As the center of the world’s movie and television industries, Los Angeles has earned it’s status as the entertainment capital of the world. But, what most people don’t know is that LA also has more museums and theaters than any other U.S. city. Visitors will love trying to spot celebrities or visiting the studios and sets of their favorite TV shows and movies, but they can also see world class art and learn about the history of California as far back as prehistoric times. And don’t forget – the weather is great and the beaches are perfect.
Here’s a few our favorites things to do in Los Angeles:
1. The Getty Center
The Getty Center is a wonderful art Museum showcasing American and European art in a beautiful setting of Richard Meier–designed space on a hill and surrounded by manicured gardens. The collection of art includes pre-20th century European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and 19th and 20th century European, Asian, and American photographs. Artists represented include Van Gogh, Gaugin, Monet, and Degas. The architecture, the tranquil gardens, and the stunning views of Los Angeles provide a transformative setting for the art.
A visit begins with a tram ride from the parking lot to the campus on top of the ridge. Visiting the Getty Center is free, but parking is $15. Dining options include a full-service dining room (reservations suggested), a cafeteria-style dining room, and an outdoor kiosk that sells coffee and snacks. There are often free evening concerts. More art from the J. Paul Getty Collection is on display at the Getty Villa in Malibu, where the art showcases Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities presented in a setting modeled after an Italian Villa – read more here (Photo by porcupiny)
2. Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood is a combination movie Studio and theme park in Universal City. The movie studio offers tours of real studios, and the theme park has rides and shows. CityWalk is a separate, adjacent area that has shopping, restaurants, and entertainment.
The studio tour is a on a tram and led by a guide. The tours is informative and fun and features King Kong, a flooding village, and an earthquake hitting a subway. There are also sit-down shows featuring animal actors and special effects. Popular rides include Transformers, Simpsons, and Jurassic Park. Flintstone’s Bar-B-Q is a favorite restaurant. Universal Studios Hollywood is not cheap, so plan to spend the whole day – read more here (Photo by Adriel Hampton)
3. Griffith Observatory
Griffith Observatory sits prominently on the south side of Mount Hollywood and overlooks Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. The building was built by the WPA on land donated by Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, and it opened in 1935. He also donated money for the upkeep of the observatory because he wanted astronomy to a accessible to everyone, not just astronomers on remote mountaintops. The building itself is stunning, and inside there are telescopes, a planetarium, and great exhibits, including a Tesla coil. Movies are also shown on the grounds at night. The building and grounds have been used as a backdrop for numerous movies, including a climactic scene in Rebel Without a Cause. There is a monument to James Dean on the terrace overlooking Los Angeles.
Griffith Observatory is located in Griffith Park, and admission is free. Don’t think you have to visit at night – there is plenty to see both day and night. It is closed on Mondays and most Tuesdays. Check the web site for a list of special events. There are a couple of trails that begin the Observatory. Both offer incredible views of Los Angeles, and neither is very strenuous – read more here (Photo by Justin Vindamo)
4. Walt Disney Concert Hall
The Walt Disney Concert Hall was designed by Frank Gehry and opened to much acclaim in 2003 after 16 years of construction. The building is named after Walt Disney because of a $50 million donation made by Lillian Disney that funded part of the expense. The amazing acoustics were designed by Yasuhisa Toyota. The venue seats 2,200 people and is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
With a curving stainless steel exterior reminiscent of huge sails, the building is modern and stunning. The roof-top Blue Ribbon Garden features a beautiful rose-themed fountain made as a tribute to Lillian Disney. The intimate interior is lined in warm Douglas Fir. The pipe organ is one of the finest in the world and features pipes made of both metal and Douglas fir. It is worth a visit for a performance, but consider taking a tour, or at least driving by, if a performance is out of the question. Both guided and free self-guided tours of the theaters and garden are available. Check the Walt Disney Concert Hall web site for a calendar of performances and tour information – read more here (Photo by Dave Herholz)
5. Farmers Market
The Farmers Market opened in way back in 1934 and is considered a historic Los Angeles landmark. It’s open 7 days a week and boasts over 100 restaurants, vendors, and shops. Since much of the food is local, the variety is diverse and everything is fresh. With everyone from restaurant owners to tourists frequenting the place, the vibe is bustling, and the people-watching opportunities are awesome. Be sure to go hungry, because there’s plenty of food to sample. Places to eat at the Farmer’s Market include Du-Pars Pie Shop, Gill’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream, Normandie Bakery, and the Gumbo Pot.
