How could you begin to sum up a city that is impossible to define? Whether you’re talking about the limitless sprawl of districts and suburbs or the jolting contrast between sun-baked hills and soft beaches, the high culture of its art institutions or the rip-roaring fun of its theme parks, Los Angeles is not easy categorized.
You could spend days buried in superior museums without ever seeing Hollywood, or devote a whole trip to nothing but studio tours and pilgrimages to share-worthy places from TV and movies.
Or you might want to go deeper, and hunt down the best taco truck or discover the next big comedy talent to come out of Silver Lake or Echo Park.
“Walkable” isn’t a word that comes to mind when you think of Los Angeles, but there’s ample opportunity for exercise on scenic hikes in the Hollywood Hills or leisurely bike rides along that string of sandy beaches.
1. Hollywood Sign
Put up in 1923 and originally spelling “Hollywoodland”, a real estate development, the unmistakeable Hollywood Sign was only supposed to last for 18 months.
The arrival of the Golden Age of Hollywood changed all that, and the sign has remained on Mount Lee in Griffith Park ever since, and dropping “land” in 1949. This landmark was rebuilt in steel in 1978 and was last repainted in 2005. One of the easiest vantage points in the basin is the raised patio on the north-east corner of the Hollywood & Highland Center Mall, and there’s another atop the Home Depot parking garage on Sunset Boulevard.
You can go in for an up-close look on a hike at Griffith Park, or park up at Lake Hollywood Park and admire the sign across the canyon.
Suggested tour: Hollywood Sign Small Group Tour in Luxury Van
2. The Getty Center
The main branch of the J. Paul Getty Museum is in Brentwood, surveying Los Angeles from its hilltop roost.
The museum’s founder was petro-industrialist Jean Paul Getty, who left another $661m to the institution when he passed away in 1976. This went towards a spectacular and labyrinthine new complex, the Getty Center, which opened in 1997 after almost two decades of planning and construction.
Linked to its lower car park by a hovertrain, the Getty Center is a multifaceted attraction.
You’ll fall in love with architecture by Pritzker Prize-winner Richard Meier, the ever-changing Central Garden, the Cactus Garden, the outdoor sculpture and the knockout views, not to mention the astonishing art collection within (Medieval times to the present). Allow as long as possible to bask in the illuminated manuscripts, Italian, Flemish and Dutch painting from the 17th to the 19th century, the huge assortment of Impressionist painting and exquisite decorative arts.
Irises by van Gogh (1889) and Rembrandt Laughing (self-portrait, 1628) are not to be missed.
Recommended tour: Private Getty Museum Tour with Expert Guide
3. Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
Among the world’s great research libraries, the Huntington in San Marino, Los Angeles County, holds more than nine million items, from the 1000s to the 21st century.
For an everyday visitor, the Library Exhibition Hall draws from these enormous reserves, showing a captivating miscellany, from Medieval manuscripts to documents from Abraham Lincoln’s life.
The library is in 120 acres of lush botanical gardens, with magnificent living collections of orchids, bonsai, cycads and camellias.
You can saunter past lily ponds, and through a subtropical garden, desert garden, Japanese garden and Chinese garden.
Don’t ignore the trove of painting, sculpture and decorative arts at the Huntington Art Gallery, with works by Rogier van der Weyden, Gainsborough and American artists like Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper and Andy Warhol.
4. Griffith Park
In 1896 the Welsh mining magnate Griffith J. Griffith presented over 3,000 acres of Rancho Los Feliz to the City of Los Angeles as a “Christmas present”. Since then the park has added another 1,000 acres, making it one of the largest urban parks in the United States.
Griffith Park is a rough-hewn wilderness, incorporating a chunk of the Santa Monica Mountains and streaked with trails for walking and horseback riding.
The Los Angeles Zoo is here, and there are two public golf courses (Harding and Wilson), train and pony rides for youngsters, tennis courts, lots of concession stands and picnic grounds.
The Hollywood Sign is in the park’s boundaries, and can be reached on a tough hike.
Just above is a majestic but unmarked 360° viewpoint, taking in both Hollywood and Burbank behind.
On GetYourGuide.com, the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Park 2-Hour Hiking Tour is a guided adventure through the park, stopping every so often to let you appreciate the Los Angeles cityscape and give you titbits about the park, the sign and Hollywood’s riveting history.
5. Griffith Observatory
In a second “Christmas present” in 1912 Griffith J. Griffith put up the funds for the park’s Greek Theatre and the Griffith Observatory, which wouldn’t be completed until 1935. Of all the many enduring landmarks in Los Angeles, this three-domed Art Deco monument holds a certain mystique.
The Griffith Observatory is posted on the south face of Mount Hollywood, the highest peak in the park, and the sight of the city rippling in the sun or twinkling at night from Observatory’s terraces are the stuff of dreams.
We can’t begin to list the movies and TV shows that have made the most of this location, but James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause(1955) is the one that put the observatory’s in the world’s gaze.
The 25-metre, copper clad central dome houses the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, which screens Centered in the Universe, a hi-res trip through time, via discoveries by Ptolemy and Galileo, and space, through the Milky Way, and landing back on the Griffith Observatory’s front lawn.
You can also peer through telescopes and explore more than 60 space-oriented exhibits.
6. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
The largest art museum in the western United States, and one of the largest museums of any description in the country, LACMA on Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile is in a mishmash of seven buildings on a 20-acre site.
The collections are mind-bendingly vast, covering all ends of the earth and from the ancient times to the present.
For the smallest summary there are inventories of Greek, Roman And Etruscan art, American and Latin American art, modern and contemporary art, Islamic art, Asian art, decorative arts, photography and film as well as eye-catching permanent art installations.
