The best of Los Angeles in 2021.
Maybe you’re flying in to surprise your college BFF, or you want a quick vacation, or you’re debating whether or not to make the big move and want to scope out the scene. Whatever your reason, you’re coming to Los Angeles. Yes, there’s Hollywood, goat yoga, and green juice for miles, but L.A. is so much more than its woo-woo side. It’s home to a widely diverse population, sprawls for miles across beachscapes and cityscapes, and is more unique, weird, and wonderful than one would expect. This list is a rundown of our favorite sights and sounds worth experiencing firsthand (from a local, we promise).
Top Picks for You
See a Concert at the Hollywood Bowl
Considered an L.A. institution among locals (and the cause of horrendous mid-city traffic), the Hollywood Bowl deserves a spot on any guide to Los Angeles. During the Bowl’s concert season, which lasts from May to October, you can catch a number of free concerts, family-friendly events, and, of course, star-studded performances. This season promises everyone from the Los Angeles Philharmonic to Thundercat to Christina Aguilera. We highly recommend the sing-alongs, if singing in public is your thing. Make sure to BYO snacks and drinks—although the Bowl does have a pretty great concession area. Our final pro tip? If seats sell out to an event, just make your way to the Bowl’s 14 free picnic areas. They surround the Bowl and give you the same vantage points that you’d have from inside the venue.
2021’s concert schedule is available on their website.
Catch a Flick at Cinespia
Don’t be spooked by this hugely popular L.A. movie night’s location. Hosted in the iconic Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the final resting place to Cecil B. DeMille, Jayne Mansfield, and George Harrison, this outdoor movie series is the perfect weekend event. Gather up your friends–don’t forget the blanket and snacks–and watch classics like Psycho, The Parent Trap, and Clueless. Cinespia goes all out, even including fun backdrops of stills and sets from the film they’re screening (check out @cutiesatcinespia to get an idea). Since the pandemic, the Cinespia team has pivoted to a drive-in experience at The Greek Theatre. But hurry, tickets always go quick.
Visit the Rose Bowl Flea Market
Don’t come back from L.A. with dingy souvenirs from some sad shop on Hollywood Boulevard. Instead, hunt for treasure at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, a massive flea market that takes over Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Stadium once a month. Here, you’ll find vintage clothing and furniture, records, boho hippie wares, and more. An almost 50-year-old market, it’s the best in town—you might even spot a celeb or two among shoppers. If you’re in it for a serious haul, bring a blue IKEA bag and your walking shoes.
INSIDER TIPThe Rose Bowl Flea Market is held every second Sunday of the Month at 1001 Rose Bowl Dr, Pasadena, CA 91103 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $10 per person.
Get Lost Browsing in Amoeba Music
Amoeba Music recently relocated from its storied Sunset Boulevard location. And, while there may be San Francisco and Berkeley locations, its new, larger-than-life outpost on Hollywood Boulevard is the place to find vinyl, CDs (remember those?), DVDs, and more. In its over 20,000-square-foot space, you’ll find records spinning and knowledgeable, friendly employees that won’t judge your taste, plus a fun, buzzing atmosphere that feels welcome to visitors and locals alike.
Take a Hike
Hiking is a ritualistic activity in Los Angeles. Sure, some people do it for the obvious reasons—a great workout, nature, cinema-like views of the city. And some of us do it for other reasons—to see and be seen, to show off on the ‘gram, and to (sometimes) see a celebrity. There are endless places to hike across the city, but if you’re looking for the hike, you know, one where you’ll see the Hollywood sign, check out the Hollyridge Trail, the Brush Canyon Trail, or the Mount Hollywood Trail, which all start in Griffith Park. Beware, these are all very popular and, thus, very busy trails. If you’re looking for something off the literal beaten path, check out AllTrails which filters trails difficulty, length, and more.
Make sure to search for your hike on L.A.’s Parks and Recreation website to make sure it doesn’t require a reservation due to COVID-19 related capacity limits.
Hop on the O.J. Tour
It was the Crime of the Century and the stuff of L.A. legend. The trial of O.J. Simpson captivated the entire country in 1995 and sparked the beginning of the nation’s true crime obsession. So, if the sweet sounds of Keith Morrison’s voice lull you to sleep on Sundays or if you binge-watched all of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story, we’ve found the L.A. activity for you. On the O.J. Tour, hosted by Brentwood native and self-described O.J. saga expert Adam Papagan, you’ll visit the crime scene, Rockingham, the infamous Mezzaluna restaurant, and more. And, yes, the tour is conducted in a 1994 Ford Bronco, for the full experience.
Check Out a Black-Owned Dispensary
Yes, yes, here in Los Angeles, cannabis is legal for recreational consumption, but don’t be lured in by Apple Store-like mega-retailers with overpriced flower and high-tech devices you will definitely not be able to bring into LAX. If you’re going Cali sober, get your weed from a Black-owned dispensary. Why? It’s simple: Black people, and people of color in general, are disproportionately affected by racist marijuana laws across the nation and are being shut out of the cannabis industry. Support Black businesses and racial reform by shopping at one of these Black-owned dispensaries or suppliers in Los Angeles: LitCo, Ball Family Farms, and California Cannabis.
