18 historic attractions in Los Angeles that channel the city's past

Learn about the city’s past when you visit the Getty Villa, Griffith Park and other historic attractions in Los Angeles
Union Station
Photograph: Courtesy Union Station
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Though California is much younger than its East Coast counterparts, there are still plenty of historic attractions in Los Angeles for visitors and locals to explore. From significant museums to important pieces of architecture and well-known parks, there seem to be glimmers of L.A.’s past almost everywhere you look. For a guided look into the city’s history, sign up for one of the best Los Angeles tours. If you’d rather explore solo, consider this list of historic attractions your itinerary. It’s undoubtedly one of the greatest things to do in Los Angeles for history buffs.

Historic attractions in Los Angeles

Angels Flight.
Photograph: Michael Juliano
Things to do

Angels Flight

icon-location-pin Downtown

The 116-year-old funicular first opened in 1901 to ferry fashionable passengers up the steep hill between Hill and Olive Streets. After a four-year closure for safety improvements, it recently reopened and the twin cars named Olivet and Sinai have once again begun shuttling riders up and down the 298-foot hill. Short as the journey is, Angels Flight has given more than 100 million rides.

USS Iowa
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Mark Fischer
Things to do

Battleship Iowa

icon-location-pin San Pedro

Known as the “battleship of presidents,” the USS Iowa once carried FDR across the Atlantic to meet with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin and was recommissioned by President George H.W. Bush in the eighties. Today, it’s permanently docked in San Pedro at the former home of the U.S. Pacific fleet and serves as military museum.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Mark Fischer

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Dodger Stadium
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Frederick Dennstedt
Sports and fitness, Stadiums

Dodger Stadium

icon-location-pin Echo Park

Baseball fans likely also have a visit to Dodger Stadium on their L.A. bucket list, but history buffs might consider adding it to theirs as well after learning that it’s the third-oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball. The stadium is one of the largest examples of mid-century modern architecture in the country, and rumor has it that the design was inspired by Tomorrowland at Disneyland.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Frederick Dennstedt

Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Eames House

icon-location-pin Pacific Palisades

The color-blocked glass exterior and stark square shape certainly gives the Eames House strong curb appeal. Charles and Ray Eames designed and built the architectural landmark in 1949 and lived in it until their deaths in 1978 and 1988, respectively. Though securing a tour of the Case Study House’s interior can be tricky, anyone can book a $10 self-guided tour of the exterior.

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El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument
Courtesy Nick Boalch/Wikimedia Commons
Things to do

El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument

icon-location-pin Downtown

All it takes to feel as if you’ve stepped back in time is one visit to L.A.’s original Spanish settlement. Centered around a lovely pedestrian plaza and the Olvera Street marketplace, El Pueblo includes several historic buildings dating back to 1818. The oldest, the Avila Adobe, was constructed by a former mayor of Los Angeles and once served as military headquarters. The 22-room Sepulveda House is also worth a visit: It served as both residential housing and businesses, and the unusual Eastlake design with a triangular gable and two large bay windows is quite striking.

Gamble House.
Photograph: Martin Green
Things to do, Cultural centers

Gamble House

icon-location-pin Pasadena

The Gamble House was originally built for an heir to the Proctor and Gamble fortune, hence the name. Designed by architecture firm Greene and Greene in 1908, it’s an exceptional example of the Arts and Crafts style with teak and mahogany woodwork, a fun zig-zag staircase and exquisite leaded art glass. Various guided tours focus on different aspects of the construction, from the details and joinery to light fixtures to parts of the house typically kept cordoned off with velvet ropes.

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The Getty Villa
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Rick Bonetti
Museums, History

Getty Villa

icon-location-pin Pacific Palisades

Oil tycoon J. Paul Getty first moved to this Pacific Palisades site in 1954. He started amassing a huge collection of Greek and Roman antiquities during the same period and even began opening his home to the public for viewings. Soon, it became clear that he would need a larger building to serve as a museum, and the Getty Villa was born. The building, which opened in 1974, follows the style of ancient Roman country homes from the first century A.D. Visitors today can wander the tranquil gardens, admire the architecture and take in more than 44,000 antiquities from Getty’s collection.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Rick Bonetti

Old Zoo at Griffith Park.
Photograph: Michael Juliano
Things to do

Griffith Park

icon-location-pin Griffith Park

Though it’s best known for the Griffith Observatory at the southern tip, Griffith Park is much larger than the hilltop landmark—a whopping 4,210 acres, in fact. The park remains one of the few places in Los Angeles where you can see what the city looked like before its development, in the days where only Native Americans lived in the Southland. Hike around the large network of trails, where you can spy views of the Hollywood Sign, find the abandoned cages and pens of the Old Zoo, visit Walt's Barn and summit Mount Hollywood.

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Hale House, Heritage Square Museum
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Wes W
Things to do

Heritage Square Museum

icon-location-pin Montecito Heights

Eight historic structures constructed during the mid- to late 1800s were lifted off their foundations and trucked to this living history museum. Learn all about life during the Victorian Era as you tour a Palms railroad station, Pasadena church and several residences from all around the city. Don’t miss the guided tours led by staff members in period costume.

Things to do, Event spaces

Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens

icon-location-pin San Marino

Like the Getty Villa, the Huntington Library was founded by a well-known businessman with a passion for the arts: Henry E. Huntington, who had interests in railroad companies, utilities and real estate around Southern California. With 207 acres of carefully tended botanical gardens, an impressive British art collection and a library that includes both a Gutenberg bible and the earliest known edition of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, there’s so much to explore that you likely won’t be able to get to it all in one day.

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