101 things to do in Los Angeles

Your essential guide to the best things to do in LA this season, from stair hikes to welding workshops and more

Photograph: Jakob N. Layman
Griffith Park

Looking for things to do in Los Angeles? We've got you covered with tons of options—101, to be exact. Whether you're a culture vulture, outdoorsy type or simply a lover of our fine city, there's more than enough here to keep you busy. Even lifelong Angelenos will find something new to add to their to-do list, between the city's underground secrets and the ever-changing inventory of the best restaurants. How many will you try?

Attractions

Get romantic at the Camera Obscura in Santa Monica

Head to the Santa Monica Senior Center (of all places), trade your photo ID for a key, then ascend a narrow staircase leading to a tiny room containing a camera obscura apparatus that’s more than 100 years old. Passersby outside are reflected in miniature on a large white disk, which you can steer for different views. Sneak a kiss in the dark as tiny strangers stroll across the disk, oblivious to your PDA.

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Shoot a bow and arrow

Find your inner Katniss with beginning archery classes on Saturday mornings—first-come, first-serve—at the Pasadena Roving Archers Range at the Lower Arroyo Seco Park. If it’s your first time, show up no later than 7:15am to get fitted with equipment—returning archers can sleep in and show up at 9:45am. Your first lesson is free, and a small donation is suggested for each one thereafter. You'll find similar promos in Westwood and the Valley, as well.

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Look out on the city without any crowds

Views of the humble but far-reaching LA cityscape usually come at a price to your wallet or feet. Not so at City Hall. The white concrete tower's free perch above Downtown offers a privileged look without any obstructions (i.e. other buildings or tourists' heads). Whether you're begrudgingly stopping at a government building or just rolling by on a clear day—public hours are weekdays 8am-5pm—you owe yourself a visit.

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Meet Downtown's newest park

The slow, lumbering mission to turn Downtown LA into a vibrant cultural hub got a lift last year when a portion of Grand Park's 12 acres officially opened to the public in July 2012. Dotted with fountains, picnic lawns, bright pink benches and plenty of nooks from which to sit and people-watch, Grand Park is a bright urban oasis that proves the city has a sense of romance. Development continues with performance and event lawns that will stretch the entire park from the Music Center on Grand Avenue all the way to City Hall.

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Relax in the shade of a Gehry building

It’s impossible to cruise along Grand Avenue and miss the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a twisted metallic explosion of Frank Gehry’s imagination. You may not realize, though, that the acoustically impressive hall harbors a lush garden in its shadows. Whether you're looking for a quiet place to sit on your lunch hour or a climb along the building's lustrous exterior, it's the perfect spot to both appreciate and escape the city.

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Spend the day at Descanso Gardens

Go for a morning walk through this 1,600-acre park—including a five-acre rose garden. This delightful tribute to the horticultural magic of Southern California includes more than 600 varieties of camellia (these are best seen between the middle of February and early May, when there are around 34,000 of the plants in bloom). There are also lilac, orchid, fern and California native plant areas, as well as a tea house donated by the Japanese-American community. The gardens host yoga classes amid the greenery. Have lunch at the Cafe and then peruse the gift shop for botany-related books and trinkets to inspire your own garden.

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Find your zen

Get lost in your thoughts at one of LA's best kept secrets: Just inland from the Pacific Coast Highway and easy to miss when you're rushing to catch the sunset, the mystical Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine is run by a non-denominational order that welcomes visitors and doesn't proselytize. The shrine is set on a 10-acre site that was used as a film set during the silent era, with lovely gardens that evoke old Hollywood. Look out for the Dutch windmill chapel, the Mississippi houseboat and a number of gliding swans. The East here is represented by a gilded lotus gate enclosing a shrine that contains some of Gandhi's ashes. It all feels worlds away from the urban grind—and there's free parking, too.

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Food & Drink

Shop (and people-watch) at Grand Central Market

Buried in the heart of Downtown LA is this European-style food hall, which has been operating on the ground floor of the iconic Homer Laughlin Building since 1917. Some food vendors merit more praise than others, though Mexican- and South American-themed stalls offering treats like pupusas, carnitas tacos and aguas frescas remain some of the most popular. Shop stalls of fresh produce, meats and seafood, snack on Mexican eats (fresh, homemade tortillas!), or grab some greasy fried chicken to go. The clientele here runs the gamut from high-profile Downtown chefs who ran out of salmon to the local bum buying nips of vodka from the bodega in front.

