29 essential L.A. attractions
The vista from this hilltop landmark is stunning, particularly at night when Los Angeles twinkles below. Inside you’ll find a bevy of exhibits, including a Foucault pendulum, Tesla coil and planetarium show. Give yourself plenty of time before the 10pm closing to gaze through the 12-inch refracting telescope on the roof, otherwise you can look through the far less crowded modern, reflecting telescope on the front lawn. Just a heads up that parking now costs $4 per hour.
What’s now called the Getty Villa served as the decades-long home for the J. Paul Getty Trust’s extensive art collection. But in 1997, the Getty Center opened. The end result is a remarkable complex of travertine and white metal-clad pavilions that houses ornate French furniture, recognizable Impressionist pieces and rotating exhibitions. 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.
Considered the focal point of Santa Monica Beach, Santa Monica Pier includes a Ferris wheel, aquarium, fairground games and cotton candy stands. On warm weekends, the stretch is busy with families, beach bums and gym bunnies, who work out in public at the original Muscle Beach just south of the pier. Lately, the Pier has played host to a number of outdoor film and music events, bringing a (slightly) hipper clientele to the boardwalk.
The bequest of entrepreneur Henry E. Huntington is now one of the most enjoyable attractions in the Los Angeles region. It’s also not a destination that you should attempt to explore in full during a single day: between the art, the library holdings and the spreadeagled outdoor spaces, there’s plenty to see, and most of it is best enjoyed at lingering leisure rather than as part of a mad day-long dash. From a Gutenberg Bible to an exquisitely landscaped Japanese garden, nearly every inch of the estate’s grounds and collection is essential.
This European-style food hall has been operating on the ground floor of the iconic Homer Laughlin Building since 1917. Even if you’re not there for the food, it’s worth a trip; people from all corners of L.A. mix and mingle among rows of spices, produce and vintage neon signage. Of course, if you’re hungry it’s a great place to get cheap pupusas, carnitas tacos and aguas frescas, as well as food from handsome, trendy eateries like Sticky Rice, Belcampo, Horse Thief BBQ, Eggslut and G&B Coffee.
People-watching is the raison d'être at Venice Beach: Expect attention-grabbing street formers along the sort-of-grimy Venice Boardwalk and pumped-up gym obsessives working out at Muscle Beach. The sand itself, though, is soft and spacious with postcard views of the mountainous coastline. Street parking is usually jammed, but there are several beachside lots. For a completely different side of Venice, take a stroll through the idyllic Venice Canals.
Chris Burden’s Urban Light, a piece made up of 202 cast-iron street lamps gathered from around L.A. and restored to working order, has quickly become one of the city’s indelible landmarks. But you’d be selling yourself short if you don’t venture beyond the photo-friendly installation; LACMA’s collections boast modernist masterpieces, large-scale contemporary works, traditional Japanese screens and by far L.A.’s most consistently terrific special exhibitions.
Having sprung up in the Hollywood Hills in 1922, this amazing amphitheatre has since graced many a screen – both large and small – and welcomed major acts to its stage. You’d have to be pretty major to fill this place after all, as it seats 18,000. Members of the public are free to visit any time when there isn’t a concert on, but if you do want to see some action, go when the LA Philharmonic are playing and take a picnic along.
Three words: Infinity Mirror Rooms. Downtown’s persistently popular contemporary art museum has two of Yayoi Kusama’s immersive, mirror-laden rooms (and the standy queue to prove it). Elsewhere in the free museum, Eli and Edythe Broad’s collection of 2,000 post-war works includes artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger and Jeff Koons. Find out more in our complete guide to the Broad.
Originally created in 1923, the then “Hollywoodland” sign was supposed to be up for only a year and a half, yet here it is almost a century later. Getting close to the Hollywood Sign, though, is an often contentious issue thanks to pressure from local homeowners. You can catch a dead-on glimpse of the sign on Beachwood Drive, or farther up the hill near Lake Hollywood Park. Looking to get even closer? Go horseback riding at Sunset Ranch of lace up for a trek along the dirt road on Mt. Lee Drive to where you will be standing directly above the Hollywood Sign and can experience a total 360-degree view of the cityscape.
