Who is dreaming of traveling? We can’t wait to cross the border to see our pals in the United States and California is the best place to start. So we asked our friend Jeremy of Travel Freak to tell us what are some the best things to do in Los Angeles including some outdoor activities to make sure we all have fun and healthy travels ahead.
Planning a trip to Los Angeles but don’t know where to start? Discover LA’s best hotspots 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—Los Angeles County’s sprawling 4,000 square miles is teeming with hikes, beaches, and all sorts of outdoor adventures!
But like with other big cities in the US, planning a trip to Los Angeles is challenging precisely because there is just so much to see and experience. In this list, you’ll find a range of places to go and things to do in Los Angeles, from the usual tourist jaunts to some of LA’s best-kept secrets. Whatever you’re into and no matter where you’re staying, at least one of these options should pique your interest.
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Los Angeles At A Glance
Los Angeles is actually part of Los Angeles County, made up of 88 incorporated cities all in all. LA—also known as the City of Angels—is California’s most populous city, comprising some 80+ neighborhoods. The delineation of these neighborhoods can get pretty contentious, so don’t worry if you can’t find what you’re looking for on a typical map. If you’re lost, it’s best to ask a local!
Your main gateway into Los Angeles is through the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which is situated in the beachside neighborhood of Westchester. Head up northwest, and you’ll hit other famed beach towns like Venice, Santa Monica, the Pacific Palisades, and Malibu.
While LA has adequate public transportation, the best way to get around is by car. There’s a saying that “nobody walks in LA”—with the sheer size of the county and Los Angeles’ thriving car culture, it is pretty much true. No, I take it back—it’s 100% true.
Things to Do in Los Angeles If You’re A First-Time Visitor
Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard, and the sandy shores of SoCal – these are the spots every first timer should see. Here are eight things to do in Los Angeles on your first visit:
1. Snap A Photo with The Hollywood Sign
No trip to Los Angeles is complete without a sighting of LA’s most iconic landmark: the Hollywood sign. Sitting atop Mount Lee in the Santa Monica mountains, the sign has a ton of viewing options with varying levels of difficulty.
If you don’t want to break a sweat, you can always just view it from afar driving down Beverly Drive. For a closer look, you can head up to the family-friendly Lake Hollywood Park. And if you’re raring to do some hiking, you can take a ride-hailing service 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 Mt. Lee.
- Insider Tip: Consider hiking up to the Griffith Observatory for sunset instead. The Observatory boasts 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 astonishing view – here, you get a clear photo of the sign, as well as front-row seats to the city skyline.
2. Go Window Shopping on Rodeo Drive
A two-mile stretch lined with high-end designer brands like Saint Laurent, Gucci, Prada, Versace, and Chanel, Rodeo Drive is the epitome of style and luxury. While it’s no longer the celebrity hang-out spot it used to be, it will forever be etched into pop culture thanks to that infamous shopping scene in “Pretty Women”. And while you’re in Beverly Hills, don’t forget to check out other glitzy places like the Greystone Mansion gardens and the Beverly Hills Hotel.
3. Drive Down Sunset Strip
There is nothing more quintessentially LA than driving through Sunset Boulevard as the sun goes down. And when the day bleeds into night, Sunset Strip – or the 1.5-mile-long stretch from Doheny to North Crescent Heights – becomes abuzz with music and nightlife.
The Roxy Theatre, Whisky A Go Go, and the Viper Room have housed some of the biggest names in music. Meanwhile, the Comedy Store and the Laugh Factory boast stand-up alumni like Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, and Chris Rock.
4. Hit the Beach
From Baywatch to The OC, Southern California’s stunning beaches have served as a backdrop for countless films and television shows. And if you’re a surfer, Los Angeles is paradise. From the city, you’ve got easy access to some of SoCal’s major surf spots like El Porto, Zuma, Topanga, and Huntington Beach – the world’s surfing capital!
Venice Beach is known for its boardwalk just as much as its sick waves. This bustling walkway is like a microcosm of all things LA, from surfers to street performers, vendors, buskers, skaters, and brawny dudes working out at Muscle Beach.
For family-friendly fun, Santa Monica Pier is the place to be. It’s got a seaside amusement park, live music, an arcade, and plenty of restaurants and shops for all ages. Do note that, for the time being, most rides and attractions at the park are closed. But the view from the pier is well worth the visit too.
Understandably, if you’re wary of crowds, you can head for Will Rogers State Beach instead. Situated between Topanga and Santa Monica in the Pacific Palisades, this three-mile stretch of beach doesn’t see as many visitors as the others on this list.
And if you’re looking for a bit of adventure, there’s Point Dume State Beach, which sits at the end of Malibu on a bluff that juts out into the Pacific. Here, you can either take a dip in the clear blue waters, scuba dive next to sea lions, or even try your hand at rock climbing.
- Insider Tip: Los Angeles’ Mediterranean climate doesn’t change very much, so any day is a beach day, really. But if you want to avoid summertime crowds, consider visiting from September to November.
5. Stroll Down Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood Boulevard is somewhat Los Angeles’ equivalent to New York’s Times Square. Getting tens of thousands of visitors every day, it’s the ultimate tourist trap. But it’s iconic enough to merit a visit!
