Planning a travel to Los Angeles, California? Visiting for the first time and wondering what are the top Los Angeles attractions? Or are you a local ready to explore Los Angeles as a tourist?
Twenty years ago or so, we made our way from New York to Los Angeles for a 2-week vacation. This was way before we ever considered moving here. It wasn’t even a thought during or after.
I do remember, we were so excited to visit Los Angeles. We hit the most common tourist spots: Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Chinese Theatre, Rodeo Drive, Venice Beach… Disneyland.
We even took one of those Hollywood tours in an open-air bus and stalked celebrity homes. At the time, it was thrilling even though we never got to see one celebrity. Nowadays, as a local, I don’t think you’d catch me on one of those tours. But I remember it being fun at the time.
I also recall thinking that Hollywood was nothing like the movies. And, it isn’t. It’s gritty and touristy. For first-time visitors in Los Angeles, it’s a fun attraction and they get to see what Hollywood is really like.
A few years later, to our surprise, we moved to Los Angeles. As new residents, we were basically tourists. We explored and enjoyed the top Los Angeles attractions more than we ever did in New York City. We have experienced basically every single attraction on this list, on top of all the day trips we take from LA.
Now when people come into town, and it’s their first visit, we know exactly what spots to take them. These are the best things to do in Los Angeles, California as a tourist.
Where to stay in Los Angeles?
Everyone that visits, my top recommendation is to book a hotel in the South Bay area or the West Side: Santa Monica, Marina del Rey, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, or Redondo Beach. It’s cooler on hot days, the areas are beautiful, their many great places to eat and it’s great for families.
If the South Bay and West Side are too far from everything, and you plan on relying on public transportation, then consider staying in West Hollywood or in Miracle Mile.
There are also great vacation rentals.
Do You need a car if you’re visiting Los Angeles?
Yes, a car rental would be ideal. You can also rely on Ubers and Lyfts.
There is public transportation, but it all depends on where you plan to stay and what Los Angeles sights you plan to see. You can’t rely on public transportation to take you everywhere. Click here for Los Angeles Metro System Maps.
TOP THINGS TO DO In LOS ANGELES
1. Santa Monica Pier
If it’s your first time in Los Angeles, you don’t want to miss this top Los Angeles attraction. You will want to visit the coastal town of Santa Monica and its famous pier. Almost every movie based in Los Angeles has a drone shot of the Santa Monica Pier from above.
The best time to visit Pacific Park is at night when the Ferris Wheel is lit up.
I suggest you arrive before sunset, pick a spot on the beach or pier with the amusement park in the distance. Watch the Los Angeles sunset and photograph some amazing memories of these moments. Then after head to the amusement park.
Did you know the Ferris wheel is solar-powered?
At the pier, you can also ride the historic Santa Monica Carousel.
2. 3rd Street Promenade
If you’re Santa Monica and not far from the Santa Monica Pier, you’re going to want to take a stroll in 3rd Street Promenade. It’s a fun experience in Santa Monica.
It is a 3 block-stretched that is closed off to vehicles and is for pedestrian-only. Not only will you get your steps in, but you will find tons of brand names shopping, great restaurants and you’ll enjoy some entertainment in the form of street performers.
It is a lovely walk. We used to go there all the time when we lived in the South Bay.
Top Foodie Pick: Check out SocialEats food hall.
3rd Street Promenade | Santa Monica (Google Map It)
3. Pacific Coast Highway | Route 1
If you’re in Los Angeles for more than a few days, I highly recommend a drive on the Pacific Coast Highway. Of all the things to do in Los Angeles, this one is my favorite. It is a beautiful and memorable drive by the coast.
You can start the drive from Santa Monica and go north towards Malibu or Santa Barabra. You can also go south, towards the most Southern Coast of California. Either way, you’ll have fun and see some of the most amazing coastlines in the United States.
The Pacific Coast Highway is one adventure that you can plan a whole vacation around. But if you only have a day and want to see a small portion of it, you can and it is so worth it.
Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica | (Google Map It)
4. Venice Beach and Canals
One of the most popular places tourists seem to always want to visit is Venice Beach. It is a lively community full of free-spirited locals, visitors, and business owners.
Personally, I am not a fan of the Venice Beach boardwalk. If you do visit, check out muscle beach, the skateboard park, and all the quirky shops along the boardwalk. On a beautiful day, you’ll find many bikers, skaters, and beachgoers enjoying the day.
My top recommendation is after you check out Venice Beach and take a photo of the infamous Venice sign, head on over Abbot Kinney Blvd. You’ll find some amazing cafes, restaurants, murals, and boutique shops on Abbot Kinney.
When you’re done at Abbot Kinney Blvd, drive or take walk over to the Venice Canals. It’s one of my favorite areas of Los Angeles.
Top Foodie Pick: Grab a coffee and snack to go at Blue Bottle Coffee.
Tour Option: The Ultimate Venice Beach Experience [book here]
Venice Beach | (Google Map It)
5. Hollywood Walk of Fame
How can you visit Los Angeles and not go to Hollywood? See the famous and iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame. Find the stars of your favorite actors and celebrities.
These famous stars stretch over 3 blocks of Vine Street and 15 blocks of Hollywood Blvd. You’re going to want to wear your walking shoes.
- This is a FREE attraction.
Hollywood Walk of Fame | Hollywood Boulevard, Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90028 | (Google Map It)
6. TCL Chinese Theatre
Once named Grauman’s Chinese Theater, this iconic spot is a historic-cultural landmark of Hollywood and Los Angeles. You may know it from all the famous red carpet movie premieres and ceremonies that take place here.
In the front of the theatre, you’ll find the handprints and signatures of some of the most classic and memorable actors from the past and present.
If no events are taking place here, you can take the opportunity to watch a movie here. The theater also has VIP tours available, call for more info.
Top Foodie Pick: Joe’s Pizza
7. Hollywood Pantages Theatre
Currently temporarily closed. Pantages will reopen in August 2021 with Hamilton.
While it is closed due to the pandemic, I did not want to leave this gorgeous and historic theatre off the list. The top Broadway shows can be seen at this legendary theater.
If you’re coming from a destination where there isn’t an opportunity to see a Broadway show near you, perhaps you can plan to see what’s playing at the Pantages Theatre. It is definitely an experience.
While you’re at the Pantages, take in all the architectural details of this preserved beauty. It was once a movie theater that was built in 1920. In 1977 turned into a stage for the production of “Disney’s The Lion King”.
8. El Capitan Theatre
Currently owned by Disney, El Capitan Theatre is another Hollywood landmark. This theatre was owned and built by the same developer of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Egyptian Theatre in the 1920s. In 1989, Disney took ownership and restored it.
El Capitan Theatre only plays Disney movies and events.
The most unique part of El Capitan is its in-house organ, “Mighty Wurlitzer”. From time to time, Disney will hold special events where you can listen to this organ play along with a film or have sing-alongs. It’s a fun experience for the whole family.
Once, we got tickets to see one of the Star Wars movies and they did a whole lightsaber show prior to the movie starting. After you could go downstairs to see all the costumes from the movie.
- Check to see what their latest movies and events are here.
Top Foodie Pick: Ghirardelli’s right next door for dessert.
9. Hollywood Bowl
The Hollywood Bowl is a local favorite thing to do in Los Angeles. It is a great Los Angeles experience. Once warmer days start setting in Los Angeles, we start making plans to attend musicals, concerts, sing-alongs, firework shows… all at the Hollywood Bowl.
This concert hall is an open amphitheater with the most beautiful backdrop of Hollywood Hills. On a clear day and from the right spot, you can even see the Hollywood sign.
Bring a picnic, find a spot outside of the theater and eat with your family and friends before the show. Bring a bottle of wine and some snacks for during the show. This is what we love about this theater. It’s festive, it’s casual and you’re doing it all under the amazing gorgeous sky of Los Angeles.