The LA Farmers Market more than just a place to shop. It is also boasts plenty of Hollywood history, making it one of the most famous farmers markets in the world. Supposedly, Walt Disney drafted some of his first plans for Disneyland at the Farmers Market, and James Dean had his last breakfast there before his fatal car crash. Next door is the newer and more upscale Grove shopping and entertainment complex, and an electric trolley is available to shuttle visitors between the two attractions – read more here (Photo by Eric Gardner)
6. Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Los Angeles County Museum of Art is the largest museum west of Chicago. The more than 100,000 works at the museum reflect the diverse culture of Los Angeles and span the history of art from ancient times to the present.
With its size, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is able to offer a comprehensive collection touching on many eras and types of art. To Modern and Contemporary collection boast works by Picasso and Kandinsky. The Latin American collection includes examples from pre-Columbian to modern times. Asian art includes beautiful pieces from China, Japan, and Korea. There’s also Roman and Greek art donated by William Randolph Hearst. The outdoor structures include Levitated Mass and Urban Light lamp posts, and there is a children’s gallery allows kids to create their own art – read more here (Photo by Sarah Ackerman)
7. Zuma Beach
Zuma Beach is the largest and most popular beach in Malibu – and with good reason. With perfect waves crashing into the beach and the gorgeous Malibu mountains as a backdrop, Zuma is a beautiful place to be.
The wide 4-mile stretch of sandy beach lures a good combination of families, surfers, swimmers, sunbathers, and anglers. The waves can be large, and there can be riptides, but there are plenty of lifeguard stations for monitoring swimmers. Dolphins and sea lions can often be spotted swimming in the area. The sand is clean and soft and perfect for walking, and the water is cleaner than other beaches in the Los Angeles area. Stay for sunset if possible.
Zuma can get crowded on weekends, but there is generally room for everyone. For those people not bringing their own refreshments, there are snack bars and small cafes for grabbing a bite to eat. No alcohol is allowed on the beach. The parking areas are close to the beach, and there are good facilities, with swings, volleyball courts, showers, and changing rooms – read more here (Photo by Yisong Yue)
8. Santa Monica Pier and Beach
Santa Monica Pier and Beach is over 100 years old and is the official end of historic Route 66. It’s a classic California beach scene and a beautiful setting, and, if nothing else, the chance to watch a sunset from the beach warrants a visit. The beach has been made legendary as the backdrop for the filming of “Baywatch.” The 22-mile South Bay bike trail is the world’s longest beach path and offers a great chance for getting exercise. Bike rentals are available.
The Pacific Park amusement park on Santa Monica Pier features the world’s first solar-powered Ferris wheel, the Westcoaster roller coaster, bumper cars, a vintage carousel, and the Playland Arcade. It is touristy and cheesy, but still fun. At the least, the street performers and crowd certainly make for good people-watching. On the negative side, the food options at the Santa Monica Pier are mostly over-priced and not very good. Also, parking can be tough – read more here (Photo by InSapphoWeTrust)
9. Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Hollywood Forever Cemetery is Hollywood’s oldest modern-day cemetery. It was founded in 1899 and currently spans 62 acres. The iconic Hollywood sign can be seen through the north gate, and the southern half abuts the back lot of Paramount Studios. In between is the final resting place of many famous Hollywood stars.
