LA Panorama

Insider Guide to Los Angeles

18 September 2018

Nowhere does glitz and glamour quite like Los Angeles – and with the likes of Hollywood, Disneyland and Santa Monica Pier on your doorstep, this vibrant city packs in more iconic sights than many entire countries! 

It’s unsurprising then that LA feels like it’s bigger than most countries too, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed planning your holiday to-do list – which is exactly why we’ve tapped up Flight Centre’s resident LA expert Lydia Tsang to give us the inside scoop on all the neighbourhood must-dos. From where to eat, what to see, where to shop and just about everything else in-between, this is your crib sheet to getting the best out of the City Of Angels.

Lydia’s number one advice is to rent a car. Seriously, rent a car! LA is a sprawling destination, with many districts a few hours’ drive from each another; public transport is underdeveloped, has a bit of a sketchy reputation, and will result in too much time wasted hanging around when you could be getting up to much more fun exploring. Pick a base from one of the destinations below, then plot out some road trips to wherever else is on your hit-list


Hollywood, West Los Angeles


•  Head to The Grove, a great outdoor mall and farmer’s market that has the added bonus of some serious celebrity-spotting opportunities; if you’ve still got the shopping bug, there’s even more vintage boutiques and big-name designer stores at Melrose Avenue and Fairfax Village

•  It’s touristy but has to be done – grab some photos at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Sunset Boulevard

•  Explore the mysteries of the cosmos at Griffith Observatory (re-enactment of that magical waltz scene from La La Land optional), then lace up your walking shoes to tackle a hiking trail or two at Griffith Park

•  Feast on a delicious pastrami sandwich at Canter’s Deli, then knock back some strong drinks and hip-hop tunes at the best kind of dive bar, The Dime 

Hotel recommendations:

•  Andaz West Hollywood: chic and sophisticated (Andaz is part of the Hyatt group),  with a fabulous rooftop pool complete with cabanas, and a complimentary wine hour

•  Petit Ermitage: Moroccan-inspired boutique joint with a bohemian vibe and lovely rooftop garden

•  The Hollywood Roosevelt: make sure you steal all their seriously covetable amenities, and try the drool-worthy Sonoran hot dog at their 25 Degrees Restaurant

•  The Jeremy West Hollywood: one of the newest hotels on the Sunset Strip, with slick architecture and killer skyline views


View from Mulholland Drive


•  Drive along Mulholland Drive and live vicariously through the rich people of California, whilst also nabbing some pretty awesome shots of the LA landscape

•  Head to Universal Studios for the day – must-dos are the Studio Tour and Wizarding World of Harry Potter (don’t forget your obligatory Instagram photo of a pint of butterbeer); get a Universal Express Pass to help you skip the lines for rides

•  Indulge your carnivorous side at Lala’s Grill – the Argentinian steaks are out-of-this-world 

•  Sip on some Zombie and Mai Tai cocktails at LA’s oldest tiki bar, Tonga Hut – and save a few quarters for their excellent, eclectic jukebox too

Hotel recommendations:

•  Sheraton Universal: within easy walking distance of Universal Studios, with entry ticket and room packages available

•  Beverly Garland’s Holiday Inn: a more budget option, but conveniently located and with a free shuttle to both Universal Studios and the metro station


Downtown Los Angeles


•  Take a wander around the charming historic buildings at Olvera Street, a colourful Mexican marketplace known as the “birthplace of Los Angeles” 

•  Get a feel for old LA in the Historic Core neighbourhood, home to some of the city’s most iconic landmarks – including the Bradbury Building, Grand Central Market, Orpheum Theatre, Eastern Columbia Building and Los Angeles Theatre

•  Go to Tinfoil: Liquor & Grocery and ask the guy at the counter, “Do you sell birthday candles?” You’ll be transported to the back where they have a secret little speakeasy sandwich shop; night owls will be pleased to hear they stay open until 3am 

•  Get your cultural fix at the Museum of Contemporary Art, then catch a Los Angeles Lakers or LA Clippers baseball game at Staples Center (check the match schedules in advance)

Hotel recommendations:

•  Millennium Biltmore Hotel: iconic 1920s hotel with Beaux Arts-style glamour to spare

