For more ideas, be sure to check out my 2022 guide to 72 Hours in Los Angeles!
When it comes to travel, I’m not a huge fan of revisiting places. Sometimes, repeat destinations are meaningful and/or necessary. (Example: our annual spring break trip to family in Naples, FL, when the heat and sun provide a serious serotonin boost at a time it’s much needed). But I have limited days each year to venture away from home and an endless list of places I want to see. I don’t usually want to visit the same place over and over…
…except when it comes to Los Angeles.
LA has become the exception to my rule. My annual November trip has evolved from a one-time friend visit to an annual retreat for my mental health. In LA, my time is my own; I revert back to the lifestyle and mental load of a carefree 20-something. But while I savor my last decade’s lack of responsibility, I very much do not want to do the same things I did in my 20s (ie: staying out all night and nursing a hangover the entire next morning). It’s a city so massive there’s always something new to see and do, so with the best local tour guide, this is how I spent my most recent trip:
12 p.m. // Explore Venice Beach
Traveling through Los Angeles International Airport is akin to navigating one of Dante’s nine circles of hell—I’ve never heard anyone dispute this assessment. The single good thing about this airport, though, is its location near the beach. So, after a late morning arrival, you can quickly (relatively speaking, by LA standards) hop to any one of the popular beaches north or south of LAX to discard your skin of frustration and dissatisfaction with mankind.
On our first morning, we escaped the interminable airport traffic and headed north to Venice Beach. At the time of its development over a century ago, Venice Beach was built as a beach resort town, independent of the city of Los Angeles. It boasted a residential area and amusement pier, and its population soon surged, especially with weekend tourists. It was consolidated with the city of Los Angeles in 1926, partly to support its crumbling infrastructure, but it suffered from the Depression and changing priorities of city planning following World War II. It’s from the decades since that Venice Beach has developed its gritty, eclectic persona, pieces of which are still present among its storefronts, boardwalk, skatepark, recreation courts, and permitted graffitied street art.
For our post-flight leg stretch, we took a short run on the bike and pedestrian path that runs up and under the Santa Monica Pier before indulging in a late lunch at Fig Tree. The menu is fresh and healthy, and the outdoor seating offered a great view, tucked away from the crowds. We followed up lunch with a stroll down Ocean Front Walk and a long rest on the sand, perched above the roar of the surf below.
7 p.m. // Discover Hollywood’s quieter side
We headed to Sherman Oaks for dinner and drinks, with the promise of a low-maintenance kind of vibe for the evening. (This is also my favorite thing about LA in general; clothing-wise, anything goes.)
We headed to Ventura Blvd for dinner at Le Petit Restaurant, a French restaurant serving the Valley since 1996. Tucked between a Greek restaurant and baby store, Le Petit has a red-painted exterior and dimly-lit interior reminiscent of a previous era, one when cigarette smoke swirled around twinkling cocktail glasses. When we arrived for our reservation, the restaurant was nearly full, and it felt like everyone was a regular—couples, families, friend groups. The average patron age skewed older (we were among the youngest there), but if anything, it added an air of comfort that made us feel part of a well-established scene. There are several spots for post-dinner drinks up and down Ventura Blvd (The One Up is a cocktail bar with retro arcade games), but we were too weak to fight the exhaustion of travel, exercise, and food coma.
8 a.m. // Hike to the Hollywood Sign
I lived nearly a decade in New York City, and it’s not very friendly to hiking enthusiasts—it’s so difficult to get outdoors if you don’t own a car. This is another big reason I love LA; it’s made for being outside! There are countless hikes to explore, and so we blended tourism with exercise by finding a trail that led us to the world-famous Hollywood Sign.
The Brush Canyon Trail is a 6-mile moderate hike (minimal incline; hiking boots not necessary) that begins in the southwest corner of Griffith Park, at the north end of Canyon Drive. At 8:30 am on a Friday, it wasn’t yet packed during our ascent (though it was a different story on our way down). Just past 2 miles, a fork in the road leads to either the upper or lower views of the Hollywood sign. Veer right up Mount Lee Drive for another mile to reach the summit which gives an up-close view of those grand 45-foot tall letters as well as a sweeping view of the city below.
