The almost perpetual promise of palm trees and 80 degrees, sometimes even in the dead of winter, is enough to lure most visitors to Los Angeles. But the Southern California city has far more to offer than fun in the sun between Hollywood history, world-class museums, international cuisine and festivals, stars of the celestial and celebrity varieties, amusement parks, and miles of picturesque hiking. Start planning your next well-rounded adventure with this guide to the top 25 things to do in La La Land.
Play at the Beach
A trip to Southern California, blessed as it is by near-constant good weather, isn't complete without spending some time at the beach, any beach. There are plenty to choose from along the 75 miles of coastline, and they come in all shapes and sizes from wide and bustling with humans to secluded and surfable. There are also endless ways to enjoy them whether you stunt at the skate park in the sand, join a volleyball team in the South Bay, bike the 22-mile Marvin Braude Bike Path from Pacific Palisades to Redondo Beach, stroll along a pier, surf, standup paddleboard, eat at an oceanfront restaurant like Malibu Farm, The Strand House, or Coast, or ride the world’s only solar-powered Ferris Wheel and go to free concerts in Santa Monica. Or simply throw down a towel, open a book, and chill.
See Stars at Griffith Observatory
Perched 1,134 feet above sea level on Mount Hollywood in Griffth Park, Griffith Observatory is a free observatory, planetarium (the third one in the nation when it opened in 1935), and science exhibition space. More than 8 million visitors have gazed through its Zeiss 12-inch refracting telescope and watched the Foucault Pendulum sway to mark the Earth's rotation. The architectural delight has starred in numerous TV shows and films including "La La Land," "Rebel Without A Cause," and "The Terminator." It's also a great vantage point to look down on the city and out to the Hollywood Sign and the ocean.
It's also a good place to start an exploration of the park. Included within its 4,511 acres are a zoo, the Autry Museum of the American West, the Greek Theatre, train rides, an antique carousel, a golf course, a swimming pool, equestrian/running trails, bike rentals, and a transportation museum with functioning trains.
Deep Dive Into Hollywood History
Most major cities have museums, parks, restaurants, and cultural offerings. You can find beaches and mountains around the world. But the birth of the movie industry and the old Hollywood glamour associated with it and the rise of celebrity culture are distinctly L.A. For most, hitting a few of the major Tinseltown-related attractions—things like the Walk Of Fame, the hand and footprints at the TCL Chinese Theatre, or the iconic sign—will be plenty. But hardcore movie buffs can and should go deeper by seeing a movie in a historic theater like El Capitan or the Cinerama Dome, going on a studio lot tour, paying respects at famous graves at Hollywood Forever, Forest Lawn, or Westwood Village Memorial Park, hunting down filming locations and celebrity scandal scenes, hopping aboard a bus tour of stars' homes and hotspots, booking the haunted Hollywood Roosevelt, and sipping martinis at Musso & Frank Grill. By fall 2021, the long-awaited Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will make its long-awaited debut.
Find Your Favorites on the Walk of Fame
It's not often that you have to look down to see a landmark or stars, but this is the case when the attraction in question is the world's most famous sidewalk. The Hollywood Walk Of Fame, located along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine, contains more than 2,600 Terrazzo and brass plaques honoring entertainment's best and brightest in five categories (motion pictures, television, recording, radio, and live theater). The first eight stars were unveiled in 1958 and included Joanne Woodward and Burt Lancaster. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce typically adds two stars a month. Dedication ceremonies are free to attend from the public viewing area. The Chamber's website has a map and directory to help locate personal favorites. Take a picture between Bob Hope and Fred Astaire as this is the location where Richard Gere first solicits Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman."
Go Behind the Scenes of a Movie Studio
When in the Entertainment Capital of the World, one should stop by a movie studio and learn how the sausage is made. (It's often the best way to ensure a star sighting as even the backlot trams at Universal Studios pass real-life movie and TV shoots.) Paramount Pictures in Hollywood and Sony Studios in Culver City are both historic lots offering tours. All are great but it's hard to beat Warner Bros as it's the most curated for guests. Not only do you get to see stages and outdoor sets, but the deluxe tour also stops in the costume and props departments, a garage full of movie cars, a DC Universe exhibit, a "Harry Potter" exhibit, and the Script to Screen museum where you can sit on the "Friends" Central Perk couch. The tour also includes lunch in the Commissary's Fine Dining Room where studio execs woo actors and directors.
