If you only have 3 days in LA and are wondering where to start, you’ve come to the right place. As a local, I can give you some good advice and tips for visiting the city. I can also help you plan the perfect 3 days Los Angeles itinerary that will leave you with lots of great memories.
Table of Contents
About This Los Angeles Itinerary
It’s hard to know where to begin when you visit a large city like Los Angeles. Unlike other metropolises around the world, L.A’s attractions are spread all over. If you are coming from a smaller place, you will most likely feel overwhelmed here.
One thing to consider when planning your Los Angeles itinerary is the notorious L.A. traffic which will limit your ability to cover a lot of ground in these 3 days. That means you probably can’t put together a list of 20 some-odd objectives and expect to hit them all.
With the itinerary below you’ll be able to see some of the L.A’s most iconic places, without rushing. Trying to squeeze more into these three days will only drain your energy and leave you tired and confused.
Some of the places that I included in this list are totally free, which is always a plus. So here is your Los Angeles trip plan:
3-Day Los Angeles Itinerary
Day 1: Santa Monica Pier, Malibu and Venice Beach
Day 2: Getty Center and the Griffith Observatory
Day 3: Hollywood and Downtown Area
L.A. Itinerary Day 1
Santa Monica is one of the most romantic getaways in California. The 72 miles of coastline and approximately 330 days of sunshine are a magnet for the visitors of LA. Besides, the coastal areas are among the most scenic places in Southern California.
In all, there are over 60 beaches on this incredible stretch of coastline. Therefore, I think it’s best if you start your Los Angeles itinerary at the beach. The closest and most popular ones to downtown LA are Santa Monica, Venice and Malibu.
Stroll on the Santa Monica Beach and Pier (free)
You can start your 3 days itinerary at the Santa Monica Beach, just a short 20-minute drive from Downtown Los Angeles. The beach stretches along either side of the historic Santa Monica Pier.
There is plenty of parking, restrooms and beach side cafés along the beach. The paved path that follows the shoreline all the way to Venice Beach is a paradise for rollerblading, biking, or walking.
There are many small shops where you can rent bikes, rollerblades, boogie boards, chairs, and umbrellas. You can either lay down on the beach, or grab a bicycle and cruise from the Pier to Venice Beach and back.
The most popular spot in Santa Monica is the Pier at the foot of Colorado Avenue. This bustling wooden wharf is where the action is. With its shops, small restaurants, arcade, roller coaster and giant Ferris wheel, the historic Santa Monica Pier continues to be the main attraction in Los Angeles for families with kids.
Walk (bike, or rollerblade) to Venice Beach (free)
Just South of Santa Monica is one of Los Angeles’s most popular and eclectic places: Venice Beach. However, this beach is a mixed bag that isn’t for everyone. If you want to experience the bohemian spirit of Los Angeles, you should definitely come here. There are so many things to do on Venice Beach!
Be advised however that the free-spirited Venice Broadwalk may shock you with its colorful graffiti, street performers, and funky shops. You will see some things that you’ve never seen before and will shake your head. But you may very well find all these very entertaining.
I love Venice Beach, always have. It has an indescribable vibe that I have only experienced here. When we were younger we used to rollerblade from here all the way to Santa Monica and back. If you enjoy people watching, then this is the place to be. It is for sure one of the most unique beach-going experiences you’ll have.
Drive to Malibu (free)
Malibu is a must, no matter how many days you have in L.A. This is where the famous Pacific Coast Highway drive starts. Here is where you’ll see some of the most picturesque stretches of beach in Southern California.
The beaches in Malibu are however very different from the ones in Santa Monica or Venice. Some of them are private, so they allow alcohol on the beach (Paradise Cove), but they are notorious for the huge parking fees.
In Malibu you will find surf beaches and stretches of shore with tide pools, caves and strange rock formations (Leo Carillo). If you want to explore the caves and rock formations, you should come prepared with good shoes because you’ll have to walk down a big bluff.
Malibu beaches offer a truly laidback experience where you can just lay in the sand and dip in the ocean. And if you are in Los Angeles when the whales migrate (Dec.-Jan, April-May) you’re likely to see some gray whales, dolphins and seals here. Especially if you visit Malibu early morning.
TOURS WE RECOMMEND:
L.A. Itinerary Day 2
You should make your second day in Los Angeles a museum day. But not just any museum! The Getty Center is a more than just a museum and is a very impressive place to visit. You don’t have to be a huge art or museum devotee to fall in love with this iconic site.
The Getty Center (not at the same location as the Getty Villa) sits high up on a hill overlooking the city and is connected to the parking lot at the bottom by a funicular.
The museum has numerous galleries that spread out in multiple buildings. The Center holds the best and most valuable art collection in Los Angeles.
