Feb 25, 2024California, City, North America, USA0 comments

Are you planning a trip to Los Angeles and unsure what to see and do? This 3 day itinerary Los Angeles has you covered!

There are some cities pretty much everyone loves. But for other cities opinions are more polarized. While Los Angeles is pretty much my favorite city anywhere, I know that there are plenty who are disappointed after a visit and find LA horrible.

I am convinced that is because LA is different from many other cities (especially in Europe) and needs a special approach. Los Angeles is so spread out and has such diverse attractions that you can get lost without a good plan of attack (aka itinerary).

Luckily, with the following itinerary this won’t be your problem! Not only have I visited LA on various trips, but I have also lived there for almost two years so I am familiar with the city both as a local and as a tourist.

Based on this, I have come up with a great plan for a three day visit to Los Angeles (really the minimum time you need). This itinerary will hit most of the major tourist attractions and is arranged by location so you don’t spend all your time in traffic!

View of downtown LA from Walt Disney Concert Hall. Large glass skyscrapers reflect the scenery.

Downtown LA does have lots to offer

Some things you need to know about LA before your trip

Los Angeles is huge and spread out

This is probably the biggest culprit if visitors do not enjoy Los Angeles. The distances are vast (driving from one side to the other will take about 2 hours) and in contrast to many cities, the attractions are not mostly located in one central area.

Think of LA more as a collection of smaller cities and neighborhoods. It can be confusing: some of them are their own cities and others part of Los Angeles proper. You can just ignore this though as it will have little impact on your trip.

The main point for your 3 day LA itinerary or any visit is though to arrange your sightseeing according to location so you don’t spend half the day stuck in traffic.

Los Angeles traffic is bad, really bad

As if the distances were not enough, traffic is also horrible. Especially during rush hour any trip will take at least one hour. Which wouldn’t be so bad if rush hour wasn’t pretty much half the day!

In general, traffic will be fairly heavy from about 7 am to 11 am and then again from around 3:30 pm to 7 pm. So likely as not, a good part of your touring will take place during rush hour.

Heavy traffic in Hollywood is one reason not to rent a car on your 3 day LA itinerary

LA traffic can be difficult to navigate

Transport in LA

Do you need a car for your 3 day Los Angeles itinerary?

Whether or not to rent a car in LA is a matter of personal preference. On one hand, Los Angeles is set up for driving and you will be more flexible. On the other hand, traffic is bad and parking expensive!

A car is definitely a must if living in LA but for your 3 day visit I would only recommend you rent a car you love driving, are used to heavy traffic, and don’t mind paying exorbitant parking fees.

In most cases, I would stick to public transport (yes, it does exist) or ride-shares.

How is public transport in Los Angeles?

There are more public transport options in LA than many realize. Both Metro trains and buses can take you almost anywhere for little money.

There are two disadvantages though: Public transport is often slow (though you may not be much faster with a car) and borderline sketchy.

In my experience, commuter trains and Amtrak feel quite safe and I would not hesitate to recommend those if you want to venture out further, e.g. on a beach trip to San Clemente.

Buses and regular Metro routes will depend on your personal level of comfort. If you are traveling in a group or if you are from a large metropolitan area and used to public transit you will be fine.

However, if you are traveling solo and are on the nervous side you may want to go with a different option.

Personally, I would use public transit in nicer and more touristy areas (e.g. Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus to LAX airport) and during the day. Not so much after dark though.

Still, there is no need to rent a car. During my recent trip to Los Angeles I used Uber a number of times and had no problems at all. And given the high cost of parking, taking ride-shares a couple of times a day will still save you money!

Big Blue Bus on a street in Santa Monica

Buses are an inexpensive way to explore LA

Ultimate 3 Day Itinerary Los Angeles

The following 3 day itinerary for LA will give you a great first impression of this vibrant and exciting city. It covers most of the major tourist destinations and should work well for diverse groups.

It is a budget-friendly itinerary – most of the attractions and activities are either free or only have a small cost. This isn’t surprising as Los Angeles has a huge number of free activities.

Day 1 – Kitsch and Culture

Morning – Miracle Mile

Start your day in mid-city with one of the museums along Miracle Mile (aka Wilshire Blvd).

You have a choice between the La Brea Tar Pits, the Petersen Automotive Museum, and LACMA. But no matter whether you decide on pre-historic animals, cars, or art – stop by the outside area of the La Brea Tar Pits with the reconstructed mammoths and take a picture with the famous lamp post installation outside LACMA.

Urban Lights art installation with rows of pale grey lampposts next to LACMA in Los Angeles

The famous “Urban Lights” is one of the top Instagram spots in LA

Lunch – Original Farmers Market

After your museum visit head up north on Fairfax Ave. to the Original Farmers Market.

