I moved to Los Angeles from Georgia at a very young age. I settled in the Hollywood area and my first job was in Brentwood. Rather than stick to one small area, I really got around and learned every square inch of the major metropolitan area of Los Angeles County which houses not only Los Angeles City but dozens of other cities such as Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Burbank, Studio City, Long Beach, Culver City, and many more as well as various other "areas" that are not their own city but have their own unique personality such as Hollywood. Besides the typical things that every tourist would think to do, I quickly put together a list of special places I wanted to make sure I took any friend or family member who came to visit. This guide is that list. There are way more things to do then you'll have time for in one visit I'm sure, but this list will give you some great ideas that will hopefully help make your trip to California memorable one! My "MUST DO" items are marked by *.
*Griffith Park Observatory – Great View of Hollywood Sign, Los Angeles, Downtown – One of the top observatories in the world. Make sure to take time to see the main planetarium show and spend time looking at all the amazing exhibits. Can be cool after dark as well though the city view can be greatly obscured by smog unless it has rained in the last day or two. On clear nights, they open up the huge telescope for people to look through – can be awesome or not depending on what they are pointing it at. The observatory and surrounding park area can be seen in many movies, tv shows, and commercials. The observatory is free. The planetarium show is not. The observatory is surrounded by Griffith Park which is over 4,000 acres – that’s 5 X’s larger than Central Park. So if you’re the outdoorsy type, you might want to set aside a day to go hiking in the park. There are large “dirt road” trails that lead to the highest peak and are more heavily traveled as well as “off the beaten path” smaller trails that you can tread and possibly never see another sole, though you might catch a glimpse of a deer, an owl, or a coyote.
*Hollywood & Highland – This is the place to see the Hollywood walk of fame starts in the sidewalk. Whatever you do, don’t try to see them all – they are, after all, just stars with a name printed on them. The really cool thing here is the Mann’s Chinese Theater which has the actual handprints, footprints, and autographs of many of the biggest stars of all time. Definitely something to see. Also Hollywood and Highland is the home to the Oscars and has a great view of the Hollywood Sign and lots of shops and eating places. As far as “Hollywood” goes – this is it. Other “Hollywood” things you would do aren’t actually in Hollywood.
Eric’s Eating Tip: Bossa Nova – one of the best restaurants in all of Los Angeles. Bosa Nova is a Brazilian based restaurant that has everything you could imagine. Every dish there is delicious. Stars do eat there. It’s best to go during the week and best for lunch or early dinner as it’s very popular and if you go Friday evening you might wait an hour or longer to get seated… This is located on the famous Sunset Blvd in Hollywood just down from Hollywood Highschool.
*Santa Monica Pier and 3rd Street Promenade – 3rd Street Promenade is an outdoor shopping and walking area – 3-4 blocks of 3rd Street were shut down to cars and made only for walkers. You’ll want to be here on Friday Evening or Saturday or Sunday because on the weekends there are tons of street performers and people that make it a much more fun event. Santa Monica Pier is just down a couple of blocks away from 3rd Street (walking distance) and is one of the most iconic places in LA featured in movies and tv shows all the time. Mostly you just walk to the end of the pier and then back. There are tons of great eating places on the promenade and a few on the pier. The pier does have a few small fair rides, but nothing too exciting – mostly it’s just about looking.
*Venice Beach – Another iconic area of Los Angeles and home to the famous Muscle Beach. Venice is best to do during the day on Saturday or Sunday. That’s when it’s buzzing with lots of locals, street performers, and artist selling their handiwork. Be on the outlook for the rollerblading guitar dude complete with head tunic – he’s an icon in Venice and can be seen in movies and tv shows from time to time. He’s been rollerblading and playing his electric guitar for over 20 years.
Venice Beach Canals (walk/drive) – Venice Beach actually is a tribute to the real Venice complete with house lined canals. While most people only go to the Beach/Strip area, a little bit inland are a series of canals with beautiful houses on either side – it’s worth at least driving through.
Just an FYI - while Santa Monica and Venice beach have great tourist attractions for walking around and site seeing, they are NOT really the best places to go hang out on the beach.
