Whether you’re a weekend tourist or a curious local explorer, Los Angeles offers a myriad of essential attractions that capture the heart and soul of this sprawling city. Spanning a vast landscape, from mountains to the ocean.
Essential L.A. Attractions
Must-see Attractions to Discover Los Angeles – Los Angeles boasts an abundance of world-class destinations waiting to be explored.
1. Griffith Observatory
Witness the mesmerizing panorama of Los Angeles, especially enchanting at night. Inside this hilltop landmark, explore exhibits featuring a Foucault pendulum, Tesla coil, and captivating planetarium shows. Plan ahead to experience the 12-inch refracting telescope on the roof or opt for modern, reflecting telescopes on the front lawn. Note: Parking costs approximately $10 per hour, but a DASH bus offers an affordable alternative with a TAP card.
2. Getty Center
Delve into the Getty Center’s artistic haven in Brentwood, where ornate French furniture, renowned Impressionist pieces, and rotating exhibitions reside within a distinctive complex of travertine and white metal-clad pavilions. The challenging accessibility is eclipsed by the breathtaking views extending from the hills to Downtown Los Angeles.
3. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
Embrace the legacy of railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington at this San Marino treasure. From a Gutenberg Bible to a meticulously landscaped Japanese garden, the library, art collection, and outdoor spaces offer a leisurely escape. New additions like the renovated tea room and a restored Japanese house enhance the charm.
4. Grand Central Market
Immerse yourself in the heart of Los Angeles at this historic food hall, housed in the iconic Homer Laughlin Building since 1917. Whether you’re a food enthusiast or a casual visitor, the European-style market invites you to mingle among rows of spices, produce, and vintage neon signage. Indulge in affordable delights from trendy eateries like Sticky Rice, Sari Sari, Shiku, Eggslut, and G&B Coffee.
5. Santa Monica Pier
Experience the lively energy of Santa Monica Pier, the focal point of iconic Santa Monica Beach. Bursting with attractions like a Ferris wheel, aquarium, fairground games, and cotton candy stands, the pier is a hub for families, beachgoers, and fitness enthusiasts enjoying Muscle Beach. Explore film and music events for a trendy beachfront experience.
6. Hollywood Bowl
Open since 1922, the Hollywood Bowl stands as a stunning open-air amphitheater in the Hollywood Hills. When not hosting concerts, it welcomes the public to bask in its grandeur. Enjoy a picnic with the LA Philharmonic or other stellar pop acts for an unforgettable experience.
7. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
Chris Burden’s Urban Light is just the beginning of LACMA’s allure. Step inside to discover modernist masterpieces, large-scale contemporary works, and captivating special exhibitions. Note that the eastern half of the campus is under construction, with a grand single-building replacement set to reopen in 2024.
8. Venice Beach and Boardwalk
Beyond its soft sand and postcard views, Venice Beach thrives on people-watching. Engage with street performers along the vibrant Venice Boardwalk and witness pumped-up gym enthusiasts at Muscle Beach. Discover a different side of Venice by strolling through the idyllic Venice Canals.
9. The Broad
Encounter the magic of contemporary art at Downtown’s popular museum. Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms and the Broad’s extensive collection of post-war works, featuring artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Jeff Koons, and Kara Walker, promise an immersive experience.
10. The Hollywood Sign
Marvel at the iconic Hollywood Sign, originally created in 1923 as “Hollywoodland.” While access can be contentious, explore viewpoints on Beachwood Drive or near Lake Hollywood Park. For a closer encounter, embark on a horseback ride at Sunset Ranch or hike along the dirt road on Mt. Lee Drive, offering a breathtaking 360-degree view of the city.
11. Disneyland Resort
This renowned resort comprises two main parks: the 68-year-old Disneyland Park and the newer Disney California Adventure, which opened in 2001. Regardless of the semantics, this themed resort captivates both tourists and locals. Meet your favorite characters, explore the Star Wars-themed Galaxy’s Edge and the Marvel-themed Avengers Campus, and enjoy a host of thrilling rides. Despite constant crowds, especially around Christmas, a bit of patience is the key to savoring the enchantment.
12. Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
The history of moviemaking finds a home in Los Angeles with the arrival of the Academy Museum. This collection features cinematic treasures from the Oscars, including Marlon Brando’s prosthetic jaw from The Godfather, C-3PO, and the sole surviving shark from Jaws. Dive into our comprehensive guide to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
13. Rodeo Drive
Known globally from Julia Roberts’s iconic shopping spree in Pretty Woman, Rodeo Drive’s dazzling array of high-end designers is a window-shopper’s paradise. Along Two Rodeo’s $200-million faux cobbled walkway, browsing tourists mingle with serious spenders. A stone’s throw away, Anderson Court stands as the only shopping mall designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
14. Walt Disney Concert Hall
As the $274-million crown jewel of the Music Center, Disney Hall opened in 2003 to wild acclaim. Even after 20 years, the venue’s novelty remains, offering a terrific experience inside and out. Designed by Frank Gehry, the hall is the esteemed home of the LA Philharmonic and the LA Master Chorale. The schedule boasts surprising variety throughout the year, and the complex includes the 250-seat Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theatre, a restaurant, and a roof garden.
15. Zuma Beach
Venturing a bit farther for your beach trip pays off at Zuma Beach. This Malibu beach, with ample onsite parking (pay at the lot or for free along PCH) and vigilant lifeguards, rewards visitors with a clean, expansive patch of sand and surf. A favorite for locals and destination beachgoers on weekends and holidays, surfers can catch waves at this sandy beach break, perfect for boogie boarders and body surfers. While there, explore nearby Point Dume for idyllic hikes and rappelling on its iconic rock face.
