Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the country and one of the most visited cities in California. It is simply sprawling in size and has plenty of attractions.
We first visited Los Angeles on our honeymoon over a decade ago and since then I have a love-hate relationship with the city. I love skyscrapers and vertical downtowns like San Francisco – but LA is more spread out and has fewer tall buildings due to earthquake-resistant structures – plus, I hate the city’s traffic. But at the same time, I love Los Angeles museums, cultural scenes, world-class restaurants, and shopping opportunities.
Los Angeles is home to Hollywood and is called the ‘Entertainment Capital of the World’. If you are a movie buff then you should definitely put Los Angeles on your West Coast bucket list. You can visit studios, dine where the stars dine and even see their homes!
Best Things to do in Los Angeles
Los Angeles is home to a variety of attractions. Whether you are looking for the Hollywood glitz and glamour or unique architecture or stunning white sand beaches or Michelin starred restaurants, Los Angeles has it all.
Here are our tips for a great trip to LA: Visiting all the tourist attractions in the city in a single visit can be an overwhelming experience.
That’s why we recommend selecting a few attractions and exploring them in depth during your first visit. You can always return a second time!
Families usually love theme parks while movie lovers can’t stay away from Hollywood Boulevard. Theme parks and studio tours can quickly get expensive, so add some of the free things to do in the city to keep within your budget.
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Love Hollywood? Visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame! The Hollywood Walk of Fame is a free attraction and while quite touristy, is definitely worth the visit.
Here you will find over 2500 stars embedded in the sidewalk. The stars bear names of famous actors, musicians, directors, and more legends from the film industry. You can walk over 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard while searching for the stars of your favorite icon.
At the west end of the Walk of Fame, you will find the Four Ladies of Hollywood sculpture. The public artwork is said to honor the women of color in Hollywood.
You will need at least 2 hours to walk the entire area but most of the popular stars are located in and around TCL Chinese Theater and Dolby Theater, making it easy to see in a short time.
Universal Studios Hollywood
One of California’s premier theme parks, Universal Studios Hollywood is all about the movies brought back to life. It is among the most reputed and oldest Hollywood Studios.
At Universal, you can see movie sets, take thrilling rides based on movies, plus learn about movie history. There are simulated attractions and roller coasters based on Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, The Simpsons, and Transformers.
Our favorite part of visiting Universal is the tram tour which takes visitors through several movie sets including those of Shutter Island, Jurassic Park, Jaws, and more. For additional cost, you can also get a VIP tour of the movie sets and studios.
Spending a day at Universal Studios Hollywood is, undoubtedly, one of the best things to do in Los Angeles.
Another of our favorite things to do in Los Angeles! Griffith Park is one of the largest urban parks in the country and is simply huge. The park is located on the slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains and was inhabited by Native Americans in the past.
The park is home to a number of attractions including the Los Angeles Zoo, the Autry Museum of American West, and the Griffith Observatory. Besides these, Griffith Park also has many free attractions like hiking trails, birding, horseback riding, and more.
One of the unique attractions in the park is the antique carousel. This is said to have inspired Walt Disney to dream and create the beloved theme parks.
You can also camp in the park or rent bikes or have a picnic. The park has children’s play areas, a golf course, and even a Greek amphitheatre. If you are looking to spend a day away from the chaotic city life of Los Angeles, then Griffith Park is your best bet.
Griffith Observatory, located in Griffith Park, deserves a special mention. Named after a Welsh industrialist and philanthropist, Griffith J. Griffith, Griffith Observatory is a popular tourist attraction in Los Angeles.
The Observatory is free to visit and we recommend it as a must for everyone. The Observatory offers a highly educational experience and kids of all ages love looking at the telescopes and science and space exhibits.
Of special interest is the Foucault Pendulum, which illustrates the rotation of the earth, and the Zeiss refracting telescope.
The observatory itself is a beautiful building in the Greek Revival style of architecture and is perched high above the city. Its grounds offer excellent views of the city, of the Hollywood Sign, and even the Pacific Ocean. The view is pretty amazing at sunset.
The Observatory is also a must visit for movie buffs. It is a popular filming locale in Los Angeles and several movies from La La Land to Back to the Future have been filmed here.
Disney Theme Parks
You really cannot visit Los Angeles or for that matter, California, without visiting Disney.
