Recently, I had the pleasure of traveling to Los Angeles with my teenage daughter. Neither one of us had ever been to California, so I spent countless hours researching what to do, where to stay, and what to eat. I scoured websites and blogs, talked to a few friends, and even contacted Discover Los Angeles, the area’s department of tourism.
We decided early on to skip the big amusement parks in the area (Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Six Flags Magic Mountain), mostly because we only had 4 days in L.A. and wanted to experience as much of Los Angeles as we could. Going to any of the there parks would’ve been an all-day outing! So if you’re planning a visit to the L.A. area, here are a few of our favorites:
WHERE TO STAY
6161 W Centinela Ave Culver City, CA
If you’re looking for a safe, no-frills place to sleep at night, I highly recommend the DoubleTree Hotel in Culver City. We knew that we weren’t going to spend a ton of time at any hotel, so a nice, clean, and safe place was all we were looking for. This hotel delivered on all fronts. Their location right next to Highway 405 was especially nice since it allowed us to easily be on our way (although L.A. traffic is just as bad as everyone says it is!). The convenient highway access and proximity to so many tourist attractions are what initially drew me to the DoubleTree in Culver City and for those reasons alone we would return anytime.
Santa Monica Pier/Pacific Park/Santa Monica Beach
At the end of Colorado Avenue, Santa Monica, CA
Santa Monica is beautiful! Endless shopping, restaurants, and entertainment made Santa Monica a must on our recent trip – and we were not disappointed! We walked the beach for a couple of miles and ended at the Santa Monica Pier. While many of the rides and carnival games were deemed too “young” by my teen, I can see a family with smaller kids (under the age of 10) having a total blast here. Pacific Park is reminiscent of an old-fashioned carnival and, even though we didn’t ride on any of the rides, we both thoroughly enjoyed strolling the area.
6933 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA (Madame Tussauds)
These three attractions (along with many more) are located right next to each other in Hollywood and all are a must-see! Madame Tussauds is really the only attraction we paid to see in CA, but it was well worth it. We had a blast clowning around with the “celebrities” and taking some pretty funny photos. We were the first ones to enter on a Saturday morning and my daughter was initially so scared to approach the celebs that I had to touch them to make sure they weren’t real. It was hysterical!
We didn’t do the tour of the Chinese Theater, but we did spend some time looking for star’s footprints and signatures in the cement outside. It was cool to see some stars we knew, like Will Smith and Michael Jackson. We even saw the Shirley Temple signature from 1906! The Walk of Fame goes on for blocks and blocks, but it was fun to see some names we recognized (and a whole bunch that we didn’t!). Fun Fact: Did you know that even Kermit the Frog has a star?
189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles, CA
If you’re traveling with a teen or a pre-teen, the Grove shopping center is a must! There’s shopping, dining, and even a huge movie theater on the premises so you definitely won’t be bored. Usually they have some pretty cool events and concerts going on, but not when we were there. Parking is nuts, but it’s helpful that the garage has a digital counter that lets you know how many spaces are left. My personal favorite part of The Grove – Sprinkles Cupcakes! And, yes, they are just as good as everyone says they are.
Connected to The Grove is the Original Farmer’s Market. I will say that the teen wasn’t as excited to be there as I was, but it is worth a visit. The fresh food smells unbelievable, and most dining options were reasonably priced. Some shops had lines that wrapped around a few corners so you know it had to be good! We walked through pretty quickly because my daughter was itching to get out of there, but I managed to pick up some dried bananas and a Farmer’s Market reusable tote on the way out.
2 Manhattan Beach Blvd, Manhattan Beach, CA
This was, by far, my favorite beach that we visited on our trip. And to think, it wasn’t originally on our itinerary! One morning while out to breakfast I asked a couple of locals for their recommendation for a good beach and they steered me in the direction of Manhattan Beach. It was pretty cloudy when we visited, but we still had a great time. It was really, really hard to find parking here though. We drove around for the good part of 20 minutes trying to find a spot! And the meters at the few parking garages only allowed for a maximum of 2 hours.
Some of the homes here were spectacular! Manhattan Beach is considered to be a very pricey area, and you could tell that we hit up the swanky beach just by looking around at the other beach-goers. (A HUGE difference from what you’ll find at Venice Beach, I can assure you.)
The beach is beautiful, and the food we had at the Shark’s Cove Sports Bar was really, really good for bar food. If you want to take a walk on the beach, swim, surf, or play some volleyball, Manhattan Beach is the place for you!
WHERE TO EAT
Locations throughout California, we dined at 7009 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, CA, just blocks from Madame Tussauds and the Chinese Theater.
How could we make a trip out to Los Angeles and NOT have an In-N-Out Burger, right?!?! This is the place where Hilary Swank celebrated her Oscar win, in her fancy Oscar dress, no less! I received plenty of recommendations to go here, and to ask for your burger “Animal Style” (includes pickles, extra spread, grilled onions, and mustard fried onto each meat patty). I’m sure the cashiers could tell right away that I wasn’t from the area because at first I forgot the right words and, instead of asking for my burger “Animal Style”, I asked for the “Kitchen Sink” burger. Doh! It was sooooo tasty though. I can’t say that it beats my favorite burger joint in Illinois, Portillo’s, but it comes dang close! It’s a messy burger, but it’s nice that it comes in a sleeve of wax paper to keep spillage to a minimum.
The Boiling Crab
I don’t even know where to begin with The Boiling Crab, other than to say that dining here is an experience! You should definitely plan to get here early to get your name on the list, because wait times can exceed 2 hours. We walked up at 7:00pm, and weren’t seated until after 9:00pm – a very late dinner for us. I will say, though, that The Boiling Crab lives up to the hype and does NOT disappoint. They have some of the freshest seafood I’ve ever eaten. We ordered shrimp and king crab legs and they were divine!
My daughter was a bit squeamish at first, since the shrimp is delivered to you with both the head, legs, and tail still intact – she wouldn’t touch them! I’d peel them for her and she’d quickly gobble them up and ask for more. (We got to the point where all I had to remove was the head and she’d take care of the rest…we made progress!) In the end, your table is the biggest, sloppiest mess of sauces and it’s all cleaned up in one fell swoop. I highly recommend The Boiling Crab if you’re into seafood!
Locations throughout California, we tried 11301 West Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA.
I have heard about Pinkberry from so many people, that I knew it had to be on my “must” list for California. Frozen yogurt has gained in popularity the last few years and I was so excited to try Pinkberry. The employees at the Pinkberry we visited in West L.A. were awesome. We explained how we were out-of-towners and that we had no idea how to construct our yogurt. (There are a ton of toppings at Pinkberry to choose from.) We ended up getting the original flavor yogurt with strawberries, peaches, coconut, almonds, and chocolate shavings for our toppings. Wow…so, so good. You can really taste the yogurt…it does not taste like ice cream!
Overall, we had a great time in California. For this trip we stayed near the Los Angeles/Santa Monica/Hollywood areas, but California has a ton to offer and I hope you and your family get to experience it one day. This list is by no means all-inclusive, but it does list the best of the best of what we experienced. It was the perfect mother/daughter trip.