Visiting California for the First Time

Jun 4, 2019

Prior to a couple of weeks ago I have never been to California.  The furthest west I have ever been would probably be Nashville, Tennessee.  I thought it would be fun to recap visiting California for the first time in a blog post.

Featured in this post:

  • My 8 Day California Itinerary
  • The Best Cafes and Restaurants in Los Angeles
  • 8 Tips for Visiting LA for the First Time

My 8 Day Itinerary for Visiting California for the First Time

Day 1

los angeles runyon canyon
Friday: Our flight left at 8:30 am.  With this being my longest flight ever I made sure to download a couple of podcasts to keep myself entertained.  The plane also had screens with free tv shows and movies.  Make sure you bring headphones if you plan on watching anything!
Once we got to LA we made our way to the waiting area for a bus to take us to the car rentals.  This was honestly a bit of a disaster with Budget car rentals.  The wait for the bus took over thirty minutes while other car rental companies buses kept passing us by.  After boarding our bus and arriving at the Budget rental location we were met with a crowd of people waiting in line.  We grabbed a ticket and waited for a little over an hour and a half to get our car.  I’m not sure if this is the case with other rental car companies at the airport but don’t let this deter you from getting a rental car.  A car is definitely necessary for sightseeing and getting around the LA area!
Driving around in Los Angeles is fairly easy depending on where you are staying.  Just like any major city, there’s traffic, but it really only seems to get bad around rush hour and on the main highways.  If you’re using google maps you can easily take alternate routes and avoid the highways during busy times.
One of our first stops in LA was to grab some food at Veggie Grill.  Veggie Grill has plenty of locations so it was super easy to find one nearby.  Their offerings are vegetarian or vegan-friendly, which is something hard to come by in the Atlanta area.  I tried the Far East Bowl which was quite tasty and a spicy kick to it.
Once our energy levels were restored with some fresh grub and refreshments we made our way to our first Airbnb.  If you’ve never used Airbnb before I highly recommend it.  This was our first time, and I had a pleasant experience.  Our first host is actually an actor and has played various roles in several tv shows and movies.  He was super kind and even let us pick our own lemons and limes from his tree just outside our guesthouse.  The place was very clean and convenient to many tourist destinations.

Day 2

After getting some rest we were ready to take on some tourist spots on Saturday.  We headed to The Butcher, The Baker, and The Cappucino Maker for a delicious brunch.  Then it was off to sightsee around the Sunset Strip Area.  If you’re a fan of 80s rock many of the music venues that these bands started playing in such as The Viper Room, Whiskey a Go Go, and The Rainbow can be found here.
Once we got our fill of Sunset Boulevard we headed over to Runyon Canyon Park.  This hike up or downhill is not for the faint of heart, but you get spectacular views of the city making it perfect for pictures.
runyon canyon
Next on the list was to check out the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Honestly, this was pretty disappointing.  It’s cool to see the stars and then immediately get out of there.  The Chinese Theater and Madame Tussauds are also located in this area.  If you plan on going to Madame Tussauds buy your tickets online in advance to save around $10 or so per guest.
hollywood walk of fame

Day 3

On Sundays, Melrose Place has a really neat farmers market.  After checking that out we browsed local shops and boutiques near Melrose Place and Avenue.  Here is where you can find a whopping $16 dollar smoothie.  Yep, I paid $16 dollars for a smoothie.  Was it worth it?  Nope.  I was trying to see what all the hype was over some smoothie with “sex dust” in it, but really it was just chalky and flavorless.  I don’t know the science, if there is any, behind this sex dust.  It honestly just made me feel tired.
After the smoothie debacle, we drove over to Rodeo Drive.  Here you can find plenty of high-end shopping, restaurants, and cafes.  It’s a neat little area to spend an hour or two walking around.  This is also where I found some delicious macaroons at ‘Lette Macaroons.
Once we got our fill of Rodeo Drive, we traveled over to Century City for some mouth-watering dumplings at Din Thai Fung.
din tai fung

Day 4

On this day we finally found out where we could get the best picture of the Hollywood Sign.  I have the address listed in my tips below.  After we got our Hollywood Sign pictures we decided it would be nice to visit the coast.
Stop number one was Venice Beach.  This was another disappointment and honestly, you can skip this altogether.  If you’ve ever been to a rundown beach town with a boardwalk this would be it.  Muscle beach is located here but it was nothing to drive out of the way for.  Overall Venice Beach was pretty dirty and overrated.
We loaded back up and headed a bit north to Santa Monica.  The Santa Monica Pier was neat to check out and North Italia was a fabulous spot for dinner.
venice beach

Days 5-6

On Tuesday we drove up along the coast to Cambria.  We chose to go the scenic route which is a tad bit longer than taking the highway the whole way.  If you get to Cambria early enough you can explore the downtown area and check out Moonstone Beach.  From Cambria, we made our way up to Big Sur.  The views along the way were absolutely stunning.  Some of the stops we took included Elephant Seal Vista Point, Bixby Bridge, Pfeiffer beach, and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.  We wanted to view the McWay Falls but that area was closed due to the recent rain they had.
After taking in all the beautiful sights, Santa Barbara was the next stop on our agenda.  It honestly was quite the drive, so once we got there we did some sightseeing, grabbed dinner, and hit the sack.
big sur
Day 7-8
With the trip beginning to wind back down, we made our way to our last Airbnb in Topanga.  Our host was a composer for shows such as the Rugrats and Cat Dog, which excited the inner child in me.  On Thursday we decided to head to Calabasas and grab a salad made famous by the Kardashians.  The salad was just okay, and I’m honestly not sure how they eat it on a regular basis.
For the rest of the trip, we tried to fit in everything else we could.  Some of our stops included Malibu, Warner Brothers Studio, the Griffith Observatory, Alfred Tea Room (again), Mulholland Drive, and a self-driving celebrity home tour past the Playboy Mansion (it’s really hard to get close to most celeb’s homes since they live in private gated communities), Manhattan Beach, and Hermosa Beach.  I’d like to note that Manhattan and Hermosa Beach were much nicer than Venice Beach.
malibu beach

