Best parks in L.A.
Spanning an impressive 4,210 acres, it's easy to get lost in LA's largest public green space, much of which remains unchanged from the days when Native Americans settled here. For more activity-minded folks, there are myriad attractions (Griffith merry-go-round, LA Zoo, the Observatory), plus hiking routes, horseback riding trails and three sets of tennis courts.
The slow, lumbering mission to turn Downtown LA into a vibrant cultural hub got a lift 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. The park plays host to performances, gatherings and other community events.
Echo Park Lake
After a massive makeover, the Eastside’s historic Echo Park Lake has finally become a family-friendly destination worthy of its bold backdrop: the Downtown skyline amid the lotus flower blooms and fountains. The lake has been around since 1860—it was once used as a drinking water reservoir, and later as a recreational park with canoes and fishing. Today, you can push your way through the lake in a pedal boat or stroll around the path that hugs its borders. Either way, make sure to stop at the revived boathouse (and its breakfast pit stop Beacon) and the Lady of the Lake statue.
Walk along the palm and eucalyptus-lined paths here and it becomes obvious why tourists flock to this oceanside park in Santa Monica. Nestled between the beach and Ocean Avenue, this bluff-top park runs the length of Santa Monica's northern coast with stunning views of the ocean and Santa Monica Mountains—this is the postcard picture of LA's coastline that lives in most people's heads. Steer clear of the tourist and homeless-ridden section by the Pier—though don't pass up a stop at the Camera Obscura—and instead keep toward the Pacific Palisades-adjacent end, past the stately concrete sculpture at Wilshire and the colorful totem pole at San Vicente.
Best museums in L.A.
Natural History Museum
The NHM’s original Beaux Arts structure was the first museum building in Los Angeles, opening with Exposition Park itself back in 1913. Its massive collection spans more than 35 million objects and specimens (not all of them are on display at any one time), making it second in size only to the Smithsonian’s. It’s an immense place, so it’s well worth planning your visit. Those with only a little time to spare should head directly to the truly dazzling collections in the Gem & Mineral Hall, where the exhibits include a 4,644-carat topaz, a 2,200-carat opal sphere and a quartz crystal ball which, with a diameter of 10.9 in and a weight of 65lb, is one of the biggest on earth. A six-year, $135-million program of renovations wrapped up in 2013, including the addition of 108,000 square feet of indoor space. The Otis Booth Pavilion now welcomes visitors into the museum from the north with a six-story light-filled glass entrance, featuring a stunning, 63-foot-long fin whale skeleton. Twelve new galleries and five exhibits have opened, including "Becoming L.A.: Stories of Nature and Culture," which examines the Los Angeles region’s history from Native Americans to the Catholic missions, the Industrial Revolution and the World Wars, to the present day. Outdoors, the Nature Gardens features 3.5-acre urban wilderness with a pond, dry creek bed, beautiful landscaping and other features that attract local critters. The Nature Lab features interactive multimedia and live animal habitats, t
Los Angeles’s hilltop acropolis was conceived as a home for the hitherto disparate entities of the J. Paul Getty Trust, but that’s the only straightforward thing about it. Architect Richard Meier was hired to build the museum in 1984, but it took 13 years, several additional designers (to work on the interior and the landscaping) and $1 billion to complete. The end result is a remarkable complex of travertine and white metal-clad pavilions that resembles a kind of monastic retreat designed for James Bond. Its relative inaccessibility is more than compensated for by the panoramic views, from the hills and the ocean in the west all the way around to Downtown in the east.Once you’ve parked at the bottom and taken the electric tram ride up the hill, one thing becomes apparent: it’s a big place. To the west of the plaza is a café, a restaurant and the circular Research Institute, which houses one of the world’s largest art and architecture libraries, and a roster of public exhibits. Beyond it is the Central Garden, designed by Robert Irwin. North are the other institutes (some off-limits to the public) and the Harold M Williams Auditorium, where talks and symposia alternate with concerts and film screenings. And to the south, up a grand Spanish Steps-style stairway, is the museum lobby, an airy, luminous rotunda that opens to a fountain-filled courtyard surrounded by six pavilions housing the permanent collection and often-excellent temporary
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