You don’t need the best seats in the house to enjoy. You will have a fabulous experience even sitting in the back.
Day Trips From Los Angeles, California
Thinking of planning a couple of day trips from LA while you’re here. Check out our list of some of the best day trips from the city of Los Angeles.
10. Hollywood Sign
Seeing the Hollywood sign is probably on your list of the top things to do while in Los Angeles. As you’re driving around Hollywood and the surrounding areas, you will see it from a distance.
How can you get closer to the Hollywood sign? One of the best ways is by hiking the Mount Hollywood Trail. Once you get up there you’ll have a front view of the sign and if you hike a little further the back view. You will also have a gorgeous view of Los Angeles.
- Click here for trail directions.
11. Griffith Observatory
The observatory is temporarily closed due to the pandemic. The grounds are open to visitors.
The Griffith Observatory is a must-visit for some of the best views of Los Angeles. Gorgeous 180-degree views of Los Angeles, including the Hollywood sign and Downtown LA, It also has a fun planetarium to explore inside.
It is FREE to enter the grounds and the building. You will have to pay for parking and the planetarium (if you choose to visit).
The best time of day to visit is at sunset. However, it is also the busiest time of day to visit. You may have to park at an off-site location and take a shuttle up to the observatory. You can also just take an Uber and have it drop you off closest to the entrance.
Fun fact: You might recognize scenes from Lala Land, Gangster Squad, Rebel Without a Cause, and more.
12. Griffith Park
If you’re looking for things to do in Los Angeles with the kids, Griffith Park is the destination. You can spend an entire day here.
Griffith Park encompasses over 4,000 acres of land, which includes the Hollywood sign, the Observatory, the Greek Theatre, and LA Zoo, plus much more.
You can plan a fantastic time at Griffith Park to enjoy all the other things it has to offer. Here are a few of the other things to do in Griffith Park:
13. LA Zoo
LA Zoo is part of Griffith Park, but this is a Los Angeles attraction that will keep you occupied most of the day. There is plenty to explore between the animals and the botanical gardens.
The zoo has over 270 species. Our favorite is the giraffe exhibit as they come out and get super close.
At the zoo, there is a merry go around that the kids will love.
Currently, Advanced Reservations are required.
14. Beverly Hills
Known for high retail shopping and the rich and famous, and pop culture shows like “Beverly Hills 90210” (the original and the reboot). Let’s not forget the movie “Pretty Woman”.
Visiting Beverly Hills, you’ll want to…
- drive around to see some of the biggest estates.
- Don’t miss the historic Greystone Mansion and Gardens (usually the park is open to the public but currently closed due to the pandemic).
- Take a photo with the Beverly Hills sign located in Beverly Hills Gardens Park.
- See and enter the lobbies of some of the most famous hotels in Beverly Hills: Beverly Hills Hotels and the Beverly Wilshire
Beverly Hills | (Google Map)
15. Rodeo Drive
If you’re in Beverly Hills – and this is your first time- you don’t want to miss Rodeo Drive. This is a great spot to walk around and people watch.
This shopping district consists of three blocks of Rodeo Drive that is closed off for pedestrians. It is full of high-end stores and boutiques you can shop at – if your wallet stretches that deep. You’ll find all high-end fashion here.
Rodeo Drive is probably most remembered by Julia Roberts character in Pretty Woman and when she went on her shopping spree. Other movies filmed here: Clueless, Beverly Hills Cops, and many more.
Christmas is a nice time of year to visit as all the decorations are up.
16. The Original Farmer’s Market
This historic farmer’s market has been around since 1934. It has grown immensely since then, but still remains a huge part of Los Angeles.
At the farmer’s market, you’ll find local produce, butchers, bakeries, food stands, and small shops. I highly recommend stopping here for some local souvenirs and something to eat.
If you’re looking to spot a celeb, your chances are higher if you go during an early morning during the week. We seem to always see one or two at the farmer’s market during that time because there are fewer crowds in the morning.
17. The Grove
Located at the Farmer’s Market is a famous outdoor shopping mall – The Grove.
