Florida Man on the Run

36 Hours in Los Angeles: A Guide to the City of Angels

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While one can start a Pacific Coast Highway journey further south, the City of Los Angeles is where I put wheels to the road. It is the cheapest to fly into and enough for one to spend a whole week. I had almost exactly 36 hours in Los Angeles and needed to make the most of it. Before flying out I had a solid idea of what I wanted to see. My itinerary was the Getty Center and Villa, Griffith Observatory, Santa Monica Beach and Pier, and Downtown LA. I skipped the Getty Villa due to a lack of tickets available, which was unfortunate. I also got to squeeze in a number of restaurants that my wife and I were hoping to try. It was a whirlwind day and a half in the city and perfect start to the trip.

Santa Monica Pier is the First Stop with 36 Hours in Los Angeles

What is a trip to Los Angeles without a stop at the Santa Monica Pier
Welcome to the Santa Monica Pier!

After my sister got us at the airport, we made a straight shot for Santa Monica. Well, there was a slight detour for Fresh Brothers pizza first and then the pier. Parking was mostly a breeze and was just around the block. The garage had the first 90 minutes free, which was fantastic since we weren’t going to spend all day there anyways. The Pier didn’t seem to crowded for a Friday afternoon which was good. Pacific Park is the main attraction at the pier, so we all stopped in there first.

Ferris Wheel at Pacific Park which is one of the best stops to make with only 36 hours in Los Angeles
The main attractions at Pacific Park

The biggest thing to know about Pacific Park is that all of the rides are pay per ride. They offer a wristband for unlimited rides all day, but what is on offer isn’t really worth it unless you are spending the entire day. The top two rides, the Pacific Wheel and West Coaster are each $10. That is pretty steep, but we shelled out for the Pacific Wheel in order to get the amazing views of the pier, beach, and ocean that it offers. The views certainly didn’t disappoint, just keep in mind what they cost. The rest of Pacific Park is great for families or couples spending the whole day there, but not us.

The rest of the pier is pretty standard. There are a number of places to grab a bite to eat or snack on, but having already eaten we didn’t try them. Street performers were out in numbers, which adds to the atmosphere. The end of the pier gives completely unobstructed views of the open ocean and surrounding coast. It is a perfect place to grab some pictures. All in all, I spent about two hours at the pier and saw pretty much all I intended to. After the pier we had dinner at Veggie Grill (a great fast vegan option) and then called it a night. Time flies by if you’ve only got 36 hours in Los Angeles and spend eight of it sleeping!

The Getty Center

The next day started with the disappointment of being unable to get into the Getty Villa. This was soon in the rear view mirror as we went straight to one of Los Angeles’ star attractions: The Getty Center. Home to an amazing collection of art, gardens, and views of Los Angeles. We spent over three hours there and it certainly wasn’t enough. I think that we could have spent an entire day there and still might have missed something.

Sarcophagus of one really rich Egyptian!

The tram ride up from the parking garage gives a few glimpses of what is in store at the top. The views from the south promenade and lower terrace are phenomenal. It is exceedingly easy to soak in the cityscape and Pacific Ocean and forget that the building is packed with amazing art. The Getty had recently opened a temporary exhibit on Egypt which had a guided tour. The collection was fantastic and I loved getting the context behind each of the pieces. I highly recommend at least one tour while there to take advantage of the knowledge on offer.

After taking some time to walk the gardens, we checked out two additional exhibits. The first was a look at a number of Rembrandt sketches based on Indian Mughal paintings he came into contact with. The second was the exhibit of Van Gogh’s Irises. That was the first time I’d ever seen an original masterpiece up close. Seeing such an iconic piece of art really helps to put in perspective what the world around us truly has to offer. There still remained a number of art works we didn’t have time to see, meaning I’ll have to put the Getty Center back on my list the next time I’m in Los Angeles.

Downtown Los Angeles

This part of the day wasn’t the highlight by any means. Downtown Los Angeles is clearly in a state of transition and one needs to look past the bad to pick out the good. Downtown was added to the itinerary based on a recommended book store and the vegan pub we planned dinner at. Getting downtown wasn’t terribly difficult, but it requires a car if you aren’t staying in the immediate metro area. This can be a serious stumbling block for many travelers, so prepare accordingly.

Our dinner at Beelman’s was absolutely fantastic. It is a must do even for non-vegans. After dinner we took a short walk to The Last Bookstore. This eclectic shop is not only full of books, but also has a number of artists upstairs. It is quite easy to get lost as you wander its shelves. This is especially true in the labyrinth on the second floor.

If you want to spend some more time downtown, check out this guide to the best things to do in downtown Los Angeles. While downtown Los Angeles isn’t very stellar, I’m happy we made the trip to see this bookstore. Your mileage may vary, but I always love to discover a new story. With another 36 hours in Los Angeles, I probably would have ventured somewhere different than Downtown.

Griffith Observatory

This was the highlight of our 36 Hours in Los Angeles. Griffith Observatory overlooks the entire city and has a number of iconic photo spots. We got there just before sunset, which is the ideal time. The sun sets behind the western mountains, casting a golden glow on the iconic Hollywood sign. Turn around and you’ll get to see LA bathed in golden light before the darkness brings out a thousand twinkling lights.

Los Angeles at Night
The sprawling lights of Los Angeles

The night that we went happened to be one of the monthly public star parties. In addition to the main telescope at the observatory, there were dozens of volunteers with their own telescopes setup for public use. The combination of Saturday night and the party meant the Observatory was packed to the gills with people. I’d advise getting there by 4 or 4:30pm, but even that might not be soon enough. The DASH runs from the Greek Theater to the Observatory, and that is what we used to get to the top. It’s also a good idea to grab dinner before hand since you’ll be at the observatory til late. Sage Plant Based Bistro and Brewery is nearby and seriously delicious. In fact, it’s #1 on this list of vegan and gluten-free food in Los Angeles!

If you have any interest in astronomy, the main telescope is a must. Situated on the roof, it is a beautiful piece of history and science. Once you’ve gotten your look, the remaining views of Los Angeles are enough to keep you occupied. However, there is even more inside the Observatory. We didn’t get a chance to catch a show at the planetarium, but you certainly shouldn’t repeat that mistake. Get there early enough to explore the inside and see a planetarium show before sunset. Once that is out of the way, then you’ll have time to enjoy the sunset and stars above.

36 Hours in Los Angeles Wrap-Up

There is still a ton of adventures and sights left for me in Los Angeles. 36 hours in the city is clearly not enough, but it was never the focus of this trip. I’ll certainly be planning a return vacation to catch all that SoCal still has on offer. As our time wound to a close, however, I knew that there was a ton of adventure still to be had. One way you can extend your own trip is spending some time exploring Hollywood. If you want to know more about how I planned this whole trip, check out my Pacific Coast Adventure Planning post.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thorough my time in Los Angeles. To catch more of my adventures in real time be sure to follow me on Instagram and Facebook!

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