Step Back in Time on Olvera Street
In 1781, 11 Mexican families settled El Pueblo de Los Angeles on what was Gabrieleno/Tongva land. Originally called Wine or Vine Street because of nearby vineyards and renamed Olvera in 1877 to honor the county's first judge, it was the city's cultural and financial center until the turn of the century. In 1926, socialite Christine Sterling started successfully campaigning to save historic buildings (including the 1818 Avila Adobe, L.A.'s oldest still-standing house), close the street to cars, and reimagine it as a tree-shaded, brick-lined Mexican marketplace with painted stalls full of traditional crafts, cafes, and restaurants. Some merchants are descendants of original vendors. Watch Folklorico dancers and mariachi bands while eating taquitos and jump on the walking tour to learn more about the city's first church, firehouse, theater, and hotel. The latter was also the home of Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California.
Spend an Afternoon Exploring Venice and its Canals
Venice, salty marshlands turned into an Italian-inspired coastal playground by Abbot Kinney in 1905, is now one of L.A.'s most eclectic, hip neighborhoods. There's the beach with its skate park, sunglass vendors, tattoo parlors, dispensaries, both fine and fast dining, and Muscle Beach outdoor gym made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger. There's the Kinney-era canal section—six waterways that create three residential islands connected by nine footbridges—that is a wonderful place to walk or kayak. (There's a free launch but you must supply your own non-motorized watercraft.) Abbot Kinney Boulevard presents a mile of wall-to-wall shopping, street art, food, and people-watching. Many of the boutiques are L.A.-born and independently owned, and some of the restaurants are among the best in the county including Gjelina, Felix, and Plant Food + Wine. First Fridays is a monthly food truck festival.
Travel the World Without Leaving Town
One of L.A.’s greatest strengths is its diverse population, and the intermixing of cultures has left a mark on almost every aspect of the city including architecture, cuisine, activities, and the development of neighborhoods. Mass migrations resulted in the creation of ethnic enclaves where visitors can immerse themselves by eating, shopping, and attending annual events and festivals like Chinese New Year or Dia De Los Muertos. Many big cities have a Chinatown, but L.A. also has a Filipinotown, Little Persia, historically Mexican and Jewish districts, and neighborhoods that embody Tokyo, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and Armenia. L.A. is also home to the largest Korean and Thai populations outside the respective countries.
Catch a Concert at the Hollywood Bowl
The Hollywood Hills have been alive with the sound of music since 1922 when the Bowl, an iconic art deco amphitheater noted for its circular bandshell, opened in Bolton Canyon. The biggest names have graced its stage over the decades including The Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Coldplay, and Lizzo. It's also known for hosting jazz and world music festivals and being the L.A. Phil’s summer home. Some performances end with fireworks; most are best started with a picnic. Tables dot the surrounding hills, and you're allowed to take outside food to your seats. If you can afford it, splurge on a box with a pop-up table and gourmet bites curated by James Beard winners Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne. If live music is your jam, there are several other great concert venues across the city including the Sunset Strip's rock clubs and the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown.
Amuse Yourself at a Theme Park
People with kids or kids at heart should put one or more of Southern California's many amusement parks on the itinerary. Closest to L.A. proper is Universal Studios, where the magic of movies like "The Fast & The Furious," "Jurassic Park," and "The Minions" come to life. It's also home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The Santa Monica Pier contains Pacific Park, an oceanfront collection of classic carnival rides and games including the aforementioned Ferris Wheel, one of the best places in town for sunset viewing. Adrenaline junkies should go North an hour to Six Flags Magic Mountain, which boasts the region's fastest, steepest, and scariest coasters. An hour in the other direction will deposit you at Knott's Berry Farm, which started as actual fields and roadside fruit stand a century ago in Buena Park, and at the Happiest Place On Earth in Anaheim. To experience everything the Disneyland and California Adventure complex offer including the new "Star Wars"-themed land, budget a couple of days.
