Los Angeles Through the Eyes of a Local: Monica’s Tips

Like A Local Guide • 1 Oct, 2015

Monica, our local ambassador for Los Angeles, has a penchant for wandering, daydreaming, exploring and eating. We asked her to divulge even more insider info about her pulsating city.

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When is the best time to visit LA? Between April and September. Even though there might be more tourists, it’s prime beach and festival season, meaning there’s always something to do. A lot of events only take place in the summer, such as the Twilight Concerts (a free concert series on the Santa Monica Pier) and the Hollywood Forever cemetery screenings. These events are packed, but trust that they’re attended mostly by locals.

What are three things every visitor should see or experience?

1. The beach: There might be beaches all over the world, but only in LA can you drive 20 minutes and go from a sometimes semi-nudist beach (Venice) to a Hollywood celeb hotspot (Malibu).

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Photo credit: pixxiestails

2. The food: It’s hard to nail down a classic Angeleno cuisine – we have every type of food here, and there might not be a better place in the world to explore such a variety. Thanks to California’s diverse agriculture, many restaurants use fresh, locally sourced ingredients, so whether you’re craving pad thai, currywurst, a burger, a doner kebab, Ethiopian or something else entirely, you’re sure to find something you like.

3. The culture: This is very closely tied with food, but culture encompasses much more. Los Angeles prides itself on its various cultural neighborhoods and wide array of museums and galleries covering such diverse subjects as art, death, fame, music and crafts. Singling out a single culture or place to see doesn’t pay homage to the wonderful melting pot that is this city.

What’s your favourite hidden gem? Barnsdall Park because it’s quiet, beautiful and offers amazing views.

What’s your city’s biggest tourist trap? Hollywood. People flock to the area to try and catch a glimpse of celebrities, but Los Angeles has so much more to offer. Hollywood is dirtier than most people would expect, and is chock full of chain stores and restaurants. The tour buses are overpriced and don’t offer a true view of the city.

Where can I enjoy amazing views? Mulholland Drive. Depending on what part of the city you’re in (a car is an unfortunate must if you’re trying to see as much as possible), it might be a little bit of a hike to get there, but it’s so worth it. From the mountains you can see the entire city and even part of the valley, as well as The Hollywood Sign and The Griffith Observatory.

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What’s a fun way to impress someone in LA? I like to take visitors to The Last Bookstore. The sheer size and scope of the store is astonishing, particularly for such a crowded neighborhood.

I want to try authentic local cuisine. Where should I go and what should I order? Go to Grand Central Market and order as much food as you can at the various stands. Los Angeles is too large to be defined by a single type of food, and at Grand Central Market you get a variety of different cuisines at your fingertips. There is no “majority” cuisine in this city; you’ll find that most LA food is unified by a love of fresh ingredients and constant innovation. At the market, you’ll find a butcher, seafood, a dairy stand, Thai, Salvadorian, Japanese, German, Chinese, Mexican, Italian and more. The best part is that these stands all feel authentically “Los Angelian”.

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Photo credit: Grand Central Market

Where to go for cheap drinks? Backstage Bar & Grille. Not only do they have cheap drinks, but they’re also karaoke bar!

What are some great local nightlife spots? West Hollywood is a fantastic local nightlife spot. Not only does it have many great gay clubs (including The Abbey, one of the most famous gay bars in the world), it also has some trendy places for the general public. The Hudson, Bar Lubitsch and Laurel Hardware are all within walking distance of each other, while The Pleasure Chest is a sex shop that has hilarious comedy shows in its back room. Hamburger Mary’s has Drag Queen Bingo and delicious food. Oh, yeah, this part of town also has some great drunchies.

Where should I go for a classy night out? Eat at Animal and then go to Palihouse for some drinks. Animal is a renowned high-end foodie hotspot, and the food is absolutely delicious. Young professionals flock to Palihouse – a trendy hotel and nightlife spot with a beautiful rooftop patio.

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Photo credit: Palihouse

What should I take home as a souvenir? Depending on your budget, there are a couple of souvenir options. If you’re looking for something free, take home a baggie of sand and seashells from one of our beautiful beaches. If you’re looking to spend some money, wander through the various districts around town – a unique piece of art is an amazing Los Angeles souvenir. If you’re looking for something practical, pick up a pair of Rainbow sandals. If you’re looking to fit in with the locals from head to toe, they’re a must.

