Our guide to the best things to do and see in Los Angeles, California.
Forget everything negative you’ve heard about Los Angeles. Yes, there’s Hollywood, goat yoga, and green juice for miles, but L.A. is so much more than its woo-woo side. It’s home to a widely diverse population, sprawls for miles across beachscapes and cityscapes, and is more unique, weird, and wonderful than one would expect. And you may even spot a celebrity.
You may have heard that L.A. is all traffic and highway, but with 30 square miles, a lot of Los Angeles attractions are worth the trek. But what are the once-in-a-lifetime things to do in Los Angeles? The sightseeing must-dos? From Venice Beach to East Los Angeles, this L.A. travel guide will help you experience it all.
WHAT’S THE BEST MONTH TO VISIT LOS ANGELESThe rumors are true: it’s pretty much sunny and warm all year long in Los Angeles. However, July through September can be swelteringly hot. September through December can bring the Santa Ana Winds, which are warm gusts that generated added fire danger. And December through February can occasionally be rainy. Plus, February and March are awards season, which can bump up hotel prices in some areas.
Before visiting Los Angeles, please review the latest information from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health for updated advice and information on COVID restrictions.
Related: 12 Things Not to Do in Los Angeles
See a Concert at the Hollywood Bowl
Considered an L.A. institution among locals (and the cause of horrendous mid-city traffic), the Hollywood Bowl Amphitheater deserves a spot on any guide to Los Angeles. During the Bowl’s concert season, which lasts from May to October, you can catch a number of free concerts, family-friendly events, and, of course, star-studded performances. This season promises everyone from HAIM to the Los Angeles Philharmonic to Steely Dan to Wu-Tang Clan. We highly recommend the sing-alongs, if singing in public is your thing. With its acoustic marvels (turns out a canyon is a pretty great place to see live music), live pyrotechnics, and stunning scenery, the only thing that could make this experience perfect is your beverage and snack of choice—which is no problem, since Hollywood Bowl allows for a BYOB and BYOF picnic experience, along with myriad offerings from food stands. Our final pro tip? If seats sell out for an event, just make your way to the Bowl’s 14 free picnic areas. They surround the Bowl and give you the same vantage points that you’d have from inside the venue.
Catch a Flick at Cinespia
Don’t be spooked by this hugely popular L.A. movie night’s location. Hosted in the iconic Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the final resting place to Cecile B DeMille, Jayne Mansfield, and George Harrison, this outdoor movie series is the perfect weekend event. Gather up your friends–don’t forget the blanket and snacks–and watch classics like Psycho, The Parent Trap, and Clueless. Cinespia goes all out, even including fun backdrops of stills and sets from the film to their screening, (check out @cutiesatcinespia to get an idea). Since the pandemic, the Cinespia team has expanded options to a drive-in experience at The Greek Theatre, as well as shows at Los Angeles State Historic Park and special film screening events at historic movie palaces in Downtown Los Angeles. But hurry, tickets always go quick.
INSIDER TIPVisiting L.A. in one of our chillier months (AKA below 75 degrees?) Cinespia goes all year round, moving to DTLA’s Million Dollar Theatre in the off-season.
Visit the Rose Bowl Flea Market
Don’t come back from L.A. with dingy souvenirs from some sad shop on Hollywood Boulevard. Instead, hunt for treasure at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, a massive flea market that takes over Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Stadium once a month. Here, you’ll find vintage clothing and furniture, records, boho hippie wares, and more. An almost 50-year-old market, it’s the best in town—you might even spot a celeb or two among shoppers. Weave amongst the 2,500 stalls and seek your fortune, then bargain to buy it. Food stalls and drink carts will nourish you along your journey, and hopefully, you’ll walk away with something one-of-a-kind—at the very least, you’ll have a great suntan.
If you’re in it for a serious haul, bring a blue IKEA bag and your walking shoes.
INSIDER TIPThe Rose Bowl Flea Market is held every second Sunday of the Month at 1001 Rose Bowl Dr, Pasadena, CA 91103 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $12-20 per person, and there are opportunities to pay more for extra early entrance.
Take a Hike
Hiking is a ritualistic activity in Los Angeles. Sure, some people do it for obvious reasons—a great workout, nature, cinema-like views of the city. And some of us do it for other reasons—to see and be seen, to show off on the ‘gram, and to (sometimes) see a celebrity.
There are endless places to hike across the city, but if you’re looking for the hike, you know, one where you’ll see the Hollywood sign, check out the Hollyridge Trail, the Brush Canyon Trail, or the Mount Hollywood Trail to get incredible angles and even above and behind the 45-foot-high HOLLYWOOD letters to view everything from the ocean to the mountains with sparkling Downtown smack in the middle. It all starts in Griffith Park, where you can look through the incredible public telescopes at the Griffith Observatory, the crown jewel of Griffith Park. There are daily sky viewings and monthly programming offered along with exhibits, galleries, and a planetarium at the famous observatory.
INSIDER TIPParking is free at Griffith Observatory.
Want to hit the less popular but equally stunning trails of South L.A. (with arguably better vistas)? With views from the ocean to Downtown, try climbing the hills at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. The “Central Park of Los Angeles,” Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area is one of the largest open spaces in the greater Los Angeles area. This is the spot for photo-ops: take your pick of the views: the Hollywood Sign to the north, downtown’s skyline to the east framed by the San Gabriel Mountains or the Santa Ana Mountains Southeast, L.A. Harbor and Long Beach to the south, LAX and the mighty Pacific to the southwest. Don’t miss a stroll through the Japanese Gardens or a trip around the fish-stocked lake.
INSIDER TIPDriving to the park? There’s a $6 vehicle entrance fee.
