Beyond Disneyland – an insider’s guide to Los Angeles

Hi Frugalistas!

For this insider guide we’re off to Los Angeles.  I have to confess Los Angeles is not one of my favorite destinations, but one of my favorite people, Nyssa of The Cultureur, has accepted the challenge to make me fall in love with her home town.  Has she succeeded?  You be the judge!

A lot of first time visitors to LA have the expectation they’ll be tripping over celebrities on every street corner.  How realistic is that expectation, and where are the best places for celebrity spotting?

I suppose it wouldn’t be a complete L.A. insider guide without some mention of celebrities. Maybe it’s because I was born and raised here, but I’ve never been particularly star-struck, however I’m reminded of how many are every time friends and family come into town. Celebrities, like everyone else, live their daily lives and haunt many of the same places, but there are a few areas and restaurants that attract a higher number of celebrities. Walking around Melrose Place, Robertson Blvd., and Rodeo Drive should give you a good start on your celebrity stalking quest. And a few restaurants that you can almost guarantee a celebrity or two at any given time are The Ivy, Fig & Olive, Culina, Nobu, Mr. Chow, and Spago. Another way to get the “Hollywood” experience is to get tickets (which can be secured in advance and are often free of charge) to tapings and live shows.
Rodeo Drive (celebrity free in this shot!)

Rodeo Drive (celebrity free in this shot!)

 What is your favorite place in LA to take out of town visitors, and what makes it so special?

One of my favorite parts about Los Angeles is its incredibly diverse architecture and vibrant urban design scapes. I love showing out-of-towners the impressive architectural styles that are dotted throughout the city, starting with Frank Lloyd Wright’s inaugural L.A. project, the Hollyhock House to the steel masterpiece of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall to the old Italian Renaissance-inspired Bradbury Building. Of course, it depends on the personality of the person, but I also love taking people around the ethnic enclaves of the city (Little Armenia, Korea Town, Little India, etc.). Most people already know about Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Hollywood, but little is spoken about the immense diversity of the city (it’s one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the U.S.). This also translates to incredible food, which may not always be glamorous, but it sure is authentic. Touring through the different architectural styles and strolling through the diverse patchwork of intimate neighborhoods are brilliant ways to understand the city’s history and local culture.
The Getty Center

The Getty Center

Tell me about your favorite place that I wouldn’t find in a guidebook.

With a city as grand and famous as Los Angeles, it’s hard for any corner to be untouched or uncovered by guidebooks. But that doesn’t take away from the incredible places that are housed in the city. One of my favorite places is at the top of Runyon Canyon Park, located at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains. The breathtaking views of the city and stunning sunsets from the top of the hiking trail make every step worth it. Perfect marriage of adventure and fitness.

 What is your perfect day out and about in LA and why?

Bottega Louie macarons

I’m not a beach person, so my “perfect” itinerary is largely urban-focused. The day would most certainly start with brunch at one of my favorite brunch joints in the city: Bottega Louie (try the lemon ricotta pancakes and macarons!). After my dose of people-watching, champagne, scrumptious food, and macarons, I’d probably walk around downtown LA for a bit taking in the hustle and bustle of the city and cultural relics that are dotted throughout the area. No “perfect” day in L.A. is complete without shopping and stunning aerial views. So that leads me to a stroll around Melrose Place or Robertson Blvd. for some retail therapy before I head over to the Getty Center for some culture, much-needed ME time, and sublime panoramas of the City of Angels, especially at sunset. Rounding out that perfect day would be a glass (or bottle) of wine or champagne at Culina at the Four Seasons or AOC Wine Bar. Mind you, in between all that perfection is idleness in traffic, which can never be avoided in L.A. and should always be accounted for while making any plans in the city.

There are many great day trips from Los Angeles.  Could you share some of your favorite day trip destinations?

Angelenos are spoiled as a wide range of terrains is all within a few hours away of the city. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city is so necessary sometimes, so some of my favorite day trips are to the dessert in Palm Springs, the beaches in Orange County, the vineyards in Santa Barbara, and the mountains in Big Bear.

Corona del Mar - Orange County

Corona del Mar – Orange County

What is the best way to find out about concerts, exhibitions and other special events?

The best way to stay abreast of all that’s going on in Los Angeles is Time Out L.A., WHERE L.A., and L.A. Weekly. There’s always something going on, so there’s no chance of boredom.

 Some quick fire favorites now:

Favorite garden(s)/outdoor space(s)/beaches: The Huntington, the Getty Center, and Malibu
Favorite window shopping street: Rodeo Drive or Melrose PlaceFavorite market(s): The Original Farmer’s Market on Third and Fairfax

Favorite spot for a tea or coffee: Urth Caffe or Julius Meinl coffee at Bier Beisl

Favorite value for money restaurant(s): gourmet food trucks dotted throughout the city

About Nyssa:
Nyssa says she’s terrible at biographies, but this will give you a pretty good idea!
You can find Nyssa at:

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10 Comments on “Beyond Disneyland – an insider’s guide to Los Angeles”

  1. fotoeins 09/10/2013 at 1:05 pm #

    In previous (work-related) visits, I’ve mostly focused and spent time in Pasadena, but then again, I’ve had some great Chinese and Vietnamese food in nearby San Gabriel! I learned a couple of new things when I visited Los Angeles last year. I agree about the Getty Centre; it’s good for an afternoon, especially if there are few others around. The drive up the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) yields great ocean views and some quiet(er?) beaches. One of my low-key food highlights was having friends introduce me to Tacos Por Favor in Santa Monica.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 10/10/2013 at 12:42 am #

      Thanks for adding in some of your favourites, Henry, it’s great to add to the collective wisdom!

      • fotoeins 11/10/2013 at 9:21 am #

        You’re welcome! I think it can be very easy for visitors to dismiss Los Angeles (for a bit of verbal sport), but being open and allowing for things to happen, as one would in any place, can bring new favourites.

  2. The Cultureur™ (@TheCultureur) 09/10/2013 at 3:17 pm #

    It looks great, Jo! Honored to have been asked! Hope you’re a new LA convert! 😉

  3. Pretraveller 09/10/2013 at 7:54 pm #

    Nyssa, thanks for sharing your LA ‘off the beaten path’ recommendations!

  4. Moxacity 10/10/2013 at 9:29 am #

    Great post! As someone who is admittedly not nearly as smitten with Los Angeles as some other folks, this post is convincing me to give it another go.

  5. dcallen2 01/06/2014 at 8:36 pm #

    Thanks for this post. I lived in LA for about a year 20 years ago and absolutely hated every second of it. This post reminds me that there are interesting things to do there. The Getty Center is one of them. I still have photographs hanging on my wall from there. And, yes, brunch is a must. Going to the supermarket in the middle of the night and singing with the pop music on the sound system as you browse the aisles in peace–also a must. 🙂

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 02/06/2014 at 6:29 am #

      Yes, I only visited once and wasn’t impressed. Nyssa’s post is a reminder there are some great things about LA if you know where to look.

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