6 Great Neighborhoods for Your Next LA Vacation

Whether you're looking for trendy, celeb-studded spots or a peaceful hilltop escape, these cool LA neighborhoods are filled with fun restaurants, bars and more.

Santa Monica pier bike path and ferris wheel
Santa Monica | Photo by Stan Lee for Thrillist
Santa Monica | Photo by Stan Lee for Thrillist

It’s hard not to feel like a tourist when traipsing around LA sometimes—even familiar neighborhoods change shape regularly, with new restaurants and bars popping up, galleries and museums shifting exhibits, and hotel concepts defining and then quickly redefining their oeuvre. It’s the perfect excuse for a staycation or an exploratory day out, whether in your current stomping grounds or somewhere on the other side of town.

Choose from trendy neighborhoods that are flush with fine dining options and celeb-inspired amenities, beachside stays with world-renowned farmers markets, or sightsee among Downtown’s soaring skyscrapers. Here are six of the coolest neighborhoods in LA right now, including where to stay and everything you need to do if you decide to leave your room:

back patio at citizen public market in culver city
Photo by Wonho Frank Lee, courtesy of Citizen Public Market

Culver City

In recent years Culver City has been overtaken by an influx of tech and media companies, but the neighborhood remains as picturesque as when Hollywood stars first strolled down its avenues and backlots. The neighborhood is somewhat partitioned from the rest of the city by the asphalt barricades of the 10 and the 405, which can make it a pain to get to, but also means that the area enjoys a calmness that eludes other media centers like Hollywood. It also means that you’ll find just about everything you need—from restaurants to hotels to bars and entertainment options—within the bounds of its bikeable five square miles.

Things to Do in Culver City

In oder to cater to the tech and media workers who now call Culver City home, the area has exploded with dining options in recent years. Go on a global food tour without leaving the Downtown stretch: Piccalilli blends California and Southern Atlantic styles of cooking with Southeast Asian flavors; just steps away there’s Ms Chi Cafe from Top Chef runner-up Shirley Chung, where she shares unique Chinese-American dishes; and Janga by Derrick’s Jamaican Cuisine; as well as Citizen Public Market, a food hall in a restored 1920s art deco building that once housed a local newspaper, with The Jolly Oyster for briny bivalves, goodboybob for coffee, ILÉ Bistro for gorgeous fast-casual Nigerian food, Bang Bang Noodles for hand-pulled noodles, and a rooftop where they host regular comedy and trivia nights.

Culver City is also home to a few unique museums that are worth visiting, including the Wende Museum of the Cold War and Museum of Jurassic Technology. Learn about the neighborhood’s ties to Tinseltown with a Sony Pictures Studio Tour, get a workout in and take in the sights from the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, and tuck into the barbershop-themed speakeasy Blind Barber after the sun goes down.

Palihotel culver city entryway at night
Photo courtesy of Palihotel

Where to Stay in Culver City

Take in a slice of Culver City history at the Culver Hotel, a century-old National Landmark that was once owned by Charlie Chaplin—until he lost it in a poker game to John Wayne. The hotel underwent renovations in 2007, including updated rooms with vintage touches like crystal chandeliers and Carrera marble vanities. An on-site garden restaurant, afternoon tea service, and Prohibition-meets-Paris-style lounge make it a luxurious place to spend an evening or three.

For another overnight option try Palihotel, which transformed a 1920s boarding house into a boutique hotel with 49 rooms, featuring a design style that marries industrial postwar Paris with modern LA. That French influence carries over to Simonette, an all-day, indoor-outdoor bistro that’s a great breakfast, weekend brunch, happy hour, or dinner destination. 

busy patio at everson royce bar in the arts district
Photo by Anise Mariko Lew, courtesy of Everson Royce Bar

DTLA

Downtown LA and the adjacent Arts District have experienced a renaissance in recent years, only temporarily slowed by the pandemic, morphing into an entertainment and dining hub. The area is now fully dense with luxe live-work loft apartments, polished cocktail lounges, high-end restaurants that are several steps beyond the old office lunch standards, and new construction that has added welcome texture to the iconic skyline.

