Who dreams of traveling? We can’t wait to cross the border to see our friends in the US and California is the best place to start. So we asked our friend Jeremy from Travel Freak to tell us what are the best things to do in Los Angeles, including some outdoor activities to make sure we all have a fun and healthy trip ahead of us.
Planning a trip to Los Angeles but don’t know where to start? Discover the best places in Los Angeles with this list of 25 things to do in Los Angeles.
Brimming with culture, history, and creative energy, you can’t visit the West Coast without stopping in Los Angeles. And it’s not just for culture vultures: the 4,000 square miles of Los Angeles County are packed with hiking, beaches, and all kinds of outdoor adventures.
But as with other major U.S. cities, planning a trip to Los Angeles is challenging precisely because there’s so much to see and experience. In this list you’ll find a range of places and things to do in Los Angeles, from the usual sightseeing tours to some of the city’s best-kept secrets. Regardless of what you’re interested in and where you’re staying, at least one of these options should pique your interest.
Los Angeles at a Glance
Los Angeles is part of Los Angeles County, made up of a total of 88 incorporated cities. Los Angeles – also known as the City of Angels – is the most populous city in California and comprises more than 80 neighborhoods. The delineation of these neighborhoods can be quite conflicting, so don’t worry if you don’t find what you’re looking for on a typical map. If you get lost, it’s best to ask a local.
Your main gateway to Los Angeles is Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which is located in the beachside neighborhood of Westchester. Head northwest and you’ll reach other famous beach towns like Venice, Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades and Malibu.
Although Los Angeles has adequate public transportation, the best way to get around is by car. There’s a saying that “nobody walks in Los Angeles”; with the size of the county and LA’s burgeoning car culture, it’s pretty true. No, I take that back: it’s 100% true.
Things to do in Los Angeles if you’re visiting for the first time.
Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard and the sandy shores of SoCal: these are the places every first-timer must see. Here are eight things to do in Los Angeles on your first visit:
1. 1. Take a picture with the Hollywood sign.
No trip to Los Angeles is complete without seeing the city’s most iconic landmark: the Hollywood sign. Located atop Mount Lee in the Santa Monica Mountains, the sign has plenty of viewing options with varying levels of difficulty.
If you don’t want to break a sweat, you can always view it from afar by driving down Beverly Drive. If you want to get a closer look, you can head over to Lake Hollywood Park, a great place for families. And if you’re up for a hike, you can take a shuttle to the end of Deronda Drive. From the cul-de-sac, look for the white archway with the green gate and hike up the trail to the top of Mount Lee.
Tip: Consider going up to the Griffith Observatory to watch the sunset. The Observatory has a number of fascinating artifacts and exhibits, from the 12-inch Zeiss telescope to the Rebel Without a Cause monument. However, its biggest draw is the amazing view – here, you get a clear shot of the signal, as well as front-row seats to the city skyline.
2. Go shopping on Rodeo Drive.
Rodeo Drive, a two-mile stretch packed with high-end designer labels like Saint Laurent, Gucci, Prada, Versace and Chanel, is the epitome of style and luxury. While it’s no longer the celebrity hangout it used to be, it will always be etched in pop culture thanks to that infamous shopping scene in Pretty Women. And while you’re in Beverly Hills, don’t forget to visit other glitzy spots like the Greystone Mansion Gardens and the Beverly Hills Hotel.
3. Drive down the Sunset Strip
There’s nothing more characteristically Los Angeles than driving down Sunset Boulevard as the sun sets. And when day turns to night, the Sunset Strip – or the 1.5-mile stretch from Doheny to North Crescent Heights – becomes a hive of music and nightlife.
The Roxy Theatre, the Whisky A Go Go, and the Viper Room have hosted some of the biggest names in music. Meanwhile, the Comedy Store and Laugh Factory feature former stand-up comedians such as Eddie Murphy, George Carlin and Chris Rock.
4. Go to the beach
From Baywatch to The OC, Southern California’s stunning beaches have served as the backdrop for countless movies and TV shows. And if you’re a surfer, Los Angeles is paradise. From the city, you have easy access to some of SoCal’s top surf spots, including El Porto, Zuma, Topanga and Huntington Beach, the surfing capital of the world.
