walking and Uber driving. Unfortunately, I learned right away that the buses can take over an hour to arrive. I wasted 2 hours of my day, just waiting for the next bus to come. By the third stop, I decided to forget the bus and just walk the rest of the way. If you do decided to take the Big Bus Tour, be sure to download the app so that you can track where the buses are and try and plan your time better than I did at first.
After seeing the Tar Pits on the outside on the first day, my friend told me that I NEEDED to go back and visit the museum. I took her advice and started here in the morning. I guess she was right, because it was very fascinating! In the museum, there are interactive exhibits, a 3D movie experience (extra $5), and amazing fossils from the Ice Age. You can watch the scientists at work in the lab and walk around their gorgeous atrium.
The next stop on the Big Bus tour is the Farmers Market and The Grove. The Farmers Market is an area of over 100 vendors that include: food stalls, sit-down eateries, prepared food vendors, and produce markets. I had lunch here at a Mexican restaurant and it was absolutely delicious! After lunch, I walked around The Grove, which is a popular outdoor shopping center right next door.
The Big Bus then took us down Melrose Avenue, where I hopped off to check out Pink’s Hot Dogs. Many areas in the US have their iconic restaurants, and Pink’s is one of the ones in Los Angeles. Since I had just eaten lunch, I was not hungry for a hot dog, but they did look good. Be advised that the line is always long, although it seems to move quickly.
I hopped back on the bus at the same bus stop on Melrose and took it down to Paramount Studios, which is the fifth oldest film studio in the world. I did not have time for a tour and it is not included in the Go City card, so I just walked around the outside. If you venture inside, you can take a look at the place where movies like Titanic, Transformers, Iron Man, Star Trek, and Indiana Jones have been made. The studio tour costs $58 and requires a reservation in advance.
Behind the studios is Hollywood Forever Cemetery and Funeral Home. This is the final resting place of many Hollywood stars and celebrities. Although a cemetery is known as a quiet place, this one is known for its frequent concerts, performances and movie screenings. It is free to walk around the grounds.
From the cemetery, I decided to not waste anymore time waiting for the bus, and decided to enjoy walking from destination to destination. About a 20-minute walk down the road is where the Walk of Fame begins on Hollywood Blvd. There are more than 2,500 stars, with new ones being added every now and then – usually about 20 new stars a year. The first stars were installed in 1960. You can find the names of important actors, directors, singers, musicians, and even fictional characters.
I took a few short detours off of Hollywood Blvd to get some quick photos. The first was the Capitol Records Building. This 13-story tower has a special light located at the top of the tower that spells the word Hollywood in Morse code. The building is not open to the public.
The next photo stop was Crossroads of the World, which has been called America’s first outdoor shopping mall. It is located on Sunset Blvd and features a central building designed to resemble an ocean liner surrounded by a small village of cottage-style bungalows. Once a busy shopping center, the Crossroads now hosts private offices, primarily for the entertainment industry.
I headed back to Hollywood Blvd, and walked past Jimmy Kimmel’s building, which is across from Dolby Theater. If you’d like tickets to see Jimmy Kimmel Live! you can order them at 1iota.com although they sell out very quickly. They are posted about 4 weeks in advance. My mom was able to get us on the waiting list for a few of the nights we were in town, but unfortunately we did not get them. All of the talk shows are free, they are just hard to get.
Formerly known as the Kodak Theater, the Dolby Theatre opened in 2001 and hosts various popular prominent events, the most noteworthy one being the Academy Awards (the Oscars). A tour of the Dolby Theatre is included with the Go LA Card. If you don’t have the pass, you can take a tour of the theater for $25. Purchasing tickets in advance is recommended on Ticket Master. I did not have time, so I skipped this attraction.
Right down the block is the TCL Chinese Theater, which is a theater palace built in an architectural style aiming to copy traditional Chinese architecture. This place witnessed many famous movie premieres as well as three Academy Award ceremonies since its construction in 1926. You can also admire the hand and footprints of popular Hollywood residents here. You can also take a tour of this theater with Go LA Card, but I unfortunately did not have time to fit everything in.
Just a bit further is Madame Tussaud’s, which comes with the Go LA Card. This is a great way to see all the Hollywood stars in one place while you’re here. Take a selfie with stars like Michael Jackson, Betty Ross, Brad Pitt, and Stan Lee. The wax museum is definitely worth a visit and is usually not as crowded as some other sights. I have been in a few wax museums, and this one has been my favorite by far. You are able to get right up to the figures and it is very spread out, so you do not need to worry about other visitors getting in your photos.
This concluded the attractions I saw on Hollywood Blvd. Next, I walked to Hollywood’s Rock Walk on Sunset Blvd. If you are a fan of Rock music, then this is the stop for you.
