Los Angeles – the city you’ve seen countless times on TV and in the movies. It’s only natural then that you’d think you know it or at the very least assume it couldn’t be that hard to navigate. But that’s where you’d be wrong.

LA is far more spread out than you’d think and almost every one of its neighbourhoods is in sharp contrast to the next. Because of that, if you’re visiting for the first time, the city can be incredibly overwhelming.

To help you out, we’ve put together this guide, covering everything from where to stay to how much you should really be tipping. Here's everything you need to know about travelling to Los Angeles, California! 

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Boardwalk in Venice

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Best places to stay in LA

First up: choosing what suburb to stay in. Because LA is a sprawling city, where you base yourself can make or break your holiday. To begin with, determine what type of holiday you plan on having and what you plan on doing and seeing while there. You’ll then be able to work out which suburbs work best and can then research what hostels, hotels or Airbnbs are available.

If you’re after some rest and relaxation by the beach, choose Santa Monica, Venice or Malibu. If you’re a film buff, head to Hollywood. If nightlife’s what you’re after, West Hollywood is your spot. Like the lavish life? Beverly Hills will have you sorted. Other more residential but still happening suburbs are Silverlake, Marina del Rey and Brentwood.

Some notable places to check-in to are The London West Hollywood, and it's worth staying there just to see their bulldog mascots Winston and Church! Le Montage Beverly Hills is where you’re almost guaranteed to see a celebrity, while Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel has fire pits and sits right on the beach.

Hotel in Los Angeles

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What to do in LA

You’ll find the bulk of LA’s tourist attractions in Hollywood: the Walk of Fame, Dolby Theater (home of the Academy Awards) and Chinese Grauman’s Theater. It’s also the place to hop on celebrity homes tours or the hilarious TMZ Tour.

When you’ve done all that and want to do as the Angelenos do, make your way over to neighbouring West Hollywood. The city’s hippest hotels, bars and clubs, including the Chateau Marmont Hotel, the Mondrian’s SkyBar and The Viper Room, can all be found there. They're mostly along the Sunset Strip, a section of Sunset Boulevard.

Down by the beach, if you have limited time to spend, be sure to rent a bike to take in both Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Though they’re right next to each other, they couldn’t be any more different. If Santa Monica is a put-together professional, Venice is her rebel younger sibling. Further along the coastline is Malibu. Though well worth the bike ride, only do it if you’re prepared for a long journey. Otherwise, hop in a ride-share.

Where to eat and drink

LA’s a real melting pot of cultures so you’ll find all kinds of cuisines. Of course there’s American – think macaroni and cheese, loaded fries and big burgers. But there’s also quality Thai, Mexican, Greek, Indian and pretty much every other cuisine under the sun.

Highlights include In N Out Burge (a fast food chain), Gracias Madre (a plant-based Mexican restaurant with a large outdoor courtyard), Catch LA (a celebrity-favourite seafood restaurant), and The Bungalow Santa Monica (a retro-style restaurant with ocean breezes).

At the end of a long day of sightseeing, hunt down a speakeasy. They’re bars hidden behind unmarked doors or other inconspicuous entrances. LA’s got loads of them, but you have to know where to look.

malibu wharf

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How to get around the city

Did we mention LA is spread out? Thanks to its terrible traffic, it’ll take you much longer than you think to get around. The good news is that you have plenty of options. There are heaps of ride-share services (Uber and Lyft are the most popular), public buses and a Metro.

Surprisingly, the public transport system isn’t great. If you’re using it, some suburbs can be completely inaccessible and even buses in main areas tend to be inconsistent. If you’re considering hiring a car, remember that parking or valet services can add up quickly.

Travel tips for visiting the USA

There are a few other travel tips to help ensure a smooth visit to LA and the USA. The first is about tipping. In general, hospitality workers in the United States tend to earn a low wage because their employer knows that difference will be made up with tips. Regardless of their quality of service, always tip at least 10% of your bill. If you were pleased with the level of service you were offered, then you should tip 15-20% of your bill while travelling in the USA. If you feel your server went above and beyond, 25% will be greatly appreciated.

The second travel tip concerns celebrities. You’ll be in California, home to many famous people. Because of this, there’s a good chance you may run into one or two. If you do, act cool! Remember, celebrities are people just like you and me. After getting a photo or an autograph, let them go about their day.

The last travel tip is to manage your expectations. LA in California is not for everyone. As much as it has going for it, like with any city, it may not be your cup of tea. That’s okay, because being pushed out of your comfort zone is what travelling is all about. But I'm positive you'll enjoy your stay in the USA, so start planning a trip!

wall art in Venice

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Sangeeta Kocharekar is a freelance writer specialising in travel and life. When she’s not hunched over her laptop, she spends her days browsing plant stores and taking photos of beaches and brunches for Instagram. You can view them here.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More India.