The Grove is not just a shopping mall. This is a great family-friendly attraction in Los Angeles.
- Enjoy the dancing water fountains with music
- Sometimes there are live entertainment and activities in the courtyard
- Ride the Grove Trolley
- Take your little one to American Girl
- Watch a movie at the Pacific Theater
- People watch as you never know when you’ll spot a celebrity
Tip: Use the bathrooms at the Grove Concierge. They are clean and well attended. There is also a playroom for the kids.
My absolute favorite time of year at The Grove is Christmas time. It is a magical time for all ages. One of the holiday highlights in Los Angeles.
18. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
The LACMA is the heart of Museum Row in Miracle Mile. While you can spend your day visiting all the museums in Miracle Mile, I suggest visiting LACMA if you’re here as a quick trip as a tourist. It has some of the most unique art installations and displays.
LACMA is currently under construction as new buildings are being constructed, but prior to the demolition, it was the largest museum on the West Coast.
The museum is FREE on the 2nd Tuesday of every month.
Even if you decide not to go inside the museum, stop by and check out the Urban Lights installation. This large-scale sculpture is FREE and one of the most popular things to see in Los Angeles. You can see me having a little fun at the Urban Light installation in this video.
- Advance tickets must be pre-purchased: here
Favorite Foodie Picks: Check out the food trucks lined up across the street.
18. La Brea Tar Pits
Also, part of Museum Row in Miracle Mile, the La Great Tar Pits is a great place to learn about some science and history. For over 10,000 years tar has seeped up from the grounds in this area. And prehistoric fossils have been excavated from the area.
In front of the museum, there is a lake of tar that bubbles and also smells. I will admit, it is a little fascinating to watch. As you walk the grounds, you’ll sometimes find tar oozing through the cracked asphalt.
- You can visit the grounds and the tar pit for FREE.
- You’ll have to pay admission into the museum. Advanced tickets must be pre-purchased on their website: here.
- Los Angeles Country residents get FREE admittance from 3-5 pm.
19. Petersen AUTOMOTIVE Museum
There are two reasons to visit the Petersen Museum:
- You love cars.
- You love modern architecture.
The Petersen Museum is one of the largest automotive museums in the world. It has 25 rotating exhibitions with over 150 vehicles on display.
If you love modern architecture, the Petersen Museum is a must-see. It received an amazing facelift in 2015 and it is now one of the most beautiful facades on Miracle Mile.
- Closed Monday and Tuesday
- Advanced tickets must be pre-purchased on their website: here.
Fun Fact: I worked very close to the Petersen Museum and Museum Row for many years. It was fun to see the transformation of the Petersen Museum. Literary transformed that entire corner of Wilshire and Fairfax.
20. The GETTY CENTER
Another museum to add to your list if your love for art runs high. A day could be spent at the Getty Center taking in all the exhibits, the beautiful grounds, views of Los Angeles, and the amazing architectural structure it’s all housed in.
- Closed on Mondays.
- The Getty Library is currently closed.
- Admission is FREE, but you must reserve your time in advance: here.
THINGS TO DO IN PASADENA, CA
Looking to explore a different city that’s just a ride away from Downtown Los Angeles. Visit Pasadena, home of the Rose Parade. Check out the top things to do and see. Go shopping in Old Town Pasadena, explore our Botanical gardens, visit a museum, and more.
21. Grand Central Market
Fellow foodies, you’ll definitely want to make a trip to Grand Central Market. This emporium is 30,000 square feet and has been a part of Los Angeles since 1901.
It is full of fantastic food stalls from all different cuisines and other retail shops. You’ll want to walk around first and peruse what’s available before you choose something to eat. If you see a long line at one of the stalls, that’s because it is good and quite possibly worth it. That could be said to most lines you’ll see in Los Angeles.
Experience this bustling market and see where Angeleno’s like to get a bite to eat.
We have a few favorites here, but I do not think you can go wrong with any of the stalls. We love Egg Slut, Sarita’s Pupuseria, and Villa Moreliana.
