California USA

My City Guide: 72 Hours in Los Angeles

When Lee suggested we go to Vegas, I finally relented on the basis that a) he’d been pestering me for at least two years and b) we just HAD to go to Disneyland. When was I ever going to be in that part of the States again? Plus, we love a mini road trip on holiday. 

Not only did we decide to do Disney, but we also decided to stay in LA for a few days and really make the most of our time there. 

We landed in Vegas and the following morning we were up at 3am, partly due to jet lag but partly due to the fact that we had a 4-hour drive ahead of us. It was dreamy and as soon as we hit the road, I was happy – for me travelling is all about the adventure. Whether that’s when we get there or on the way.

We made it to LA in good time, about 5 hours all-in-all with a stop in Barstow for a McDonald’s breakfast in an old converted train cart. We also decided now would be the best time to test my driving skills in our huge Ford pickup we’d nicknamed The Beast. 

Day 1 – Welcome to Hollywood

We’d booked a hotel in Hollywood, mainly because it was a good location but also because it was a lot more affordable for a few nights – LA is expensive! I’m not a huge fan of hostels and so we always try to get good value for money where we can. 

Hollywood Le Bon Hotel

The hotel was perfect for what we wanted; great location, stylish rooms, lovely staff and free breakfast doughnuts – can’t really go wrong, can you? We were only a two-minute walk from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and close enough to a bunch of different restaurants and shops that we didn’t want for anything.

Top tip: it’s always handy to make sure you have a corner shop of some kind nearby where you can pick up snacks and provisions for the day. This hotel was only a few minutes from a CVS Pharmacy which was ideal.

Price: $120 per night + taxes (circa £112 per night)

Booking agent:

Recommend? 100% yes. The hotel is in the ideal location with some on-street parking which is free from 8pm to 8am.

We dropped the pickup near to the hotel and made our way down to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Unfortunately, Hollywood is definitely not as glamorous as you think but we did spot the church from Sister Act, spied the iconic Hollywood sign and got caught up in the setup of the red carpet for the latest X-Men movie. Obviously, we had to pit stop at the Hard Rock Café before finding the sightseeing bus we’d already booked. 

Sightseeing around LA

With so little time to take in the city – and so much to do – we decided a hop-on, hop-off bus tour was the best way to see the sights. After doing one in Cape Town, it’s one of my go-to activities in any city.

The one in LA was even better than I thought it would be with three different routes that take you all around the city, including Hollywood, Downtown LA and Santa Monica

We were a little short on time so we decided to just do the red route – no matter how much I tried to plan it down to the minute, we just didn’t have enough time. The red route was a great choice for us though as it would take us to the definite must-see places, including Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive. Most importantly, towards the end, we could get off at Melrose Avenue for our next activity. 

Price: £34.65 per person

Booking agent: Expedia

Recommend? Yes!

Paramount Studios

Of all the things you can do in LA, we decided to get a tour of one of the most iconic films studios in the world – what else would you do in LA? Home of movie stars and Hollywood, of course we had to go to a movie set.

So we went to Paramount Studios for a guided tour, and it was amazing. A definite must-do. We got to see exactly where they filmed some of Top Gun, where they had the BEach from Zac Efron’s Baywatch and I even sat on Forrest Gump’s bench.

For those of you love Brooklyn Nine-Nine, we also got to see the precinct front steps – I was thrilled.

They took us around the site, which was huge, showed us the street sets they use for filming and then even got to see inside a live set where they told us some cool stories about The Godfather. 

Marlon Brando refused to learn his lines because he wanted it to be more authentic so they had to hold placards up for him to read from during every scene. If you watch the movie closely, you can see his eyes scanning from left to right as he reads.

The director of the Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola, started receiving threats when the mafia heard about the movie. It got so bad, there needed to be mediation between the mafia and the movie makers. In the end, the mafia allowed the production of the movie on a few conditions:

Members of the mafia were brought in as consultants.

The mafia was always referred to as ‘the family’.

There were members of the mafia on set whilst filming at all times.

Coppola relented and so there were always two burly guys in the background watching the film production. Over time, they got more involved in the making of the movie and eventually landed themselves minor parts in the background of some scenes.

Once the tour was complete, we got an Uber back to the hotel and finally checked in, but there was no time to waste. After a quick spruce up, we were off out again to the Baseball in Anaheim. 

Price: $60 per person

Booking agent: Direct with Paramount

Recommend? Yes – if you’re a film lover, this is a must-do. We had so much fun!

LA Angels vs Oakland Atheltics

Once back from the tour, we only had a short amount of time to check in to our hotel and freshen up before we were off out again to the baseball in Anaheim. 

Let’s face it, no American trip is complete without some form of sports.

It’s normally a 45-minute journey but we were definitely not prepared for the traffic problem that is LA and the journey took us almost 2 hours. We finally arrived at the stadium as the sun was going down and thoroughly enjoyed our evening – I’d never been to the baseball before so the whole experience was a complete novelty.

