If you’ve kept up with me lately, I’ve been sharing a little about our trip to LA for our anniversary. Los Angeles (and California in general) is the land of good food, beautiful people and endless things to do. We soaked up every minute of it and had a completely awesome time! As promised, I put together an LA travel guide of everything we did and I’m even sharing a handful of other recommendations that we didn’t get to, but I definitely would recommend. I’ve been working on this post for a couple weeks (there was so much to cover!) so I’m really excited to share this with you guys!
How We Got There
I like to make the most out of my vacations – taking the least amount of time off work while maximizing the amount of time I spend at my travel destination. So we took a red-eye flight out of St. Louis on Southwest Airlines on a Wednesday and flew directly into LA. Southwest has always been one of my favorite airlines to fly on. Aside from the fact that I can usually find some pretty reasonable rates on their website, you can often get direct flights which is a big plus and not having to pay baggage fees is a huge perk too. Not to mention, we had the funniest flight attendant – he had everyone onboard laughing throughout the entire flight.
From the airport, we picked up the cutest little SUV from Mazda – a bold red 2018 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD. This car was perfect for getting us all over during our trip – it was great on gas, was spacious without being intimidating to drive and had tons of modern and useful features. I wrote a full review of the car – you can find it here!
Where we stayed
We stayed at the cutest Airbnb in Malibu for the first 3 nights of our trip. This was actually our first time staying at an Airbnb and we really enjoyed it. Our host was awesome and the price was very reasonable. It totally exceeded our expectations. You can find a full review with photos and details on booking your own stay there in my Malibu Airbnb blog post.
For the last two nights of our trip, I really wanted to stay downtown LA so I booked The Westin Bonaventure Hotel. We had an awesome time here! It was close to everything with incredible views of the city and the hotel staff was fantastic and super friendly. PS they are also a pet friendly hotel!
What we did
On our first day, we got up really early and decided to be full-blown tourists and went EVERYWHERE. With no real plan in mind, we left Malibu and drove up through the mountains of Topanga to get to Calabasas. The landscape is gorgeous here with all of the palm trees, succulents and mountains.
Calabasas is home to many celebrities like the Kardashians, Drake, French Montana, Jessica Simpson, The Weeknd and more. We were hoping to drive through the elusive Hidden Hills neighborhood and were of course met with a hard no at the gate (lol – don’t waste your time). So we ended up at Marmalade Cafe at The Commons at Calabasas, a little outdoor shopping center. I got the spiced sweet potato pancakes with a side of fresh herb potatoes – the food was phenomenal! I wasn’t sure about the pancakes when I ordered them, but they were SO GOOD. They have other locations too (Malibu, LA, El Segundo, Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks and Westlake Village) – definitely recommend!
We headed back to Santa Monica to go sight-seeing/people-watching at the pier. I haven’t been there in several years, but it was just as I remembered it. Tons of vendors, street performers, attractions and the famous ferris wheel. There is SO much to see and do here or even just have a relaxing beach day.
After we got our fill of the pier, we went driving around Beverly Hills, looking at all of the beautiful cars and homes. It’s so weird seeing Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, Rolls Royce and Bentleys everywhere you look. What’s even crazier is how accustomed you become to seeing them that it doesn’t even phase you anymore within just a few days. It is literally like stepping into a completely different world. We ended up wandering around Rodeo Drive for a few hours, checking out all of the high end boutiques like Versace, Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Everything around this area is of course outrageously priced, but it’s still fun to window shop.
Afterwards, we grabbed dinner at 800 Degrees, a wood-burning oven pizzeria in Santa Monica (they have several locations around LA as well) before heading back to Malibu. You can get a specialty pizza or build your own – I got a bbq pulled pork pizza. Our pizzas were delish and actually really cheap. And they are open late!
We spent the rest of our evening back at our Airbnb sitting outside having a few drinks, talking and enjoying each other’s company. Perfect ending to our first day!
On our second day, we got a late start (I think exhaustion finally set in at that point). We had lunch at Cafe Habana, a Cuban/Mexican restaurant at Malibu’s Country Mart, an outdoor mall known for spotting celebs, per recommendation from our Airbnb host. We actually had our first celeb sighting here (Courtney Cox!) which was awesome – she sat right across from me at lunch. Definitely not something I get to experience back at home. Anyway, the food was ah-mazing (I got the Chicken Tinga Tacos), not expensive really and we loved the beachy Malibu vibes (outdoor seating, string lights, ocean breeze) – highly recommend this place!
After lunch, we wandered around through the shops at Country Mart for a while before heading to El Matador State Beach which is just a few miles down the road. You guys – let me tell you this beach is a must. The cliffs overlook the ocean and there are tons of these beautiful rock formations. It is hands down the most gorgeous beach I’ve ever been to. I can only imagine how beautiful it would be to watch the sunset here!
After cleaning up back at our Airbnb, we met up with a friend from home who lives in LA now at Ocean Prime in Beverly Hills. Ocean Prime is this gorgeous swanky restaurant and cocktail lounge close to Rodeo Drive. We had our second celeb sighting walking in (Ben Stein!). Funny story – he was actually chatting and sharing his crab cakes with our friend right before we walked in. We loved Ocean Prime – it’s the type of upscale place that doesn’t make you feel out of place even in Beverly Hills. They have the cutest outdoor patio with a firepit, tables and just all around cozy vibes.
