Depending on which side of the world you’re flying from, Los Angeles may very well be your most accessible port for arrival into the USA; it definitely is from Australia. While many disagree with me, I’m not a fan of LA. It’s smoggy and kind of confusing to get around, and most of the things you’ve heard about are…kind of disappointing. Plus, Disneyland is probably the best part of a visit to that part of the world (I’m a Disney addict, sue me), and you’re definitely better off staying in Anaheim for that fun (a guide to Anaheim is coming soon!).
If you’ve ever been to LAX, you would know that it’s probably as close to hell on earth as you can get. There are a million terminals and nothing makes any sense. After getting off a long-haul flight (often one that’s just about the longest flight you can do), the last thing you want to do is try and work out how to get to your hotel. While you do have lots of options, I always find the easiest method is a shared ride service such as Super Shuttle. At most, you’ll be in a van with nine other people, but they’ll either make for friendly conversation, or you won’t notice them. You’ll get dropped off straight at your hotel, and if you pre-book online, you don’t have to worry about figuring out their confusing currency straight off the plane.
Top Hotel Pick: BLVD Hotel and Spa
LA is a confusing city to book accommodation in unless you’re 110% sure what you’re doing, or where you need to be. LA CBD is actually nowhere near the tourist attractions, so you don’t want to be booking any “Downtown” accommodation, and while places like Venice Beach or Santa Monica are meant to be really pretty, they’re also nowhere near anywhere else you want to be.
For our first trip to LA, my parents used a travel agent and we ended up staying at some motel near Sunset BLVD. It was a nice enough place (and one I still see popping up in recommendations across the internet), but the overall location didn’t feel super safe. So, when I was heading back this time and knew I would be by myself, I knew I needed to stay somewhere that felt safer to me. After all, safety is always the number one priority when travelling alone!
I booked the BLVD Hotel and Spa on a whim, as a good deal was available on Booking.com and it was right near Universal Studios – one of the main reasons I was even planning on staying in LA. It was also right around the corner from a metro line that takes you into “Hollywood”, and near a bunch of places to eat. Honestly, I can’t recommend it enough. From the moment I arrived, way too early for check-in (gotta love flights that get in at 6am) and they made sure I got straight into a room, to the free drink every night at happy hour, to the friendliness of the staff, to the amazing location, my entire stay was perfect. If you’re looking for accommodation near Universal Studios, definitely check them out.
Top Tourist Attraction: Warner Bros Studio Tour.
I had never thought about doing a studio tour, but a number of friends told me I had to check this one out. I booked a tour for my first morning in LA, and had such a blast. The entire tour takes about 2.5hrs, and ends in an interactive studio where you can do things like sit on the Friends couch, or take a green screen video riding playing Quidditch in Harry Potter. Throughout the tour you get to see so many iconic sets and locations, and you also get to hear some amazing stories. Plus things you wouldn’t really think about like, a visit to the prop storeroom add an extra level of excitement.
If you’ve seen LA LA Land (and if you haven’t, you really need to!), there’s entire sections in the first half of the film that are parts of the tour – lots of fun to notice!
If you’re going to be in LA for at least three days, are planning a weekday visit to Universal Studios and also like the idea of a Warner Brothers Studio Tour, the Los Angeles Go Card is a good investment to look into. The three day pass costs $204USD, but includes both of the aforementioned attractions which is automatically $167 worth of value. When you add in just one of the other inclusions (such as Knott’s Berry Farm, Madame Tussauds, Six Flags Magic Mountain, or a Celebrity Homes Tour), you’ve automatically hit your initial purchase cost in value. I did the bare minimum on my Go Card (as I was there over a weekend and had already purchased a separate Sunday ticket for Universal Studios) but still saved money. You also save time as you can often skip lines to buy tickets and go straight to the turnstiles.
Depending on the time of year (and week) you’re visiting, Universal Studios can either be amazing fun, or a day filled with endless queueing. You definitely don’t need more than a full day there (this trip, I could have easily done it in the first half day I visited, but I did enjoy my second half day and revisiting attractions), unlike other theme parks such as Disneyland.
As I’ve previously mentioned , Universal Studios does have solo-rider queues for most of their rides which is a massive bonus if you do happen to be travelling alone. During my last trip, I went to Universal Studios over two separate days, and the first day I went the queues were enormous. The line for the Forbidden Journey ride was over 90minutes long the entire time I was there, but thankfully I got to skip all of the queues and only had to wait five. If you’re not sure if a ride has a single rider queue, ask the staff member working the front of the attraction. Even if they officially don’t have one, they sometimes have special code words which will allow you access to the Front Of Line queue.
The second day I was there, however, the park was basically empty. I ended up riding the Forbidden Journey three times in a row as there was zero queue. The longest I had to queue that day in any of the regular lines was twenty minutes for the Simpsons ride. These visits were only two days apart, but the difference in crowd size couldn’t have been bigger.
If you’ve never been to Universal Studios, it is a lot of fun. But it can also get repetitive. A lot of the rides use the same technology which, even though the content is different, can make the rides a bit repetitive (The Simpsons ride is like the Minions ride which is like the Transformers ride…). Similarly, if you’ve done the Studio Tour on a previous visit, there’s not a lot of reason to do it again. The Wonderful World of Harry Potter is a major addition to the park, and even though there’s not that much to do in there (especially if, like me, you’ve already got a cupboard full of HP merch at home), but the Forbidden Journey and trying Butterbeer are actually the best things ever.
If you know you’ll be visiting in a peak time, I would definitely look into paying a bit extra for a Front Of Line pass (or seeing how much it costs to upgrade at the gate) – even though you only get to use it once on each ride, that can be hours of time saved.
At the end of the day, LA is a pretty cool place to visit for a short period of time (or longer, if you have a better idea of what you’re doing/are visiting people/generally enjoy it as a city more than I do). It’s definitely not somewhere you need to visit over and over again (unlike somewhere like NYC), and in my opinion it’s somewhere best seen as a transit destination. I like spending a couple of days there upon arrival in the USA to satisfy my entertainment loving soul and get over my jetlag, but it’s not the centrepoint of a trip. You can easily do all of the “Hollywood” stuff in a day (and less, if like me, you don’t like doing things like Celebrity Home tours), and then depending on how much you’re into theme parks and beaches, you can spend another day, or another week and feel like you’ve done enough.
What do you think? Do you enjoy LA, or are you a bit meh about the whole thing?