Los Angeles offers visitors a seemingly endless supply of things to see and do. The geography of the region enables a vast array of attractions and activities, making it the perfect destination for visitors of varied likes and interests. From theme parks to Hollywood studios and from beaches to mountains, LA promises you will never be at a loss for fun.
We believe the best way to get around this metropolis is to rent a car and set your own self-guided tour so you can spend as much or as little time as you want at your chosen destinations. Just be sure to map out some tentative schedules and routes, and don’t forget to take LA’s infamous traffic issues into consideration.
To help you make your itinerary of must-sees, we’ve compiled an alphabetical list of 21 must-sees, along with some suggestions for dining and accommodations. And we’ve reviewed our suggestions to give you further information, so be sure to click on their respective neon blue links.
Downtown Los Angeles Tour
There is no better way to get a feel for a city than to explore it. Various companies offer bus or shuttle tours as well as a multitude of walking tours that span a few hours to an entire day. Highlights include Union Station, the Los Angeles Historic District, The Bradbury Building, Grand Central Market, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the LA County Museum of Art and the theatre district. There are also numerous bars and restaurants to be seen if you are interested in a foodie tour.
Technically, this destination is not within Los Angeles, but it starts there with a helicopter or ferry ride trip to Catalina Island. Just a 15-minute flight or an hour ferry ride from LA is the beautiful island of Catalina, which offers a completely different experience from the mainland, due in part to its Mediterranean style. Take a scenic tour of the island or bask on the beach. Scuba dive or check out a glass-bottom boat tour. Enjoy boutique shopping, fresh seafood, and oceanfront dining. There are plenty of things to do on the island, as a day trip or to spend a few nights at one of the island’s quaint inns or resorts. For a complete list of things to see and do, check out our article Destination: Catalina Island.
Farmer’s Market and The Grove
The Farmers Market is a historical LA landmark and tourist attraction, set up with an abundance of food stalls, prepared food vendors, sit-down eateries, and a produce market. The Grove is a retail and entertainment complex that sits on a portion of the Farmer’s Market land. Together, they make for a popular meeting place for locals as well as visitors. An old-fashioned trolley is available onsite to shuttle shoppers from The Grove to the Farmer’s Market.
This campus of the Getty Museum is renowned for many reasons, starting with the price tag.
The $1.3 Billion center opened to the public in December of 1997 and quickly became a tourist destination due to its architecture, beautiful gardens, and the stunning views it offers overlooking Los Angeles.
Greystone Mansion & Park
This Tudor style residence, which contains 55 rooms and is situated on 16 acres of formal gardens, is also known as the Doheny Mansion. The cost was over $4 million when it was built in 1928, which is equivalent to $60 million today. Oil tycoon Edward Doheny purchased the mansion for his son; it was later purchased by the City of Beverly Hills in 1965. In 1971 it became a city park and was subsequently added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The house is frequently used by production studios for filming movies, TV shows and even some commercials.
Griffith Park / Griffith Observatory
Griffith Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the US covering 4,511 acres of land. The park contains 50 miles of hiking trails and unpaved roads for biking trails and horseback riding out of Sunset Ranch. The Autry Museum is onsite for visitors interested in American western art and the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens is found here as well. But the most popular attraction is the Griffith Observatory which sits high on the south slope of Mount Hollywood. In addition to exhibits and high-powered telescopes that point toward the cosmos, the observatory features unparalleled views of the Los Angeles, including Hollywood to the south, Downtown Los Angeles to the southeast, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest
Hollywood and Vine
No trip to Los Angeles would be complete without a stop at the infamous intersection of Hollywood and Vine. This area hosts the Walk of Fame, which is made up of more than 2600 terrazzo and brass stars embedded into 15 blocks of sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard. This is a classic tourist destination, where visitors can have their photo taken next to the star of their favourite actors, comedians, directors, singers and more. Also, in this area is the TCL Theatre, where star-studded movie premiers take place. The shopping concourse of the Hollywood and Highland Centre is located here, along with the iconic round white building belonging to Capitol Records. Restaurants, bars, and a multitude of Hollywood souvenir shops are in the vicinity of Hollywood and Vine, along with an eclectic mix of people including panhandlers, protestors, runaways, and people dressed in costume for photo purposes.
When standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, look toward hills to see the celebrated Hollywood sign located on Mount Lee. “HOLLYWOOD” is spelled out in 45-foot tall capital letters. The sign holds plenty of history considering it was created in 1923 for real estate development and originally spelled Hollywoodland. Unfortunately, it has created plenty of resident complaints and traffic issues due to tourists flocking to the sign to have their photo taken. For a great view of the sign, visit the Griffith Observatory.