12 p.m. // Indulge at a Korean spa
I thought I knew what to expect from a spa experience, but that was before my afternoon-long retreat at Olympic Spa. If you’ve never set foot in a Korean spa, it’s not a private sanctuary with plush bathrobes, gentle music, and scented oils; it’s a communal experience, more akin to a Japanese onsen. We arrived an hour ahead of our scheduled appointments to fully relinquish any lingering reminders of the outside world; three relaxation pools and five different saunas can assist with that. During my last visit, I had the Pure Bliss wet room treatment, which included a full body scrub (seriously, zero dead skin left on any part of my body) and oil massage. This time, I opted for a private room treatment and booked the Nirvana Hot Stone Massage. At the end, my body felt satisfyingly beat to a pulp.
7 p.m. // Dip into Chinatown’s trendy nightlife
It’s nice to harken back to days of youth for a night out, so for dinner we headed to Lasita in Chinatown. Located in a downtown plaza (see also: shopping mall), it’s one of those places so physically hidden, it must be good enough to be shared just by word of mouth. It’s a Filipino rotisserie with a shareable menu that balances main courses and lots of sides; the Chicken Inasal was a highlight, especially when paired with the menu of Masarap Sauces.
Post-dinner, we explored the nightlife of the neighborhood. Two blocks up N Hill St, Melody Lounge was our first stop of the night. Inside, ceiling-hung lanterns provide the main source of light, and a DJ spins records on vinyl. It was nearly empty when we arrived (too early due to age?), though this allowed us to comfortably enjoy our cocktails from one of the space’s limited seating options. After the first round, we headed down the street to General Lee’s. A party atmosphere was already in full swing; it was shoulder to shoulder and took forever to get through the bathroom line. Frustrated but determined to carry on, we regrouped for a third round back at Melody Lounge before heading north to Zebulon where a 90s/00s dance party felt much more like home. (I kept picturing this scene every time I had to show my ID, and I’ve suffered an existential crisis of aging ever since.)
10 a.m. // Tour downtown architecture
There’s a lot of history to LA, Hollywood aside, that tourism doesn’t always give due attention. The Los Angeles Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the city’s architecture and culture, offers recurring weekend walking tours that explore significant buildings and neighborhoods.
We met at the Central Library for the downtown Art Deco tour, a symbolic location given that the proposed destruction of the building in the 1960s and 70s sparked the very formation of the nonprofit. The tour winds through the streets of downtown, bringing to light the clean lines and decadent patterns of facades that are often unnoticed from street level. To me, the highlight is the soaring, pillared lobby of the CalEdison building. With a little imagination, you can hear the echo of decades-old footsteps bouncing off the marbled walls.
Our own personal architecture tour continued with a late brunch at Redbird, a meticulously-designed restaurant housed in the former 19th-century rectory of St. Vibiana Cathedral. (We’d attempted to pop in here last year just for a peek at the gorgeous interiors.) Upon entrance, the lounge has a decorative beamed ceiling, ornately painted with geometric design, and a perimeter lined by sleek leather banquettes. The main dining room is white-washed with large arched windows and a vaulted glass ceiling, a plein air contrast to the lounge’s dim Art Deco style. The brunch menu includes options for fans of both sweet and savory, but the unanimous favorite was the platter of morning pastries.
7 p.m. // Enjoy a final Mexican food feast
After a post-brunch siesta (and several episodes of the Great British Baking Show), we capped off our trip with a final meal at Salsa & Beer. It’s everything you want from a Mexican restaurant—a warm interior, cold drinks, and an expansive menu of favorites. There are four locations in and around North Hollywood. With a crisp Dos Equis in hand and a plate large enough to guarantee my hosts leftovers, I gave a silent toast to this dazzling La-La-Land and the unexpected (and uncharacteristic?) serenity it always provides me. Until next year.