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First Timer’s Guide To Los Angeles: 8 Essential (And Muslim-Friendly!) Tips

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Faruq Senin  •  Mar 23, 2019

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The city of Los Angeles (or better known as LA😉) needs no introduction. It's home to Hollywood, the epicentre of the world's entertainment industry, amazing theme parks and some of the most beautiful beaches you'll ever find. Credit: Giphy But that's just the tip of the iceberg. You think you know LA because you've seen it on so many TV shows and films. However, with so much to see and do in this huge city, it's easy to be overwhelmed sometimes. "Where should you stay? What should you see? Should you rent a car?" These are questions you often ask yourself when planning a trip to LA 😨 Don't worry though, we've made your job easier by curating this guide! [P.S. Thinking where else you should visit this 2019? We've got you covered with this list!]
1. Pre-trip
Checking visa requirements As with visiting anywhere in the US, do check the visa requirements before planning your trip to LA. If you're a Singaporean, Bruneian or any other country under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and visiting the US for 90 days or less, you're eligible for an electronic visa. Under this scheme, you'll only need to pay USD14 and fill up a form online.
 But if you're from Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries not under the VWP, you'd have to apply for a visa through the US immigration website and then head down to the US embassy in your country. It costs from USD160. Check out the steps for visa application here. Getting a pocket WiFi Unlike many countries where you can get a tourist pre-paid SIM card for your data and network usage, most likely you won't be able to get one at the Los Angeles airport (LAX). You can only purchase the SIM cards at mobile provider shops once you reach LA. Hence, we highly recommend getting a 4G pocket WiFi. There are several operators at LAX or alternatively, you can get them from your home country, so that you can stay connected once you reach LA 🤗
2. Weather
 Ask anyone and they'll tell you that LA has (almost!) perfect weather. Unlike New York or Chicago where winters can be pretty harsh and summers can be really humid, the weather in LA is amazing as it has a Mediterranean climate. There's a fair amount of sunshine in the day but there's the occasional cool breeze too. It'll be a little chilly in the morning, then when noon comes, it gets pretty hot sometimes and when night falls, it gets cold again. So, don't forget to bring a cardigan or light jacket around when you travel. With very little cloud and rain, it gets very dry too and the sun rays are really strong so do use sunscreen. 
Do note that it's not uncommon to experience a heatwave in summer where temperatures reach more than 37 degrees (I personally experienced this and it was really uncomfortable!) During winter, you can also expect temperatures to dip below 10 degrees and as dry as it may seem, it sometimes rains in LA too. So, do check the weather forecast before you go and plan for all situations 🤗 [P.S. Are you travelling to New York instead? We've got a 6D5N itinerary for you to conquer the Big Apple!]
3. Understanding LA and where to stay
 Most travellers don't know this but LA is a really big and sprawling metropolis. When one mentions LA, it's actually referring to the LA county which is made up of many different cities, neighbourhoods and administrative areas. One thing you should know is that LA has "no centre".  While that's confusing for some people, that's what makes LA so diverse and so beautiful because every neighbourhood promises something different. 
Where to stay I had the opportunity of spending 3 months in LA and trust me, choosing the right place to stay is very important. For first-timers, it's understandable that you're going to want to squeeze as many places on your itinerary as possible, so staying somewhere accessible like West Hollywood, Koreatown or Mid-City would be great. If you're looking to be somewhere near the beach, then book your accommodation at Santa Monica or Venice Beach areas although they might be a little more expensive. Westwood and Sawtelle are great places to stay if you want a more neighbourhood feel. #HHWT Tip: One thing to note is that accommodation in LA can be a tad expensive even for hostels so we'd recommend booking an Airbnb. It's even better when you're in a group!
4. Transport options
Renting a car There's this running joke which says that no one walks in LA. Well, that's almost entirely true 😂 unless you're at the more "touristy" areas. Renting a car is indeed the most convenient way to go around LA because of the distances between places. Plus, it's also the best way to soak in the Southern California lifestyle. You wouldn't want to give up the opportunity of driving along the Pacific Coast 😍 There are many car rental companies to choose from at Los Angeles Airport (LAX). We recommend going with famous car rental chains like Avis and Hertz. Alternatively, Budget and Enterprise are not too bad either. Do note that if you're under 25, you might have to pay additional fees. Here are some things to take note of when driving:
  • Don't talk or text on your mobile phone; you might get fined for it
  • Take note of speed limits and stop signs (the US uses miles instead of km so take note!)
  • Take note of parking rules; some roads don't allow parking on certain days or timings. It might be tough to find parking too.