Hop on the O.J. Tour
It was the Crime of the Century and the stuff of L.A. legend. The trial of O.J. Simpson captivated the entire country in 1995 and sparked the beginning of the nation’s true crime obsession. So, if the sweet sounds of Keith Morrison’s voice lull you to sleep on Sundays or if you binge-watched all of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story, we’ve found the L.A. activity for you. On the O.J. Tour, hosted by Brentwood native and self-described O.J. saga expert Adam Papagan, you’ll visit the crime scene, Rockingham, the infamous Mezzaluna restaurant, and more. And, yes, the tour is conducted in a 1994 Ford Bronco, for the full experience.
Check Out a Black-Owned Dispensary
Yes, yes, here in Los Angeles, cannabis is legal for recreational consumption, but don’t be lured in by Apple Store-like mega-retailers with overpriced flower and high-tech devices you will definitely not be able to bring into LAX. If you’re going Cali sober, get your weed from a Black-owned dispensary. Why? It’s simple: Black people, and people of color in general, are disproportionately affected by racist marijuana laws across the nation and are being shut out of the cannabis industry. Support Black businesses and racial reform by shopping at one of these Black-owned dispensaries or suppliers in Los Angeles: LitCo (Downtown), Pineapple Express (West), Ball Family Farms (sold at various locations, including Sixty Four & Hope in Mid-City), FireHouse 30 Cap (East) and California Cannabis Dispensary (Boyle Heights).
INSIDER TIPGorilla Rx is Los Angeles’ first Black woman-owned dispensary (Crenshaw/South L.A.).
Cruise Through Venice at a GRLSWIRL Meetup
Skate culture has always been a part of Los Angeles’ core identity but was long been considered a boys club. That changed in 2018 when GRLSWIRL, a female-founded skate collective, started hosting group skate meetups in Venice Beach. Inclusive, empowering, and encouraging, you don’t have to be a pro to join a GRLSWIRL meetup, just be able to “kick, push” alongside Venice Beach. GRLSWIRL’s mission to empower girls to get out there doesn’t stop stateside either. Up until the pandemic, they were regularly teaching girls across the Mexican border how to skateboard. Powered by community, the Venice-based collective even has merch—from boards to super cute skorts. For an exhilarating and euphoric slice of L.A. culture, head to a GRLSWIRL meetup.
INSIDER TIPInformation on meetups can be found on GRLSWIRL’s Instagram @grlswirl.
Hit the Bar Scene in West Hollywood
The choices for a night out in L.A. are innumerable. From highly Instagrammable Westside influencer haunts to low-key divey Valley spots, there’s truly a flavor for everyone. But there’s no night out like a Weho night out. The strip of bars on Santa Monica in famed and historic Boystown range from camp to bougie, and all have packed, sweaty dance floors that make for the perfect bar crawl. Sometimes, you just want to down a Woo Woo (a semi-lethal combination of peach schnapps, cranberry juice, and vodka) and dance. And after a year cooped up inside, isn’t that all of us? Our tip: Start your bar crawl at Fiesta Cantina (trust us) and make your way west.
See a Comedy Show
An obvious but must-do on this list? Head to a comedy club. Be prepared for pricey drink minimums and buy tickets as far in advance as you can, since post-COVID indoor shows tend to sell out quickly. Our favorite spots are the Hollywood Improv (get the mac and cheese) and The Comedy Store, where we’ve seen A-list level drop-ins like Ali Wong. If you’re hoping to see your favorite stand-up act while in town, stalk their Instagram for info on where they’ll be.
Ride in Venice Electric Light Parade
What started as a way to promote bicycle safety evolved into a spectacular weekly parade that lights up Venice every Sunday. If you’re a bike enthusiast, or just want a memorable, unique, L.A. experience, join this weekly Westside meetup. Bikes are decked out with strings of LED lights and fantastical decorations that are straight-up Suess-ian for a sunset cruise that loops through Venice. BYOBike to this meetup (lights aren’t required to ride) or get your hands on your own magical LED-outfitted bike on Airbnb and get a personalized VIP experience from the group’s founder, Marcus Gladney.
Learn more about the meetup on the Venice Electric Light Parade’s Facebook page.
Sure, there are more popular Chinatowns across America—see New York and San Francisco—but L.A.’s Chinatown is teeming with critically-lauded restaurants, vibrant and buzzy shopping, and one of Los Angeles’ most beautiful and spacious parks. And even most locals have no idea. It’s also a critical time to support this community and the predominantly Asian elders that live in this neighborhood. We can’t think of a more fun way than to stuff our face.
INSIDER TIPChinatown can be easily accessed by L.A. Metro’s L line and sits just north of Downtown Los Angeles.
Our perfect Chinatown day starts on Hill Street, where you can hit up Today Starts Here for Tawianese-inspired breakfast, grab a hojicha latte from Thank You Coffee, and wander around the neighborhood. Howlin’ Rays started LA’s obsession with Nashville Hot Chicken, so it’s always a safe lunch bet, but we love newcomers Lasita and Pearl River Deli, all of which are located in nearby Far East Plaza. Try Full House Seafood Restaurant for an authentic experience complete with traditional dishes or for a hipster-fusion appeal, try Chego, celebrity chef Roy Choi’s “L.A. in a rice bowl” brick and mortar restaurant. Want a uniquely LA experience? Try Foo-Chow Restaurant, which boasts an appearance in Jackie Chan’s Rush Hour on the sign, menu, merchandise…you can’t miss the reference. For dinner, head to the legendary ABC Seafood for dim sum, pop by Little Jewel of New Orleans for the best beignets outside of NOLA, and stroll over to Highland Park Brewery to cap off the evening with local brews or while you are digesting, wander through Chinatown’s many art galleries on Chung King Road.