If all this leaves you overwhelmed there are some works that you can’t leave without seeing, like Diego Rivera’s Portrait of Frida Kahlo (1939), Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio by David Hockney (1980), Titian’s Portrait of Jacopo (1532), The Swineherd by Paul Gauguin (1888) and Chris Burden Urban Light installation at the Wilshire Boulevard entrance.
As of 2019 there were plans to give the campus a bit more uniformity with a massive building designed by Peter Zumthor, with an opening date slated for 2024.
An eccentric neighbourhood and seaside resort, the world-famous Venice is Los Angeles at its most cosmopolitan and independent.
Although gentrification has crept in, the 2.5-mile Venice Beach Boardwalk is still prowled by outlandish characters, and teems with tattoo parlours, cannabis shops, international cuisine, countless street vendors and a big cast of street performers.
The skate plaza and Venice Muscle Beach are two world-famous signatures, as is the snaking Strand trail on the cusp of the massive sandy beach with its constant stream of cyclists and skaters.
Seek out the historic arcaded buildings, harking back to the original development at the start of the 20th century when the tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney created his own version of Italy’s Venice.
The boardwalk is the second most-visited place in Southern California, but will never feel oppressive thanks to the wide-open expanse of sandy beach and the grassy foreshore tufted with palms.
Suggested tour: Santa Monica and Venice 3-Hour Electric Bike Tour
8. Getty Villa
Before the Getty Center there was the Getty Villa, commissioned by J. Paul Getty in the 1970s after the previous gallery on his property in Pacific Palisades ran out of space.
The Getty Villa is down the hill on the same land, looking out onto the Pacific.
The building, completed in 1974, is a reproduction of a lavish 1st-century CE Roman villa: The Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum to be precise.
Reopened in 2006 after a long-term renovation, the Getty Villa holds the Getty Museum’s collections for Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities, spanning 6,000 years up to 400 CE.
The exhibition picks from a gigantic reserve of 44,000 pieces and over the last couple of years has been rearranged in a loose chronological order.
The must-sees are plentiful, and among them are the “The Beauty of Palmyra” funerary relief (190-210 CE), Statue of a Victorious Youth (300-100 BC), the Caeretan Hydria (525 BC) and the ensemble of frescoes from the Villa Numerius Popidius Florus at Boscoreale (1-79 CE).
Book online: Private Getty Villa Tour with Expert Guide
9. California Science Center
In October 2012 the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which took part in 25 NASA missions from 1992 to 2011, rolled through the Los Angeles streets from LAX to the California Science Center.
At the time of writing in 2019 the shuttle was still in a temporary pavilion, and the exhibition, available with a Special Exhibit or IMAX Theater pass, shows off this staggering piece of hardware, along with some of its fittings like the Space Potty, galley, tyres from its final mission and the SPACEHAB Logistics Module, a kind of workshop for astronauts.
Though undoubtedly impressive, Endeavour is just one exhibit at a museum brimming with interactivity, relating ecosystems, world-changing inventions, air and space, how our organs and cells work and showing off a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird outside.
There’s always a choice of well-curated special exhibitions and of course the IMAX Theater, seven storeys high.
Included in: Go Los Angeles Card: Save up to 50% on Top Attractions
10. Warner Bros. Studio Tour
As opposed to the action-packed Universal Studio Tour, a visit to Warner Bros. close by in Burbank is less about razzle-dazzle and more about the craft of making films and TV shows.
The standard tour lasts between two and three hours and packs in a visit to the Sound stage where the Big Bang Theory is shot, as well as the Archive and Prop House, bursting with props and costume from countless movies including the Harry Potter series and the DC Universe.
The Backlot has jungle, Midwest town, New York and Western sets that will ring a bell straight away, while the Picture Car Vault holds a fleet of cars from Warner Bros. productions, counting several Batmobiles.
A newer attraction is Stage 48: Script to Screen, a self-guided walk through an interactive sound stage, ushering you through the production process and displaying the set from Central Perk in Friends.
Book online: Warner Bros. Studios Hollywood Tour
11. La Brea Tar Pits and Page Museum
Over tens of thousands of years until Los Angeles was developed, animals would be trapped and preserved in the tar at what is now Hancock Park by LACMA.
Heavy oil from the Salt Lake Oil Field would seep to the surface, becoming viscous natural tar as its lighter fractions evaporated.
The tar would be covered with a layer of water or dead leaves, waiting to lure unsuspecting mammoths, sabre-toothed cats, bison, horses and dire wolves and preserve them intact.
The pits have yielded some 400 animals and are an ongoing excavation site (there’s a viewing area at Pit 91). The many discoveries are documented at the adjacent George C. Page Museum, which opened in 1977 but has a history going back to 1913. Here you can see some of the remarkable specimens given up by the pits and get to know the science behind the process, while in the grounds are life-sized models of the animals claimed by the tar.
Get tickets: La Brea Tar Pits and Page Museum Ticket
12. Venice Canals
At the turn of the 20th century the developer Abbot Kinney conceived a miniature version of Venice’s canals, marketed as the Venice of America.
Replenished by the Pacific through sea gates at the Marina Del Rey Breakwater, these cute waterways were built in 1905 but had become outmoded by the late-1920s and over the next few decades were allowed to fall into disrepair.
The canals were finally revitalised in the 1990s and form a highly desirable and pedestrian-friendly residential neighbourhood, roughly a quarter of the size of the original development.
Just a stone’s throw from Venice Beach you can go for peaceful waterside strolls, cross charming little footbridges and spot ducklings in the water in summer.