•  Ace Hotel Downtown: set in the former United Artists Building with a massive renovated movie theatre to match, with an industrial, edgy vibe that’s pure hipster catnip

•  The Standard: minimalist contemporary boutique joint, with a buzzing rooftop bar


Santa Monica, Los Angeles


•  Stroll along the iconic Santa Monica Pier and take a ride on the Ferris wheel for an amazing aerial view of the beach

•  Shop ‘til you drop on Third Street Promenade, then fuel up on fajitas at Barney’s Beanery

•  Drive to Toponga State Park for some fantastic hiking trails in the great outdoors

•  People-watch at Venice Beach, then take a road trip to the more serene Huntington Beach, stopping by delicious seafood joints on the Pacific Coast Highway along the way


•  Silver Lake is hipster central, so of course there are plenty of great coffee shops – the highly Instagrammable Intelligentsia is our top pick

•  Food, glorious food! There’s something for everyone here, all served in ridiculously photogenic settings, so see how many meals you can fit in; try everyone’s favourite neighbourhood Italian, Alimento (the tortellini in brodo are to die for), laidback Israeli fare at Mh Zh, funky Northern Thai joint Night + Market Song, casual Taiwanese eats at Pine & Crane, the best brunch in town at Squirl, and chilled-out mainstay L&E Oyster Bar

•  Quirky independent boutiques rule the roost here; take a leisurely browse around Sunset Junction and explore the likes of Dream Collective, Mohawk General Store, The Odells and Mollusk Surf Shop 

•  Go jogging around the tranquil green space at the Silver Lake Reservoirs, or spend a relaxing day paddle-boating round the nearby Echo Park Lake (complete with famous fountain) 


•  Go roller-skating at the retro Moonlight Rollerway (as seen recently in Straight Outta Compton)

•  Bask in even more shopportunities at The Americana outdoor mall – complete with dancing fountain and light shows, and complimentary San Francisco-style trolley rides

•  Eat at Foxy’s Diner, a cute 60s-style spot serving hearty Southwestern eats; you even get your own loaf of bread and toaster at the table

•  Admire the vintage electric signs at the unique Museum of Neon Art, then sign up for their Neon Cruise – an open-top bus tour around the area’s most famous neon signs


•  Enjoy a serene afternoon at the Huntington Library and picturesque Botanical Gardens

•  Check out the historic Rose Bowl stadium; if there’s not a college football game scheduled during your trip, the regular public tours and flea markets are well worth a visit too

•  You’ve got to have burgers and milkshakes at least once in LA – head to the In-N-Out drive-through on E. Foothill Avenue, or get your fill at Pasadena institution Pie ‘n  Burger

•  Indulge in even more delicious eats, including the gigantic breakfast burrito at Lucky Boy, gorgeous seasonal gelato at Carmela’s, and life-changing homemade pasta at Union


Surfers in Orange County


•  Disneyland, obviously! Working out an action plan for this theme park practically requires a guide of its own, but we’d advise staying a maximum of two days to avoid total Mickey Mouse overload

•  Check out Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park for more thrill rides and much shorter lines  

•  Watch a baseball game at Angel Stadium – and remember, half the fun is eating everything in sight, and sinking a few craft beers whilst you’re at it

•  Live life like you’re in a rap video at Long Beach, then hit up Cheesecake Factory for massive portions and people-watching galore 

Hotel recommendations:

•  Disneyland Hotel: stay within the Disney compound to bag early admission to the park, and max out on character breakfasts and themed swimming pools

•  Hilton Anaheim: slick “Disney Good Neighbour” hotel that offers special discounts and perks, as well as being within walking distance of the park

•  Hyatt Regency Orange County: family-friendly hotel with all mod-cons, located within two miles of Disneyland

Contact Lydia or anyone at Flight Centre for the latest deals to the City of Angels.

Rachel Read

Rachel Read is a Hong-Kong based freelance writer, editor and blogger. In addition to creating her own beauty, food and lifestyle blog Through The Looking Glass, she has contributed to the likes of South China Morning Post, Lane Crawford, Hong Kong Tatler, Jetstar Asia, BBC Nottingham, Harper’s Bazaar Ukraine and many more.