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The sprawling city of Los Angeles, in Southern California, is filled with year-round attractions and things to do. It has long been known internationally in the film and entertainment industry, particularly for Hollywood, a place that has drawn aspiring actors and actresses from across the country for over a century.
Today, LA is a culturally diverse city with a reputation for being the creative center of America. The thriving culinary scene, incredible shopping, outstanding museums, and fun family attractions are some of the top things to do in California. And with abundant sunshine and moderate to hot weather throughout the year, a suitcase typically includes shorts and T-shirts for almost any visit.
Sunseekers coming to enjoy the warm climate and beaches will find plenty of things to do and interesting neighborhoods to explore. Upgrades to the public transportation network in recent years and the addition of a Metro Bike Share in downtown LA have made getting around and sightseeing easier than ever.
For families, nearby Disneyland and Universal Studios are key destinations that often warrant repeat visits.
To help plan your sightseeing itinerary, see our list of the top tourist attractions in Los Angeles.
1. Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Theme Park is known for its mind-blowing rides based on blockbuster movies, but it is also a working movie studio and an attraction everyone can enjoy. The highlight for most is the ever-changing selection of rides, ranging from simulators to roller coasters. Favorite movie and TV-themed rides and sets include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Simpsons, Transformers, Jurassic World – The Ride, and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.
To save time standing in long lines consider purchasing a Skip the Line: Front of Line Pass at Universal Studios Hollywood. This handy ticket gives you a one-time fast entry to each of the park’s rides, attractions, and shows, as well as behind-the-scenes access to select attractions.
When you are tired of the rides, you can check out CityWalk, a three-block entertainment area, with shopping, dining, and theaters. Another option is a guided tour of the studios to explore behind the scenes of some of Universal’s most popular movie sets. The VIP Experience allows you opportunities to see the sets and areas not open to the general public.
Address: 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, California
2. Griffith Park and Griffith Observatory
Griffith Park, in the eastern part of the Santa Monica Mountains, and covering an area of 4,210 acres, is the largest city park in Los Angeles. It’s home to the Los Angeles Zoo, the Griffith Observatory, a planetarium, and a Greek theater. It’s also home to golf courses, tennis courts, hiking trails, and a riding center created for the 1984 Olympic Games. And walking trails and scenic drives through the mountains offer views over the city and beyond.
The Griffith Observatory is one of the city’s most interesting experience-based attractions, and it’s all free to the public. On the grounds are exhibits and telescopes. The main highlight is a look through the Zeiss telescope, used for viewing the moon and planets. You can use the telescopes free each evening the facility is open. Also on-site are solar telescopes used for viewing the sun.
The park and observatory are named for Griffith J. Griffith, who donated the greater part of the parkland to the city in 1896 and willed funds to the city for the creation of the observatory.
3. Disneyland Resort
Just outside Los Angeles, Disneyland is California’s premier family vacation destination, attracting visitors since the 1950s. Disneyland Park, with rides and experiences in elaborately created theme sets, is what most people picture when they imagine Disneyland. The Disneyland California Adventure Park, created during one of the expansions, holds even more action and adventure, with seven lands based on movie themes.
Relatively new to the scene are several Star Wars-themed rides. They include Star Wars Rise of the Resistance and the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. The rides are in the new Star Wars Galaxy Edge area, which is full of shops and restaurants made out to look like the Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu.
Beyond the rides and Disney characters wandering the streets, the resort also offers a full complement of features and services for a complete vacation. Hotels, restaurants, shopping, and all kinds of entertainment options are available at Disneyland Resort.
Anaheim, home to Disneyland Resort, is also worth exploring on a weekend trip. Several outdoor dining and shopping areas extend from the park throughout the city, including the historic downtown core of Anaheim, known as Central City.
A suburb of Los Angeles, Hollywood is a destination in itself, with its own unique history and iconic sites. The attractions in Hollywood are closely associated with the film industry and the glamour of the silver screen.
The hillside Hollywood sign, Hollywood Boulevard, and the Chinese Theatre are some of the top places to visit. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a celebrity or two out for a shopping trip on Rodeo Drive. A fun family activity in Hollywood is finding all your favorite actors’ stars among the 2,500 plus on the Walk of Fame.
5. The Getty Center
On a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Getty Center, designed by Richard Meier, is a huge complex measuring 0.75 square miles and set on 110 acres. The unique building and the beautiful grounds provide the perfect setting for this impressive museum. Collections include European paintings, drawings, sculpture, and decorative arts, as well as 19th- and 20th-century photography.
The views from the museum grounds out over Los Angeles are incredible. Book a table at The Restaurant and enjoy a casual lunch while soaking up the scenery.
The Getty Center is one of two locations of the J. Paul Getty Museum, created by the late oil magnate, J. Paul Getty. The Getty Villa, set in a recreated Roman country house, deals with art from the Stone Age to the end of the Roman Empire.
