Los Angeles: A Pleasant Surprise

Vimal and I have been traveling together for over 4 years (before we even started dating) and we recently realized that we had never been on an actual trip ALONE! From Miami, to New York, and even Thailand, we never took the chance to choose a destination where we only enjoyed our own company!

I had seen some great deals on Escape Houston during April and May, but we were so busy that we couldn’t take the opportunity to go. My first time in California was in San Fransisco with friends about 2 years ago. I surprisingly didn’t fall in love like most people do! I was interested and excited about experiencing a different part of California.

I had my 25th birthday this June and Vimal surprised me with tickets to L.A.! He had adorable custom boarding passes and a invitation card like it was my birthday party which had our dinner reservations at PUMP! If you don’t already know, I love reality TV (I know, please don’t judge me), so I was blown away about how thoughtful the entire gift was.

Since it was a quick weekend trip, I’ll share our itinerary below along with some travel tips!

Flight: We both are Southwest loyal, but definitely do what we can to save money while traveling. We took the first flight out of Houston on a Friday Morning on Southwest. Our flight home was on a Monday afternoon with Spirit Airlines. Because we were traveling on a budget, we shared one luggage and packed (somewhat) lightly.

Transportation: After receiving many different opinions, we decided to rent a car. We used Hertz and got ourselves the smallest, most affordable vehicle, a Nissan Versa. It ended up coming in SO handy because we could park that little thing literally everywhere and anywhere in the city. Between 2 people, it was definitely more affordable than using lyft/uber .

*This also made our schedule MUCH more flexible. We didn’t feel like we had to commit to anything we did, and if we didn’t feel like something was worth our time, it was easy to move on to the next thing. 

Accommodations: Based on what we wanted to do, staying in an AirBnb made more sense. Again, splitting between only two people, it was more affordable. Hotels were upwards of $200/night. Secondly, having a rental car and paying for parking at hotels can definitely be an unnecessary expense. We found this adorable place in West Hollywood with great reviews. The location was central to everything we did and we had a free parking spot and SUPER hospitable host.

Day One: Houston to Los Angeles

We landed into the city around 11am, picked up our rental car (which was surprisingly an easy experience with their new virtual check ins), and wandered around to kill some time before checking into our Airbnb.

  • VERVE Coffee Roasters- Coffee/breakfast snack – There are a few of these in L.A. We had an avocado toast, pressed juice, and coffee. Loved it all!
  • Drive by/through Rodeo Drive – This is an area where all the high end stores are in one area. Most people come here to get a photo of the Rodeo Drive sign, but we enjoyed just driving through it slowly to see it all.
  • Beverly Center – We mainly only came here because it’s our mission to go to a UNIQLO in every city that we go to that has one. This is kind of like the normal main central mall in L.A. If you aren’t looking to shop for anything, I wouldn’t really recommend coming here.
  • Lunch @ Real Food Daily – RFD – We found this place close by to Beverly Center and it was the cutest little gem! I had my first vegan nachos and OMG they were amazing. I’m still craving them! We were amazed at how packed this place was at 2pm on a Friday.
  • Dinner Reservations @ 7:30PM @ PUMP – We left our car with Valet (only $10?! We were expecting much more). We weren’t starving, so we decided to order an appetizer plate and some cocktails. The Mediterranean Board was DELICIOUS and had 3 different types of hummus, fresh warm bread, feta, etc. I ordered a Pumptini and Vimal ordered a Pump & Glory. The service exceeded our expectations along with the food and drinks.
  • Drinks @ Gracias Madre – I found this place on L.C.’s blog. Known for their vegan Mexican food and snow cone margaritas! – If you’re not interested in the margaritas, keep reading for recommendations on their food!

Day Two: Hiking & Santa Monica

  • Porto’s Bakery & Cafe in Burbank – All I can say is this is a MUST DO! Vegetarian or meat eater, there is something for everyone! We wanted to fuel up before the hike, so we ordered some delicious pastries, fresh pressed OJ, and of course, Cafe con leche for the road.
  • Runyon Canyon – This was just a 5 mile/15 minute drive from Porto’s, and was the most recommended hiking route by the locals. If you want to find parking where the hike starts, you have to get there super early morning. We probably got there around 10-10:30am and parked a little lower down on a winding road on the hill. We found a few people doing the same thing and made our way up the hill to the entrance. I would allocated around 2 hours for this hike just because there are a few different routes and view points. Great spaces to stop, enjoy the view, and take photos! The Hollywood sign is in the distance on this hike.
  • Trader Joe’s – We didn’t bring snacks or enough water for our hike, so we stopped for some fresh pineapple and mineral water. Sat in the shade for a bit and enjoyed people watching locals!
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame/Hollywood Blvd – Unless you are looking to take a picture with a specific star, this to me was just a dirty side walk that you can drive by to see. There were a few other tourist attractions around this area to do that we decided not to. i.e. Chinese Theatre, Madame Tussaud’s, Jimmy Kimmel, etc. Also, parking over here was a nightmare anyways so we decided it wasn’t worth it either.
  • Amoeba Record Store – If you’re into records, definitely a cool place to stop. One of the largest record stores in the nation with the largest variety! Hard to travel back home with them, but we enjoyed walking around and browsing. They also have pop concerts with hot shot artists!
  • Lunch – Gracias Madre – This is the same restaurant we went for snow cone margaritas the night before. We had a different version of vegan nachos that had Jackfruit BBQ. OMG. This concept of turning jackfruit into a pulled pork fake was mind boggling. Their jackfruit tacos were SO delicious.
  • Hare Krishna Temple – This is actually the temple that Vimal goes to in Houston. The L.A. location was well known, but we didn’t really have plans to come. We realized on our way to Santa Monica that it was just a few minutes away and on the way so we decided to stop. It was really special and total worth the little moments of tranquility.
  • Santa Monica/ 3rd Street Promenade – We found a parking garage that was super cheap to park for the afternoon/evening. 3rd Street Promenade is basically a large strip of stores/shopping. There are a ton of aspiring artists performing for tips, recording music videos, etc. that we enjoyed just stopping and supporting! Otherwise, shopping is just the main stores that you could find anywhere. If you’re going to Santa Monica, you’ll definitely stop here!
  • Santa Monica Pier – We were pretty underwhelmed by the pier. It was obnoxiously crowded. I would try coming here earlier in the day before the evening crowd came in. We walk the beach a bit, but it sadly was ruined by a lot of litter, weird smells, and rowdy people. Something to see, but I wouldn’t spend much time there.
  • Drinks @ The Bungalow @ The Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica – This was also another recommendations from L.C.’s blog and it did not disappoint. She did recommend going during the day before the night crowd comes in, and I think we just missed the calm crowd. This bar felt like you were walking into someones how, and each room had a different bar. The people watching in here was like no other. It literally felt like we were crashing someone’s house party. One of the most interesting experiences. Their sangria was delish! Overall, we did enjoy it.

