14 Essential Things to Do in Los Angeles

Whether you’re a local or visitor, there are some experiences you’ve just got to have to best enjoy and appreciate this multifaceted city. Here are 14 of the best things to do in Los Angeles, plus bonus add ons, to give you a taste of all LA has to offer.

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Los Angeles, California is a diverse city. Sprawled throughout canyons and valleys, situated between mountains and the sea, and made up of people from all over the world, it’s a city diverse in its culture, scenery, and activities. No matter who you are or what you like, there’s something in LA for you. Whether you’re a local or visitor, there are some experiences you’ve just got to have to best enjoy and appreciate this multifaceted city. These essential experiences are some of the best things to do in Los Angeles.

Here’s your guide to 14 of the best things to do in Los Angeles, plus bonus add ons, to give you a taste of all my hometown has to offer.

Santa Monica California beach
Santa Monica Beach with the pier in the background.

1. Have a beach day

Perhaps the most essential Los Angeles thing to do is have a day at the beach. 

With coastline from Malibu down to Long Beach, there are plenty of beaches to choose from, but Santa Monica is one of the most convenient spots. There are several parking lots (for a fee, of course) or you can ditch the car and take the metro. Situated in a bay, close to shops and restaurants, and complete with its famed pier, Santa Monica is a great place for a beach day.

BONUS: Happy hour with a view

When it comes to sunsets, ours are hard to beat. One of the best things to do in the Los Angeles area is watch the sunset near the beach.

After your beach day, head to the rooftop or penthouse of one of Santa Monica’s beachfront hotels, such as the Hotel Shangri-La or The Huntley Hotel. Make your way up, grab a cocktail, and enjoy the view.

Hotel Shangri-La is located at 1301 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401. The Huntley Hotel is located at 1111 2nd St, Santa Monica, CA 90403.

Grand Central Market Downtown LA
Downtown LA’s Grand Central Market

2. Eat your way through Grand Central Market

Grand Central Market is a smorgasbord of culinary delights.

Whether you’re in the mood for Japanese or German, pizza or pupusas, seafood or barbecue, Grand Central Market has got something for you. Explore the aisles, find a dish that suits you, and choose a place to sit and chow down. Make sure to grab a drink at Golden Road Brewing or Horse Thief BBQ to help wash it down!

Grand Central Market is open daily at 317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013.

BONUS: Take a ride on Angels Flight Railway

Originally opened in 1901 and recently featured in the movie La La Land, Angels Flight Railway is a funicular that shuttles passengers between Hill Street and Grand Avenue on Bunker Hill in downtown LA.

With ticket prices of $1 (less with a Metro card) and located right next to Grand Central Market, taking a ride on Angels Flight Railway is a fun activity for a day downtown.

Hollywood Sign Griffith Park
View of Griffith Park and the Hollywood sign from the observatory

3. Visit the Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory is one of the city’s most famous landmarks and one of the best places to visit in Los Angeles.

Located high on a hill in Griffith Park, it first opened during the 1930s and offers wonderful views of the city. Inside the observatory, visitors can see exhibits, look through telescopes, and catch live shows.

The Griffith Observatory is located at 2800 E Observatory Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90027.

BONUS: Hike around the park and see the Hollywood sign

After visiting the observatory, take some time to hike around some other areas of Griffith Park. There are plenty of hiking trails and you can easily spot yet another iconic LA landmark, the Hollywood sign.

Dodgers Stadium

4. Cheer on the Dodgers

“It’s time for Dodger baseball!” This beloved saying inspires excitement for us Angelenos.

Whether or not you’re a sports fan, a day at Dodger Stadium is an absolutely essential Los Angeles experience. Going to a Dodger game is about far more than a sports matchup — it’s about eating food (Dodger dogs! Carne asada fries! Ice cream!), experiencing the culture, spending time with friends or family, and having a lively day in Chavez Ravine. Plus, with lots of games from the early spring through the late fall, there’s plenty of time to catch a game.

Dodger Stadium is located at 1000 Vin Scully Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012. There’s plenty of parking there, but there’s also a shuttle that runs to and from Union Station and the stadium. You can ride the shuttle for free if you’ve got a ticket to the game!

