Staycation in Los Angeles: Ideas for a Fun Weekend in Downtown LA

Enjoying our time at a coffee shop

One of the best things about Los Angeles is that you can literally explore the city without ever leaving. It’s that spread out. But up until now, we’ve never done a staycation. After all, we wondered, would it actually be THAT different? Is it too self-indulgent? Would we miss the dog? And should we bring the dog? (Ummm, nope!).

Sorry Doug, you’re not invited on this staycation!

If you’re on a tight budget, or simply looking to mix things up, a staycation might be exactly what you need. We live in West Hollywood, and picked downtown LA since it’s walkable and there is no shortage of things to do. Plus, it’s metro accessible to other interesting neighborhoods like Pasadena, Hollywood and Koreatown. Here are some fun ideas for your next escape.

WHERE TO STAY: MAKING THE MOST OF OUR SATURDAY NIGHT

It’s all about the location – enjoying the JW Marriott at LA Live.

We are all about convenience and the JW Marriott at LA Live doesn’t get more walkable. It feels a little like Times Square, but we loved being right in the heart of it all. But best of all? The energy goes late into the night. Adjacent to the Staples Center, LA Live is downtown’s entertainment district. You’ll find a major movie theater, bars and restaurants such as Wolfgang Puck’s WP24 and swanky sushi spot Katsuya—jam-packed (especially pre-Lakers, Clippers and Kings games). For all music fans, you’ll want to check out the Grammy Museum. Average nightly rates run around $250-$289.

View from the terrace at LA Live

Our other pick for a hotel downtown is the LA Athletic Club. This was where we stayed the night before our wedding and we just loved it. The hotel is just a few blocks away from a metro. But you’ll likely be spending a lot of time here given how nice it is.

The exterior or the LA Athletic Club, a great place for your staycation.

Charlie Chaplin once lived at the club when he was getting started. And we loved perusing the hallways and checking out the photos of athletes from throughout the decades. But the best perk of all is the access to the hotel’s club membership, including the newly renovated locker rooms and the gym facilities. They even have a massive pool, which might look familiar since it’s often featured in movies and TV shows like Mad Men.

The lap pool at the LA Athletic Club. Don’t forget your suit!

On the third floor, there is a fully restored bar, which serves pre-prohibition era cocktails. It’s one of the oldest bars in LA and we personally think it’s one of the most comfortable bars in all of downtown. There is even a hidden speakeasy on site (it’s hidden, but if you ask the bartender nicely they’ll likely show you!). Average nightly rates run the same as the JW Marriott, somewhere around $250-$289. The property is relatively small, so we recommend booking far in advance.

The third floor bar/lounge at the LA Athletic Club.

WHAT TO DO – SATURDAY, ACTIVITY #1:

Enjoying some Hot Chicken at Howlin’ Rays in Chinatown.

I’m all about the food experiences, and a meal at Howlin’ Rays certainly is that! This tiny restaurant serves up Nashville’s famed hot fried chicken. On the weekends, Howlin’ Rays opens at 10 AM, but I recommend showing up at least an hour before they open to get in line.

Kevin spends his time waiting by reading a book. That’s pretty much all he needs. Oh, and some chicken!

Even though we showed up an hour early, there was still a sizable line. We asked the people at the very front when they arrived, and they showed up at 7 AM! Be prepared to wait…and wait… Though weirdly, the anticipation of it, made it even more fun.

The view from above — checking out the never-ending line at Howlin’ Rays.

Clearly, you don’t come here for a quick meal. In total, we waited about 2 hours. But oh, was that food so worth it! I had the mild ‘sando’ (chicken sandwich), while Kevin got the quarter bird as “country” (meaning, no spice since he can’t handle it). Otherwise, he starts sweating like he’s in a Bikram yoga class.

Kevin shows off the fried chicken. We did it!

So good – enjoying the chicken sando, which I’d recommend over all the other options.

Bring a book, an iPad or some friends. You’re gonna wait. But it’s well worth it (and goes by fast with all the people watching). I mean, someone brought a folding chair with them. Clearly, she’s been here before! Afterward, you can peruse the mall, which is an odd mixture of hipster spots and old school Chinatown. Personally, I loved the barbershop with the 1980’s hairstyle suggestions out front!

Kevin – I will buy you a tenor sax if you bring back the Kenny G look!

WHAT TO DO – SATURDAY, ACTIVITY #2:

Taking a scenic hike along Elysian Park Trail

Elysian Park Trail is a well maintained path that will feel worlds away from downtown. It’s also one of the few hikes that allow dogs off-leash. It’s way less congested than Runyon, where we typically go for our hikes. Finding the trail can be slightly challenging, but we suggest entering “Grace Simons Lodge” on either Google Maps or Waze. You’ll see a big white gate (typically closed) crossing the dirt path at its entrance.