Day Three: Venice Beach

  • Breakfast @ C&O Trattoria – This place had great reviews, but I think it was mostly for their dinner selection. I throughly enjoyed my breakfast, but breakfast had a limited menu. Our server was kind of a mess, but the food itself was good. Get their Killer Garlic Bread! We didn’t find many options for breakfast in Venice unless it was a crazy popular brunch spot which we just didn’t feel like waiting in a long line.
  • Venice canals – One of my favorite little spots during the trip! Man made canals made to feel like in your in the original canals in Venice, Italy. It was a hotter day, but I could’ve walked each canal. The houses were so beautiful, unique, and the florals/greenery were so well taken care of! Great spot to come after a meal to walk off your food and enjoy a romantic walk.
  • Abbott Kinney – I know I’ve had a lot of favorite parts of the trip, but this was our FAVORITE. Abbott Kinney was really 100% window shopping for us mostly because of the price point. It’s long street with local shops with stuff like knick knacks, home goods, and clothing. It was just cool to finally see some shopping with more unique L.A. fashion and unique retail items.
  • Salt & Straw – ICE CREAM. DELICIOUS. ICE CREAM. This is a MUST do while in Abbott Kinney. We tried so many flavors that were so incredibly rich and delicious. They had unique and simple flavors, waffle cones, efficient and friendly service. We almost went back for a second round before leaving Venice and regret it to this day! I’m an ice cream snob, so seriously trust me on this one.
  • Venice Beach/Pier/Muscle Beach – We ended up loving Venice Beach wayyy more than Santa Monica. It is definitely not as “clean”, but the vibes/talent/people were just cooler. This is the “hipster” version of Santa Monica. The basketball courts at muscle beach had a tournament taking place, and we were able to sit and watch these amazing dunk contests/games for almost a whole hour! The skate park was so cool, and we saw the most talented kids! We then found a spot in the sand and just enjoyed the full experience. Overall, tons of entertainment to keep you there for a while.
  • Summer Buffalo – Thai dinner in WeHo – Our AirBnb host recommended this place along with yelp reviews. It seems like they were a better take out option. The restaurant was small and we got the spot literally next to the bathroom door. Our service was horrible, food took a long time, but it was good… Very mixed reviews.
  • LACMA – While we didn’t go to the actual museum, we went to see the lanterns lit up at night. Lots of people were here for the same reason, even people taking quince/graduation/etc. photos. Pretty unique and another must do!

Day Four: Last day, L.A. to Houston 😦

  • Blue Jam Cafe – Breakfast in WeHo – We had no ideas for breakfast and Vimal found this little gem on yelp. It was down the street from our AirBnb and it was SO GOOD! They had a great vegetarian selection for breakfast which can be a little tricky if you don’t eat eggs. A ranchero vegan tofu scramble was delicious and I got the famous french toast. A little overrated, but still good if you love french toast!
  • Griffith Observatory – We were planning to do this during sunset the day before, but we didn’t make it in time. Unfortunately the actual observatory wasn’t open on Monday’s, but it’s still a popular place to go for the scenic views. We parked on the side of the road going up the hill, but because it was closed it was fairly easy to find parking. On a day they’re open, many people said it’s important to get there super early to ensure you find parking, and find it close! We enjoyed the views, taking pictures, and the overall experience, and that wasn’t even going inside the actual observatory! We definitely have plans on coming back. We later found out they filmed part of La La Land in the observatory. Whaaaaa!
  • Lunch by the Airport – Equelecua Vegan Cuban Cuisine – YOU READ THAT RIGHT! VEGAN CUBAN FOOD! I haven’t had Cuban food since I became a vegetarian almost 4 years ago. We had tostones, a cuban sandwich, and ropa vieja, ALL VEGAN! It was all delicious and satisfied some serious cravings.

This concludes our entire trip to the magical city of L.A. We loved this city and this trip so much, and have so many things we still want to do (see below).

  • Ice cream museum (tickets were sold out and we were nervous the ones on craigslist were fakes)
  • Melrose Trading Post – Local flea market
  • Smorgasburg- Food and Flea Market
  • Downtown L.A.

If you have any questions on getting around, restaurants, traffic, logistics, etc. let me  know!

Happy Travels!