BONUS: Pregame at a local brewery

Before the game, stop by fan favorites Golden Road Brewing or Highland Park Brewery. Both spots have delicious drinks, tasty appetizers, and plenty of other Dodger fans, making them perfect spots to hang before the game.

Cinespia Hollywood Forever Cemetery
A Cinespia movie screening at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

5. See a movie at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Cinespia has been screening beloved films for decades. Some highlights from this past season include Halloween, Now and Then, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Casablanca.

Movie fans come in droves to sit on the famed cemetery lawn, have a drink, and watch a great movie. The screenings run from spring until fall and pretty much always sell out, so once a movie you like is announced, get tickets quickly! It’s a super-popular Los Angeles experience that’s essential to have under your belt.

Tickets for the Cinespia screenings are generally around $20.00, plus parking fees. Hollywood Forever Cemetery is located at6000 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038.

BONUS: Get there early with a picnic

To make the most of your time at the screening, show up early with a picnic. The doors usually open a couple hours before the movie starts, so you can stake out your spot and start having some snacks (beer and wine are permitted!). The lawn fills up fast, so the sooner you get settled, the better.

LACMA
Exploring the exhibits at LACMA

6. Visit LACMA

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the western US.

Situated in LA’s Miracle Mile, LACMA is houses many different styles and kinds of art. Whether you prefer modern or more traditional art, you’ll find a section of LACMA to suit you. Don’t miss the super popular Urban Light installation out front!

A regular adult ticket for LACMA is $20.00. However, there are various discounts for children, seniors, students, and LA County residents.

LACMA is located at 5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036.

BONUS: Go to the La Brea Tar Pits

Right down the street from LACMA are the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum.

These tar pits serve as a reminder of what modern day Los Angeles was like thousands of years ago. In recent history through today, the pits have served as excavation sites where scientists unearth fossils. Stop by for a look at LA’s past.

Hollywood Hills view
View of the city from the Hollywood Hills

7. Catch a show at the Hollywood Bowl

The Hollywood Bowl is an outdoor amphitheater nestled in the Hollywood Hills. The venue hosts all kinds of shows, from musical performances to plays and movie screenings.

With the dome-shaped stage set against the hills, it’s a beautiful setting to watch a show. Spending an evening here watching a movie or seeing a show is one of the best things to do in LA. Plus, you can bring in your own food and drink, so pack your picnic and enjoy!

The Hollywood Bowl is located at 2301 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90068.

BONUS: Get a taste of the Walk of Fame

While you’re in the area of the Hollywood Bowl, take a few minutes to stroll Hollywood Boulevard and check out the stars on the Walk of Fame.

The boulevard is usually quite crowded, so there’s no need to spend too much time there, but it’s a good time to get a glimpse of Hollywood lore!

Angels Flight Railway Downtown LA
The top of Angels Flight Railway in downtown Los Angeles

8. Experience LA nostalgia at a Tiki Bar

Los Angeles is the home of the tiki bar — the first one was opened here in the 1930s– so grabbing a tropical cocktail in LA is an essential experience. Tiki bars are tropical-themed watering holes featuring fun cocktails, usually with a healthy serving of rum.

Get a taste of classic LA nostalgia by visiting the city’s oldest tiki bar still in operation, the Tonga Hut, which opened in 1958 in North Hollywood. Another great choice is Kahuna Tiki, which is nearby in the Noho Arts District.

BONUS: Bring home a souvenir

Pretty much all tiki bars sell themed merchandise. If you’d like to take a taste of the islands home with you, pick up a fun tiki-themed cup on your way out!

Santa Monica sunset Huntley Hotel
Happy hour view from The Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica

9. Walk the Venice Boardwalk

The Venice boardwalk is a stretch of sidewalk along the beach with restaurants, souvenir stands, and pot shops. This ever-crowded area is full of beach goers, tourists, and street performers.

It’s one of LA’s most easily recognizable spots from movies and TV, so it’s worth making the trip and taking in the spectacle of the boardwalk. Just watch out for all the craziness going on around you.

