3 Days in Los Angeles: The Perfect Los Angeles Itinerary

From Hollywood glitz to laid-back beaches, experience the diverse charm of LA's neighborhoods, iconic landmarks, and hidden gems. Follow this 3-day Los Angeles itinerary for best results!

West Parker
By
West Parker
July 18, 2024

When my wife Sarah and I decided to tackle Los Angeles in just three days, our friends thought we were crazy. "You can't even get through the traffic in three days!" they joked. But we were determined to prove them wrong. Armed with a carefully crafted itinerary and a sense of adventure, we set out to conquer the City of Angels. Spoiler alert: we did it, and you can too!

Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis that captivates visitors with its diverse neighborhoods, iconic landmarks, and vibrant culture. From the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to the laid-back beach vibes of Santa Monica, LA offers a unique blend of experiences that cater to every type of traveler. Whether you're a film buff, foodie, art lover, or outdoor enthusiast, this 3-day Los Angeles itinerary will help you make the most of your time in this dynamic city.

Before we dive into the day-by-day breakdown, let's cover some essential information to help you prepare for your 3 days in Los Angeles.

What to Pack for Your 3 Days in Los Angeles

Los Angeles enjoys a Mediterranean climate with mild temperatures year-round, but it's still important to pack smart. Here's what you'll need for your Los Angeles 3-day itinerary:

  • Comfortable walking shoes (trust me, you'll be doing a lot of walking)
  • Light layers (a jacket or sweater for cooler evenings)
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen (the California sun is no joke)
  • Swimwear and beach towel (for those inevitable beach days)
  • A reusable water bottle (stay hydrated while exploring)
  • A portable charger (for all those Instagram-worthy moments)

Pro tip: Don't forget to throw in a pair of dressy shoes and an outfit for a night out – you never know when you might bump into a celebrity at a swanky restaurant!

Where to Stay During Your 3 Days in LA

Choosing the right place to stay can make or break your Los Angeles 3-day itinerary. Here are some top picks for different budgets and preferences:

We opted for the Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles, and it was the perfect base for our adventures. The central location made it easy to explore different parts of the city, and the rooftop bar was the ideal spot to unwind after a long day of sightseeing.

Getting Around Los Angeles

Let's address the elephant in the room: LA traffic. Yes, it's as bad as they say, but don't let that deter you! Here are your best options for navigating the city during your 3 days in Los Angeles:

  • Metro: LA has an extensive public transportation network, including subways, light rail, and buses. The TAP card offers the most convenient way to pay fares.
  • LAX FlyAway® Bus: Provides non-stop transportation between LAX, Union Station, and Van Nuys for $9.75 one-way.
  • Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are widely available.
  • Renting a car is recommended for exploring areas outside the city center, but be prepared for parking challenges and traffic.

Pro tip: Use a combination of public transit and ride-sharing to maximize your time and minimize stress. We found that taking the Metro during peak hours and using Uber for late-night trips worked like a charm.

Safety Guidelines for Your LA Adventure

While Los Angeles is generally safe for tourists, it's always good to keep your wits about you. Here are some tips to ensure your 3 days in Los Angeles are smooth sailing:

  • Be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded tourist areas.
  • Keep valuables out of sight and use anti-theft bags when possible.
  • Stick to well-lit areas at night and use ride-sharing services for late-night trips.
  • Don't leave valuables visible in your car if you're driving.
  • Stay hydrated and use sunscreen – the California sun can be intense!

Remember, common sense goes a long way. We never felt unsafe during our trip, but we also made sure to stay alert and trust our instincts.

Now that we've got the basics covered, let's dive into your perfect 3-day itinerary for Los Angeles!

Day 1: Hollywood Glamour and Downtown Delights

Morning: Walk of Fame and Chinese Theatre

Tourists taking selfies with stars on Hollywood Walk of Fame, iconic Los Angeles attraction
Found my favorite star on the Walk of Fame! Pro tip: come early to avoid the crowds and get the best photos.

Start your 3 days in Los Angeles with a bang by diving into the heart of Hollywood. Trust me, there's no better way to kick off your LA adventure!

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Location: Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, Los Angeles, CA 90028

Hours: Always open

Admission: Free

Why Visit: It's the ultimate Hollywood experience – where else can you literally walk all over your favorite celebrities?

Begin your day early at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As you stroll along Hollywood Boulevard, keep your eyes peeled for the names of your favorite stars embedded in the sidewalk. From classic Hollywood icons to modern-day pop stars, there's a star for everyone.

