A walking guide for Los Angeles? Are we crazy? Contrary to popular belief — and with apologies to the band Missing Persons — it’s simply not true that nobody walks in L.A.
Sure, Los Angeles can sometimes seem like a big collection of suburbs, but, in reality, many areas of the sprawling metropolis are very walkable. And with new bike lanes, a train line running from downtown to the beach and fun modes of alternative transport popping up, it’s easier than ever to zip between them. We spent a few days at some of our favorite healthy spots and created this guide to help you get to know the City of Angels on foot.
Beach, Bikes and Breves in Santa Monica and Venice
Santa Monica and neighboring Venice are some of the most accessible neighborhoods in Los Angeles, thanks to the new Expo line, which runs from downtown L.A. to Santa Monica, and the newly installed Metro and Hulu bike shares. Downtown Santa Monica is squeaky clean — with a beach path, tons of shopping and even an old-school roller coaster on the pier. Venice maintains its gritty, artistic past with murals and street performers, while a new wave of restaurants and juice bars make it a hipster haven.
You didn’t come all the way to Southern California to not live out your “Baywatch” dreams, so the beach is the obvious starting point for any Los Angeles visitor.
Set out from your hotel or Airbnb and make a beeline for Menotti’s, an unassuming coffee shop with a local vibe that just happens to be the home of latte art champion barista, founder and owner Christoper “Nicely” Abel Alameda. Nicely is always there greeting tourists and regulars alike with a big smile, hip-hop on the old-school record player and espresso drinks to please all palettes. Order a classic hot chocolate or a Caffe Rico (Nicely’s California take on the Seattle Espresso Vivace classic Cafe Nico) or a Tim Tam cappuccino from the secret menu and settle in for the best people watching in town out the window onto Windward Avenue.
To really experience Venice, grab a Hulu bike or just stroll up the boardwalk to Rose Avenue. Along the way, check out the many art vendors, palm readers, street performers and colorful characters that make Venice what it is.
Once you get to Rose Avenue, turn right and walk up to the corner of 4th Street and Rose, the new hip hub of Venice, complete with a Moon Juice store, vegan Cafe Gratitude, a medicinal marijuana dispensary and our destination, Ceremony Meditation. Opened in early 2017, Ceremony features a range of classes, including aroma reiki, sound baths, heart-opening meditation, breath work and more. Plus, they carry some great loungewear and jewelry if you want a unique souvenir of your trip.
Now that you’re chill, time for some fresh air and a healthy lunch. Hop on a Bird — the new electric scooter-share service that’s taking Santa Monica by storm. Getting on a Bird is easy. You just download the app to your smartphone, find a scooter nearby on the map, unlock it using the app and scoot away. Started by a former Uber employee, the Bird scooters go as fast as 15 mph and can travel up to 15 miles. They’re a fun, slick way to traverse the beach cities.
Make your way down Main Street (use the bike lane) north to downtown Santa Monica. En route, you’ll pass the Santa Monica Pier and Tongva Park. Continue through Palisades Park, watching the waves, the walkers and the bikers along the paths. Turn up Montana Avenue, park your Bird and enjoy a healthy lunch at Kreation Cafe, a local chain specializing in cold-pressed juice and farm-fresh salads.
After lunch, get ready for some great views and some serious calorie burning. Head north on 4th Street to Adelaide, where you’ll hit the Santa Monica Stairs. A favorite celebrity workout and boot-camp stop, 189 stairs climb 111 feet from the base at Entrada Drive in the Santa Monica Canyon up to Adelaide Drive. You’ll see some seriously buff folks running the stairs up and down two or three times while on their lunch breaks, but even if you choose to walk and take it slow, the view from the top is as California as it gets.
By now you’ve certainly earned your reward — a rooftop cocktail at the Penthouse at the Huntley Hotel. Trendy but classic, the Huntley features cocktails as well as an affordable happy hour with snacks like salmon crudo and, of course, California classic avocado toast. But the Huntley’s best item is out the window, not on the menu, as you take in the sunset over the Pacific after a great day at the beach.