Known as the happiest place on Earth, the Disney theme parks in Anaheim delight and entertain children and adults alike. Disneyland is the perfect place to meet Mickey and friends plus other storybook characters while Disney California Adventure is more movie-based and has thrilling rides.
Apart from the rides, kids can meet their favorite movie characters, dress up like the princesses, eat a variety of Mickey shaped treats, and see parades and fireworks. Disney definitely lives up to its hype of a dream destination.
We recommend buying multi-day park tickets as they are worth the cost since the Disney theme parks offer a variety of excellent rides, attractions, shows, and events. Time spent at Disney with your family and loved ones is magical and a great way to create memories while visiting Los Angeles.
The Hollywood Sign is a famous American cultural icon situated on Mount Lee in Hollywood Hills. It is one of the most Instagram famous spots in Los Angeles.
This iconic sign has an interesting history: the 45-foot tall letters were put up in 1923 to advertise the residential real estate project named Hollywoodland. Since then the sign was changed to Hollywood and is now a permanent feature of the city.
To see the sign up close, you can hike the Brush Canyon Trail in Griffith Park. This 6.4 miles hike takes you directly behind the giant letters. Alternatively, you can also spot the sign from several vantage points in the city.
TCL Chinese Theatre
Previously known as Grauman’s Chinese Theater, this iconic building is one of Hollywood’s most memorable sites. Since it’s opening in 1927, it has represented the Golden Age of Hollywood.
The theater is a sought after venue for movie premieres. Securing a ticket to one of these is expensive and difficult but worth it – you can see celebrities walk the red carpet to the premiere.
We love visiting the theater to admire it’s architecture. The building has been declared a historic-cultural landmark in Los Angeles. The forecourt marked by the iconic red towers and the traditional turreted roof is a work of art. Several of the embellishments including the dragon, heaven dogs, and pagoda were imported directly from China.
You will also find handprints, signatures, and hand-written messages of several movie stars along the sidewalks in front of TCL Chinese Theatre.
The theatre also offers a VIP 30 min guided walking tours of the theater. On the tour you not only get to see the exhibits but can also see exhibits, hear stories about Tinseltown’s history, and get to be a part of the theater’s glamorous life.
There are several places for art lovers in Los Angeles but few can compete with the trio of Getty Museums, the Broad, and the LACMA.
The Getty Museums are especially known for their extensive collection and beautiful architecture. Both the locations house the private collection of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty.
The Getty Center is located in the Santa Monica mountains and has a collection that is spread over 9 buildings. The building as well as the grounds are breathtaking. Inside the galleries, you will find works by Rembrandt and Van Gogh.
The Getty Villa is the Roman style villa in Malibu. It houses a variety of ancient Grecian and Roamn antiquities. The villa itself is magnificent and transports you straight back to first-century Rome. Admission to the Getty Villa is free, hence we recommend adding it to your Los Angeles bucket list.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
As the largest art museum in the western USA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, also known as LACMA, is worthy of a visit. It comprises 7 large buildings and is stunning to visit. LACMA is located on Miracle Mile next to many other museums.
Its collections are simply vast and span from ancient antiquities to postmodern art. You will find galleries dedicated to Asian Art, Islamic Art, and Latin American Art. You will also see a variety of sculptures and mixed media artwork throughout the museum.
Of special interest is the Urban Lights installation. Created by artist Chris Burden, this sculpture is iconic of LACMA. This is also one of the most popular photo ops in Los Angeles, the vintage lamp posts provide a very fascinating background.
The museum is also home to the longest stretch of the original Berlin Wall outside of Germany. You can see them on Wilshire Blvd.
Since its opening in the fall of 2015, the Broad has become the talk of the town. The art museum focuses on modern, contemporary, and post-war art and is a delight to visit. Entry to the Broad is free.
The museum building itself is beautiful with its honeycomb-like exterior facade that envelops the inner galleries. The design is based on veil and vault style. The architecture was purposely chosen to be in contrast to Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, which is located adjacent to the museum.
The Broad houses over two thousand pieces of contemporary art by more than 200 artists. Visitors can enjoy beautiful artwork by prominent artists like Jean Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, and Kara Walker.
One of the striking features of the Broad is its emphasis on dramatic, larger than life art installations. These have made the Broad one of the trendiest places to visit in Los Angeles in recent times.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
While you are visiting the Broad, don’t forget to see the nearby Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Designed by Frank Gehry, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is the most iconic building in Downtown Los Angeles. Visitors love admiring and photographing the unique structure built in a deconstructivist style of architecture.