Famous stars and celebrities buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery include Cecil B. DeMille, Jayne Mansfield, Rudolph Valentino, and Douglas Fairbanks. Mel Blanc’s epitaph reads “That’s all folks.” Johnny Ramone was one of the more recent celebrity burials here. A map to where the famous are buried can be picked up at the flower shop just inside the main gate.
However, there is more to the cemetery than just visiting graves. In the summer and on holidays, outdoor movies are shown on the Fairbanks Lawn. Concerts are often held in the Masonic Lodge. Check the web site for a calender of events – read more here (Photo by Daniel Hartwig)
10. Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens was built in 1920 to by Henry Edwards Huntington to house his expansive holdings of 18th- and 19th-century European art, 17th to mid-20th-century American art, rare books and manuscripts, plus other photographs important memorabilia. The library collection includes one of 11 vellum copies of the Gutenberg Bible, letters and manuscripts by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln, and the first 7 drafts of Thoreau’s Walden. Artists represented in the art collection include Warhol, Rauschenberg, and Hopper.
The 120 acres of gardens include one of the world’s largest and oldest outdoor collections of cacti and other succulents, an International Camellia Garden of Excellence, and a collection of carnivorous plants. Check the Huntington Library web site for information on free days – read more here (Photo by Soraya S.)
11. Disneyland Resort
Disneyland Resort has been described as The Happiest Place on Earth and is a classic southern California attraction. It is the original theme park that set the standard for all others. Disneyland Park opened in 1955, and over 16 million people have visited since it opened. Classic rides include: Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, and Space Mountain. Of course, the monorail is the preferred mode of transportation, and the nightly parade and fireworks are must-see traditions.
Disneyland Resort actually includes 2 theme parks. Disneyland Park is the original park and has the classic rides. Disney California Adventure Park opened in 2001 and is themed after the history and culture of California. The rides are not as well known, but the park is just as fun.Both parks are known for being clean and well-maintained. Guests are allowed to bring their own water bottles and pack a sandwich for lunch – read more here (Photo by Sean MacEntree)
12. Norton Simon Museum of Art
Norton Simon Museum of Art is considered to be one of the greatest private collections of art in the world. The museum came into existence in the 1970’s when industrialist and art collector Norton Simon needed a place to store his vast art collection. He teamed with the Pasadena Art Museum to combine his vast private art collection with Pasadena’s modern art collection, and the Pasadena Art Museum became known as the Norton Simon Museum of Art.
The Museum’s collection of more than 11,000 objects is diverse. The bulk of the collection focuses on art from the Renaissance in Europe to the mid-20th century Modern Art, but there are also paintings dating back to the Middle Ages and some newer Contemporary art. Downstairs, there are ancient sculptures of Hindu and Asian deities. Outside, there is a substantial sculpture garden inspired by Monet’s Giverny. Famous artists represented at the Norton Simon Museum of Art include Raphael, Rubens, Rembrandt, Degas, and Picasso – read more here (Photo by Parker Knight)
13. Hollywood Bowl
Hollywood Bowl opened in 1922 and is the largest natural amphitheaters in the United States. It is notable for the iconic shell design that uses a series of concentric arches to project sound from the stage toward the audience sitting on the hillside. The Beatles performed at the Bowl in 1964 and 1965 and recorded a live album there. The Playboy Jazz Festival has taken place there since 1979. It is the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and hosts hundreds of musical events every year. The old shell arches were replaced with a larger shell structure in 2004.
The Bowl offers guests a chance to picnic under the stars with views of the surrounding hills and the famous sign in the background. Check their web site for schedule of performances. It can get cold, so bring a jacket or blanket. Consider taking the shuttle to avoid parking hassles. In lieu of a show, consider visiting the Hollywood Bowl Museum and the overlook – read more here (Photo by Dana Robinson)
14. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is the largest natural-history museum in the western United States. The NHMLA houses more than 35 million specimens and artifacts that cover an astounding 4.5 billion years of history. The Museum opened since 1913, and the stately building with domed rotunda is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Museum does a great job of catering to both adults and children. Popular exhibits include Dinosaur Hall, Gem and Mineral Hall, the Butterfly Pavilion, and the Insect Zoo. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours there. Two satellite locations of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County are the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits and the William S. Hart Ranch and Museum in Santa Clarita – read more here (Photo by kirsten)
15. The Troubadour
The Troubadour opened in 1957 and has served as a launching pad for numerous musical artists, bands, comedians, and even poets over the ensuing decades. The club manages to remain relevant by evolving with the times and supporting new trends in music. In 2013, Rolling Stone magazine named Troubadour the second best rock club in America, after the Bowery Ballroom in New York.