Art, Shopping and Rock and Roll in West Hollywood
Like Santa Monica, West Hollywood (WeHo to the locals) has the unique status of being its own city within Los Angeles County. This enclave is home to nightlife — like historic rock clubs the Roxy and the Viper Room — as well as lots to see during the day, from street art and galleries to upscale shopping and maybe even some celebrities, if you’re lucky. The gay hub of Los Angeles, West Hollywood hosts a huge annual Halloween parade and, in June, one of the largest Pride celebrations in the country.
Get your blood pumping early in the day at Training Mate, where you’ll do a unique circuit workout with a side bonus of some very good-looking trainers — all with Australian accents. Started by Luke Milton in Sydney back in 2009, Training Mate brings Down Under to Los Angeles with a HIIT workout that burns up to 1,000 calories in a single session. They have built a following in the neighborhood that lends to its community spirit. And if you have Class Pass, it’s easy to sign up for a one-off, or you can simply drop in at the studio.
After your workout, grab a quick shower, then get fueled up for a day of fun in West Hollywood with an espresso or macchiato served in a chocolate-lined waffle cup at Alfred, whose motto is “But first, coffee,” and boasts an interior design that seems like it was created just for Instagram. The small shop on Alfred Alley off Melrose has a hip L.A. vibe with hand-painted walls by local designer Blanda Eggenschwiler. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a celeb or two stopping in for their morning fix. Don’t worry, just ask for the Alfred Cone and you’ll fit right in.
West Hollywood is famous both for being a hub for gay culture in Los Angeles and for its long-standing commitment to the arts. As you walk around Melrose Avenue, check out murals by Shepard Fairey, RETNA and Punk Me Tender. On the corner of Melrose and San Vicente, stop in at the Pacific Design Center, home to rotating exhibits on art and design as well as a screening room and home-design showrooms. Also on San Vicente, the West Hollywood Library celebrates the neighborhood’s gay culture with an extensive collection of LGBTQ history and a unique HIV reference collection.
After all that working out and walking, you’ll be famished. Plant-based hotspot Gracias Madre has gained a reputation as an local favorite amongst vegans and carnivores alike, with organic ingredients and gourmet Mexican flavors to please every palate — plus a creative cocktail menu. Favorites from Chef Chandra Gilbert include a crab cake torta made with hearts of palm, jackfruit tacos and pumpkin empanadas with cashew creme all served in an airy space on Melrose Avenue with lots of outdoor seating. Drinks like La Quinceanera, featuring tequila, kiwi, mint and lime, are the perfect midday splurge.
After lunch, pop into boutiques for all kinds of high-fashion souvenirs, from beauty products to sneakers. Beauty and fashion mecca Violet Grey has built a huge online following for its beauty coverage and celebrity interviews, and the store mimics that same curation focus, with brands like Tatcha, Charlotte Tilbury and Ouai. At celeb favorite The Reformation, designer Yael Aflalo takes vintage gems and re-creates them into stylish treasures. Down the block, Brooklyn Projects speaks to L.A. street style, with the best selection of kicks and skateboard gear this side of Venice.
For dinner, Chef Kris Yenbamroong has created a Thai cuisine mecca at Night + Market, mixing the spicy flavors of Northern Thai street food with a California focus on local produce and fresh ingredients. Night + Market is a favorite of celebs like famous foodie Gwyneth Paltrow and was named one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles by Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer for the L.A. Times Jonathan Gold. Try the hot papaya salad or a classic like khao soi, a Thai noodle dish that in Chef Kris’s version is made with tofu and oyster mushrooms.
And a day in WeHo isn’t complete unless you go out on the town. Put on your dancing shoes and head up to the historic Sunset Strip or out to the dance clubs of Santa Monica Boulevard.
Take your pick, from checking out a rock show at the Roxy or the Whiskey a Go Go, where the likes of John Lennon and Jimmy Page used to hang out back in the ’60s, or dancing your tail off at The Factory and Ultra Suede on a Saturday night. Or just grab a drink at The Abbey in the heart of West Hollywood’s Boystown.