Go Full Gamer at Game Haus
Are you obsessed with Ticket to Ride? Did you break out Pretty Pretty Princess at every sleepover in 1998? If so, you will love Glendale’s Game Haus Cafe. The game board cafe has literally hundreds of board and card games, ranging from obscure to nostalgia-bent to highly intense modern favorites like Carcassonne (we don’t get it either). Game Haus isn’t for nerds alone, it’s also a very fun date night, bolstered by the establishment’s delicious pastries and beer and wine selections. It’s a great bar alternative for those who don’t feel like a Big Night Out and, since the pandemic, they’ve started a loaner program where you can borrow board games for at-home enjoyment. Coming in to enjoy a boisterous night of board games? (Seriously, it gets intense in there.) Pay only $7.50 on weekdays and $10 on weekends for three hours of good, wholesome fun.
Get a Great Cup of Coffee
Believe it or not, Angelenos can be coffee snobs. And while our coffee culture isn’t as distinguished as our neighbors to the north, it manages to compete. There are incredible coffee shops all over the city, and several great L.A.-based roasters like Canyon Coffee (who has a hotly anticipated physical location coming to Eastside hood, Echo Park.)
INSIDER TIPHead to Menotti’s Venice location and flip the black and white portrait of original speakeasy owner, Cesar Menotti to get access to their secret menu.
If you’re looking for other Eastside outposts, we recommend Dayglow in Silverlake for their dreamy coffee creations and progressive, whimsical menu. In nearby Filipinotown, Blume and Plume coffee’s pro-Black aesthetic, community focus, and colorful, vibrant interiors are a stylish punctuation to L.A.’s coffee landscape. For the caffeine aficionados, Cognoscenti Coffee in Culver City makes a coffee that won’t just pick you up but sweep you off your feet. Los Feliz’s wildly popular Maru boasts a great cup and great celeb spotting. And you might’ve caught Sip and Soder’s gorgeous interiors on HBO favorite Insecure–grab a latte and snap a few for the ‘gram. Finally, L.A.-based chain Go Get ‘Em Tiger is always reliably delicious and has some of our favorite pastry offerings in the city.
Hit the Beach
You can’t visit L.A. without having a beach day. If coming from anywhere east of the 405, be prepared for an onslaught of stop-and-go traffic (or get there early). Traffic is worth the trek though, as even the least popular of L.A. beaches provide that quintessential California feel. That being said, all L.A. beaches are not created equal. The drive to Malibu is worth it for the less touristy fare of Venice and Santa Monica. The definitive California beach experience awaits you at Will Rogers State Beach on the Santa Monica Bay. While much calmer than Santa Monica or Venice’s flurry of activities—this is a place for serious sun-soaking—WR still offers volleyball courts, a playground and gymnastic equipment, as well as a bike path and walkway. This is the beach you see in the movies, some come prepared with a picnic and sunscreen. Bonus: the beach has plenty of parking options ranging from street (free) to affordable (lots nearby) to convenient (on-site, $10+).
We also love Point Dume State Beach’s jagged, cliffside splendor, Leo Carrillo State Beach for its cinematic views (it’s been featured in everything from Grease to The Craft), and, when we need a little privacy, it’s El Pescador State Beach all the way (but you didn’t hear that from us.)
Work in a Work Out
We all secretly hate that friend that works out on vacation, but in Los Angeles, working out isn’t merely exercise, it’s an entire religion. There are dozens of sweat spots across the city to choose from, and of course, celeb favorites with cult-like followings (Rumble Boxing, LEKFIT, and Tracy Anderson Method come to mind). But there are also wild, one-of-a-kind workouts you won’t find anywhere else like Up Flying Yoga, an aerial yoga studio, or Luscious Maven, an all-levels pole dance studio. Looking for something a step up from Zumba? Check out GROOV3, a seriously fun dance workout class with a live DJ spinning hip hop throwbacks and fun pop hits. Separately, you could check out the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home to the 1932 and 1984 Olympics (and set again for 2028), so expect to find memorabilia, including the Olympic Torch, on the grounds. Catch a USC Trojans football game in the fall, or a lacrosse game, music concert, or international soccer game on off-days. Feeling like getting active yourself? Pop by the LA84 Foundation/John C. Argue Swim Stadium next door, where the public can swim in outdoor Olympic-sized lap and diving pools, along with a grand recreational pool. Gym facilities and locker rooms are on-site.
INSIDER TIPHop off the plane at LAX and download a free week (or month!) trial of ClassPass, an app that gives you access to wellness and beauty services and a virtual Rolodex of workouts across 50 US cities, and 30 countries (including LA, NYC, Paris, and London.)
Get a Little Woo Woo
There are many types of woo woo in Los Angeles, from Laurel Canyon Crunchy to GOOP-esque to full witch. Luckily, there’s a destination for every kind. If crystals are your thing, we recommend Sacred Light in Los Feliz, which hosts weekly sound baths on Zoom and carries a variety of affordable gems. Their staff is also very kind and approachable (how zen of them). If you’re looking for all macrobiotic, all vegan, all raw nirvana, head to Erewhon, a local chain of grocery stores with everything from camel milk (we seriously saw this on its shelves one time) to signature creations like their massaged kale salads that are popular on TikTok. Sadly, we are addicted to its hot bar, and it has impeccable people and celeb-watching. Hit up The Green Man in North Hollywood for all your love-spell-making, potion-brewing, tarot pulling needs. They offer several classes and workshops plus a well-stocked apothecary. And finally, the classic Inn of the Seventh Ray, a romantic, enchanting dining experience in Topanga Canyon aims to create a meal and an atmosphere that can take you to a higher plane. Don’t miss its New Age gift shop.