By decade, here of some of the artists who have made a name for themselves by playing The Troubadour:
• 1950’s – Lenny Bruce.
• 1960’s – Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, Joni Mitchell, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Neil Young, James Taylor.
• 1970’s – Elton John, Carole King, Linda Ronstadt, Cheech & Chong, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Springsteen, the Pointer Sisters, Tom Waits, George Carlin, Miles Davis, Eagles, Billy Joel, Van Morrison.
• 1980’s – Guns N’ Roses, Warrant, Metallica.
• 1990’s – Pearl Jam, No Doubt, Fiona Apple, Radiohead.
• 2000’s – Franz Ferdinand, Coldplay, Fleet Foxes.
In 1974, John Lennon and Harry Nilsson were ejected from The Troubadour for being drunk and heckling the Smothers Brothers – read more here (Photo by Amy K.)
16. La Brea Tar Pits and Page Museum
La Brea Tar Pits feature oozing, bubbling tar in Hancock Park in the middle of Los Angeles. The George C. Page Museum sits next door and is dedicated to researching the pits and preserving the fossils found in them. The La Brea Tar Pits are one of only three tars pits known to exist in the world (the other two are also in California) and lay claim to being one of the densest and best preserved collections of Ice Age vertebrates known to exist. The fossils include at least 59 species of mammals and over 135 species of birds. Findings include remains of mammoths, saber-toothed cats, bison, wolves, and one human fossil.
The Page Museum has very nice exhibits that display the fossils, and they have animatronic presentations that portray life around the tar pits in prehistoric times. An observation pit recently reopened that allows visitors to see the the pit just as the excavators see it. Be careful of stepping into tar while walking along the grounds – read more here (Photo by Amy K.)
17. Venice Beach
Venice Beach is a world famous people-watching paradise. It opened in 1905 as a seaside community, but it is mostly known today for the eclectic and circus-like crowd attracted to Ocean Front Walk. All kinds are there, from the normal to the alternative, bizarre and disgusting. There plenty of vendors and street performers along the 2.5 mile promenade.
In addition to the promenade, Venice Beach includes the beach, Muscle Beach, a fishing pier, skate park, beach volleyball courts, etc. Things to do there include rollerblading or renting a bike and riding on the bike path, watching the muscle-men lifting weights, or playing ping pong at one of the outdoor tables. Also, consider take a side trip to the Venice Canals and Walkway, which is a community built to mimic the canals of the Italian town of the same name. It is best to leave the area at sunset. Things can get sketchy after dark – read more here (Photo by Klaus Nahr)
18. Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures offers small-group tours of the longest-operating studio and the only major studio still located left in Hollywood. As a working studio, Paramount is not set up just to entertain tour groups, which makes visiting it a more authentic experience, but it also means that the tour experience changes daily and on some days there may be more to see than others.
The guided tours accommodate 8 guests, who are transported around the studio by an electric cart (some walking is required). Since the groups are small, the experience is personalized. Guests get to tour the property and visit working studios and sound stages, but do not get to watch any live filming. and one tour guide in an electric cart. The tours last about two hours. Security is tight, so ID’s are required, but Paramount is the only working studio that allows visitors to bring cameras on their tour. In addition to the Studio Tour, Paramount Pictures also offers a VIP Studio tour that includes parking and VIP access to the archives and production facilities – read more here (Photo by Neon Tommy)
19. Grammy Museum
The Grammy Museum celebrates music and the past winners of Grammy Awards with 30,000 square feet of well-presented, interactive exhibits. Gusts can see everything from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Fender Broadcaster guitar to Michael Jackson’s red leather jacket in the exhibits devoted to music’s greatest legends. Also, guests can visit a recording studio and sound-proof recording booths to see how music is made. The 200-seat Clive Davis Theater hosts special live performances and seminars on a regular basis. Special exhibits are scattered throughout the museum and have been devoted to artists such as John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, Whitney Houston, Tupac Shakur, and Taylor Swift.
