3 Days in Los Angeles Itinerary – Perfect for First-Timers

Palm trees, sunshine, bike rides, beach time; welcome to the city of Angels! Los Angeles is easily one of the top 5 cities to visit in the USA, and in just 3 days in Los Angeles, or a weekend in LA, you can actually see a ton of the city.

We are lucky to have family who live in Los Angeles that we visit often. Therefore, I have been given the full rundown on the best things to do and see each time we are in Los Angeles or California in general!

So, in this LA itinerary, you will find a detailed itinerary broken down by day and area, along with LA travel tips, where to stay, and where to eat!

Sun setting at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles
Griffith Observatory at sunset is a top place to visit with 3 days in Los Angeles Itinerary

Disclaimer: Please note some links are affiliate links. I may receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Quick Itinerary Overview

If you are in a rush, here is a quick rundown of what this LA itinerary includes:

Day 1: Classic LA landmarks and Attractions, including LACMA, Rodeo Drive, Sunset Blvd, the Hollywood Sign, and Griffith Observatory.

Day 2: A little adventure at Runyon Canyon (a local favorite) and beach time at Venice and Santa Monica.

Day 3: Options of a day trip to Disney, Malibu, or exploring Downtown LA

Santa Monica Pier From across the beach is one of the top free things to do in Los Angeles

Getting Around With This Los Angeles Itinerary

Before jumping right into this Los Angeles itinerary, let’s quickly discuss how to get around. With 3 days in Los Angeles, it’s best to rent a car. We always rent a car, because it would be such a hassle getting around without one.

The city is pretty spread out. Additionally, it would be tough to rely on public transportation—especially with just three days and that famous Los Angeles traffic! Even when it’s not rush hour, the traffic can still be pretty backed up, so leave room in your schedule for that.

If you are flying into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), there are plenty of Airport shuttles that will bring you to rental car companies. We have also flown out of Burbank, which is a much smaller airport and preferred when possible.

If a car is out of the question, you can still do a handful of group tours to most of the top places to visit in Los Angeles.

Venice - Best Free Things to do in Los Angeles
Venice – Among one of the many free things to do in Los Angeles

Day 1: LA Highlights

For the first day in the City of Angels, we are going to make our way to some of the most notable and classic attractions in LA.

  • Public Art LACMA
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Rodeo Drive
  • the Hollywood Sign
  • Griffith Observatory (my personal favorite)

Public Art “Urban Light” Los Angeles County Museum of Art

If you love visiting Instagrammable places, make sure to add Urban Light to your 3 days Itinerary in Los Angeles. This art installation consists of 202 restored street lamps from the 1920s and 1930s.

It has been featured in countless movies, making it one of the top attractions in Los Angeles. It can even feel quite romantic at night. They are open 24/7, and you can find them at the entrance to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It is beautiful during the day and at night. Oh, and it is totally free to visit!

While you are here, you might want to go inside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). To visit, tickets must be purchased ahead of time on their website, along with making sure you meet all the new health protocols.

Insider tip: Parking can be a little tough to find, so come early or later in the day.

Urban Lights in Los Angeles

Rodeo Drive

Next, make sure to add a drive down Rodeo Drive. It is a 2-mile long street located in Beverly Hills. This shopping plaza has been featured in countless movies and is one of the most iconic and glamorous shopping streets in the USA!

We always love cruising down Rodeo Drive during a visit to LA! Even if you don’t like shopping, it’s still worth driving through to visit this famous street and even see a celebrity. I am a window shopper when I visit, lol. On a nice day, you can’t go wrong with a stroll!

Especially if you happen to be visiting the city during the holidays. They deck Rodeo Drive in some of the most beautiful Christmas lights!

If shopping is not your thing, you can just drive down to say you did it and move on.

Insider tip: Gas is probably the most expensive here, so get gas anywhere else! My brother-in-law, who lives in LA, always says that when you are nearing half a tank, make sure you’re not near Rodeo Drive.

Rodeo Drive LA

Sunset Strip Blvd.

