12 Hours In: Los Angeles

The City of Angels is about much more than smog and traffic. Follow our guide to find the best hikes, late-night diners, and hot springs around
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May 20, 2015 | By Kylie Turley

hroughout my life, I’ve mostly lived in small towns, so making the big move to Los Angeles three years ago was a grand awakening to all kinds of new flavors, people, and places. That’s the thing about big cities – there are always new things to do and places to explore. While you can go months never repeating yourself, sometimes it just feels nice to find your own local niche to make your world a little smaller. Here are a few for you to try the next time you're in L.A.

Aroma Café is a hip spot with fresh and locally-sourced food, not to mention delectable desserts from the bakery. One of its biggest draws is the backyard patio seating. The entire cafe wraps around its main shop with intimate seating throughout the space. There's always a line going out the door and down the sidewalk, but it's extremely pet friendly, so bring your furry friends to hang out with while you wait. 

My favorite breakfast meal is the mouth-watering smoked salmon plate, and I'm always down for their turkey pesto panini with a pile of dangerously addicting garlic herb fries for lunch. The people are chill, service is great, and they're open late so you'll always have a place to go to meet friends or have business meetings.

You’ve probably already seen this spot just north of Los Angeles, since it's been in TV shows like Star Trek, Friends, and Power Rangers. Formed by erosion 25 million years ago and more recent activity along the San Andreas Fault, Vasquez Rocks is made up of strange and other-worldly rock formations. 

These days, Vasquez Rocks not only plays an interesting role in entertainment, but makes for a great desert getaway just 45 minutes away from the city. After stocking up on carbs at Aroma Cafe, it's the perfect destination to get moving. There are several trails to get in good hiking time and always free parking.

If you're really into earthquakes and geology, you should definitely plan a trip to Vasquez Rocks to hit up the Geology Trail. Starting on the Pacific Crest Trail, you'll eventually veer off and hike along tilted slabs of rock and prominent boulders for scrambling.

If you really want to get your day's worth, kick off the morning with a sunrise hike to the Hollywood sign. Nobody likes their alarm clock going off when it's still dark outside, but you'll never regret the adventure it inevitably brings; there's something magical about hiking in the dark by the light of your headlamp, crawling over rocks and along narrow trails only to summit just in time for the valley to light up from the sun. The city sleeps below and slowly wakes up, and you can see the Griffith Observatory, downtown, Hollywood reservoir, and all of Los Angeles in every direction. I even spotted my neighborhood from up top. Along the trail you'll find the Wisdom Tree, which is a nice place to sit and think and soak up nature. The hike doesn't take long, and you can make it back to the valley for brunch and make your way towards Mt Baldy.

Mt Baldy is visible from most of Los Angeles, and during the winter months is even open to skiers, snowboarders, and tubers. Summer months lure in mountain bikers and avid hikers, as some of the best Southern California hiking trails are available at Mt Baldy. You can really get your "mountain fix" in with just a short one-hour commute from the city. Spend an entire day exploring and soaking in the views, and top it off with a hot meal at the base of the mountain. When the snow is falling and it's a weekday, you're very likely to have the whole mountain to yourself to enjoy its peace and solitude. It doesn't take much energy to hike to San Antonio Falls, a 75-foot waterfall, nestled in the mountainside and just a short walk from the main road. No matter what time of year you go it's beautiful and definitely worth the drive.

Growing up, my dad always took my siblings and me to the drive-in movie theaters. It was something we looked forward to every summer, and I have fond memories snuggling up in sleeping bags and eating popcorn until midnight while watching two back to back films. Here in Los Angeles, Mission Tiki Drive-In Theatre offers one of the cleanest and best facilities for drive-in movies.

For just $9, you get to enjoy two feature films back to back from the comfort of your own adventuremobile, with prime parking spots and great surround sound. Top it off with Chinese take-out for dinner and you've got a killer date night on the books.

As a long time lover and searcher of hot springs, Deep Creek Hot Springs has quickly become an LA favorite of mine. This natural hot springs in the northern Mojave Desert of San Bernadino National Forest is growing in popularity for soakers looking for a challenging hike with a steamy reward. Year-round, Deep Creek is a fun and scenic day trip with great views and an opportunity to get your workout in for the day that's way cooler than going to the gym. Along the way, you're guaranteed to come across a few soaking nudists, and there will surely be yoga, camping, slack lining, friendly conversation, and lots of dogs to keep your interest piqued.

Directions to the trailhead can be confusing, but with a little Google research in advance you'll get there without a hitch. Always make sure to bring water bottles and stay hydrated. There are various pools in varying degrees, so even if super hot water isn't your thing, there will be a pool for you to enjoy. Take the Bradford Ridge Trail if you're really craving exertion and the athlete in you wants to be challenged. You'll find that the return hike is definitely going to make you hungry for some pizza!

I've got a major thing for diners. There's something whimsical about road trips and adventures that just begs for a good diner story. The 101 Coffee Shop is a retro-style diner with American coffee-shop eats and the best waffle brownie sundae you'll ever have in your entire life. If you're a chocoholic, you'll thank me later.

Its dim lighting and cozy booths are a recipe for long conversations that linger late into the night and — bonus! — it's open until 3 am! Word on the street is Ryan Gosling frequents the place, but I have yet to run into anyone famous. The juke box tucked in the corner has some great jams, and their menu is chock full of anything you're craving (and even has tasty vegetarian and gluten-free options). Channel your 1970s vibes and meet up with friends for your late night pick-me-up, and maybe this celeb hot spot will deliver more than just a good meal. [H]

Kylie sometimes wonders why she doesn't just live in a tent and make camping her permanent lifestyle and s'mores a main food group. As an adventure and lifestyle photographer who thrives on exploring, she wears a lot of hats, eats a lot of pizza, and takes a lot of photos.
You can check out her website and follow her adventures on Instagram.

All images © Kylie Turley