Sample a Little Bit of Everything at Smorgasbord
The pandemic ushered in the age of the pop-up, with our favorite iteration being pop-up restaurants. Cut to 2022 and many of our favorites including Bridgetown Roti and Bungkus Bagus now have permanent outposts at Smorgasbord, back from it’s mid-Covid shutdown. Originally from Brooklyn, this East Coast import brings together dozens of fun, unique, vendors from across L.A. every Sunday in Downtown’s Arts District. And don’t think we’re talking average street fair–think heaping lobster rolls from Broad Street Oyster Co, oysters with beet mignonette from Jolly Oyster, delectable and delicious tacos from Little Llama Peruvian Tacos, and plenty more gastronomic delights for vegans, carnivores and everyone in between.
INSIDER TIPSmorgasbord happens every Sunday in L.A. from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and entry is free!
Behold the Getty Center
You can’t miss the Getty Center. On a hillside above Brentwood, The billion-dollar Getty Center is a museum, a garden, a vista, and an architectural marvel. Wander the grounds and take in the views from the ocean to downtown and (on a clear day) snow-capped mountains, or peruse indoors where impressionist canvases, Greek antiquities, and jaw-dropping exhibits of furniture and decorative arts from French monarchies past. A free museum with free Wi-Fi (the only cost is to park), this is a great place to spend your time working, perusing, Instagramming, sunbathing, and soaking up the So-Cal goodness.
Stroll Piers, Promenades, and Boardwalks
Santa Monica Pier & 3rd Street Promenade: A popular family destination at a popular family beach, Santa Monica Pier offers tons of entertainment for the young and old alike. Ride the Ferris wheel at dusk to watch a spectacular L.A. sunset. Dig into snacks galore and play the arcade games after the sun goes down for a family boardwalk experience you’d expect to find on the East Coast.
Step off the pier and wander three car-free blocks of shopper’s paradise –everything from a farmers market to designer digs. The culinary scene in Santa Monica ranges from local, fresh, and organic to authentic Southeast Asian to rustic picnics. Stop for a glass of wine or a smoothie and watch the street performers and the people go by.
The Manhattan Beach Pier: Want to see the sparkliest Pacific waters? Head down to the charming pier at Manhattan Beach and wander across the boards out over the crystal clear ocean. Look back at the shore to see all sorts of people doing those California things—heading into the water with surfboards, spiking volleyballs over the net, building sandcastles with a troop of children. The aquarium at the end of the pier is small, cute, and free—worth stopping in and getting yourself better immersed in the West Coast.
Venice Boardwalk: Quintessential Los Angeles begins at the beach, and nothing is more L.A. mythos than Venice. Named for the stunning canals built throughout oceanfront neighborhoods, Venice and its famous boardwalk has something for everyone: a pristine beach with Wi-Fi, a skate park, stoner shops, designer swimwear, happy hour, and psychics. Still looking for something to do? Watch the roller disco skaters do their thing, or rent a beach cruiser or a pair of rollerbladers and join the ~flow~, man.
Have a Drink at the Culver Hotel
The Culver Hotel is a national landmark built by the founder of Culver City, Harry Culver, in 1924, and boy is it gorgeous. Live piano or jazz music and old black and white movies projected on the wall set the atmosphere for this lovely, classic dining or drinking experience. Cuddle up in a sofa or grab a seat on the patio and clink your crystal cocktail through the golden afternoon. Can’t make it for happy hour? Don’t miss the weekend brunch.
Peruse the Museum of Jurassic Technology
This cabinet of curiosities contains exhibits you’re unlikely to see anywhere else. The Museum of Jurrasic Technology is a completely unique science and history museum experience where employees are (rumoredly) instructed not to answer questions like “what is this place?” Exhibits include miniatures, examples of medicinal folk remedies, a series of oil paintings featuring dogs that Russia has sent to space, radiographs, micromosaics, and details of the lives of artists, historical figures, scientists, and more. After you’ve poured over the exhibits, indulge in some tea and cookies in the rooftop garden and ponder the delights and monstrosities you’ve just taken in.
INSIDER TIPThe Museum is only open Thursday-Friday 2-8 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday 12-6 p.m.
Charge It on Rodeo Drive
Part luxury shopping district, part tourist destination, Rodeo Drive is a business district as much as a leisurely stroll. Visit the flagship shops of designer brands like Tory Burch, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, and more. The parking can be difficult and expensive, but the cars are as much a part of the aesthetic as the shops–if you like fancy automobiles, it’s a great place for coveting.
Oh, and if you want to go to the boutique where Julia Roberts was shunned in Pretty Woman (“Big Mistake! Big! Huge!”), Boulmiche Luxury Fashion Store remains open and friendlier than ever.
Wander the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Grauman’s Chinese Theater
Though this tourist area can be crowded to the point of a parade, it’s worth a visit if you’ve never been to Hollywood. Grauman’s Chinese Theater opened in 1927 and has been home to red carpet royalty ever since. Cement hand- and footprints immortalize Hollywood’s elite in the forecourt, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, home to over 2,600 terrazzo and brass stars embedded in the sidewalks, serve as a yellow brick road to the Theater’s Oz.
Take photos with street performers costumed as Elvis, Mickey Mouse, Marilyn Monroe, Yoda, Superman, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Don King, the Joker, and other box-office leading roles (note: performers will want you to tip for photos) as you navigate the souvenir and vape shops. There’s a great spot to get a photo of yourself with the Hollywood sign in the background, and don’t forget to grab your map to the stars’ homes from vendors along the way.