From Rodeo Drive, you can then cruise over to the famous Sunset Boulevard to drive the Sunset Strip. Enjoy driving or walking down the 1.5-mile Sunset Strip that will bring you through West Hollywood, California. If you want to park up, they are known for some of the best Los Angeles bars, boutiques, restaurants, and more! 

Again, this can technically just be a drive-by since it is on the way to our next attraction.

Sunset Blvd with flowers

Melrose (Optional)

I love the Melrose area, especially if you are looking for a trendy place to eat and tour. I recommend Blu Jam Cafe for breakfast; the waffles are delicious! They are also known for some beautiful murals!

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Another classic thing to add to your Los Angeles itinerary is checking out the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This iconic and historic California landmark has over 2,700 stars down the sidewalk. It gets very crowded here, so try to arrive early! 

If I am being honest, I was very underwhelmed visiting. In my personal opinion, I would honestly skip it unless you really want to go. I found the area to be run down and not very appealing. The Chinese Theatre is over here too, which I know is popular, but because I really didn’t like the vibes of the area, we skipped it.

Walk of Fame Hollywood Stars

Tour a Studio (Optional)

I totally understand everyone has different attractions they are most interested in seeing. While the studios don’t appeal to me (maybe because our family is local), it doesn’t mean you won’t want to check it out. There is the Paramount Pictures Studio Tour, the Warner Bros. Studios, and the Universal Studios Hollywood.

Hollywood Sign

Did you even visit LA without seeing the Hollywood sign?! You will have plenty of opportunities to see this iconic sign from a distance, however, the two best ways to see the Hollywood sign, in my opinion, is from Hollywood Lake Park or hiking up to the Hollywood Sign.

Hollywood Lake Park is by far the easiest way to see the sign and get Instagram-worthy photos! During our visit, there was barely anyone there as it really is still a local gem.

The next best way to see it is by hiking to the Hollywood Sign through Griffith Park. There are 3-4 different hikes starting from a little over 3 miles and up. If you don’t feel comfortable figuring out the trail on your own, there are also guided groups!

Funny story, it was our mission to see this iconic sign during our first trip to LA, and at first glimpse, we all looked at each other and said in excitement, “hey look, the Hollywood Sign!”

Throughout the rest of the day, it became a running joke since just about every activity had the sign-in view! So, don’t worry, you will definitely be seeing the sign throughout your trip.

View the Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles at Lake Hollywood Park

Griffith Observatory

After seeing the Hollywood sign, make your way over to the Griffith Observatory. Griffith Observatory was built in 1935 and has become one of the most visited public observatories in the world! It is also one of my favorite places in LA, so I really think it is worth a visit.

The best time to visit is around sunset for stunning views of Downtown Los Angeles.

Parking can be tricky at Griffith Observatory. We had to park pretty far down the hill, making it a hike up, oh, and you have to pay a meter. To be honest, it is a great place for hiking, so I would recommend giving yourself some additional time to hike! 

Besides the amazing sunset, they also have exhibits, a Planetarium, and some pretty epic telescopes.

Admission: FREE!

Address: 2800 E Observatory Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90027

Hours: Monday – Friday 12 PM – 10 PM; Saturday and Sunday: 10 AM – 10 PM (double-check hours before going!)

Hiking Griffith Park to the Hollywood Sign Los Angeles, California
Make sure to add Griffith Observatory to your itinerary with 3 days in Los Angeles

Day 2 – Venice, Santa Monica, and Runyon Canyon

On day two of our 3 days LA itinerary, we are going to explore the more edgy side of town making stops in:

  • Hike through Runyon Canyon (or the hike of Celebrities)
  • Venice
  • Santa Monica
  • Venice Canals

Runyon Canyon Hike

Los Angeles is all about healthy living, getting outside, and hiking, so to start your 2nd day, let’s head to Runyon Canyon. Runyon Canyon was one of our favorite places we visited in LA, and we are not even huge hikers.

If you enjoy taking short hikes, Runyon Canyon is a must while in Los Angeles!

