Los Angeles: Tourist Attractions & Locals Only Gems
Growing up in California it's easy to take for granted all the captivating coastal beauty, corybantic cosmopolitan activities, and the menagerie of amazing restaurants around. In Los Angeles in particular, thanks to its expansive geography--from the seaside in Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu all the way east over 10 miles to the Arts District; from South Central all the way up through Glendale--has a variety of distinct neighborhood/districts offering plenty of variety for the Angeleno experience.
1. Soak up the California Sun
California is famous for its beaches and for good reason. From south L.A. around Manhattan all the way north through Malibu the beaches are uncannily stunning. It's hard to choose wrongly when it comes to enjoying California sunshine, it more depends on what you want. The further south you go the more likely it is you'll avoid the crowds; around the Venice area is a lively boardwalk full of odd ends and curiosities celebrating the weirdness of L.A.; Santa Monica will be more posh and elegant with its pier full of tourists; and lastly Malibu will be the most quintessential California beaches--after all, it's Malibu.
2. Hit the Trail for a Scenic Hike
In addition to soaking up the California sun on the beach, I can't recommend highly enough any of the beautiful hikes in the Los Angeles area. There's the Hollywood sign hike by Griffith Observatory, Topanga and Corral Canyon hikes in Malibu with phenomenal ocean views, and even hikes out in Altadena and Pasadena that provide panoramic views of the city. Pick your poison and enjoy the beautiful scenery of Los Angeles city, especially the epic sunrises and sunsets.
3. Boozy Brunch
Like any other mad, mayhem-filled metropolitan environment, L.A. has a plethora of fast as well as fine dining with regard to any meal of the day. However, thanks to the most serendipitous weather, brunch is a most phenomenal and pleasing choice to enjoy the beautiful outdoors as well as a meal with friends and fantastic brunch cocktails. I can't think of a better way to start the day.
See my post about Bad & Bougie Brunch in L.A. for recommendations.
4. Caffeinate on that Sweet Brown Nectar of the Gods
In recent years L.A. has been swept by the third-wave coffee movement, reinventing coffee's role in everyday life, transforming it from a commodity to an artisanal craft much in the same vein as beer or wine. All around the city are eclectic, delicious coffee bars and coffee shops where you can recaffeinate and refuel on that sweet brown nectar of the gods before venturing out into the mesmerizing land of the lotus eaters. All places offer their unique perspective on life in L.A. and a glimpse into the particular neighborhood they reside, so stop in for more than one to taste the coffee revival, catch a glimpse of the hipster culture, and start your day off on the right note.
Check out my guide on the SoCal coffee scene for some recommendations in L.A.
5. Follow in Famous Footsteps along the Hollywood Walk of Fame
One of the more dominant tourist traps in L.A. is the Hollywood walk of fame. A sidewalk spanning over a mile in length, the Hollywood Walk of Fame is adorned with over 2,600 stars featuring pop culture icons in motion pictures, broadcast television, broadcast radio, theater/live performance, and audio recording/music. Enjoy the 15-20 minute stroll along the entirety of the walk looking for you favorite pop culture icon, actor, musician, or even your least favorite star--there's even a chance you'll see a potentially vandalized star for Donald Trump.
Along the way make sure to check out the iconic and strange Grauman's Chinese Theatre, a Hollywood mainstay since its opening in 1927 and a Hollywood historic-cultural landmark since 1968. Stop by on your walk along the walk of fame to see a film or enjoy the eccentric entertainment of the oddly costumed performance artists, celebrity doppelgangers, and the like entertaining tourists out front.
6. Enlighten Yourself with Doses of Cultural Dopeness and Dopamine at a Museum
With such a storied history in the entertainment industry--music, film, art, photography, etc--L.A. has an overwhelming disposition to the arts, which makes a picture perfect setting (in more ways than one) for a number of museums. Like any other metropolitan environment, L.A. has museums catering to all sorts of artistic mediums, styles, artists, etc offering doses of cultural dopeness and dopamine. Take a quick look at the museum sites to get a feel for their galleries before picking your desired artistic destination for the day.
- The Broad: A gallery of modern and contemporary art (including the building itself) featuring prominent artists of the 20th and 21st centuries--think Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama, Robert Rauschenberg, and more. An altogether stunning collectio.
- The Getty: One of the world's largest visual arts institutions curating a collection from all artistic disciplines. There's European paintings, antiques, sculptures, drawings, manuscripts, and more from its origins to now; photography exhibitions both in house and rotating; outdoor botanical gardens & a cactus garden; even a stunning view of L.A. The Getty is a day long event, and you likely won't even see it all.
