Here is my own personal Los Angeles Attractions Top 10. There are of course hundreds, indeed thousands of things to do in Los Angeles, but we can’t hope to cover all of them in a short Los Angeles Travel Guide like this, so let’s just pick a few of the highlights, looking to provide a little something for everyone – from star-spotting to star-gazing.
But here is one key thing to understand. The population of Los Angeles itself is only a little over 4 million people, but what we think of as LA, the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, covers Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, and Riverside as well as Los Angeles County, and has a population closing in on 20,000,000. Look at any Los Angeles Travel Guide, and you will see that Greater LA stretches from Lancaster in the North to Dana Point in the South, and from San Bernardino in the East to San Clemente Island off the Pacific coast.
This is a big area and a lot of people, but it is in fact what most people are thinking of when they mention LA.
We start our tour of the Los Angeles Attractions Top 10 high on a hill overlooking downtown LA. Griffith Park is one of the top places to visit in California. Sometimes described as the West Coast Central Park, visitors quickly realize that this is far from the truth. Griffith Park is much larger, much more rugged and much more challenging than Central Park could ever be. It also includes the world-renowned Griffith Observatory, which is far and away one of the best family places to visit in Los Angeles.
However, for the romantically inclined, Griffith Observatory is also one of the best places to visit in Los Angeles at night – the nighttime view over the city is breath-taking and the Observatory itself is always beautifully lit, shining out across the exquisitely manicured lawns to the city and the ocean beyond.
(Entrance to both the Park and the Observatory is free.)
If we are thinking about places to visit in Los Angeles for free, like Griffith Park and Griffith Observatory, then I suppose we must include Hollywood Boulevard on that list, but only for those who are very strong willed. Hollywood Boulevard includes LA’s Madame Tussauds, and the Hollywood & Highland center with both the Dolby Theatre – home to the Oscars – and the TCL Chinese Theatre, where you can quite literally walk in the footprints of the stars of the silver screen.
Hollywood Boulevard also includes the 2,500 brass stars of the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Hollywood Museum’s collections of film memorabilia. Hollywood Boulevard is certainly one of the most famous places to visit in Los Angeles and would probably come in at No. 1 on any Los Angeles Attractions Top 10.
(Free – but make sure you take plenty of money with you.)
Although there are plenty of shops on Hollywood Boulevard and in the Hollywood & Highland center you can’t really say that you have been shopping in L.A. if you haven’t taken a trip down Rodeo Drive. Of all the many places to visit in Los Angeles, California where wealth is very clearly on display, Rodeo Drive is the one that is firmly burned into our collective conscience as the center of conspicuous consumption and elective excess.
All through Hollywood’s own self-parodying meisterwerk from the 80s, Pretty Woman. Rodeo Drive is a fabulous place for women to go window-shopping, because the names on the shops and the labels in the windows will take your breath away. Guys can go along as well, because the cars and the women will take your breath away. But don’t get fooled into believing that Rodeo Drive is one of the good family places to visit in Los Angeles. It Isn’t. Rodeo Drive hates children. Parents don’t like to be extravagant in front of their children, and if there is one thing that Rodeo Drive is about, its extravagance.
(Free – but make sure you take ALL of your money with you.)
Santa Monica Pier
Strictly speaking of course Santa Monica Pier is not in Los Angeles – it is, unsurprisingly, in Santa Monica – and therefore part of Greater LA. In all that huge area, one of the greatest family attractions and certainly one of the great family places to visit in Los Angeles is Pacific Park on Santa Monica pier. Santa Monica Pier is actually two piers which were built for completely different purposes but which have over the last hundred years or so, slowly conjoined to become one of the best seaside attractions south of San Francisco.
With a fun-fair and a ballroom and carousels and some of the oldest eateries in California, Santa Monica Pier deserves its place in the Los Angeles Attractions Top 10 simply because it is so magnificently understated and underrated. It’s deliberately downbeat atmosphere constantly shocks first-time visitors who have gotten used to all the noise and razzamatazz which accompanies most of these kinds of attractions elsewhere in the US.
Santa Monica Pier is also one of the most fabulous places to visit in Los Angeles at night, with the lights on the spinning Ferris Wheel and the flashing neon of the other attractions contrasting against the dark of the sea, and the faint shimmer of Catalina on the horizon.