The best time to visit is in the morning or late afternoon when it’s not as hot. Parking at Runyon Canyon can be somewhat difficult since this is one of the most popular places to go hiking in LA. Even celebrities regularly hike here and are spotted often!

The park is 160 acres, and the full Runyon Canyon hike is a 2.7-mile loop. We didn’t hike the full loop, but if hiking is your jam, you most certainly can!

There are 3 entrances to the park; you can check the maps here!

View the Hollywood Hills from Runyon Canyon Park
Hollywood Hills from Runyon Canyon
See Downtown Los Angeles Skyline from Runyon Canyon
Couple taking IG Photos with Downtown LA in the Background

Venice Beach

Next, let’s release your inner bohemian with Venice’s free-spirit vibes. This beach town consists of murals, street performers, hip stores, and more. One of the best things to do in Venice is to rent a bike and stroll down the Venice Beach Boardwalk!

Popular areas to see along Venice Beach include the Skate Park, Abbott Kinney Street, and Muscle Beach. If you’re looking for something a little more romantic, make sure to catch the sunset here!

Los Angeles Insider tip – Venice beach has one of the most beautiful sunsets!

While I love this area, one thing you normally won’t see in a Los Angeles itinerary is that you will likely see homeless people down the stretch of the beach. It’s actually not uncommon to see tents pitched up all around the city. During my most recent visit, Venice Beach had fewer tents than the last time we were there, but overall, LA has way more tents around the city.

It’s an unfortunate issue in California right now that we can only hope gets better for those being affected. This is not to scare you in any way. It’s so that you are not surprised!

Take a bike ride down the Venice Boardwalk with 3 days in Los Angeles
Watch the sunset from Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California

Santa Monica Pier

From Venice, head North to the famous Santa Monica Beach and Pier! Seen in countless movies and famously at the end of Route 66, Santa Monica is a must.

We rode our bikes to Santa Monica since it’s not far from Venice Beach at all! If you are driving, you can find it on Colorado Avenue.

Once you get to the pier, enjoy snacking on ice cream and candy, letting out your inner child on the carnival rides, or even just taking a seat and people-watching.

Towards the end of the pier, you will see people fishing or just enjoying the views of the Pacific Ocean. After you finish enjoying the Santa Monica Pier, enjoy some time down on the Santa Monica beach!

Add the Santa Monica Pier to Your Itinerary with 3 Days in Los Angeles

Venice Canals (Optional)

You can choose to end your night with a sunset on Venice or Santa Monica Beach or at the Venice Canals. The Venice Canals consist of little bridges crossing over the canal and surrounded by insane mansions. This is considered more of a hidden gem, so generally, there won’t be too many people around.

Venice Canals at sunset with woman wearing long white dress
Sunset at the Venice Canals

Day 3 – Road Trip to Malibu, Explore Downtown LA, or Visit Disney & Universal

We have made it to day 3 of our Los Angeles itinerary, and you have already seen a ton of iconic places. If the weather is nice during your visit to LA, I would highly recommend taking a road trip to Malibu!

But if it’s not beach weather, or you’re not a beach person, I want to give you a couple of options for how you can finish your time in LA!

One option is to check out Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, and CityWalk in Hollywood. Since I grew up in Florida and visited these theme parks often growing up, we opted out, but I know this is a lot of people’s jam. You can spend the full day doing this.

Or, you can take a trip to downtown Los Angeles. If you are good with time, you may be able to do both the beach and downtown LA!

Downtown Los Angeles

If you want to do both downtown and Malibu, this is how I’d do it. Start your morning early in downtown LA.

Some of the best things to see in Downtown LA include:

  • The Grand Central Market – Take a walk through and grab a quick bite to eat.
  • The Last Bookstore, Grand Park – Quirky and Instagrammable bookstore to walk through.
  • Angels Flight – Walk by or even take a short ride on the world’s shortest railway
  • The Broad Museum – A unique museum, but cap your time to 1 hour.
  • Walt Disney Concert Hall – You won’t have time to see a show if you want to visit Malibu, but you can stop by and see it.
Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Floating books from the last book store in LA
The Last Book Store

Day Trip to Malibu

From Los Angeles, driving to Malibu takes around 45 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic. The views are absolutely incredible as you make your way up the Pacific Coast Highway!