Address: 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, California
6. Petersen Automotive Museum
Car lovers will not want to miss the incredible assortment of vehicles at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Spread over four floors are a mix of permanent and temporary exhibits featuring more than 300 cars and motorcycles, ranging from perfectly preserved items from 1886 right through to concepts for the 21st century.
The museum underwent major renovations and is now one of the most modern institutions of its kind. The exterior façade is an eye-catching architectural masterpiece. For an additional fee, you can sign up for either a 90- or 120-minute guided Vault tour, which provides additional insight on rare and unusual cars.
The museum is also host to a regular series of special exhibits featuring new, old, and unusual cars from the past along with ones you might see in the future. Check their website for the latest information.
Address: 6060 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, California
7. Santa Monica
Santa Monica is a unique destination that is both chic and laid-back, with a population that ranges from surfers, skateboarders, and yoga devotees to techies and business people. The beautiful stretch of golden sand along the coast and the famous Santa Monica Pier, with its iconic Ferris wheel, are what most tourists come to enjoy, but you can find a variety of experiences in this beachfront city next to LA.
The downtown district of Santa Monica is lively throughout the day and night. Shoppers will find a range of options, from quirky vintage stores to high-end boutiques. Check out the Third Street Promenade for shopping and people watching, including catching the various street performers.
For a little activity, check out the 26-mile bike path along the waterfront. This lengthy paved path spans nearly the entire Santa Monica Bay coastline, connecting all the best beaches near Santa Monica. A few visitor favorites include Venice Beach to the south and Will Rogers State Beach to the north.
Getting to Santa Monica is now much easier since the opening of the new Expo Metro line, connecting downtown LA to Santa Monica.
8. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
While the Natural History Museum has numerous galleries and an extensive permanent collection that covers a range of topics, it is best known for its collection of dinosaurs. The 14,000-square-foot Dinosaur Hall has an awesome display of dinosaur skeletons, including a series of Tyrannosaurus rex fossils, known as the growth series, featuring three full skeletons that range from baby to adult. Also on display are a Triceratops and a Stegosaurus.
The museum deals with the natural history of California and areas throughout the world. Becoming Los Angeles, which explores the past 500 years of history in Southern California, is another must-see exhibit. The Discovery Center and Insect Zoo offers hands-on experiences and is particularly interesting for younger visitors.
Address: 900 Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles
9. California Science Center
The California Science Center, open to the public free of charge, is home to the Space Shuttle Endeavour, as well as other major exhibits. Mission 26: The Big Endeavour is currently on display at the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, while the new Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center is being built. You can see the space shuttle, as well as artifacts from the space mission, and learn all about it and the people involved in the program.
Other exhibits at the Science Center cover such topics as the living world, technology, and ecosystems. The Ecosystems exhibit features an impressive 188,000-gallon kelp tank, as well as live plants, animals, and fish. In addition to the permanent exhibits, the California Science Center also features special exhibits, for an ever-changing selection of things to see.
Address: 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles, California
10. The Broad
The Broad opened in late 2015 and was immediately an overwhelming success and has remained popular. The museum focuses on contemporary and postwar art, with some large and dramatic installations. More than 2,000 works of art are on display in this unique building, with a “veil-and-vault” concept.
Tickets are free of charge for general admission, but these are often booked out in advance. Standby tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of admission, but this will usually require some wait time in a line, particularly on weekends. Admissions to some special exhibitions do carry a fee.
The museum was founded by Eli and Edythe Broad, who have been long time collectors of postwar and contemporary art.
Address: 221 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, California
11. The Original Farmers Market
The Los Angeles Farmers Market first started in 1934 as a very modest affair that sprung from the hardships created by the Great Depression. At the height of the economic depression, eighteen farmers came together and set up stalls on a piece of open land near Wilshire Boulevard in order to sell their produce direct to the consumer.
This experiment was so successful that the market continued to expand. At that time, it truly was a fruit and vegetable market, but over the years the market has grown to accommodate more and more vendors. Today, the market hosts vegetable and other food stands, as well as restaurants and specialty shops. You can find everything from jewelry and candles to kitchenware and toys.
If you are looking for things to do at night in Los Angeles, the market hosts a variety of entertainment, including free evening concerts on Friday nights in summer.
Address: 6333 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles, California
12. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art lays claim to being the largest art museum in the western United States, with almost 130,000 pieces spanning from antiquity through to modern times. Of particular note are the outstanding collections of Asian, Latin American, and Islamic Art.
The huge complex consists of a number of separate buildings that have been acquired and renovated over the years. The most recent expansion, known as the Transformation, saw the opening of several new buildings on the western half of the campus, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. The LACMA is next to the La Brea Tar Pits on museum row.