Eric’s Beach recommendations:
1. Malibu* – Yes, the Malibu you’ve always heard of. The one where lots of famous and wealthy people live. The easiest beach to access there is Zuma Beach which has both paid and street parking. Also the drive there in on the famous Pacific Coast Highway along the coast which is nice and iconic. Dolphins are often seen in the ocean here and the Beaches are nice with decent waves. (Warning, it can be a bit chilly sometimes – just depends on the time of year and luck of weather patterns. Check a weather app – it’s often a lot warmer or cooler than the rest of LA.) If you’re feeling really adventurous you can add time in to drive north of Malibu just over the Ventura County line to a special spot that has a pull off from P.C.H. (Pacific Coast Hwy) – this spot has awesome cliff rocks with waves crashing against it. Often see seals and sometimes Dolphins. This spot is used a lot in TV, Film, and Commercials. (Can be very windy/chilly – bring a sweatshirt!)
Eric’s Eating Tip: Neptune’s Net is a great seafood restaurant on PCH in Malibu. Casual and low key. Possible star siting place too. Or you can check out Gladstones which is much more of a standard restaurant – also on PCH. Closer to the LA side of Malibu.
Driving Tip: There is a road that gets you from Malibu to LA driving through the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s a typical mountain road – two lanes, winding – but beautiful views of the Mountains. I like to drive PCH one way and drive the Mountain Road the other.
Eric’s Eating Tip – Duke’s Restaurant – Duke’s originated in Hawaii so it makes sense they would have a location in the other US Surf City of Huntington Beach. They specialize in a seafood and have a very limited menu of the best available fish cooked in the most delicious way. (They do also have an amazing burger for non-seafood eaters.) Reservations are suggested.
*La Brea Tar Pits – just south of Hollywood on the famous Wilshire Blvd is the La Brea Tar Pits and Natural History Museum. The La Brea Tar Pits predate any human settlers in the California region and fossils of ancient animals such as saber tooth lions and wooly mammoth’s have been discovered and are still being discovered today. The Tar Pits are pretty mesmerizing in themselves, but especially because they are in the dead center of a huge metropolitan city. Touring the pits takes only 20-30 minutes. Going through the museum inside is optional and probably only for big science/nature buffs.
LACMA – The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is located right next door to the La Brea Tar Pits. It is an amazing art museum and depending on your interests, you could easily spend 5-6 hours there. Whether you want to may depend on the touring/temporary exhibits and/or your interest in whatever that happens to be as well as your general interest in art.
Petersen Automotive Museum is just a few blocks away from the Tar Pits and LACMA. I would only recommend this for real car enthusiasts, but if you fall into that category then you probably don’t want to miss it.
*Mulholland Drive – Mulholland Drive is the famous windy street that stretches across the top of the Hollywood Hills. It provides some beautiful lookouts over the Valley area of LA and is a stretch driven by pretty much every person (famous and not) who has ever lived in LA. It is also often seen in TV/Film/Commercials. Driving the stretch from Laurel Canyon west to Coldwater Canyon will take on the most famous stretch and only takes 10-15 minutes though you can take it several miles longer through Bel Air and all the way to the 405 Freeway should you want.
*Bevery Hills – No visit to LA is complete without a drive through Beverly Hills. There are three distinct parts of Beverly Hills: 1) Downtown 2) The Flats 3) The Hills. The first two are the two you’ll want to see. Downtown Beverly Hills is home to the famous Rodeo Drive. Some people simply want to drive down Rodeo Drive while others enjoy parking and walking around a bit. Unless you are a millionaire you won’t be doing any real shopping here, but it can be fun to gawk at the prices on a thing or two and you never know what rich famous person might happen to be shopping there that day. At the end of Rodeo Drive on Wilshire Blvd is the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel, made famous in Pretty Woman. Also you’ll want to at least drive by the Beverly Hills Police Dept to see the headquarters as seen in Beverly Hills Cop and many other movies. The Beverly Hills Downtown area is on the South side of Santa Monica Blvd. On the north side is the Beverly Hills Flats and several very beautiful parks and water fountains as well. You’ll want to drive into the Beverly Hills Flats as it is the iconic Beverly Hills residential neighborhood you know from shows like “90210” – million dollar homes with tall palm trees lining many of the streets. You’ll also want to drive by the “crooked” house, also known as the “fairy tale” house or the “Hansel and Gretel” house which has been featured as background in many TV shows and movies. Driving through the hills of Beverly Hills isn’t necessary. For multi-million dollar “hill homes” I suggest driving through the hills of Bel Air.
Movie Studios – Of course when people come to Los Angeles and Hollywood, they want to see where movies are made. Many of the spots I’ve already mentioned cover a lot of the locations where things are filmed. But of course more filming is done at studios than anywhere else and there are lots of studios. Here are my thoughts on the studios:
Eric’s Eating Tip: One place you must eat at during a trip to Cali is In-N-Out. While I’m not addicted to it like many people, they are for sure a unique burger joint and as they are only in California and a couple other Western states, it’s a must for any out-of-towner.