We had a blast finding our favorite celebrities and posing for photos. Pro tip: bring a small towel or cloth to wipe down the stars before your photo op – they can get a bit grimy!

Insider Tip: Visit early in the morning to avoid crowds and get the best photos without photobombers.

TCL Chinese Theatre

Famous handprints and footprints outside TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles
Comparing my hands to the stars at TCL Chinese Theatre. Some of these prints date back to the 1920s!

Location: 6925 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028

Hours: 9:30 AM - 5:30 PM daily

Admission: Tours from $18 for adults

Why Visit: It's a piece of Hollywood history where you can literally walk in the footsteps of the stars.

Just a stone's throw from the Walk of Fame, you'll find the iconic TCL Chinese Theatre. This historic movie palace has been the site of countless Hollywood premieres and is famous for its forecourt of celebrity handprints and footprints.

Take a guided tour to learn about the theatre's rich history and behind-the-scenes stories. We were fascinated by the intricate Chinese-inspired architecture and the stories behind each celebrity imprint. Don't forget to compare your hands and feet to those of the stars!

Insider Tip: Book a VIP tour for access to exclusive areas and a chance to recreate your own handprint ceremony.

Afternoon: Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood Sign

Griffith Observatory with Los Angeles skyline in background at sunset, popular tourist spot
The view from Griffith Observatory is unbeatable. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the ocean!

After lunch, it's time to head for the hills – literally! The afternoon of your first day in Los Angeles takes you to some of the best views in the city.

Griffith Observatory

Location: 2800 E Observatory Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90027

Hours: Tuesday - Friday: 12 PM - 10 PM, Saturday - Sunday: 10 AM - 10 PM

Admission: Free (planetarium shows have a separate fee)

Why Visit: It offers unparalleled views of Los Angeles and a chance to explore the cosmos.

Perched atop a hill in Griffith Park, the Griffith Observatory is a must-visit on any Los Angeles itinerary. Not only does it offer spectacular views of the city and the Hollywood Sign, but it's also a fascinating museum dedicated to astronomy and space science.

Explore the exhibits, peer through telescopes, and if time allows, catch a show at the planetarium. We were lucky enough to time our visit with a clear day and saw all the way to the Pacific Ocean!

Insider Tip: Time your visit for sunset to see the city transform from day to night – it's pure magic.

Hollywood Sign Hike

Hikers on trail with Hollywood Sign visible in distance, popular Los Angeles outdoor activity
Finally made it to the Hollywood Sign! The hike was tough but totally worth it for this view.

Location: Various trailheads in Griffith Park

Hours: Trails open from sunrise to sunset

Admission: Free

Why Visit: It's your chance to get up close and personal with one of the most famous landmarks in the world.

No trip to LA is complete without a glimpse of the Hollywood Sign, and what better way to see it than by hiking up close? There are several trails of varying difficulty that offer great views of the sign.

We opted for the relatively easy Brush Canyon Trail, which offers stunning views not just of the sign, but of the entire Los Angeles basin. The hike took us about 3 hours round trip, including plenty of stops for photos.

Insider Tip: Bring plenty of water and sunscreen, and wear sturdy shoes – the trails can be dusty and steep in parts.

Evening: Dinner in Downtown LA and Walt Disney Concert Hall

As the sun sets on your first day in Los Angeles, it's time to experience the vibrant downtown area.

Grand Central Market

Bustling food stalls in Grand Central Market, downtown Los Angeles culinary destination
Lunch at Grand Central Market - so many options, it's hard to choose! The egg sandwiches at Eggslut are a must-try.

Location: 317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013

Hours: 8 AM - 10 PM daily

Admission: Free (pay for what you eat)

Why Visit: It's a foodie paradise that showcases LA's diverse culinary scene.

For dinner, head to Grand Central Market, a historic food hall that's been feeding Angelenos since 1917. With over 40 vendors offering everything from tacos to oysters, it's the perfect place to sample a variety of LA's best eats.

We couldn't resist trying the famous Eggslut for their coddled egg on potato purée – it was as delicious as it was Instagram-worthy. Follow it up with some handmade pasta from Knead & Co. Pasta Bar, and finish with a scoop (or three) from McConnell's Fine Ice Creams.

Insider Tip: Come hungry and be prepared to wait in line for the most popular stands – it's worth it!

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Striking metallic exterior of Walt Disney Concert Hall, iconic Los Angeles architecture
The Walt Disney Concert Hall is a work of art itself. Did you know the stainless steel exterior is designed to catch and reflect sunlight?

Location: 111 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Hours: Varies depending on performances

Admission: Self-guided audio tours are free; concert prices vary

Why Visit: It's an architectural marvel and a world-class venue for music lovers.

