What Not to Do in LA

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What Not to Do in LA

Making Memories in LA
©Betsy Malloy Photography.

A lot of people ask what they should do in Los Angeles, but they don't always think that they also need to know what not to do. 

The city has more than enough beaches, restaurants, museums, shopping, and nightlife to fill several vacations. You don't need to spend your time taking boring tours or looking for things you aren't going to find. 

And if you have limited time to spend in the city, there are a few activities that just don't make the cut. 

But the tourist traps aren't the only things you shouldn't do when you visit Los Angeles. In fact, there are other things to avoid. Doing that will keep you from looking like a dumb tourist and sidestep getting stopped by a cop. Keep reading to get the lowdown on what they are.

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Don't Expect to See Celebrities on Every Street Corner

Tour bus and Hollywood Wax Museum
Richard Cummins / Getty Images

Lots of people have the mistaken idea that movie stars are roaming around all over Los Angeles, and you might meet one at any moment while buying aspirin at the drug store or taking the dog for a walk.

That might happen, but in fact, only a small fraction of LA's 4 million residents are recognizable celebrities. You could easily spend your entire vacation trying to see someone famous and never see a single one. Don't let people take advantage of you and especially don't let them take your money in the hope that you'll see someone famous.

Don't Take a Movie Star Home Tour

Most of the movie star home tours originate on Hollywood Boulevard, and they sound exciting. But the truth is far less glamorous. 

Don't expect to take a one-hour bus tour and go home bragging about spotting a Kardashian or seeing an Oscar-winner watering the lawn. Read the movie star homes tours guide to find out why that simply won't happen. 

Do you still want to go looking for celebrity homes? Consider the Beverly Hills Trolley Tour, which dishes up plenty of Hollywood gossip and respects stars' privacy. Or try the Dearly Departed Tour, a tour that gets its facts right.

Don't Buy A Star's Home Map Either

Most celebrities today live away from Hollywood—in Malibu or Orange County—so these tours and maps are more likely to show homes where stars once lived. Which is not very exciting.

INSTEAD: If You Absolutely Must See a Celebrity, Here's How

Instead of hanging around somewhere that someone who might be famous may or may not have been seen last month, try these places where a celebrity sighting is guaranteed.

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Avoid the Tourist Traps on Hollywood Boulevard

Ripley's Believe it or Not Odditorium, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood.
Richard Cummins / Getty Images

Hollywood Boulevard is stocked with plenty of kitschy tourist-trap hangouts like The Guinness World Records Museum and Ripley's Believe it or Not. It even has not one but two wax museums within a couple of blocks.

If you want to go to see the Walk of Fame and handprints and footprints at the Chinese Theatre, do it, but you can easily skip those other tourist hangouts.

But if you must do one touristy thing, the best of the bunch is Madame Tussaud's. The LA branch of the famed wax museum houses Marvel superhero figures, a Madonna replica, and a Barack Obama statue. 

INSTEAD: Save Your Money and Go Exploring On Your Own

Explore some of Hollywood's most interesting spots by taking this one-day self-guided tour.

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04 of 13

Don't Stalk the Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood sign
PS Photography / Getty Images

Abandon any dreams of posing right next to the Hollywood sign. No matter where you drive or hike, you can't get up close and personal with the iconic sign; it's fenced off and protected by an elaborate security system—and an arrest is guaranteed if you try to bypass all that security.

To make matters worse, too many camera-toting, GPS-enable tourists flock into the surrounding neighborhoods trying to get close to it that those residential lanes start to look like the 405 at rush hour.

INSTEAD: Find the Best Views of It

The best thing to do is just grab a photo when you see the sign. Use this guide to find all the best views of the Hollywood Sign

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Don't Expect Too Much from Chinatown

Chinatown gate at night, Los Angeles
Gary Conner/Getty Images

LA's Chinatown is small. It looks almost like a Hollywood film set. Maybe that's partly why so many things have been filmed in it, including "Rush Hour," "Lethal Weapon 4," and "Chinatown." It even doubled for Hong Kong on an episode of NCIS.

That said, the neon lights are Instagram-worthy, and it can be fun at night if there's a festival going on. But you can also skip it, and you won't miss much.