La Brea Tar Pits
This urban area of Los Angeles, known as Hancock Park, plays host to a group of tar pits where natural asphalt (brea in Spanish) seeps up from the ground as it has done for thousands of years. Over time, the tar has preserved the bones of trapped animals, specifically prehistoric creatures. On the property of the tar pits sits The George C. Page Museum which displays several exhibits of the type of prehistoric animals that died there. The museum also features interactive presentations and movies. La Brea Tar Pits is a registered National Natural Landmark.
Attending a live taping of a TV show is on most people’s to-do list when visiting Hollywood. It’s something you can do for free since talk shows, games shows, and some sitcoms are in need of a live audience. Each show has its own protocol, with most of them requiring that you visit the show’s website to place your request. The more popular the show, the more advance time will be required for your order. Consequently, you need to be certain of your dates of travel to Los Angeles before you can request tickets. For details and tips, check the tourism website of Discover Los Angeles.
Malibu Beach / Zuma Beach
Malibu Beach is best known for 4 things — beautiful beaches, gorgeous sunsets, epic surfing, and exclusive homes, either directly on the beach or high in the hills above. Many of these are owned by celebrities and entertainment industry folk. For a great all-round view, visit the Malibu Pier. While you’re in the area, grab a bite at one of many well-known restaurants, including Paradise Cove. You might recognize the area for some of the movies filmed there. Zuma Beach is located within Malibu County. It’s one of the largest and most popular beaches in Los Angeles and is famous for its wide stretch of sand and outstanding surf. The drive time from downtown LA to Malibu is only 36 miles; however, traffic can get quite heavy on the Pacific Coast Highway so don’t expect those miles to click off quickly.
This is one of the most iconic streets in America. Technically, it is only 2 miles long, but offshoots cause the area to span approximately 3 blocks. Rodeo is famous for its upscale dining, hospitality, and shopping, with high-end designer stores lining the palm-tree studded sidewalks. Gucci, Chanel, Dior and many more project modern storefronts, while an offshoot on 2 Rodeo Drive dramatically changes the view to European-inspired buildings. Meanwhile, the most pricey and extravagant vehicles, mainly supercars, rumble down the street. A visit to LA would not be complete without a stroll down Rodeo Drive.
Runyon Canyon Park
Extremely popular among visitors and locals, including celebs, is Runyon Canyon Park, for hiking, jogging, and dog walking. This 130-acre area is located in Hollywood on the east end of the Santa Monica Mountains, with different trails providing different views. From the East Ridge Trail, visitors have a spectacular view of the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Park. For wider sweeping views, continue up the ridge to Clouds Rest, which overlooks Los Angeles from an elevation of 1,040 feet.
Santa Monica Pier
This popular attraction for locals and visitors alike has been featured heavily in movies, TV shows, and commercials. It contains areas for viewing and fishing, concession stands, and a small but famous amusement park containing a solar-powered Ferris Wheel. It also features the original circus-like carousel from the 1920s and the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, which is operated by Heal the Bay. Diverse shops, a video arcade, eateries and even a trapeze school also occupy space on the pier. Due to its location and crowds, the pier doubles as an outdoor concert venue and hosts numerous other activities.
If you are in awe of ‘all things celebrity’, LA is the place to be. For starters, take a tour of the star’s homes. There are numerous companies for group bus and shuttle tours, and some offer private tours from the comfort of a limo. Or, take a studio tour to see where your favourite shows are taped; you might even be lucky enough to see some actors on set. You can also research the stars’ favourite places to dine and make reservations to eat there. If these types of restaurants are not in your budget, consider watching respectfully from a distance to see who comes and goes. The Ivy in Beverly Hills (as shown in the picture) is the perfect restaurant for stargazing due to its outdoor patio that faces the street. The same is true for the Cheesecake Factory, also in Beverly Hills. Nobu in Malibu is another favourite when it comes to late-night dining, and power lunches are known to happen at the Polo Lounge. You might even see someone you know at The Saddle Ranch Chop House in West Hollywood.
Several studio tours are available in Los Angeles, including Adventures by Disney, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros, and Universal Studios. However, the Universal tour is technically part of their theme park attractions so visitors need a ticket to the park. Studio tours range greatly in price with some taking place on trams or buses, and others as walking tours only. Guides take visitors to backlots and stages of talk shows or celebrated sitcoms, such as the set of The Big Bang Theory or the set that was used as the coffee house on Friends.