Feast at a Food Hall
The Grand Central Market has been feeding Angelenos since 1917. A few farm stands and greengrocers like Chiles Secos, whose moles and dried peppers make great souvenirs, remain but most stalls currently hold quick-service options like Belcampo, Eggslut, Lucky Bird, and Donut Man. Other food halls include Corporation Food Hall and Spring Arcade Building (don’t skip Gelateria Uli). In 2020, Citizen Public Market brought the trend to the Westside when it set up shop in a 1920s Beaux-Arts building.
Take a Hike
Yes, we have a lot of freeways, parking lots, and shopping malls. But L.A. is also chock full of green space. In fact, the San Fernando Valley and the L.A. Basin are divided by a mountain range, and there are large hilly pockets in Highland Park, Echo Park, and Silver Lake. Hundreds of miles of trails of all intensity levels will land you above the smog, with a bird's eye view of the downtown skyline or the sunset, and at wondrous locations like the original Batcave in Griffith Park, waterfalls, the ruins of the old zoo, a former Nazi compound, eucalyptus groves, the Hollywood Sign, or a secret swing in Elysian Park. Check out our guide to 12 awesome L.A. hikes. Double-check the parking signs and your water supply.
Celebrate Taco Tuesday all Week
The cardinal rule of California vacations is to eat as much Mexican food as you can. We guarantee there is no place serving up better plates of south-of-the-border specialties (outside of Mexico, of course). It's in the DNA; this used to be Mexico after all and a good portion of the population can trace their lineage to the country only a couple of hours away. But it's also due to the sheer diversity on offer. Choose between fancy sit-down establishments run by celebrated chefs, mom-and-pop operations, food trucks, or stalls set up at closed carwashes. Stick to the classics or try new-fangled creations like Guerrilla's unique vegetarian tacos. More importantly, there are kitchens representing most regions in Mexico. A one-day taco crawl will net you Veracruz-style tamales (wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks), Oaxacan goat barbacoa and mole (Madre, Guelguetza), Sonoran carne asada in flour tortillas (Sonoratown), Jalisco-style shrimp (Mariscos Jaliscos), Baja fish tacos (Ricky's), and ceviche and sikil-pac pumpkin dip from the Yucatan (Chichen Itza, Holbox).
See Double the Art at Two Getty Museums
L.A. has more museums and performing arts venues than any other U.S city. You can peruse collections of luxury cars, dinosaur bones, neon signs, cowboy art, Native American crafts, bunnies, space race artifacts including an actual shuttle, and serial killers' stuff. Two of the best museum experiences come courtesy of the same fortune, that of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. The Getty Center sits high above Brentwood, a gleaming white beacon designed by Richard Meier. A tram delivers you up the mountain to the 24-acre campus of manicured gardens, panoramic views, and several buildings full of pre-20th century European works, 19th and 20th-century global art of all mediums, and fine photography. Before this singular show space was completed in 1997, Getty’s treasures lived at the Getty Villa in Malibu, a near replica of a first-century Herculaneum luxury home buried by Vesuvius’ eruption. Replete with stone columns, an amphitheater, frescos, and reflecting pools, the villa is equal in wow factor to the more than 1,300 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities on display.
Window Shop on Rodeo Drive
Few street names are more recognizable than Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive. It's the epicenter of elegance, the corner of couture and culture, the concrete manifestation of money and marketing. Fred Hayman opened Giorgio Beverly Hills in 1961 and it lured other luxury retailers like Gucci, Tiffany & Co., and Van Cleef & Arpels as well as hairstylist-to-the-stars Vidal Sassoon to the gleaming palm-dotted blocks. Now, some 100 of the world's finest brands are there dressing celebrities, catering to needs of shoppers, and providing aspirational window browsing for many. BH is also known for its public art installations, the flagship Spago, shows at the newish Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and its visually stunning City Hall.
