If you haven’t visited Los Angeles in a few years, now is the time to return to the city. Downtown is in the midst of a major (if incomplete) renaissance, and across the city, the gallery and culinary scenes have blossomed. New museums like the Broad and the Marciano Art Foundation rank among the best contemporary-art institutions in the world, and people patronize restaurants at least as much for the food as for the people-watching. Memorable walks and hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains can be enjoyed without leaving the city limits, and to the west, some of California’s most iconic beaches await. And, of course, it’s not all that difficult to spot a celebrity or two.
This itinerary includes time in both the center of Los Angeles as well as some relaxation on the coast in Malibu. If you have the time, I highly recommend including a spell in Santa Barbara as well. That region would be easy to add (see our Santa Barbara itinerary) either between Los Angeles and Malibu or at the end of the plan below.
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Arrive in Los Angeles and rent a car. Traffic in L.A. isn’t as terrible as people think — it’s certainly no worse than in New York or Chicago — but the city’s public transportation system deserves whatever ridicule it may receive. Driving here can actually be a pleasure, especially if you avoid rush hours and rent a late-model convertible.
Check into your hotel, either our longtime recommendation of The Peninsula Beverly Hills or my new discovery in West Hollywood, the small Hotel 850. The latter feels more like a plush and stylish bed-and-breakfast, but service is consistently friendly and attentive.
Take some time to settle in and relax. Have a stroll in the neighborhood (yes, it’s possible to walk in Los Angeles) before dinner.
Explore downtown Los Angeles today by taking a taxi rather than driving. Start by visiting the Broad, a world-class museum of contemporary art across the street from the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. Book free timed-entry tickets in advance on the museum’s website, ideally for when the doors open at 10 or 11 a.m. That way, you can be sure to see Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrored Room,” an installation that books up daily within an hour of the museum’s opening.
Walk downhill to the NoMad, a new hotel in a grand former bank building. Its restaurant has a decadent Victorian style, and it’s a delightful spot for lunch.
Afterward, walk to my favorite bookshop in the city, the Last Bookstore. Its selection of used books rivals that of Powell’s in Portland, and like the NoMad, it occupies a striking historic bank building.
Take a taxi or car share to Union Station (or make the 20-minute walk). To the right of the main entrance is a new bar, the Imperial Western Beer Company, set in a soaring hall that retains its original art deco décor. I enjoyed my flight of beers there immensely, and all were brewed on-site.
Return to your hotel and relax before dinner. I discovered several exciting new restaurants on my recent visit to the city.
After breakfast, head to the Pacific Design Center to meet with architectural historian Laura Massino Smith, who runs Architecture Tours L.A. She operates several tours in different neighborhoods of the city, including downtown and Silver Lake, but we opted for an itinerary in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. She is a fount of knowledge, and her tour included memorable hidden gems by Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. and Frank Gehry.
Since the architecture tour involves mostly sitting in Smith’s minivan, consider a little light hiking this afternoon. I’m especially fond of Runyon Canyon Park, where there are panoramic views of the city’s skyline and the Hollywood sign. Start at the Fuller Avenue entrance and keep to the right, taking the East Trail, so you’ll have a steep uphill climb followed by a long, slow downhill walk (much pleasanter than the reverse). Take the first left off the East Trail in order to make a loop of approximately 2 miles. Note that there is no parking at Runyon Canyon; if you drive, it’s necessary to park on the street.
Like the Broad, the Marciano Art Foundation offers free timed-entry tickets on its website. Book well in advance to ensure that you can enter at the time of your choosing. The collection, housed in a former Masonic temple, boasts many of the same blue-chip names as that of the Broad.
It would be a shame to leave Los Angeles without doing a little shopping. Take an afternoon to indulge in some consumerism. One place I always like to stop is Decades, a store on Melrose that sells gorgeous vintage and consignment clothing and accessories dating to the 1920s. On my last visit, I coveted an Hermès leather travel bag almost enough to pay the $8,000 price tag.
Check out of your hotel and head west toward Malibu. Pull off the Pacific Coast Highway and head uphill to the Getty Villa, which recently reorganized its sensational collection of ancient art chronologically, rather than thematically. Again, it’s necessary to book complimentary timed-entry tickets in advance (parking is not complimentary, unfortunately).
Have lunch in Malibu overlooking the sea, perhaps on the terrace of Nobu, if you don’t mind something of a scene. The Japanese cuisine is undeniably delicious, and the waitstaff — most of whom likely model on the side — can make knowledgeable recommendations.
Check into the Malibu Beach Inn, settle in, and take the rest of the afternoon to relax on the beach. The hotel sets up loungers on the sand, where an attendant will serve you snacks and (nonalcoholic) beverages.
This morning, drive into the Santa Monica Mountains for a little hiking. I recommend either a self-guided hike at Paramount Ranch or a guided excursion with Malibu Wine Hikes.
Paramount Ranch’s “Western Town,” a famous television and movie set, unfortunately burned in the devastating Woolsey Fire in late 2018, but the hilly landscape surrounding it remains starkly beautiful.
Malibu Wine Hikes operates relatively easy hikes on Saddlerock Ranch, taking guests through hillside vineyards and enclosures housing rescue animals that were no longer of use to movie studios. You can feed llamas, zebras and, for an extra charge, Stanley the giraffe. The hike includes a wine tasting, but the landscape and animals are the reasons to do this excursion, not the mediocre bottlings.
Return to the Malibu Beach Inn and have lunch at the hotel or on the nearby Malibu Pier.
Take the rest of the afternoon to relax on the beach.
After one more breakfast on the hotel’s magnificent oceanside terrace, check out of the Malibu Beach Inn, drive to the airport and board your flight home.
Alternatively, continue up the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Barbara.
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