LA is a city of juxtaposition--sprawling cityscape and walkable neighborhoods, frenetic tourist attractions and chill beaches, freeways and bike lanes--where there are always fun places to go and exciting things to do. And you may even spot a celebrity.
Forget everything negative you’ve heard about Los Angeles. Sure, LA is sprawling and busy, but it’s bathed in rose-colored light, which helps to illuminate its radiance and highlight its remarkable contrasts. Visiting LA means you can surf on the beach in the morning and by the afternoon be snowboarding on snow-capped mountains. LA is shopping on Rodeo Drive and rock shows on the Sunset Strip, 5-star restaurants and roadside taco trucks, movies at the Cinerama Dome and modern art at LACMA, Disneyland with the kids during the day and Hollywood nightclubs after dark.
You may have heard that LA is all traffic and highway, but with 30 square miles, a lot of attractions are worth the trek. Yes, the freeways spread out across the city like a spiderweb, and the gridlock can cause your blood pressure to spike, but there are also a million things to see and do. Worried about driving? There are trains to take you from Downtown to the beach, from Universal Studios to Exposition Park. Bike lanes, metro bike share, and rideshares like Uber and Lyft extend from Pasadena to Long Beach.
Related: How to Drive in Los Angeles
Sure, there are pockets of Los Angeles that are insanely expensive (hello aspirational living), but it’s a huge city, and you’ll find plenty of affordable (if not inexpensive!) places to stay, eat, and play. This is the place where dreams meet reality, plastic meets pavement, and on any given day your life can be changed forever. So how do find a little tinsel for yourself when you visit this town? Follow our guide of where to go and what to see in this City of Angels.
Related: 12 Things Not to Do in Los Angeles
Get Happy at Disneyland
Disneyland isn’t technically LA—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 LA 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.
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
Listen to Music at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Designed by Frank Gehry, the voluptuous curves of this stainless steel–clad masterpiece located downtown is a signature of the modern metropolis. One of several venues of the Music Center, the 2,265-seat Disney Hall is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It features unrivaled acoustics and a stunning pipe organ, which is as much a work of art as a musical instrument. For a truly opulent evening, pair a concert with dinner at Patina, located inside the building. Afterward there are plenty of nightlife options within easy reach.
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, (note: performers will want you to tip for photos) and other box-office leading roles 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.
Behold the Getty Center
If you are only in Los Angeles for one day, don’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.
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.
Saunter the 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 LA 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 picnic. Stop for a glass of wine or a smoothie and watch the street performers and the people go by.
Stroll Venice Boardwalk
Quintessential Los Angeles begins at the beach, and nothing is more LA 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.
Bike the Strand
Despite urban myths that claim otherwise, Angelenos do abandon their cars every now and then—especially if it’s to rent an old-school beach cruiser and bike down the 22-mile-long Strand, which stretches from Will Rogers State Beach in Santa Monica to Torrance County Beach in Redondo. The Strand runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean through Santa Monica and Venice. If biking isn’t your thing, there are plenty of rollerbladers and walkers as well.
Devour In-N-Out Burger
Healthy(ish) made-to-order fast food with a secret menu? That is so LA. Any hometown Los Angeleno 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.
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.
Parking: 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.
Sample Taco Trucks
It seems that everyone in Los Angeles has a taco truck that they swear by. Typically, these taco stands on wheels have a regular corner and semi-regular hours. The only reliable way to find a good one is to ask a local—or do some research on a foodie website. Not all taco trucks are created equal and it pays to know the specialty of the house—or truck, that is. A few things that most taco trucks share in common: tasty tacos, cheap prices, and a locals-only peek into L.A.’s hometown cuisine.
Boogie Down at the Hollywood Bowl
Leave it a typical LA sunset over the Hollywood Hills to steal the spotlight from the actual performance at the Hollywood Bowl Amphitheater—a near impossible feat with huge acts such as Dolly Parton, Tony Bennett, Parliament, the B-52s, Lady Gaga, and weekly evenings of classical and jazz. 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.
Hike Griffith Park, the Observatory, and the Hollywood Sign (the Best Hikes in LA)
City of stars is shining just for you 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, but the stunning views of Los Angeles may keep you from even heading indoors. Want to get up close with the Hollywood sign, Griffith Park’s most famous landmark? Hike one of three trails (in order from least to most difficult: Mt Hollywood Trail, Canyon Drive Trail, Cahuenga Peak Trail) to get incredible angles and even above and behind the 45-foot-high letters to view everything from the ocean to the mountains with sparkling downtown smack in the middle.