For a quick bite to eat in Malibu, check out Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market & Patio Cafe. We had excellent seafood here and they are known for it!

Los Angeles Insider Tip: All Below Malibu beaches require you to climb down the cliff.

Big Dume Beach in Malibu California
Big Dume Beach in Malibu California

Big Dume Beach and Point Dume State Beach

One of the best things to do in Malibu is to visit its beaches. Malibu beaches are unique in that they are situated below large cliffs! From the photos, it looks like you could even be in Portugal.

We started our Malibu beach trip at Big Dume and hiked down to Point Dume Beach. Both beaches are more for locals so they were pretty quiet during our visit, making it super relaxing! Point Dume also has walking trails along the coast.

Point Dume Beach in Malibu, California
Point Dume Beach in Malibu, California

El Matador Beach (Robert Meyer Memorial State Beach)

Next, we headed to the famous El Matador beach. Locals call it the Instagram beach since it’s always packed with people doing photoshoots.

I totally get why, since the beach has beautiful views and this is a really cool rock cave. I would also highly recommend watching the sunset at El Matador. It is a favorite photography spot and makes a perfect romantic place for photos or just enjoying the sunset.

However, if you prefer quiet beaches, this is not the beach for you. 

Lookout from El Matador Beach
El Matador Beach at Sunset
El Matador Beach at Sunset

Other things to do in Malibu

Aside from hitting the Malibu beaches, you can stroll down the Malibu boardwalk, enjoy a handful of really nice hikes, or even check out some of the local beach bars!

Where To Eat Los Angeles

For those who know me, breakfast food, pizza, and anything involving a lot of cheese is my go-to when eating. Below are some places we enjoyed the most!

Blu Jam Cafe: Located in the trendy Melrose neighborhood, their breakfast was absolutely amazing! We got french toast and eggs benedict and it was out of this world. Their menu also focuses on being sustainable.  They have 4.5 stars on Google with over 1.6k reviews so clearly, I’m not the only one raving about them.

The Griddle Cafe: If you are a pancake lover, you have to check this spot out! I kid you not, the pancakes were larger than my head and they have the most creative dessert pancakes I’ve ever heard of!

Eggslut: If you are looking to grab a quick breakfast sandwich, check out Eggslut. We didn’t try the location in LA, but I lived at Eggslut during my trip to Vegas. It is basically equivalent to In-and-Out, but for Breakfast.

Diddy Riese: Get Ice cream sandwiches and cookies from Diddy Riese! Don’t be surprised if this place has a line, it’s worth it though!

Larry’s Chili Dog: During my most recent trip to LA, I was in search of the best Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Burrito, and I found it here. This place legit looks like a hole in the wall, and I almost pulled away, but I am so glad I didn’t.

Plancha Tacos: If I had a runner-up for my egg burrito, it would be at Plancha. They have two locations and have a little more of a Mexican twist to it. My Brother-in-law eats here at least once a week, so he’s a real fan.

Joan’s on Third: A great place to get pastries. They also have a pretty decent Egg burrito, but it is much smaller than the other two places mentioned above. One thing they do differently that I liked was adding avocado and toasted the whole outside of the burrito.

Blu Jam Cafe french toast in Los Angeles
Blu Jam Cafe french toast
The Griddle Cafe Pancake in Los Angeles
The Griddle Cafe’s delicious Pancakes
Blu Jam Cafe Eggs Benedict in Los Angeles
Blu Jam Cafe Eggs Benedict

Where to Stay in Los Angeles

The 3 most popular areas to stay in Los Angeles is Hollywood (attractions), Beverly Hills (luxury), and Santa Monica (more beachy vibes). If you plan on staying near Universal, I’d definitely recommend booking in advance. Some great hotel options include: 

Omni Los Angeles Hotel California Plaza: You can never go wrong with an Omni hotel! This property is located at California Plaza atop historic Bunker Hill. They have 2 onsite restaurants, an outdoor heated lap pool, a complimentary shuttle, spa, and more! 

JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE: This property offers a beautiful modern design, a rooftop pool, 4 restaurants, and even specializes in local and organic food. You can also enjoy the spa, fitness center, and more! 

Hilton Los Angeles-Universal City: Want to be close to Universal Studios? This property is located about 5 minutes from the Universal Studios Hollywood Walk. Additionally, they have a pool, hot tub, cafe, and more! 

Andaz West Hollywood-a concept by Hyatt: Located just about 5 minutes from the Sunset Strip enjoy onsite dining, a rooftop pool, and complimentary non-alcoholic beverages.

Sunset at El Matador in Malibu, California
Sunset at El Matador in Malibu, California

Additional Things to do in Los Angeles

3 days gives you plenty of time to see a lot of LA, however, you can’t cover the whole city in this amount of time. Los Angeles definitely left us wanting more, along with the rest of California – which is why we have been back several times!

Update: We went back to Los Angeles for a week, and I stick by my original Itinerary but did add additional options on day 3 in LA. 

If you have more than 3 days in Los Angeles or additional time on your itinerary here are more top attractions in Los Angeles! 

You should also check out some of the best Free Things to do in Los Angeles!

Palm Trees in Los Angeles

When Is the Best Time to Visit Los Angeles

The best time to visit Los Angeles is during the Spring and Fall. The winter is also very popular for those trying to escape the winter. In terms of weather, the winter in Los Angeles has milder temperatures making the city way more enjoyable.

  • Spring in Los Angeles average temperatures in the Low 70’s.
  • The Summer in LA, the average temperatures will be in the 80’s.
  • Fall will bring you temperatures between 70 degrees to 80 degrees. 
  • Winter months will be the coolest around the high 60’s and low 70’s. 

3 Days in Los Angeles Itinerary: Wrap-up

From iconic landmarks, epic hikes, beach days, and road trips, I hope you had an amazing time exploring Los Angeles.

Plan on doing several paid activities? Consider getting the LA City Pass that will help you save money on tickets! Check out the LA City Pass here. 

Have any questions or did I miss one of your favorite places in my Los Angeles itinerary? Let me know in the comments below!

Did you find this Los Angeles Itinerary helpful? I’d appreciate it if you could share it below!

Best things to do in LA in 3 days California Itinerary
Photo of author

Samantha Oppenheimer

Samantha Oppenheimer (Sam Opp) quit her corporate marketing job in 2018 to travel the world and become a travel writer, blogger and content creator. She loves experiencing authentic travel experiences, photography, and nature. Sam shares helpful travel itineraries, travel tips, budget tips, and travel advice from her personal experiences. You can also find Sam's words featured in large publications including Mirror, Thrillist, and Well + Good.

21 thoughts on “3 Days in Los Angeles Itinerary – Perfect for First-Timers”

  1. El Matador is good, as is Zuma Beach. But wwGetty Center is the best place to visit in Los Angeles. And don’t forget Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Olvera Street, Little Tokyo, and City Hall Tower.

    • Thank you so much for adding some additional places! I am hoping to make it back soon to explore more of what LA has to offer!

  2. This is an awesome itinerary to los Angeles.i missed visiting during my USA trip.i will surely visit on my next trip.

  3. We’ve driven to LA a couple of times since I moved to the US and have loved every visit. But I see that I haven’t been to Egg Slut or The Griddle Cafe, which I will have to rectify the next time we visit!

  4. These are great suggestions thank you! I will be going for a second time and saw plenty of things here that I missed the first time around. Especially keen to see that view from the Observatory and a bit of Malibu!

  5. I love SoCal! I also ate at Malibu Seafood and loved it there. I totally want to go back to the LA area and explore more. 🙂

  6. These are great suggestions thank you! I will be going for a second time and saw plenty of things here that I missed the first time around. Especially keen to see that view from the Observatory and a bit of Malibu!

  7. Wow I’ve been to LA and I never got around to any of these things (except the Hollywood sign – you have to do that!). I’ll definitely need to go back to see the Pier and Malibu!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.