  • Avoid heavy traffic on the freeways and main roads (usually weekdays from 7am - 10am and 4pm - 7pm); use a GPS to take shortcuts 😉
  • If you're driving with children below 8, make sure your kid is in a car seat with a safety seat belt.
Uber or Lyft  Even if you don't drive, you can get around using Uber or Lyft (another ride-sharing system in the US). Yes, there's still Uber in America! But do note that it can get a little expensive, especially for long distances. But that said, most people can agree that it's still cheaper than taking a cab. Public transport
Credit: Metro Los Angeles on Facebook Believe it or not, public transport does exist in LA, and it's in fact, a good break from the heavy traffic. There are a total of 6 train lines and over 200 bus routes. You can plan your route using the Metro website or Google Maps. To take public transport, you'd need a TAP card and each trip costs from USD 1.25. Just remember to set aside more travel time if you're using public transport!
5. Must-visit places
Santa Monica  Santa Monica is by far, my favourite place in LA - it's buzzing any time of the day and you can just spend a good time here to chill and unwind.
 Walk down the boardwalk at Santa Monica Pier where you'll find the iconic Route 66 sign, the Pacific Park (small theme park), food carts, souvenir shops and all sorts of performers. Not to mention that the pier is also a great place to enjoy a romantic sunset. Alternatively, you can also head down to the beach for to have some fun in the sand and sea ☺️ #HHWT Tip: Take the Ferris wheel at Pacific Park for a stunning view of the ocean!
Credit: Third Street Promenade on Facebook After soaking in the sun, head over to Third Street Promenade, a walking street with shops, cafes, movie theatres and more. This is a great place to do some shopping, enjoy live music and people-watch. Halal food options nearby: HiHo Cheeseburger  The famous In-and-Out Burger might not be halal but that doesn't mean you can't get a taste of juicy burgers in LA. HiHo Cheeseburger is known for their juicy and tender Wagyu beef burgers which are sure to leave you craving more 😋
Credit: @21jef on Instagram Halal status: Halal meat used, Alcohol is served in establishment Address: 1320 2nd St Ste. B, Santa Monica, CA 90401, USA Opening hours: 11.30am - 10pm daily Price: from USD 8-10 Charlie Kabob Located in Santa Monica Place's food court, head over to Charlie Kabob for a quick fix of Middle Eastern food. Make sure you get the Charlie Special for a filling meal! (combination of beef kebabs, chicken shish, adana kebab, rice, salad and bread).
Credit: @koenji_vaporz on Instagram Halal status: Halal meat available  Address: 395 Santa Monica Pier Suite 392, Santa Monica, CA 90401, USA Opening hours: 10am - 9pm (Mon - Sat), 11am - 8pm (Sun) Venice Beach  You can never get enough of the beach when in LA and Venice is another place to get your fix of the sun, sand and sea. The vibe here is a little different from Santa Monica though - it's more eclectic and bohemian.
Take a walk on the Ocean Front Walk and you'll meet all sorts of people. Fun fact: You can actually walk or cycle from Santa Monica to Venice!
Credit: @salinaholly on Instagram Don't just stop at the beach, Venice is also home to other exciting spots like the Venice Canals. The canals were built more than 100 years ago and they remind you exactly of the Italian Venice. So, be sure to take a walk here and take in the picturesque sights 😍
Credit: @themaadlife on Instagram Walk further away from the beach and you'll reach Abbot Kinney Boulevard, known as one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the US! Hang out at chic cafes, shop for quirky items and rub shoulders with hipsters here. Make sure you head to Intelligentsia for some good coffee or have a meal at The Butcher's Daughter. The murals at Abbot Kinney and the surrounding areas are also great spots to snap some Insta-worthy shots. Muslim-friendly options nearby: The Butcher's Daughter This is one place that'll surprise you even if you're not a vegetarian! Ironically named The Butcher's Daughter, the eatery actually only serves food using plant-based ingredients.
Credit: @eating_experts on Instagram Try their signature Impossible Burger which tastes almost like real meat. Don't miss out on their classic avocado toast, avocado eggs benedict, kale chips, pizza, acai bowls and juice flight too ☺️ Halal status: Vegetarian, alcohol served in establishment Address: 1205 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291, USA Opening hours: 8am - 10pm daily Hollywood Hollywood is probably the most touristy street in the whole of LA but if it's your first time, you'd most likely want to see what the hype is all about. Contrary to popular belief, no, it's not so easy to spot your favourite celebrities here unless there are entertainment events.
Credit: @travel.on.the.dollar on Instagram But one thing that you definitely see while you're here is the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Find the hand prints of your favourite stars on the floor and snapping a photo with them is definitely one to keep for the books. You can also visit the Dolby Theater which has been home to the Oscars ceremony, or catch a film at the iconic TCL Chinese Theater. 