Seeing Stars in Los Feliz
Just east of Hollywood, the small but action-packed neighborhood of Los Feliz offers nature in the form of sprawling Griffith Park, nurture in some of the most forward-thinking restaurants in Los Angeles (if not the country) and nightlife, with innovative stage shows and cool wine bars. Tucked in between touristy Hollywood and trendy Silver Lake, Los Feliz also has Spanish-style homes to admire on the side streets and the best bookstore in Los Angeles.
Kick off your day at Go Get 'Em Tiger, a coffee shop on an up-and-coming block of Hollywood Boulevard in Los Feliz whose special is the almond macadamia nut latte (or try the coffee-free turmeric version). Ready to set off on a day of walking among Spanish-style houses bordered by green parkland? Don’t even try to get the accent right — locals tend to call this neighborhood east of Hollywood and west of downtown “Las Feel-iss.”
Now you’re ready to head up to Griffith Park before things get too busy. With more than 4,200 acres of parkland and features like the Los Angeles Zoo, horse trails and the Griffith Park Observatory, the park is more than four times as big as New York’s Central Park and could keep you occupied for days. But today we’re heading out to the West Griffith Observatory trail to do our best James Dean impression in front of the observatory. The climb is about two miles round-trip from the entrance just past the Trails Cafe when you enter the park by the Fern Dell entrance.
On the way you’ll walk by the Greek Theatre, home to outdoor concerts in the summer. Once you summit, the observatory lookout provides views of downtown and the rest of the city below. Head inside for exhibits on the solar system, star shows at the planetarium and telescopes for learning more about astronomy and the city’s role in discovering the secrets of our galaxy.
Walk back down via Vermont Avenue to check out some of the funkiest boutiques in town. Otherwild is home to the original “The Future is Female” T-shirt line as well as fun and subversive home decor and fashion. Skylight Books regularly features talks with local authors and has an extensive selection of local L.A. literature along with kids books, travel guides and best-sellers. Walk one block west to Hillhurst Avenue and stop at Spitfire Girl for fun gifts and accessories and Vamp for chic shoes and bags.
You’ve worked up an appetite by now, so head back to Hollywood Boulevard for lunch at Chef Sara Kramer’s Kismet, an airy, Middle Eastern-inspired spot featuring unique combinations like broccoli toast with ducca, labneh and pomegranate seeds, a Turkish breakfast smorgasbord of treats like kale and tahini spread and a spicy egg and fresh drinks like rosewater lemonade. Their Jeweled Crispy Rice with currants and pumpkin seeds was just named the Most Essential Dish of the Year by Los Angeles Magazine. Everything is so pretty you’ll want to take the perfect Instagram before digging in.
Just a few blocks west is Barnsdall Art Park, home to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hollyhock House. In the summer, Barnsdall hosts wine happy hours on Friday evenings and during the year, and the park is home to a variety of art workshops for the whole family, theater performances and more. Tours of Hollyhock House are held Thursday through Sunday, and it’s worth getting your ticket in advance. If seeing this great example of Wright’s work inspires you, the docents at Hollyhock can direct you to other great architectural examples in Los Angeles to check out on your stay.
Before dinner, grab a glass of wine at Bar Covell, a dark bar on Hollywood Boulevard with a French living room feel to it. Covell features 150 wines by the glass and eight beers on tap, with something to please everyone. The owners are locals who are passionate about Los Angeles — and their wine. Then shimmy across the street to try the impossible. Los Angeles-based chain Umami Burger does a delicious classic burger, sure, but it has also introduced the plant-based Impossible Burger to its menu. One of the few places to try this edible tech innovation in the wild, Umami makes a flavorful version that can likely fool you into thinking it’s actually meat. Fooled or not, it’s still a delicious way to wrap up your day in Los Angeles.
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About the Author
Laura Hertzfeld is an avid traveler, amateur baker and aspiring yogi who calls Venice Beach home. She is a contributing editor at LIVESTRONG.COM and has reported on entertainment, business and lifestyle topics at a variety of outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, Los Angeles Magazine and NPR. You can follow her on Twitter @laurahertzfeld.