Made up of two main parks – the 60-year-old Disneyland and the slightly newer Disney California Adventure – this resort is a winner with tourist and locals alike. You’ll find all your favorite characters here, along with a clutch of super fun rides and pricey food and drink. There’s not really a good time to go to avoid the crowds – it’s always busy, even on Christmas Day – although Super Bowl Sunday would be a good bet.
Though the U.S. Bank Tower may no longer be the tallest building in the West thanks to the Wilshire Grand, it’s made some sky-high additions: restaurant 71Above, an open-air observation deck and a glass slide. Those last two are both part of the OUE Skyspace LA. Skyslide, accessible with an additional ticket, is an outdoor glass slide suspended 1,000 feet above Downtown Los Angeles. Tip: Skip the morning hours and wait for the typical marine layer to burn off for the best visibility.
Many people dream of being Julia Roberts shopping on Rodeo Drive, but few can afford to buy from the array of high-end designers seen in the film Pretty Woman. Window-shopping, then, is the order of the day on this famous Beverly Hills street. Along Two Rodeo—the $200-million faux cobbled walkway—browsing tourists mingle with serious spenders. A hop away is Anderson Court, which is the only shopping mall designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
As the $274-million crown jewel of the Music Center, Disney Hall opened in 2003 to rave reviews. The novelty hasn’t yet worn off: Both inside and out, this is a terrific venue. Designed by Frank Gehry, the hall is the home of the LA Philharmonic and the LA Master Chorale, but the schedule is surprisingly varied throughout the year. The complex also includes the 250-seat Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theatre, a restaurant and a roof garden.
Though the rides lack both Disneyland's charm and the sheer terror inspired by Six Flags Magic Mountain, Universal Studios Hollywood's hillside theme park offers some worthwhile thrills fueled by silver-screen memories and an illusion of Hollywood glamor. There are some real standouts, mostly in the more thrilling lower lot. The Transformers ride is a slick crash course in Michael Bay robot carnage, while the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains a big draw.
If you can stomach the suspect superheroes, claustrophobia-inducing crowds and never-ending line of gift shops, tattoo parlors and lingerie stores, there’s actually a lot of old Hollywood history and glamour to discover along the Walk of Fame. The immortalized names on those famous five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars run from the Walk’s western extreme at the Hollywood and La Brea Gateway to the Pantages Theater at Gower, and additionally on Vine from the Capitol Records Building down to Sunset, near where the original movie studios sprang up a century ago. Make a pilgrimage to the Dolby Theatre, home of the Academy Awards. Or find a respite from the commotion inside a movie palace or the historic Hollywood Roosevelt.
Put in the extra miles and you’ll be rewarded with a clean, wide patch of sand and surf at Zuma. A popular spot on weekends and holidays for locals and destination beach-goers, this Malibu beach can hold crowds with plenty of onsite parking (pay at the lot or for free along PCH) and lifeguards on duty. Surfers can catch some waves at this sandy beach break, but waves tend to close out, making this a perfect spot for boogie boarders and body surfers. Venture to nearby Point Dume for idyllic hikes and repelling.
This graceful house originally built for one of the heirs of the Procter & Gamble fortune remains one of the best examples of both the Arts and Crafts movement and Charles and Henry Greene’s masterful handiwork. Programming at the Gamble House is exceptional; there are tours that focus on things like the art glass or the details and joinery in the house, as well as more casual events like Brown Bag Tuesday, when visitors bring their own picnic lunch to eat on the grounds, followed by a 20-minute tour.
It’s easy to forget you’re in Los Angeles as you trek through the mix of native chaparral and landscaped paths that cover Griffith Park. Where else could you encounter canyons, caves and coyotes in the middle of a city? Griffith is a point of pride for Angelenos, a park to rival all others. Its 4,310 rugged acres harbor hikes and trails, museums and picnic areas, and even a bit of haunted history.