Venice Beach is as well known for its boardwalk as it is for its waves. This bustling promenade is like a microcosm of everything Los Angeles, from surfers to street performers, vendors, buskers, street musicians, skateboarders and muscle dudes working out on Muscle Beach.
For family fun, the Santa Monica Pier is the place to be. It has a seaside amusement park, live music, an arcade, and plenty of restaurants and shops for all ages. Note that most of the park’s attractions are closed for the time being. But the view from the pier is worth it too.
Unsurprisingly, if you don’t like crowds, you can head to Will Rogers State Beach. Located between Topanga and Santa Monica in the Pacific Palisades, this three-mile stretch of beach doesn’t get as many visitors as the others on this list.
And if you’re looking for a little adventure, there’s Point Dume State Beach, which sits at the end of Malibu on a cliff that juts out into the Pacific. Here you can take a dip in the clear blue waters, snorkel alongside sea lions or even try your hand at rock climbing.
Tip: L.A.’s Mediterranean climate doesn’t change much, so any day is a beach day. But if you want to avoid the summer crowds, consider visiting from September to November.
5. Walk along Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood Boulevard is in a way Los Angeles’ equivalent of New York’s Times Square. With tens of thousands of visitors every day, it’s the quintessential tourist trap. But it’s iconic enough to be worth a visit.
Hollywood Boulevard is home to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a 1.3-mile walkway with the names of hundreds of movie and TV stars, directors and producers. If you have kids, play a game to see who’s the first to spot their favorite characters.
In addition to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Boulevard features other popular tourist attractions, from the TCL Chinese Theatre and the Dolby Theatre to historic movie theaters such as the Vista Theatre and the American Cinematheque.
6. Go see celebrities at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Less than 10 minutes off Hollywood Boulevard is the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the final resting place of some of the biggest names of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Consider it a quieter – albeit macabre – alternative to the busy Walk of Fame. Here you’ll find the graves of Mel Blanc, Jayne Mansfield, Cecille B. DeMille and Dee Dee and Johnny Ramone.
7. Grab a bite to eat at the original farmers market
Once you’ve had your fill of celebrity spotting, head to Fairfax and 3rd Street for the Los Angeles dining experience. This historic market has been around since 1934 and has become a multicultural hub for foodies. This place is beloved by travelers and locals alike and has been visited by countless celebrities, from the Beatles to James Dean.
8. Visit the soundstages of your favorite movies and TV shows.
Movie and TV fans will enjoy a visit to some of Hollywood’s biggest studios. At the Warner Bros. studio, “Friends” fans can live out their ultimate fantasy with a visit to Stage 48: Script to Screen, where a replica of the Central Perk Cafe permanently resides.
Meanwhile, at Paramount Studios, you can learn about its legacy as the longest-running studio in Hollywood and marvel at its massive New York Street backlot. And if you want a real reminder of the past, you can head to Sony Pictures, which still houses the old Art Deco buildings of the former MGM studio that once stood on the lot.
Note: At the moment, studio tours are cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Things to do in Los Angeles if you’re an adventure junkie.
Angelenos know that the best thing about Los Angeles is its abundance of hiking trails, parks, and plenty of other outdoor adventure options.
For a quick urban hike, there’s Griffith Park. It’s six times the size of New York’s Central Park and is home to the Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory, Bronson Canyon Caves, the Los Angeles Zoo, the Greek Theatre, and a 53-mile network of trails and paths. There’s also the Runyon Canyon hike, which is a 3.5-mile trail in the Santa Monica Mountains. Runyon Canyon is the only park that allows dogs to run off-leash, so if you’re traveling with your pup, don’t miss this trail.
If you want to plan more intense day trips, there’s no shortage of options either – California has 300 state parks! And while camping is still out of the question, there are still plenty of fun things to do, like:
9. Climb Mount Baldy
At 10,000 feet above sea level, Mt. Baldy (also known as Mt. San Antonio) is considered the highest peak in Los Angeles County. There are numerous trails throughout the mountain, from the short and sweet Mt. Baldy Notch trail, about 3 miles one way, to the Mt. Baldy trail, the longest (4.5 miles one way) and oldest trail, which takes you to the summit. From the top, you get beautiful views of Los Angeles. On a good day, you can even see Catalina Island.
