My How to do Los Angeles series was originally inspired by Rick Steves travel books, which Inna and I used throughout our England trip. However, Rick Steves only covers Europe, and so when we went to Argentina last year, we switched to Lonely Planet, whose books are great in their own right. One of my favorite parts about Lonely Planet is their “Top 20” things to do is whatever area they are covering, so I am stealing that idea for my series as well! And creating it was so much fun, I’m going to do one for California and the US as a whole (coming soon!) as well!
But first, the top 20 things to do in Los Angeles:
The largest art museum in the western United States, with a unique and eclectic collection spanning from ancient times to the present. The grounds are also beautiful (and free to explore) and contain the museum’s two most notable works of modern art: Urban Light and Levitated Mass.
19. Magic Mountain
One of the greatest roller coaster parks in the world, Magic Mountain holds the record for most roller coasters in a single park, which includes: X2 (the first fourth dimensional roller coaster), hypercoaster Goliath, Riddlers Revenge (the largest standing roller coaster), Tatsu (the longest, tallest, and fastest flying roller coaster), Superman (the first roller coaster to break 100 mph), Full Throttle (featuring the world’s largest vertical loop), Revolution (the world’s first looping roller coaster), and more.
18. Space Shuttle Endeavour
Only three Space Shuttles remain and Los Angeles has one of them. Its permanent display (where it will be mounted upright with an external tank, rocket boosters, and strategically placed viewing stations) is still under construction, but just seeing the shuttle in its hangar is pretty amazing.
17. Hiking to the Hollywood Sign
Hiking to the Hollywood Sign is one of the main reasons people come to LA, and while it doesn’t top my list, it is definitely worth doing if you have the time. Walking up Mt Lee Drive is quick but boring, but if you come from Cahuenga Peak to the west or Griffith Park to the east, you’ll experience some of the best hiking in LA. Not to mention the views from the top, which are spectacular.
16. California and Ethnic Cuisines
Los Angeles is not a food city, but even so, the food here is delicious. There’s California cuisine, a healthy fusion cuisine that focuses on fresh veges, lean meats, and most importantly, avocado. There’s also California barbeque, primarily tri-tip with a light barbeque sauce or none at all in order to maximize the flavor of the meat. And then there’s the ethnic cuisines: Mexican, Italian, British, French, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Russian, Jewish, Middle Eastern, Greek, and Ethopian, Los Angeles has them all and they are delicious. Look even harder and you’ll find great Spanish, Argentinean, Brazilian, Peruvian, El Salvadorian, Moroccan, German, Mongolian, Vietnamese, Hawaiian, and Southern cuisines. Los Angeles is such a diverse city, it has food from pretty much everywhere!
15. Downtown’s Architecture Scene
Union Station, City Hall, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Cal Trans 7, Vibiana, the Continental, the Bradbury Building, the US Bank building, Central Library, the Wilshire Grand Hotel, the Millenium Biltmore, the Broadway Theater district, the Eastern Columbia building, all gorgeous, all hugely influential on the world’s architecture scene, and all walking distance from each other.
14. City Hall/Grand Park
Downtown’s newest central meeting place, right outside its world famous government building. City Hall’s observation desk is fantastic, providing amazing views of Grand Park, downtown, the Hollywood Sign, and Los Angeles as a whole.
13. La Brea Tar Pits
Formed 10,000 years ago, these naturally occurring tar pits are still being excavated, with the most notable finds, including a Columbian mammoth and a sabertooth cat, on display in the nearby Page Museum. This is a cool and unique feature for any major city, let alone one not necessarily known for its pre-20th century history.
12. Walt Disney Concert Hall
Home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, this Frank Gehry designed concert hall is an architecture landmark and the inside acoustics are a dream; this is widely considered one of the greatest concert halls in the world.
11. Dodgers/Lakers game
Los Angeles just got two NFL teams, but even so, baseball and basketball, specifically the Dodgers and Lakers, are where it is at. The Dodgers have history, huge support from the hispanic community, and a beautiful and historic stadium, while the Lakers have international appeal, historical dominance, huge support from the inner-city community, and a cool, new stadium right next to LA Live. You won’t go wrong with either of them, and honestly, if you prefer LA’s other sports teams (the Rams, Clippers, Kings, Galaxy, LAFC, or a UCLA or USC football game), you won’t go wrong with those either (not sure about the Chargers though, no one seems to like them here).