J Paul Getty Museum
The Getty Museum is, without doubt, one of the top places to visit in Los Angeles, and indeed, if you love art, The Getty Museum is one of the top places to visit in the whole world. The Getty, as the museum is most commonly called, is split into two campuses. The original Getty Villa on the Pacific Palisades overlooking Santa Monica and the new Campus development at Brentwood, called simply the Getty Center.
These days most of the ancient art is concentrated at the villa, and the huge, more modern collection is housed in the new campus at Brentwood. Both feature stunning collections, but the setting of the original Getty Villa is simply beyond compare – for the view alone it is one of the best places to visit in California.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
The Natural History Museum (NHM) is definitely one of the top places to visit in Los Angeles, California as well as one of the very best family places to visit in Los Angeles. The Natural History Museum is one of L.A.’s oldest and most enduring attractions, and is the centerpiece of a rapidly growing entertainment and educational nexus based in and around Exposition Park.
As part of your visit to NHM, you should also make sure to visit one of the most famous places to visit in Los Angeles, the nearby La Brea Tar Pits. The hot and bubbling natural asphalt pools at La Brea present a unique window into the last 50,000 years of nature in Southern California, producing thousands of ancient plant and animal fossils which visitors can see being etched out of the asphalt by technicians in the glass-walled Fossil Lab. If you get your timing right, a visit to the NHM might also enable you to catch a USC or LA Rams Football game at The Coliseum, which is also at Exposition Park.
(Costs $15 for Adults and $7 for children, though you can save a dollar on each by buying online.)
Farmers Market Los Angeles
Of all the places to visit in Los Angeles for free the Farmers Market comes high up on most visitor’s list – and the locals love it too. LA’s Farmers Market is just what it sounds like: a partly enclosed area which contains hundreds of stalls selling local produce, mixed with more hundreds of hot food stalls, and places to set a while and enjoy some Orange County strawberries, or some lobster fresh in from Catalina.
LA’s Farmers Market started around 1934, and is one of the great places to visit in Los Angeles at night – because most of the stalls and cantinas are open for dinner until well after the sun goes down. The local street-vendors offer all kinds of different food, from standard American fare produced by Californian farmers to some of the most exotic preparations put together by some of the many immigrant groups which are omnipresent in and around Los Angeles.
Located at Third and Fairfax, the LA Farmers Market is certainly one of the top family places to visit in Los Angeles – children love the food and the hustle and bustle.
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
If you enjoy visiting fantastic buildings then one of the best places to visit in Los Angeles, California is definitely the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (La Catedral de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles), normally called simply Los Angeles Cathedral. However, if you are familiar with other great Cathedrals, such as those in Salisbury, Koln, or even New York, then you are in for a bit of a surprise, or even a shock. The old Cathedral in LA, the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana, was all but destroyed in an earthquake in 1994 and the decision was taken to build a new one.
Building began in 1998 and the new Cathedral, which ranks as one of the top places to visit in California, took six years to complete and was dogged throughout by controversy surrounding both its ultra-modern design and its exorbitant cost. It is well worth a visit to see for yourself why this has now become one of the most famous places to visit in Los Angeles. (Free: but donations are encouraged.)
“You’re gonna love Venice!” So say all the Los Angeles Travel Guides – and it’s true. If California is the home of the young, free and smart, then Venice Beach is the home of those who want to be seen as the young, free and smart – even if those days are now far behind them.
In the Los Angeles Attractions Top 10, Venice is right at the very top. From Muscle Beach, to Venice Boardwalk, to the network of canals behind the ocean frontage which interconnect the streets and alleys of elegant town houses and give the town its name, Venice oozes cool. There are four different groups of people to be found at Venice. Those who were young, free and smart, and who are now rich enough and smart enough to own one of the many beautiful homes there. The wannabes who like to pretend to themselves that they are (or could be) young, free and smart. The very few who actually are young, free and smart and have the money and leisure time to spend cruising the boardwalk and flirting with the beautiful bodies at Muscle Beach. And then there are the tourists who flock to Venice Beach to see if what they have heard and read could possibly be true.
It is true. Of all the things to do in California, Venice is definitely top of the list of family places to visit in Los Angeles and places to visit in Los Angeles at night. Go there in the afternoon and pick any of the great eateries on the front or in the village, for dinner. The sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and above all the people, will amaze and amuse you. If you have children don’t stay too late, it can get a little crazy late on.
(Free, but plan to spend the afternoon and evening there. Food is fantastic, plentiful and reasonably priced.)
