LA essentials for first timers

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The City of Angels is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, ranked the third most popular destination city in the US among international tourists and fourth among domestic travelers. There’s something for everyone, whether you want to relax, or try something new, or learn about culture or play some poker or party the night away. 

It is also one of the largest cities in the contiguous United States, both in terms of area and population. That means if you arrive at LAX or Union Station without a plan of what you are going to do and where you are going to do it, you can spend more time lost and confused than making the most of some of the incredible experiences Los Angeles has to offer.

Whether you are visiting from within the United States or you are flying in from further afield, the following tips will get you off on the right path and will help ensure you don’t miss any of LA’s biggest attractions. 

Venice beach – a destination within a destination

With 10 million visitors a year, Venice Beach is a destination in its own right. You could easily spend an entire weekend there without visiting anywhere else in and around LA, and to be frank, that is what many people choose to do. With the boardwalk, the Artisan coffee joints, the beachfront cocktail bars and the shops, shops, shops, it’s a particularly popular destination for a weekend away with the girls. 

The shops at Venice Beach are less to do with high end designer labels and more about trendy rustic chic. You’ll be blown away by the range of apparel on offer, from classic vintage to fun Japanese imports. 

Tom’s on the boardwalk is the place to stop for one of those famous coffees. There’s also an eclectic mixture of other treasures on sale there, you have been warned. When the day is nearly done, the High Rooftop Lounge is the perfect spot for a sundowner or two as you toast the end of a busy day. 

Play your cards right at the world’s biggest poker lounge

There was a little stereotyping going on earlier, and there are of course plenty of guys who enjoy everything Venice Beach has, just as much as the girls. The reverse applies at Commerce Casino. A few years ago, it might have been suggested that the largest poker lounge in the entire world would be the ideal place for the guys to hang out while the girls are at the beach.

These days, there are as many girls learning how to play poker in the US as guys, inspired by poker pros like Maria Ho and Vanessa Selbst. The internet is a great place to learn the poker basics, but once you are ready for a game in earnest, there is nothing like the real thing, and there is no poker lounge quite like Commerce Casino.

With 200 poker tables, you can be confident that there will be a game available to match your bankroll, your preferred variation of poker and your ability. Typically, you can choose from Ultimate Holdem, No Limits Holdem, Mississippi Stud and pai gow poker. In the main casino area, there are also terminals for video poker and tables hosting three card poker, so there is certainly plenty of choice. 

The Griffith Observatory has it all

Open from 10am to 10pm, the Griffith Observatory is well worth a full day’s visit. Spend some time in Griffith Park, which comprises 53 miles of trails, a zoo and numerous other natural attractions. It also gives one of the best views of that famous Hollywood sign, and for a great photo opportunity, it’s a better vantage point than trekking out to the sign itself. 

Then head into the observatory. There are daily shows and demonstrations in the planetarium plus 60 incredible exhibits. If you’ve timed it right, you’ll be able to conclude the star-gazing by seeing our closest one dipping below the horizon in a spectacular sunset over the Pacific. 

Entry to all the exhibits and demonstrations is free, but you will need to pay for car parking and to enter the planetarium.

There’s more to Beverley Hills than you think

It has to be done – for a glimpse of how the other half lives, pay a visit to LA’s most exclusive suburb. Yes, of course you’ll want to visit Rodeo Drive and Sunset Boulevard. Keep your eyes peeled, both are fantastic vantage points for celebrity-spotting!

But Beverley Hills isn’t just about millionaire excess at top-end fashion stores. It is also one of LA’s hubs for art and culture. The Love Beverley Hills website is a great resource to find out exactly what’s on when and where. To give just a few examples, there are regular guided art walk tours that set off from Beverley Gardens Park, while at the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts, forthcoming events include music from the LA Chamber Orchestra, dance from USC Kaufman and a three-week run of Deborah Brevoort’s acclaimed play My Lord, What a Night.

Some random tips to help you along the way

Here, we have just touched on some of the famous, and not so famous, LA attractions that everyone should experience at least once. We will close with some general tips and facts that are worth keeping in mind.

  • Dress to impress – people in LA care about appearance. That doesn’t mean formal wear, athleisure is practically a dress code here, but you’ll notice everyone is well put together.
  • Traffic can catch you out – a car is essential in LA, but the city is second only to New York for traffic jams so allow plenty of time even if your destination looks close.
  • It’s not cheap – another similarity with NY, everything in LA costs a little extra – plus tax!
  • It’s chilly after sunset – yes, most days in LA are sunny, but when the evening draws in, you’ll thank yourself for having a light jacket to hand.

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