Best Things to Do in Los Angeles

Have Some Fun in the Sun in and around Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a place that lends itself to checking off bucket-list experiences, for it is packed with attractions that are known throughout the world as must-do experiences. You haven't really lived until you've been to Disneyland at least once, made a trip to Universal Studios to see how movies are actually created and placed your feet in the cement hand and footprints made by world-famous movie stars in front of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. So many of L.A.'s hotspots have been memorialized in films and on television that they have become necessary stops along the way for any newcomer to the City of Angels, from Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier to the Griffith Park Observatory and the Getty Center. Angelenos love roaming from the water to the mountains, soaking in the natural beauty of Southern California one day, getting out onto the ocean another and tackling the man-made challenge of riding the world's biggest and fastest roller coasters the next. The city is so large and diverse it is almost impossible to choose just ten top attractions and activities, for these just scratch the surface of the myriad experiences to be had here. But these top ten are certainly a great place to begin a memorable Southern California experience.


Outside the City
Catalina Island
Photo courtesy of Jenny Peters

A perfect day or overnight trip is a visit to Catalina Island. Get there by heading "26 miles across the sea" via the Catalina Express, the high-speed ferry that leaves from Long Beach. Book into their Commodore Lounge for comfortable seating and excellent views and keep an eye out for whales or dolphins going by during the one-hour trip to Avalon, Catalina's main city. Spend the night at the cozy new Pavilion Hotel, located right on Crescent Avenue, the town's bustling main street, and settle in for lunch just down the block at Steve's Steakhouse. That award-winning restaurant has expansive views of Avalon's famous harbor and serves up some of the best steak and seafood on the island. Plan to be at the Catalina Casino at 3 p.m., to experience the behind-the-scenes tour of that fascinating Art Deco building, built in 1929, that has played host to everyone from Cary Grant and Errol Flynn to Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne. Check out the Catalina Museum there, too, to learn about the UFOs that were once spotted here, and all about the rest of the island's star-studded history. Dine at Bluewater Avalon, have the famous Wiki Wacker rum cocktail at Luau Larry's and be sure to experience some exciting rides through the skies at the Zip Line Eco Tour.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The closest island to L.A., Catalina has always drawn Hollywood stars, scuba divers, yachtsmen and anyone who wants to escape from the hustle and bustle.

Jenny's expert tip: Rent a golf cart from Catalina Auto and Bike Rentals and explore the island. Head high up for fabulous views of the beautiful bay.

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Venice Beach
Photo courtesy of California Visitor's Bureau

Venice Beach isn't quite sure what it is, but it sure is interesting. The boardwalk stretches from Venice Boulevard north to Navy Street, with Muscle Beach, the basketball courts and skate park to the south and many of the head shops, surfboard rental places, boutiques and restaurants scattered along the way. You'll see guys juggling running chainsaws, people gathered in drum circles, even Hari Krishna followers parading with elephants now and then. It's a sea of people on the weekends, so be prepared for a crowd; wander off the beach toward Abbot Kinney Boulevard where chic art galleries, shops and top-notch restaurants await. Keep going north on the beach and you'll find Santa Monica's pier, where you can find the famous Ferris wheel, an amusement park and restaurants. Or just grab a towel and take a swim, but be prepared: the Pacific Ocean is never really warm here.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Famous for its eccentric blend of street performers, surfers, muscle men, hippies and homeless people, Venice Beach offers a weird beach scene like no other.

Jenny's expert tip: Rent a bicycle or a pair of roller skates and cruise along the Venice Boardwalk (it is made of cement) just like the locals do, then keep heading north to hit the Santa Monica Pier, too.

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The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
Photo courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Stroll the 120 acres of the Huntington's astonishing and varied gardens (Chinese, Japanese, Australian, Desert, Rose, Jungle, Subtropical and more), then explore the library's extraordinary collection of rare books and enjoy the art gallery's impressive collection of artistic masterpieces including Thomas Gainsborough's "The Blue Boy." Be sure to check out the Greene and Greene collection that commemorates the work of Pasadena's famed architects, too. Located in San Marino (about ten miles north of downtown L.A.), the Huntington has recently installed two new pavilions to its Chinese garden, added five rooms to its American Art Gallery and will open a new visitor center in 2015. During summer months, the Huntington is open daily (except Tuesday) from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Railroad magnate Henry Huntington put his millions to good use here, creating a breathtaking botanical gardens and art museum that features "The Blue Boy."

Jenny's expert tip: "Free Day" is the first Thursday of every month, but you must have a ticket and tickets sell out well before the free day. You must order them via phone or online, starting the first day of the preceding month.

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TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX
Photo courtesy of TCL Chinese Theatre

While it is no longer called "Grauman's," the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX remains the most iconic landmark in Hollywood. Since 1927, this historic theater's front courtyard boasts the hand and footprints of fantastic stars from past to present. From John Wayne to R2D2, your favorites are almost certain to be there, so make sure to step into their shoes. It really is a must-do moment for any newcomer to Los Angeles. Catch a film here, too, for the theater's interior renovation has turned it into a first-class spot for a trip to the movies. Spend time wandering along Hollywood Boulevard once you've seen the theater, and look down. That's where you'll see the golden stars cemented in the sidewalk, for the Hollywood Walk of Fame stretches down the boulevard and beyond, honoring the industry's finest.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This is the place where movie stars leave their hand and footprints in cement; no trip to Hollywood is complete without a visit here.

Jenny's expert tip: Know that the people costumed as your favorite superhero or movie star hanging around in front of the Chinese Theatre expect payment for being photographed with you.

