Looking for the best 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, off-the-beaten path museums and the ever-changing inventory of the best restaurants. How many of the best things to do in Los Angeles will you try?
The 101 best things to do in Los Angeles
Don't get us wrong, we love the Getty and LACMA, but some of LA's best art is plastered and wheat-pasted over billboards and onto the sides of buildings. Some of the world's most notorious street artists have dropped in on our fair city to behind their unmistakable marks.
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The Case Study House Program drew up 36 sets of plans for low-cost, modernist houses from some of the greatest midcentury architects. Some were never built, others were demolished, and of those left standing, most are tucked away on private property or behind invite-only events and exorbitant admission fees. That makes it all the more amazing that you can visit Pierre Koenig's Bailey House (Case Study House #21) for free and on a whim (walk-ups are welcome, though appointments are preferred).
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. It's still a great place to great cheap pupusas, carnitas tacos and aguas frescas, but recently the market has emerged as a haven for handsome, trendy eateries like Sticky Rice, Horse Thief BBQ, Eggslut and G&B Coffee.
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.
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.
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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.
Head to the Santa Monica Senior Center (of all places) to find a tiny room containing a camera obscura apparatus that’s more than 100 years old. Sneak a kiss in the dark as tiny strangers stroll across the disk, oblivious to your PDA.
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Hang ten at Malibu's Surfrider Beach, the site of the original Gidget film. While the first point is the most popular for its consistent swell, the second and third are less crowded. Head to Malibu Country Mart for lunch and celeb-spotting afterward.
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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.
Gaze upon the ocean, mountains and Downtown skyline from this grand government tower. 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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The rest of the 101 best things to do in Los Angeles
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.
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Make your landlocked city friends jealous and do a legendary one-day surf-and-snow itinerary. Hit the slopes of Mountain High for some early morning runs, then head to Malibu Surf Shack (across from Malibu Pier) and rent a board or buy a lesson. If you're super ambitious, you could try to sandwich the desert in as well—the Mojave National Preserve is close and beautiful.
Los Angeles is a beautiful place, and it's not afraid to flaunt it. Case in point: Eaton Canyon. The Pasadena area park is one of the most accessible and easygoing trails where you'll truly feel like you've slipped into the wilderness. On weekdays only, you can cut out the most boring part of the hike and park just barely over a mile from a waterfall.
Avid hikers will recognize this spot as the Sam Merrill trailhead, "a quiet refuge from people and wild life forever”—so reads the dedication on the cobblestone gate of the Cobb Estate. But to ghost hunters, it's the Haunted Forest. At night, you're more likely to find curious teens than ghosts, though many report ghostly noises and the feeling that they're being watched in the dimly lit forest.
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Local Hollywood historian Philip Mershon’s entire tour of Hollywood takes place within a quarter-mile radius of Sunset Blvd and Gower St and makes no mention of the Walk of Fame or the Hollywood Sign. Yet by the end of the tour, you’ll have visited the origin of nearly all the major Hollywood studios and their immortal works of pop culture.
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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.
Permanently expunge those memories of instant noodles with a trip Downtown. The best noodles in Little Tokyo are as varied and numerous as the shops that serve them. In this neighborhood, it's not hard to find a modern version of Southeast Asian dishes, the best ramen bowls from tsukeme to tonkatsu or a tasty plate of noodles.
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Cruise along Grand Avenue and you can't 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. Bring a bagged lunch or a climb along the building's lustrous exterior.
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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).
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.
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The Sunken City is L.A. County’s very own ancient ruins, minus the ancient part. A 1929 landslide caused a few blocks of seaside San Pedro to crumble the ocean. Today, you'll graffitied slabs of concrete that once functioned as streets and house foundations. The once semi-secret site has become a popular spot since the rise of social media. It's technically illegal to access the site and decidedly unsafe—let's not forgot how it became sunken in the first place—but you can walk along a fenced in trail to peer in from steady ground.
Go on a group ride
The Passage Ride meets every Wednesday around 8:30pm—this group bicycle ride is medium paced (not for beginners, but not a hustle either), and includes some hills and potential off-roading. Short stops include points of interest in the city (which usually remain a surprise until you're mid-ride), and time for socializing. Bonus: When it's raining too hard to ride, the group goes bowling instead.
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 and food outposts 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!
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.
Okay, so the food here is nothing to write home about. But this Downtown LA mainstay has literally never closed or been without a customer (so it claims) since its establishment in 1924. It’s almost like a rite of passage—you’re not truly an Angeleno until you too step through the Pantry’s lockless doors.
Bring burritos to the homeless
Burrito Project LA comes together every month in locations across the city (popular meet-ups include West LA and South Pasadena) to prepare, package and hand out burritos—both chicken and veggie—to the city’s homeless population. No political, religious or party views, just tasty Mexican fare and fun fellow do-gooders.
You don't see many observation decks in Los Angeles—there's something about the hazy skies and stodgy skyline that make for less than ideal observation deck conditions. That said, it's hard to argue with a view of the city from 70 stories high. Skyslide, the glass-encased slide attached to the U.S. Bank Tower's exterior, shuttles visitors from the 70th floor down to the 69th. The slide isn't as terrifying as you'd think—some sqeuals and expletives aside—mostly because it's over and done with in fewer than five seconds.
Have a signature dish you love to make? Whip up a few batches and bring them to a Food Swap. Participants can mingle, taste each other's offerings and then trade—pickles for zucchini bread, preserves for pies. It's a great way to try new foods and get to know your neighbors.
Stroll the Malibu Pier
Soak up the sun, spy on surfers and bring your fishing gear to catch dinner, or let the experts handle all that messy fish-cleaning and indulge in the best sushi in Malibu at the expanded Nobu next door.