As ever, you’ll surely know these waterways from movies, in this case A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).
13. Disneyland Resort
An obligatory day trip whatever your age, Disneyland Resort is two theme parks, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure, linked by the outdoor shopping area, Downtown Disney.
It all began in 1955 with Disneyland Park, overseen by Walt Disney himself.
Fair to say that Disneyland Park is the original modern theme park, divided into “lands” and crammed with rides that have passed into legend, like Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
A new land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, designed in collaboration with Lucasfilm, opened in 2019. And, naturally, the Main Street parades are a big part of the fun, especially for smaller visitors.
The newer Disneyland California Adventure opened in 2001 and channels the excitement and adventure of the Golden State.
This park is steeped in the glamour of old Hollywood, and the thrill of Disney’s Marvel and Pixar movies.
Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: BREAKOUT! is a new arrival, featuring the cast from the movies and music hand-picked by director James Gunn.
14. Hollywood Walk of Fame
There are things in every city that locals avoid like the plague, but visitors can’t afford to pass up.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame is in that vein, commending actors, musicians, directors, musical and theatrical groups and even 16 fictional characters with stars in the pavement.
A little less than half of all the stars are dedicated to someone in the film industry.
In case you didn’t know, the stars are made of brass and terrazzo and in spring 2019 there were more than 2,600. The Walk of Fame, begun in 1958 with an initial 1,588 honourees, is on 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street.
Some 24 new stars are laid each year, at a cost of $40,000 (payable by the nominee or sponsor), and honourees are obliged to show up to their unveiling ceremony.
The Barrymore acting dynasty is the best-represented single family, with a total of six stars.
15. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Hollywood history permeates the exquisitely decorated Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on the Walk of Fame.
This monument, designed to resemble a Chinese pagoda and guarded by a pair of Ming Dynasty lions, has hosted more than its fair share of premieres since it opened for Cecil B.
DeMille’s The King of Kings in 1927. To commemorate the Star Wars premiere in 1977, the prints of Darth Vader, C-3PO and R2D2 were taken in the concrete forecourt.
This tradition is claimed to go back to 1927, when actor Norma Talmadge slipped in wet concrete here, and over the last 90+ years any hundreds of icons of the silver screen have left their signature and some sort of print.
As with the Walk of Fame you can download a map to help you locate your favourites.
Now officially known as the TCL Chinese Theatre, the cinema seats 932 and in 2013 was fitted with a custom IMAX screen, one of the largest in North America.
Combo Tour: Chinese Theater VIP Tour & 24-hour Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus
16. Universal Studios Hollywood
In 1964 Universal Studios started offering tours of its studio lot to see sets and props that had already been inscribed in movie and television history at Universal City.
Before long this developed into a fully-fledged theme park.
Almost everything is based on Universal Studios productions, and updated every few years to stay current.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in 2016 and has the Flight of the Hippogriff rollercoaster and the Forbidden Journey, a dark ride through Hogwarts.
A new arrival in 2019 was the epic Jurassic World: The Ride, a “shoot the chute” in the Lower Lot, replacing its Jurassic Park predecessor.
On the Upper Lot, the Studio Tour is still going strong, and entails an hour-long tram ride through sets like Courthouse Square (To Kill a Mockingbird, Back to the Future, Gremlins) and the house from Psycho (1960). On the way you’ll be in famous movies and encounter a couple of mishaps, like a flash flood and an earthquake.
Come on weekdays outside the school holidays to avoid the crowds.
Be sure to book online: Universal Studios Hollywood Tickets
17. Pacific Park
The only amusement park on a pier on the West Coast of the United States, Pacific Park is free to enter and has 12 rides.
Inevitably, the Pacific Park and the Santa Monica Pier have appeared in hundreds of movies and TV shows, and like innumerable locations around Los Angeles was rendered in startling detail for the 2013 videogame GTA V.
First taking shape in the 1910s and revived in the 1990s, Pacific Park bills itself as the only admission-free amusement park in LA.
You pay for the individual attractions, among which is the steel West Coaster and the Pacific Wheel, which featured in Steven Spielberg’s 1941 (1979) is the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel.
A word on the pier, which is actually two structures joined together: The long and narrow Santa Monica Municipal Pier is from 1909 and was built to carry sewage pipes beyond the breakers, while the Pleasure Pier was started in 1916 by Charles I.D. Looff, responsible for Coney Island’s first carousel.
18. Rodeo Drive
Every major western city has a street enriched with flagship luxury emporia by brands like Gucci, Cartier and Louis Vuitton.
But Rodeo Drive, namely the three blocks north of Wilshire and South of Little Santa Monica Boulevard is special.
This palm-lined street takes conspicuous wealth to a whole new place, and has also been immortalised by movies, most famously Pretty Woman (1990) when Julia Roberts goes on the mother of all sprees.
For all but the extremely wealthy, Rodeo Drive is more of a visual experience, for window shopping, gawping at Bugattis and Ferraris and wandering the “European-style” cobblestone alley.
Rodeo Drive got its first luxury boutique with Giorgio Beverly Hills in 1967 and in 2003 was given a multimillion dollar makeover with the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style.
At the intersection with Dayton Way this is heralded by the shining sculpture “Torso” by Robert Graham.
Suggested tour: Beverly Hills and West Hollywood: Celebrity Bike Tour
19. Mulholland Drive
Plotted in 1924 and named for the civil engineer who helped build LA’s water infrastructure, Mulholland Drive is a winding two-lane road along the ridgeline of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains.