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Skip Sunset Strip (Temporarily)

USA, California, Los Angeles, Sunset Boulevard, Sunset Strip traffic
Hisham Ibrahim / Getty Images

Sunset Strip is also on the list of things to do in LA because people want to see it and it can be a fun place to visit. I was in the past, and it will be gain. But right now? Not so much.

The Sunset Strip's legendary appeal stems from the nightclubs along it. During the day, there's less to see, and it feels like a dozen other shopping and dining strips in LA.

Some people say you should go at night and dedicate time to the strip's iconic restaurants and clubs like The Troubador and The Roxy, but many of those are losing their appeal. And to make matters worse, Sunset Boulevard has been under massive construction in the past few years. With another big project coming up, that will only get worse.

INSTEAD: Go Somewhere Else

Until all of that settles down, you might just want to skip that area altogether and try some of these things to do in LA at night instead.

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Don't Sound Like a Doofus

Blurred view of traffic on highway
Image Source RF/Owen Smith / Getty Images

Angelenos may live close to Mexico, and a lot of them speak Spanish, but when it comes to pronunciation, they sound like a bunch of Midwesterners.

Pronounce It Like a True Angeleno

San Pedro, that city near the port of Los Angeles isn't San PAY droh. It's San PEE droh.

When you're talking about the Los Feliz neighborhood near Silver Lake, don't say Loss Fuh-leez. In LA, it's Los FEE liss.

The gorgeous peninsula with all those multi-million dollar mansions on it is Palos Verdes. That would be pronounced PAL uhs VER dees.

Odd pronunciation isn't restricted to Spanish words. Rodeo Drive doesn't sound like a cowboy sporting event, either. Instead, you can release your inner pretentiousness with confidence when you say row DAY oh.

Willshire Boulevard runs from downtown to Santa Monica. All 15.83 miles of it are pronounced WILL sher.

More Things You Shouldn't Say in LA

Don't say any highway number without the word "the" in front of it. According to local public television station KCET, this one is a sticky remnant from the days when highways had names. However, it came about; if you don't say "The 5" when referring to the Interstate highway, you'd might as well wear a button that says "Clueless Tourist."

Don't say, "Do you know the way to San Jose?" Anyone who's old enough to remember the song might snicker, but many people will stare at you blankly or tell you to get out your Google Maps and find out for yourself.

Don't ask a local to go to The Grove, Hollywood at Highland, Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, Runyon Canyon or Venice Beach on the weekend. If there's anything people who live in LA hate, it's "touristy" places — and all of those qualify.

Don't ask any local about that hip-sounding place that you just read about on BuzzFeed, either. A few of them may be into the latest and trendiest, but a lot more will probably snort and tell you that it's just a bunch of hipster hype, anyway. Instead, ask someone what their favorite place is that's similar.

If you need a ride, don't sound like a clueless New Yorker and say, "let's hail a cab." In the first place, you'll be standing there until your hair turns gray waiting for one to pass that you can hail. And these days, everyone takes an Uber instead.

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Don't Surf at the Wrong Beach

Loose Board
©Studio One-One / Getty Images

Wow! Those pictures of surfers in Venice Beach and Huntington Beach (which is not actually LA bu in Orange County) look cool, don't they? You may have also heard about the excellent surfing at Lunada Bay in Palos Verdes or Malibu's Surfrider Beach.

They're great places to watch surfers, but if you're new in town — or even worse, a beginner — you shouldn't try to surf them. Local surfers can get territorial at these places and in some of them, rock throwing or someone shouting "Get the [f-word] out of here!" are some of the more welcoming receptions you can expect to receive.

INSTEAD: 

Try Malibu Beach, San Onofre Beach in San Clemente (also in Orange County), or find someone who gives surfing lessons to take you out.

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Don't Laugh at Us When We Feel Cold

Couple hugging near ocean waves
Sollina Images / Getty Images

When you live in a place where nighttime temperatures seldom make it into the low 30s, you somehow you lose your tolerance for cold.

A Los Angeles native actually texted this: "Cold here today..." It was 8:00 a.m., and the temperature was 63 degrees. Only a native Californian would say such a thing. If you're from a place where people define cold as anything below freezing, you might snicker, but don't doubt that LA locals have a different way of looking at it.

