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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 like the sisters whipping up addictive avocado sauce and crispy taquitos at Cielito Lindo just like their grandmother did in the 1940s. Watch Folklorico dancers and mariachi bands 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).