Credit: @melissapdx on Instagram For those of you who still like listening to music the old school way, head over to Amoeba Music on Sunset Blvd where you can find used and new vinyls, cassettes, CDs and more. Sometimes, they hold free performances too! Halal food options nearby: Yogi Dog Fill your tummy with hot dogs, sandwiches and burgers at this hole-in-the-wall eatery. The hot dog sandwiches are topped with beef or chicken meat and they are perfect for a quick meal on the go. Plus, it's inexpensive too 😉
Credit: @yogidoghollywood on Instagram Halal status: Halal meat used Address: 6771 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028, USA Opening hours: 10am - 3am (Sun - Wed), 10am - 4am (Thur - Sat) Dubai Sauce Dubai Sauce serves a mix of halal Mediterranean and American food. Take your pick from their extensive menu of beef and lamb gyros, cheese beef burgers, peri-peri chicken and even pizzas. Halal status: Halal meat used Address: 6510 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028, USA Opening hours: 11.30am - 2am daily Griffith Park Griffith is probably the best place to catch the stunning skyline of Los Angeles. Whether you hike all the way up from Hollywood or make that drive here, you'll be greeted with a breathtaking view.
Credit: @palaboy22 on Instagram For those of you who are interested in astronomy, you can watch a light show in the observatory and look at the exhibits. You'll also have the chance to look through the historic Zeiss telescope! #HHWT Tip: Did you know that you can get a good view of the Hollywood Sign here too? Halal food options nearby: Dave's Hot Chicken Specialising in Nashville-style spicy fried chicken, Dave's serves chicken tenders or sliders with side options of fries, mac n cheese and pickles. You can also choose your own spice level from mild to hot and reaper, so those who love spicy food will definitely love this place.
Credit: @phuonguseats on Instagram Halal status: Halal meat used Address: 970 N Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029, USA Opening hours: 12pm - 11.45pm daily LACMA Art enthusiasts, you have to make a trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art or LACMA. With over 120,000 items on display, LACMA is the largest museum in Western US. The museum has works from various disciplines but it has a focus on contemporary art. 
Credit: @veronicash on Instagram Don't miss the iconic Urban Light (most photographed installation of LACMA), the Levitated Mass, the works of Andy Warhol and Picasso, and the Japanese Pavillion. You can definitely spend hours here so do plan your time well 😅 Halal food options nearby: The Halal Guys This New York staple has outlets in LA too! Savour this chain's famous gyro and chicken platter - rice with generous portions of meat, pita and then topped with red and white sauce, it sure doesn't get any better than this 🤤
Credit: @gracieleeee on Instagram Halal status: Halal meat used Address: 8919 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069, USA Opening hours: 11am - 12am (Sun - Wed), 11am - 3am (Thur - Fri), 11am - 2am (Sat) Studio tours With so many movies, TV and entertainment shows filmed in LA, it'll be a waste not to go on a studio tour.
Credit: @ornelassss on Instagram One of the best is the Warner Bros. Studio Tours where you'd be able to learn a thing or two about film making and check out props and costumes of famous movies like Batman and Harry Potter. You'd also get the chance to be on the set of popular sitcom, Friends and the stage for The Ellen Show 😍 Warner Bros. Studio Tours Price: USD 62 Address: 3400 Warner Blvd, Burbank, CA 91505, USA Opening hours: 8.30am - 3.30pm Paramount Pictures Studio Tours Price: USD 55 Address: 5515 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038, USA Opening hours: 9am - 3.30pm Sony Pictures Studio Tours Price: USD 40 Address: 10202 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232, USA Opening hours: 9am - 5pm (Mon - Fri) *Do note that you'll need to book these tours online.
6. Theme parks
Disneyland California Resort Disneyland California is a dream come true for all Disney fans, and you absolutely can't miss it if you're one! There's not just 1 but 2 Disney parks here. Here's your chance to visit the very first Disneyland, including the original Sleeping Beauty castle and 8 different themed lands.
Credit: Disneyland Anaheim on Facebook Hop on vintage rides like the Matterhorn Bobsled or Alice in Wonderland's Mad Tea Party teacup ride. Pixar lovers would definitely take delight in the Disney California Adventure Park too. Check out the prices and timings of the parks here. Halal food options nearby: Thai Corner Kitchen (Thai food) Halal status: Halal meat used Address: 499 S Brookhurst St, Anaheim, CA 92804, USA Opening hours: 11am - 10pm (Sun - Thur), 11am - 10.30pm (Fri - Sat) Ma's Chinese Islamic Restaurant (Authentic Chinese food) Halal status: Muslim-owned Address: 601 E Orangethorpe Ave, Anaheim, CA 92801, USA Opening hours: 11am - 9pm (Mon - Thur), 11am - 9.30pm (Fri - Sun) Six Flags Magic Mountain Located in the town of Santa Clarita, north of LA, Six Flags is for the thrill seekers! The theme park is known for having the most number of roller coasters in the world.