Wander Sunset Boulevard: Sunset Strip
The mile and half stretch of Sunset Boulevard that passes through West Hollywood and is home to comedy venues, restaurants, music clubs, boutique hotels, and tons of ridiculously cool billboards. Don’t expect to see the once-was 1960s hippie vibe–West Hollywood is now more of a glitzy gayborhood than a bohemian playground. Former Sunset Strip anchor Amoeba Music recently relocated a block north to Hollywood Boulevard and is worth the detour. And, while there may be San Francisco and Berkeley locations, its new, larger-than-life outpost on Hollywood Boulevard is the place to find vinyl, CDs (remember those?), DVDs, and more. In its over 20,000 square feet space, you’ll find records spinning and knowledgeable, friendly employees that won’t judge your taste, plus a fun, buzzing atmosphere that feels welcome to visitors and locals alike.
Wander Sunset Boulevard: Sunset Junction
Silver Lake is the illustrious affluent neighborhood that retains its funky chic vibe. Boutiques and vintage shop offer designer labels and antique furniture. Take a sniff in the Spice Station and pick yourself up some loose-leaf tea or custom blend of herbs. Peckish after all that shopping but want to keep people watching? There are coffee shops and eateries with patios galore.
Shop and Eat in Little Ethiopia
Wander through Little Ethiopia and find yourself transported to the markets and eateries of North Africa. A block-long stretch of Fairfax Avenue has a high concentration of Ethiopian businesses and restaurants, most of which serve Ethiopian cuisine staple injera: a spongy bread in place of utensils used to scoop and mop up the spicy food. Pair with honey wine and luxuriate in the festive décor and fragrant incense. Go in for the coffee ceremony at Little Ethiopia Restaurant for beans roasted right at your table–Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, after all. Shop the funky vintage, reggae outlets, and furniture thrift along the strip.
INSIDER TIPOur favorite combination shop-restaurant is Merkato for the beef or chicken tibbs with a side of collard greens. Lots of great vegetarian and vegan options as well.
The Don’t-Miss Museums in L.A.
A mile and a half long stretch of Wilshire Boulevard between Fairfax and Highland Avenue, Miracle Mile has been called “America’s Champs-Élysées” due to its importance as the west-east thoroughfare through retail, business, and art centers. Pop into one of the many wonders on “Museum Row”: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the La Brea Tar Pits, the Craft and Folk Art Museum, the Petersen Automotive Museum, Architecture and Design Museum, or simply wander Wilshire Boulevard and admire the spectacular Art Deco buildings. The recently opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures explores all things cinema, from the Oscars to Pixar.
Further south, there is a bevy of fun all-age learning opportunities at Exposition Park, where you have your pick of top-notch museums for a variety of interests. Explore outer space (including life here on Earth) through interactive exhibits and at an IMAX theater at the California Science Center, dig at the history of the planet at the largest natural and historical museum in the world at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and learn about heritage and history of African Americans and the contributions of cultural intersectionality at California African American Museum.
INSIDER TIPA ticket to the Natural History Museum also gives you admission to the La Brea Tar Pits, though these are in two separate locations.
Window Shop The Grove and Original Farmers Market
Come hungry to The Grove and Original Farmers Market in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles. At the historic Farmers Market (dating back to 1934), over 100 vendors serve and sell myriad cuisines and goods seven days a week in a relaxed, open-air atmosphere. Work up your appetite at The Grove, an outdoor shopping mall famous for its variety of retail shops and restaurants, “dancing” fountains, and Art Deco architecture. Though technically separate entities, it’s easy to wander between and around both locations sampling the many food stalls, shopping options, and entertainment venues.
INSIDER TIPParking: The Farmers Market offers two hours free with validation from one of its merchants. The Grove provides one free hour of parking for all guests, and, following that, it charges $3 for the next two hours with validation from select restaurants and retailers. Valet parking is also available at The Grove. An on-site electric trolley is available to shuttle the less mobile between the Grove and the Farmers Market.
Treat Yourself at a Korean Spa
L.A.’s Koreatown offers up some of the best affordable entertainment in the city, and it’s extremely walkable and easy to get to via metro. Once you’re in the neighborhood, there’s enough stuff to do to keep you full and happy at all times. Spend the day at Wi Spa USA, a 24-hour Korean-style mega-spa. If it’s your first time in a Korean spa, don’t expect the Western experience: an expansive co-ed jimjilbang, or public bathhouse furnished with hot and cold tubs, saunas and steam rooms, showers, and treatment stations, is just one of many areas to explore. There are gender-segregated floors as well, a rooftop terrace, a full-service restaurant, sleeping areas, a gym, and a computer room. Wi-Fi and reading materials are also provided. Admission is $30 (waived if you buy a treatment service over $150).
Gorge on All-You-Can-Eat Korean Barbecue
After you’ve soaked in zen, get rowdy at Shatto 39, where you can bowl at one of 40 lanes, play pool, foosball, or two rooms of arcade games, or grab a cheap drink in the low-lit bar. If bowling isn’t your thing, sing some karaoke in a private room at Star Karaoke or to work up an appetite because tonight you’re going hard: all-you-can-eat style. For a DIY restaurant experience you can’t get anywhere else, there’s Korean BBQ. Let hip waiters serve you mounds of uncooked brisket, bacon, pork belly, and ribs for you to cook as rare as you like on the grill centered on your table. Our favorite spots nearby? Road to Seoul, which offers loud music, unlimited meat options, and a party-like atmosphere, and Oo Kook Korean BBQ, with its array of meat, seafood, and even pork belly three ways. At both spots, banchan, or the small sides served alongside the meat, are unlimited, so don’t be afraid to ask for refills.