WeHo – Short for West Hollywood, WeHo is famous for several reasons. The most famous stretch of Sunset Blvd is through West Hollywood. Driving down it will take you past a lot of famous spots you’ve seen all over TV and in Films (whether you’ve realized it or not) including famous Hollywood Hotels, restaurants, and clubs. WeHo is home to some of the biggest small clubs in the music business where many famous bands got their start. Look for The Roxy and The Viper Room (where River Phoenix died) on Sunset Blvd as well as famous stand-up comic bars such as The Comedy Store and The Laugh Factory. Just a few blocks south of Sunset Blvd is Santa Monica Blvd (aka Route 66) which will not only take you by The Troubadour (another super famous club) but will also take you through the gay capital of Los Angeles. This may or may not be an area you want to hang out in, but regardless, it’s definitely worth driving through to see because it is a very unique and specific area of Los Angeles.
Eric’s Eating Tip: Canter’s is a “Jewish” deli with a great menu and low key atmosphere located on Fairfax. It’s been there for a VERY long time and is a favorite spot for many locals. Definitely a place you could possibly catch a glimpse of someone famous.
*The Groundlings Comedy Group – Many of Saturday Night Live’s Biggest stars have come from this Los Angeles Improv and Comedy group. They are hilarious! I will say their shows are Rated R so if you’re easily offended, I would not recommend it. But if you like Saturday Night Live and like movies like “Bridesmaids” or “Meet the Millers” then you should definitely see their show. I recommend the Sketch Comedy Show which involves mostly SNL type sketches with a few improvs mixed in. Your mouth will hurt from laughing and someone you see might be someone famous one day soon!
Cemeteries – Old cemeteries can be truly interesting, even more so when they are in the land of a million stars. The Hollywood Cemetery is a famous one with many famous individuals buried there. If you want to see the “grave” of one of the most famous Hollywood icons, then a small cemetery in Westwood is where you’ll need to go – that’s where Marilyn Monroe is, though she is not buried because she’s in the wall of a mausoleum – there are a couple of other famous people buried there as well. If there is someone specific whose grave you want to see, best bet is to look up on the internet which cemetery they are at. If you happen to be visiting LA during the summer, there’s a classic movie showing each week at the Hollywood Cemetery – it’s a fun thing to do!
*See a Movie – yes, I know you can see a movie anywhere, but while you’re in the land of movie making, you should try to see a movie in either Grauman’s Chinese Theater (the main theater) or the Cinerama Dome (in the dome). First choice would be Grauman’s Chinese Theater – it is one of the most iconic of all movie theaters. Back in the old Hollywood days, almost every move premiered there. The screen and sound are huge and the décor is amazing. However, if the movie showing there doesn’t interest you, then perhaps the Dome will have a movie that is. The Dome at the Arclight Cinerama theater is another iconic Hollywood movie theater that was let go and fell into ruin, but was revived by Arclight about 10-12 years ago. It too has a HUGE screen and sound like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Both theaters are located in Hollywood.
China Town – China Town is located in the downtown LA area. Depending on your personal interest, it might be something to drive through or a place you want to stop for just a while. It is interesting to see, but depending on if you’ve seen other China Towns in other cities, it’s not somewhere to spend much time.
Downtown LA – unlike New York which is one big city crammed into a small place, LA is spread out over a huge expanse. Downtown LA is really just a tiny area of LA with several tall skyscrapers. As a tourist, mostly you want to see the skyline (from Griffith or as driving by on the Freeway), but there are a few things to do downtown. During the day, you can see some cool structures in some of the buildings as well as visit an art museum in the downtown area. But most of the fun is at night. The art center downtown has three large theaters hosting musicals, dance, and operas. The Disney Concert Hall is home to the LA Philharmonic orchestra. The Staples Center is home to the LA Kings, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, and LA Sparks. Across from The Staples Center is the Nokia Center which houses a large concert hall, a smaller more intimate concert hall, and several great restaurants. If you just want to “see” downtown, then drive down during the day and drive around and see the amazing buildings (Disney Concert Hall, Theater Buildings, Court House) many of which you’ll see in movies. But if you’re looking for something to do at night, one of these places is sure to have an event that will interest you whether you’re into sports or the arts.
Speaking of art, another famous museum is The Getty. It sits on the top of a hill in Bel Air and is one of the premier museums in the world. The views can be amazing on a clear day… but clear days are few and far between here. There are a few of the world’s most famous paintings there so if you’re into art, it’s a place you’d probably want to check out. I believe admission is free, but you have to pay to take the tram or to park and reservations may be required or are definitely recommended if available.
