Skip to main content

The Getty Villa in Malibu, Calif. is a free gallery that house a collection of 44,000 antiquities.Reuters

There's always been much more to Los Angeles than Hollywoodland – even as it basks again in the Academy Awards spotlight. And while I've certainly taken some snaps on the Walk of Fame over the years – hunting for dubious honorees such as Judge Judy and Michael Bolton – I've tapped a couple of local experts for the latest low down.

California travel writer Sara Benson ( has authored many books on the region, including the latest Lonely Planet Los Angeles guide.

"Many people think L.A. lacks culture but it has more than its share of top-ranked museums, especially for art lovers," she says, recommending West L.A.'s Getty Center, Malibu's Getty Villa – both free – and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

There are also some unique guided tours. Benson suggests the neon-spotting bus tour offered on summer evenings by the Museum of Neon Art. I'd also add a tour with quirky Esotouric, whose themes include Tom Waits' L.A. and the Haunts of Charles Bukowski.

For those with a nose for news: book ahead for a free and fascinating Los Angeles Times building tour.

Transport-wise, the sprawling City of Angels can be less than angelic to navigate, generally favouring the almighty car.

Benson notes that Metro Rail lines connect key tourist areas with downtown L.A., while local DASH buses – at just 50 cents a pop – link neighbourhoods like Chinatown and Little Tokyo. Check ahead via the travel planner at

But don't dismiss the idea of a good stroll.

"It's a myth that nobody walks in L.A., but some neighbourhoods are easier to navigate on foot than others. The beach towns are all ideal for walking, as are iconic streets like Hollywood Boulevard and Melrose Avenue – plus the enclave of Beverly Hills," says Benson, cautioning that, "Downtown isn't always easy or safe to walk around."

The region's white-sand hotspots are worth hiring a car for, though. Benson suggests hitting the beaches of Santa Monica and bohemian Venice or perhaps sliding into a little surf culture at Manhattan Beach or Huntingdon Beach.

In my experience, funky Venice Beach is certainly worth an afternoon: it's a human safari park of colourful oddballs.

For nightlife lovers, L.A. travel blogger Yulree Chun ( also has plenty of suggestions for hanging with the locals. Her favourite bar is Villians Tavern on Palmetto Street downtown.

"If it was a person," she says, "it would be that guy that graphic designs all day and plays his banjo at night. Filled with random knick-knacks, the place serves awesome craft beers and delicious food – and the live music is a big plus."

Adding Beer Belly, Mohawk Bend and Angel City Brewery to the pub-style mix, she also suggests a stylish cocktail joint for those who like glamming it up.

"My favourite place for pre-dinner or post-dinner cocktails is Perch. The drinks are good and there's a 360 view of downtown. Perfect for a romantic night out."

Alternatively, peruse the pages of the latest LA Weekly to see what's on at Chung's favourite live music haunts. "If you want to dance, go to Echoplex. If you prefer a more chill atmosphere, the Hotel Cafe is your spot." And if you want some swank, DJ-led booty shaking? "Check out Supperclub. Chic and exclusive, it's the club everyone loves to hate. Expect a heavy cover charge unless you're on a guest list."

If a hangover-busting breakfast is required the next day, she suggests heading downtown to the Nickel Diner for traditional fare or dim sum at Elite Restaurant in Alhambra, a few minutes drive from downtown. There's also Koreatown's ever-popular El Tauro Taco truck for restorative burritos.

But if it's time for dinner, consider her three additional picks in the downtown area: Umamicatessen, Eat Drink Americano or Bestia – "you can't go wrong with their house-made charcuterie, gourmet pizzas or pastas."

Follow John on Twitter @johnleewriter.

Send John your travel questions at He won't plan your trips, but can offer a lot of great local advice.

NEXT WEEK: Have you travelled around Norway? A reader is looking for ideas on what to see and do. Share your experience with us at