Check Out the Los Angeles Central Library
Downtown Los Angeles has been through economic ups and downs but is currently experiencing a renaissance of redevelopment (though it briefly paused during the pandemic). Home to a diverse population, Downtown offers amenities ranging from free civic buildings and street food to chi-chi galleries and restaurants. The great egalitarian force that brings the public together is the Los Angeles Public Library, an eight-story building full of books, periodicals, audiovisual materials, computer access, and more. Not interested in perusing the stacks? Look up—the architecture is a combination of ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean revival, and features a central tower topped with an exquisitely tiled mosaic pyramid.
Explore the Incredible Architecture of Downtown Los Angeles
Los Angeles features some impressive buildings that are worth the full tour, but even just an eyeful will satiate any art or design enthusiast. A few that shouldn’t be missed: Union Station, a mix of Spanish Colonial, Mission Revival, and Art Deco and the last of the grand railway stations, is a can’t-miss both outside and in. Made of everything from marble to terra cotta and featuring garden patios that flank the waiting room. The Eastern Columbia Building was designed by Claud Beelman, and this Art Deco jewel shines bright over the city. No matter which way you look at it–admire its clock tower from afar, its metallic chevrons and sunburst up close, or lit up in tasteful neon at night—this is a gorgeous can’t miss. No tour of southern California would be complete without striking brutalism, and Los Angeles’ Bonaventure Hotel, built in a cluster of three buildings and featuring the most charming rotating cocktail lounge at the top. Top it all off with the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, “The Host of the Coast,” a Beaux-Arts marvel with an interior dripping with ornamentation.
And whatever you do, don’t miss the Bradbury Building–this architectural landmark deserves its own stop: it has been featured in the movies Blade Runner, Chinatown, 500 Days of Summer, The Cheap Detective, Pay It Forward, and The Artist as well as a plethora of television shows and music video. The Bradbury Building’s gorgeous skylit atrium and ornate ironwork will wow you with detail. Entrance is free and open to the public from 9-5 daily. Hungry from all that site-seeing? Open since 1917 and ever-changing in vendors and featured cuisines, the Grand Central Market is L.A.’s premier food emporium and dining experience. Over 30,000 square feet showcases almost 40 vendors with hot and cold dishes to eat-in or take-out.
Music and Art on Grand Avenue
The Music Center contains a multitude of performance venues including the architecturally whimsical Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Mark Taper Forum, the Ahmanson Theatre, and the Dorothy Hall Pavilion and hosts the L.A. Philharmonic, Opera, and Master Chorale, among others. For visual arts, the recently opened Broad (rhymes with “road”) Museum and the main branch of The Museum of Contemporary Arts are kitty-corner to each other. Feel like taking a break from the bustle? Pedestrian-friendly Grand Park includes dancing fountain displays, tree-shaded sidewalks, handsome landscaping, and even moveable park furniture for when you find the perfect spot.
Discover the Arts District
In the 1970s, artists looking for giant warehouse spaces from which to create studios gentrified and then were gentrified out of Los Angeles’ newest and hippest neighborhood, the Arts District. Skid Row-adjacent, property developers scooped up the real estate after the artists “revived” the area. Today, it’s a happening, walkable neighborhood filled with hip watering holes and art galleries (what else?).
The Arts District has loads of great places to eat. Zinc Café & Bar Mateo, an indoor/outdoor bistro with incredible vegetarian/vegan options and an adorable patio, is a great place to start your day. Pick up a coffee from Blue Bottle and meander the streets and pop into galleries and museums—our favorites include the A+D Museum showcases local architecture and design artists while Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions pushes emerging art forms such as performance art, video art, digital art, and installations complemented by education initiatives. If you’ve worked up an appetite, go casual at charming “outdoor” Manuela for new American cuisine, or treat yourself to modern Italian Bestia (open only for dinner and reservations recommended). Stop for a drink and an arcade game at Eighty-Two, play analog board and yard games at gigantic brewery-bar Angel City, or get boozy and listen to live music at Villains Tavern.
Try Everything in Little Tokyo
All within a few blocks of each other are the Japanese American National Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, and the pedestrian-only Japanese Village Plaza, where you can shop and eat in the closed streets (swing by PopKiller to buy all your sunglasses and souvenir needs). A block away, play video games and sing karaoke in private karaoke rooms (you can bring your own food and drink from the grocery store downstairs!) in the Little Tokyo Galleria shopping center, and make sure to hit trinket store heaven Daiso on your way out. Whatever you do, don’t miss a bowl of the original ramen at Daikokuya, no matter what the wait.
INSIDER TIPGo by yourself or with just one other person for a quicker table turnaround time, but don’t miss out on a ramen restaurant where the staff are annually sent to Japan for training in the art of ramen.
Shop El Pueblo de Los Angeles
Part historical monument, part street fair, El Pueblo de Los Angeles showcases the oldest section of Los Angeles with the city’s oldest historical structures (11 of the 27 are open to the public), a plaza for festivals and celebrations (live music, dancing, and theatrical processions daily), and a marketplace bustling with food and goods. Check out the art at El Pueblo Gallery or the history at the Chinese American Museum, or simply stroll around and eat elote and drink agua fresa. El Pueblo de Los Angeles is an excellent opportunity to buy handmade goods or participate in various traditional events presented by the Olvera Street Merchants. Don’t miss the mural Father Hidalgo Rang the Bell of Dolores on Alameda Street—painted on 300 one-inch tiles, depicts the key figures in Mexico’s early Wars of Independence.