Chase Down Dinner From a Food Truck
Trucks specialize in every type of meal from breakfast to dessert and every type of cuisine you crave. Sometimes they even make something totally new as was the case with Roy Choi's Kogi Korean BBQ tacos or the Jogasaki Sushi Burrito. Part of the fun is tracking them down before they sell out of their specials. Some of the finest: Steamy Bun, Cool Haus (ice cream sammies), The Rooster (heavenly breakfast burritos), Compton Vegan, and The Lobos Truck (waffle fry nachos).
Root, Root, Root for The Home Team
L.A. has recently blossomed into a sports lover's paradise as it now has two NFL teams (Rams and Chargers), two NBA teams (Lakers and Clippers), an MLB team (Dodgers), an NHL team (Kings), two pro soccer teams (Galaxy and L.A. Football Club), and two college powerhouses (UCLA and USC). With new franchises came two gorgeous new complexes, SoFi Stadium and the Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park. L.A. fans love their teams, but the followers of LAFC might be the most expressive. Their bilingual devotion, complete with chants, dances, and costumes, is magical to witness. A similar obsession occurs between fans and Dodger Dogs.
Stop to Smell the Roses at a Botanical Garden
Greater L.A. has no shortage of horticultural displays and public gardens. Reasons to visit most of them extend far beyond super blooms, fish ponds, and tree groves as they also host lectures and fitness classes, house museums and sculpture parks, and stage food festivals and holiday lighting extravaganzas. You can see a Gutenberg Bible, Edward Hopper painting, and 16 themed gardens at the 120-acre Huntington Library. Nearby the Arboretum offers forest bathing, evening yoga, roaming peacocks, and a tropical greenhouse. South Coast Botanic Garden designates hours for dog walking and has integrated an impressive outdoor art collection into the landscaping. Amid Descanso Gardens' 150 acres are top-notch options for cocktails and dining. They also put on spectacular Halloween and Christmas light shows. Bliss out on a walk through the tranquil Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine. Even the Valley has a formal Japanese Garden with a traditional teahouse.
Watch a Flick al Fresco
The Mediterranean climate means that outdoor screenings and drive-ins can be held comfortably all year-round and in this industry town it's one of the most popular going-out activity options. Angelenos cannot get enough of the artisanal snacks, the themed photo booths, the pre-film DJs, the food trucks, or the classic comedies, family favorites, or scary stories (despite seeing them a million times). They're held on rooftops, at the Santa Monica Airport and schools, at The Rose Bowl, or in parks and parking lots by companies like Rooftop Cinema Club, WE Drive-ins, and Street Food Cinema. But the hottest ticket is always Cinespia, which holds its events at Hollywood Forever Cemetery mere feet from the final resting place of numerous celebrities.
Finish an Instagram Scavenger Hunt
A picture is worth a thousand words, probably more now that we're living during the reign of social media. And if you make the pilgrimage to Paul Smith's pink wall on Melrose and don't post a picture how will your friends know to be jealous of your trip? Shallow, sure but it's also a harmless challenge and a fresh way to see the city. Modern-day totems to check off the list include (but aren't limited to) the LAX building that looks like a UFO, Randy's giant donut in Inglewood, a colorful cocktail at a rooftop bar, the book portal at The Last Bookstore, Chris Burden's Urban Light sculpture at LACMA, a bacon-wrapped hot dog made on a makeshift grill, the Bradbury Building downtown, Angels Flight (you should for sure ride the world's shortest railway while there), and the end of Route 66 sign in Santa Monica, the 70th-floor Skyslide at OUE Skyspace, the L.A. Public Library rotunda, Johnny Ramone's tombstone at Hollywood Forever Cemetary, the David Hockney Pool at the Hollywood Roosevelt, the Sprinkles Cupcake ATM, and the signature palm frond wallpaper inside The Beverly Hills Hotel.