While LACMA’s collections have long been the most impressive in the city, the 20-acre complex of buildings in which they’ve been housed has been quite the reverse. A bewildering jumble of architectural styles blighted further still by abysmally poor signage, they never really did the artworks justice. At last, though, things have improved. Funding difficulties and public outrage forced the museum to abandon Rem Koolhaas’s original plans to rebuild almost the entire complex from scratch in 2002. However, Renzo Piano’s subsequent blueprint for a less dramatic and less expensive redevelopment of the museum did get the go-ahead. The aptly named Transformation is still a work in progress, but the museum is already a lot more visitor-friendly (attendance increased from 600,000 in 2005 to nearly 1,000,000 in 2011). It all starts with the entrance: the BP Grand Entrance Pavilion gives the museum a proper focal point. The entrance includes the installation of Chris Burden’s Urban Light, a piece made up of 202 cast-iron street lamps gathered from around LA, restored to working order.The Broad Contemporary Art Museum (widely known as BCAM), funded by LA philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, is home to a dazzling selection of modern work. Spread over three floors, the selection of pieces on display is strong on American artists—there’s a very impressive Richard Serra piece on the first floor; Cindy Sherman and Jenny Holzer are among the artists r
L.A.’s newest contemporary art museum, the Broad, is the public home for Eli and Edythe Broad’s collection of 2,000 post-war works. The free museum, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, has added yet another cultural anchor to Grand Avenue, joining the ranks of Walt Disney Concert Hall, REDCAT and MOCA. Find out more in our complete guide to the Broad. The museum is an exciting addition to LA’s roster of institutions, though it’s not perfect. Its vault and veil design appears much more opqaque and heavier than it should, though the even, subdued light in the third floor galleries is pleasant. Its collection relies on relatively safe selections and high-priced gallery prizes. That said, visitors will definitely appreciate its encyclopedic survey of contemporary, complete with a handful of spectacle pieces. Inside, the building is full of memorable characteristics: the long escalator shaft to the third floor, a window into the collection storage and an open floor gift shop dubbed the Shop. Outside, the museum’s plaza features a lovely olive tree grove that sits in from of Otium, the museum’s signature restaurant from French Laundry alum Timothy Hollingsworth. The Broad opened with an inaugural exhibition featuring Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly, Barbara Kruger, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring and more rockstars of the 20th century—plus a whole lot of Jeff Koons. Standout installations include Ragnar Kjartansson’s beautiful nine-screen video piece "The Visitors" and an
Best gardens in L.A.
Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden
This nearly two-acre private Japanese garden and traditional teahouse opens its doors to the public on Sundays. First constructed in the late 1930s, the garden features two ponds, four bridges and a cascading waterfall, all centered around a Japanese tea house. The current structure was painstakingly restored after a fire in 1981; the original was created in Japan by landscape designer and craftsman Kinzuchi Fujii.
Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens (TEMPORARILY CLOSED)
The L.A. Zoo’s greatest asset is its location in the isolated hills of Griffith Park. It’s a pretty popular place, but the zoo’s size—80 acres, plus a huge parking lot—means that, like the park itself, it rarely feels busy. There’s not a separate botanical garden here, but you will find over 800 different plant species, from native succulents to prehistoric cycads, labeled and catalogued throughout the zoo’s continentally-themed habitats.
James Irvine Japanese Garden (TEMPORARILY CLOSED)
This small, tranquil garden is one of Little Tokyo’s best-kept secrets as the urban oasis isn’t accessible from the street. According to the adjoining community center, gardens carry great importance in Japanese culture—caring for the grounds is a form of art and spending time among the flora encourages harmony with nature—so walk the outer path for a complete view of the garden’s foliage, babbling stream and cascading waterfall.
The Japanese Garden (TEMPORARILY CLOSED)
This appropriately titled Japanese garden sits just across from the Sepulveda Basin on the border of Van Nuys. The stony bridges and footpaths wind along a central pond, flanked by by rockwork, manicured trees and tea houses. Of course, this wouldn’t be the Valley without a bit of an industrial edge—the garden is irrigated by the adjacent Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant.
More attractions in L.A.
