The sprawling city of Los Angeles, in Southern California, has long been known internationally in the film and entertainment industry, particularly for Hollywood, a place that has drawn aspiring actors and actresses from across the country for over a century. Today, LA is a culturally diverse city with a reputation for being the creative center of America. Visitors will find a thriving culinary scene, incredible shopping, outstanding museums, and fun family attractions.
Sunseekers coming to enjoy the warm climate and beaches will find plenty of things to do and interesting neighborhoods to explore. Upgrades to the public transportation network in recent years and the addition of a Metro Bike Share in downtown LA have made getting around and sightseeing easier than ever. To help plan your sightseeing itinerary, see our list of the top tourist attractions in Los Angeles.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Theme Park is known for its mind-blowing rides based on blockbuster movies, but it is also a working movie studio and an attraction everyone can enjoy. The highlight for most people is the ever-changing selection of rides, which range from simulators to roller-coasters. Favorite movie and TV-themed rides and sets include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Walking Dead, The Simpsons, Transformers, Jurassic World – The Ride, and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.
To save time standing in long lines consider purchasing a Skip the Line: Front of Line Pass at Universal Studios Hollywood. This handy ticket gives you one-time fast entry to each of the park’s rides, attractions, and shows, as well as behind-the-scenes access to select attractions.
Griffith Park and Griffith Observatory
Griffith Park, in the eastern part of the Santa Monica Mountains, and covering an area of 4,210 acres, is the largest state park in California. It’s home to the Los Angeles Zoo, the Griffith Observatory, a planetarium, a Greek theater, a riding center created for the 1984 Olympic Games, golf courses, tennis courts, hiking trails, and other attractions. Walking trails and scenic drives through the mountains offer views over the city and beyond.
The Griffith Observatory is one of the city’s most interesting experience-based attractions, and it’s all free to the public. On the grounds are exhibits and telescopes. The main highlight is a look through the Zeiss telescope, used for viewing the moon and planets. You can use the telescopes free each evening the facility is open. Also on-site are solar telescopes used for viewing the sun.
Just outside Los Angeles, Disneyland is California’s premier family vacation destination, attracting visitors since the 1950s. Disneyland Park, with rides and experiences in elaborately created theme sets, is what most people picture when they imagine Disneyland. The Disneyland California Adventure Park, created during one of the expansions, holds even more action and adventure, with seven lands based on movie themes.
Relatively new to the scene are several Star Wars-themed rides. They include Star Wars Rise of the Resistance and the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. The rides are located in the new Star Wars Galaxy Edge area, which is full of shops and restaurants made out to look like the Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu.
A suburb of Los Angeles, Hollywood is a destination in itself, with its own unique history and iconic sites. The attractions in Hollywood are closely associated with the film industry and the glamour of the silver screen.
The hillside Hollywood sign, Hollywood Boulevard, and the Chinese Theatre are some of the top places to visit. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a celebrity or two out for a shopping trip on Rodeo Drive. A fun family activity in Hollywood is finding all your favorite actors’ stars among the 2,500 plus on the Walk of Fame.
The Getty Center
On a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Getty Center, designed by Richard Meier, is a huge complex measuring 0.75 square miles and set on 110 acres. The unique building and the beautiful grounds provide the perfect setting for this impressive museum. Collections include European paintings, drawings, sculpture, and decorative arts, as well as 19th- and 20th-century photography.
The views from the museum grounds out over Los Angeles are incredible. Book a table at The Restaurant and enjoy a casual lunch while soaking up the scenery.
The Getty Center is one of two locations of the J. Paul Getty Museum, created by the late oil magnate, J. Paul Getty. The Getty Villa, set in a recreated Roman country house, deals with art from the Stone Age to the end of the Roman Empire.
Petersen Automotive Museum
Car lovers will not want to miss the incredible assortment of vehicles at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Spread over four floors are a mix of permanent and temporary exhibits featuring more than 300 cars and motorcycles, ranging from perfectly preserved items from 1886 right through to concepts for the 21st century.
The museum underwent major renovations and is now one of the most modern institutions of its kind. The exterior façade is an eye-catching architectural masterpiece. For an additional fee, you can sign up for either a 90- or 120-minute guided Vault tour, which provides additional insight on rare and unusual cars.
The museum is also host to a regular series of special exhibits featuring new, old, and unusual cars from the past along with ones you might see in the future. Check their website for the latest information.