I then wanted to walk toward The Comedy Store. It is a comedy club located in West Hollywood. On my walk, I looked up tickets and realized that it was sold out for the night. Luckily, I stumbled upon Laugh Factory, another comedy club that was not sold out. I arrived just in time for the 7:30PM show. Among the acts were Matt Rife from MTV, Paul Elia from Conan and tru TV, Erik Griffin from Workaholics, Andrew Santino, and Dane Cook from Good Luck Chuck, My Best Friend’s Girl, and Employee of the Month. I was very surprised that the price was only $20. I also had dinner there. They have a 2 drink minimum policy, which was fine, but pricey.
Since it was a beautiful night, I decided to walk back to my AirBnb after the show. Along the way, I snagged photos of Whisky a Go Go and the Beverly Center. Whisky a Go Go is a nightclub that is highly recommended for all rock n roll fans. The Beverly Center is a large eight-story shopping mall.
I also stopped back at the Urban Lights to get some night shots. This concluded my day exploring Hollywood.
Burbank, Griffith Park, and Beverly Hills
I started off my day with a tour of the Warner Brothers Studio. This must be reserved in advance and is free with the Go Los Angeles City Pass.
Although it was very cool to see the place where many TV shows and movies are/were filmed, I was a little disappointed with the tour. For one, our tour guide seemed like a newbie and was not very knowledgeable. Secondly, we were not able to go in the parts that I was looking forward to like the Ellen stage and Conan stage, or even any of the sound stages. However, they are currently building a new Tour Building that is supposed to be much better for guests so I recommend waiting until it is completed next year before taking your tour.
Even though it wasn’t what I was hoping for, I still enjoyed looking at the authentic costumes that actors wore, exploring the Bat Mobile room, and taking my photo in the “Friends” cafe.
After the tour, I thought it was about time that I tried In-N-Out Burger. I ate at the one one Burbank. It was very good, although it wasn’t anything too special in my opinion.
After lunch, I headed to Griffith Park and started at the Griffith Observatory. This offers a great view of the Hollywood Sign and downtown LA.
The observatory features a variety of space and science-related exhibitions. Its main draw is the Foucault pendulum, a device proving the rotation of the Earth, dating back to 1851. You can also see one of the shows in Samuel Oschin Planetarium or look through one of the public telescopes that are available when the sky is clear.
While my mom explored the observatory, I went on one of the hiking trails to the Hollywood Sign. The hike took me 2 hours and 45 minutes (1.5 hours there and 1.25 back). This trail is considered to be easy, and I agree. It was a pretty steady incline majority of the way. The only thing that will slow you down is the scorching heat. There was not a cloud in the sky when I went and it was mid-day. Definitely take at least two water bottles and sunscreen with you to stay hydrated, as there is barely any shade. The view from the top is amazing!
After completing my hike, I headed to Beverly Hills, where I met up with a friend who walked us around. We walked down Rodeo Drive and had dinner at one of the restaurants in the area. After a long day of being in the sun, I was ready to head back and catch up on some much-needed sleep. If you have extra time while you are in the area, you can go to Beverly Wilshire hotel where Pretty Woman was filmed, take in the views from Waldorf Astoria, or walk around Beverly Gardens Park.
Universal Studios is included with the Go LA Card, as long as you purchase the 3,5, or 7 day options. The park was open from 10AM to 7PM, although hours vary according to the season. I recommend getting there as early as possible so you can see and do as much as possible. This attraction is a must-see for every film fan visiting Hollywood. It is both an active filming studios complex and a theme park with attractions for tourists. It is one of the most visited places in Los Angeles so will always be crowded.
You may get lucky like I did, and have the chance to see Mario Lopez and other hosts of entertainment shows that film at the entrance to Universal Studios. If you stand in the crowd during the taping, you will be aired on TV! The first 50 people in the crowd to receive tickets even went home with a gift box full of makeup! This was a great way to start off my day.
The park was established in 1964 and has been growing in size and popularity ever since. It is divided into two sections- the Upper Lot and the Lower Lot with most of the attractions being located in the Upper Lot.
One of the most popular attractions is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It is also one of the busiest places in the studios so if you wish to see it, you should consider heading there sooner rather than later. The wait time for the Harry Potter ride was anywhere between 60 to 95 minutes majority of the day. Be sure to download the park’s app to get up-to-date wait times and show times. This is how I planned most of my day out. Unfortunately, most of the day was spent waiting in long lines. You probably can’t get to every ride and show in the same day because of this.
Among other popular attractions are: The Simpsons Ride, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Transformers, or the new Walking Dead Attraction. You may also encounter your favorite characters walking around in the park and take a picture with them.
The three shows that were going on that day included: Animal Actors, Waterworld, and a Special Effects show. The shows occur usually every couple of hours. Check the app to view upcoming times.
My favorite part of the day was taking a tour around the studios to see all the imposing filming places. You can check the official website where the names of the actors who are filming in the studios are listed. The studio tour also includes two 3-D motion parts where you will feel like you are in the scene of a movie. The studio tour usually has a smaller wait-time then the rides.
When the park closes, the best place to go for dinner is the Universal Citywalk. It is a large entertainment center right in front of the theme park. You’ll encounter various theme restaurants, souvenir shops, a skydiving center, and a cinema here. The strip is very popular so the whole area is often crowded with tourists and also the prices are higher than elsewhere.