Memories of countless movies will come flooding back on the way, not least from David Lynch’s namesake film (2002). Lynch believed that you could “feel the history of Hollywood” on Mulholland Drive, and it resonates in the plush homes (some of the most expensive in the world), hairpin bends recalling famous car chases and, of course, the many stunning lookouts.
Mulholland Drive is a thrill to negotiate by car, but you’ll need to go slow to deal with the many blind turns.
Be ready to stop every few minutes and step out to appreciate far-off views of the Los Angeles Basin, the Hollywood Sign, the San Fernando Valley, Burbank, Universal City and the San Gabriel, Verdugo and Santa Susana Mountains.
The most inspiring vistas of Downtown Los Angeles await at the eastern end just above the Hollywood Bowl.
20. The Broad
Bringing added cultural bite to Downtown Los Angeles, the Broad opened next to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2015 and was financed by philanthropist Eli Broad.
The cube-shaped building is a head-turning architectural statement by the Diller Scofidio + Renfro firm, with a skin comprising 2,500 rhomboidal concrete panels reinforced by fibreglass.
On three levels, The Broad is vast and covers modern and contemporary painting, photography and sculpture from the mid-20th century to the present.
Broad has put together a reserve of more than 2,000 works by 200 artists, and his foundation makes new acquisitions by the week.
Among the many luminaries are Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly, Ed Ruscha and Jeff Koons, while the museum holds the largest collection of Cindy Sherman works in the world, with 129 pieces as of 2019. In spring 2019 Yayoi Kusama’s roaming Infinity Mirror Rooms installation had a stint at The Broad.
21. Hollywood Bowl
An abiding landmark and wonderful place to watch live music, the Hollywood Bowl is a 17,500-seater amphitheatre resting in the Hollywood Hills with views of the Hollywood Sign to the north-east.
Fred Astaire, Louis Armstrong and the Beatles have all performed here… in fact it would be easier to make a list of the cultural giants who haven’t.
The venue is the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, as well as the seat of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (formed in 1990). The current shell is actually the fifth to have been built at the Hollywood Bowl.
The second and third shells were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but only stood for a season each in the 1920s.
The fourth shell, by the Allied Architects group lasted from 1929 to 2003, but was often criticised for its acoustics and replaced for the 2004 season.
The Hollywood Bowl’s free museum is in the former Tea Room and is the first building you come to if you enter the site via Highland Avenue, with a permanent exhibition displaying programs and photographs of the venue since its birth in 1922.
22. Greystone Mansion and Park
The oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny ordered this Beverly Hills Tudor Revival mansion, completed in 1928, as a lavish gift for his son, Ned.
At the time the 55-room Greystone Mansion was the most expensive residence in California, costing more than $4m and housing a bowling alley.
Ned Doheny died in a guest room in a murder-suicide with his secretary in February 1929, just four months after moving in.
Ninety years later it is still unclear who killed whom.
The house and its precise formal gardens have belonged to the City of Beverly Hills since 1965, becoming a public park a few years later.
This is a prime shooting location, appearing in a wealth of TV shows and movies, like The Big Lebowski (1998), Ghostbusters II (1989), Spider-Man (2002) and Eraserhead (1977), while the bowling alley was restored for the grim end to There Will Be Blood (2007). The mansion is closed to the public but the gardens and their cypress avenue, balustrades, fountains and clipped hedges are a delight, and open daily from 10:00 to 17:00 with extended hours in the summer.
23. Live Comedy
Being the capital of the movie and television industries, Los Angeles has a hugely productive comedy community, and this has given rise to an absurd amount of live comedy venues.
On a typical night there might be a stand-up showcase hosted by someone you love, or a live recording of a comedy podcast you’re into, or hilarious sketch and improv comedy by people you know from the screen but couldn’t name.
For the briefest overview there’s the Comedy Store (8433 Sunset Blvd), Hollywood Improv Comedy Club (8162 Melrose Ave), the Laugh Factory (8001 Sunset Blvd), The Virgil (4519 Santa Monica Blvd), Largo at the Coronet (366 N La Cienega Blvd) and UCB Franklin (5919) and Sunset (5419). Every Saturday at UCB Franklin and Sunday at UCB Sunset you can catch “Asssscat”, an improv show with a rotating cast of performers from television and movies (Sundays are completely free but you’ll need to show up early and queue).
24. Runyon Canyon Park
You may have gathered by now that the Hollywood Hills are ripe for hiking.
And the place where Hollywood’s stars take their walks is the 160-acre Runyon Canyon Park.
If you’re on Instagram and follow more than a couple of celebrities you may already know this spot and its vistas like the back of your hand.
Striking out from the gate at the park’s southern entrance on N Fuller Avenue there’s a choice of three trails with varying degrees of difficulty: The Hero Trail (difficult), the Star Trail (medium) and the paved Runyon Canyon Road, which curls up the slope on a shallow gradient to the panoramic lookout at Clouds Rest, and down on the railway sleeper steps on the Star Trail to another overlook at Inspiration Point.
Pay a visit in winter and spring when the sky is clearer.
Also bring a hat, because there’s only occasional tree cover below the palms on the canyon floor.
25. Zuma Beach
In places between Santa Monica and Malibu the beaches can taper to just a few metres across.
Beyond Point Dume and backed by the Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu’s Zuma Beach bucks that trend as an archetypal Southern California beach.
Zuma Beach adored for its broad and long (1.8 miles) strip of soft, pale sand and abundant facilities.
Far from the built-up parts of Los Angeles the water quality is as good as it gets, while the boisterous surf attracts body surfers, even if it can get a little rough at times.