In winter, Mount Baldy also becomes a popular skiing destination.
10. Bungee jumping from the bridge to nowhere.
The Angeles National Forest covers over 700,000 acres of land, including the San Gabriel and Sierra Pelona Mountains. One of the most exciting things to do here is the Bridge to Nowhere hike in the San Gabriel Mountains. It’s a 10-mile hike that includes river crossings, tunnels and an impressive 100-foot-high concrete bridge that leads to nowhere, as it’s embedded in the canyon.
If the hike isn’t thrilling enough, you can also go bungee jumping from the bridge. And if you’re in the mood for a bit of adrenaline, you can even arrange a night jump, where you’ll fall into a pitch-black abyss and look up into a starry night.
A word of warning, however: always check the weather before embarking on this excursion. In the wet season, the area is prone to flash flooding. In the summer months, it can be a tiring trip, as there is virtually no shade.
11. Go bouldering in Joshua Tree National Park.
Known as the place where two deserts, Colorado and Mojave, meet, the park is home to some of the most interesting scenery this side of the United States. Some of the most famous sites include the eerie Skull Rock formation and the 9-meter Arch Rock arch.
Joshua Tree’s massive rock formations make it an ideal place for rock climbing. Trashcan Rock, Lizard’s Hangout and The Blob are some of the best places for beginners.
12. Go off-piste in the Mojave Desert
The Mojave Highway is a 150-mile historic dirt road that starts at Beale’s Crossing along the Colorado River and ends at Drum Barracks in Wilmington, LA. You can hike the entire trail in three days, but be sure to bring plenty of food, water and gas, as there are virtually no outlets in the desert. Also be sure to bring tools, a spare tire and emergency supplies.
Since this is a desert road with no maintenance, it is necessary to take a 4×4 vehicle.
13. Sail to Catalina Island
If you fancy something more relaxed, you can book a private charter to Catalina Island. During the trip, you can sail alongside dolphins, kayak or stand-up paddleboard and snorkel Catalina’s coral reefs.
14. Explore the secret staircases of Los Angeles
In the mid-20th century, Los Angeles had a fairly extensive trolley system, covering over 1,100 miles of track. Although the trolleybuses are long gone, you’ll find remnants of this system in the network of steep stairways that run through places like Silver Lake, Echo Park Lake, Pacific Palisades and Beachwood Canyon.
The latter is a quaint residential community that is frequented by stars and former stars. So if you’re one of those travelers who like to hunt for beautiful homes, this is for you. Plus, you can get a good cardio workout!
15. Drive along the Pacific Coast Highway.
The city of Los Angeles is both the city of cars and the city of stars, with a car culture so enduring that it has shaped the way the city – and the surrounding area – has been designed. As such, LA is one of the best places for travelers to embark on a road trip.
One of the best routes to take is from Santa Monica to Zuma Beach in Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway. The highway runs along California’s Pacific coast and offers one of the most breathtaking views in the world. And while you’re in Malibu, be sure to check out the biker hangout, Neptune’s Net, a world-famous seafood and beer restaurant just off the highway.
Another epic route would be Mulholland Drive, which Jay Leno once described as the “backbone of Los Angeles.” With the San Fernando Valley on one side and Beverly Hills on the other, the road offers spectacular views of the Los Angeles basin. “The Snake,” a twisty stretch full of hairpin turns, is also a favorite of bikers and car enthusiasts. Unfortunately, much of Mulholland Drive has been closed since the Woolsey Fire ravaged the area.
16. Cycle along the Strand
The Strand, also known as the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, is a 22-mile bike path that starts at Will Rogers State Beach and runs through Pacific Palisades and down to Santa Monica, Redondo, Manhattan, Venice Beach and Torrance County Beach. Keep in mind that it’s a relaxed trail that travelers of all ages and skill levels enjoy. So, if you’re looking to sprint, this may not be the trail for you.
Things to do in Los Angeles if you’re a culture vulture.