- The Getty Villa: A stunning architectural villa right near the ocean in Malibu featuring ancient art, primarily Greek, Roman, and Etruscan works.
- Huntington Library & Gardens: A trifecta artistic display with botanical gardens, art (primarily European art 15th-20th centuries, American art 17th-20th centuries), and phenomenal literature collection (rare books, literature, photographs, prints, etc)
- LACMA: The largest art museum in the Western U.S., LACMA features pretty much all art under the sun, from geographic locales all over the world. American art, European art, African art, South American art, Asian art; paintings, antiques, sculptures, etc; modern and contemporary art; even the famous Urban Light exhibition of street lamps, levitated Mass hanging boulder, and Yellow Noodle Penetrable installation seen on so many Instagrams.
- Norton Simon: Located in an old Victorian mansion in Pasadena, The Norton Simon Museum houses a collection of 19th and 20th century American and European Art, East and Southeast Asian arts and antiquities; rotating galleries of photography and drawings; and even an outdoor sculpture garden.
7. Scope Out the Los Angeles Sports Scene
While there are plenty of distractions and activities both outdoors, with the beaches and hikes, as well as indoor activities with the arts and entertainment industry (museums, film, etc) plus a plethora of fine dining options--Los Angeles is definitely a major sports city in the United States. L.A. was just recently blessed with the NFL's relocation of both the Rams and the Chargers; there's the Lakers (thanks for the legendary 20 years Mamba #24!) and Clippers for basketball; Dodgers for baseball; the Kings for hockey; even USC and UCLA for the college sport of your choosing. As a USC alumni, I'd say the SC tailgates are one of the highlights of the fall sports season, particularly the homecoming game...but I'm totally biased. The Rams games at the Coliseum are raucous and wild, the Lakers games (despite their current record) are always a good time thanks to their storied history. Whatever your favorite sport--or team--is, L.A. has it.
8. Kick back at a Rooftop Bar / Sneak into a Speakeasy
In the Land of the Lotus eaters it only seems appropriate that there's an excessive amount of watering holes for the alcoholically inclined. There's rooftop and poolside oases, subterranean speakeasies, craft beer bars, specialty cocktail bars, beach bars, brewing companies posting up residence in warehouses, Western saloons, pretty much anything and everything. There is no shortage of places to have a drink, or two. If anything, Los Angeles suffers from an overabundance of bars in the nightlife scene. There's almost too much to choose from, which seems about right for L.A.--a superfluous and extra city with an excessive amount of bars.
Check out my post on the Los Angeles Bar Scene for more specific recommendations.
9. Lose Yourself to Dance....and Music
Thanks to its prominence as the entertainment and record industry capital of the world, Los Angeles is home to a wide array of parties catering to all musical genres and tastes. On any given night there'll be musical events and shows all around town, whether its at historic locations like The Troubadour or Viper Bowl, big locations like Hollywood Palladium or Staples Center, night clubs (see my post on the dance music scene in L.A.), live music bars, and even a few choice eateries with musical guests (like Gjelina in Venice Beach). Do yourself a favor and go out dancing!
In addition to the nearly nightly musical adventures awaiting you, L.A. is home to (or close to) a wide array of music festivals, most notably Coachella. In addition to this mainstream mainstay, there's FYF Fest in Exposition Park, Hard Summer and Day of the Dead, Lightning in a Bottle, Dirtybird Campout, and so so much more.
10. Stroll the Sunset Strip
Passing through West Hollywood to Silverlake is the notorious Sunset Strip. A playland for rock'n'roll, escapism, and entertainment, the Sunset Strip is "all decadence and delight" (as their website so aptly states). Over the decades the Sunset Strip has undergone many metamorphoses--a haven for mobsters in the Jazz age, a backdrop for the counterculture movement's branch in L.A. in the '60s, a playground for the hedonism of 1970s and 1980s rock'n'roll scene, and now a stomping ground for commercial enterprises. Today trendy hotels (like The Mondrian), commercial enterprises (high and low fashion such as H&M + Armani, Book Soup Bookstore, plus more), clubs (Viper Room, The Roxy, Whiskey A-Go-Go, Comedy Store), and plenty of cocktail bars to get a drink call the Sunset Strip home. The Sunset Strip, notorious and storied, elegant and grungy,
11. Indulge at In n Out Burger
One of the hallmarks of any trip in California is a journey to California's premier "fast food" destination, In-n-Out Burger. In one fell swoop you can experience the quintessential American meal--hamburger and french fries--while enjoying it at an iconic and original California restaurant. It's cheap, consistent, as In n Out claims: "quality you can taste." The burgers are bomb.com, the shakes are thick as funk and delicious, and the fries are amazingggg. I get In n Out at least once a week and for good reason. Do yourself a favor and go!