From January to April this Zuma Beach is also a prime place to watch the gray whales making the long migration with their calves from the warmer waters off Baja California to their feeding grounds in the Bering Strait.
Related tour: Malibu Beach: Surf Tour in a Vintage VW Van
26. Los Angeles Conservancy Walking Tour
Visiting the storied parts of Downtown Los Angeles, you may feel like you’re missing out on a bit of background, not to mention all the intriguing anecdotes these streets have to tell.
The good news is that the Los Angeles Conservancy organises regular guided tours of fascinating locations like the Historic Downtown (every Saturday), the Millennium Biltmore Hotel (every Sunday) and the Commercial District (every Saturday), to name a few.
Also on Saturday you can immerse yourself in the Golden Age glamour of Downtown LA’s Art Deco wonders from the 20s and 30s.
These tours are in high demand and fill up quickly.
27. Petersen Automotive Museum
On Museum Row, this museum was founded by publisher Robert E. Petersen in 1994 and has recently come though a makeover.
This has left the building with a spectacular shell composed of 100 tons of stainless steel in an aerodynamic ribbon formation.
Even more exciting is what’s in store in the museum’s 25 galleries where you’ll be greeted by hundreds of awe-inspiring automobiles, displayed with evocative backdrops.
Some of our picks are the 1915 Detroit Electric Model 61 Brougham, 1958 Plymouth Fury “Christine” and the solar-powered 1987 Mana La.
In summer 2019, the exhibition, Hollywood Dream Machines, brought famous vehicles from Batman (1989), Back to the Future (1985), Blade Runner (1982), Black Panther (2017) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) together for one unforgettable show.
Pay a little extra and you can go down to The Vault, containing 250+ vehicles spanning 120 years from all corners of the globe, some owned by movie and music heroes like Steve McQueen and Elvis Presley.
Get tickets: Petersen Automotive Museum Admission Ticket
28. Los Angeles City Hall
Since 1940 an image of the Los Angeles City Hall has been embossed on badges for the Los Angeles Police Department.
This landmark, dating to 1928, has had a lot of screen-time down the years, in the original Dragnet series in the 50s and in 1997’s L.A. Confidential to name a couple.
The City Hall complex has a Neoclassical base surmounted by that unmistakeable Art Deco tower.
Thanks to a city charter that remained in force until the end of the 1950s, the 138-metre tower was the tallest building in Los Angeles up to 1964. Monday to Friday, 08:00 to 17:00, you can go in for free and catch the elevator to the 27th floor to contemplate LA’s skyline (bring a valid I.D. with you).
29. Autry Museum of the American West
The actor and singer Gene Autry (The Singing Cowboy) founded this museum dedicated to the history and culture of the American West in 1988. The attraction is in a mission-style building in Griffith Park, with a permanent exhibition in seven large galleries on the ground and lower floor.
This presents a loose timeline, starting with prehistoric hunter gatherers and leading you through the time of the Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionaries, up to 20th-century depiction of the west in books, television and movies.
In the museum’s large and growing collections are firearms and personal effects of Old West icons like Billy the Kid, Belle Starr and Wyatt Earp, as well as a hand-drawn diagram by Earp of his gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone.
The Journeys Gallery shows the developments in transport that changed the West in the second half of the 19th century, while the Colt Gallery explores the impact of Samuel Colt’s revolutionary revolver with scores of rare models, some beautifully engraved.
30. Walt Disney Concert Hall
Frank Gehry’s spellbinding concert hall at the Los Angeles Music Center has become a treasured fixture of the cityscape in Downtown Los Angeles since it opened in 2003. Mostly funded by the Disney family, the venue is a tribute to Disney’s contribution to LA’s culture and is the base for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
This swirling stainless steel structure has Douglas fir and oak cladding in its 2,265-capacity auditorium for superlative acoustics, and a giant concert organ that looks like no organ you’ve ever seen.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s main season here is from October to June, before they move to the Hollywood Bowl for the summer.
You can also visit Monday to Saturday for an hour-long audioguided tour, narrated by John Lithgow and with intriguing contributions by Frank Gehry.
The tour also encompasses an interactive exhibition at the Ira Gershwin Gallery.
31. OUE Skyspace
Completed in 1989, the 310-metre U.S. Bank Tower is the second-tallest in Los Angeles, and the fifteenth tallest in the United States.
When the real estate company OUE took over the tower in 2013 it went to work on an observation deck.
OUE Skyspace opened in 2016 on the 69th and 70th floors, with a restaurant above on the 71st.
This is the highest skyscraper observation deck in California, with mesmerising 360° views including downtown LA’s skyscrapers, Dodger Stadium, the Hollywood Hills and the Pacific and San Gabriel Mountains in the distance.
What sets OUE Skyspace apart is the Skyslide between the 70th and 69th floors.
This vertigo inducing attraction is 13 metres long and made completely from crystal-clear glass, promising a few seconds of exhilaration or abject terror, depending on your disposition.
32. Dodger Stadium
The third-oldest stadium in MLB, and the oldest west of the Mississippi, Dodger Stadium opened in 1962 and has the largest seating capacity (56,000) of any baseball stadium in the world.
The most recent of the Dodgers’ six World Series titles came in 1988, but in the 2010s they have been perennial contenders.
Led by star pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the franchise has taken seven West Division titles in the decade up to 2018, but fell just short of the biggest prize in 2017 and 2018. You can get tickets in person at Lot 2 on game days, and sample some of the indulgent food that Dodger Stadium is famous for, like esquites, tacos of all descriptions and the 16-inch “Going Yard” hot dog.
