We're here to talk about Los Angeles vacation ideas. First, do you mind if I make a small request?
I'd really love to reduce the number of people referring to this fair region as “La-La Land.” Although there are a lot of space cadets hovering around Hollywood and certain beach communities, they make up a very small percentage of the population.
Use of this term is similar to referring to the San Francisco Bay Area as Frisco. If you’ve been doing that as well, this would be a good time to quit that also-- or at least don’t say that when you’re in Frisco. (Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.)
How can we help get you off to a great start on your Los Angeles vacation? Some people can strategize better having had some background and history. If that's you, how about a brief overview of the second-largest metro area in the country? Click here for the Readers Digest version of, say, 500 years of
Los Angeles history.
Planning Your Los Angeles Vacation
So the optional history and geography lessons are behind you. Now let's talk turkey! What should you think about if you are traveling to L.A. for a vacation? Our usual approach is to suggest you step back and consider your overall vacation objective. Having a precise objective up front actually makes your planning job easier since there are so many things to do and places to see in SoCal.
Is this primarily a trip to Los Angeles County specifically—perhaps you want to immerse yourself in Hollywood or other Los Angeles attractions?
Maybe you really want to spend a week at a beach hotel in Malibu?
Or do you want the L.A. “sampler platter:” a day in Hollywood, a trip to Magic Mountain and a day at Universal Studios Hollywood, followed by a day of Los Angeles shopping in the fashion district and in downtown L.A. For dessert, a day or two at one of the cool Los Angeles county beach communities like Manhattan Beach? You can fill a week without venturing beyond the county line.
Or… are you planning to expand the Los Angeles vacation to hit Disneyland down in O.C. (not The O.C. as in the TV show please)? Do you want a sampling of the dozens of Socal beaches with a theme park or two?
Do you love the dry heat found at the Palm Springs resorts?
Do you want to include time in San Diego county? If you really want to check out San Diego, more than squeezing a day at the zoo or SeaWorld, you should plan to spend a night or more there. Don’t keep making day trips from Los Angeles; you lose up to 4 hours on the round trip each time. So a few days in the Los Angeles/Orange County area, followed by a couple nights in San Diego would be very busy but with a high fun quotient.
Do you need some serious golf in this Los Angeles vacation? There are some great courses from Los Angeles County to San Diego, but you should also consider the great courses at Palm Springs resorts; especially from late Fall to late Spring.
A very likely vacation objective is to fit in as many of the varied Southern California destinations as you can into a fairly limited schedule. That is a challenge; a fun challenge but one that requires some extra research.
This page focuses on Los Angeles vacations, but visiting L.A. may be only a part of your plan. You can fit in day trips to Orange County pretty easily, but you’ve got to work harder to get down to San Diego in a day. It is definitely feasible but it takes some planning to make it an enjoyable experience.
With a large geographic region, it can seem deceptively easy to get from one place to another. And if you live elsewhere, you might think SoCal is smaller than it really is. (Sort of like a naive Californian thinking that cruising from Williamsburg VA to New York on a day trip is a good idea.)
The bittersweet truth is that you’d need multiple weeks to feel that you’ve really seen all the major destinations, so you must prioritize.
Are you visiting with small children? Older kids? Roller coaster fanatics? You might make up a wish list after checking out the many pages here (and the linked pages we offer). Agree with your group on the overall objective and then group the targets into days.
As we talk about the various Los Angeles attractions we try and also give you an idea of how long you’ll need, and even which other attractions you might be able to hit on the same day.
One hypothetical choice would be a morning on the beach at Santa Monica and an afternoon and evening kicking around downtown and/or Hollywood.
Or come back at night to enjoy the Santa Monica pier if your hotel is nearby.
Or, a day at Universal Studios and Universal Citywalk.
A morning at the Richard Nixon library out in Orange County followed by an afternoon and evening of Los Angeles shopping and dining.
A day at the Getty Museum and then a Dodger game (Dodger Dogs for dinner).
You get the idea. Planning a Los Angeles vacation is like peeling an onion; there are always more layers you didn’t know about when you started.
Another major influence on trip planning is whether you’ll have a car. You can get around pretty well to most L.A. attractions without a car if you’re patient, and depending on where you stay and where you want to go. If you’re coming to a beach or theme-park resort hotel, you may be able to walk to virtually every destination you care about, taking a cab or bus on the rare occasions you need to go further. Many Los Angeles hotels are near public transportation options. You’ll find further discussion on the transportation theme on other pages.
Here Are Some Good Websites!
This might be a good time for you to visit a small number of carefully selected sites with great information on Los Angeles. I’ll warn you, it can be a bit overwhelming, the amount of Los Angeles vacation information and number of opportunities in this great county.
We suggest you skim through the sites fairly briefly, perhaps jotting down brainstorming ideas in no particular order. Then go back to your vacation objective; it may change a bit after you learn more about the museums, the beaches, the shopping, the resorts, the theme parks.
For example, you may decide to spend only a day or two on Hollywood attractions instead of the 3-4 days originally planned. Or that you’ll have to be happy with 2 partial days on the beach at Venice rather than 3 full days. You can then return to the detailed websites after digesting the big picture and having done some brainstorming and initial planning of your Los Angeles vacation calendar. You get the idea…
The Los Angeles tourism organizations have put together two terrific sites. There is some overlap between them, but they are somewhat complementary and are both worth a visit. First check out
Discover Los Angeles.
The navigation buttons across the top offer specific trip planning details and suggestions, resources related to transportation, lodging and shopping and a host of other good stuff. There are a few brief but helpful video overviews on the Home page.
A related site (at least it appears to also be from the L.A. visitor bureau) is
Visit Los Angeles.
On this Home page you’ll find quick access to information about the public transportation system, airports, visitor guides and some features in common with the other site.
LA Tourist site
is privately produced and, although less energetic than the two sites listed above, it does offer a considerable amount of information and advice to enhance your Los Angeles vacation. If you go to the Los Angeles Tourist Attractions page you’ll find many resources that include city guides, dining guides, free stuff and government websites (police, fire, convention bureaus, etc.).
What About The Beaches?
Finally, you need a good introduction to the Los Angeles County beach communities. Each has its own personality and physical features.
is the furthest west. Venice is the funkiest (the old guy in the thong discussed previously was not that unusual at Venice). Santa Monica and Malibu are probably the best known, but there are several other great beach towns worth a visit.
For a good overview of most of the County beaches, you should hit the
Los Angeles Beaches
page at the Discover LA site. This will give you enough information to plot out where you might want to spend your time on the beach (if any; there’s easily a week’s worth of Los Angeles vacation activities without stepping foot on the sand). As time permits we’ll add some suggestions to help you interpret the many beach options available to you—and that’s not even counting the Orange County and San Diego beaches!
You probably will not want to confine your vacation to one Southern California county. Therefore we suggest you surf some of our other pages to get ideas and information; you may come up with ideas you never thought of. We then give you information and/or links to help you make it happen.
Hot off the press is our book on Southern California Amusement Parks for the Kindle reader. There are Seven wonderful theme parks in SoCal and now you can have the wisdom of the ages in one place, wherever you go for the price of a cup of coffee. Check:
The Best Amusement Parks
FREEBIE ALERT: If you plan to visit SoCal theme parks on your Southern California vacation, I've got a little something that you might find really helpful. And it's Absolutely Free! Check it out here.