Cap off your evening with a visit to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Even if you're not attending a performance, the building itself is worth seeing. Designed by Frank Gehry, its striking stainless steel exterior is a modern masterpiece.

Take a self-guided audio tour to learn about the building's architecture and acoustics. We were blown away by the garden on the roof – a hidden oasis in the heart of downtown.

Insider Tip: If you're up for a splurge, check the schedule and book tickets for a Los Angeles Philharmonic performance – the acoustics are truly incredible.

Day 2: Coastal Adventures

Morning: Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade

Illuminated Ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier at dusk, popular Los Angeles beach attraction
Ended the day with a ride on the Ferris wheel at Santa Monica Pier. The sunset views were absolutely magical!

Day two of your Los Angeles 3-day itinerary takes you to the coast for some sun, sand, and seaside fun!

Santa Monica Pier

Location: 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Hours: 6 AM - 10 PM daily

Admission: Free (rides and attractions have separate fees)

Why Visit: It's a quintessential California experience, complete with carnival games, street performers, and ocean views.

Start your day bright and early at the iconic Santa Monica Pier. This historic landmark has been a staple of LA's beach scene for over a century. Take a ride on the famous Ferris wheel for panoramic views of the coastline, try your luck at the carnival games, or simply stroll along the boardwalk and soak in the lively atmosphere.

We couldn't resist playing a few rounds of Skee-Ball (I'm proud to say I beat Sarah's score!) and sharing a funnel cake while watching the street performers.

Insider Tip: For a unique experience, sign up for a trapeze lesson at the Trapeze School New York's Santa Monica location, right on the pier!

Third Street Promenade

Street performers entertaining crowd on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Los Angeles
Always something happening on Third Street Promenade! These street performers had everyone stopping to watch.

Location: Third Street between Broadway and Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Hours: Always open (individual store hours vary)

Admission: Free

Why Visit: It's a shopper's paradise with a vibrant street scene.

Just a few blocks from the pier, you'll find the Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian-friendly shopping district. With everything from major brands to local boutiques, street performers, and outdoor cafes, it's the perfect place to spend a leisurely morning.

We enjoyed browsing the shops and stopping for a coffee at Demitasse, a local favorite known for their unique brewing methods. Don't miss the Wednesday and Saturday morning farmers markets if your visit coincides – they're a great place to sample local produce and artisanal foods.

Insider Tip: Look out for the topiary dinosaur fountains – they're a quirky photo op and a favorite with kids (and kids at heart).

Afternoon: Venice Beach Boardwalk and Canals

After lunch, it's time to head south to the eclectic neighborhood of Venice Beach.

Venice Beach Boardwalk

Skateboarders performing tricks at Venice Beach Skatepark, iconic Los Angeles beach scene
Watching the skateboarders at Venice Beach is better than any TV show. These guys have some serious skills!

Location: Ocean Front Walk, Venice, CA 90291

Hours: Always open (individual store hours vary)

Admission: Free

Why Visit: It's a vibrant melting pot of street performers, vendors, and beachgoers that epitomizes LA's laid-back beach culture.

The Venice Beach Boardwalk is a people-watcher's paradise. As you stroll along Ocean Front Walk, you'll encounter a colorful cast of characters, from street performers and artists to bodybuilders pumping iron at the famous Muscle Beach.

We spent hours wandering the boardwalk, checking out the local artwork, watching skateboarders show off their tricks, and even getting a (temporary) henna tattoo. The energy here is infectious – you can't help but get swept up in the carnival-like atmosphere.

Insider Tip: Rent a bike or rollerblades to explore the boardwalk like a local. There are plenty of rental shops along the way.

Venice Canals

Picturesque bridge over Venice Canals, hidden gem in Los Angeles
Found a slice of Europe right here in LA! The Venice Canals are so peaceful compared to the busy boardwalk nearby.

Location: 25 Venice Way, Venice, CA 90291

Hours: Always open

Admission: Free

Why Visit: It's a serene oasis that feels worlds away from the bustling boardwalk, offering a glimpse into a unique LA neighborhood.

Just a few blocks from the beach, you'll find the Venice Canals, a hidden network of man-made waterways that offer a peaceful respite from the crowds. These picturesque canals, lined with charming homes and lush gardens, are a remnant of developer Abbot Kinney's vision to create a "Venice of America" in the early 1900s.

Take a leisurely stroll along the canals, crossing the quaint bridges and admiring the eclectic architecture. We found this to be the perfect spot for a romantic walk and some envy-inducing Instagram photos.