Credit: Six Flags Magic Mountain on Facebook Prepare to scream your lungs out when you hop aboard Tatsu - this is the world's tallest, longest and fastest flying coaster 😱 If you're looking for even more thrill, then take the LEX LUTHOR: Drop of Doom, the world's tallest vertical drop at 40 stories. But if you're travelling with family, don't worry - there are plenty of family-friendly and kids' rides too. Get your tickets here. Halal food options nearby:  Halal Cajun Chicken & Wings (Louisiana-styled chicken)  Halal status: Muslim-owned Address: 31743 Castaic Rd, Castaic, CA 91384, USA Opening hours: 10.30am - 10pm daily Universal Studios Hollywood Both a theme park and a working studio, a day spent at the Universal Studios Hollywood will definitely be a magical experience. The highlight of this theme park is the studio tour itself, where you'll go on a tram ride and be brought through the filming sets of War of the Worlds, Jaws with a 3D experience of King Kong.
Credit: @themeparkphotos on Instagram Besides that, you can also step into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, or hop aboard the Fast & Furious - Supercharged motion-based ride, and more. Check out the timings and ticket prices here. Halal food options nearby: Urban Skillet (burgers, wings, burritos) Halal status: Muslim-owned Address: 5060 Lankershim Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 91601, USA Opening hours: 11.30am - 10pm daily Shish Mediterranean Cuisine (kebabs and Turkish food) Halal status: Muslim-owned Address: 11052 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604, USA Opening hours: 10.30am - 10.30pm
7. Shopping spots
The Grove Constantly ranked as one of the best places to shop in LA, The Grove is where you can expect the latest and trendiest fashion items to be sold. What's great is that The Grove is largely a outdoor shopping mall so it makes for a really interesting shopping experience. 
Credit: @travel_diary_of_rashaka on Instagram Stock up on your favourite brands like Topshop, GAP, Sephora, Banana Republic, Nordstrom, Nike and more. Don't forget to head to the Farmer's Market beside The Grove too, where you'll find all sorts of food and treats. Address: 189 The Grove Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90036, USA Opening hours: 10am - 9pm (Mon - Thur), 10am - 10pm (Fri - Sat), 10am - 8pm (Sun) Citadel Outlets Looking for luxury brands at great bargains? Then Citadel Outlets is the place for you! There are always exciting sales here so you don't have to break the bank to get that fancy bag or wallet you've been eyeing.
Credit: @karladelmonte on Instagram Get high-end brands like COACH, Kate Spade, Michael Kors, Swarovski and more at cheaper prices here. You can also find other brands like H&M, Nike, Under Armour, Armani here. Address: 100 Citadel Dr, Commerce, CA 90040, USA Opening hours: 10am - 9pm Melrose Ave If department stores and international brands are too mainstream for you, we know just the place for you, Melrose Ave! There's a range of independent boutiques here and you'll definitely find something to suit your style or budget. Not only are the stores here one of a kind, but there are plenty of Instagrammable spots along the street too 😍 Check out the full list of stores at Melrose here.
8. Take trips out of LA
If you've already flown half the world to get to LA, our advice is - don't just stop there. A week (or a little longer) is enough to see LA's top spots and if you are in the US West Coast for more than a week, why not take a 2-hour drive down to San Diego?
Credit: @denise_2k on Instagram This charming seaside city has always been overshadowed by its Californian counterparts but it's actually really beautiful! Head to the spectacular La Jolla Cove, check out the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, learn more about the city's Mexican heritage at Old Town San Diego and more.
Credit: @drews_viewz on Instagram But if you've had enough of cities, time to drive out to the national parks around LA. Joshua Tree is known for its exotic desert landscape and boulders while Sequoia National Park has some of the world's largest trees. If you don't mind a further drive, then Yosemite has awe-inspiring cliffs and waterfalls, and it makes for a perfect weekend trip. Now that you know the tips and tricks, you're all set to conquer LA. Whether you're travelling with friends, family or as a couple, LA has plenty of activities to suit any type of traveller. So, go forth and explore the City of Angels 🤗 [P.S. If you're worried about travelling to the US as a Muslim, don't be! Read this story to know more about what it's like as a Muslim in the US]