Things to Do in Downtown LA

Stop into the LA outpost of the global gallery of Hauser & Wirth for rotating exhibitions, a lovely outdoor courtyard and garden, and one of LA's nicest art book stores. They share the space with Manuela, a stylish restaurant serving seasonally driven Southern plates and modern cocktails. There’s also the 28,000-square-foot Art Share LA, featuring the work of several dozen artists, in addition to Arts District Co-Op, full of independent retailers, stalls, and pop-up shops. Get your game on at Two Bit Circus, a “micro-amusement park” with tons of classic and virtual arcade cabinets (as well as some VR-infused escape rooms).

Wait until Sunday to make your way to Row DTLA, a massive 32-acre, pedestrian-friendly complex that hosts the open-air food fest Smorgasburg on Sundays, featuring vendors hawking everything from cheeseburger tacos to rainbow-colored bao. Guerrilla Tacos has a standout menu with taco fillings ranging from fried rock cod to lomo saltado, all of which you should try. Don't skip over the still-buzzy modern Middle Eastern spot Bavel, where you should definitely get the duck 'nduja-topped hummus and kebab of meaty oyster mushrooms. Everson Royce Bar is the place to go for a menu of thought-out Boilermakers (you can’t go wrong with the Radler and Mezcal), along with barrel-aged cocktails on the giant, tree-dotted back patio and one of the best burgers in town. For even more ideas, check out our Downtown LA dining guide.

Hotel Figueroa pool in downtown la
Photo by Tanveer Badal, courtesy of Hotel Figueroa

Where to Stay in Downtown LA

The historic Hotel Figueroa is a quick walk from LA Live, the basketball temple now known as Crypto.com Arena, and other Downtown attractions, but with the convenient Cafe Fig lobby bar, on-site art gallery, coffin-shaped pool, and Sparrow, a partially open-air restaurant with a modern Coastal Italian menu, you might be tempted spend your entire staycation on the premises. Just down the block in the Fashion District, the Downtown LA Proper Hotel updated a landmark building with modernist design details and a rooftop pool deck, where you’ll find Cara Cara, an all-day lounge with Portuguese food and plenty of fire pits. On the ground floor, there’s Caldo Verde, a fine dining restaurant that celebrates Portuguese cuisine and comes courtesy of James Beard Award-winning chef Suzanne Goin and restaurateur Caroline Styne.

Amoeba Music
Amoeba Music | Rushay/Shutterstock

Hollywood

If WeHo is Hollywood’s designer sibling, does that make Hollywood the scruffy basic one? Maybe, but sometimes as-seen-on-tv is exactly what we’re craving, complete with the full pantheon of Marvel and DC superheroes vying for photos at the corner of Hollywood and Highland. But outside of the kitsch, Hollywood has shown its real star power, with the Vinyl District launching several exciting new restaurants in recent years.

Things to Do in Hollywood

Taking a slow stroll down the Walk of Fame to gawp at the various street performers and find your favorite entertainer’s star is what all tourists think they want to do in Hollywood. However, if you’re craving a more in-depth understanding of the movie-making business, it’s worth scheduling a Paramount Studio Tour or Warner Bros Studio Tour—the latter is on the other side of the Cahuenga pass in Burbank, which you can reach via the usual rideshare options, or opt for DRVN if you want to class up your stay with chauffeur service.

Crate diving at Amoeba Music’s new location is always a great choice, and The Record Parlour is right around the corner with additional vinyls, posters, and records to peruse. Food options are plentiful: you can go the tourist route and nosh on diner food at Mel’s Drive In, grab authentic Neapolitan pizza at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, order your favorite Thai dishes at Luv2Eat Thai Bistro, splurge on a stunning kaiseki dinner at UKA at Japan House, or go glam with a ride through Hollywood’s winding hills that will lead you to the historic Yamashiro restaurant with Cal-Asian eats alongside a bird’s eye view of the city below. For after-dark fun, Good Times at Davey Wayne’s is always well, a good time, as are most of Houston Hospitality’s Hollywood bars, which also include No Vacancy, Black Rabbit Rose, and Madame Siam—each with its own fun and immersive theme. The best part? All of the bars are within easy stumbling distance of each other.
 