Cruise Through Venice at a GRLSWIRL Meetup
Skate culture has always been a part of Los Angeles’ core identity but was long considered a boys club. That changed in 2018 when GRLSWIRL, a female-founded skate collective, started hosting group skate meetups in Venice Beach. Inclusive, empowering, and encouraging, you don’t have to be a pro to join a GRLSWIRL meetup, just be able to “kick, push” alongside Venice Beach. GRLSWIRL’s mission to empower girls to get out there doesn’t stop stateside either. Up until the pandemic, they were regularly teaching girls across the Mexican border how to skateboard. Powered by community, the Venice-based collective even has merch—from boards to super cute skorts. For an exhilarating and euphoric slice of L.A. culture, head to a GRLSWIRL meetup.
INSIDER TIPInformation on meetups can be found on GRLSWIRL’s Instagram @grlswirl.
Hit the Bar Scene in West Hollywood
The choices for a night out in L.A. are innumerable. From highly Instagrammable Westside influencer haunts to low-key divey Valley spots, there’s truly a flavor for everyone. But there’s no night out like a Weho night out. The strip of bars on Santa Monica in famed and historic Boystown range from camp to bougie, and all have packed, sweaty dance floors that make for the perfect bar crawl. Sometimes, you just want to down a Woo Woo (a semi-lethal combination of peach schnapps, cranberry juice, and vodka) and dance. And after a year cooped up inside, isn’t that all of us? Our tip: Start your bar crawl at Fiesta Cantina (trust us) and make your way west.
See a Comedy Show
An obvious but must-do on this list? Head to a comedy club. Since the pandemic, the idea of a “show” has shifted, with many of our favorite comedians pivoting to backyards or parking lots. But it’s hard recreating the energy of a comedy club, particularly an L.A. club, where it feels like anything could happen. Be prepared for pricey drink minimums and buy tickets as far in advance as you can, since post-COVID indoor shows tend to sell out quickly. Our favorite spots are the Hollywood Improv (get the mac and cheese) and The Comedy Store, where we’ve seen A-list level drop-ins like Ali Wong. Both are open with proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. If you’re hoping to see your favorite stand-up act while in town, stalk their Instagram for info on where they’ll be.
Ride in Venice Electric Light Parade
What started as a way to promote bicycle safety evolved into a spectacular weekly parade that lights up Venice every Sunday. If you’re a bike enthusiast, or just want a memorable, unique, L.A. experience, join this weekly Westside meetup. Bikes are decked out with strings of LED lights and fantastical decorations that are straight-up Seuss-ian for a sunset cruise that loops through Venice. BYOBike to this meetup (lights aren’t required to ride) or get your hands on your own magical LED-outfitted bike on Airbnb and get a personalized VIP experience from the group’s founder, Marcus Gladney.
Learn more about the meetup on the Venice Electric Light Parade’s Facebook page.
Sure, there are more popular Chinatowns across America—see New York and San Francisco—but L.A.’s Chinatown is teeming with critically-lauded restaurants, vibrant and buzzy shopping, and one of Los Angeles’ most beautiful and spacious parks. And even most locals have no idea. It’s also a critical time to support this community and the predominantly Asian elders that live in this neighborhood.
Our perfect day exploring Chinatown and its surroundings starts on Hill Street, where you can hit up Today Starts Here for Taiwanese-inspired breakfast, grab a hojicha latte from Thank You Coffee, and wander around the neighborhood. Howlin’ Rays started L.A.’s obsession with Nashville Hot Chicken, so it’s always a safe lunch bet, but we love newcomers Lasita and Pearl River Deli, all of which are located in nearby Far East Plaza. For dinner, head to the legendary ABC Seafood for dim sum, pop by Little Jewel of New Orleans for the best beignets outside of NOLA, and stroll over to Highland Park Brewery to cap off the evening with local brews.
Chinatown can be easily accessed by L.A. Metro’s L line and sits just north of Downtown Los Angeles.
Go Full Gamer at Game Haus
Are you obsessed with Ticket to Ride? Did you break out Pretty Pretty Princess at every sleepover in 1998? If so, you will love Glendale’s Game Haus. The game board cafe has literally hundreds of board and card games, ranging from obscure to nostalgia-bent to highly intense modern favorites like Carcassonne (we don’t get it either). Game Haus isn’t for nerds alone, it’s also a very fun date night, bolstered by the establishment’s delicious pastries and beer and wine selections. It’s a great bar alternative for those who don’t feel like a Big Night Out and, since the pandemic, they’ve started a loaner program where you can borrow board games for at-home enjoyment. Coming in to enjoy a boisterous night of board games? (Seriously, it gets intense in there.) Pay only $7.50 on weekdays and $10 on weekends for three hours of good, wholesome fun.
