I love visiting Los Angeles– the swaying palms, breathtaking hikes, perfect weather, shopping and cultural opportunities all offer so much to do. And the food is to die for, especially if you love Mexican.
Despite all the cool things to do in Los Angeles, every “best” L.A. souvenir list I’ve seen focuses on the ultra tacky, touristy side of LA. Apparently these so called taste makers think every LA visitor is seeking out plastic mini Oscar statuette or some tchocke emblazoned with a Hollywood walk of fame star.
Best Unique Los Angeles Souvenirs
I knew there must be more interesting and unique souvenirs and gifts to bring home from LA, something that reflected my actual California experience there (and no I didn’t go near the walk of fame or any wax museum). So I shopped some of Los Angeles’ best independent shops, market stalls, and museum gift shops. After I tallied them all up, I came out with twenty top Los Angeles souvenirs. I’m happy to add more, if you have ideas please let me know in the comments!
1. In and Out Burger Blanket
I truly wish I could bring back a piping hot, fully intact In and Out burger from Los Angeles to enjoy back in New York. But while I’m a big proponent of food souvenirs, even I had to admit this was going to be impossible.
For those out of the loop, In and Out is a small chain of fast food hamburgers started in California with a devoted, cult like following. Even though In and Out is a chain, it’s not like McDonald’s– you won’t find them on every corner, even in LA, so it does require a bit of planning to fit one in on your visit.
We ended up visiting the new In and Out near LAX (near the airport, not actually in the terminal). Enjoying your In and Out while watching the planes take off is a surreal experience.
So while we can’t take an In and Out burger home with us, have no fear, In and Out actually has an entire catalog of merchandise available for purchase at its locations. While much of the merchandise is questionable they did have some other items that intrigued me.
There was a cute coffee mug fringed with their signature palms but my most wanted item was this neon beach towel. Or get it online here.
Or the surprisingly cute t shirts in a range of designs (online here).
2. Angels Flight Tote Bag
When I was wandering downtown LA, I walked past a striking orange gate and did a double take. An adorable little orange train was chugging straight up a track that couldn’t be more than a block long. What had I stumbled across?
A quick google check revealed that this was Angels Flight, the shortest railway line in the world. The bold colors of this funicular aren’t for Halloween– they date back to 1903. Rides cost a dollar each way and are totally worth it, both to save yourself the steep walk up the hill and for the one of a kind experience.
Afterwards grab a bite for one of the many vendors at LA’s Grand Central Dining Hall, located directly across the street.
3. Other Worldly Souvenirs from Griffith Observatory
There are some Los Angeles sites you feel like you know already because you’ve seen them in the movies. If you’ve caught James Dean in Rebel without a Cause or more recently the movie La La Land, then you’ll definitely get a wave of deja vu when you visit Griffith Observatory.
I wanted to visit Griffith Observatory at night to star gaze, or at least on a bright clear day to check out LA views. Unfortunately, the day we picked was the only day in the week it was cloudy and overcast. But while the views weren’t for miles, the cloudy skies did give the experience a dreamy, ethereal feel.
After circling the observatory, we checked out the pendulum and the other exhibits indoors, then made our away to the small but well organized gift shop. The Griffith Observatory gift shop had lots of NASA inspired wear (including an adorable child’s space suit), but my favorites were the star emblazoned clutches and planetary maps, perfect for gifts.
4. Delicious Pumpkin Bread from Monastery of Angels
Did you know there is a fully functioning monastery smack dab in the middle of LA? Admist all the chaos and flash of LA, twenty-two cloistered nuns live quiet lives in a simple monastery.
The nuns support themselves in part through sales of their baked goods and candy they make at the monastery. You can visit the gift shop and pick up the must have pumpkin bread and the divine peanut brittle. Chocolates are also available.