The striking curved stainless-steel shell looks even more beautiful at night. While attending a concert and enjoying the acoustics is one of the best ways to enjoy the Walt Disney Concert Hall, visitors can also take a free hour-long guided audio tour of the interior and exterior of the hall to enjoy this venue.
Miracle Mile Museums
Los Angeles is one of the best destinations in the country for cultural travelers. The city has plenty of museums from arts to history to cars and many of them are conveniently located close together on the Miracle Mile.
The stretch of Wilshire Boulevard between Western and Fairfax is known as the Museum Row because it is home to some of the city’s best museums. Here you will find LACMA, La Brea Tar Pits, Page Museum, Petersen Automotive Museum, and Craft Contemporary (formerly the Craft and Folk Art Museum).
We recommend walking on Miracle Mile and Museum Row even if you are not interested in entering the museums. Many of the museums have fantastic architecture and the area around Museum Square is excellent for people watching, dining, and checking out food trucks.
Petersen Automotive Museum
For those who love cars, a visit to the Petersen Automotive Museum is a must. The exterior of the museum was recently renovated and is appealing as its interior.
The museum collection spans from antique and vintage cars to futuristic vehicles. The museum narrates the history of the automobile industry through exhibits and galleries. You will also find cars that were featured in movies including the cars from Back to the Future.
Along with vintage cars, you can also see motorbikes and racing cars in the museum. The museum also has a special area for kids where they can learn how cars work and race with toy cars.
La Brea Tar Pits
Another kid-friendly attraction on the Museum Row is the La Brea Tar Pits. Located in Hancock Park, these are one of the most famous tar pits in the world.
Many of the Ice Age mammals got trapped in the tar, eventually died, and were excellently preserved in the form of fossils and skeletons. Research at the La Brea Tar Pits continues even today. Visitors can see Pit 91 up close while visiting the attraction.
The Page Museum located adjacent to the La Brea Tar Pits displays finds from the excavations. Amongst the collections, you can see fossils and skeletons of Columbian mammoths, ground sloth, bison, ancient horses, and other extinct animals.
The museum is also home to a fossil lab. Kids can observe the archeologists at work and learn more about the pits as well as the process of excavating bones and fossils.
Craft Contemporary is one of the most underrated museums on Museum Row of the Miracle Mile. The museum focuses exclusively on crafts and is a great place to visit for craft enthusiasts.
This small museum does not have permanent collections but has many rotating exhibitions that focus on different crafts. The exhibits are beautiful, thought provoking, and innovative. The museum can be easily seen in under an hour.
The museum also offers several programs and classes for interested visitors.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles county is the largest natural history museum on the West Coast. It is comparable to the American Museum of Natural History in New York or the Field Museum in Chicago.
The museum is located in the popular Exposition Park. The museum collection is housed in a beautiful Neoclassical style building that is also popular for its architecture. The building rotunda is especially beautiful.
The museum is especially popular with kids who love dinosaurs. The Dinosaur Hall is vast and contains skeletons of Triceratops Tyrannosaurus Rex, and other popular dinosaurs. Other collections include mammals, birds, gems and minerals.
The museum also includes the Butterfly Pavilion and nature garden. This is a beautiful outdoor space where you can watch colorful butterflies fly all around you.
California Science Center
Also located in Exposition Park, the California Science Center is a must visit for those who like hands-on STEM exhibits. Visiting the California Science Center is one of the best things to do in Los Angeles with kids of all ages.
The center has a variety of permanent exhibits displaying a diverse range of ecosystems including the desert, polar regions, and rainforests and is a great place to learn about the flora and fauna in each ecosystem.
You will find galleries dedicated to the human body systems and other biological processes like hatching of eggs, DNA, and more. Visitors can tour the Space Shuttle Endeavor in the aerospace gallery.
This is a great place to spend a few hours indoors with the kids while learning at the same time.
Travel Town Rails
If you are a train enthusiast, you would be surprised to know that Griffith Park has not just one but two awesome train museums. Travel Town is the more popular one while adjacent Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum is a hidden gem.