Stroll Avenue 26 in Lincoln Heights
Sadly we do not know the best tacos in L.A. That is a highly subjective, much-argued topic. We do, however, know where you can find an array of incredible tacos, giant micheladas, and stuffed conchas, plus other gastronomic delights. Lincoln Heights is one of Los Angeles’ oldest neighborhoods and historically has a Latinx, Black, and Asian American population. All of those cultures and flavors come to life on Avenue 26, a weekend street market that boasts all of L.A.’s unique flavors. After recently going viral on TikTok, the market has grown even more popular, becoming a go-to after nearby Dodger games. Smells of al pastor, woodfire-oven pizza, and fresh crepes waft over the block so densely you can smell them before you even finish parking. But heads up, parking does get crazy here—but the crowds are worth it.
Get a Great Cup of Coffee
Believe it or not, Angelenos can be coffee snobs. And while our coffee culture isn’t as distinguished as our neighbors to the north, it manages to compete. There are incredible coffee shops all over the city and several great L.A.-based roasters like Canyon Coffee. We recommend Dayglow in Silverlake for their dreamy coffee creations and progressive, whimsical menu. In nearby Filipinotown, Boom and Plume coffee’s pro-Black aesthetic, community focus, and colorful, vibrant interiors are a stylish punctuation to L.A.’s coffee landscape. Finally, L.A.-based chain Go Get ‘Em Tiger is always reliably delicious and has some of our favorite pastry offerings in the city.
Hit the Beach
You can’t visit L.A. without having a beach day. If coming from anywhere east of the 405, be prepared for an onslaught of stop-and-go traffic (or get there early). Traffic is worth the trek though, as even the least popular of L.A. beaches provide that quintessential California feel. That being said, all L.A. beaches are not created equal. The drive to Malibu is worth it for the less touristy fare of Venice and Santa Monica. We love Point Dume State Beach’s jagged, cliffside splendor, Leo Carrillo State Beach for its cinematic views (it’s been featured in everything from Grease to The Craft), and, when we need a little privacy, it’s El Pescador State Beach all the way (but you didn’t hear that from us.)
Work in a Work Out
We all secretly hate that friend who works out on vacation, but in Los Angeles, working out isn’t merely exercise, it’s an entire religion. There are dozens of sweat spots across the city to choose from, and of course, celeb favorites with cult-like followings (Barry’s Boot Camp, SoulCycle, and Tracy Anderson Method come to mind). But there are also wild, one-of-a-kind workouts you won’t find anywhere else like Up Flying Yoga, an aerial yoga studio, or Luscious Maven, an all-levels pole dance studio. Looking for something a step up from Zumba? Check out GROOV3, a seriously fun dance workout class with a live DJ spinning hip hop throwbacks and fun pop hits.
Get a Little Woo Woo
There are many types of woo woo in Los Angeles, from Laurel Canyon Crunchy to GOOP-esque to full witch. Luckily, there’s a destination for every kind. If crystals are your thing, we recommend Sacred Light in Los Feliz, which hosts weekly sound baths on Zoom and carries a variety of affordable gems. Their staff is also very kind and approachable (how zen of them). If you’re looking for all macrobiotic, all vegan, all raw nirvana, head to Erewhon, a local chain of grocery stores with everything from camel milk (we seriously saw this on its shelves one time) to massaged kale salads. Sadly, we are addicted to its hot bar, and it has impeccable people and celeb-watching. Finally, hit up The Green Man in North Hollywood for all your love-spell-making, potion-brewing, tarot-pulling needs. They offer several classes and workshops plus a well-stocked apothecary.
Discover a Pop Up Restaurant
The pandemic ushered in the age of the pop-up, with our favorite being pop-up restaurants. What these foodie meccas lack in four walls, they make up for in serious flavor, unlike anything else available in the city. Make sure to follow pop-ups closely on Instagram as they often have very specific ordering instructions, off-peak hours, and sell out quickly. We hate to play favorites, but L.A. gems include Bungkus Bagus, a Glendale Balinese gem run by two sisters, Calabama, which slings breakfast sandwiches that are gently lowered from four stories above in East Hollywood, and Bridgetown Roti, an Arts District spot with delicious and addictive Caribbean food.
Indulge Your Inner Romantic
Speaking of pop-ups, the Chandelier Tree is one part public art installation, one part fairy-tale spectacle. In short, it’s a must-see. Said tree, located on a quiet Silverlake block, is strung with vintage chandeliers and is beautiful even in the daytime, but the real magic happens at night. A megawatt spectacle of at least 30 chandeliers lights up the block, attracting lovers from near and far. It’s been featured in commercials (and gotten complaints from grumpy neighbors) but the tree has managed to stand the test of time even with several temporary shutdowns due to expense. So head over, take some picks with your sweetie, and make sure to make a donation in the handy meter in front of the house. It’s truly a sight to be seen. Afterward, round out date night with a stop at nearby Magpie’s Softserve.
INSIDER TIPThe Chandelier Tree is located at 2811 W Silver Lake Drive.