The last main area that I felt that I had to explore before leaving was downtown Los Angeles. My first stop was the Grammy Musueum, which is included with the LA Card. I wanted to explore and celebrate the enduring legacies of all forms of music, the creative process, the art and technology of the recording process, and the history of the Grammy Awards. The four floors have more than two dozen exhibits from rock and hip-hop to country, classical, latin, R&B, and jazz. There was even an entire floor dedicated to the Backstreet Boys.
From the Grammy Museum, I walked about 15 minutes to take a look at some of Banksy’s Wall Art. Banksy is an anonymous England-based street artist, vandal, political activist, and film director. His works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world.
A few more blocks down the road is The Last Bookstore. There are many bookstores in Los Angeles, but this one is definitely something else. The books are arranged into various lovely patterns. Even if you are not that much into reading, you should consider stopping by just for the atmosphere.
For lunch, I met a friend at the Grand Central Market. This was very similar to the Farmer’s Market that I went to earlier in the week. Grand Central Market is a foodie paradise right in the middle of downtown. Go here to enjoy the diverse pool of tastes and smells. There are restaurants offering various cuisines. I decided to eat at Tumbras a Tomas Mexican restaurant. There is always a line for a reason.
My next stop was the OUE Skypace in the U.S. Bank Tower, formerly Library Tower and First Interstate Bank World Center. This 1,018-foot skyscraper is located at 633 West Fifth Street. It is the third tallest building in California and the second tallest in Los Angeles. Admission to the 54th, 70th, and 69th floor is included with the LA Go Card.
On the 54th floor, you will see how Los Angeles is home to some of the most iconic films and TV shows, discover the many musicians and bands who started their careers in LA, and hear memorable stories from sports personalities that will impress any fan.
From the 54th floor, you will head to the 70th. Here, you can ride the slide for an additional $8 (not included with pass). This is a 45-foot, fully enclosed, all-glass adventure going down the exterior of the US Bank Tower. Be sure to look down as you slide down nearly 1,000 ft. above downtown LA to experience the city from an entirely new perspective.
On the 69th floor, you can sit and sip on some cocktails as you enjoy the view from the panoramic bar. Here, you will get a 360 degree view from California’s tallest open-air observation terrace. Be on the lookout for LA’s iconic landmarks such as the Hollywood Sign and Capitol Records. You will also get a bird’s eye view of the Dodger Stadium and Santa Monica Pier.
Not far from the U.S. Bank Tower is Walt Disney Concert Hall, which is where I decided to stop next. The majestic stainless steel building was finished in 2003. The initial impulse for building it came in 1987 when the wide of Walt Disney – Lillian Disney – donated fifty million dollars to Los Angeles for a construction of a performance venue. It is a very popular piece of architecture, so popular that one episode of The Simpsons was dedicated to it. It is also featured in the movie Get Smart starring Anne Hathaway.
From the concert hall, take a stroll through Grand Park to get a great view of Los Angeles City Hall. This 27-story skyscraper used to be the tallest building in LA. The top floor is freely accessible.
The last stop for the day was Olvera Street. This street has been around since 1781, the same year as Los Angeles itself. However, it took until 1930 for it to be restored to today’s state. Nowadays it is a place of celebration and preservation of the early Mexican and Aztec culture. Visitors can take a stroll through colorful stalls and browse through artfully handmade items. There are also several Mexican restaurants with delicious food and musicians playing traditional songs during certain times.
This completed my busy week in Los Angeles. The following day I headed to the airport. I enjoyed exploring the city of Angels. My favorite part was experiencing places that I have seen so many times in movies and TV shows. Now when I see these iconic locations featured in my favorite films, it will be more relevant and exciting now that I have been able to see them for myself.
LA Go City Card
|Malibu Celebrity Homes Tour||$55|
|Perry’s Beach Cafe Bike Rentals||$30|
|Pacific Park Unlimited Ride Wristband||$35|
|La Brea Tar Pits Museum||$15|
|Madame Tussauds Wax Museum||$31|
|Warner Bros Studio Tour||$72|
|TOTAL COST OF INDIVIDUAL ATTRACTIONS||$452|
|LA GO CITY CARD COST||$307|
As you can see from the table, the Go City Card is definitely worth getting when visiting LA. I recommend that you first plan out what you would like to see and do, and see which attractions are included in the pass. You can get a complete listing at gocity.com. Then see what other attractions are around the areas you will be in that you didn’t already think of. For example, I probably wouldn’t have went into the Grammy Museum if it wasn’t included. I also wish I did more research and got to the Dolby Theatre and Chinese Theater earlier so that I could have used my pass on admission into those two. The pass was very convenient to have. It allowed me to skip ticket lines and really made me feel like I wasn’t spending any money on my trip. I liked not having to search for my pass in my bag every time, since I was able to show the e-card on my mobile app. So not only did I save $145, but I also saved on time!