Insider Tip: Visit during the holiday season to see the canals decked out in twinkling lights and festive decorations.

Evening: Sunset Dinner in Malibu

As the day winds down, it's time to head north for a memorable seaside dinner.

Nobu Malibu

Elegant sushi platter with Pacific Ocean view at Nobu Malibu, upscale Los Angeles dining experience
Splurged on dinner at Nobu Malibu. The sushi was incredible, but that sunset view? Priceless.

Location: 22706 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265

Hours: Monday - Thursday: 12PM - 10 PM, Friday - Sunday: 12 PM - 11 PM

Admission: Prices vary, reservations recommended

Why Visit: It offers world-class Japanese cuisine with unbeatable Pacific Ocean views.

End your day with a splash at the renowned Nobu Malibu. Perched right on the beach, this celebrity hotspot offers stunning ocean views and some of the best sushi in LA. Yes, it's pricey, but the combination of exquisite food and breathtaking sunset views make it worth the splurge for a special night out.

We treated ourselves to the chef's choice omakase menu and were blown away by each perfectly crafted dish. The black cod miso is a must-try, and if you're feeling adventurous, the yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño is a flavor explosion.

Insider Tip: Request a table on the patio for the best views, and arrive before sunset to watch the sky change colors over the Pacific.

Day 3: Culture and Relaxation

Morning: The Getty Center

Start your final day in Los Angeles with a dose of culture at one of the city's premier museums.

The Getty Center

Lush Central Garden at Getty Center, world-class Los Angeles museum and cultural landmark
The art at the Getty is amazing, but don't miss the Central Garden. It's like a living sculpture!

Location: 1200 Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90049

Hours: Tuesday - Friday and Sunday: 10 AM - 5:30 PM, Saturday: 10 AM - 8 PM

Admission: Free (parking is $20 per car)

Why Visit: It's a world-class art museum with stunning architecture and gardens, offering panoramic views of Los Angeles.

Perched atop the Santa Monica Mountains, The Getty Center is an architectural marvel housing an impressive collection of European paintings, drawings, sculptures, and decorative arts. The museum's unique design by Richard Meier is a work of art in itself, with its curving walls and abundant natural light.

We spent the morning exploring the galleries, marveling at works by Van Gogh, Monet, and Rembrandt. Don't miss the Central Garden, a beautiful outdoor space perfect for a leisurely stroll or a picnic lunch.

Insider Tip: Take the tram ride up to the museum – the views of LA are spectacular, especially on a clear day.

Afternoon: LACMA or The Broad

For your afternoon art fix, choose between two of LA's most popular museums based on your interests.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Illuminated Urban Light installation outside LACMA at night, popular Los Angeles photo spot
LACMA's Urban Light installation is even more magical at night. It's made up of 202 restored street lamps from the 1920s and 1930s!

Location: 5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: 11 AM - 5 PM, Friday: 11 AM - 8 PM, Saturday - Sunday: 10 AM - 7 PM

Admission: $25 for adults, free for LA County residents after 3 PM on weekdays

Why Visit: It's the largest art museum in the western United States, offering a diverse collection spanning thousands of years.

LACMA is a sprawling campus housing an encyclopedic collection of art from ancient times to the present. With over 150,000 works, there's something for every art lover here. Don't miss the iconic "Urban Light" installation outside the museum – it's one of the most Instagrammable spots in LA.

We were particularly impressed by the contemporary art collection and the Japanese Pavilion. The "Levitated Mass" installation, a 340-ton granite megalith suspended over a concrete trench, is a must-see.

Insider Tip: Check the museum's website for free live music performances in the courtyard on weekends.

The Broad

Person inside Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirror Room at The Broad, immersive Los Angeles art experience
Step into infinity at The Broad's Yayoi Kusama exhibit. The wait was long, but those 45 seconds inside were mind-blowing!

Location: 221 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Hours: Tuesday - Wednesday: 11 AM - 5 PM, Thursday - Friday: 11 AM - 8 PM, Saturday: 10 AM - 8 PM, Sunday: 10 AM - 6 PM

Admission: Free (advance reservations recommended)

Why Visit: It houses a renowned collection of contemporary art in a striking architectural setting.

If contemporary art is more your style, head to The Broad. This newer addition to LA's museum scene showcases the personal collection of philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, featuring works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jeff Koons, among others.

The museum's unique "veil and vault" design is a work of art itself. We were mesmerized by Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room, but be prepared to wait in line for this popular installation.

Insider Tip: Even if advance tickets are sold out, try the standby line – it often moves quickly, especially on weekdays.