At Travel Town, you can see many vintage trains as well as railroad memorabilia. You can see rolling stock that once belonged to Santa Fe Railroad, Southern Pacific, etc. Many of these railroad lines contributed to the development of southern California. Entry to the museum is free making this a popular stop if you want to see LA on a budget.
Los Angeles Live Steamers is a miniature railroad museum. All models are working models and you can closely observe the mechanisms of steam engines, diesel locomotives, electric trains, track switches, signals, and scaled buildings. You can take a ride on a miniature model train around the park.
Dedicated to the history of the American West, the Autry Museum is a fascinating place. The museum has two sites: one is located in Griffith Park while the other is in the historic Mount Washington neighborhood on Museum Drive.
The museum has many exhibits and galleries dedicated to the events, stories, and cultures of the American West. Themes include Art of the West, stories from the frontier, famous wars and battles, collections of guns and other weaponry, and the cowboy lifestyle.
In the art section you can see paintings of landscapes and people, textiles, sculptures, pottery, and more items that narrate the story of the American West.
This unique museum is a great place to visit for history buffs while in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Zoo
The Los Angeles Zoo, located in Griffith Park, is one of the popular zoos in the country and is an instant hit with the kids. You can easily spend two to three hours here and we recommend doing it together with other Griffith Park attractions.
The zoo has many animal exhibits and areas. Kids can see many animals including giraffes, elephants, tigers, gorillas, zebras, and lions. The zoo also has many birds as well as other amenities including cafes, souvenir stands etc.
The zoo is big and seeing all the animals involves a lot of walking however there are hop on hop off trams which you can use to get around the zoo. We highly recommend this if you have younger kids.
Rodeo Drive of Beverly Hills is California’s most famous shopping district. Its name is synonymous with exclusivity and luxury.
This two-mile long street is lined with high-end and designer brands. Here you will find the likes of Gucci, Prada, Versace, Armani, and other reputed fashion houses.
Rodeo Drive is a shopper’s paradise but you need not have deep pockets to enjoy the area. Window-shopping is a fun way to explore this famous street. The area is also great for people watching, spotting stunning cars, and just having a fun day.
If you are lucky, you might even spot celebrities or models out shopping. Also on Rodeo Drive is the famous Beverly Hills sign – a must photo op while in Los Angeles.
Beverly Hills is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Los Angeles and has the most gorgeous homes. Here you will find the villas and mansions of countless movie stars and TV personalities; some more iconic than the others.
The best way to see the celebrity homes is via a guided tour. That way you don’t have to worry about finding the homes and driving on your own. In addition to showing the homes, the tour guides also narrate anecdotes about famous celebrities in Hollywood and make the tour interesting in several ways.
A variety of Beverly Hills celebrity home tours exist. You can either opt for 2 hours long guided bus tours or a self guided bike tour of the area. The most popular homes on everybody’s list include those of Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow, Elvis, Micheal Jackson, and Walt Disney.
VIP tour of movie studios
For a splurge worthy Hollywood experience, consider a VIP tour of some of the most popular movie studios in the world. Los Angeles is home to several famous Hollywood studios including Paramount Pictures Studio, Sony, and Warner Bros. Studios.
Most of these studios are open to the public for VIP guided tours. The tours allow visitors to view famous movie sets, TV series sets, and sound stages. The VIP Tours while expensive give visitors an opportunity to get up close with their favorite movie sets and props.
Here’s a little information on how to choose a tour: At Warner Brothers, you can ride Harry Potter’s Broomstick and take a picture on the Friends set while at Sony you can know more about film history and see Spiderman set. At Paramount, you can see famous personalities in the backlot and see sound stages for famous films.
If you love Hollywood and want to take a picture with a celebrity but do not want to splurge on VIP tour tickets, then the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Hollywood is your best bet!
Located on Hollywood Boulevard, this three-story museum hosts around 125 wax figures of celebrities. Some of its featured celebs include Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Depp, Jim Carrey, Clint Eastwood, E.T., Spiderman, and King Kong.
Not only can you see the famous celebs in wax but also pose with them using props. The museum also has several interesting exhibits on how the figures are created including the special processes for creating eyes and hair.
Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica is one of the best places to visit while in Los Angeles. There are many things to do in this vibrant neighborhood but the main attractions are the beach and the pier.
Santa Monica Beach is one of the best beaches near Los Angeles. It is known for its beautiful, panoramic views. The sunsets here are especially gorgeous. The beach is pretty long, almost 3.5 miles, has soft sand and is great to take a romantic walk.