The 2008 opening of the museum corresponded with the Grammy Awards’ 50th anniversary, and visiting the museum takes at least a couple of hours – read more here (Photo by biofriendly)
20. Amoeba Music
Amoeba Music in Hollywood occupies an entire city block and is the world’s largest independent record store. The vast inventory of over 1 million items includes every genre of music and film and includes plenty of hard-to-find and collectible titles. The music is divided by genre on the main floor and used and new DVDs and Blu Rays movies are upstairs. There’s also posters, books, t-shirts, and more. If you can’t find what you want, the highly-knowledgeable and passionate staff is there to help.
Amoeba is great for general browsing through new or used music – especially their large vinyl collection, checking out new music on the listening stations, or happening upon a live in-store music performance. As a matter of fact, former Beatle Paul McCartney performed unannounced at the Hollywood store in 2007. The performance was recorded and released as the EP Amoeba’s Secret. There is free 1-hour parking in the garage under the store – read more here (Photo by bcgrote)
21. El Capitan Theatre
El Capitan Theatre is a restored Spanish Colonial theatre that was built in 1926 and is now used as Walt Disney Studio’s premiere cinema. It is the highest-grossing single-screen movie theatre in America. The theatre is owned by Disney and only shows Disney movies. Additionally, there is a live organist and often there are musical numbers performed by live Disney Characters before the movie. The Disney Soda Fountain and Studio Store is next door, and visitors can purchase ice cream there themed to the film currently playing in the cinema.
The historic theatre made its debut on May 3, 1926, and was known as “Hollywood’s First Home of Spoken Drama.” The lavish style featured a Spanish Colonial exterior and a colorful East Indian interior. With a lengthy 120 foot stage, the theatre was able to host plays that included such Hollywood stars as Clark Gable, Lon Chaney, Will Rogers, and Buster Keaton. Disney bought the building in 1989, and in 1991, El Capitan was restored to its original elegance and new technology was added, including a 100-speaker Dolby ATMOS sound system and digital 3-D projectors. The mighty Wurlitzer theatre organ is one of the last of its kind in the country. Both new and old Disney movies are shown, and all are in 3D and usually prefaced by a film short. The screen is so large than any seat is good. VIP tickets are available and come with reserved seating, a souvenir popcorn tub and 20 oz bottled drink – read more here (Photo by Nan Palmero)
22. Warner Brothers VIP Studio Tour
The Warner Brothers VIP Studio Tour is a “behind the scenes” tour of the sets of many favorite TV shows and movies. The tours are led by fun guides are feature a tram ride to various indoor and outdoor sets. Warner Brothers has been around a long time, so the guides are good about explaining the history of the studio. Popular stops on the Warner Brothers VIP Studio Tour include the sets of Friends’ Central Perk coffee shop, Big Bang Theory, and Pretty Little Liars. The museum displays lots of Harry Potter and Batman stuff, including a few Batmobiles. There’s also costumes, props, sets, scripts. Ellen’s parking spot is also popular.