This long-time open-air attraction offers stalls selling everything from fudge and ice-cream to fruit as well as plenty of eateries.

My personal favorite restaurant here is Singapore’s Banana Leaf which offers tasty Laksa Soup and various curries. But no matter what kind of food you prefer – you are sure to find something here!

Clocktower and restaurant building at Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles

The Original Farmers Market makes a great spot for lunch

Afternoon – The Grove

Just behind the Original Farmers Market you will find the Grove, a popular outdoor mall with the usual upscale stores.

If you are visiting from overseas, you may want to spend some time browsing through the stores. But even if you are from the US and have the same chain stores where you live, a quick walk through is indicated as the Grove has a distinctly Disney-esque vibe.

Known for its high potential for celebrity sightings, this is a popular stop for tourists. Personally, I have never seen anyone famous here but I would be unlikely to recognize Brad Pitt if he was standing in line behind me so you may have more luck!

Fountain, outside seating and stores at LA's Grove shopping center

The parklike Grove Shopping Center is a good place for some retail therapy

Late Afternoon – Hollywood

The last stop for today is Tinseltown itself. Not everyone loves Hollywood but no itinerary to LA would be complete without it.

At a minimum, you will want to stroll along the Walk of Fame and take a couple of pictures. And if you take the elevator up at the Ovation Hollywood Mall you have one of the best views of the Hollywood sign (though it is a bit far for getting good photos).

Depending on your taste for kitsch and your interest in the movie industry, some of the smaller local attractions may be of interest (though they tend to be expensive). We have really enjoyed the Hollywood Museum – after all, who wouldn’t want to see Elvis’ bathrobe with an actual peanut butter stain!

Hollywood is also a great place for evening activities. I would recommend one of the local ghost tours or a movie (or if you are staying at the Magic Castle Hotel a visit at the Magic Castle!)

Day 2 – Art, Views, and Shopping

Morning – Getty Center

The Getty Center is one of those museums you shouldn’t miss even if you are not a great art lover. Aside of some of the world’s best art, it also offers beautiful architecture, gorgeous gardens, and great views over the city. Even better, this museum is free (aside of parking if you drive there) though you do need to prebook a time slot! 

Check the schedule of events prior to your visit so you can adjust the day of your visit if something catches your eye. Aside of free concerts and other events, there are daily tours that may be of interest.

The architecture adds to the appeal of the free Getty Center in Los Angeles

The airy vibe of the Getty Center makes it a must-see on any LA visit

Lunch – Getty Center

For lunch you have a choice between the full-service restaurant and a cafe with outdoor seating. 

The highly-rated restaurant is quite fancy (with prices to match). Reservations are a good idea.

The cafe is more casual and wows with a pleasant atmosphere and good views.

However, if you are done early at the Getty Center you could instead grab lunch either in Beverly Hills or Westwood.

Early afternoon – Westwood (optional)

If traveling by bus from the Getty Center to Beverly Hills you will change buses in or near Westwood.

This would be a great opportunity to check out this vibrant neighborhood shaped by the local University and its students. 

A walk across the UCLA campus and a quick stop at the UCLA store will be a great addition to your day if you have the time!

Red brick building with manicured lawn at UCLA

UCLA is a gorgeous University with plenty of attractions

Afternoon – Beverly Hills

Just like Hollywood, Beverly Hills is probably on the bucket-list of any LA visitor – even though, strictly speaking, there isn’t that much to see or do there.

Still, strolling along Rodeo Drive is another must-do activity. Lucky you if you have the budget to do any actual shopping in Beverly Hills! (I like to buy something at the local drugstore so I can also feel like a millionaire.) But even if not – it is always fun to marvel at how others spend their money.

End your day with an upscale meal in Beverly Hills (reservations advisable) and keep your eyes peeled for any celebrities.

Alternative option: If you are interested in celebrities, a tour of the stars homes may be for you. Most buses for this popular activity start in Hollywood though so you will have to return there to take part (or pick a private excursion with pickup from Beverly Hills). Most of these tours also include a drive through Beverly Hills so you can check off this bucket-list item (though without any actual shopping).

Day 3 – Architecture, History, and the Beach

Morning – Downtown LA

Unlike many other cities, most famous Los Angeles attractions are not located in downtown. And in the past, tourists were advised to just skip the downtown area – nothing but skyscrapers and completely abandoned outside of business hours.

Things have changed though. Most bucket-list LA attractions are still far from downtown, but  there is definitely plenty to see and do here for half a day (or even a full day).

Check out the Egyptian-styled public library, visit some of the free contemporary art museums, tour the Walt Disney Concert Hall, browse through the Mexican souvenirs at Olvera Street… Missing out on downtown LA would be a shame and this neighborhood deserves a spot on any 3-day itinerary for Los Angeles.