I love visiting Monastery gift shops– nuns take great care in creating things and the quality of their treats is always top-notch (read about my visit to a Connecticut monastery here). While I didn’t get to visit Monastery of Angels in person on this visit, I did order their pumpkin bread to vet its potential as a souvenir.
Google “Monastery of Angels” pumpkin bread and you’ll find a slew of articles recommending singing its praises and recipes attempting to replicate it.
As I unpacked my shipment, the heavenly scent of the fragrant bread filled my apartment. The pumpkin bread is incredibly moist and delicious. While I hesitated to share (it’s that good!) it was a large loaf. My friends all agreed it was the best pumpkin bread they ever had.
I didn’t try the chocolates but the peanut brittle was also insanely good, with a rich roasted peanut flavor but not overly sweet.
5. Souvenir Book from the Last Bookstore in Downtown LA
You’ll probably recognize the Last Bookstore from Instagram– it is a photographer’s dream with its crooked aisles, fairy lights and photo ready backdrops.
As cool as the Last Bookstore looks on Instagram, it’s even better in real life. The cavernous space is filled with cozy spots for reading, and browsing is pleasure (they even have a rare book section).
After getting your shots at the famous book hole and archway, pick out an LA book to bring home with you. I picked out books on local architecture and tacos.
6. Locally Made Mole Souvenir
One thing you’ll notice when visiting Los Angeles is the absolute high quality of Mexican food. Maybe I was just lucky, but every single taco joint and Mexican restaurant I tried was leagues above anything in New York.
One Mexican dish I absolutely love is mole. But as much as I love it, it’s hard to find good versions and even harder to make at home because of all the ingredients and steps involved. It’s a process, and not one I enjoy making from scratch. So when I spotted the freshly made mole at LA’s Grand Central Market, I knew I found the perfect souvenir.
I loved that there were half a dozen moles to choose from (and I thought mole was just mole?). Mole is sold by the pound and scooped into plastic containers, easy for transport.
7. Souvenir Earrings from Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall
As I spent part of my visit in downtown LA, I figured I would make a quick stop by Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. I (wrongly) assumed that there would not be much to see beyond admiring the structure from the front.
While the building is spectacular to see straight on, you get a deeper appreciation of the architecture (and it’s far more fun) to walk through all the levels and between the sails.
While at Walt Disney Concert Hall, make a stop into the well curated gift shop on the ground level. My favorite piece were these Gehry inspired earrings– definitely reminiscent of the architecture but subtle enough to be completely wearable (without looking like they came from a museum gift shop).
8. $85 Tee Shirt Souvenir from Chateau Marmont
If you aren’t familiar with the storied Chateau Marmont, let me fill you in. It’s a bungalow style hotel tucked up a hill in West Hollywood, known as the hideaway of celebrities (not overhyped, I’ve seen many celebs on visits here).
We came to have drinks on the back patio, which is open to non guests, though photos are forbidden (I witnessed some not very discreet instagrammers unceremoniously escorted out of the dining patio).
While the rooms in the main hotel are on the higher end but still reasonable, and definitely nothing special, it’s the separate bungalows where the magic happens. Only hotel guests are allowed into this area. Despite the fact that we weren’t staying here, we still managed to get beyond the gate (don’t ask how) and might have snuck in a few photos.
But the real reason we came to Chateau Marmont on this visit was to investigate a rumor I heard that they hawk an $85 souvenir t-shirt. I asked the concierge if it was true and was directed to a corner of the lobby where the t-shirts were displayed behind glass.
They were indeed $85 and not terribly interesting considering the price tag, but if you want to flaunt your visit here, wearing this t-shirt would do it. Or, get the Amazon version for only twenty bucks.
9. English Toffee from Little John’s
If you are looking for a reason to visit LA’s famous Original Farmer’s Market, Little John’s stall at #432 is it. Little John’s has been around since 1920 and their English toffee is a best seller, perfect to bring back for your office to share.
