[All content and prices updated August 2013]

Why you should add Los Angeles to your Indie/RTW trip

Los Angeles gets, and deserves, a lot of criticism from locals and travelers alike, but there is no place in the world like it and it's a place that you just have to see with your own eyes at least once. If you could take away about half the people and two-thirds of the cars the place would be paradise, but you can't so it's not. Still, if you do it right you can efficiently see everything you want to see and have a great time in the process. From movie and TV studios in Hollywood to Beverly Hills to gorgeous beaches to Disneyland and countless other famous attractions there is never a shortage of exciting things to see and do in Los Angeles.
  • The movie industry is based in and around Hollywood and Burbank and there are many really interesting tours and attractions that some people make fun of but are actually well worth doing once.
  • Beverly Hills is just next to Hollywood and everyone has to see this famously ultra-rich area at least once even if you can only afford to pass through on a tour bus.
  • Cruise Sunset Boulevard, walk Rodeo Drive
  • Think you could make it on Baywatch? Malibu is right here
  • How many movie stars can you spot on a drive down Mulholland Drive?
  • If you're looking for nightlife, then head to the Sunset Strip for some of the best nightlife in the country.
  • Olvera Street is where LA was founded and now has a wide range of Mexican restaurants and shops.
  • Try to find the Baywatch beach, Disneyland and 90210 in one afternoon
  • If you are a beach and water person, then you've come to the right place. There are plenty of beaches in and around LA for you to get your sun fix.
    • Santa Monica is probably the most famous beach community in Los Angeles, but there's also the exclusive Malibu, the funky Venice Beach, the locals-only Manhattan, Hermosa, and Redondo beaches, and some really nice ones down in Orange County as well.
  • The weather is awesome year-round, and LAX is a massive airport that will get you in and out rather easily.

Indie travel tips for Los Angeles

Many people travel to see all the famous sites, and that's perfectly fine, but when you're on a RTW trip, sight-seeing gets old after a while, so exploring lesser known areas and experiencing the culture of a place becomes the priority rather than ticking sites off a list. Here's some ideas of ways to explore LA without being constantly caught up in throngs of other people.
  • Check out the St. Elmo Village, a unique, free museum where people are encouraged to share in the creative process. They offer art workshops and festivals throughout the year at this urban folk art center.
  • If you want to see ocean wild life but don't want to mess with the crowds and prices of Sea World south in San Diego, you may want to check out the Marine Mammal Care Centef. You can view sick or injured seals and sea lions being rehabilitated before returning the ocean.
  • Wandering around different neighborhoods in new cities is a highlight for many indie travelers. It gives us an opportunity to see the diversity of a given city and really get a chance to interact with locals. Chinatown offers a little more than other Chinatowns around the US. It has really wide streets and an open air market reminiscent of cities in China.
  • There are plenty of hiking opportunities in and around LA, so if you want to get into the outdoors, consider these hikes:
    • Hike around the Hollywood sign for great views of the city.
    • Mishe Mokwa to Sandstone Peak and Tri-Peaks - this is the highest point in the Santa Monica mountains and offers great views of the Ocean and Santa Monica Bay.
    • Check out this beautiful river canyon, the Santa Anita Canyon, and explore a few waterfalls along the way.
    • If you want to head outside of LA a bit, then check out the High San Gabriels or Joshua Tree National Park.
  • If you're looking to eat great food but not pay an arm and a leg, then hit up one of the many street carts in LA. One of the birthplaces of street food in the US, taco trucks are the most popular, but you can find pretty much any cuisine you desire.

Transportation

If you are coming from more than 1,000 or so miles away you'll likely book a flight into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), but there are many smaller regional airports in the area so you might be able to get a deal into one of those. If you intend to stay in Hollywood then Burbank (BUR) is the closest, but LAX is almost always the cheapest.

More than any other city on the planet, you'll want to rent a car when you visit Los Angeles. They tend to be reasonably priced, especially at the airports, and having a car is almost like having a key to the city. Public transportation has improved lately, but doing Los Angeles this way is slow, clumsy, and very limiting. And forget walking except within just a few small areas because the rumors about LA being spread out are very true.

Accommodation

But once you've arrived and secured a car you are in great shape. There are hostels in Los Angeles, but not as many as there should be. There are plenty of hotels to choose from in all price ranges.

The most popular places to stay are in Hollywood and in the beach areas south of there, particularly around Santa Monica. Hollywood is very central, but it can also be frustrating, and the best nightlife is still rather spread out through the nearby city of West Hollywood. Santa Monica and next-door Venice are better options if you want to spend much time outdoors and especially at the beach itself.

Downtown Los Angeles is on the upswing and there are a few things to see, but there still isn't much reason to stay there. For a pleasant place that's slightly off the main tourist routes consider staying in the beach communities just south of LAX known as the South Bay. Manhattan, Hermosa, and Redondo Beaches have the most pleasant lifestyle and setting in the area, and still have a good infrastructure for visitors. Disneyland is 40 miles away down in Orange County and there are loads of hotels nearby, but if you want to stay in that area a much better choice would be ritzy Newport Beach or surf-obsessed Huntington Beach.

Photo credits: JCS