RECOMMENDED: 7 dishes at GCM we're loving right now

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Splurge at Scarpetta's chef's counter

Watch the kitchen heat up from the best seat in the house at chef Scott Conant's Scarpetta. Admire chef de cuisine Freddy Vargas as he prepares exquisite food in the middle of the bustling kitchen at a counter that seats six. Remember to reserve your seats ahead of time.

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Take in the Pacific at a roadside seafood shack along PCH

Join the weekend biker crew at Neptune's Net, where the outdoor patio affords views of surfers, kite boarders and fellow diners, many of whom will be large, hairy and leather-clad. Dine with locals at Malibu Seafood, where the long line is worth the wait for fresh fish and seafood (grilled or battered and fried) and outdoor picnic tables. Or drop in at the Reel Inn, an oceanside fixture for fresh grilled fish served with fries and slaw. Grab a beer and head to the outdoor patio at sunset, then go back in to savor the nautical kitsch.

Bake a cake—or pretend like you did

At Duff Goldman's Cakemix in West Hollywood, Martha Stewart wannabes can pipe, stud and sparkle cakes with frosting, fondant, sprinkles and even edible air-spray paint and glitter—all with the help of on-site professional pastry chefs. If you're feeling hungry, the on-site bakery has cake slices and cupcakes in flavors like lemon-poppy seed and red velvet, along with beverages for sale.

RECOMMENDED: Bakeries in Los Angeles: Retro, throwback desserts

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Check out a local brewery

Did someone say beer? Visit Angel City Brewery's new Arts District Home. Meet the father-son team who run Eagle Rock Brewery, or grab a bite and a pint from Golden Road Brewery in Atwater. If you’re willing to travel a bit further, Ladyface Ale Companie (at the base of Ladyface Mountain in Agoura Hills) offers up a solid IPA, plus lots of seasonal specials (check its always-up-to-date Facebook page to see what’s new). And there’s always Stone Brewing Co.—with a tasting room in Pasadena and the real deal brewery down in San Diego—a keg of whose Arrogant Bastard Ale is well worth the drive.

RECOMMENDED: The best breweries in LA

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Music & Nightlife

Join Echo Park’s record club

Check out Echo Park beer and wine bar El Prado’s Record Club, hosted by Origami Vinyl, the record shop across the street. Every Tuesday, bring a record to play for your fellow barflies, and get a free drink in return. (Sign-ups are a week in advance, which means you’ll have to spend two Tuesdays in a row listening to great B-sides and drinking delicious beer. Tough life.)

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Go where the Mariachis are

Witness an 80-year old LA tradition—and hear some great music—at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, just east of Downtown. Since the 1930s, mariachi bands have gathered here, decked out in their charro (traditional Mexican horsemen) suits, waiting to be hired to play at parties or restaurants. Take note of the historic 1889 Boyle Hotel, better known as “Mariachi Hotel,” where many of the musicians live.

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Try shape note singing

This unique American tradition, often called Sacred Harp, brings people together to sing four-part hymns and anthems. While many of the songs have religious themes, the Fa-So-La LA group is purely secular—the only book they’ll push is the songbook. Meet-ups happen fairly regularly, all over the city, and newcomers are always welcome. Instead of singing regular music notes, you’ll sing shape notes, making it easy for first-timers to read the sheet music and participate fully. And we do mean fully—once you hear how beautiful a room full of shape note singers sounds, you’ll be hooked.

Be a pinball wizard

Pins & Needles—a tailor shop by day, clubhouse by night—houses 32 classic pinball machines and hosts eight-week league seasons with two weeks of playoffs and finals among three divisions, based on competitors' flipping skills. You can also find a few of the shop's machines at EightyTwo, the Downtown Arts District barcade.

Listen to the streets of Los Angeles

Youarelistening.to is an amazing website that plays the LAPD police-scanner radio over ambient music, making for an eerie listening experience and, some might say, perfect background noise. Bonus: The site can stream scanners from the PDs in other cities, in case you’re wondering what’s up on the streets of Detroit.