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Hollywood Bowl
Photo courtesy of L.A. Philharmonic Hollywood Bowl

From April to October, the Hollywood Bowl is the place in SoCal to see concerts and performances of every kind. The summer home of the L.A. Philharmonic, it's also the spot where the Beatles and the Doors played back in the day and the venue that hosts the Playboy Jazz Festival weekend every June. There's sometimes ballet on the beautiful bandshell stage, sometimes a classic movie musical unspools with the whole audience singing along, and other times rock, country, Latin or pop musicians belt out their tunes. Bring your own picnic, wines – and especially if you are sitting in a box – tablecloths and candles. Or have a first-rate dinner at Patina at the Hollywood Bowl before the show; and remember that there's no hurry to leave when the music ends, as the parking lots stack everyone's cars, so it often takes a while to find a way out.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Hollywood Bowl has been a Los Angeles institution since 1922, a stunning outdoor music amphitheater located just on the edge of Hollywood.

Jenny's expert tip: Bring your own wine and picnic basket to any of the shows at the Hollywood Bowl, but remember to use a carrier with wheels, for it's a long, often steep walk from the parking lots to your seats.

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Griffith Park
Griffith Park
Photo courtesy of Jenny Peters

Situated on 4200-plus acres in the Santa Monica Mountains, Griffith Park is home to a number of museums and outdoor attractions. Inside the park you'll fine the Los Angeles Zoo, the Autry National Center (a museum dedicated to the American West) and the Griffith Observatory, as well as a merry-go-round, the L.A. Equestrian Center, Travel Town Museum (all about transportation) and the venerable Greek Theatre outdoor performance space. Plus, there are plenty of hiking trails and bridle paths, miniature railroad rides and bike rentals, a swimming pool, tennis courts and golf courses. In other words, there's something for everyone in Griffith Park!

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Griffith Park is a huge oasis in the heart of Los Angeles, boasting everything from the famed Griffith Observatory to hiking trails and picnic areas.

Jenny's expert tip: Plan to spend a whole day in this vast Los Angeles public park – in fact, there is so much to see and do here you might just need two!

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Getty Center
Photo courtesy of Getty Center

The Getty Center is the legacy of billionaire J. Paul Getty, a gorgeous paean to the arts. Perched high in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Richard Meier-designed complex is stunningly beautiful both outside and in. The museum's vast collection includes works by Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne and many other artistic masters, as well as ancient antiquities, modern sculptures, illuminated manuscripts and more. The gardens are particularly inviting and the Restaurant at the Getty offers up locally sourced fare with an amazing view. The permanent collections are always on view as well as constantly changing special exhibitions. Admission is always free, but note that parking is $15.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: One of the world's great art museums, the Getty Center is worth a visit simply to see the Richard Meier-designed building and the spectacular views.

Jenny's expert tip: Don't miss Vincent Van Gogh's "Irises" and be sure to wander through the impressive sculpture garden.

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Six Flags Magic Mountain
Photo courtesy of Six Flags Magic Mountain

Roller-coaster lovers know that Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia is one of the world's best amusement parks, boasting more hair-raising rides than any other on the planet. Fearless adventurers will find record-breaking rides like the Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom, the X2, Viper, Tatsu and the Riddler's Revenge, the fastest stand-up coaster in the world. Plus, there are family and kids' rides, too; nighttime shows featuring laser lights and live music; and the Looney Tunes characters can be found throughout the park. But anyone with motion sickness might prefer hitting Hurricane Harbor, the 22-acre water park that is right next door. It's much easier on the stomach.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Six Flags Magic Mountain is chockablock with many of the world's most death-defying roller-coaster rides. It's a legendary destination for coaster fanatics.

Jenny's expert tip: Grab a FLASH Pass and you'll go to the front of all the lines; with a Platinum FLASH Pass you can even stay on your favorite coaster and ride twice.

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Universal Studios
Photo courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios is the real thing, a working movie studio that also happens to have a theme park attached to it. Which means visitors get the chance to see where some of their favorite movies and television shows are made – think the "Psycho" house, the "Desperate Housewives" neighborhood and the "Back to the Future" town square – as well as take some thrilling rides. Take the Studio Tour, then hop on King Kong 3D, The Simpsons Ride, Shrek 4D, Transformers The Ride 3D and many more. Then enjoy Universal CityWalk, where 30 restaurants, six nightclubs, an IMAX theater and tons of shops await. It's a full-day experience that brings every element of Hollywood to life.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Universal Studios Hollywood is a unique, unbeatable combination of a working film studio, exciting movie-based theme park and CityWalk, a shopping, theater and restaurant extravaganza.

Jenny's expert tip: Book the VIP Experience and you'll have a personal behind-the-scenes studio tour guide and front-of-the-line access to all the theme park's rides. Breakfast, lunch and valet parking are also included.

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Disneyland Resort
Photo courtesy of Disneyland Resort

Disneyland is Walt Disney's original vision for "the happiest place on earth," and more than 50 years later it remains just that. Kids of all ages adore spending all day (and night) at this massive amusement park in Anaheim, beginning with a walk down Main Street and ending with the fireworks-filled parade and laser light shows that happen every evening. In between, go on all the big rides – the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones and the Haunted House – and make sure to meet Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Cinderella and all their friends, too. Don't miss Mr. Toad's Wild ride or the Mad Teacups and spend another day next door at Disney's California Adventure Park, too.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Disneyland is synonymous with Orange County. Locals love it as much as tourists and it entertains the entire family.

Jenny's expert tip: Be sure to take advantage of FASTPASS tickets to beat the lines; look for the ticket kiosks near the most popular rides and get a reserved time to ride, instead of standing in line.

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Meet Jenny Peters

Jenny Peters – aka Jet Set Jen – is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, editor and party columnist specializing in travel, entertainment, film, food, wine, fashion and the other good...  More About Jenny