For an inside look at Dodger Stadium, take one of the 90-minute tours (10:00, 11:30 and 13:00), heading down to the field, into the Dodger Dugout and into the Lexus Dugout Club to view the team’s World Series trophies and various individual awards.
33. Grand Central Market
As good a place as any to begin an adventure in Downtown Los Angeles, the cavernous Grand Central Market has occupied the ground floor of the landmark Homer Laughlin Building since 1917. This is hands-down the largest and oldest public market in the city.
In the 2010s the market has turned itself into a trendy dining destination with a revitalisation project, and by welcoming a cosmopolitan line-up of new vendors.
Here to tempt you there’s falafel, Nashville got chicken, wood-fired pizza, an oyster bar, ramen, Salvadorian streetfood, tacos, tortas, tostadas, currywurst, burritos, bento and BBQ, along with speciality food vendors for fresh bread, cheese, spices, Latin dry goods, herbs, fruit and vegetables.
Included in: L.A. Downtown Food Tour
34. The Original Farmers Market
Linked to the posh Grove Mall in the Fairfax District is the permanent Farmers Market, trading seven days a week.
You can use the market as a vibrant shopping amenity, calling in for groceries at the various butchers, bakers, fruit and vegetable stalls, and at speciality food stores for goodies like cheese, charcuterie, wine, olive oil and hard-to-find spices (Dragunara Spice Bazaar). Light My Fire has an assortment of hot sauces from all over the world, while “T” stocks every tea variety you could think of.
And when it comes to casual dining you’ll have to make the impossible choice between sushi, build your own salad, gumbo, pizza, loaded subs, Philly-style deli, churrasco, gyros, barbecue and a whole lot more.
Do the tour: Original Farmers Market Food and History Tour
35. Pacific Coast Highway
Made famous by decades of popular culture, north-south highway hugs California’s coastline for more than 660 miles and can be joined at Santa Monica for a scenic drive to Malibu.
On one side the meandering road is walled by high scrubby cliffs, and on the other is the Pacific in all its unrestrained beauty.
You’ll see sleek residences posted high on the cliffs, surf communities and dozens of beaches, traced by elegant homes and, and many with just a slender ribbon of pale sand at high tide.
When you get peckish there’s an endless choice of seafood-oriented places to stop for a meal paired with those amazing views.
Malibu Seafood is a combined fish market and patio cafe, while Neptune’s Net is an iconic seafood spot, gazing out to the ocean since 1956 and favoured by bikers.
Available tour: California Highlights Express: 3-Day Tour from Los Angeles
36. Sunset Boulevard
Twenty-two miles long, from Downtown Los Angeles to opulent Malibu, Sunset Boulevard is a neat cross-section of the city.
In West Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard encompasses the neon glare of the Sunset Strip, famed for its bright billboards, and a place to dine, drink and catch some live music.
In the 60s, 70s and 80s, every rock scene, from folk rock through punk to hair metal had its time in the limelight on Sunset Strip.
This patch has moved upmarket a little, and the alternative rock scene has migrated towards the Arts District, Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Echo Park.
Sunset Boulevard takes in classic monuments like the palatial Chateau Marmont Hotel.
Here F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Billy Wilder and Hunter S. Thompson all spent time producing work at the hotel, while John Belushi died at the Chateau Marmont from an overdose in 1982. Climbing west the road dusts itself off as it bends past the film stars’ mansions and gated estates of Beverly Hills and Bel Air.
Recommended tour: The Sunset Strip Experience
37. Paramount Pictures Studio Tour
With roots going back to 1912, the corporation that became Paramount Pictures moved to this 26-acre site at 5555 Melrose Avenue in 1926. The stages where Sunset Boulevard, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Rear Window and Sabrina were shot are still used today.
You can discover them on a two-hour studio tour in a limousine golf cart, in the company of a guide well-versed in the history of the studio.
You’ll see the Prop Warehouse, a new Tour Center and the New York Backlot (several New York neighbourhoods in one place). Tours take place seven days a week and need to be booked in advance.
The best time to choose is between 11:00 and 15:00 when shooting may be happening, and there will be a better chance of spotting someone famous, even if more areas will be shut down for filming.
On weekdays there’s a 4.5-hour VIP Tour, for more of an insider experience when you’ll get to meet archivists and backlot tradesmen.
38. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Founded in 1913, the largest natural history museum in the Western United States was given a spectacular overhaul in the early 2000s.
Strictly speaking the museum has three locations, including the La Brea Tar Pits, but we’re talking here about the anchor at Exposition Park, a Renaissance Revival building with fine terracotta moulding and a colonnaded rotunda.
The crowd-pleasers are Becoming Los Angles, showing you how a small pueblo became an endless metropolis, and a Dinosaur Hall that reopened at double capacity in 2013, displaying the only T. rex growth fossil series, showing a baby, juvenile and full-grown T. rex.
This adult is one of the ten most complete specimens for this dinosaur in the world.
Kids will also be spellbound by the hands-on Discovery Center, while the Butterfly Pavilion, with species from around the United States, is a seasonal treat from March to September.
Book online: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Tickets
39. Arts District
To the east of Downtown Los Angles, the Arts District is a once decaying neighbourhood of early-20th century warehouses, railroad sheds and factories.
The district was first colonised by artists in the 1970s, and is now a youthful creative hub.
Unlike a lot of Los Angeles the Art District is mostly walkable, and has some of the best street art around, counting more than 100 murals, many that will stop you in your tracks.
Graffiti is illegal in the City of Los Angeles, but property owners in the Arts District encourage artists to go to work on their buildings.
Come with your camera ready to explore this revived cityscape peppered with independent galleries, ethical boutiques, loft brewhouses and ultra-hip coffee shops.