Hollywood Boulevard is where you’ll find the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a 1.3-mile walkway bearing the names of hundreds of film and TV stars, directors, and producers. If you have kids in tow, make a game of who can spot their favorite celebrities first.
Apart from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Boulevard’s got other popular tourist attractions – from the TCL Chinese Theatre and the Dolby Theatre to historic movie theaters like the Vista Theatre and the American Cinematheque.
6. Go Celeb Spotting at The Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Less than 10 minutes away from Hollywood Boulevard is the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the final resting place for some of the biggest names of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Think of it as a more peaceful – 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. Get Some Grub at The Original Farmers Market
Once you’re all tuckered out hunting for celebs, make your way to Fairfax and 3rd Street for the OG Los Angeles dining experience. This historic marketplace has been around since 1934 and has developed into a multi-cultural hub for foodies. This spot is beloved by both travelers and locals alike and has been visited by countless celebrities, from The Beatles to James Dean.
8. Visit the Sound Stages of Your Favorite Films and TV Shows
Film and TV buffs will enjoy a tour of some of Hollywood’s biggest studios. At the Warner Bros studio, “Friends” fans can live out their ultimate fantasy with a visit to the Stage 48: Script to Screen soundstage, where a replica of the Central Perk Cafe permanently resides.
Meanwhile, at Paramount Studios, you can learn about its legacy as the longest operating studio in Hollywood and marvel at its massive New York Street backlot. And for a real blast from 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: As of the moment, studio tours are canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Things to Do in Los Angeles If You’re an Adventure Junkie
Angelenos know the best part of LA is its abundance of hiking trails, parks, and a ton of other outdoor adventure options.
For a quick urban hike, there’s Griffith Park. It’s about six times the size of New York’s Central Park and home to the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, the Bronson Canyon Caves, the Los Angeles Zoo, the Greek Theatre, and a 53-mile network of trails and paths. Then there’s the Runyon Canyon hike, which is a 3.5-mile hiking trail up 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 out on this trail.
If you’re looking to plan out more intense day trips, there is no shortage of options either – California has 300 state parks! And while camping is still currently off the table, there are still plenty of fun things to do, like:
9. Summit Mt. Baldy
Standing at 10,066 feet or 3,068 meters above sea level, Mount Baldy (also known as Mt. San Antonio) is considered the highest peak in Los Angeles County. There are numerous trails all over the mountain, from the short and sweet Mt. Baldy Notch trail, which is about 3.5 miles one way, to the Mt. Baldy trail, the longest (6.5 miles one way) and oldest trail that takes you all the way to the summit. From the top, you get gorgeous views of LA. On a good day, you can even see Catalina Island.
In the winter, Mt. Baldy becomes a popular skiing destination as well.
10. Bungee Jump Off 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 featuring river crossings, tunnels, and an awe-inspiring 120-foot-high concrete bridge that leads, well, nowhere, as it’s wedged into the canyon.
If the hike isn’t exciting enough, you can also bungee jump off the bridge. And if you’re really craving for some adrenaline, you can even arrange for a night jump, where you fall into a pitch-black abyss and look up to a starry night.
A word of caution, however:always check the weather before embarking on this hike. In the wet season, the area is prone to flash floods. In the summer months, it can be an exhausting trip, as there is virtually no shade out there.
11. Go Bouldering in Joshua Tree National Park
If you only have time for one or two daytrips, make sure one of them is a visit to Joshua Tree National Park. It’s about a 2-hour-and-45-minute-drive from Los Angeles, but it’s well worth the visit.
Known as the place where two deserts meet – the Colorado and the Mojave deserts – the park is home to some of the most interesting landscapes this side of the US. Some famous sights include the eerie Skull Rock formation and the 30-foot arch of Arch Rock.
Joshua Tree’s massive rock formations make it a great site for bouldering and rock climbing too. Trashcan Rock, Lizard’s Hangout, and the Blob are some of the best spots for beginners.
12. Go Off-Roading in The Mojave Desert
Mojave Road is a 150-mile historic dirt road that starts at Beale’s Crossing by the Colorado River and ends at Drum Barracks in Wilmington, LA. You can traverse the entire trail in three days, but make sure you have plenty of food, water, and gasoline with you, as there are virtually no establishments out in the desert. Be sure to bring tools, a spare tire, and emergency supplies as well.
As it is a rough and unmaintained desert road, you will need to bring a 4×4 vehicle with you.
13. Sail Off to Catalina Island
If you’re up for something a little more laid back, you can book a private charter to Catalina Island. On the trip, you can expect to sail next to dolphins, go kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding, and snorkeling in Catalina’s coral reefs.
14. Explore LA’s Secret Stairs
During the mid-1900s, Los Angeles had a pretty extensive trolley system, covering over 1,100 miles of track. Though the trolleys are now long gone, you’ll find remnants of it in the network of steep stairs that run through places like Silver Lake, Echo Park Lake, Pacific Palisades, and Beachwood Canyon.