Paramount Pictures Tour
One of the best things to do in Los Angeles, and one of the key reasons for visiting LA for many tourists, is of course a visit to Hollywood itself; the essence of the movies. Paramount Pictures Corporation (usually known as just Paramount) is the last of the ‘Big Five’ American film studios still to be based in Hollywood and is the second oldest film studio in the USA. Paramount’s name will already be familiar to almost everyone, but to put their artistic record into some kind of perspective, their famous titles include, Titanic, Mission Impossible, Indiana Jones, Forrest Gump and of course, Shrek. The company’s studios can be found at 5555 Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, and they offer regular studio tours.
The regular tour takes two hours and shows visitors around many of the studio lots, situated at the heart of one of the most famous places to visit in Los Angeles, where there is often actual filming going on. There is the chance to look behind the scenes, to gaze in wonder at the contents of the Prop Warehouse, and to see where the stars hang out between shoots. The VIP tour goes that bit further, looking at how some of the special effects are achieved, visiting actual sound stages, and meeting some of the key people who make Paramount into the legendary film studio it has become. Of all the places to visit in Los Angeles, California, surely the chance to experience a little bit of the real Hollywood makes the Paramount Picture Tour into one of the top 10 places to visit in California.
(Regular Tour $60 per person. VIP Tour – $189 per person.)
I you are looking for things to do in Los Angeles or wondering what the Los Angeles Attractions Top 10 looks like then hopefully this all to brief Los Angeles Travel Guide will give you a few things to think about and a few things to try. From star-gazing at the Griffith Observatory to star-spotting along Hollywood Boulevard or on Venice Boardwalk, LA gives you the chance to sample all the variety of the City of Angels. La Brea Tarpits are fascinating and the Paramount Studios are even more fascinating in a completely different way. There are tens of thousands of different things to do in Los Angeles and that makes the city not simply one of the greatest places to visit in California, but one of the greatest cities on Earth.
Frequently Asked by Travelers
Where do tourists go in Los Angeles?
The simplest answer to this is – “all over!” There is a fantastic aid for tourists in a thing called the Go Los Angeles Card which allows free or reduced-price access to many of the best places to visit in Los Angeles, over a specified number of days. As for getting around LA, there is a great Metro rail system which will take you close to many of the famous places to visit in Los Angeles, there are lots of taxi’s buses and even bikes. But, truth be told, driving around LA is not too much of a problem. Don’t try to drive in and out of the city – that can be a nightmare: but so long as you avoid rush-hour, driving around the city and up and down the coast is not too bad. There are many other places to visit in California so having a car for at least some of the time, can be very handy
What can you do for free in LA?
Like all US cities, LA is designed to part you with alacrity from your hard-earned cash, but as we have seen there are many things to do in LA that require no money at all. For me the best places to visit in Los Angeles for free are Griffiths Park, the Farmer’s Market, Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Between these four places you will NEVER get bored, and whether it is just shopping, walking or lying on one of the fabulous beaches that make up most of the LA coastline, you can have a fascinating day which costs you only the price of some water to keep your mouth from going dry. Watch out for the sun though, even when it doesn’t feel so warm, and you can see LA’s perennial haze hanging in the air, there is still enough UV to tan your hide, so cover up or apply your sun-tan oil. You have been warned.
What can you do in LA for a day?
If you have only one day in LA then you face a difficult choice. Either you can buy a One Day Go Los Angeles Card, and pack your day with as many of the places to visit in Los Angeles as you can pack into 24 hours. Or you can do what I do.
Get up at a healthy and entirely reasonable hour, walk down to the sea-front at Santa Monica, browse around the shops and then pick a place with a great view, and have some lunch. After lunch, continue walking down Ocean Park, perhaps shopping or maybe just browsing, until you get to Marina Del Rey. Stop there for a while, wander around the Marina, perhaps chatting to some of the boat owners, or maybe just putting your feet-up to rest and recuperate for the evening, listening to the wire sheets rattling against the aluminum masts. After a while though, perhaps around three o’clock, you will hear a siren call, which means it’s time to set out walking again, but heading back north, this time along the beach.
Walk slowly and attentively, there are many sights to see: but even so, after not too long you will come to Muscle Beach and Venice Boardwalk, where you should start eyeing up possible venues for dinner. Turn right and venture into the matrix of canals from which the City gets its name. Savor the scents and sights from the many fabulous gardens there, but return soon to the Boardwalk. There you can pick a table, order a pre-dinner drink and just sit and watch the whole world go past you. Sun-Downers don’t get any better than this. This is LA.