16. Universal Studios & CityWalk
Universal Studios Hollywood’s hillside theme park may lack Disneyland’s old-time charm, but it compensates with respectable thrills, Hollywood glamour, and blockbuster-themed attractions. Standouts include Jurassic World: The Ride, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the vibrant Super Nintendo World.
17. Hollywood Walk of Fame
Navigate through crowds and tourist attractions to discover the historic glamour along the Walk of Fame. From the Hollywood and La Brea Gateway to the Pantages Theater at Gower, and along Vine from the Capitol Records Building down to Sunset, names immortalized on terrazzo and brass stars trace Hollywood’s rich history. While here, embark on a pilgrimage to the Dolby Theatre, home of the Academy Awards, or escape the commotion inside movie palaces like the Egyptian Theatre or the historic Hollywood Roosevelt.
18. Gamble House
Built in 1909 for David B. Gamble, an heir of the Procter & Gamble fortune, this elegant house stands as an exemplary showcase of the Arts and Crafts movement and the masterful handiwork of Charles and Henry Greene. Now a National Historic Landmark open to the public, the Gamble House offers exceptional programming, including tours focused on glass art and the house’s details and joinery.
19. Griffith Park
Escape the typical Los Angeles vibe in Griffith Park, where canyons, caves, and coyotes coexist in the midst of a city. This 4,310-acre gem, a point of pride for L.A. natives, features rugged trails, museums, and picnic areas, offering a blend of native chaparral and landscaped paths. Uncover a bit of haunted history as you explore this unique urban oasis.
20. The Grove
This upscale open-air center defies the typical “L.A. mall” stereotype. With around 50 strong retailers, including Apple, Anthropologie, and Topshop, along with a quality movie theater, The Grove is more than an ordinary shopping destination. Don’t forget to explore the adjacent Original Farmers Market, a historic venue hosting mom-and-pop eateries and vendors since the ’30s.
21. Barnsdall Art Park & Hollyhock House
Oil heiress and philanthropist Aline Barnsdall acquired a picturesque hill shortly after World War I, commissioning Frank Lloyd Wright to construct buildings at its summit. Although the envisioned complex was never completed, the striking Hollyhock House was realized. Over eight decades later, the site continues to host exhibitions in various galleries and offers tours of Wright’s structure, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the summer, the park hosts alfresco cinema nights, wine tastings, and cultural events.
22. La Brea Tar Pits and Museum
Free to visit, the outdoor pits at Rancho La Brea became an archaeological treasure trove in 1875. Amateur paleontologists unearthed animal remains in the tar pits, leading to ongoing professional excavations that have revealed millions of fossils. The La Brea Museum displays these specimens, and outside, the pits bubble with black goo. Observing paleontologists working in the excavation of Pit 91 and Project 23 is a fascinating free activity.
23. Third Street Promenade
Spanning from Wilshire Boulevard to Colorado Avenue, the pedestrianized stretch of Third Street Promenade is a pleasant four-block parade of familiar brand names. While the restaurants are ordinary, the Wednesday morning farmers’ market is legendary and well worth a visit. At the southern end, explore the revamped Santa Monica Place shopping center.
24. TCL Chinese Theatre
Beyond its role as a fine cinema, the Chinese Theatre draws crowds for the hand and foot imprints of around 200 major Hollywood stars. Navigating through snap-happy tourists, venture inside for a film experience in a stunning auditorium with top-notch IMAX projection quality.
25. California Science Center
Situated in Exposition Park, this child-friendly museum delves into life sciences, human innovation, and powered flight. The real highlight is the Space Shuttle Endeavour, paraded through L.A. to its temporary home at the Samuel Oschin Pavilion. While Endeavour is on view until the end of 2023, a permanent structure is in the works.
26. Runyon Canyon
Spot buff trainers, locals, and occasional celebrities at Runyon Canyon, the only L.A. hike with its own scene. The main loop of hiking trails in this 160-acre park can get crowded, but the stunning views of the city make it worthwhile. Visit during quieter times or explore the higher-elevation northern gate off Mulholland Drive for a panoramic vista.
27. Watts Towers
Constructed by Italian-born tilesetter Simon Rodia over three decades, Watts Towers stand as a remarkable piece of folk art made from found objects. Rodia’s legacy, built in Watts, reflects the ethnically diverse history of the neighborhood and remains a captivating icon of L.A.’s African-American community.
28. Magic Castle
Whisper the secret phrase to the owl sculpture in the lobby of this private club, and you’ll be in for a magical experience. The century-old mansion, home to the Academy of Magical Arts since 1963, promises surprises and enchantment. Gain access by staying at the adjacent Magic Castle Hotel or securing an invitation.
29. Comedy Clubs
For a night of laughter, L.A. offers numerous top-notch comedy clubs. Catch big-name stand-ups at the Laugh Factory, TV comics at the Comedy Store, future SNL stars at the Groundlings Theatre, and thriving alt comedy at various venues like Dynasty Typewriter, the Elysian, Permanent Records Roadhouse, and Largo. Famous faces often grace these stages, ensuring a memorable night out.
30. Movie Studios
Peek into the sets and sound stages of L.A.’s iconic movie studios for an up-close look at the industry. Sony Pictures Studios, the former MGM backlot, showcases cinema history from The Wizard of Oz to Breaking Bad. Alternatively, take a tram ride through the city streets and sound stages of Warner Bros. and Paramount studio lots for a leisurely exploration.
These attractions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Los Angeles’s diverse offerings. Whether you’re drawn to the glamour of Rodeo Drive, the historic charm of the Gamble House, or the excitement of Universal Studios, each destination offers a unique glimpse into the soul of this vibrant city. So, embark on a journey of discovery, and let Los Angeles unfold its wonders before you.