Four Days in LA: A Whirlwind Tour of Southern California

View of Los Angeles

Have you ever wanted to get away and go on a whirlwind, action packed tour of another city? With just a few available days, Amanda and I did just that. We booked some last-minute tickets from Columbus into Los Angeles and spent four days in LA.

Hooray for Hollywood

If you do your research ahead of time, it seems as if everyone will tell you to avoid Hollywood, especially Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Fame. “It’s a tourist trap,” they’ll tell you. And they’re right. But am I going to fly all the way to the West Coast and not visit Hollywood? I don’t think so.

A view of the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, California taken during our four days in LA.
It was rainy during the first part of our stay and you can see the fog around the Hollywood sign.

So our first day we started off right there, at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And to dive in even deeper, we visited Madame Tussaud’s. Was it cheesy? Absolutely! But did we have an amazing time? Surprisingly, yes!

I was skeptical at first as I figured we’d be looking at scene after scene of wax figures, probably separated from us by velvet ropes. That was not at all what we experienced! Instead we were able to walk amongst the wax figures and get plenty of pics posing with the wax celebrities. Some of them were so amazing to be almost life like.

On the left a young woman stands next to the statue of a bear at La Brea Tar Pits Museum. On the right a woman is held in King Kong's fist at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum.
Amanda found this giant bear at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum and I had fun clowning around with King Kong at Madame Tussaud’s.

We took the basic tour and spent about two hours in the museum. Afterwards we exited through a very moderately priced gift shop. That worked in our favor. Though the song tells us that it “never rains in Southern California,” it indeed does and rained fairly steady the first two days of our trip.

Hollywood Walk of Fame stars for both Pierce Brosnan and Stefanie Powers.
Two of the stars from the Walk of Fame. What can I say? As a kid I loved Remington Steele and Hart to Hart.

Next we spent a ridiculous amount of time walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard checking out the stars. To be quite honest, I’m not that into celebrity culture and didn’t think it would be much fun at all. But I had a really good time pointing out stars and remembering different movies and television shows.

Warner Bros.

I figured we had to take at least one studio tour while we were in town. After checking out a few options, we decided on Warner Bros. and purchased our tickets ahead of time.

Amanda and I at a recreation of the Friends set at Central Perk

We showed up at our scheduled time and were fairly quickly shuttled into a cart with our tour guide and a group of about 20 people in total. Then we headed to the backlot.

This was easily my favorite part of the tour. We saw the lots used by Warner Bros. and by other studios for jungle and western scenes, we drove by building facades set up as city scenes and alley ways and we drove through neighborhoods which were set to basically look like Smalltown, USA.

Warner Bros studios houses super suits and villain suits from the DC super hero movies.
Natalie is more of a super hero movie expert that either Amanda or myself, so we shot this picture for her.

I recognized some of the scenes from Young Sheldon and from Pretty Little Liars, which the girls watched for a while. Additionally, we saw the front of the school featured in Abbott Elementary.

Next we headed to the studio portion of the tour. This part of the lot was building after building of identical looking warehouse buildings. Near the entry of each were plaques that featured the names of the some of the television shows or movies that had been filmed there. Our guide took us to the active set for the television series All American and explained some of the filming techniques.

Harry Potter's potions boil and bubble on a table at Warner Bros Studios.
We needed to get some Harry Potter photos for Marina. The sorting hat determined I was Ravenclaw and Amanda was Hufflepuff.

Lastly, we were dropped off at the onsite museum, which housed a number of props and costumes used over the years as well as some recreated sets. Here we were able to visit the set of Central Perk from Friends and Sheldon’s sofa from the Big Bang Theory. Large sections of the museum were devoted to the movies based on DC comic characters and also the Harry Potter franchise.

La Brea Tar Pits and Museum

The La Brea Tar Pits was topping the list for what Amanda wanted to show our readers. Why? I guess because we don’t have tar pits in Ohio.

A statue of an elephant sinks into the tar pits at La Brea.
A model of an ancient elephant “sinks” into the tar pits.

The pits themselves look like large ponds or pools of water in front of the museum. There are statues of ancient animals, seemingly being consumed by the tar. In places an  iridescent sheen covers the water due to the tar beneath. Further evidence that this is not just a pond is available as gas bubbles up from below.

Inside the museum tells the history of the area. Through pictures in models we were shown how animals were caught in the tar and then scavenged by predators, some of which themselves became stuck in the tar.

The sign for the La Brea Tar Pits museum.
The La Brea Tar Pits Museum was interesting and provided information on the area in ancient times and we learned about the excavation of the tar pits and the preservation of their finds.