Price: $19 per ticker + taxes, and we paid an extra $20 to park at the stadium too

Booking agent: Direct through the Angels website

Recommend? Yes – I’m not a big sports fan in general, but had a great time and it’s pretty cheap activity compared to a lot of other things you can do.

Day 2 – Disneyland California

The next day we were up fairly early and driving back to Anaheim – it was time to go to Disneyland! Because time was short for us, we’d bought park hopper tickets that allowed us to do both Disneyland Park and Disneyland California Adventure Park in one day.

If you’re a rollercoaster lover, this isn’t the most practical way of doing things – park hopper tickets are twice as expensive (for good reason) but for us, they’re the perfect solution. Lee isn’t a fan of the big rides which means we have the perfect opportunity to do as much as possible in as little time as possible.

Having done Walt Disney World in Florida a few years ago, I was super excited to visit the original park.

California Adventure Park

We started with California Adventure Park because it didn’t have a castle, and we definitely wanted to stay for the fireworks show in the evening.

It was a great start to the day with Hollywood Land, Pixar Pier and Cars Land – where I had to spend a little bit of time explaining the Cars movie franchise to Lee.

Note to self: make sure Lee does his Disney homework before our next trip.

We then wandered through Grizzly Peak which was amazing and made me feel like we really were in a National Park.

Knowing that time was short and we only had one day to cram everything in, we finished up at California Adventure – but only after I’d managed to get myself some Mickey ears, something I missed out on when we went to Florida – and headed over to Disneyland Park.

Disneyland Park

We wandered down Main Street and soaked in the sights. We were armed with our map and I was on a mission. I’d already met most of my favourite characters in Orlando but there was one I was dying to tick off my list: Aladdin and Jasmine. 

For the first time ever, I schedule our activities around the meet and greet times to ensure we got to meet these two. We queued at the appropriate time for them to come out and I’m so glad we did because we also got to meet the Mad Hatter and Alice, Mary Poppins and I even made friends with the Evil Queen. 

I love how the experiences never feel rushed and the characters are happy to chat to you for a few minutes. It really does make it feel special.

Once we’d got that out the way, we headed further into the park, through Tomorrowland and into Fantasyland to snag ourselves prime seats for the afternoon parade. 

It’s not a trip to Disney without doing the ‘It’s a Small World’ ride. After which, we were then able to tick a few more areas of the park off our list and found ourselves a spot for food. 

By this time it was getting late. The parks were starting to empty a little and we were super tired. But I personally love this time of day, because all the queues have died down and it’s a prime opportunity to sneak in a few more of the most popular attractions – like meeting Snow White, Ariel and Cinderella. 

Satisfied we’d done enough in the parks, we decided to head to Downtown Disney for a spot of shopping and a quick Starbucks before making our way back ready for the evening show.

I won’t lie, it wasn’t as good as Orlando. It was still fun but I found Disneyland just not quite as impressive. It just didn’t have the same sense of magic as Magic Kingdom – clue’s in the name, right? 

Price: $199 per person – ouch! These were steep. We had the 1-day park hopper tickets in high season. Normally, if you purchase multiple days, the price per day goes down but we were so restricted on dates.

Booking agent: Disney – you can buy tickets from other agents, mainly for 3-days+

Recommend? It depends if you’re a Disney fan. $200 each is super steep if it’s not really your thing. I’m glad we did it, but probably wouldn’t go out of my way to do it again.

Day 3 – Universal Studios Hollywood

Our second full day in LA took us to Universal Studios but not until after we’d paid a visit to the Griffiths Observatory which wasn’t that far from where we were staying, and was practically on the way to Universal anyway.

The downside of being in LA is that there’s so much smog; I’ve literally never seen anything like it. So sometimes, the early morning activities aren’t as great as you’d like.

From the Griffiths Observatory, you have a great view over the city, and of course, the Hollywood Sign. However, if the smog is lingering, it’s not the clearest view.

Happy we’d managed to tick another activity off the bucket list, we headed to Universal Studios and genuinely didn’t expect to have such a good time, but it really was amazing.

We watched the live Water show, the live animal show, a live special effects and stunt show, and went on a tour of the Universal sets – I would highly recommend this as it’s an amazing 4D experience too and you get to learn so much about how they make movies, plus you get to see some of the most iconic Universal sets around, including the Bates Motel, Whoville from the Grinch and the beach from Jaws. 

You can also pay for a VIP tour that allows you to physically explore the sets, instead of driving past in a little tram. We saw a group of people wandering around the giant airplane crash set from World War Z.

The Universal Studios park had so much to offer, including a wet play area for the kids – which was absolute mayhem.

You’ve also got Springfield which is such a novelty with Moe’s Tavern, the Kwik-e-Mart and Krusty Burger.

