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5 Mistakes to Avoid When Visiting Los Angeles, CA

Claudia enjoys traveling and sharing her travel tips with readers.

We loved LA, but will do things a little bit differently if we go again.

We loved LA, but will do things a little bit differently if we go again.

Our family vacation in the summer of 2021 was to Los Angeles, California. It was a graduation celebration for my daughter that we had been planning for a long time. Having never been to Los Angeles, we stocked up on a couple of tour books, perused the internet for lots of tips, and packed our bags.

Prior to this I had only ever been to Northern California which I fell in love with. So I figured it would be same with sunny L.A. While we had a lovely time, it was not our favorite family vacation that we have been on.

I thought I'd let you know what we did wrong, plus what we loved, to help you out if you are planning a visit.

Some Trip Specifics

Before I get into the mistakes I wanted to give you a few specifics about our trip:

  • We visited in August, 2021 and it was during the pandemic.
  • We stayed 8 nights in a hotel in Burbank, CA.
  • We had a package deal through an airline which included airfare, car and hotel room.
  • None of us had ever been to L.A. before.

I'd Love to Hear From You

A view of the city from the Getty Museum.

A view of the city from the Getty Museum.

Mistake 1: Underestimating the Traffic and Size of L.A.

I grew up in Arlington, VA which is about 5 minutes outside of Washington, DC. I also lived in New York City for about 5 years. Both are big cities with plenty of traffic, so I was not too concerned about what was in store for us.

In addition, part our package deal was a car. We figured we would have no problems getting around. Wrong!

Los Angeles is huge and I can't even begin to describe the amount of traffic or the size of the highways.

I had always heard there was a lot of traffic in L.A., but when people say there is a lot of traffic they mean there is a CRAZY amount of it. Not only that, most of the drivers think they are the next Indy 500 winner.

Because L.A. is so massive and because the traffic is what it is, it always took us much longer to get to places than we thought it would. That meant that we ended up missing a few things that we wanted to see.

Grauman's Chinese Theater was fun to see one time, but overcrowded.

Grauman's Chinese Theater was fun to see one time, but overcrowded.

Mistake 2: Not Taking Enough Tours

OK, so this one sounds a little odd and I know not everyone likes prepackaged tours. Yeah, everyone knows you are a tourist, but in L.A. they were a great solution for us.

We took an awesome studio tour of Warner Brothers! We also took one of those open air bus tours to see some of the city highlights. Those two things were some our favorites things on our trip.

We weren't stressed about driving and parking around the city, and we saw a lot of things in a short period of time. I wish we had done a couple more.

Mistake 3: Underestimating the Crowds

I'm not sure if the popular spots were so unbelievably crowded because we went in the summer, or if the city is always this way, but wow was it busy. Even during the pandemic it was packed.

Unfortunately that meant that it took longer to see certain things than we thought it would. We soon learned to change up the times we went to places.

Olvera Street was one of the highlights of our visit to L.A.

Olvera Street was one of the highlights of our visit to L.A.

Mistake 4: Not Going Out Enough at Night

This mistake was entirely our fault and I regret it. By the end of the day, after driving around in the crazy traffic, the last thing we wanted to do was drive back into town to go out. We also had a teenage daughter with us so that limited what we could do a bit.

Oh how I wish we had done more at night. We did drive to the Griffith Observatory one night to watch the sunset and then check out the lights of the city. That was beautiful.

In hindsight we should have taken a tour at night to see the city. What little we did see in the evenings was lovely.

There are incredibly beautiful places outside of L.A.  Drive up the coast or check out Joshua Tree if you have the time.

There are incredibly beautiful places outside of L.A. Drive up the coast or check out Joshua Tree if you have the time.

Our studio tour of Warner Bros. was one of the highlights of our trip.

Our studio tour of Warner Bros. was one of the highlights of our trip.

Mistake 5: Staying Too Long

You might be thinking...What is she saying??!! How can a vacation be too long?! Well this one would have been better had we broken it up.

Our package deal was for 8 nights in the hotel. It was too long. Sure there is a lot to do in L.A., but 8 nights is a bit much. Luckily a car was part of our package deal and we were able to take a day and drive up and down the Pacific coast highway. We also took a day and visited Joshua Tree.

In hindsight, I wish we had stayed only a few nights in L.A., then moved out to another hotel along the coast for a few days, and then stayed at Joshua tree for a night.

Because we stayed in a Burbank hotel the entire time it seemed like we weren't quite close enough to do more in the city proper, and we were rushed when we drove further outside of the city. Had we stayed in a few different places, we might not have been quite as rushed when visiting certain things.

Sunset over Los Angeles

Sunset over Los Angeles

5 Tips to Help You Get the Most Out of Your LA Trip

Here are a few things that we learned a little too late! I hope they'll help you get the most out of your vacation.

1. Don't Always Take the Highway

Don't always hit the highways around L.A. like phone directions recommend. The last couple of days I changed my directions setting in my app to avoid highways. We ended up driving through some lovely areas that we would have otherwise missed. I really regret not doing that sooner.

2. Bring Your Sunscreen

There was not a cloud in the sky for the entire 8 days we were there. Blue and beautiful, it truly was the perfect weather that Southern California is known for.

3. Visit the Griffith Observatory During Off Hours

Go early in the morning or in the evening instead of during the day. We really enjoyed it up there and visited three times. The first time we went was in the middle of the day and we couldn't find a parking spot so we left. We went again in the early morning and then one more time to see the sunset and the city lights.

4. Get Out of the City

If you have the time and can rent a car for a day or two, drive up the California coast. Wow was it beautiful. We had lunch in Venice Beach and enjoyed stopping at some other spots too. To experience a desert, visit Joshua Tree National Park (my personal favorite stop on our entire trip).

5. Find Out Where Some of Your Favorite Movies and TV Shows Were Filmed and Visit

There are websites that point out where certain scenes were filmed. I'm in my late 50s and have seen every episode of the Brady Bunch more times than I can count. I just had to get my picture taken in front of the iconic house. We also stumbled across the liquor store where a scene in Superbad was filmed. And yes, we got a picture there. Unfortunately the Bradbury building, famous from a number of movies, was closed due to COVID. We did catch a glimpse through the door.

Our Favorite Spots in Los Angeles


Griffith Observatory

What a view!

Olvera Street

A beautiful spot in the city to learn about some city history, do some shopping for beautiful goods from Mexico and have a great lunch.

The Getty Musem

Exquisite art, architecture and incredible views of the city!

Warner Brothers Studio Tour

What fun and bang for the buck!

Hollywood City Tours

Yeah it's touristy, but it was a great way to see the highlights of the city.

Descanso Gardens

Absolutely beautiful and a delightful break from the city.

Angeles Highway

Despite me being terrified on this windy road, the scenery was spectacular and it's in LA county.

Would We Go Again?

I will definitely go back to LA one day and now I know what I will do differently.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Claudia Porter