10. Surfboard Souvenir
I live on the East Coast, and while you sometimes see surfers in certain areas, it is nothing like the West Coast. In California, surfing isn’t just a pastime it’s a way of life. While a surf board might be a bulky souvenir to bring home, there is no question you will have your pick of boards from all the big names and independent artisans.
The best place to find surf shops is of course at the beaches. Check out nearby Santa Monica and Venice for a huge variety of selections.
11. California Surf Tee Shirt Souvenir
If a surf board is too heavy to lug home, or you have no intention of entering those chilly waters, then consider a less athletic souvenir– the classic California surf tee. Available at any surf shop, these tees come in both men and women’s versions, many featuring classic California scenes like swaying palms and crashing waves.
You will find no shortage of surf shops in Santa Monica and Venice Beach. On my t-shirt hunt I visited six or seven. Surf shops are also a great place to shop for cute and cheap beach clothes (think little beach dresses for $50, warm hoodies for chilly evenings).
12. Cheap Souvenirs from Venice Boardwalk
Biking to Venice from Santa Monica along the bike paths may be touristy, but it is also super fun. When you reach the famed Venice Boardwalk, hop off your bike (or you’ll get screamed at– it’s pedestrian only). Walking the Venice boardwalk is a smorgasburg of sights, sounds and eats.
Watch the street dancers, check out the skateboard park and grab a fish taco.
The boardwalk shopping can definitely be cheesy, but sometimes you have to just go with it. We picked up some fun little bracelets for next to nothing (2 for $5).
13. Palm Tree Souvenir
I can’t think of Los Angeles without imaging swaying palm trees. Pretty much any souvenir featuring these elegant trees brings back memories of LA for me.
14. Langer’s Pastrami Souvenir
As a New Yorker, I have plenty of delicious pastrami back home and even wrote all about it here. But NYC is not the only pastrami source in the US, and according to Eater, not even the best– it makes the bold claim that LA is the best pastrami city in America.
While New York remains pretty traditional in their use of pastrami (on rye, with mustard), in LA you’ll find all sorts of newfangled uses– in tacos and burritos, on french fries and even as burger substitute. The only way to know for sure is to taste test yourself– and pick up some extra pastrami to go.
15. Philippe French Dip Sandwich mustard Souvenir
While we’re talking meats, did you know that the French Dip sandwich was invented in LA? Two different french dip restaurants battle it out for the title of “best” but my local source recommends Philippes. And as a bonus you can take home their addictive spicy mustard as a souvenir.
Philippe’s is conveniently located in Downtown Los Angeles, within walking distance of many of the downtown spots mentioned here.
16. Magee’s Nut Butters
If you make it to the Original Farmer’s Market, look for Magee’s Nut Butters at stall 218. You’ll find the ubiquitous almond and peanut butters, but also less common flavors like Pistachio, Macadamia and Cashew butters.
17. California Pistachios
California produces 99 percent of the countries pistachios. If you are a pistachio lover, grab a bag at any supermarket.
18. Artisan Good from Los Angeles County Store
It was a nice surprise to discover an entire store dedicated to California inspired products made by local Los Angeles artisans. A great place to shop in LA for tasteful souvenirs.
19. Localish California Chocolate Souvenir
While not technically from Los Angeles, Twenty Four Blackbirds Chocolate is made in nearby Santa Barbara and widely available in LA. The California based company produces artisan, small batch chocolate that is very delicious, and a great souvenir to buy for gifts. Available at most local supermarkets.
20. See’s Candies
See’s Candies are mostly available nationwide, so I debated whether I should include it on this list (there is even a full shop in New York’s West Village). But it is a California institution, originally made in a post-Victorian bungalow in Pasadena by the See family in 1921.
And most importantly, See’s candies are readily available at LAX so if you are struggling for a last minute souvenir, it’s a convenient option. (Or order online here).
What are your favorite Los Angeles Souvenirs? Tell us about it in the comments!
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