I’m from LA and I consider myself to be a local expert of the city. Yet every time I leave and come back to the city, it seems like so much is being restored and renovated that it can even be hard for me to keep up. There are some neighborhoods that I didn’t even know existed, and some that I almost can’t even recognize anymore because of how they’ve changed.
If I were to make a list of every cool place in LA, I would never stop writing. So instead of telling you about the obvious — Hollywood sign, Santa Monica promenade, Venice Beach canals — I’ll give a few insider tips on slightly lesser known (by tourists) areas. These insider tips range from touristy (where to take the best IG photo) to Angelino insiders (cool places to hang like a local). Oh, and I’m not a fan of spending money unnecessarily, so all of these tips are free or almost free!
1. Downtown (DTLA) — When I was in high school, I wasn’t even allowed to hang out downtown because at best, there was nothing to do, and at worst, it was “dangerous.” (And this is coming from someone who isn’t from the safest part of the city). Now, downtown LA is where I spend lots of my time. From parks to rooftops to speak easys to galleries — there are options for everything!
- Where to take a cool IG photo: The angel wings are sprawled all over the city and can be hard to find. These are hidden in the roll-up door at the Regent Theatre.
- Where something famous was filmed: Unfortunately, the park that hosts the bench from 500 Days of Summer is now closed. Not too far from there is the Bradbury Building. It’s somewhere you could walk by without even noticing, yet inside it’s spectacular. It’s most famous for Blade Runner, although more than 10 movies/shows were filmed there over the years — including 500 Days.
- Cool cityscape views: I’m a huge fan of rooftop bars, and for this reason I love DTLA. The Standard Rooftop DTLA, The Perch, and Ace Hotel Rooftop are some of my fave in the city — and they have free entry!
- Free places to hang like a local: Whether you just want to walk or are a seasoned marathon runner, you must check out Rundalay — an inclusive running club that meets at the top of the steps in Grand Park every Monday. There’s no better way to experience the city than a sunset stroll through DTLA with encouraging people all around you. Another option is to explore DTLA through the Art Walk, which happens the 2nd Thursday of every month. There are mural tours, galleries, and food trucks galore.
2. Culver City — This is an area where I’ve always enjoyed spending time. Whether working out, hitting happy hour, or catching a movie, there’s always something to do here — and little to no tourists bumping into you!
- Where to take a cool IG photo: Many people don’t even know about the Love Wall because it’s hidden between office buildings. Here someone graffitied over this graffiti to write “Love Me.” But the paint is always being refreshed so anytime you stop by, it will look picture perfect!
- Where something famous was filmed: Culver Studios and Sony studios are in the heart of downtown Culver. From above, you can even see the Rainbow from the Wizard of Oz inside of Sony’s lot.
- Cool cityscape views: Culver City Park is one of my favorite places to get an amazing view of all of LA. From the top, you can see from DTLA all the way to the beach — including that rainbow I mentioned earlier.
- Free places to hang like a local: City Stairs — aka the Stairway to Heaven — is a great, free workout. If the stairs are too intense, there’s also a hiking trail (or you can drive). And if you need to relax later after that intense workout, the Culver Hotel has live jazz music in the Bar every weekday after 7:30pm.
3. Oldtown Pasadena — Since I have family in Pasadena, I grew up spending almost the same amount of time here as LA. Now that I’m a 20-something working and socializing in Pasadena, my perspective on the area has changed — I enjoy it even more now! There’s so much to do all over Pasadena, that I’m only gonna focus on one area — Oldtown.
- Where to take a cool IG photo: Clearly I’m a fan of colorful graffiti walls and this one at ArtCenter College of Design is a gem.
- Where something famous was filmed: Big Bang Theory Alley — ok so they don’t actually film here. But the show is based on this area and became so popular that they made a mini-street in honor of the show. The Cheesecake Factory where Penny works is right down the street!
- Cool cityscape views: If you go to the top of these parking lots — I recommend the 90 min free and $5 max lots, which are sprawled every fews blocks near Colorado Blvd — you will have the BEST, free views of the city.
- Cheap places to hang like a local: I personally am a huge fan of salsa nights on Tuesdays at Ixtapa Cantina. They have all-star instructors and a fun environment for social dancing all night long. You can also head down Colorado, past all of the shopping until you get to addition to the hidden pathway to Central Park. It’s between buildings, so you might not see it at first. There are free outdoor movies during the summer on Fridays and Saturdays. If you end up visiting and it’s not the summer, head to Regency Theatre where they show movies that are no longer in theatres elsewhere, for $3 each. On Wednesdays you can get 2 tickets, 2 sodas, and 2 popcorns for $10!
So here’s your local guide to three of my fave areas of LA. Let me know if you’d like more detailed guides on specific areas or what types of activities/tips you’re looking for!