The tar did a remarkable job of preserving the skeletons over the years. In the museum we were able to watch scientists at work, freeing additional skeletons and evidence from the tar for exhibit. There are a few dig sites currently active on the property.

Santa Monica

We had a hotel change which took us to Santa Monica.  We stayed at the Bayside Hotel and I really can’t say enough about the place. It was an older hotel, with doors that opened to the outside.

Santa Monica Beach as seen from the pier.
The beach in Santa Monica as seen from the pier. You can see the mountains in the background.

The rooms were clean with modern decor, and the staff was polite and accommodating. Best of all was the location. We were within walking distance to the beach and to Santa Monica Pier. Venice Beach was just a short car or bike ride away.

We walked down to the beach, which was wide and flat. The water of course was cold.

The giant wheel on the Santa Monica Pier from our four day tour of LA.
The Santa Monica Pier is similar to a carnival with plenty of places to eat and so much to do.

We decided on a trip down to the Pier. The Santa Monica Pier is home to all of your vacation favorites. There are plenty of restaurants alongside arcades, carnival rides and games of chance. You can walk out to the end past a number of vendors to see fishermen casting lines.


The legendary Venice was just a short drive away from our hotel. We luckily found parking for just $10 and started our adventure.

Vendor on Venice Beach in California.
There were a number of shops on the Venice boardwalk selling skateboards, clothing and marijuana.

We walked up and down the boardwalk, stopping in to little stores to look for souvenirs. Amongst the food vendors, you’ll find store after store of t-shirts and other touristy goods. There are also a fair amount of marijuana shops and recreational marijuana is legal in California.

El Matador Beach

One of my favorite stops and easily the most impressive, was at El Matador Beach in Malibu. At the top of bluffs just off the Pacific Coast Highway is a small parking lot with paid parking. After parking, you’ll take a trail and two sets of stairs to get down to the beach.

The bluffs at El Matador Beach in Malibu, California.
El Matador Beach in Malibu was one of our favorite stops.

The beach and bluffs are beautiful! You’ll want to visit at low tide. This will offer you exposure to the large rocks, called sea stacks and the caves.

Sea stacks and caves on the beach at El Matador Beach. We discovered these during our whirlwind tour of southern california.
As a frequenter of East Coast beaches, these huge rocks and sea stacks were a different look.

We explored up and down the beach and even found some tide pools with ocean creatures to observe. After that we started the long climb back up to the parking lot. It was a bit exhausting (for me, no problem for Amanda), but it was totally worth the climb.

What to Eat

We ate at several spots, but I’ll just hit on some of our favorites here. The number of choices were overwhelming.

Uovo was recommended by one of the museum guides at Warner Bros and it didn’t disappoint. I believe there are a few locations but we ate at the Studio City address. The location was a bit intimidating as it seemed every other patron was discussing their jobs in “the industry” other than us. But our waiter was friendly and our pasta carbonara was delicious. Their pasta is actually handmade, in Italy and then shipped overnight. It was good, but that seemed a bit unnecessary. We split an order of roasted broccolini which was simple and divine.

A plate of steamed crab legs at Neptune's Net from our four days in LA.
There were all kinds of seafood to choose from. These crab legs were at Neptune’s Net.

When we were in Malibu we ate at Neptune’s Net, which came highly recommended and is a bit famous with bikers riding along the coast. It offers outside dining on the patio overlooking the PCH and the Pacific. There are two windows, one is for fried seafood and the other steamed. We opted for steamed. It was mostly delicious, but we could see that we’d chosen poorly. Nearly everyone else had chosen the fried and their food looked even better.

Perhaps our favorite food during our visit was at The Anchor in Venice. It was perfect for us, not pretentious, just very casual and comfortable. Amanda had the lobster bisque and I had the lobster roll. We split and order of fries. Everything was delicious. (And yes, I know we were eating East Coast food on the West Coast.) The Anchor wasn’t recommended, it wasn’t famous, but it was perfect for us. We loved everything about this meal.

A skateboarder at the skate park on Venice Beach during our four days in LA.
Amanda and I stopped to watch the skaters at Venice Beach.

Dogtown Coffee was just a short walk from our hotel in Santa Monica. We made the walk twice for bagels and coffees. It was a nice morning walk and Dogtown had a nice energy. I highly recommend the Salty Dog Iced Coffee if you go. Delicious.

And lastly I’ll just mention In ‘n Out Burger. We don’t have them here in Ohio, of course, and they were tops on Amanda’s “things to try in California” list. Everything was good and hot, but the line was down the block.


At the end of the day we found our way back to Ohio again, as always. There’s so much to love about exploring, but finding your way home again is always a good feeling.

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