When you see a Californian wearing a zipped-up hoodie, scarf, and gloves when the thermometer says 60-something, please don't laugh. In return, maybe they won't giggle when you go out in the same weather wearing nothing but shorts, a sleeveless t-shirt, and flip-flops.

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Don't Go Shopping in the Wrong Place

Two Women Window Shopping on Rodeo Drive Beverly Hills
Eric Hood / Getty Images

Don't go to Rodeo Drive to go shopping. That is unless you intend to spend like a spoiled Princess. Some people say you shouldn't go to Rodeo Drive at all, but if you think of it as a tourist attraction, it's a fun place to see.

Don't go to The Grove to buy things, either. It's too crowded, and you probably have most of those same stores or ones like them near your home. That doesn't make The Grove a place to avoid altogether, but you may enjoy spending time at the adjacent Los Angeles Farmers Market more.

Hollywood & Highland is more fun for touristy gawking than it is for purchasing, too.

Don't go looking for outlet malls in LA, either. There aren't many, and they're all out of town.

INSTEAD: 

Go shopping for designer fashions on Melrose Avenue. Shop the manufacturer's stores in the downtown Fashion District. Brave the crowds to shop at the local boutiques on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice Beach. Or try some of the places on this shopping map from Racked.

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Don't Stand in Line Just to Take a Selfie

Woman Posing with a Collette Miller Angel Wings Mural
©Betsy Malloy Photography

You've seen those lists of best places to take Instagram photos in Los Angeles. Haven't we all? In fact, most of those places are so over-hyped that you'll end up standing in line just to get that shot in front of a pink wall, a pair of angel wings or some glorified graffiti art. 

INSTEAD: Try These Spots

Here are some places you can go to grab similar shots without the wait:

Pink Wall at Paul Smith: This one is easy: walk around the corner, where you can stand in front of the pink wall on the sidewalk without having to deal with the overzealous bouncer or the hordes of people. Or go down the street and pose in front of a teal, blue or gray wall.

Angel Wings: The wings above in the photo above just off Melrose Avenue are only one of several similar murals by artist Collette Miller. You can find locations of the others in this article by Detour LA.

Retna Mural:  The silver and black mural across the street from those angel wings — the one that looks like some kind of odd hieroglyphics — has a stunt double ​at The Lyric Theatre which is at 520 N La Brea Ave.

Bleeding Hearts: If you love those drippy, bleeding hearts murals by British artist JGoldcrown, avoid the one in Venice Beach and look behind the Groundwork Coffee at the corner of Montana Avenue and 16th Street in Santa Monica.

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Don't Jaywalk

Button for Crosswalk
Cat Gwynn / Getty Images

When it comes to crossing a street in the middle block, which is commonly called jaywalking, Los Angeles has stringent laws against it. If you get caught, it doesn't matter what people do where you live. And the fact that New Yorkers routinely ignore traffic lights won't help you escape a ticket, either.

In fact, you can also get ticketed for starting to walk across a street when the Don't Walk sign is flashing — or even stepping off the curb too soon. 

Jaywalking fines can be as high as $250 — which is four times what you'd pay if you parked illegally. 

INSTEAD: Just Don't Do It

If you're visiting from out of town, you can save yourself a lot of annoyance by sticking to the strictest rules. After all, are those few seconds you're going to save worth the hassle?

If you don't listen to all this advice and get a ticket, here's a guide to what to do next.

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Things You Should Do in LA

Los Angeles view from Mount Lee in Hollywood Hills
WIN-Initiative / Getty Images

If these are the things you shouldn't do in LA, then what should you do? If you're a contrarian traveler who seeks out the undiscovered spots, then don't miss these less-touristy things to do when you go to Los Angeles.

If you're traveling with kids, you'll want to check out the best places to take kids in LA.

If your budget is limited (which applies to most of us), you can have a lot of fun without spending a penny. Just use the guide to things to do for free in Los Angeles.

Even though Los Angeles weather is mostly sunny, it might rain in the winter. Here's what to if those raindrops start falling on your head. And if it's summertime when you visit, you'll definitely want to know what to do on a summer night in Los Angeles. And what to do after dark, any time of year.

If you want to find out what the most popular tourist attractions are, you can find them (with their pros and cons) in the top things to do in LA.

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