Sip Made-In-L.A. Spirits
All this touring is bound to work up a thirst and L.A.'s got plenty of homegrown, or should we say homebrewed, ways to quench it. If beer is your go-to drink, check out downtown's Angel City Brewery and Modern Times' Dankness Dojo (100 percent vegan company), Common Space in Torrance, and Glendale's Golden Road Brewing, all of which are expansive hangs with food and music. That barely scratches the sudsy surface. L.A. Beer Hop has a pretty extensive list.
There are actually quite a few craft distilleries in town now as well. Greenbar Distillery offers tours, tastings, and cocktail classes using its 18 spirits and 5 bitters. The Spirit Guild makes its vodka and gin entirely from local clementines and are therefore grain- and gluten-free. Lost Spirits has award-winning navy-style rum and whiskies, a hip gothic vibe, and a restaurant inspired by the Island of Dr. Moreau. Tour and taste at Los Angeles Distillery in Culver City.
There are far fewer options for wine, which is ironic given that the birthplace of LA was next door to vineyards and a winery. Angeleno Wine Co. pays tribute to the former fermented glory and hopes to bring back a little of the luster with its natural wines in unique varietals like Tannat and Alicante. If you want to make a day of it, Malibu, which has an official AVA, is your best bet. Plus, one winery also has an animal safari.
Make it Animal Style at In-N-Out Burger
In 1948, Harry Snyder opened California’s first drive-thru hamburger stand (now a replica you can visit) in Baldwin Park. Flash forward seven decades and his delicious dream is now an empire with hundreds of locations in six states and a cult-like following. In-N-Out Burger isn’t interested in eastward expansion, so if you want to chow down on Double Doubles you have to head West, and Southern California still has the most locations. The chain is notorious for its (not so) secret menu, which includes items like grilled cheese, the Flying Dutchman, and most famously Animal Style. The first time a burger was prepared this way—mustard-cooked patty with lettuce, tomato, pickle, grilled onion, and extra spread—was in 1961 and now it's a must-try for fast-food fanatics.
See the Watts Towers
Italian immigrant and construction worker by day Sabato “Simon” Rodia bought a triangular plot of land in 1921 and immediately got started on what are now known as the Watts Towers and several other lesser mentioned works including a bench and birdbaths. All were made by Rodia alone without the aid of machinery or scaffolding using steel covered in mortar and embellished in found objects like tiles, shells, and rocks. The tallest spire is almost 100 feet. They were in danger of being demolished in the late ‘50s after Rodia had moved away and left them to his neighbor, but the community rallied around them and proved they were structurally sound despite having no welded inner armature. The Towers are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Exercise Like a Local
Of all the cliches and stereotypes perpetuated about Southern Californians, the one that probably rings the truest for the largest portion of the population is an obsession with fitness and health. Athleisure is a uniform. Cold-pressed juice and avocado toast a food group. A business meeting or a Tinder date while climbing Runyon Canyon totally acceptable. But even the most disciplined and devoted get bored so there's an astronomical amount of ways to sweat in this city. There are gyms and classes dedicated to pilates, parkour, cardio drumming, '80s-themed aerobics, rowing, SurfSet, hula-hooping, Versaclimbers, boxing, HIIT, and indoor rock climbing. There's a trapeze school, spin sessions in the Santa Monica sand, and Sky Zone trampoline parks.
Hunt for Street Art
As one of the birthplaces of modern American graffiti, the streets of L.A. have long been a showcase for outsider art and boastful tags. Happy to report that buildings, billboards, freeway signs, and even sidewalks still function as impromptu exhibitions, though these days much more of it is sanctioned by the city or commissioned by property owners. Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the Barack Obama "Hope" portrait, founded a gallery (Subliminal Projects in Echo Park). It's fun to wander around contemplating them illegal or otherwise. The Downtown Arts District, Venice, Hollywood, Silver Lake, and Culver City are hot spots for artists like Morley, Nychos, WRDSMTH, David Flores, D*Face, Collete Miller (Angel Wings), Retna, antigirl (Los Angeles hearts), and Tristan Eaton.