One Day in Los Angeles

We recently took the train up from Orange County to do some research for a sponsored post 10 Cultural Activities to do in Los Angeles. With the progress the Metrolink has made, Los Angeles is now an effortless day trip from Orange County. I had my preteen kids with, and we decided to spend our one day in Los Angeles exploring its educational and historical sites. And the best part is most of them are free! Read on for my one day in Los Angeles itinerary, including lots of free things to do in LA. If you have younger kids with you, just exploring the Pueblo will be a full day.

One day in Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles Union Station

Day Trip to Los Angeles from Orange County

To get to Los Angeles from Orange County, you have two main options:

Drive From Orange County to Los Angeles

Pros: You will have the freedom to come and go as you please. It will be easier to get around Los Angeles once you are there.

Cons: The traffic to LA and in LA is awful. Although it is only about 30 miles from the middle of Orange County to Los Angeles proper, the drive may take you over 2 hours, no matter the time of day.

Take the Train from Orange County to Los Angeles

taking the train from Orange County to Los Angeles
Another reason to take the train is to see the pretty Spanish Colonial Train Stations like this one in Santa Ana.

Pros: The Metrolink from Orange County to Los Angeles is clean, safe, and frequent. You can also take the Amtrak train. Either will drop you into Union Station, which is right across the street from Olvera Street. Union Station is convenient to most of these free things to do in LA.

Cons: Although many things to see in LA are near Union Station, not that much of the city is covered by LA’s Metro. Much of LA is only accessible by buses that still have to deal with intercity traffic. There are also Ubers available. Train service stops around 7 pm, so you can’t stay late if you take the train.

Los Angeles One Day Itinerary

Visit El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Park

Right across the street from the train station, you will find this California park with many historical and educational attractions. This area is near the original Pueblo of Los Angeles, a farming settlement of  European, African, and Native Americans who traveled here from Mexico in 1781. And the best part is they are all free! You could easily spend your whole day exploring them. On Olvera Street, you can find a paper map to help guide you around. There are also signs and helpful people. The sites include:

Olvera Street

a day in LA

The first time I went to Olvera Street was in fourth grade as a school field trip. Think of Olvera Street as the Little Mexico of Los Angeles. Mexicans are a dominant culture in Los Angeles and have a long history here. On Olvera Street, you will find music, shopping, and food. Here are a few things you shouldn’t miss on Olvera Street:

The Avila Adobe

10 Olvera St

Right in the middle of Olvera Street, you will find an entrance to the oldest house (1818) in LA, still in its original location. It is decorated in period furniture and has docents who will help you learn about the history of the area and the lifestyle of its people. They will provide a place to leave food and drinks while you enter the house. In the courtyard of the adobe, there are clean bathrooms.

Mr. Churro

E-12 Olvera St C

Tucked into an alleyway are the best churros around, including luchero-filled churros. Also try a tenuino, a fermented corn drink.

Casa de Golodrina

W-17 Olvera St

best tacos in Los Angeles

Although there are many opinions about the best tacos in Los Angeles, mine are the carne asada tacos with jicama and tomatoes salsa at Casa de Golodrina. This is the oldest Mexican restaurant and has been in its current location on Olvera Street since 1930! Take advantage of the patio seating right on Olvera Street. But also be sure to check out the Mexican cat paintings inside.

America Tropical Interpretive Center

125 Paseo De La Plaza

If you are interested in the origins of street art or the US history of protest, visit this museum about controversial Chicano muralist,  David Alfaro Siqueiros and his America Tropical mural.

Italian American Museum of Los Angeles

644 North Main Street

things to do in Los Angeles

Being an Italian-American myself, I reveled in the Italian immigrant stories of California set in the old Italian hall. All groups of immigrants have their own unique. yet common, struggles that serve as a reminder of our humanity.

St Peter Italian Catholic Church in Los Angeles

It will be a little bit of a walk, but you can experience more of the Italian-American experience at the oldest Italian church in Los Angeles.

Plaza Firehouse

501 N Los Angeles St

Right across the plaza from Olvera Street is this small historical firehouse and museum.

Chinese American Museum

425 North Los Angeles St

ethnic things to do in Los Angeles California

Out the back door of the fire museum is the comprehensive Chinese American Museum. If you have a group of ten or more, you can sign up online for a free docent-led tour.


North Broadway

From there, we headed to Chinatown’s dragon gate, which is a safe, flat half-mile walk from Olvera Street. In Chinatown, you will find shopping, pagoda temples, and restaurants.

If you want to stay in this area, you can now head to Japantown. We had other things in mind, so we grabbed an Uber as it is not safe to walk through the Tenderloin neighborhood to get to our next stop.

The Last Bookstore

453 S Spring St

This is not actually the last bookstore, but what the creator pictured could be. This two-story used book store also has records and art for sale. There is a book maze worth finding your way out of on the second floor. You must check your backpacks when you enter.

Grand Central Market

317 S. Broadway

best ice cream in Los Angeles
If you aren’t going to head to Canter’s Deli for dinner choose from any of the varied food options in Grand Central Market

Just a few blocks from The Last Bookstore is this market full of delicious multicultural food kiosks. You can eat your food on the umbrella-covered tables lining the street. We did not come here for dinner, though- we came for ice cream.

Earlier in the week, I discovered Mission Street Ice Cream in Santa Barbara. It was so good; I visited it each day of my three-day visit. It is so good it made my list of the best ice cream around the world! And although most of their stores are in Santa Barbara, they have one store, McConnell’s in Los Angeles’ Grand Central Market. McConnell’s ice cream is creamy with intense flavors and a long list of unique tastes.

Canter’s Deli

Canter’s Reuben sandwich on their incredible seeded rye bread with lean pastrami.

Since our day was spent exploring Los Angeles’ ethnic side, we had to end by exploring another minority group with a significant presence in early Los Angeles at Canter’s Jewish Deli. It is the best Jewish food I have had except for an excellent cheese knish on a New York food tour. There can be long lines here, but we got lucky on this day.

Melrose Avenue Shopping District

We had a little extra time, so we headed a few blocks up to check out the street art on Melrose.

Griffith Park Observatory

If we didn’t have to get back for the train, I would have headed to one of my favorite spots in LA- Griffith Park Observatory, which is also free. Only the planetarium show is extra. Not only is there a lot to see and learn at the observatory museum and telescope, but the grounds of Griffith Park Observatory also provide some of the best views of Los Angeles. That is always an excellent way to end a night.

If you are visiting Los Angeles as part of a larger visit to California read on to 75 of the Best Things to Do in Southern California and A Local’s Guide to Orange County.

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