Savor the Last Bookstore
Probably the most beautiful commercial space in Los Angeles, The Last Bookstore is a two-story independent bookseller, art installation, performance space, and generally nice place to hang out. With an art book annex, a suspense and mystery vault, and multiple sculptures literally formed of books, there’s plenty to discover at what feels like the very last (and best) non-chain bookstore on earth.
Amble Down the Vermont Strip
If you feel like strolling and people watching, the strips of North Vermont and Hillhurst Avenues in Los Feliz are great places to wander. Start at Prospect Avenue and hit funky vintage and tchotchke shops to enhance your bo-ho chic and snag one-of-a-kind souvenirs and gifts. Listen to an author read at Skylight Books or peruse the art book section two doors down. If you get tired, take in a movie at the delightful Los Feliz 3 cinema where a matinee theater is still just $6.50. If you’re hungry, there’s everything from gourmet dessert and coffee at retro diner House of Pies to mussels and frites at Figaro. Thirsty? Grab drinks at the kitschy Dresden or watch sports at 1739 Public House. Wander up and down the strip while the sun sets over the Griffith Observatory above you.
Soak Up Echo Park Lake
The sweetest little park in the city, Echo Park and Echo Park Lake are perfect for picnics, dog-walking, pedal boating, duck feeding, or walking the track that rings the recently renovated landscape. Feel the spray of the fountains as you feed the ducks, and then feed yourself on amazing street food: bacon-wrapped hot dogs, elote (grilled corn), and ice cream, or hit Beacon at the Boathouse for a delightful brunch or pastries and coffee to-go. Don’t forget to Instagram the beautiful lotus flowers in bloom–there’s free Wi-Fi across the park.
Catch a Game at Dodger Stadium
Overlooking Downtown L.A., Dodger Stadium is a can’t-miss stop for any baseball fan. Get down on a Dodger Dog and garlic fries and wash it down with cold brew (Dodger’s Blond by Golden Road Brewing is a good one). Settle in for a good game—the Dodgers have a notoriously enthusiastic crowd—and watch the sun set over Elysian Park. Go Blue!
INSIDER TIPDo not drive to the stadium; it’s not worth the headache. Instead, take the free Dodger Stadium Express shuttle from Union Station (which is accessible by Metro and Amtrak).
Explore Hip Highland Park
Highland Park is the neighborhood scene to see and be seen, to eat scrumptious bites and try tasty bevs. Among its funky gems is L.A.’s oldest and most charming bowling alley. In 1927, during peak prohibition era, Highland Park Bowl established itself as a sort of wellness center—patrons could obtain legal prescriptions for “medicinal whiskey” from the doctors’ offices housed on the second floor, and fill said prescription at the pharmacy, also located on the premises. From there, patients were free to imbibe and bowl, a holistic, ritualistic healing method that persists even today. Presently, Highland Park Bowl serves upscale cocktails and gastropub-esque eats to the sound of ball knocking pins. Strike!
If you are up for wandering around the more scenic “park” aspects of Highland Park, try Hermon Park (Arroyo Seco Park). The name translates to “dry stream” in Spanish, and as you’ll see faced with the flood channel. Hike or horseback ride the southwest perimeter, or have a picnic and enjoy the playgrounds in the center section of Hermon Park. It’s hotter inland, so make sure you bring plenty of water for your activities.
INSIDER TIPOn Saturday, you catch a free archery lesson in the park.
Get Happy at Disneyland
Disneyland isn’t technically L.A.—it’s in Anaheim—but lots of visitors to the area make the hour jaunt out to The Happiest Place on Earth. Disneyland is the original theme park vision of Walt Disney, and many people find it to be more charming and less overwhelming than its Florida counterpart. A bonus L.A. experience is that Disneyland now pairs with Disney’s California Adventure, showcasing more recent Disney characters and Hollywood-oriented attractions. Just beyond that, Downtown Disney has a ton of restaurants, bars, and clubs (not to mention parking) that’s not just for kids. Serious Disneylanders have established a few tricks to beat the crowds and keep you smiling. The most important? Make sure to get a fast pass early in the morning—they inevitably run out—so that you can quickly get onto the park’s most popular rides, like Space Mountain. Another hot tip? Download the app Is It Packed? to track the wait times at your favorite rides. It’s worth sticking around for the fireworks show—it is Disney, after all—and we recommend finding a less crowded spot in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle for prime viewing. Stay away from Main Street. For 2022, here’s every new thing coming to the Disney parks.
INSIDER TIPThere is a picnic area to eat, so we recommend bringing sealed food and beverages if you want to save a few bucks.
Related: An R-Rated Guide to Disneyland
Indulge at Universal Studios and Harry Potter World
At Universal Studios Hollywood, you’ll want to pick the movies and rides you are most passionate about ahead of time, because there is no way you’ll be able to do it all in just one day. Like all theme parks in L.A., we recommend weekdays to beat the crowds. Besides Harry Potter World, don’t miss out on the 4D Transformers experience (Bumble Bee is wandering around!); the super-fast, super spooky Revenge of the Mummy; Simpsons Land; and Jurassic Park the Ride (prepare to get wet). Harry Potter World is Universal’s most popular attraction, and for good reason: because it’s magical. The line waits, however, are all too regular–but in this case, the queues are half the fun. There’s plenty to see while you snake through Hogwarts, from the Whomping Willow to the Sorting Hat. It’s worth it to get a butterbeer at Hogsmeade or a (very expensive) wand from Olivander’s. Get ready for Super Nintendo World coming in 2023—”Oh yeah! Mario time!”
INSIDER TIPHarry Potter World may be one park where a fast pass won’t do you any good because missing waiting in line means missing half the attraction. In fact, most of the trip through Hogwarts happens while waiting to board the rides.