Connecting every major beach in Los Angeles, and driving right alongside the ones in Santa Monica and Malibu, this drive is incredible, and even moreso are all the stops (Leo Carillo, Zuma, Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice, Marina del Rey, Manhattan, Hermosa, Redondo, Long Beach) you’ll make along the way. LA is a beach city and PCH gives you access to them all.
9. Universal Studios/Citywalk
This is the best studio to explore, because it has a theme park! Lots of fun rides (including a Harry Potter land), plus the backlot tram tour, taking you to such famous film sets as the hotel from Psycho, the crashed 747 from War of the Worlds, Jurassic Park’s Isla Nublar, a makeshift Jaws tank, and more.
8. The Music Scene
Los Angeles is so famous for film and television that people forget its music scene is amazing too! Famous venues include the Whisky, Roxy, House of Blues, El Rey, Wiltern, Troubadour, the Greek, the Palladium, and of course the Hollywood Bowl. Many famous bands/musicians have emerged from LA’s music scene, on the rock front there are: the Beach Boys, The Doors, The Eagles, Guns n Roses, Motley Crue, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Linkin Park; on the rap front: NWA, Tupac, Snoop Dog, and on the pop front: Katy Perry, the Black Eyed Peas, Josh Groban, Paula Abdul, Arianna Grande, and more. Los Angeles also has a thriving indie-rock scene and one of the best underground/techno/rave scenes in the world.
7. The Getty
Los Angeles’s grandest and most famous art museum, built to a tune of $1,000,000,000 and featuring, amongst other works, Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises. The architecture, landscaping, and views of the city are top-notch here, and although the actual collection isn’t as grand as the great art museums in Europe or on the east coast, it’s still pretty good.
6. Olvera Street
The birthplace of Los Angeles, this block long Spanish styled market street is a great blast of Los Angeles’s original culture, before movies and wealth moved in. There’s lots of cheap goods and food here, as well as museums, historical tributes, outdoor music, and other entertainment. Old Plaza Church, one of three (the most central but also least impressive) of Los Angeles’s contributions to California’s mission system, is here as well, and so is Union Station, which itself is beautiful.
5. Santa Monica Pier
There are lots of piers in Los Angeles but this one is the best, arguably the greatest and most famous pier in the world. It has restaurants, fishing, carnival rides, artists, entertainers, and a great coastal community. If you came to Los Angeles for its beaches (and who doesn’t), this is a must.
4. Hollywood Bowl
One of the few things in Hollywood that lives up to the hype, the Hollywood Bowl is amazing. Whether its classical, rock, pop, jazz, country, movie themes, or any of the other shows they put on, this place is incredible. Fireworks shows are the best.
3. Griffith Observatory
Offering great views of the stars and the city, with an accompanying planetarium and free astronomy museum, more than anything this place is relaxing, peaceful, and incredibly romantic. This is a great place for couples and despite the many people who come to LA and don’t go here, this is a must, especially at night.
2. Venice Beach
The Boardwalk and Athletic Center make Venice beach the most happening beach in Southern California, and one of the most famous beaches in the world. It is eccentric, artistic, hip, beautiful, counter-cultural, and tons of fun. And the beach itself is great too, soft smooth sand and water that is clean enough to go in. This (and nearby Santa Monica) is LA, more than anywhere else in the city.
1. Grauman’s Chinese/Hollywood Walk of Fame
Okay, so it’s super touristy and it probably won’t live up to the hype, but Hollywood is a must and if you do it right it is amazing! Stay away from the tours and museums, appreciate the art and history and eccentrism, embrace it and have a great time. Follow my Hollywood Walk to do this area right!
That’s it, Los Angeles’s top 20, according to me! Maybe you’re wondering where Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills are (I don’t recommend them), and also Old Town Pasadena, Chinatown, Long Beach, and more. Well, head on over to the next post in my series, all the sites Los Angeles has to offer!
Featured image photography by Natmanso09. CC 3.0