The Santa Monica Pier is home to the Pacific Park amusement park. It has over a dozen thrilling rides. The most famous is the solar powered Ferris wheel from where you get stunning views of the coastline.
The pier is also home to the West Coaster roller coaster, a carousel, aquarium, live street performances, and is great fun for the families. Besides these, Santa Monica also has an abundance of fine-dining restaurants and excellent night life.
Original Farmers Market
The Los Angeles Farmers Market is considered one of the best in the country. This historic market was started in 1934, during the Great Depression. Today, it has grown into a vast and sprawling market that accommodates a variety of sellers.
The Original Farmers Market is a great spot to look at and buy fresh produce. It also has a variety of specialty shops and eateries and is a great place to dine. You will also find baked goods and hot meals including seafood.
The market is also great to buy souvenirs, hand-made gifts, household items, toys, and jewelry. If you visit in the evenings, you can often find music, concerts, and other free entertainment.
Adjacent to the Original Farmers Market, you will find one of Los Angeles’ best shopping destinations, the Grove. This shopping mecca is both stylish and impressive and always filled with people.
There are so many things to do at the Grove. Here you will find many famous brands, a variety of dining venues, movie theatre, and public areas. The Grove is also a perfect place to spot celebrities in Los Angeles.
Venice Beach located near Santa Monica is one of LA’s most eclectic neighborhoods. It is bohemian, vibrant, and colorful. The vibe of Venice Beach is not for everyone however we definitely recommend visiting here to discover whether you love it.
The main attractions are the Venice Boardwalk, Muscle Beach, and the skatepark. Other things to do include boutique shopping, seeing the murals, trying out trendy coffee bars, and some of LA’s top food spots. You will find street performers, musicians, and artists throughout the neighborhood.
If the funky style of Venice does not interest you, then try exploring the often overlooked Venice canals. This area is calm and beautiful: here you will find the canals similar to those in Italy, arched bridges, and locals out for a stroll.
Battleship Iowa Museum
Battleship USS Iowa Museum in Los Angeles is a must visit for maritime and navy enthusiasts. Located near the waterfront at Long Beach, this is one of the most popular museums in the city.
USS Iowa is popularly called the ‘Battleship of the Presidents’ and has carried several US Presidents across the Atlantic during wartimes. Visitors can tour the large battleship and marvel at its giant guns, President Roosevelt’s cabin, missile decks, and other areas.
The tour takes about an hour or two and is very informative and interesting. Older kids, especially preteens and teenagers, love visiting this museum and seeing the historic battleship.
Runyon Canyon Park
Located in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains, Runyon Canyon Park is a great place to visit for those who love being outdoors. The park has many hiking trails and is a great place to have a relaxing picnic.
In spite of being located just a few blocks away from the bustling Hollywood Boulevard, Runyon Canyon Park is quiet and calming. It offers beautiful views of San Fernando Valley, Pacific Ocean, the Hollywood Sign, and Griffith Observatory.
This urban park is easily accessible from the city and with its many amenities and play areas is an excellent spot for families. Old mansions and estates that are scattered throughout the park provide an old Hollywood charm to the park.
Zuma beach and Malibu
If you have a little extra time in Los Angeles, then consider a day trip along the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu. This charming city is known for its picturesque coastline, grand mansions, and the world-class surfing.
Zuma beach in Malibu is one of the largest and most popular beaches in Los Angeles. The beach is popular for its big breaks and is a popular surfing spot. You can either watch the surfers in action or try your luck by bringing along a surfboard. You can also take a surfing lesson in Malibu.
Malibu is also an excellent spot near Los Angeles to watch out for marine life. You can see dolphins, whales, and sea lions on an excursion into the ocean.
If you haven’t had your fill of amusement parks and want to sit on one more roller coaster and scream one more time, then consider spending a day at Six Flags Magic Mountain Theme Park. The amusement park is located in Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles.
The park has over 19 thrilling roller coasters and is a must for those who love the adrenaline rush. We definitely recommend Six Flags over Disney parks for teenagers and older kids.
Besides the attractions we listed above, there are many other things to do in Los Angeles. With its bevy of beautiful beaches, mountain ranges, a wide range of museums, outdoor spaces, and other tourist attractions, Los Angeles is definitely one of the best cities to visit on the West Coast.
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