And when it comes to the park as a whole, pick what you want to do ahead of time because you won’t get to all of it!
Take a Studio Tour
If you’ve come to L.A. singing, “Hooray for Hollywood! That screwy ballyhooey Hollywood!” then you’re probably going to want to take a studio tour. The major perk besides checking out the behind-scenes-movie-making-magic? You never know what famous actor might be wandering around on the lot.
The former MGM Studios, Sony Pictures Studio Tour, is located in Culver City and offers a two-hour walking tour of sound stages, backlots, and sets with opportunities to see vehicles, props, and maybe even a celeb on duty. Notable things to see: Breaking Bad RV, the Jeopardy! set, the Barbra Streisand Scoring Studio, the Ghostbusters mobile. Warner Bros. Studio Tour is located in Burbank, and features behind-the-scenes visits to sound stages, sets, and black lot streets. View props and costumes from memorable movies and television shows like Gilmore Girls, Friends, the Batmobile, and the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter. Meanwhile, on Paramount Pictures Studio Tour, see the lots where The Godfather, Titanic, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Grease, and the Star Trek series were shot. Sit on the Forrest Gump bench if you like. Bonus: You can see the Hollywood Sign from inside the lot.
INSIDER TIPParking for Paramount is across the street and cash only.
Universal Studios Hollywood Tour starts at the Universal Studios theme park, so if you’re headed to the amusement park, you could tie in a tour with your day. Jimmy Fallon video hosts the tram ride through the studios, including a drive past the Bates Motel and the infamous shark from Jaws.
Devour In-N-Out Burger
Healthy(ish) made-to-order fast food with a secret menu? That is so L.A. Most hometown Los Angelenos will tell you the best spot for quick burgers and delicious shakes is In-N-Out, but don’t be an out-of-towner about it: get your burger and fries animal style and savor the grilled onions and special sauce that take your meal to the next level. It doesn’t matter which one you choose–the menu is uniform, and the secret menu is universal.
See a Movie
What better way to honor La La Land than with a movie celebrating its glory? Los Angeles movie theaters are unique and comfortable. Check out the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, which screens 35 and 70-mm prints as well as DCP, or Quentin Tarantino’s The New Beverly Cinema for a double feature in 35mm. The lavish Egyptian Theater dates all the way back to 1922 and underwent a $15 million renovation and features Egyptian hieroglyphs and a courtyard oasis; El Capitan is the place to go for Disney releases to experience exclusive preshow entertainment as well as prop and costume exhibits. You don’t have to stay in Hollywood to see a movie–the Alamo Drafthouse downtown offers a restaurant viewing experience, while the Vintage Loz Feliz 3 offers bargain matinees for under $11.
Dine on Mexican Food
You can’t go wrong with any Central American cuisine in Los Angeles, but the Mexican food is unmissable. Tacos and tortas, burritos and birria—whether you get it from a food truck or a fancy cantina, the Mexican food in L..A is unmissable.
Our favorite spots for cheap, simple, and delicious: Watch the tortillas being made right in front of your eyes at Guisados in Echo Park or Downtown. For your first visit, don’t miss out on the 6-mini-taco sampler plate and the horchata-Stumptown coffee mix. Best Fish Taco in Ensenada (actually in Los Feliz) offers only three options for tacos: shrimp, fish, and potato. Get all three and you won’t break $10. (Seriously, get all three.) El Coyote is a festive Los Angeles tradition, with waitresses wearing embroidered puebla dresses and a full patio to soak up the sun. Keep the chips and salsa coming, por favor.
Our favorite spots to have a fancier meal: El Cholo, rumored to have propelled nachos to stardom, is an LA classic with multiple locations. Their green corn tamales are only available during the summer. El Parian in Pico Union is Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold’s favorite, and he recommends the goat birria. Hollywood’s Broken Spanish is a modern take on Mexican cuisine, complete with an upscale atmosphere and crafty cocktails.
Marvel at Watts Towers
An incredible work of public art, these mosaicked architectural structures were built over a period of 33 years from 1921 to 1954. Composed of tile, glass, porcelain and fastened by mesh wires and cement, they are the brainchild of Italian immigrant Sabato (“Simon”) Rodia (1879–1965), a construction worker and tile mason, who created the structure without a preplanned blueprint, let alone special equipment.
The tallest of the towers is 99.5 feet. Since their creation, they have been reinforced and city officials have deemed them structurally sound. Now, the Watts Towers Art Center Campus oversees their preservation and provides guided tours of the structures. An extraordinary example of outsider art and an installation of wild creation, the Watts Towers are worth the stop south to ogle.
Escape to the Huntington Library
The Huntington is so much more than a library—it’s a world-class research institute, spectacular art collection, and gorgeously manicured botanical garden, too. The Main Exhibition Hall showcases rare books and manuscripts, while the rest of library serves as a collection of over 7 million items. The art gallery exhibits European and American art from the 17th to 20th century, including pieces by Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, and Sargent Claude Johnson. Not to be missed are the Library’s grounds, a 120-acre conservatory of incredible flora, including a rose, herb, desert, Japanese, tropical, and children’s garden—and that’s not even all of the themes. Find tranquility amongst the blossoms or along the lily ponds.
See a Show at The Forum
Former home of the Lakers and Kings and now branded as The Kia Forum, the venue is a world-class music venue. After numerous upgrades in 2013, security is efficient and breezy, and amenities are readily available from the updated bathrooms to concessions (along with tents and trucks in the parking area) and merchandise. This is the venue to see a wide variety of pop, rock, and hip hop performers from Pearl Jam to Leon Bridges to Patti LaBelle to Justin Beiber.