INSIDER TIPParking is free at Griffith Observatory.
Drive the Pacific Coast Highway
There may be nothing that epitomizes Los Angeles more than a drive down the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH, as locals call it. After taking in the sweeping views and turquoise waters, stop at a seafood shack, such as Malibu Seafood or the Reel Inn, for some ahi burgers or fish and chips. Afterward, check out one of Malibu‘s most beautiful beaches: Topanga State Beach, Zuma Beach, or the small and secluded La Piedra, El Pescador, and El Matador beaches.
Catch a Game at Dodger Stadium
Overlooking downtown LA, 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).
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 ArcLight in Hollywood for a full dome-screen experience, 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 Vista sits in the heart of Los Feliz/Silverlake fun, while the Vintage Loz Feliz 3 offers matinees for under $7.
Peruse the Broad
The talk of the Los Angeles art world when it opened in fall 2015, this museum in an intriguing, honeycomb-looking building was created by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad (rhymes with “road”) to showcase their stunning private collection of contemporary art amassed over five decades and still growing. With upward of 2,000 pieces by more than 200 artists, the collection has in-depth representations of the work of such prominent names as Jean Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman, Cy Twombly, Kara Walker, and Christopher Wool.
Ogle Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Without a doubt, this is the focal point of the museum district that runs along Wilshire Boulevard. Chris Burden’s Urban Light sculpture, composed of more than 220 restored cast-iron antique street lamps, elegantly marks the location. Inside you’ll find one of the country’s most comprehensive art collections with more than 120,000 objects dating from ancient times to the present. The museum, which opened in 1965, now includes numerous buildings that cover more than 20 acres.
Wander Sunset Boulevard
One of the most fabled avenues in the world, Sunset Boulevard began humbly enough in the 18th century as a route from El Pueblo de Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean. Today, as it passes through West Hollywood, it becomes the sexy and seductive Sunset Strip, where rock and roll had its heyday and cocktail bars charge a premium for the views. It slips quietly into the tony environs of Beverly Hills and Bel Air, twisting and winding past gated estates and undulating vistas.
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 LA, 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 newest and 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.
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!
Explore Runyon Canyon
Revel in terrific views of the city and Hollywood sign from Runyon Canyon. Located just off Hollywood Boulevard, the trails here are popular and easily accessible, which means it can get crowded at times. That being said, you should be fine if you visit in the early morning.
Take a Studio Tour
If you’ve come to LA 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.
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. (Related: Fodor’s Review of the Culver Hotel) 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.
Related: The Best Hotels in Los Angeles
Treasure Hunt at Fred Segal
This designer boutique is so LA-iconic it’s worth a stop on your vacation just to see what turns up. Shopping at Fred Segal is more than just buying clothes, it’s sifting through pieces of art-as-fashion. A wide range of styles, goods, and prices means that everyone can have fun searching for wares. Don’t miss the opportunity to obtain a pair of their iconic jeans, and keep your eyes peeled for celebs sizing up the goods.
Related: The Best Shopping in Los Angeles
People Watch 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 (from Whitworth to Olympic) 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.
Nosh Through Grand Central Market
Open since 1917 and ever changing in vendors and featured cuisines, the Grand Central Market is LA’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. Don’t miss Fodor’s favorite: Egg Slut.
Discover the Arts District
Way back in the 1970s, artists looking for giant warehouse spaces from which to create studios began to develop Los Angeles’ current 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 trendy watering holes and art galleries (what else?).
The Arts District has loads of great places to eat. Zinc Café & Bar on 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, which showcases local architecture and design artists, and the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, which 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.
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 frecsa. 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 (and one of the world’s most amazing bookstores), The Last Bookstore is a two-story independent book seller, 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.
Sample Chinatown’s Offerings
Marked by the dragon gate, the neighborhood of Chinatown offers many food and entertainment options. 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 “LA 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. While you are digesting, wander through Chinatown’s many art galleries on Chung King Road.
Watch the Sun Set at 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 sand castles 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.
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 2-8pm and Friday-Sunday 12-6pm.
Sunbathe and Swim at Will Rogers State Beach
The quintessential 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, 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+).
Treat Yourself at a Korean Spa
LA’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 a 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 $25 (waived if you buy a service).
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. 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.