Eric’s Eating Tip: If you’re driving from LA down to Long Beach (still technically in LA but considered an entirely different world by most locals) or to Orange County, then you might want to make time to stop off at The Original Rinaldi’s in El Segundo (near the LA Airport). This is THE best sandwich shop in all of SoCal and quite possibly in the entire U.S. The sandwiches are not only massive and delicious, they have combinations that no one else has. One of my favs is the “Pat & Denny” which is fresh sliced Turkey Breast, Turkey Meatball, Marinara Sauce, and Mozzarella Cheese. That’s just one of over 50 sandwiches on their menu! (Keep in mind this is a daytime/lunch place and closes at 5PM.)
Hollywood Bowl – the Bowl is another one of those Los Angeles icons. They do many different types of shows there, though a lot of them are classical music. So if they have a show that interest you while you’re here, it is a unique experience in a very special place. (Can be really chilly at night. Tickets can be really expensive too.) You can also look for shows at the Greek Theater – another outdoor amphitheater in the Hollywood area. Not quite as iconic as the Hollywood Bowl, but equally as expensive.
Famous People’s Houses – We are so intrigued by famous people that we want to see where they live. I often joke that I could drive someone around Bel Air and Beverly Hills and Hollywood Hills and just make up lies about who lives in houses and they would be so interested! J There are ultimately two ways to do this. The first is to do a paid tour on a bus/van. The second is to buy a star map and do the tour yourself. The truth is the likelihood of actually seeing a star by doing a drive by of their house is pretty much zero. So you’re basically just looking at the front of their house. That being said, looking at houses in general can be fun which is why I recommend driving through the Beverly Hills flats, then driving Sunset Blvd through Beverly Hills and Bel Air and maybe driving north of sunset into the hills of Bel Air and just looking at houses. If you want to buy a star map and pick a few houses to go see in that area, then I think that’s fine. (Though those maps aren’t always accurate.)
Famous People – More than houses, anytime anyone comes to LA, they want to see at least one famous person. There is no way to make this happen other than going to a show like “Ellen” which always has famous people for guest. Out and about, it’s just a matter of luck. You’re most likely to see someone on a tour of a studio or eating at a random restaurant, but it’s just as likely you won’t. There’s just no way to know. Going to “hip clubs” on the weekend or trendy restaurants for dinner might increase your chances if you’re into that kind of thing, but even then, there’s no guarantee. My recommendation is to go about your vacation – maybe you’ll get lucky and spot someone…
The Price is Right – I know a lot of people want to be on the Price is Right. Here’s what I can say about that – it’s fun, BUT it waste a LOT of time and energy. Even though you get tickets ahead of time, it’s still an all-day process that starts before the sun rises and goes until the afternoon. You spend most of that time in line waiting. I personally would not recommend giving up a whole day of your vacation to do it if it’s your first time to LA. If you’ve been here before and you’re coming back and have an extra day with nothing better to do, then I’d say go ahead. The show itself is fun (even if you don’t get picked to be a contestant) – it’s just the one hour of fun isn’t really worth the other 5-7 hours of non-fun.
Other Live TV Shows – you can often get tickets to other shows such as filming of sitcoms or The Ellen Show. These can obviously be fun things to do. It’s a sure-fire way to “see a celebrity”. The process to get into these shows does require some waiting, but usually not so long as the Price is Right… More like an hour or so. “Live” shows like Ellen or game shows usually take about as long to film as the aired show – so about an hour. However, other TV shows (sitcoms, competition shows, etc) often take WAY longer to film than the show that airs. The last time I did this, it was a 2 hour show. We waited about an hour to go in. About 3 hours later they were only half way through filming the show. We were tired and hungry so we left. So just be warned. And some shows they tell you up front, you can’t leave unless you guy into labor or something.
Other Museums – LA is a big place and there are other museums that might interest you. There is the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum and the Travel Town Train Museum – two small museums located on the Los Feliz side of Griffith Park. There is the Natural History Museum located near USC in the downtown LA area. There is the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and he Museum of Tolerance, two museums which are a very moving and sobering experience. I’m sure there are a few other museums not listed here that you could find on the internet if museums are something you’re really into.