In addition to its extensive artwork collection and unique architecture, the Getty Center features an impressive garden. The Central Garden, designed by artist Robert Irwin, sprawls over 134,000 square feet of green space. You can easily spend an entire day here, admiring the outstanding art collections.
There are several options for lunch at the Getty Center. If you’re looking for a substantial lunch, there are two on-site cafés and a fine dining restaurant. Or you can just grab a bite between the exhibits at one of the several snack carts around the museum courtyard.
LACMA vs the Getty Center
I sometimes get asked whether I would recommend the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) or the Getty Center. This is a difficult decision to make since they are outstanding art museums. If you are strictly interested in art, then you should go to LACMA as it has a more comprehensive art collection. However, I would choose Getty over LACMA simply because it also has an outstanding location, beautiful gardens, and more varied art collections. Note that the Getty Villa is a separate museum where their antiquities are kept.
Visit the Griffith Observatory (free!)
You can end up your 2nd day in L.A. with a sunset visit at the Griffith Observatory. The Observatory features space-related exhibits, star shows in the planetarium, and a telescope.
Admission to the Observatory building, grounds, and telescopes is always free. However, you will have to buy tickets for the planetarium show.
The grounds of the Observatory are very beautiful, featuring some terraces from where you get a bird-eye view of the entire valley. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Santa Monica from up here.
The best time to visit the Observatory is the late afternoon towards the evening when you can stick around to see the sunset and the city lights.
To get to the Griffith Observatory you can either rent a car, use public transportation, share a ride, bike, or walk via N Vermont Canyon Rd (2 miles). Parking near the Observatory costs $8.00 per hour, but is very limited.
Don’t Miss the Hollywood Sign!
On the opposite hill, right across from the Griffith Observatory, you can catch an unobstructed view of the Hollywood Sign, one of the most iconic sights in Los Angeles.
The worldwide symbol of the U.S. movie industry has a very dull and uninteresting beginning. Many people believe the Hollywood Sign was part of a movie set, but it was actually an outdoor billboard for a real-estate development.
L.A. Itinerary Day 3
No Los Angeles itinerary would be complete without a visit to the famous Hollywood. As touristy as this place may be, it should be part of your L.A. list of attractions. Especially if this is your first time in the city!
Hollywood enjoys an international reputation like no other place in the world. Although some parts of the area are undeniably derelict, Hollywood still sparkles with glamor.
Walk the Sunset Strip (free!)
You can start your last day in Los Angeles with a walk on the famous Sunset Strip. The strip is the 1.5 -mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard that passes through West Hollywood. Sunset Boulevard extends from Hollywood all the way to Beverly Hills.
The Sunset Strip is home to flashy boutiques, high end restaurants and nightclubs, as well as huge, colorful billboards. And it’s not impossible to bump into a celebrity at one of the hotel bars in West Hollywood, or in one of the high-end boutiques on Rodeo Drive, in Beverly Hills.
Visit the Chinese Theater (free!)
The Chinese Theater became famous for being the venue of the Academy Awards ceremony from 1944-1946. But most visitors are lured here by the celebrity handprints and footprints in the concrete of the theater’s forecourt.
The tradition began during the theater construction, when one of the Hollywood legends at the time accidentally stepped into the wet cement outside the building.
Instead of covering the imprint, theater owner Sid Grauman encouraged other celebrities to repeat the “mistake.” And so it all began. The courtyard is usually cluttered with tourists trying to snap a shot of the famous imprints.
In 2013, after extensive renovations, the The Chinese Theater was turned into a grandiose 923-seater IMAX auditorium that projects stunning quality movies. If interested, you can still watch a movie in this iconic landmark.
Tour the Dolby Theater
Right next to the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard is Dolby Theater – the current and permanent home of the Academy Awards. Dolby Theatre opened its doors in 2001 as the Kodak Theatre. Its façade is at the front of the Hollywood & Highland Center, a nice shopping area with boutiques and souvenir shops.
You can take a guided tour of the theater all year round, except for the time leading up to the Academy Awards in February, when the Dolby Theater is off limits.
If the Oscars are your thing, you’ll find the tour very interesting. The guide will take you on the red carpet path that the celebrities follow from Hollywood Boulevard into the theatre. You’ll see the VIP Room, the Green Room and then you’ll go out onto the stage. You will also see where the actors seat while they wait to hear if their names will be called.
Walk the Hollywood Walk of Fame (free!)
The Walk of Fame is an internationally recognized Hollywood icon. It encompasses over 2,600 five-pointed stars made of terrazzo and brass and embedded in the sidewalks along Hollywood Boulevard.
The stars bear the names of famous musicians, actors, directors and producers and are given in recognition to achievements in the entertainment industry.
What began as a Chamber of Commerce marketing tactic, is today one of Los Angeles’s biggest magnets. It attracts an estimated 10 million visitors each year. You can read more about the history of the Walk of Fame here.