Play bingo with drag queens

Hamburger Mary’s, West Hollywood's notoriously flamboyant burger joint, hosts a drag bingo night, Legendary Bingo, each Wednesday. Expect lots of interesting hostesses, plus prizes for each game and lots of laughs. Tip: Eat dinner elsewhere and stick to drinks during the game—the food here isn’t nearly as good as the live talent. The $20 donation is a little steep, but every penny goes to charity.

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Pay Marty & Elayne a visit

Retrace key scenes from Swingers and find yourself at the Dresden, settling in for an evening with the inimitable musical duo Marty & Elayne. A beacon of genuine, unironic kitsch, nothing has changed at this storied local watering hole in umpteen years, from the corkboard walls to the wrought-iron lighting fixtures. The famed musical duo have been holding court in the lounge since 1982. Cozy up in an oversized booth, sip a martini and take it all in while they're still around.

RECOMMENDED: Los Feliz neighborhood guide

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Watch an intimate show in a vaunted space

McCabe's Guitar Shop first opened its doors in 1958 and has since hosted an incredible list of performers. Past shows have included sets by Jeff Buckley, Cat Power, REM, Etta James, Tom Waits, T-Bone Burnett and Joni Mitchell, to name just a fraction of the talent that's played here.

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Brush up on your jokes

Take a comedy workshop at Groundlings Improv School. If laughing at jokes (not making them) is more your thing, check out one of the sketch comedy improv acts. Alumni who got their start on the Groundlings stage include Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell, Maya Rudolph, Kathy Griffin, Jon Lovitz, Will Forte and more.

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Hear jazz at the W

The W Hotel in Hollywood doesn't improvise when it comes to swank. On Sunday nights, blond bombshell Brenna Whitaker and Her Little Big Band bring down the house with their vintage jazz and blues in the sleek Living Room lounge. You won't be charged a cover, but a formal dress code is strictly enforced. It gets a little crowded, so for table reservations, contact Jin Yu at 818-209-9021 or jin@jinandquinn.com.

RECOMMENDED: LA's classiest jazz venues

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Arts & Culture

Catch a show at Bob Baker's Marionette Theater

Baker opened his doors in 1963, and over 50 years later—after weathering funding scares—this enchanting bit of LA history is still alive. The kitsch factor is high here—original (some worse for wear) puppets, cheesy old songs and ancient decor—but it's good fun. After the show, guests are treated to free ice cream and coffee and a backstage tour.

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Take a workshop at Machine Project

How to categorize this space? Installations have included a magical woodland and a picturesque shipwreck; activities range from a group weeping-and-laughter ceremony to a clothing-optional film screening to a gourmet ham bar—and that’s all in a single event! Machine Project provides support for its artist collaborators to throw all manner of happenings (stay informed via its website). Events happen around twice a week, usually in the evenings. Past workshops include bookbinding, MIG welding, millinery (a fancy term for hat making), sewing, and sauerkraut and homemade soda making.

RECOMMENDED: LA's best offbeat museums and institutions

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Spend a night at the opera

LA Opera continues to impress each season under the direction of Spanish tenor and conductor Plácido Domingo. Never been to the opera before? Don't worry, you won't be too lost—English translations of everything sung onstage are projected on a screen for your understanding pleasure. Show up an hour early and catch the free pre-performance talk, which will make you an expert well before the curtains part.

RECOMMENDED: Best performing arts spaces in LA

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Folk around

Ditch the crowds at LACMA and cross the street to the Craft and Folk Art Museum for modern crafts, workshops, screenings and quirky handmade pieces from local artists. LA's only public showcase devoted to contemporary craft and community-based folk art continues to broaden its programming: Shows could take in anything from Venetian glassmaking to American printmaking, the circus-themed dioramas of Sonny King to a retrospective of work by Hungarian designer Eva Zeisel. With the launch of its sister community outreach program, Folk Art Everywhere, CAFAM bridges the gap between global and local cultures. Free every first Wednesday of the month.

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Go gallery hopping

The centre of Santa Monica's art scene is Bergamot Station, a former trolley stop that's now home to 30-plus galleries. If you head here on a Saturday night, you're likely to find more than one gallery owner uncorking the chardonnay as they launch a new show. Be sure to make a stop at the Santa Monica Museum of Art gift shop for unique gifts and crafts.