Address: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California
13. Venice Beach
Venice Beach deserves its reputation as a place to see and be seen, making it perfect for people watching, although the area definitely has its own unique vibe. This stretch of golden sand and the Venice Beach Boardwalk are always thronged with people walking, cycling, rollerblading, and jogging.
Eclectic shops and street performers of all kinds line the walkway. The Skatepark, also just off the beach, is frequented by some of the area’s best skateboarders, and nearby are a number of creative art installations. At the appropriately named Muscle Beach, gym members pump iron in the hot California sun.
Food stalls selling everything from shaved ice to kettle corn and funnel cakes make you feel like you’re walking through fairgrounds. You can also find some good restaurants here. This is not a typical family beach, but it’s well worth a visit.
14. Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills borders Los Angeles to the west, encompassing 5.7 square miles tucked beneath the Santa Monica Mountains. And within this small footprint are some of the poshest streets in America, including the world-famous Rodeo Drive.
Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica Boulevard, and Wilshire Boulevard converge in Beverly Hills to create the city’s “Golden Triangle” of upscale retail and dining. This luxe thoroughfare is worth the visit even without shopping, as the glamour spills out onto the sidewalks with celebrity sightings and luxury cars.
And there are a lot more things to do in Beverly Hills besides shopping and dining. The city is very walkable with several gardens, historic buildings, and public art throughout. Spend some time at Beverly Gardens Park for a sample of these first-class public spaces.
15. La Brea Tar Pits
In Hancock Park, La Brea Tar Pits offers a unique opportunity to see live excavations of fossils and learn about the process. The Tar Pits were formed 40,000 years ago, when oil seeped through the rock, entrapping passing animals, which would get stuck in the substance. The tar then preserved the fossils throughout the ages, leaving behind an incredible glimpse into another age.
The museum at la Brea Tar Pits (formerly the George C. Page Museum) shows reconstructed fossils of prehistoric animals found at the site, as well as the process of fossil recovery. You can see bones being worked on and learn what takes place behind the scenes, before skeletons are able to be displayed.
The museum displays fully reconstructed fossils of a variety of mammals including mammoths, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, and others, all dating from between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago. An outdoor area displays replicas of extinct animals.
Plans are in the works for a renovation and new design. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is reviewing plans from architecture teams in the hopes of reinventing this unique attraction.
Address: 5801 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
16. Battleship Iowa Museum
The Battleship Iowa Museum is an imposing sight on the waterfront close to the Port of Los Angeles and is a great family activity. You can wander throughout this massive battleship and see what life at sea would have been like for the sailors on board.
Included with admission is a self-guided tour showcasing the history of the ship. One of the highlights is a look at the massive 16-inch guns. Kids enjoy a free scavenger hunt, searching the ship to find the 10 secret locations of Vicky, the ship’s dog (displayed on posters or in augmented reality).
For those wanting to really get behind the scenes, for an additional fee you can take the Full Steam Ahead Guided Tour, which allows you access to the inner workings of the ship, including the engine room, boiler room, and the Combat Engagement Center, among other restricted areas. Note that dates and numbers are limited for this tour, and it should be booked well in advance.
Address: 250 S Harbor Blvd., Low Angeles, California
The Santa Monica Mountains meet the Pacific Ocean in Malibu, on the far western coastline of LA County. This dramatic backdrop sets the scene for many Malibu attractions and things to do, while beachside mansions and the occasional celebrity sighting help set the tone for Malibu culture.
Exploring some of Malibu’s best beaches is one of the best ways to enjoy the city. All are within an hour’s drive of Los Angeles, depending on traffic, and each offers a different beachscape to enjoy. From the broad shores of Zuma Beach to the wild landscape surrounding El Matador State Beach, the coastline appeals to both relaxing and adventurous outings alike.
Malibu is also home to several seafood restaurants worth the drive alone. The famous Neptune’s Net perhaps has the most notoriety, partly thanks to its roles in movies like Point Break and The Fast and the Furious. Other spots with menus worth perusing include Dukes Malibu and Paradise Cove Beach Cafe.
18. Long Beach
Long Beach is another community in the Los Angeles area that’s easy to spend a day exploring. It borders LA to the south, about 20 miles from downtown, and extends along San Pedro Bay. The miles of beach in Long Beach are common motives for a visit, capped off by a tourist-friendly and attraction-filled waterfront downtown district.
Things to do in Long Beach’s waterfront district include a visit to the historic Queen Mary ocean liner, due to reopen in late 2022; the Aquarium of the Pacific; and exploring the unique shops at Shoreline Village. You can also catch the Catalina Express for a trip to Santa Catalina Island.
And it’s not just the ocean to explore in Long Beach. Several of the city’s best parks also offer inland attractions, like the historic Bixby Park or sprawling El Dorado East Regional Park. El Dorado East is also home to the lovely Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden, filled with tranquil appeal.