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 (Apple, Anthropologie, Topshop) and there’s also a decent movie theater and destination-worthy sweet shops like Laudrée and 189 by Dominique Ansel. Make sure to head next door to the Original Farmers Market, which has hosted mom-and-pop eateries and vendors for over 80 years.
After oil heiress and philanthropist Aline Barnsdall bought this cute little hill after the end of World War I, she engaged Frank Lloyd Wright to build her a group of buildings at its summit. The though full complex was never completed, the handsome Hollyhock House was. More than eight decades later, the site still hosts exhibitions in a variety of different gallery spaces as well as tours of Wright’s structure. In the summer, the park hosts a variety of alfresco cinema nights, wine tastings and cultural events.
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 140 years later, the pros are still at work here, having dragged millions of fossils from the mire in the intervening years. Many of these specimens are now on display in this delightfully old-fashioned museum. Outside, the pits still bubble with black goo—you can watch paleontologists at work in the excavation of Pit 91 and toil away at the fossils waiting to be found as part of Project 23.
A four-block pedestrianized stretch that runs down Third Street from Wilshire Boulevard to Colorado Avenue, Third Street Promenade is a pleasant (but sort of bland) parade of mostly familiar brand names. The restaurants are ordinary, but the Wednesday morning farmers’ market is legendary. At the Promenade’s southern end is the revamped Santa Monica Place shopping center.
It’s still a great place to catch a movie, but most people come to the Chinese Theatre for the hand and/or foot imprints of around 200 Hollywood stars. The courtyard is usually choked with snap-happy tourists measuring their own extremities against the likes of John Wayne and Judy Garland, but you can avoid the crowds by catching a flick inside, where the auditorium is as stunning as the IMAX screen’s projection quality.
Permanent exhibit galleries at this kid-friendly Exposition Park museum explore life sciences, human innovation and powered flight. But the real attraction here is the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which was very pubicly paraded through L.A. to reach its temporary home at the Samuel Oschin Pavilion—a permanent structure slated to display the ship upright is in the works. While the rest of the museum is free, Endeavour requires $2 time tickets on weekends, a bargain to come face to face with one of this country’s most iconic engineering marvels.
When Italian-born tilesetter Simon Rodia moved to Watts, the neighborhood was ethnically mixed. Three decades later, when he left, it was predominantly black and Latino, widely seen as the heart of L.A.’s African-American community. In the intervening years, though, Rodia had constructed its single iconic structure, an extraordinary piece of folk art with nothing but found objects (salvaged metal rods, cast-off pipe structures, broken bed frames) and, as they grew upward, steel and cement to prevent interference from both neighbors and the authorities.
Speak the secret phrase to the owl scultpure in the lobby of this private club, and the rest—well, we don’t want to ruin the surprises in store for visitors at this magical institution. The mansion is over a century old, but since 1963 it’s been the home of the Academy of Magical Arts, an exclusive organization made up of roughly 2,500 American magicians. If you can’t find a member to tag along with, stay at the adjacent Magic Castle Hotel for access.
If you’re a fan of the funnies, then boy does L.A. have a treat for you. On any given night you can walk into one of the city’s best comedy clubs and see a show. Even better, on most nights you’ll be able to track down at least one famous face testing out some material. There are big name stand-ups at the Laugh Factory, TV comics at the Comedy Store, future SNL stars at the Groundlings Theatre, unexpected drop-ins at the Improv and thriving alt comedy at Largo and UCB.
Find out what’s hiding behind those sliding elephant doors with a peek into the sets and sound stages of L.A.’s many movie studios. Take a walk through cinema history at Sony Pictures Studios—the former MGM backlot—that’s housed everything from The Wizard of Oz to Breaking Bad. Or, if you’d prefer a more leisurely look, take a tram ride through the expansive city streets and sound stages of the Warner Bros. and Paramount studio lots.
Looking for more ways to explore L.A.?
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.