40. Santa Monica State Beach
North and south of the Santa Monica Pier, is a gorgeous 3.5-mile sandy beach, recognisable from TV and movies of course, and a blissful place to idle on a sunny day.
North of the pier, the Santa Monica State Beach is tracked by the Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica’s famous sandstone cliffs.
From here you can get down to the ocean via the footbridges from the lush Ocean Park and Palisades Park atop the bluffs.
The beach is spotless, in a way that seems impossible in a metropolis, and the water quality is high everywhere except below the pier, even if the ocean is surprisingly chilly.
Dining isn’t a problem either, whether you head for the Ocean Front Walk behind the pier, or back up the bluffs in Santa Monica.
41. Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Hollywood’s answer to Père Lachaise or Highgate is off Santa Monica Boulevard, behind Paramount Studios.
At Hollywood Forever Cemetery you can pay your respects to the leading lights of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and catch a glimpse of the Hollywood Sign.
Among the household names here are John Huston, Judy Garland, Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Rooney.
The cemetery is free to enter (as you’d guess, proper decorum is required), and you can get hold of a map at the entrance.
The caretakers will be happy to give you tips and a bit of background, while the grounds are as scrupulously maintained as you’d hope and roamed by peacocks.
What you might not expect is that Hollywood Forever Cemetery has a busy cultural calendar, with summer outdoor movie screenings, concerts, live podcast recordings, literature events and, on November 2nd, the biggest Dia de Los Muertos event in the United States.
42. The Strand
Officially known as the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, The Strand is a cycle path extending for 22 miles from Will Rogers State Beach at Pacific Palisades to Torrance County Beach.
If you fancy riding this smooth, serpentine concrete trail there’s no lack of places to rent a bicycle, e-bike or electric scooter around Santa Monica, Venice and Playa del Rey.
The path passes along the beach for almost the entirety of the route, apart from a diversion along Washington Boulevard after the Venice Fishing Pier.
The Strand was completed in 1989, despite opposition from beachfront homeowners in Santa Monica, and is the ultimate way to encounter the beaches of Los Angeles.
You’ll share the route with walkers and skaters, so it’s a ride for gentle coasting letting you appreciate the beaches, ocean and sights as you go.
For the perspective of a local you can book the Santa Monica and Venice 3-Hour Electric Bike Tour with GetYourGuide.com.
43. Taco Trucks
In a city nearly 50% Latino and Hispanic, it’s a given that Los Angeles should have a spectrum of cuisines from across the Americas.
Naturally, Mexican food stands out in particular, and most agree that Los Angeles puts other American cities in the shade for tacos.
You can hit the city’s staggering choice of Mexican-style chains, like Poquito Mas, Guisados, Del Taco and Qdoba, or smaller enterprises like Tacomiendo (Culver City, West Los Angeles, Montebello). But in the same way that the Chinese food in New York comes from holes in the wall, LA locals know that the best tacos are taco truck tacos.
Track down Leo’s Tacos Truck, Ricky’s Fish Tacos, Mariscos Jalisco, Guerrilla Tacos, Taco Zone, El Chato and Jorge’s Tacos.
Each truck has its own speciality, be it mesquite-grilled carne asada, rib meat, fried taco shells, chorizo, pastor (kebab-style seasoned pork) or taquitos (deep-fried tacos), so you have no choice but to try as many as possible.
44. In-N-Out Burger
Part of the scenery in Los Angeles for over 70 years, In-N-Out Burger today has more than 340 locations in six states.
There are a few reasons why this fast food restaurant deserves your business over other chains.
Perhaps the best is that In-N-Out Burger pays all its employees above minimum wage, which is surprising as the restaurant has such a reasonable price point.
That menu is also unusually simple: There’s not much more than a hamburger, cheeseburger, Double-Double, fries and shakes.
But you can get creative using the “not-so-secret-menu”, adding extra patties and cheese, removing the bun for the low-carb Protein Style, or going for Animal Style, which has grilled onions and a patty cooked in mustard.
These choices aren’t advertised at any locations, but there are details on the chain’s website.
45. Third Street Promenade
A couple of streets in from the Santa Monica Pier and you’ll be on Third Street Promenade in the middle of Santa Monica’s shopping zone.
The promenade is three open-air car-free blocks, flanked by palms and jacarandas, and with a real diversity of upmarket and mid-market stores, restaurants, bars and movie theatres.
For shopping think Sephora, Abercrombie and Fitch, Urban Outfitters, LUSH, H&M, Apple Store and Banana Republic, with a lot more waiting on the neighbouring streets or at the foot of the promenade on Santa Monica Place.
The development goes back to 1965 and has picked up a reputation for its many street performers.
You’ll come across musicians of every genre and style, as well as dancers, magicians, living statues and clowns, all at neat intervals down the street.
Recently little touches like clusters of Adirondack chairs have started cropping up on the promenade, while Downtown Santa Monica Station on the new-ish Expo Line, connecting this city with Downtown Los Angeles.
46. Universal CityWalk
A separate attraction at Universal Studios, CityWalk is a neon-lit, high-energy promenade for shopping, entertainment and dining.
CityWalk’s linchpin is the 5 Towers, an outdoor concert venue, with regular live music, while street performers are out in force most nights.
Entrance is free, and CityWalk is often thronged on weekends for its AMC Universal Cineplex, and the wide fast food and casual dining options, from Bubba Gump Shrimp Company to Tony Roma’s, Buca di Beppo, Panda Express, KFC, Taco Bell and Subway.