What’s the best way to get around? By car. This is an unfortunate and hopefully soon-changing reality of living in LA. It’s a massive city and public transit is unreliable at best. Rumor has it that the auto industry was instrumental in getting the public transit systems (and any plans for expansion) dismantled in LA in the 1920s, and the city’s transit has never recovered. There’s hope, though! Major expansions have been happening and new metro lines are opening as early as 2016.

What are some common misconceptions about your city? LA has a reputation for being overly crowded and superficial, but in reality it’s just huge. It’s so difficult to characterize the entire city as any one thing because each section is so diverse and special.

Tell us an interesting fact about LA! The Hollywood Sign originally read “Hollywoodland” and was meant as a marketing technique to sell real estate on the mountain. After Hollywood became a film hub, it became an internationally recognized symbol of the city, and the “land” was eventually dropped.

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Photo credit: Alex Campos

What’s your favourite breakfast/brunch spot? My favorite boozy breakfast/brunch spot is The Overland. They have great bottomless mimosa deals and also carry wonderful craft beer. Their food is delicious and their portions are gigantic, meaning you’ll probably have some to save for later. If I’m planning a more expensive brunch, I go to Salt’s Cure in West Hollywood. Their style is modern comfort food, but what really makes this place is the option to sit at the bar and watch the chefs cook.

Can you recommend somewhere for a tasty budget meal? Visit ink.sack. Ink is a popular fine dining establishment run by celerity chefs. Not long after it opened, ink.sack followed, offering much less expensive options in the form of sandwiches. A deliciously crafted sandwich by a popular chef? An LA must.

I’m vegetarian/vegan – help! Cafe Gratitude or Native Foods are local favorites. Cafe Gratitude is a bit more expensive, and their food is a little more traditionally vegan than Native Foods. Native puts a spin on classic meat dishes such as the gyro. Though they’re very different, they share the honor of having absolutely fabulous food.

What’s your favourite museum? I personally love The Broad, LA’s new interactive and thought-provoking contemporary art museum. There are Warhol pieces next to works by local artists next to sculptures of balloon animals. It’s definitely worth checking out.

What are some places history buffs shouldn’t miss? If you’re into history, you must visit the Natural History Museum and the California Science Center. The Science Center is temporarily home to Space Shuttle Endeavor and is free to visit, while the Natural History Museum currently has some fascinating mummy exhibits. It also has a gorgeous butterfly pavilion.

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Photo credit: Andrew Adams

Can you suggest some places for families with kids? If you have kids, visit one of the nearby theme parks – Knottsberry Farm, Disneyland, Universal Studios or Magic Mountain. Knottsberry has tamer rides and is more kid-friendly, while Magic Mountain has some amazing, death-defying rollercoasters. If you’re a Disney fan, Disneyland is a must, being the original Disney park. Right next door you’ll find its sister park, California Adventure, which is full of more intense rides and great California-geared fare like wine tasting and tortilla making.

What’s your favourite green spot? Echo Park Lake! While you can’t swim in the lake, it’s a beautiful place to rent a paddleboat, relax on the grass, picnic or go for a walk. There are also a lot of great hiking trails in LA, but I have a soft spot for places by the water.

Where can I find out about local events? I read the LAist – each week they publish a list of LA happenings.

What local events do you recommend? If you like music, FYF takes place in Downtown LA, and is usually packed with talented artists, well known and otherwise. If you’re into cycling, Ciclavia happens a few times a year, where certain roads get shut down entirely in favor of cyclists. If you’re a foodie, First Fridays is a must-see, with hoards of food trucks lining up on Abbot Kinney on the first Friday of every month. During the summer, the Hollywood Forever cemetery screenings and the free Santa Monica Pier Concerts are a blast, and you can always go to Griffith Park to catch a planetarium show. There are also great farmers markets that might as well count as events – Los Angeles has dozens of them, each with their own unique character.

Is there anything else you think visitors should know? You should always carry sunscreen and a bottle of water. LA is hot. And you should also never underestimate traffic or parking. If you have plans downtown in the evening, make sure you head over before rush hour. There’s nothing worse than arriving late and then having to scour the roads for a parking spot. Better yet, use a ride-share service and skip parking all together.

For more local recommendations read:

What locals like to do in Los Angeles
Where locals like to eat in Los Angeles
Where locals like to party in Los Angeles

Special tip:
For a more authentic Los Angeles experience, get the Like A Local mobile app

Like A Local Guide
Like A Local Guide is about stepping off the tourist trail and finding cool and cosy spots where locals like to spend their time. We built a website and mobile app to bring insider recommendations from around the world to your fingertips.

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