The Best Cafes and Restaurants in Los Angeles

Here are some of my favorite food spots for breakfast, lunch, dinner, a quick snack, or dessert:

  • The Butcher, The Baker, The Cappuccino Maker – neat ink latte art and brunch.  Their breakfast burrito and breakfast potatoes were top notch.
  • Urth Cafe – a casual breakfast or lunch spot that serves up fresh sandwiches, salads, baked goods, and more.
  • Veggie Grill – perfect for vegetarians, vegans, or anyone really.  The way they prepare vegetable-based dishes is so simple yet amazing.  I had some kind of spicy bowl.  It was simple yet incredible.
  • Alfred’s Tea Room – cute and refreshing tea drinks located near Melrose Ave and Melrose Place with cute boutiques and shopping nearby.
  • Cha Cha Cha Cafe – CBD Matcha tea drinks and cool latte stencil art.
  • Pasta Sisters – it’s all about the burrata baby! The pasta here is all homemade in house.  Don’t forget to top your dish with burrata!
  • Din Tai Fung – if there’s only one place you get to try, go here!  Their dumplings are out of this world.  Make sure you go early to get on the waiting list.  While you wait you can walk around the Westfield Century City mall.
  • Granville – perfect for a busy day of sightseeing and ordering take out to take back to your hotel.  I ordered the half chicken entree, and it was extremely tasty.  They offer soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, and entrees available for dining in or to go orders.
  • North Italia – located in Santa Monica. Their pizza and tortelloni dish was superb.
  • Il Pasta – a popular restaurant for spotting celebs in Beverly Hills.  While we didn’t catch any glimpses, their pasta was pretty good.
  • Magpies Soft Serve – located in Tarzana and Silverlake. They offer creamy and unique soft serve ice cream flavors.  There are also several vegan flavors available.
  • ‘Lette Macaroons – serving up fabulous macaroons.  The passionfruit one was the best macaroon I’ve ever had!
  • Drips & Swirls – this one is a drive if you’re not staying in downtown LA.  Their strawberry soft serve reminded me of those strawberry frozen treats they used to sell back in high school but upgraded.

drips and swirls

Other Restaurant Finds in California

    • Santa Barbara
      • Santa Barbara Public Market offers a variety of food and cuisines all in one place.  The Asian fusion spot, Empty Bowl Noodle, had very flavorful dishes.
      • Don’t forget to grab some dessert at Enjoy Cupcakes.  Their smaller size cupcakes pack a powerful punch and were honestly some of the best cupcakes I’ve had in a while.
      • Handlebar Coffee Roasters is a great stop for house-roasted coffee, lattes, avocado toast, baked goods, and more.
    • Cambria
      • Robin’s Restaurant is perfect if you’re planning on traveling up the Pacific Coast and need a place to stop for dinner.  Their prices are on the higher side, but you can still dress casual.  The menu offers a variety of internationally inspired dishes.  I chose the salmon, and it did not disappoint.

cha cha cha

8 Tips for Visting LA for the First Time  

  1. Stay at an Airbnb.  Hotels around the Los Angeles area can be pretty expensive.  If you plan to go the hotel route make sure to ask about a daily parking fee, which can be anywhere from 20-50 per day.  Who knows maybe your host will end up being an actor or composer like mine were! If you want to save $40 on your first Airbnb rental find out more here (affiliate link).
  2. Get a rental car.  While there is some public transportation, there are limited stops.  Using Uber or Lyft will rack up pretty quickly.  Los Angeles is pretty spread out, so if you plan on traveling around the city I highly recommend getting a rental car.  This will also give you the freedom to travel further outside of the city limits.
  3. Bring change for roadside parking meters and cash for valet.  Many trendy restaurants might be valet only, so it’s important to have cash for tips or a parking fee.  There’s usually plenty of street parking if you drive around your destination, but in most cases, you will need change for the parking meter.  Some of the meters are updated and take cards.
  4. Avoid the highways during peak traffic hours.  If you live in or near a city this probably makes sense.  Traffic can be a bit hectic in the morning and late afternoon in any major city or congested area.  If you need to travel during those hours I recommend setting your google maps to the avoid highways setting and avoid the highways at all cost.  We were able to avoid traffic during most of our trip by doing this.
  5. A rechargeable battery pack comes in handy if you’re using GPS all day long. Here’s the link to the one I personally use (affiliate link).
  6. Phone service can be pretty spotty especially if you have AT&T.  I’m not 100% sure about Verizon or other carriers, but if you’re staying in the canyons, hills, or coast be prepared to have limited service.
  7. Be careful of touristy tours and people targeting tourists in general especially near the Hollywood Walk of Fame and on the Venice Beach Boardwalk.
  8. The best view of the Hollywood sign and a great place to take pictures is at Lake Hollywood Park at 3160 Canyon Lake Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90068.  Make sure you visit during day time hours, as the sign is not lit up at night.

Don’t forget to Pin the Image Below to Your Pinterest Board so you can refer back to this post!

Also, let me know in the comments section below if you have any recommendations or tips for visiting California for the first time.
la guide best restaurants tips for traveling to LA


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