Mama Shelter Hollywood
Photo courtesy of Mama Shelter Hollywood

Where to Stay in Hollywood

Century-old Hollywood Roosevelt might seem like the expected move for a Hollywood staycation, but it’s one that’s easy to easy to justify when it not only drops you right in the center of the Hollywood action, but comes with food and beverage options like Cali-French farm-to-table cooking at Shirley, perfectly charred burgers from 25 Degrees, and craft cocktails and bowling lanes at The Spare Room. Plus there’s that famous David Hockney-painted pool that’s open exclusively to hotel guests and members of the Tropicana Swim Society.

But if you’re looking to be a trendsetter (and in Hollywood, who isn’t?), there are several new options to choose from: tommie Hollywood offers Desert 5 Spot for country-tinged line stepping and Wes Avila's exuberant Yucatecan restaurant Ka'Teen, and Mama Shelter is an always-reliable place to hang your hat, with a vegan- and omnivore-friendly ground-floor restaurant and colorful rooftop with 360-degree views of the city. Nearby, the Godfrey Hotel Hollywood features one of the largest rooftops in the area and is walking distance to all of the neighborhood hotspots.

The Huntington
The Huntington | Kit Leong/Shutterstock

Pasadena

With the San Gabriel Mountains as its background, Pasadena is a picturesque city of its own, with a slower pace and fewer crowds, plus an array of compelling restaurant options and plenty of green spaces for recharging. It may not be the most walkable area, but you can always hop on the A Line or Pasadena Transit buses, which allow free transfers between routes within 2.5 hours of your first ride.

Things to Do in Pasadena

All 22 blocks of Pasadena’s Old Town have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, meaning you’ll be treated to Art Deco buildings and adorable brick-lined alleys as you stroll. And Old Town is thick with restaurants, with Osawa's broad menu of well-executed Japanese food, Bone Kettle for rich bone broths and Southeast Asian eats, and sibling restaurants Union and U Street Pizza for Italian food with a SoCal touch. Neon Retro Arcade has 50 vintage arcade and pinball games that you can play as much as you’d like for just $10 an hour or $25 for a full day. Vroman’s Bookstore is more than 125 years old, which makes it the oldest bookstore in Southern California, reason enough to stop by and support the gigantic shop with a book, game, candle, or gift purchase. You can easily lose an afternoon strolling the 120 acres of gardens at The Huntington, but don’t forget to stop by the art galleries and visiting exhibitions while you’re there. If you happen to visit on the second Sunday of the month, Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Flea Market is a gold mine for vintage kitsch and antique furniture.

Photo courtesy of The Langham

Where to Stay in Pasadena

The Langham Huntington was originally opened as a winter resort in the early 1900s, and it continues to attract guests who turn seasons into verbs more than a century later. Now open year-round, the luxury hotel offers free historical property tours to guests, providing an overview of the 23-acre property and showing off California’s first Olympic-sized swimming pool and courts where actress Jean Harlow once played badminton. If you really want to take your pampering to the next level, book an appointment at the on-site Chuan Spa, which offers a sauna and herbal steam room, plus skincare and signature treatments inspired by Chinese Traditional Medicine. On the dining side, the poolside Hideaway is ideal for quick eats and grab-and-go options, while The Terrace offers a locally sourced Cal-fresh menu. Enter the Prohibition-inspired Tap Room for cocktails and artisanal wines served alongside elevated bar bites.

3rd Street Promenade
3rd Street Promenade | Apostolis Giontzis/Shutterstock

Santa Monica

Think of this famous LA enclave as a quintessential SoCal coastal town on steroids. It’s home to a blissfully big beach, amusement-filled pier, increasingly excellent restaurant scene, live music venues, one of the best farmers markets in all the land, and Larry David. It’s also a nightmare for drivers, but if you take the Expo Line, you can easily go car-free all weekend long.