With only half a day allocated for downtown, you will have to pick and choose what to see. My detailed post about things to do in downtown LA will help you to decide your priorities.

Historic buildings, a tiled ground and colorful stalls selling Mexican souvenirs make Olvera Street to a great tourist stop

Olvera Street is a fun tourist spot

Lunch – Downtown LA

For lunch you have several options that will work well with this 3-day itinerary:

– If you are feeling like Mexican food, choose one of the restaurants on Olvera Street

Grand Central Market offers a large variety of stalls selling pretty much any cuisine you may want

Philippe is a LA institution famous for its French Dip sandwiches

Afternoon – Santa Monica

For your last afternoon in LA head out to Santa Monica (theoretically its own city but let’s not worry about that).

Santa Monica is the prototype for what most people think of when they hear “Los Angeles”: Baywatch meets Beverly Hills 90210.

You can shop at the upscale mall, browse the cute stores along Third Street Promenade (though a bit worn after the pandemic), and spend time at the wide sandy beach.

Don’t forget to enjoy the lively vibe at the Santa Monica Pier (the official end of Route 66) and stroll along the beach path. And if you are looking for something a bit edgier, Venice Beach is just a couple of minutes walk to the south.

There are plenty of restaurants in Santa Monica and the pedestrian-friendly area stays busy until late (well, late for Southern California standards).

Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade is characterized by a wide pedestrian street with colorful flowers, fountains, and large dino sculptures.

Third Street Promenade is reminiscent of European pedestrianized downtowns

Safety on this 3-day Los Angeles Itinerary

Los Angeles isn’t any more dangerous than any large city and is perfectly safe as long as you follow common safety precautions.

Depending on where you live, you may however see quite a lot more homeless than you are used to. While this isn’t a huge safety concern, it can be unpleasant and uncomfortable.

On this itinerary, safety worries should not be an issue. Specifically, the museums on Miracle Mile, the Original Farmers Market, the Grove, Getty Center, and Beverly Hills should pose no problems.

In Downtown LA, Santa Monica, and Hollywood you may see more homeless but all these areas are well frequented and busy with tourists.

I would recommend to use a ride-share service like Uber in the evenings/at night. If you are not used to large cities and public transit, covering most distances by Uber might be best.

Where to stay for this 3-day Los Angeles Itinerary

Due to the sheer size of LA, where to stay is even more important than in most other cities. 

My top tip for this 3 day Los Angeles itinerary would be to choose a hotel in Hollywood. There is a good choice of hotels at different price points in this neighborhood, public transportation options are good, the location is central for LA as a whole, and you will find a number of evening activities nearby.

Another good option would be Downtown Los Angeles, where good deals can often be had in one of the hotels geared to business travellers. Again, public transport is good and the location works well for this itinerary as you won’t have to travel far to start day 3 of the itinerary.

The main disadvantage of a downtown location is that it is right next to Skid Row, one of the worst areas in LA. However, as long as you are prepared and don’t wander around without a plan, it is a good option.

A third good option is Santa Monica. Santa Monica does embody the Southern California lifestyle, public transit is good, and there is plenty to do here.

Aside of its location at the far western edge of LA, the main disadvantage of a hotel in Santa Monica is price. But if your budget is generous (or you find a good deal), Santa Monica is definitely the place to be!

Small pool with sun loungers in courtyard of Magic Castle Hotel. The surrounding low-level apartment building is a bright yellow.

The Magic Castle Hotel in Hollywood is my top tip for hotels in LA

What else is there to do in Los Angeles?

So, so much! Listing all the other sights and activities in the LA area would make this the longest blog post ever.

The California Science Center, Griffith Observatory, and Universal Studios are just a couple of the other Los Angeles attractions worth a visit. And there are even more wonderful adventures in the surrounding area, like the Queen Mary in Long Beach or wonderful Newport Beach.

You could easily spend a couple of weeks in LA without running out of things to do. If you are looking for more inexpensive things to do, my post about all the free activities in Los Angeles makes a good start!

Final thoughts about this 3 day Los Angeles itinerary

This three day itinerary will give you a great overview of many of LA’s best attractions in a limited time. They are clustered together to limit time in traffic as much as possible.

Most of the activities are free or inexpensive. I would recommend you splurge on one or two more expensive experiences (like the Celebrity Tour, a nice restaurant, or a Ghost Tour) but there is no need to break the bank in LA (aside of the hotel cost of course).

Los Angeles really has so much to offer that I am sure you will have a great time and want to come back often!

The Ovation Shopping Center is your best bet for a photo of the Hollywood Sign. But unless you have a good camera your picture will likely be blurry as it is quite a distance away.

Hi, I am Kitty and I love to travel! Welcome to my blog, where I share all I have learned on my trips - good and bad - to help you have a better, cheaper, and more perfect vacation!


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