Evening: Dinner in West Hollywood and Griffith Park Night Views

Cap off your 3 days in Los Angeles with a taste of the city's famous nightlife and a breathtaking view.

Catch LA

Stylish rooftop dining area at Catch LA, trendy West Hollywood restaurant with city views
Dinner with a view at Catch LA. The truffle sashimi was to die for, and I may have spotted a celebrity or two!

Location: 8715 Melrose Ave, West Hollywood, CA 90069

Hours: Monday - Wednesday: 5:30 PM - 12 AM, Thursday - Sunday: 5:30 PM - 2 AM

Admission: Prices vary, reservations recommended

Why Visit: It offers a trendy dining experience with a chance to spot celebrities and enjoy panoramic city views.

For dinner, head to the trendy Catch LA in West Hollywood. This rooftop restaurant is known for its seafood-centric menu, stylish crowd, and stunning views of the city. The outdoor terrace, with its twinkling lights and lush greenery, creates a magical atmosphere.

We indulged in the truffle sashimi, crispy shrimp, and the famous "Hit Me" chocolate cake. The people-watching here is almost as good as the food – keep an eye out for Hollywood celebrities!

Insider Tip: Dress to impress – the dress code is enforced, especially on weekends.

Griffith Park Observatory (Night View)

Stunning view of Los Angeles city lights from Griffith Observatory at night, popular scenic spot
LA looks like a sea of stars from Griffith Observatory at night. Don't forget to look up at the real stars too!

Location: 2800 E Observatory Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90027

Hours: Open until 10 PM

Admission: Free

Why Visit: It offers breathtaking night views of Los Angeles and a chance to stargaze.

End your Los Angeles adventure with a return trip to Griffith Observatory – but this time, after dark. The twinkling lights of LA spread out before you create a magical carpet of illumination that's truly unforgettable.

If the sky is clear, take advantage of the free public telescopes to do some stargazing. We were lucky enough to spot Jupiter and its moons during our visit!

Insider Tip: Bring a jacket – it can get chilly at night, even in summer.

Alternative Itineraries

Family-Friendly Option

If you're traveling with kids, consider swapping out some of the museum visits for more family-oriented attractions:

Budget-Conscious Alternative

Los Angeles can be enjoyed on a budget too. Here are some wallet-friendly swaps:

  • Skip Nobu and have a beach picnic in Malibu instead.
  • Replace the Getty with the free Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades.
  • Swap high-end dinners for food truck adventures – LA has some of the best street food in the country.

Luxury Experience

For those looking to splurge:

Hidden Gems and Local Favorites

Want to explore beyond the tourist trail? Here are some local favorites:

  • The Last Bookstore: A book lover's paradise with Instagram-worthy photo ops.
  • Watts Towers: A fascinating piece of folk art architecture.
  • Koreatown: For amazing Korean BBQ and 24-hour spas.
  • Runyon Canyon: A popular hiking spot with great city views.

Wrapping Up Your 3 Days in Los Angeles

As our 3 days in Los Angeles came to an end, Sarah and I couldn't believe how much we'd managed to see and do. From the glitz of Hollywood to the laid-back vibes of Venice Beach, we'd experienced the many facets of this diverse city. We'd proven our skeptical friends wrong – you can indeed have an amazing LA experience in just three days!

Of course, there's always more to explore in a city as vast and varied as Los Angeles. This itinerary hits the highlights, but don't be afraid to venture off the beaten path. Strike up conversations with locals, explore neighborhoods beyond the tourist zones, and let the city surprise you.

Remember, the best trips are often a mix of planned activities and spontaneous discoveries. So use this itinerary as a guide, but don't be afraid to deviate from it if something catches your eye. After all, that's the beauty of travel – you never know what amazing experiences await around the next corner.

So pack your bags, bring your sense of adventure, and get ready to fall in love with the City of Angels. Los Angeles is waiting to dazzle you with its unique blend of glamour, culture, and natural beauty. Who knows? Like us, you might find yourself planning your next visit before you've even left!

West Parker
West Parker
Article updated:
July 18, 2024 8:09 AM

West Parker, a Cornell University School of Hotel Administration graduate, has spent two decades as the secret weapon of the jet-set elite, crafting bespoke adventures that redefine luxury travel. Now a resident writer for Town & Tourist, this 45-year-old "Architect of Extraordinary Journeys" combines razor-sharp insights with unparalleled industry connections to deliver experiences that even the most discerning globetrotters can't help but rave about. West's expertise spans from exclusive real estate to fine dining, making him the go-to strategist for those who demand nothing but the extraordinary in their travels.

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