And obviously, how could we not miss Harry Potter World? It’s considerably smaller than Orlando but still loads of fun. I even got to meet the conductor for the Hogwarts Express and stood chatting to him for ages. 

Price: £88.21 per person

Booking agent: Expedia

Recommend? Yes, yes, yes. As much as it hurts me to admit it, we actually had more fun at Universal than we did at Disneyland. We just felt like there was so much more we could do, what with all the live shows and everything. And we had an amazing day.

Universal CityWalk

I’m starting to love the shopping and eating districts that come with these theme parks. Considering this park wasn’t as big as the one in Florida and we were definitely worn out, we decided to head out to Universal CityWalk to find some food – and maybe do a bit more shopping. 

Having done our research on the most iconic, must-visit eateries, we headed to Pink’s.

This is a legendary hot dog house. Established in 1939, the original Pink’s can be found on North La Brea Avenue in LA and sells around 2,000 hot dogs a day – boy is that a lot of hot dogs. Not only is it a super popular hot dog shack, but it’s a fave with the celebs too and their walls are decorated with their famous guests. Everyone from Queen Latifah and Betty White to David Hasselhof and Robin Williams.

Lucky for us, they opened a Universal CityWalk location in 2010 and was hands down probably the best hot dog I’ve ever had – watch out New York! 

Whilst in the neighbourhood, we decided to tick another eatery off our bucket list and headed to Voodoo Doughnuts for something naughty and full of sugar. Looking for a doughnut with a difference? Then Voodoo Doughnuts is definitely for you. With only 8 locations in the US, they’ve fast become a go-to location for everything doughnut, and I mean everything.

Whether you fancy a Voodoo Doll©, an Old Dirty Bastard or a Marshall Mathers, they have the craziest doughnut flavours around!

You can see more of their flavours on their website

We did have to queue for it, but the prices are super reasonable and they’re so worth it. Plus, if you do swing by, there’s nothing stopping you from buying some merch or actually getting married in one of their shops. Crazy, right?

We opted for their Oreo flavour called Dirt and ended up having it for breakfast the next day, yum! 

Day 4 – Downtown LA

Our final day in LA took us to downtown. We did still have a 4 hour drive back to Vegas so we didn’t want to spend all day in the city, but there were a few cool things that we needed to do. 

It took us a while to park the pickup – note to self, always consider the heigh of your hire vehicle when going into a city; a lot of LA’s parking was limited to 6ft or lower which just wasn’t good enough for us. 

We’d anticipated bad traffic and so had headed to Downtown quite early – we had an appointment to keep – but were actually a lot earlier than we’d expected so decided to first swing by the Staples Center.

Unfortunately, their merchandise shop was being refurbed whilst we were there but it was still cool to see the statues of their biggest icons out front. I tried my best to reach Shaq, but just didn’t get close.

The Skyslide

We headed back the way we’d come and entered the OUE Skyspace, California’s highest open-air observation deck. On our way to the top, we explored their mini-museum dedicated to LA which was so much fun. There were loads of interactive elements, including a movie about the city and the Hollywood stars.

We finally made it to the Skyslide and was worried Lee wouldn’t be able to do it. He’s not the biggest fan of heights – I was surprised he wanted to book tickets for it in the first place – and he was already getting nervous. But, to my surprise, he wanted to go first.

The Skyslide was super cool – it was one of those things we’d seen on Lad Bible or Travel Insider and it definitely didn’t disappoint. Although much shorter than I thought it would be, it gave a great view out over the city. And was over in about 20 seconds.

The tickets were great value though. Because we’d opted for the 10am-12pm slot (and had got there quite early), it was super quiet. What with the mini museum and interactive elements on the way up, the top also had an open-air deck with comfortable seating and an indoor cafe. There was plenty for us to do, and we even found ourselves some angel wings.

Price: £19.80

Booking agent: Expedia

Recommend? Yes!

The Last Bookstore

Before we could leave LA, we had one last stop. Another inspired idea from Travel Insider, but also discovered by Lee after a quick Google search.

Most places we go, we take the time to visit a book store, or bookish location – it’s just what we do.

California’s largest book store and named one of the 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world by Flavorwire, this was a must-visit destination.

It was a short walk from OUE Skyspace that gave us a good flavour of downtown LA and really made me wish we could stay longer.

On the corner of 5th and Spring Street, The Last Bookstore is an old converted bank and it was really like walking into Wonderland. There were 250,000 books over two floors – the mezzanine floor being named the Labyrinth Above because it is literally a labyrinth of fiction.

This place had everything from a real bank vault filled with rare and collectable fiction to flying books, a book tunnel and a book window. It was a literary lovers dream.

We easily spent almost an hour browsing the shelves, snapping pics and exploring the place. I almost didn’t want to leave. But the hot Nevada desert was calling to us and we had a long drive home…and by long I mean 9 hours because there were two crashes on the mountain highway which kept us at a respectable 20 mile an hour for like 2 hours.

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