Other Live Entertainment – You’re in LA, the entertainment capital of the world. Besides the downtown theaters, there are many venues all over the city with live entertainment, from the Pantages which host traveling Broadway Shows to the dozens of small theaters in LA with great plays and musicals to many other venues with concerts, magic shows, and all kinds of events. I recommend checking out Goldstar for discount tickets – read reviews to make sure you pick a show or two that is rated highly by those who have been already. Nothing beats live entertainment and in this city there are literally hundreds of shows every weekend night to choose from.
Other sporting events – Besides the Staples Center teams, there’s the Dodgers, the Galaxy, the Anaheim Angels, the Ducks – plenty of professional sports teams if you want to see some great Los Angeles sporting events. Unfortunately no pro football yet! Though we got some great college teams in USC and UCLA.
*Kayak or Paddleboard (or HydroBike) the Naples Island Canals in Long Beach – Naples Island is a small little island off of Long Beach that houses a number of very wealthy people. There is a series of canals through Naples and a few of the surrounding beach areas. You can rent a Kayak or Paddleboard on the small beach in Belmont Shore and paddle over to the canals. If you just go to the main island canal, it’s very easy as the canals are calm with no winds or currents to have to work against. If you’re braver, you can go across the bay to another set of canals and find the special Moon Jelly spot – for some reason Moon Jellyfish love this spot and you’re sure to see many of them here – pretty awesome site! Kayaks come in 1 or 2 person versions and they are easy to figure out and use. Paddle boarding takes more time to master and if you’re new to it, you’ll only want to do the easy/calm route. Hydro-bikes are for two people – I’m not sure if they are allowed to go across to the other canals where the Moon Jellies are – you’d have to check.
Whale Watching or Deep See Fishing – Pick your poison. If it’s whale season, then you can take a tour out of Long Beach or Newport Beach to go out on the ocean and look for whales. You almost always see dolphins at least, but during the right time of year, most likely some whales too. And even if you don’t see whales, it’s fun just being out on the ocean for a couple of hours.
Los Angeles Zoo – Not a huge zoo, but a great small zoo located in Griffith Park. If you don’t live near a zoo or haven’t been in a while, might be enjoyable.
San Diego Zoo – One of the largest zoos in the U.S.. You can be there all day and still not see everything. However, it is a 2-3 hour drive down from LA if you avoid rush hour. My recommendation is if you want to go, do it on Sunday when traffic is usually not an issue. Really San Diego could be it’s own vacation spot and I wouldn’t recommend driving down there if it’s your first trip to LA.
The Queen Mary in Long Beach - a truly historic ship that was originally a luxury cruise ship much like Titanic but was used during World War II to transport troops. Amazing to see and lots of interesting stories. To get the most out of it, you'll want to do one or more of the tours - book in advanced.
Long Beach Aquarium – A great aquarium. Fun for 3-4 hours. And while you’re there, head to 2nd Street in Belmont Shores for great dining and desserting and a fun small town/beach atmosphere for walking around and shopping.
Disneyland & California Adventure – To go to Disney or not to go… Well, it depends a lot on where you live and if you’ve been to Disney World in Orlando. Disney really can be a lot of fun for kids from 5 to 55. Disneyland here is very much like Magic Kingdom in Orlando with maybe a few slight differences. There are enough rides and shows to fill an entire day there and have lots of fun. Best to go in the off season and the middle of the week as it gets really crowded during peak times. California Adventure pretty much takes the best things from all the other Orlando Parks and puts them into one park. Most recently they added Cars Land which is amazing to see but most of Cars Land rides are for kids. But the park itself is not just for kids and even serves alcoholic beverages. Also the World of Color water/light show is an amazing way to end the night. If you’ve done Disney before (either in Cali or Orlando) then I’d say there are plenty of other things to do in Cali especially with how expensive Disney is these days. But if you’ve never been to Disney then it’s something you HAVE to do! And in that case, I’d suggest one day at each park.
Knott’s Berry Farm – Knott’s is what I would call the mini-me of Disney. It’s not near as big, doesn’t have all the huge multi-million dollar shows, and has fewer rides. That being said, it is a fun and relaxing amusement park with some really fun rides and some fun smaller shows. It cost a lot less and you can pretty much do everything you want to do there in 4-6 hours which makes for a more relaxed day overall.
One of the best things about LA is it’s really not a single City, but huge metropolitan area made up of 20-30 cities, each one having its own personality. There really are a million things to do in this city. I’ve lived here over 20 years and there are still many things I haven’t done. No matter what it is you enjoy, we got it and 98% of the time we have great weather to go along with it! This list doesn’t cover everything there is to do, but these are some of the biggest things and the things I take my own family and friends to when they are here from out of town.