- The market is open Monday thru Sunday from 8 am to 9 pm
- Parking is available at 308 South Hill Street.
22. Bradbury BuildinG
Right across from the Grand Central Market, you will find another one of Los Angeles’s most beautiful architectural structures. The Bradbury Building is a National Historic Landmark. It is the oldest commercial building remaining and it is still as magical as it was when built-in 1893.
This is one of my absolute favorite structures in Los Angeles. As soon as you enter Bradbury Building, you forget you’re in the city of Los Angeles or perhaps be transported to what it used to be like 100 years ago. The interior is magical, especially if you go when the light is pouring through the courtyard. You’ll be amazed and impressed by the details. The fancy iron railings, brick walls, and the caged elevator will leave a last impression.
Note: More than likely, you’ll only be able to see it from the first floor. Sometimes they’ll let you venture up to the 2nd floor.
- This is FREE to see on your own.
- The LA Conservancy gives walking tours of Historic Los Angeles and its landmarks every Saturday. Cost is $15 pp. Register and book a tour here.
23. Angel’s Flight RaILWAY
Angel’s Flight is a landmark and a piece of Los Angeles history that still exists today.
Prior to the pandemic, we were in Downtown LA at the Grand Central Market. While in the area, we walked over to see Angel’s Flight for the very first time. Unfortunately, it wasn’t operating that day.
Angel’s Flight is a short ride up and down one of the steepest hills in Downtown Los Angeles, Bunker Hill. It goes between Hill Street and Grand Avenue. It is also known as the world’s shortest railway. Back in 1901, when it was built, it used to go for 2 whole blocks.
Recently, Angel’s Flight was featured heavily in the very first episode of the HBO MAX series Perry Mason. It was also featured in LaLaLand.
- Cost: $1 each way
- and souvenir round-trip tickets are sold for $2.
Top Foodie Pick: Grand Central Market
24. Walt Disney Concert Hall
The Walt Disney Concert Hall is another architectural icon that is not to be missed in Downtown Los Angeles. It’s one of those spots in Los Angeles that you must get out and walk around to take in its beauty. It is quite like no other structure in LA.
Home to the LA Philharmonic, you may want to consider attending a concert when you visit. While it is currently closed due to t the pandemic, you can check out their future concerts and events here.
- [temporarily closed] Self-guided tours are usually available for FREE (unless you’re a group of 14 or more) from Mon-Sat 10 am to 2 pm
- Concert and Event Ticket Info
25. Experience a Dodger Game AT DODGER STADIUM
Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, a Dodger game is a great way to mingle with the locals and experience a stadium in another city. See if your home team is playing against the Dodgers during your visit.
And if you’re visiting Los Angeles outside of baseball season, check out what other events are being held at Dodger Stadium. In the off-season, there are concerts, festivals, and local events you can plan to attend.
Top Foodie Pick: A dodger dog! Tip, get the grilled one.
26. Warner Bros Studio Tour Hollywood
This is the #1 studio tour in Los Angeles by far. I’ve done them all and the one at Warner Bros is the most fun, educational, worth the cost, and long-lasting. So if you are a movie buff, are interested in movie and tv show production, and wondering how ad where it all takes place, book a Warner Bros Studio Tour.
Fun Fact: Warner Bros has produced almost 7,000 movies and 5,000 TV shows.
You will tour the studio for about 2-3 hours. What’s fun about touring at Warner Bros is that not every group gets the same exact tour. Many aspects of the tour may be the same, but a lot of it varies depending on filming schedules and such on the lot.
I’ve toured Warner Bros a few times and each time I enjoyed and experience different things. I’ll never forget seeing the FRIENDS set or the Two and a Half Men sets during its final seasons. My favorite, walking around Stars Hallow from Gilmore Girls. Posing a Cafe Perks for FRIENDS. Actually one of my favorite photos is of hubby and I sitting on the Friends couch at Cafe Perk with mugs.