12. Gorge at Grand Central Market
Any day would not be complete without eating, and the best place to satisfy your appetite--no matter your cuisine preference--is Grand Central Marketplace (GCM). Open from 8am to 10pm, you can cure your morning, afternoon, or evening hangry-ness (hunger induced anger) with a bite to eat at any of their overwhelming selection of vendors. While there more popular vendors like Eggslut, Horse Thief BBQ, G&B Coffee, and Belcampo Meat Co. get a lot of attention, GCM offers everything from ramen to Berlin currywurst to pasta to tacos to oysters to deli sandwiches to wine + beers. If you don't know what kind of food you want to eat or all the family + friends are in disagreement, go to GCM and everyone can get what they want an be utterly satisfied.
13. Binge Read at a Bookstore
Los Angeles has a particularly notorious history when it comes to the literary scene. Thanks to Hollywood and the entertainment industry, L.A. has developed a reputation as a town for reinvention. People--authors, rock stars, celebrities, laymen, etc--all come to L.A. to redefine and remake themselves. L.A. has become the setting for many stories, both on and off the big screen (which I might add features the underrated discipline of screenwriting). Famous authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aldous Huxley, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Chandler, Nathanael West, and more, have made L.A. the setting for their stories and/or their own lives. It'd be remiss if I didn't mention all the song writing that takes place in this city: Adam Levine (of Maroon 5), Anthony Kiedis (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), Beck, and more. With all the avenues open to writers in the entertainment industry--novelists, poets, screenwriters, lyricists, etc--Los Angeles holds a particularly prevent place in literary lore. If you consider yourself a bibliophile, even remotely, do yourself a favor and check out any of L.A.'s bookstores while you're in town.
14. Consume like a Capitalist and Go Shopping
Would it even be an American experience without some good old-fashioned capitalistic consumerism? Especially in L.A., a mecca for fashion and undeniable epicenter for trend-setting celebrity culture, there is more than one fashion destination in the city for shopping. For high end designer shopping, there's Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills as well as Melrose Place. For vintage shopping there's Artists and Fleas Market (on the weekends...and still pricey considering its vintage shopping). Abbott Kinney over in Venice has a bunch of surf, skate, boutique stores selling trendy clothes. Even malls like The Beverly Center and The Grove have plenty of places to spend money, after all, you're not going to one store, you're going to them all (the mall).
Here's a few more fashion-oriented guides (since I'm not a superstar spender):
15. Do Dinner Right & Fine Dine Out on the Town
In a land guided by hedonism, it's only fitting that the food scene is freakin' phenomenal. Across the city from the Arts District in the East to Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu in the West; around Hollywood, Melrose, and Beverly Hills; throughout other trending and hip neighborhoods like Silverlake, Echopark, and Culver City; in Koreatown, Chinatown, Downtown; all over L.A. are restaurants serving up some seriously delicious food. Like any metropolitan hub, L.A. features a diverse culinary palette with flavors from around the world. For the adventurous eaters out there, there is no shortage of spice (latin, east asian, asian, etc) that will take you straight to flavortown. For the not so adventurous eaters, it's hard to go wrong with an In-N-Out Burger,
16. Surf & Snowboard in the Same Day
Unlike other states, let alone other countries, California is blessed with an expansive and diverse geography. One can drive 8 hours and still be in California, passing from the sunny beaches of southern California (such as Malibu, Santa Monica, and Venice in L.A.) to arid and dry deserts like Death Valley to mountainous snowscapes like Tahoe in northern California, Mammoth in central California's Sierra Nevada mounains and Big Bear Lake in soCal. Only a two hour drive from L.A., Big Bear is a weekend or even day getaway from the chaotic commercialism of L.A. Start with a sunrise surf carving up some waves and then head over to Big Bear mid day and carve up the powdery mountainside on a snowboard. Or do the reverse, have a morning powder run in Big Bear then trek out to L.A. for a sunset surf. California is one of the few places in the world where something as crazy and surfing and snowboarding in the same day are possible, so make it happen.