Check out that view from Elysian Park.

The entire trail takes about 1 hour and is a loop. Just follow the well-marked path, and if it looks like a side path, well, it probably is! We got slightly confused about the midway mark, and ended up cutting the hike early. But hey, at least we got to walk off SOME of that fried chicken, right?

WHAT TO DO — SATURDAY NIGHT:

The interior of the arts district Two Bit Circus, the arcade for adults.

Two Bit Circus has a lot to offer — there is the arcade, virtual reality, escape rooms, old-time carnival games mixed with games that incorporate a cool tech element. But there is also booze! Think of it as the Chucky Cheese for adults.

Kevin plays around in one of the weird photo booths. He’s on TV!

You’ll want to drive or take an Uber here. Two Bit Circus is in the Arts District downtown, which can feel slightly abandoned and eerie at night. We recommend arriving on the early side of the evening, since the place can get jam-packed the later it gets. You’ll need to buy a card (and add money credit) to play any of the games and partake in the fun. Just be sure to sign up for the virtual reality or escape rooms if you’re interested, since those tend to book up quickly!

You’ll need to sign up early for the virtual reality machines at Two Bit Circus.

WHERE TO EAT – SATURDAY NIGHT:

Delicious food at sixth+mill pizzeria

Get ready to enjoy a meal at one of downtown LA’s newest hot spots. Sixth+mill pizzeria is a gorgeous space, and is open late (until midnight on the weekends). It’s also just minutes away by foot from Two Bit Circus. After our workout of playing the games, we headed here for some Italian. We recommend the bar where you can watch all the action and see the food pass by as it comes out.

Save room for dessert. We got the chocolate torte.

The restaurant specializes in Southern Italian, and adjoins the very popular and more formal restaurants Officine BRERA and The Factory Kitchen. We found ourselves totally transported, and imagined what it might be like to live in downtown LA. The waiter even asked if we were on vacation, which we answered, “Why, yes we are! All the way from West Hollywood!”

WHERE TO DRINK – LATE NIGHT SATURDAY:

Inside the cozy wine bar, Garçons de Café

Clearly the party continued during this staycation! We just weren’t ready for bed yet. We decided to get a night cap at the French wine bar, Garçons de Café. It’s open until 1 AM on the weekends and until 11 PM during the week. I’ve walked by this spot inside the striking Spring Arcade Building many times and have always wanted to try it out. Tonight was our night!

Interior of the very french wine bar/cafe.

But it’s so much more than a bar. It is a place where you can watch the world pass by, lounge back in some cushioned chairs and chat with the friendly bartender (who was French or possibly an actor with a French accent! You really never know in LA). Feel free to try out their wide-range of French wines before making your pick. And of course, you can always do what Kevin did — sample 3 or 4 kinds of wines before eventually just ordering a glass of Champagne… Like I didn’t think he’d order that from the very beginning! But I kept my mouth SHUT!

WRAPPING IT UP – SUNDAY:

Brunching it up at The Exchange

It’s Sunday morning, and that means one thing in Los Angeles: brunch time! Located walking distance from both LA Live and the LA Athletic Club, you’ll find The Exchange Restaurant. This is the ultimate hipster spot — with a decor that resembles a 1970’s family den made for Instagram posting.

Inside the hipster brunch pick, The Exchange.

The Exchange explores the multi-cultural flavors of urban LA through an Israeli lens. We suggest ordering the sampler, which includes several dips, yogurt, olives, a fresh salad and some of the best hummus we’ve ever eaten in LA. We also got the breakfast burrito, which paired really well and was easy to share. After downing the food, we were just steps from our favorite coffee shop, Philz!

Philz is my absolute favorite coffee (and not just because it’s pretty close to my name). Even if we weren’t doing a staycation, we’d likely end up at the Philz in downtown LA. So it only seemed appropriate that we’d stop here. I grabbed a cup of the “Dancing Water” while Kevin enjoyed a tea (since ironically he loves coffee shops, but doesn’t really like the taste of coffee).

Enjoying the fancy Philz coffee.

What a fun weekend! And best of all? No tedious jam-packed drive to get back home. Well, it is LA and we still have traffic. But it sure beats the drive back from Las Vegas or a weekend in Palm Springs. It was such a relaxing and enjoyable staycation — we can’t wait for our next big adventure. And it goes to show, you don’t really have to go all that far to find it!

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Staycation in Los Angeles: Ideas for a Fun Weekend in Downtown LA
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Staycation in Los Angeles: Ideas for a Fun Weekend in Downtown LA
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One of the best things about Los Angeles is that you can literally explore the city without ever leaving. But up until now, we've never done a staycation. After all, we wondered, would it actually be THAT different than going back home after a day of exploring? Is it too self-indulgent? If you're tight on a budget, or simply looking to mix things up, a staycation might be exactly what you need.

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