The latter is a quaint residential community which a range of A-listers and former stars call home. So if you’re one of those travelers who likes hunting for gorgeous houses, this one’s for you. Plus, you get in a good cardio workout too!
15. Drive the Pacific Coast Highway
The city of LA is as much the city of cars as it is the city of stars, with a car culture so enduring that it has shaped the way the city – and its 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 you can take is the drive from Santa Monica to Zuma Beach in Malibu via the Pacific Coast Highway. The highway runs along the Pacific coastline of California, offering one of the most breathtaking views in the world. And while you’re in Malibu, make sure to check out biker’s hangout Neptune’s Net, a world-famous seafood and beer restaurant that sits right by the highway.
Another epic drive would be Mulholland Drive, which Jay Leno once described as the “spine of Los Angeles”. With the San Fernando Valley on one side and Beverly Hills on the other, the drive offers spectacular views of the Los Angeles Basin. “The Snake”, a twisty segment filled with sharp turns, is also a favorite among bikers and car enthusiasts. Unfortunately, much of Mulholland Drive has been closed since the Woolsey fire ravaged the area.
16. Cycle 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 passes through the Pacific Palisades and down to Santa Monica, Redondo, Manhattan, Venice Beach, and Torrance County Beach. Bear in mind that it’s a laid-back path that sees travelers of all ages and levels. So, if you’re looking to do some sprints, this may not be the trail for you.
Things to Do in Los Angeles If You’re A Culture Vulture
Home to the US 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. Their art galleries include works by the likes of Henri Matisse, Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, and Rene Magritte.
Outside, you can snap a photo next to two epic installations: “Urban Light”, which consists of 202 restored streetlamps from the 1920s and 1930s; and “Levitated Mass” a 340-ton environmental sculpture.
18. Take an Architectural Tour
Los Angeles has some of the most unique and acclaimed houses, buildings, and museums in the world. Book a tour and learn about the history behind some of the most celebrated architectural attractions in the city, like:
- Richard Neutra’s Lovell Health House
- Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House
- The Walt Disney Concert Hall
- The Broad Museum
- The Richard Meier-designed Getty Center (home of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Villa, and, the Getty Research Institute)
19. Immerse Yourself in Japanese Culture in Little Tokyo
Little Tokyo is a 135-year-old neighborhood located in Downtown Los Angeles. As the second oldest neighborhood in the city of LA and one of only three official Japantowns in the US, Little Tokyo is a historical, cultural landmark.
You can learn about the experiences of Japanese Americans throughout history at the Japanese American National Museum, find unique gifts for friends at home at the Bunkado shop, or have homestyle Japanese food on 1st Street.
20. Feast at The Grand Central Market
Another must-see in Downtown LA, Grand Central Market is a foodie’s heaven. Come on an empty stomach because Grand Central is brimming with good grub.
Must-tries include Villa Moreliana’s tacos, Belcampo Meat Co.’s dry-aged beef burger, and Eggslut’s infamous egg sandwiches. For dessert, McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams is the way to go.
21. Catch A Concert at The Hollywood Bowl
Prior to the pandemic, the Bowl was the premier venue for live music in Los Angeles. The massive amphitheater has hosted all kinds of musicians – from Hall and Oates to Lady Gaga – but it’s the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra that gets to call 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, concerts and visits are not allowed for the time being. In the meantime, you can check out their website to watch videos of past performances held at the Bowl.
Family-Friendly Things to Do in Los Angeles
When traveling with your kids, it’s important to find destinations that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Here are our top 5 family-friendly things to do in Los Angeles.
22. Explore Exposition Park
If you and your kids are up for a field trip, head over to Exposition Park. The sprawling urban park houses attractions like the Banc of California soccer stadium, the Rose Garden, the California African American Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the California Science Center. The Science Center is particularly interesting because it serves as the final resting place for 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 up Wilshire Boulevard and make a pit stop at Petersen Museum. As one of the largest automotive museums in the world, this museum showcases over a hundred vehicles in 25 galleries.
If you’re a big gearhead, you can pay an extra $20 to get into “The Vault”, an underground parking space where the museum keeps vehicles that have been rotated out of the exhibitions, as well as cars that have never been displayed to the public yet. Here, you’ll find gems like Steve McQueen’s 1957 Jaguar and a 1998 open-top Cadillac Popemobile. Kids under 10 are not allowed in this area.
24. Learn About the Ice Age at The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum
What makes pits of tar one of LA’s most popular attractions? The La Brea Tar Pits is the only active Ice Age fossil site that is located in an urban setting. Scientists have been digging up fossils from this area for over a hundred years, and all the artifacts from these excavations are displayed 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 Thrills of Movie Magic at Universal Studios Hollywood
There is definitely no shortage of theme parks in California. You’ve got Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Six Flags, and Legoland, just to name a few.
But if you and your kids are pop culture nerds, Universal Studios might be one of the only theme parks that really brings the magic of movies to life. Some of the park’s main attractions include the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Jurassic World ride, and the World-Famous Studio tour.
Whether you’re looking for quick urban hikes, lazy beach days, sick surf sessions, or epic day trips out in the desert, Los Angeles is a dream for most adventure travelers. You’ll never run out of things to do in LA!
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