Unfortunately, the Walk’s fame (pun intended) ruins its appeal. It is always crowded with costumed characters offering to take pictures with the visitors, illegal street vendors handing out CDs and tickets, and shady characters.
Most people who ever visited the celebrated Walk of Fame will probably tell you it’s not worth your time. And truth be told, walking the entire 15 blocks (1.3 miles) from east to west on Hollywood Boulevard is not something I would recommend.
However, you shouldn’t skip this famous landmark if you are in Los Angeles for 3 days. Even if you only take a few steps up and down the street to see what the buzz is all about.
Here are some more popular activities in Hollywood:
- Hollywood: Highlights Guided Walking Tour and Museum Visit
- Los Angeles: Hollywood Celebrity Homes Tour
- Los Angeles: The Official Hollywood Sign Hike
Tour the Disney Concert Hall (free)
Disney Hall has been one of L.A.’s top architectural landmarks since it opened in 2003. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the monumental structure resembles a sailing ship.
Audio tours are the most comprehensive way to explore the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The self-guided audio tour takes you through the concert hall’s history from conception to completion. The audio tour is complimentary for individuals or groups below 14 people and takes about 50 minutes.
How to Move Around L.A.
The places of interest in Los Angeles are as spread out, so you won’t be able walk between them. Whether you have one, two, or three days in L.A. you’ll either have to rent a car, or use public transportation.
The best way to explore the city is definitely by car, but driving in L.A. may be quite challenging. If you don’t want to face the city’s infernal traffic and tricky parking signs, you will be better off using public transportation. Plenty of Los Angeles neighborhoods are not only walkable, but connected to one another by train. The L.A. Metro system works good and has many stops.
By Public Transport
To use the Metro, purchase a TAP card at any Metro station from one of the vending machines. The Red Line, which begins at the Union Station in downtown L.A, will take you to Los Feliz, Hollywood, and to Universal City (home of Universal Studios).
The Purple Line will take you through Koreatown, and the Gold Line goes through neighborhoods like Chinatown, Highland Park, and Little Tokyo. The Expo Line goes all the way to Santa Monica, just a short walk from the famous Santa Monica Pier and the beach.
TOURS WE RECOMMEND:
Planning a 3 Day Los Angeles Itinerary
There are some facts about Los Angeles that you probably already know. But the first thing you should be aware of is that Los Angeles is MASSIVE! This fact pervades nearly all the advice that follows and will definitely influence your Los Angeles itinerary.
Los Angeles’s points of interest are spread quite far apart from each other, so don’t assume that you can figure out an itinerary as you go. Chances of stumbling upon a great site accidentally are quite slim.
Another important thing to know is that Los Angeles is very eclectic. It’s made up of hundreds of neighborhoods that look and feel quite different from each other.
Deciding what’s the best area to stay in Los Angeles as a visitor may be difficult. While Downtown L.A. is modern and contemporary, neighborhoods like Altadena, or North Hollywood, are way calmer and laid back.
Best Time to Visit Los Angeles
In case you are asking yourself what would be the best time to travel to California, you should know there is no good or bad time for your trip. The weather is perfect almost year round and no matter when you visit, you’ll always have plenty to do in Los Angeles (even in December).
However, you should be aware that during July and August temperatures sometimes climb up to 100ºF (or over!). That may be a concern for spending too much time outside (except for the beaches).
The area around Los Angeles is also full of natural parks and attractions, like the Vasquez Rocks Park, or Mormon Rocks, so if you have more than 3 days I suggest adding them to your itinerary as well.
How to Save Money on a 3-Day Trip to Los Angeles
Visiting L.A. is on many travelers’ bucket lists, but the costs involved scare many people away. The good news is that 3 days in Los Angeles won’t break the bank.
The best way to save money on sightseeing is to buy the Go Los Angeles Card. You can buy an all-inclusive card, or build-your-own. The all-inclusive card saves you up to 50% of the gate price for the attractions.
All you have to do is just pick the number of days you are in Los Angeles and you are ready to do unlimited sightseeing. The build-your-own card will save you only 20% of the gate ticket price, but you can choose to see only what interests you.
I hope this guide will help you make the most of your three day trip to L.A. and go home with some good memories. If you have more than 72 hours in the city, there are some great getaways from Los Angeles to consider
Need a Place to Stay?
I wrote an in-depth post about the best areas to stay in Los Angeles as a tourist, so if you need more insight information you should check out this insider’s guide. There are many inexpensive hotels in the suburbs around L.A. that you can choose from. You can also choose to rent an entire house, or an apartment through AirBnB, or VRBO. If you want to check hotel prices in L.A. using the box below:
If you found this information helpful, please pin it to help others find the best itinerary for first time visitors to Los Angeles.