Santa Monica is a unique destination that is both chic and laid-back, with a population that ranges from surfers, skateboarders, and yoga devotees to techies and business people. The beautiful stretch of golden sand along the coast and the famous Santa Monica Pier, with its iconic Ferris wheel, are what most tourists come to enjoy, but you can find a variety of experiences in this beachfront city next to LA.
Shoppers will find a range of options, from quirky and vintage stores to high-end boutiques. For a little activity, check out the 26-mile bike path along the waterfront or wander along the Third Street Promenade to see street performers and do some shopping and people watching.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
While the Natural History Museum has numerous galleries and an extensive permanent collection that covers a range of topics, it is best known for its collection of dinosaurs. The 14,000-square-foot Dinosaur Hall has an awesome display of dinosaur skeletons, including a series of Tyrannosaurus rex fossils, known as the growth series, featuring three full skeletons that range from baby to adult. Also on display are a Triceratops and a Stegosaurus.
The museum deals with the natural history of California and areas throughout the world. Becoming Los Angeles, which explores the past 500 years of history in Southern California, is another must-see exhibit. The Discovery Center and Insect Zoo offers hands-on experiences and is particularly interesting for younger visitors.
California Science Center
The California Science Center, open to the public free of charge, is home to the Space Shuttle Endeavour, as well as other major exhibits. Mission 26: The Big Endeavour is currently on display at the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, while the new Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center is being built. You can see the space shuttle, as well as artifacts from the space mission, and learn all about it and the people involved in the program.
Other exhibits at the Science Center cover such topics as the living world, technology, and ecosystems. The Ecosystems exhibit features an impressive 188,000-gallon kelp tank, as well as live plants, animals, and fish. In addition to the permanent exhibits, the California Science Center also features special exhibits, for an ever-changing selection of things to see.
The Broad opened in late 2015 and was immediately an overwhelming success and has remained popular. The museum focuses on contemporary and postwar art, with some large and dramatic installations. More than 2,000 works of art are on display in this unique building, with a “veil-and-vault” concept.
Tickets are free of charge for general admission, but these are often booked out in advance. Standby tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of admission, but this will usually require some wait time in a line, particularly on weekends. Admissions to some special exhibitions do carry a fee.
The museum was founded by Eli and Edythe Broad, who have been long time collectors of postwar and contemporary art.
The Original Farmers Market
The Los Angeles Farmers Market first started in 1934 as a very modest affair that sprung from the hardships created by the Great Depression. At the height of the economic depression, eighteen farmers came together and set up stalls on a piece of open land near Wilshire Boulevard in order to sell their produce direct to the consumer.
This experiment was so successful that the market continued to expand. At that time, it truly was a fruit and vegetable market, but over the years the market has grown to accommodate more and more vendors. Today, the market hosts vegetable and other food stands, as well as restaurants and specialty shops. You can find everything from jewelry and candles to kitchenware and toys.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art lays claim to being the largest art museum in the western United States, with almost 130,000 pieces spanning from antiquity through to modern times. Of particular note are the outstanding collections of Asian, Latin American, and Islamic Art.
The huge complex consists of a number of separate buildings that have been acquired and renovated over the years. The most recent expansion, known as the Transformation, saw the opening of several new buildings on the western half of the campus, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. The LACMA is next to the La Brea Tar Pits on museum row.
Venice Beach deserves its reputation as a place to see and be seen, making it perfect for people watching, although the area definitely has its own unique vibe. This stretch of golden sand and the Venice Beach Boardwalk are always thronged with people walking, cycling, rollerblading, and jogging.
Eclectic shops and street performers of all kinds line the walkway. The Skatepark, also just off the beach, is frequented by some of the area’s best skateboarders, and nearby are a number of creative art installations. At the appropriately named Muscle Beach, people pump iron in the hot California sun.
Food stalls selling everything from shaved ice to kettle corn and funnel cakes make you feel like you’re walking through fair grounds. You can also find some good restaurants here. This is not a typical family beach, but it’s well worth a visit.
La Brea Tar Pits
In Hancock Park, La Brea Tar Pits offers a unique opportunity to see live excavations of fossils and learn about the process. The Tar Pits were formed 40,000 years ago, when oil seeped through the rock, entrapping passing animals, which would get stuck in the substance. The tar then preserved the fossils throughout the ages, leaving behind an incredible glimpse into another age.
The museum at la Brea Tar Pits (formerly the George C. Page Museum) shows reconstructed fossils of prehistoric animals found at the site, as well as the process of fossil recovery. You can see bones being worked on and learn what takes place behind the scenes, before skeletons are able to be displayed.