3 Days in LA – a guide for first time visitors to Los Angeles

3 Days in LA – First Timers itinerary for Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a magical city that we have spent many times exploring.  We know that it can be overwhelming and scary on where to start your adventure.  Below is a 3 Day itinerary for first time visitors to LA.  It is definitely recommended that you have a car in LA as it will save you so much time instead of relying on public transport.

Santa Monica


Day 1

Start and finish your day down at the beach.  Santa Monica pier is a fantastic starting point and the iconic structure is a fun place to walk upon.  Walk to the very end and if you are lucky there may be see a seal at the end of the pier.  This is also a great place to people watch and soak in the California vibes.

Hire some bikes or a pier to pier bike ride.  We found 2 hours was plenty to see and do all you can between the piers.  Your aim is to ride to the Venice pier with many stops along the way.  We stopped at the playgrounds for a quick swing, at the Venice Beach skate park and racket ball courts and also for an ice cream.  Lock your bikes up at the end of the Venice Beach pier and go for a walk along the Venice pier.  Then you can return in one go and hand the bikes back in.  The bike paths are wide and it is an easy flat ride.

Bike riding in Santa Monica

Next for the day is Malibu Beach and the valleys behind Malibu.  So grab some picnic food and head to the secret beaches of Malibu.  It is a short drive from Santa Monica to Malibu depending on the traffic.  The entrance to Hidden Beaches of Malibu cannot be seen easily from the road but there will be a sign indicating there is a public beach down the path.  You will more than likely have the beach to yourselves.

Once the kids have eaten and chased some waves it is time for a drive.  The canyons and valleys behind Malibu are breathtaking.  The green rolling hills and winding roads make a lovely escape from the busy places of LA.

Head back to Santa Monica to watch the sunset and continue people watching.  There are loads of swings, monkey bars and other apparatus that the kids can play on and watch the amazing talents of the people using the rings and slack lines.  Watching the sunset on the water is a special experience and a great end to the day.

Chasing waves on a beach in Malibu

Day 2

Start the day with some food shopping at the Original Farmer’s Markets where you can grab fresh fruit and snacks and maybe even spot a celebrity.  Once your bellies are full head to the many museums and art galleries in LA.  Our kids loved the La Brea Tar Pits and the Petersen Museum.  My favourite was the LACMA where the famous light installation is worthy of a visit alone even if you don’t go into the art gallery.

Light Installation at LACMA

Next head for a drive down Rodeo Drive to see how the other half shop and the houses around this area are worth driving past to have a look at the rich and possibly famous.  Then you can drive down the famous Sunset Boulevard and head to Hollywood Boulevard to see the famous Hollywood stars.  Park the car and walk along the famous strip and see how many stars you can spot on the sidewalk.  You can take a photo outside the Chinese theater and our kids loved the Sweet Shop inside the Highland and Hollywood shopping center.

Finish the day watching the sunset over all of LA.  Drive up to the Griffith observatory to watch the sunset over the ocean and over the whole city. This is also a fantastic place to see the Hollywood sign.  There are bathrooms to use here and place for the kids to stretch their legs. Parking can be tricky and you should arrive at least an hour before sunset.  On our last visit we could not get a park at all so we decided to head to Dodgers Baseball stadium and watch from there, I think it was an even better view.  You can read about that experience here.

Sunset from the LA Dodgers car park

Day 3

Head to Downtown LA for the day.  Start at the Grand Central Markets where the food vibe is one of the best and there are so many food choices.  Everyone wanted to try food from different vendors so we let the kids pick then we all sat down in the seating area with our great finds.  There are also fruit and veges stalls here so pick up some fresh fruit to snack on to keep your energy up!  There is also a great playground opposite the Markets for your kids to explore.

Next head to the oldest street in Los Angeles, Olvera Street.  The area is rich in history and culture and such a different atmosphere to the busyness of LA.  Lots more information can be found here.

Close by are a few different options – there is Chinatown, Korea town or a visit to the Walt Disney Concert  Hall.

Check the schedule at the Staples Center to see what sporting events are on.  Our kids have had a ball watching the Ice Hockey while we were in town.  Depending on the sports season you can catch a basketball match or even head to the Dodgers Stadium for a game of baseball.  We have purchased tickets cheaply from Stubhub which has a counter at the Staples Center.

Ice hockey game at the Staples Centre GO KINGS!

If watching sports isn’t on your list of things to do, head to the Warner Bros Studios and join one of their tours.  Polly and I had a blast as the tours are small and intimate and you really get to go backstage on many of your favourite TV shows and movies.  Read about our tour here.

Holding a real Oscar


There are so many more fun activities to be had in LA and the surrounding areas.  We have visited many times and still not completed our list on things to do.  You can read what else we have down here and here.

And if your next stop is Disneyland we have lots and lots of tips and Disney tricks.

Disneyland Checklist

Many people will now head to Anaheim to go to Disneyland which we have had the privilege to do a few times.  You can read our Disney tips here.  Also do you have plans for Universal Studios?


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