From there we decided to venture out to Hollywood Blvd to check out the bar scene. Hollywood is so vibrant and alive during the day, but even more so at night. There is literally something to do any time no matter where you are. We ended up at Paloma Hollywood, a Mexican eatery turned nightclub at night. It was a great little casual spot to chat and have a few drinks with good music.
On the way back to Malibu, we stopped for a late night quick dinner at In-N-Out Burger on Sunset Blvd. In-N-Out is definitely one of the places I miss most about living in California – simple food, but so good! Their burgers are made fresh and you can’t go wrong with cheese fries and a milkshake!
Day 3 was a blast. We left our cozy spot in Malibu and headed into LA to check in at The Westin Bonaventure for the rest of our trip. We lounged around the hotel for a while before Mike surprised me with a private tour of The Lot, a movie production studio lot which also is home to Oprah’s office headquarters. He has a friend from back home that owns Ironklad Studios, a digital design company on The Lot. He showed us his studio where he and his staff do all of their creative design work for movies, video games, etc. It was awesome getting to see so many behind-the-scenes things that most people don’t get to see. I’m not sure if there are any tours of The Lot (although we did see a tour bus outside the gate), but I still wanted to share this experience with you guys!
I have always wanted to go to The Laugh Factory in Hollywood, but had never been. While planning our trip, I kept watching their roster of who was going to be performing while we were there and a few days before we left, I checked one more time and they were having an all-star lineup with 5 comedians (including my fave, Dane Cook!). I purchased tickets for us for the show (they were actually pretty cheap!) to surprise Mike and gave them to him when we got to the Westin for the show that night. We had an absolute blast – the comedians were great, the drinks were cheap and it was a really fun way to spend our evening.
Street tacos are a big thing in LA so at the recommendation of a friend, we stopped at Cactus Taqueria (950 Vine St.) after the show. The tacos were delish and to top it off? I found a pair of Colette Miller Angel Wings across the street while we were waiting for our food so of course a picture was a must.
Afterwards, we met up with a few more people from home for a bit at Station 1640, an underground subway themed bar in Hollywood. Going out in Hollywood is so much fun, but be prepared to spend some $$. Between parking, cover charges and drink costs, it’s not hard to spend money here. When we got back to the hotel, we were pleasantly surprised to find they had left us a bottle of champagne and fruit platter for our anniversary!
On Sunday, we slept in and went to Grand Central Market for lunch which is this huge open-air market with a ton of fast food style restaurants inside. It was so packed that we ended up eating at a restaurant right outside, Horse Thief BBQ, which was phenomenal. They had a really great variety of bbq on the menu, but I opted for pulled pork with cornbread and banana pudding.
We hadn’t really spent much time near the beach/ocean up to this point so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in the sand. We ended up at Hermosa Beach which we fell in love with. Even for being a holiday weekend, it wasn’t too crowded and the area in general was just really nice. There was a festival going on so it took forever to find a parking spot, but we enjoyed looking at the all of the beautiful homes in the area. Between that and Manhattan Beach, I would definitely like to go back to those two. Of course the weekend we were there, it was too cold outside to get in the water, but we did lay on our beach towels and enjoyed the sun, sand and ocean view for a few hours. Something so peaceful about sitting there with your toes in the sand listening to the waves crash.
When we got back to the hotel, we decided to pop our champagne and sit outside by the pool. We had some friends drive up from Fullerton and had a great time catching up with them for a few hours at Sixth St. Tavern and walking around downtown.
On our last day, we didn’t have to catch our flight until late afternoon so we tried to squeeze in a few more hours of fun. One of my must-do’s on this trip was to brunch at Eggslut and it did not disappoint. They have a few locations around LA – we went to the one at The Beverly Center in Beverly Hills. Be prepared to wait at any of them though – it’s not unusual for the line to wrap around the building (it’s just that good).
We still had a little time left so we drove around through the Hollywood Hills and I even managed to snag a few good pictures of the Hollywood Sign. We loved checking out all of the beautiful homes winding up through the Hills and the scenery is absolutely stunning. We also drove through Bel-Air (got to see the Fresh Prince house!) and hit up In-N-Out one last time on the way to the airport.
Even though we managed to fit a TON of stuff into just a few days, there was a million more things we wish we could have done so I thought I would share a few of them with you in case you want to add them to your own bucket list 🙂
- Malibu Cafe
- Malibu Wine Safari
- Getty Museum
- Hiking at Escondido Falls
- Venice Beach Boardwalk
- Knott’s Berry Farm
- Hike up to the Hollywood sign
- Universal Studios
- Hollywood Walk of Fame
- Hike Runyon Canyon
- Museum of Ice Cream
- The Broad
- Griffith Observatory
- Sunset Strip
- The Grove
Overall, we had such a great time! It was the perfect little getaway we had desperately been needing for so long. It was not only refreshing for our relationship, but refreshing to our ambition. LA is such an inspiring place – you feel on top of the world in a city that is booming and thrives on talent and determination to succeed. Although I feel like we barely even made a dent in all of the things there are to do in LA, we still managed to do a ton in just a few days. I love the fast-paced lifestyle here and seeing the big city life compared to our small Midwest town.
I hope this LA travel guide helps you in planning your next Los Angeles area vacation (or staycation if you’re local). If you have suggestions for the area that I didn’t mention, please leave them in the comments so I can add them to my list for our next trip there!