“If every person could look through that telescope,” declared Griffith J Griffith, “it would revolutionize the world.” More than 70 years after this iconic building opened, the world remains unrevolutionized, and the city smog means that the views are not as crystal-clear as they were in Griffith's day. However, after a five-year program of renovations at the observatory, the 12 in. Zeiss refracting telescope is once again open to the public, providing the crowning glory for this wonderful old landmark.You could comfortably spend a few hours here just taking in the exhibits and the shows. The ground floor holds the Hall of the Sky and Hall of the Eye, a pair of complementary displays that focus on humans' relationship to the stars; a Foucault pendulum, directly under Hugo Ballin's famed mural on the central rotunda; and the handsome, high-tech Samuel Oschin Planetarium. And downstairs, accessible via the campy displays of space-slanted jewelry in the Cosmic Connection Corridor, you'll find a number of other new exhibits. At the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater, you can see a short film about the history and resurgence of the observatory. Pieces of the Sky documents, brightly and informatively, the impact made on Earth by meteorites and other falling debris. The Gunther Depths of Space contains crisp descriptions of the planets, a bronze of Albert Einstein and a vast, 2.46-gigapixel image of the night sky taken from the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County. And there are
The longstanding Disneyland resort isn’t just a set of theme parks: it’s a spectacular piece of pop art that’s as bright or as dark as you’d like it to be. Incorporating two parks—the 50-year-old, near-mythic Disneyland, plus the younger and less-celebrated Disney’s California Adventure—the resort calls itself "The Happiest Place on Earth." And if you bring the right mood with you, it’ll likely live up to its nickname.Certainly, Disney does all it can to get you in the right mood. Disneyland isn’t so much a park as its own separate world; there are even three Disney-operated hotels in the resort, so you need not have the illusion shattered at the end of the day. The hotels, though, do bring to attention the main drawback to spending time here: the sheer expense. You can save hundreds of dollars staying at one of the non-Disney hotels just outside the property, and you may need to do so in order to afford the steep prices of food, drink and admission. It’s worth noting, though, that ticket prices drop if you visit for multiple days, recommended if you want to get a real feel for the place and enjoy all the rides.Both parks boast dozens of dining spots, with cuisine ranging from burgers and pizza to pastas and seafood. Still, you may want to dine at Downtown Disney, a pedestrian-only avenue of nightclubs (including a House of Blues) and restaurants between the two parks. It’s not that the food is that much better, but if you’re going to be paying Disney’s high prices, you might
Universal Studios & CityWalk
More than any of its Southern California competitors, Universal Studios is a theme park with a capital 'T'. The theme here, of course, is the movies. The park offers a necessarily selective ramble through the studio's hits and even one or two of its misses; it's difficult to know whether the park is here to promote the movies or vice versa. Either way, it's hard to shake the feeling that you've bought tickets to a colossal marketing exercise.The rides aren't as exciting as you might expect: certainly, they lack both Disneyland's charm and the sheer terror inspired by Six Flags Magic Mountain. You're here for the illusion of glamour, the silver-screen memories brought back by the rides rather than the rides themselves. Kids may enjoy Jurassic Park: The Ride, and all ages should be tickled by the ride based on The Simpsons. Other films brought to something approaching life include Transformers, The Mummy and, bizarrely, Waterworld. However, the pick of the themed attractions, for both grown-ups and kids, is the cheeky Shrek 4-D movie.Similarly, the studio tour itself is more about association than excitement. Despite all the hype boasting of how you're being let behind the scenes, the closest you'll likely get to seeing some actual action is spying the occasional spark's car parked behind an otherwise faceless sound stage. Still, once you've resigned yourself (and your kids) to a star-free afternoon, there's a great deal to enjoy, from old movie sets seemingly left lying around
In a town where most malls are housed inside bland, air-conditioned structures, this upscale open-air center has been a hit. There are only around 50 retailers, but the selection is strong (an Apple Store, Barneys New York Co-Op, Crate & Barrel, Lucky Brand, the West Coast's flagship Abercrombie & Fitch) and there's also a decent movie theater. Fears that it would kill the adjacent Farmers Market have, happily, proven groundless.
This gorgeous outdoor amphitheatre has been hosting concerts since the LA Philharmonic first played here in 1922. Nestled in an aesthetically blessed fold in the Hollywood Hills, the 18,000-seat venue can bring out the romantic in the terminally cynical, and the glorious setting almost makes up for the somewhat dodgy acoustics. It's the summer home of the LA Philharmonic, but it's hosted everyone from the Beatles to Big Bird, and today mixes classical concerts with all manner of rock and pop.
La Brea Tar Pits and Museum
Back in 1875, a group of amateur paleontologists discovered animal remains in the pits at Rancho La Brea, which bubbled with asphalt from a petroleum lake under what is now Hancock Park. Some 130 years later, the pros are still at work here, having dragged more than 3.5 million fossils from the mire in the intervening years. Some are up to 40,000 years old; the museum estimates that about 10,000 animals, dipping their heads in search of water before becoming trapped in the sticky asphalt that bubbles from the ground, met their deaths here.Many of these specimens are now on display in this delightfully old-fashioned museum, which can't have changed much since it opened in 1972. Interactivity is limited to several windows on to the labs where scientists work on bone preservation; the bulk of the museum is made up of simple, instructive displays of items found in the pits. Most are bones – of jackrabbits, gophers, a 160lb bison, skunks and a 15,000lb Columbian mammoth, plus an extraordinary wall of 400 wolf skulls – though there are also early cave drawings and human accoutrements such as bowls and hair pins. Outside, the pits still bubble with black goo; in summer, you can watch paleontologists at work in the excavation of Pit 91 and inhale the nasty tang of tar in the air.