If you’re peckish for a snack there’s Wetzels’ Pretzels, Cinnabon and Ben and Jerry’s, to name a few.
47. Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook
A California State Park, this viewpoint is to the south-west of downtown, at Culver City.
Parking up on Jefferson Boulevard, there are two routes to the summit: You can navigate the switchbacks on a winding dirt track, or cut straight to the top on the Culver City Stairs.
There are 282 steps in all, so the most direct route to the overlook is also the most gruelling.
The best bet is to use the trail on the way up, enjoying the popcorn flowers and Californian aster in mid-summer, and return on the steps.
At the summit you can contemplate sweeping panoramas of Los Angeles, the Pacific, the Hollywood Hills and the San Gabriel Mountains to the north-west, capped with snow in winter.
48. LA Grand Tour
The public transport system in Los Angeles is far better than its reputation, but is still growing.
So if you’re here without a car an extended bus tour is a great way to pack in as much as of the city as possible.
The LA Grand Tour with GetYourGuide.com is a seven-hour narrated tour of the city on an open bus, for a near-complete introduction to Los Angeles.
The trip begins at Sunset Boulevard, before setting a course for the Santa Monica Pier for a one-hour stop.
You’ll visit the Third Street Promenade, the Farmers Market (one-hour lunch stop) and the Grove.
Afterwards the bus makes the trip up to the Griffith Observatory for a whirlwind visit and to gaze at the Hollywood Sign, before descending to the Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Dolby Theatre, home of the Oscars.
49. Descanso Gardens
This joyful botanical garden in La Cañada Flintridge was once part of a 36,000-acre rancho gifted by the Governor of California to Corporal José María Verdugo in 1784. E.
Manchester Boddy, the owner of the Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News, took over the property in 1937 and built himself a mansion, the 22-room Boddy House.
After gaining access to mountain streams on the north side, Boddy started planting ornamental gardens.
In 1942 he enriched these with some 100,000 camellia plants to support two Japanese nurseries in the San Gabriel Valley during internment, and called on experts to develop rose and lilac collections.
The 150-acre gardens are run by a non-profit organisation alongside Los Angeles County, and shines for its 600 varieties of camellias, a five-acre rosarium, woodland streams, meandering paths, Japanese Garden and Tea House, and “Enchanted Railroad” for little ones.
The colour is glorious in spring when the azaleas, tulips, daffodils and lilacs take turns to bloom.
50. Japanese American National Museum
In Little Tokyo is the largest museum in the United States devoted to Japanese-American history, preserving textiles, photography, footage, oral histories and a wealth of art and artefacts.
The Japanese American National Museum was founded in 1992 and in 1999 moved into the sleek Pavilion, designed by Gyo Obata.
The permanent exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community, relates the Japanese-American experience since the earliest immigrants in the 1880s, via hundreds of documents and objects, going into detail on internment during the Second World War.
One moving exhibit is Sadako’s Crane, one of a 1,000 origami cranes folded by Sadako Sasaki, who died from leukaemia aged 12, ten years after the Hiroshima bombing.
In spring 2019 there was a sensational interactive exhibition for vintage Japanese toys, Kaiju vs Heroes.
51. One-Hour Flight for Two Persons
When the best panoramas in Los Angeles require a stiff hike or a drive along a circuitous mountain road you may prefer to see the City of Angles in a manner fitting for a Hollywood star, from the comfort of a plane.
Offered via GetYourGuide.com, this experience is an exhilarating and intimate way to view the Pacific beaches, the skyscrapers of Downtown Los Angeles, the Hollywood Hills, the iconic Hollywood Sign, the Griffith Observatory and Dodger Stadium.
One passenger will be free to soak up the views from the back seat, while the other will even be invited to take the controls and try a turn far above this famous cityscape.
52. Lake Hollywood Park
Getting to Lake Hollywood Park, above the Hollywood Reservoir at the west side of Griffith Park is an adventure on Hollywoodland’s tight, zigzagging roads.
But your patience will be paid back with one of the cleanest views of the Hollywood Sign, just by the road on Mulholland Highway.
Maybe because the drive can be tricky, Lake Hollywood Park feels more like a quiet suburban haven than a major sightseeing location, with a children’s playground, grassy field, picnic benches shaded by foliage and a regular stream of local dog-walkers .
53. Celebrity Homes Tour
Everyone is at least a little curious about where and how Hollywood’s biggest stars live.
If you can’t resist finding out more you can either get hold of a map and conduct your own investigation, or let someone else do all the work and take a bus tour.
GetYourGuide.com lists a variety of celebrity home tours, through West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Malibu.
Typically, a Hollywood and Beverly Hills tour will take you up close to around 60 homes occupied or previously occupied by A-listers, while your guide lays on some juicy gossip.
Most tours also involve a few landmarks like the Dolby Theatre, the Playboy Mansion and enduring spots on the Sunset Strip like Chateau Marmont, the Viper Room and the Roxy.
54. Watts Towers
West Coast rap fans will have heard the name “Watts” in plenty of songs, so may know that this neighbourhood has a bit of an edge and is off the tourist trail.
But that shouldn’t deter you from visiting one of the city’s most distinctive landmarks.
The Watt Towers are an incredible work of outsider art, by one Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant and construction worker.
Between 1921 and 1954, and without a plan to speak of, Rodia constructed these strange openwork towers using just his hands, decorating them with ceramic tiles, bottles, mirrors and figurines.
It is thought that the project was an act of atonement, as Rodia had led a pretty dissolute life.
Charles Mingus grew up beside the towers and linked their improvised style to his own work, while the Beatles placed Rodia among the many faces on the cover of Lonely Hearts Club Band.