19. The Nethercutt Collection
If you’re a fan of antique, vintage, and classic cars, this is the place to visit. The Nethercutt Collection displays an outstanding array of American and European automobiles from the 1890s to the 1990s. The pristine condition of these vehicles and the variety of models is beyond impressive. The history of the cars and descriptions of their previous owners are displayed with the vehicles.
The museum also showcases a collection of antique furniture and mechanical musical instruments. Outside, you can see a restored steam locomotive and railcar.
Address: 15151 Bledsoe Street, Sylmar, California
20. The Getty Villa
The Getty Villa is the other site operated by the Getty cultural institution, located near the ocean in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, just east of Malibu. It’s set within a photogenic recreation of a Roman country house with decorative gardens and courtyards.
On display throughout the Getty Villa are ancient artworks and relics, ranging from marble statues to rare coins and jewelry. Different exhibits are found around every corner on the first and second floor of the museum, and in combination with the landscaped settings, expect to spend at least two to three hours exploring the grounds.
21. Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
The Museum of Contemporary Art consists of two separate facilities and is dedicated to works from the 1940s onwards. Pieces from the permanent collection are on display, and regularly changing exhibits feature new works and emerging media.
The MOCA Grand, on Grand Avenue, is the museum’s primary facility, with the main galleries, as well as the largest museum store. The MOCA Geffen is in Little Tokyo, in what was formerly a police car warehouse.
Double Negative is another art location associated with MOCA, located in the desert in Moapa Valley on Mormon Mesa near Overton, in Nevada. This land art by Michael Heizer was acquired by the museum and can be visited free of charge.
Where to Stay in Los Angeles for Sightseeing
Santa Monica Hotels
- Shops, fabulous restaurants, blonde beaches, and the famous Santa Monica Pier make this a natural magnet for tourists and locals alike. Easy access to Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive are also a bonus for sightseers. The Viceroy and the eco-conscious boutique Shore Hotel are popular high-end accommodation options, and the stylish Shutters on the Beach exudes all the casual elegance of a family beach house.
- For those seeking a fantastic salt-laced location without breaking the bank, try the Ocean View Hotel.
Beverly Hills Hotels
- Famous for the designer shops along Rodeo Drive, this exclusive celebrity enclave offers some plush hotels in a quieter setting than Hollywood, but still with easy access to all the movie-themed attractions. Top high-end hotels include the famous Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, The Peninsula, the Beverly Wilshire, and the Maybourne Beverly Hills.
- For those seeking the glamour without the price tag to match, the Beverly Terrace Hotel is a great option.
- Farther north, the Hotel Bel Air pampers guests amid 12 acres of flower-flecked gardens.
- Star struck travelers headed for the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Hollywood Bowl, and Universal Studios should stay here in the heart of movie land. Close to Beverly Hills, Hollywood oozes with celebrity glitz and glamor without gauging the wallet. The Hollywood Roosevelt and the Hollywood Celebrity Hotel are both highly rated options in the area.
- Families headed to the theme parks with the kids in tow usually base themselves here in a whimsical Disney-themed hotel. Popular options include the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, an easy stroll from the Disney theme parks.
- Sonesta ES Suites Anaheim Resort Area is a more affordable option with convenient apartment-style accommodation.
Downtown Los Angeles Hotels
- Bristling with new restaurants and art galleries amid the skyscrapers, Downtown LA is finally finding its soul. Sports fans catching a game at the Staples Center, hipsters, foodies, and business travelers often base themselves here and score cheaper hotel rates than at the typical tourist hot spots. Popular quality hotel choices include the luxury Omni Los Angeles at California Plaza near the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the more modestly priced Doubletree by Hilton.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Los Angeles
See the Sights:
- One of the best ways to see Los Angeles is on a Los Angeles Hop-on Hop-off Double Decker Bus Tour, which offers a fun overview of the city with maximum flexibility. Enjoy 360-degree views from the open-air bus and hop on or off at more than 50 locations, including Beverly Hills, Hollywood, downtown LA, and Santa Monica. Choose between a 24- or 48-hour ticket.
- If you’re looking for a guided tour, the 6-Hour Los Angeles City Tour is a great option. Learn all about LA’s hot spots from a local expert; peek at celebrity homes in Beverly Hills; and visit Hollywood Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, the Sunset Strip, and some of LA’s most famous beaches. Hotel pickup and drop-off is included.
- If you plan on visiting multiple attractions while you’re in the City of Angels, the Go Los Angeles Card is a great way to save money. This versatile card gives you discounts at top Los Angeles attractions, restaurants, and shops, including Six Flags Magic Mountain, Madame Tussauds Hollywood, and more. If you purchase a three-, four-, five- or seven-day Go Los Angeles Card, you also score one entry pass to Universal Studios.
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