This infamous 22-mile stretch of twisting, turning boulevard travels from Downtown Los Angeles to Hollywood and then tracks southwest through several exclusive neighbourhoods as it makes its way toward the ocean where it ends at Pacific Coast Highway. Familiar areas along the way include Silverlake, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Bel-Air, Brentwood, and Pacific Palisades. A drive along Sunset Blvd is well worth the time and effort to see everything from the city to the beach, including some of LA’s most well-known establishments. These include the House of Blues, the Chateau Marmont hotel, the Guitar Center, the Saddle Ranch, Comedy Store, Hollywood High School, UCLA, the Beverly Hills Hotel, and several famous nightclubs including The Viper Room, the Whisky a Go Go, and the Rainbow Bar and Grill.
California plays host to several theme parks, some of which are in the Los Angeles area. Disneyland has been open since 1955, treating visitors to fun in the sun in the land of make-believe. The property features the original Disneyland plus California Adventure Park, and 3 hotels, dining, and entertainment. Universal Studios Hollywood meshes a working movie studio with a theme park, offering a behind-the-scenes studio tour along with rides based on cinema created by Universal. Knott’s Berry Farm, located approximately 10 miles from Disneyland, is known for its Old West attractions and thrill rides, including several state-of-the-art roller coasters.
Universal Studio’s CityWalk
There’s no admission charge to Universal Studio’s City Walk, which is located en route to the theme park. Even if you don’t have tickets to the park, a visit to CityWalk is free, not to mention fun. This pedestrian-only area is jam-packed with dining, shopping, and nightlife, with dancing water fountains in the midst.
Originally, Venice was founded as a seaside resort area in 1905. Today, it is a residential, commercial, and recreational oceanfront neighbourhood known for its beaches, hippie and skater culture, and 2.5-mile boardwalk. The boardwalk is a spectacle of vendors, eateries, fortune-tellers, performers, and a multitude of varied artists. Proof of that exists in the graffiti that is featured in the area. Venice also prominently displays an outdoor workout space known as Muscle Beach.
Inspired by his love of Venice, Italy, developer Abbot Kinney chose to re-create the scene in Los Angeles. Constructed in 1905, The Venice Canal Historic District is primarily a neighbourhood made up of an eclectic mix of homes that line the banks of 4 canals, each a quarter-mile long. Garden-lined sidewalks and bridges allow residents and visitors to move around the neighbourhood and get a look at the ducks and an assortment of paddle boats in the canals.
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Los Angeles — one that is within reach of all the destinations we have suggested, consider Loews Hotel in West Hollywood (shown in the photo to the left) This is a modern high rise offering great views of the area, with a few amenities on property, including a rooftop pool. For something completely different, try The Garland in North Hollywood, which features a retro Hollywood ambiance. If you’re seeking something in the Beverly Hills area, take a look at Mr. C Hotel, an upscale property that essentially marries the retro feel of The Garland with the modern style of Loews. At Mr. C, you get the satisfaction of staying in Beverly Hills without paying the exorbitant prices of the Waldorf Astoria or the Beverly Hills Hotel. For a beach vibe, consider Inn at Playa del Rey, 7th on the list of most romantic California Inns and B&Bs.
If you are considering a side trip from Los Angeles, one that includes an in-depth look at coastal Calfornia, have a look at our suggested road trip HERE
Lead Photo of Los Angeles – Wallpaper Safari
Downtown LA – 4K Wallpapers
The Grove – YELP
The Getty Center – Discover Los Angeles
Greystone Mansion – Wikipedia
Griffith Observatory – Wikipedia
TLC Chinese Theater – Discover Los Angeles
Hollywood Sign – Wikipedia
La Brea Tar Pits – Discover Los Angeles
Loews Hotel – Travelzoo
Price is Right Live Audience – Discover Los Angeles
Paradise Cove, Malibu – Malibu Chamber of Commerce
Rodeo Drive – Wikipedia
Runyon Canyon Park – Wikimedia by Alain Demour
Santa Monica Pier – Wikipedia by Downtowngal
Studio Tour – Universal – Wikimedia by Antoine Taveneaux
Sunset Blvd – Flikr by Doug Kerr
Theme Park – Disneyland – Wikimedia by Tuxyso
Star Gazing at The Ivy Restaurant – Wikimedia by ChildofMidnight
Venice Canals – Pixabay Photos