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Learn to weld

Molten Metal Works is a community metal workshop that hosts welding and other industrial arts classes all week long, many at night (when the sparks look prettiest!). Learn MIG welding, TIG welding, sculpture + furniture making and more.

Have fun at First Fridays

If you're sick of First Fridays only offering a high density of food trucks and lines at your favorite dive bars, check out something new—err, old rather—at the Natural History Museum, where First Fridays offer dinosaurs and DJs. The first Friday of the month from January through May, as well as the first Sunday in June, will host a KCRW-presented evening of music, allowing visitors of all ages to stay late for a night at the museum, which has been open for over 100 years.

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Shopping & Style

Stop and smell the flowers

Visit the Original LA Flower Market, in—where else?—the Flower District, Downtown. Restaurateurs, wedding planners, florists and botany geeks (and okay, some tourists) make up the early morning hustle and bustle among rows of flowers, plants and “floral accessories” from around the world. Come out later during public hours to grab a bouquet for a friend, take some great pictures or just indulge your senses. Insider tip: Avoid Wednesdays and Fridays if possible—they’re busiest.

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Talk about sex

The Pleasure Chest is one of the city’s (maybe even the state’s) classiest sex shops. And not only do they offer products for all your sexy needs, they also have a regular schedule of comedy nights and classes—see: Impact Play (spanking, flogging and more), Performance Anxiety (naughty comedy) and Sex With Men (sex with men)—to help spice things up in your love (or lust) life.

RECOMMENDED: Best sex shops in Los Angeles

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Find crafts at Crafted

SoCal’s first large-scale permanent craft marketplace, Crafted is housed in—you guessed it—a warehouse at the Port of LA. One of the city's best craft fairs, Crafted is comprised of a patchwork of stalls housing local designers (such as Branch of Life, which makes planters out of natural and found objects; or Donut Snob, which bakes handmade gourmet donuts) who sign on to sell their goods every Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the year. Also on offer are craft demonstrations, live music, food trucks and special events, such as an Etsy craft party—call up your knitting circle!

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Go to the farmers' market at night

Explore the food, drink and vendors at the Sunset Strip Market—Thursdays from 5pm to 9pm—one of the city's only evening farmer's markets. Tip: Want to do a little shopping or dining post-market? Drop your produce at the Veggie Valet for a suggested donation of $1.

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Aerobicize with Richard Simmons

There is truly no better motivation to get your high kicks right than having Richard Simmons (quite possibly in drag... or a cat costume) screaming in your face. He'll cheer you on, give compliments that would make the most brazen flirt blush, and may even shed a tear or two while reminding the class to drink enough water and eat healthy foods. It's by far the best and most bizzare time you'll have working out. (And he'll pose for photos with you post-workout!)

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See an (educational) sex show

The Stockroom in Silver Lake is the place to go for fetish items like whips, ball gags and butt plugs. It's also a great place to take a class, as long as you don't mind live demonstrations. Classes at the Stockroom University are usually around $20, last for three hours and are "inflicted by" experts in fields such as hardcore sex, anal play and bloodletting (yep, you read that right). Stockroom classes make the Pleasure Chest look PG—so make sure you're ready to really get up-close and personal before signing up.

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Film

Skip the Walk of Fame and watch a movie

There's a thrill that comes from seeing a movie inside the Chinese Theatre, home of seemingly every major movie premiere ever. While everyone else congregates around concrete footprints and brass names, you can admire the real star here: The auditorium's architecture is simply stunning, as is the picture quality on one of the biggest—now IMAX—screens in the country.

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Get lost in a film

LA's equivalent of the Cinemateque Francaise responds to Truffaut's inquiry—"Is the cinema more important than life?"—with a wholehearted "yes." Fairfax's historic Silent Movie Theater still screens early archives—and, yes, talkies from classics to more modern picks complete with Q&A's, live music and potlucks. You'll find everything here at Cinefmaily, from kitschy B-movies to punch-proud masterpieces—with fun concessions such as giant cupcakes and free coffee—plus lots of special guests and parties out back on the patio.

RECOMMENDED: Time Out with Cinefamily's Hadrian Belove

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Take (or teach) a filmmaking class

Having a little film knowledge is practically a prerequisite for living in LA. Take a film class at the Echo Park Film Center and be a novice no more. Learn digital editing, documentary filmmaking, even stop-motion animation. Already know your stuff? Volunteer to teach adult or neighborhood youth/senior classes.