Home to the American entertainment industry, Los Angeles is a melting pot of art, talent and culture. Here are five things to do in Los Angeles for history, music and food lovers:
17. Visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
LACMA is the largest art museum on the West Coast. Its art galleries include works by artists such as Henri Matisse, Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso and René Magritte.
Outside, you can have your photo taken next to two epic installations: “Urban Light,” consisting of 202 restored streetlights from the 1920s and 1930s; and “Levitated Mass,” a 340-ton environmental sculpture.
18. Take an architectural tour
Los Angeles boasts some of the most unique and acclaimed homes, buildings and museums in the world. Book a tour and learn the history behind some of the city’s most celebrated architectural attractions, such as:
Richard Neutra’s Lovell Health Lovell HouseFrank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock HouseThe Walt Disney Concert HallThe Broad MuseumThe Richard Meier-designed Getty Center (home to the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Villa and the Getty Research Institute).
19. Immerse yourself in Japanese culture at Little Tokyo.
Little Tokyo is a 135-year-old neighborhood located in downtown Los Angeles. As the second oldest neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles and one of only three official Japanese neighborhoods in the United States, Little Tokyo is a historical and cultural landmark.
You can learn about the experiences of Japanese Americans throughout history at the Japanese American National Museum, find unique gifts for friends back home at the Bunkado store, or eat homemade Japanese food on 1st Street.
20. Feast at Grand Central Market.
Another must-visit in downtown Los Angeles, Grand Central Market is a foodie’s paradise. Come on an empty stomach because Grand Central is packed with good food.
Must-try dishes include Villa Moreliana’s tacos, Belcampo Meat Co.’s dry-aged beef burger and Eggslut’s famous egg sandwiches. For dessert, McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams is the best choice.
21. See a concert at the Hollywood Bowl
Before the pandemic, the Bowl was the premier live music venue in Los Angeles. The massive amphitheater has hosted everything from Hall and Oates to Lady Gaga, but it’s the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra that calls it home.
The park area used to be open to the public during the day, and visitors could watch rehearsals for free. But due to the coronavirus, no concerts or tours are allowed at the moment. In the meantime, you can check their website for videos of past performances held at the Bowl.
Things to do as a family in Los Angeles
When traveling with kids, it’s important to find destinations that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Here are our top 5 things to do as a family in Los Angeles.
22. Explore Exposition Park
If you and your kids are up for a day trip, head to Exposition Park. This sprawling urban park is home to attractions like the Banc of California football stadium, the Rose Garden, the California African American Museum, the Natural History Museum and the California Science Center. The Science Center is especially interesting because it is the final resting place of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, the last operational shuttle built for NASA.
23. Enjoy the Petersen Automotive Museum
If you and your kids share a passion for cars, drive down Wilshire Boulevard and stop at the Petersen Museum. This museum, one of the largest in the world, displays more than 100 vehicles in 25 galleries.
If you’re a big gearhead, you can pay an extra $20 to enter “The Vault,” an underground parking space where the museum stores vehicles that have been rotated out of exhibitions, as well as cars that have never been shown to the public. Here you’ll find gems like Steve McQueen’s 1957 Jaguar and a 1998 Cadillac Popemobile with an open top. Children under the age of 10 are not allowed in this area.
24. Learn about the Ice Age at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum.
What makes the Tar Pits one of the most popular attractions in Los Angeles? The La Brea Tar Pits are the only active Ice Age fossil site located in an urban setting. Scientists have been digging up fossils from this area for over a hundred years, and all of the artifacts from these excavations are on display at the La Brea museum.
Here, kids can learn about prehistory, archaeology, biology, and climate change. Overall, it’s a great place to engage your kids in a fun, interactive and educational activity.
25. Experience the thrill of movie magic at Universal Studios Hollywood.
There’s definitely no shortage of theme parks in California. You have Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Six Flags and Legoland to name a few.
But if you and your kids are pop culture geeks, Universal Studios may be one of the only theme parks that really brings the magic of the movies to life. Some of the park’s main attractions include the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Jurassic World attraction and the World-Famous Studio tour.
Whether you’re looking for quick urban hikes, lazy beach days, surf sessions, or epic day trips in the desert, Los Angeles is a dream for most adventure travelers. You’ll never run out of things to do in Los Angeles.
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