11 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid on Your First Los Angeles Vacation

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Hollywood, Los Angeles/Oyster

Hollywood, Los Angeles

Hollywood has beamed Los Angeles into movie theaters and televisions across the globe since the 1920s. No matter where you're from, you've seen the City of Angels, so it's no surprise that it's one of the top tourist destinations in the world. And Los Angeles really does have it all: sunny skies, sprawling beaches, movie studios, theme parks, world-class art museums, and a booming foodie scene. But the Hollywood you see on the big screen is a bit different in real life. Read on for 11 rookie mistakes to avoid in L.A.

1. Don't fly into LAX.

Los Angeles International Airport was ranked as the nation’s second-busiest airport in 2018. To put it politely, LAX is a mess. Expect a frustrating amount of traffic in the terminals, long security lines, and crowded gates. If you need to fly internationally, there’s no avoiding it, but for those with domestic flights, consider flying in and out of nearby Burbank or Long Beach. Hollywood Burbank Airport (or Bob Hope Airport) is conveniently seven miles from Hollywood Boulevard. Long Beach Airport is about a 45-minute drive from Santa Monica Beach. Both domestic airports are far less crowded and partner with major airlines such as Delta, Southwest, JetBlue, United, and American. 

2. Don't look for celebrities on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Hollywood Walk of Fame

All first-time Los Angeles visitors should take a stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame — 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street covered in more than 2,600 brass and terrazzo stars. But don’t expect to see any famous faces here. If you want to see a celebrity, there are a few hot spots: hiking in Runyon Canyon, shopping and dining at The Grove, lingering at the bar in Chateau Marmont, and choosing organic veggies at the Hollywood Farmers Market. Pro tip: Look for paparazzi cameras and remember that celebrities usually dress casually to avoid attention. 

3. Don't wear flip-flops away from the beach in Los Angeles.

Sure, Los Angeles has beautiful beaches in Venice and Santa Monica, but it’s very much an urban center and the locals care about fashion. Donning a pair of rubber flip-flops anywhere but the pool or the beach is like marking your forehead with “tourist” in red letters. First, flip-flops are dangerous on dirty and uneven sidewalks. Second, temperatures can dip to the 50s in the winter. Third, there are much cuter shoe options

4. Don't mispronounce Rodeo Drive.

Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills

Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills

A visit to the luxury shops, restaurants, and hotels along picturesque Rodeo Drive is a must. But pronouncing it wrong is a rookie mistake. It’s Ro-day-oh Drive, not Ro-dee-oh Drive

5. Don't ignore traffic times on your Los Angeles trip.

Traffic congestion in Los Angeles is not just a cliche, it’s a real thing. An accident on the 405 or the rush-hour commute can turn a five-mile drive into a two-hour headache. If you’re renting a car, it’s imperative to download an app like Waze, which analyzes traffic and provides faster alternative routes. Another smart move is to book a hotel near the tourist attractions you want to visit. Los Angeles is not the type of city where you can stay in a cheaper hotel on the outskirts and commute easily. Unless you want to spend most of the day in the car, plan your hotel and entertainment accordingly. 

6. Don't expect to swim in January.

Beach at Shutters on the Beach

Beach at Shutters on the Beach

Yes, Los Angeles has sunny skies and warm weather year-round, with an average temperature in the mid-70s. But thanks to a phenomena known as upswelling, the Pacific Ocean doesn’t get as warm. It’s usually around a nippy 60 degrees (up to 70 degrees in the summer) and requires a wet suit for swimming and surfing. Along the same lines, you don’t want to pack a suitcase with only shorts and sundresses. The evening temperatures dip down to the 50s in January and February, and locals tend to dress in layers year-round. 

7. Don't jaywalk.

As stated, Los Angeles is a driving city. So crossing the street against the light or away from the crosswalk is downright dangerous and can cause even more traffic delays. That said, don’t be surprised if you get a jaywalking ticket for up to $250 — the city hands out thousands each year. On a related note, if you’re behind the wheel, don’t speed through a yellow light. Most major intersections have cameras, and if you’re in the intersection for even a fraction of a second on a red light, you are almost guaranteed to receive a ticket (anywhere between $400 and $500) in the mail. 

8. Don't skip a hike on your Los Angeles vacation.

Bike Path, Santa Monica Pier/Oyster

Santa Monica Pier and Pico

Los Angeles has a reputation of being a very fit city, and hiking is one of the most popular pastimes. Thanks to its geography, there are ample outdoor experiences within the city limits. Popular hikes include Runyon Canyon (celebrity central), Griffith Park (also has horseback riding), Hollywood Lake Reservoir (with gorgeous views of the Hollywood sign), and down the boardwalk between Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier (also fun for a bike ride). 

9. Don't avoid eating in a strip mall in Los Angeles.

Strip malls are an unsightly part of the Los Angeles landscape, but don’t overlook the dining scene hidden among the walk-in nail salons and dry cleaners. Believe it or not, some of the city’s most covetable cuisine is tucked away in strip malls. And that makes sense, as overhead is low and parking is easy, plus the chef can showcase their expertise on a focused menu rather than trying to appeal to a broad swath of tourists. Some highlights include Trois Familia (French-Mexican fusion), Jitlada (spicy southern Thai food), and Mashti Malone’s Ice Cream (Peruvian ice cream with flavors like rosewater and pistachio). Oh, and just because you’re in a strip mall, don’t expect to walk in without a reservation. These places fill up fast. 

10. Don't miss Downtown Los Angeles.

Disney Concert Hall, Downtown Los Angeles

Disney Concert Hall, Downtown Los Angeles

In the past 10 years, downtown Los Angeles has undergone a major resurgence. You might not immediately imagine yourself in the city center on a beach vacation, but skipping a visit to the downtown area is a huge mistake. The neighborhood is rife with hip bars, buzzy restaurants, street art, and world-class museums. Highlights include the Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Broad contemporary art museum, and Grand Central Market with stalls overflowing with oysters, tacos, barbecue, and fresh fruit. A visit to the Los Angeles Flower Market makes for an enviable Instagram backdrop. As a note, Skid Row still holds a substantial homeless population and should be avoided by tourists, especially after dark. 

11. Don't give dogs the stink eye.

It’s often said that Angelenos love their dogs more than their kids, and there might be some truth to that. Expect to see pampered pooches on and off leashes everywhere from boutique clothing shops to hiking trails to restaurants. Some of them have protected legal status as emotional support animals. Regardless, dogs are highly prized and it’s quite common to see strangers making a giant fuss over dogs all over the city. 

Where to Stay in Los Angeles

The Beverly Hills Hotel

The Beverly Hills Hotel

There are hundreds of great hotels in Los Angeles. Finding the one that’s right for you comes down to location, price, and the type of scene (if any) you’re looking for. For something stylishly luxe on the beach, it doesn’t get any better (or closer to the sand) than Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica. The Garland is a five-minute drive from Universal Studios and has bunk beds for families. If you want to check out downtown L.A.’s art and food scene with friends, the Freehand Los Angeles offers an epic rooftop pool and communal (or private) rooms. And for the over-the-top Hollywood vibe and service you’ve seen in the movies, there’s no better choice than the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel

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