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Get a sneak peak

See Hollywood's upcoming features at UCLA Extension's Sneak Preview. The $200+ class gets you screenings in the comfy Director's Guild theater, plus rare movie previews and smart Q&As with the filmmakers and actors.

Watch today's stars tackle cult classics

LACMA's Film Independent series stages an only-in-LA experience each week with Q&As with acclaimed auteurs, screenings of restored classic films and live reads led by director Jason Reitman and a surprise cast of stars. The live reads are as essential as they are popular, so make sure to jump on available tickets ASAP.

Walks, Hikes & Tours

Cruise Mulholland

Put the top down—or hop on your bike—and cruise along winding Mulholland Drive, the highway that travels through the San Fernando Valley to the Hollywood Hills. Pull over at the Nancy Hoover Pohl Overlook to take in one of the iconic views of LA’s Valley (David Lynch thriller optional).

Tour Temescal Canyon

With a variety of terrain, flora and views of the Pacific and city, Pacific Palisades' Temescal Canyon Park is great for trail runners, hikers, and dog walkers—while it's technically illegal, dogs roam off-leash here. You'll experience vast, breathtaking views that span from Catalina to Downtown and enough varied terrain to keep you and your furry friend going—all the way to the Valley, should you dare.

RECOMMENDED: Best hikes with views of LA

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Take a hike—a stair hike

LA is famous for its semi-secret network of public staircases, reminiscent of a time when residents actually walked (!) up and down hills to get to school, the supermarket and transit lines. More than 275 individual staircases—some neglected, some leading to hidden parks or bungalows, all a good workout—lace the Los Angeles area, from Pasadena to the Palisades. Pick up a copy of Charles Fleming's Secret Stairs—one of our favorite books about LA—to find a route near you.

Be an architecture nerd for a day

Architecture Tours of LA offers daily trips from 9:30am to 1:30pm, during which you can admire the homes of Hollywood Hills, cover Pasadena's mansions and get schooled in Downtown LA's historic and contemporary buildings all before dinnertime. Frank Gehry groupies can hop on a five- to six-hour minivan tour of his finest hits in the city.

RECOMMENDED: House tour: Architectural homes in Los Angeles

Check out Chinatown

Take a walk through LA's bustling Chinatown, the first established Chinatown in America. Explore the area's herbal shops, art galleries, antique stores and courtyards. Then stop in at one of the neighborhood's best bars, Hop Louie, for a tasty beverage.

RECOMMENDED: Chinatown guide

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Join a running club

Usain Bolts–in-training can hook up with other runners at Nike's Run Club at Santa Monica Place. Go for three-, five-, or seven-mile runs along the beach on Wednesdays at 6:30pm and along San Vicente Boulevard on Sundays at 10:30am.

Take a walking tour

Take a walking tour of DTLA, led by docents from the Los Angeles Conservancy. Choose from eight different themed tours, including the popular "Historic Downtown," "Art Deco," and "Broadway: Historic Theatre and Commercial District" tours.

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Visit a haunted asylum

Founded in 1888 as the County Poor Farm, Rancho Los Amigos Hospital was a haven for the city’s destitute and mentally ill. The property also included a farm, a dairy, a zoo and a pauper’s graveyard. In the late ’50s, the farm, dairy and mental health wards were closed down (the main hospital now sits in a sprawling nearby complex, renamed the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center). The old mental ward remains creepily fenced up and totally abandoned. Old office furniture, files and even mummified body parts have been found here: In October 2006, U.S. Marines who were using the abandoned building for drills found a freezer in the morgue containing legs, feet and brain bits.

RECOMMENDED: 13 haunted spots in LA

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Comments

9 comments
100thingstodoin
100thingstodoin

for things to do in your town checkout: http://100thingstodoin.com 

Jane J. Harley
Jane J. Harley

i was looking for hispanic things to doin LA all i got was 101 things to do in LA............... DISSAPOINTED

Joe B.
Joe B.

Be sure to visit where the sewer meets the sea in San Pedro.

Kim
Kim

I wish there was a "print this" option!

Kristine
Kristine

this is great! reminded me of so many things I want to do! how can I get a hard copy of this list?