Things to Do in Santa Monica

You may have noticed there’s a very large beach here, and you can easily fill a whole weekend with boogie boarding, surf lessons, stand-up paddleboarding, or just beach bumming. For fun on dry land, you can rent rollerblades or bikes and cruise the paved path that parallels the beach. You’ll need a car or rideshare to get any hikes in, but they're worth it; try the always-jamming Los Leones Trail in nearby Pacific Palisades, or the  2.6-mile Temescal Canyon Loop that gains a good 900 feet. On Saturday mornings, follow the crowds to Santa Monica’s legendary Downtown Farmers Market, where you’ll see wandering chefs picking up seasonal produce; it butts up against the 3rd Street Promenade, which you can stroll afterwards for a retail fix.

If silly arcade fun is your bag, don't miss the Santa Monica Pier for fair food, bumper cars, arcade games, and a loop around the ferris wheel for a stellar sunset view. If you’re still hungry after your farmers market haul, Santa Monica is full of options. Head to Cassia's art deco space for a seafood-driven dinner of Southeast Asia-meets-California dishes, then skip dessert and slip out for a sip and a cheese plate at the adjacent wine bar Esters. A bit further from the beach you can hit up Chef Brendan Collins' Fia Restaurant and Fia Steak, or duck in to Pasjoli for an elegant French meal from celebrated chef Dave Beran. Don't skip the modern classic California produce-driven cooking at Rustic Canyon, and you'd be hard pressed to find a better quick-service meal than Augie's on Main, from another heavy hitter in Chef Josiah Citrin; then pop down to Vamos Vamos for a rowdy night cap of nachos and margaritas.

pool and the pacific ocean at casa del mar in santa monica
Photo by Lisa Romerein, courtesy of Hotel Casa Del Mar

Where to Stay in Santa Monica

Duck right off the sand and into Casa Del Mar, where guests enter a Mediterranean-inspired lobby filled with cabanas and palm trees, and wake up to views of the Pacific Ocean. Beyond the luxe beach getaway, Casa Del Mar offers everything from bikes to surf and boogie boards for guests to take right into their backyard, which happens to be the California coastline. It’s the perfect beach retreat to enjoy a sunset al fresco at their restaurant Patio Del Mar before taking in the lights of the Santa Monica Pier from guest room windows.

Lavo ristorante west hollywood interior
Photo courtesy of Lavo Ristorante

West Hollywood

Home to the Sunset Strip, scores of fine dining restaurants and luxury designer boutiques, plus many of LA’s favorite gay bars, West Hollywood packs a ton to do in just two compact square miles. Think of the neighborhood as Hollywood’s designer sibling, with plenty of crosswalks and narrow two-lane streets that make it one of the city’s most walkable neighborhoods and a prime destination for bar hopping.

Things to Do in West Hollywood

West Hollywood is flush with great restaurants, from casual, fun spots to refined Michelin-starred dining. For the former, head to chef Kris Yenbamroong’s Night+Market for a menu of family-style Thai dishes and a stellar natural wine list. Norah is a great option for eclectic American fare, or try Lavo Ristorante for Southern Italian staples in an elevated environment. E.P. and L.P. is home to Melrose Rooftop Theatre, where you can indulge in a three-course dinner and a movie under the stars for just $59. For LGBTQ-friendly entertainment, try Hamburger Mary’s for a one-of-a-kind drag brunch experience, Bayou for a Cajun-inspired dive bar with a late-night happy hour, and Schmitty's for a fun, old-school bar with an amazing Wednesday piano night.

pool
Photo courtesy of The West Hollywood Edition

Where to Stay in West Hollywood

The boutique Edition hotel has 190 guest rooms, 48 suites, and two penthouses to choose from, all of them equipped with modern amenities and many featuring large floor-to-ceiling windows and outdoor terraces complete with panoramic views. There's a stunning pool and bar on the rooftop, with a Mexican-influenced dinner menu, tropical cocktails, and plenty of agave spirits. Chef John Fraser spearheads the hotel’s food and beverage program, which also includes Ardor, an all-day restaurant that plays on Fraser’s California upbringing with a veggie-forward menu that’s sourced locally. After dark, on-site Sunset brings WeHo’s most glamorous to its gleaming dance floors.

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Danielle Dorsey is the former Los Angeles Editor at Thrillist.