The guides driving you around are phenomenal, friendly, and full of knowledge. Just be sure to follow their guidelines.
- Weekends Only (until July 11th) 9 am to 3:30 pm
- Starting July 15, Thursday to Monday 9 am to 3:30 pm
- Cost: $69 pp
- Book Tickets and Reserve a Time
27. Paramount Pictures Studio TOUR
Temporarily on hold due to the pandemic.
Paramount Studio is another iconic and classic production studio in Hollywood that gives a great tour. It is the longest operating and the only active backlot in Hollywood.
Fun Fact: The lot that Paramount Studio occupies used to be Desilu Studios; owned by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
The Studio Tour is a full 2 hours. Similar to other studios, they guide you through some of their famous backlots and soundstages. Learn about the history of Paramount and why they are still standing in Hollywood today.
You can also pay extra for the VIP Studio Tour which is 4 1/2 hours. In this tour, you’ll get all the above, but you’ll receive an insider experience and a gourmet lunch.
This is a fun Hollywood tour and experience. We did this a couple of times a long time ago. Once, I even attended a Christmas party at a soundstage and it was really cool to walk through the lot.
28. Sony Pictures Studio Tours
Temporarily on hold due to the pandemic.
Sony Pictures is a great little studio to visit in Culver City.
What’s to love about this Sony Pictures Studio Tour? It is a 2-hour walking tour. Which means that you’re on your feet and not in a golf cart for half the time. You’ll get to experience what it’s like to explore a backlot on foot. In my opinion, a more intimate experience.
You can book a VIP tour ($175pp), which is a 3 hour guided golf cart tour that includes lunch.
Fun Fact: Did you know Wizard of Oz was filmed at Sony Pictures?
- Tours operate Monday thru Friday. Reservations required.
- The studio tour is 2 hours.
- Cost: $50pp
29. Universal Studios Hollywood
Do you love theme parks?
Universal Studios Hollywood theme park is one of my favorites because it’s just the right size for a day of fun. You get to experience a theme park with rides and get a peek at one of the oldest movie studios around.
Top things to do at Universal Studios:
- Visit Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Ride the Simpsons Ride and then split a Lard Lad Donuts
- Take a Back Lot Studio tour that includes favorite rides like King Kong 3D, Jaws, Earthquake…
- Don’t miss the new and improved Jurassic World ride
Top Foodie Pick: Many great snacks inside the park, but at any time you can head out to City Walk and eat at one of their many restaurants.
30. Disneyland Park and California Adventure
The one-day trip from Los Angeles that is a must is Disneyland – the Happiest Place on Earth. It is in Los Angeles’s backyard and we locals love to visit Sleeping Beauty’s Castle every chance we get.
Disneyland in Anaheim is different from the one in Florida. It’s smaller with fewer rides and attractions than Disney World. So it is ideal for 1-2 days of fun. Who doesn’t love to visit Mickey and Minnie? Plus, it’s a great surprise for Disney lovers and children.
Want to stay overnight at Disneyland? I recommend the Grand Floridian Hotel as it is connected to California Adventure. Easy to get through security in the morning and straight into the theme park.
When is the best time to visit Disneyland? My favorite time of year at Disney is in the fall for Halloween and the magic of the holidays is absolutely amazing there.
A few Disneyland tips:
- Book your tickets and reserve your dates in advance
- Download the Disneyland app and have everyone’s tickets stored under one or multiple accounts in your party
- Make your restaurant reservations in advance: Blue Bayou and Steakhouse 55 are two of my favorites
- Arrive before opening and have your Disneyland app ready to get on the queue for the Star Wars Rise of the Resistance ride
You can check out my Disneyland Instagram highlights here.
Going through this list brought back so many great memories that took place at some of these top attractions in Los Angeles. Also reminded me that there are a few Los Angeles spots I’d love to re-visit.
I plan to continue updating this post with other attractions, so bookmark it for future reference.
I can’t wait to hear all about your trip to Los Angeles.
Are you looking forward to your visit to Los Angeles? What are you looking forward to the most?
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