The final stop on the tour is the Warner Bros. Museum, where visitors can see costumes and props from many recent Warner Bros. productions. For fans wanting more, Warner Brothers also offers a five-hour Deluxe Tour that explores the craft of movie-making and includes lunch in the Commissary Fine Dining Room – read more here (Photo by Prayitno/more)
23. Los Angeles Central Library
Los Angeles Central Library was built in 1926 and is the third largest public library in the United States. In addition to its size, it is most notable for its architecture. It was the last work by major American architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, and the original building’s design was heavily influenced by ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival styles. Design details incorporate pyramids, sphinxes, snakes, and celestial mosaics. The building’s tan facade is topped by a brilliantly colored tile pyramid with suns on either side and a handheld torch that symbolizes the light of knowledge. In 1986, a fire destroyed 400,000 books and almost destroyed the library before it was extinguished with the efforts of 350 firefighters. An addition completed in 1993 veered toward Modernist/Beaux-Arts architecture and features an expansive 8 story atrium. Other notable parts of the Los Angeles Central Library include outdoor gardens, fountains and reflection pools, plus the many works of art and books.
Going to a library while on vacation may seem odd, but the Los Angeles Central Library is a noteworthy downtown landmark – read more here (Photo by Karen)
24. California Science Center
California Science Center boasts over 100 exhibits in an immersive environment and is the West Coast’s largest hands-on science center. Don’t expect a bunch of plaques at the California Science Center. Instead, there’s stuff to do – like touching starfish, using a pulley to lift a car or riding a unicycle. The center features a 7-story IMAX Theater, which is LA’s largest screen.
The special exhibits at the California Science Center are especially worth noting:
• The Dead Sea Scrolls – includes over 600 ancient artifacts, making it the largest exhibition ever mounted outside of Israel
• Space Shuttle Endeavour – this amazing aircraft went on display at the Center’s Samuel Oschin Pavilion in 2012.
• Capsule for the Mercury-Redstone 2 that carried Ham the Chimp into space.
• Tess the 50-foot body simulator and her cartoon pal Walt use humor to explain how the body keeps itself in balance.
• Ride a bicycle across the one-inch cable 43 feet above the ground.
The California Science Center is located in Exposition Park, which is also home to the Exposition Park Rose Garden, the California African American Museum, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The Rose Garden is a great site for a picnic – read more here (Photo by Steve Jurvetson)
25. Petersen Automotive Museum
Petersen Automotive Museum is a museum devoted to cars and the history of the automotive history – a perfect museum for the City of Freeways. The collection of cars numbers over 300, but only about 150 vehicles are on display at any one time. The others are kept in a basement vault and can be viewed for an extra charge. There’s plenty here – from historic steam engines and coal gas cars to vintage motorcycles, hot rods, and alternative fuel vehicles. There’s also a collection of Hot Wheels cars.
Highlights of the Petersen Automotive Museum include:
• The Original 1963 Herbie the Love Bug Volkswagen Beetle.
• Ferrari 308 GTS Targa used by Tom Selleck in Magnum PI.
• A De Tomaso Pantera owned by Elvis Presley.
• The 1966 Ford Thunderbird used in Thelma and Louise.
The museum is located on the Museum Row section of Wilshire Boulevard – read more here (Photo by Emily C)
26. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is a historic theater on Hollywood Boulevard that was built by Sid Grauman with financial help from Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. It opened to much fanfare in 1927 and was a favorite location for movie premieres. After a change of ownership, it was renamed Mann’s Chinese Theatre in 1973, then became TCL Chinese Theatre in 2013. Regardless, this is the place with the Hollywood stars’ hand and footprints in the sidewalk.
The idea to preserve the handprints and footprints of actors and actresses was a bit of a happy accident. There are conflicting stories, but Norma Talmadge was the first actress to do it, followed by either Mary Pickford or Douglas Fairbanks. There are currently about 200 Hollywood celebrity handprints, footprints, and autographs in the concrete, and the number is still increasing. Mel Brooks recently left handprints showing 6 fingers on one hand. Visiting the concrete impressions is a classic Hollywood activity. It’s touristy and cheesy, but still fun. Also, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is still a great, working movie theater, and in 2013 it was converted to an IMAX with the largest seating capacity in the world – read more here (Photo by cezzie901)
Featured photo by Justin Vidamo. All photos CC-BY-2.0.
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