BONUS: See the Venice canals

Like the Italian city from which it gets its name, Venice, California also has a series of canals. Just a short walk from the boardwalk, you’ll find the man-made canals lined with homes and walkways. Spend some time wandering this calm area off the boardwalk.

Getty Museum view
City view from the Getty

10. Enjoy the art at the Getty Museum

Perched high on a hill above the Sepulveda Pass, the Getty Museum sits on the most valuable piece of property in Los Angeles. 

The museum features art dating from Medieval period to the modern day. (There is also the Getty Villa in Malibu, which is home to ancient Greek and Roman art.) Peruse the art and explore the exhibits at this LA institution.

The Getty Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday (closed on Mondays). Admission is free, but there is a fee for parking, which varies.

The Getty is located at 1200 Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90049.

BONUS: Wander the gardens and take in the view

While there’s plenty to enjoy inside, don’t miss out on what awaits outside the museum. In addition to art exhibits, the Getty is also home to lovely gardens and one of the best views in Los Angeles. So make sure to head outside, stroll the grounds, and take in the city views.

Topanga Living Cafe
Perusing the goods at Topanga Living Cafe. Photo by Paxton Swafford.

11. Explore Topanga Canyon

One of the best things to do in Los Angeles is explore its different neighborhoods. For a taste of the hippie side of LA, head up into Topanga Canyon.

Topanga Canyon Boulevard winds up through the Santa Monica Mountains into this quirky paradise. Signs advocating love, funky murals, and a flying pig greet you as you drive through. The community is dotted with gems to stop at along the way, like Topanga Living Cafe, Hidden Treasures vintage shop, Froggy’s restaurant, and plenty of others. Spend some time exploring this wonderful and welcoming mountain area.

BONUS: Fish tacos at the Reel Inn

For a bonus Topanga pit stop, pause for some fish tacos at the Reel Inn on PCH right off Topanga. Of course, great tacos are an essential part of any visit to Los Angeles.

They’ve got great food, a pleasant patio, and the beach is a short walk away. Don’t miss the seafood pun of the day on the sign out front!

Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Visiting Hogwarts at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Hollywood. Photo by Paxton Swafford.

12. See Universal City Walk

Universal City Walk is a pedestrian street filled with restaurants, shops, and film memorabilia just outside of Universal Studios Hollywood.

City Walk has a bit of a Las Vegas vibe, if you replaced gambling with movies — it’s all bright lights and fanfare. It can be pretty cheesy, but it’s also super fun. Getting wrapped up in all the hubbub is simply an essential thing to do in Los Angeles. Walk the strip, grab some food, and watch out for King Kong!

BONUS: Visit Hogwarts

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios may not be specific to Los Angeles, and getting into the park isn’t cheap, but if you’re a Harry Potter fan, it’s worth a visit!

Universal Studios isn’t particularly large to begin with, so the Harry Potter section is on the smaller side. However, for HP fans there’s really nothing like wandering through Hogsmeade and having an adventure in Hogwarts!

Marina Del Rey California
A fall beach day in Marina del Rey

13. Window shop on Rodeo Drive

Unless you’re Cher Horowitz from Clueless, the stores on Rodeo Drive are probably out of your price range. However, strolling this famed stretch of road is a basic LA experience to have under your belt. Spend some time wandering this famed avenue and gazing into its high end shops.

BONUS: Cruise by the Beverly Hills sign

You’ve likely seen the Beverly Hills sign on Santa Monica Boulevard in countless movies and TV shows. There’s not really anything to do at the sign, unless you’d like to pause for a picture, but otherwise quick drive by and look is plenty!

Santa Monica beach sunset
Evening at the beach in Santa Monica

14. Eat at In-N-Out

Last but most definitely not least, you must eat at In-N-Out. This isn’t specifically a Los Angeles activity, as In-N-Out is the pride of all of California, but it’s still an essential thing to do in LA.

There are a number of locations all over the city (the map shows the one closest to LAX), so you can easily find one wherever you are. The beauty of In-N-Out is in its simplicity; they offer only burgers, fries, and beverages. It’s a California institution that cannot be missed!

BONUS: Go for animal style

If you want to take your trip to In-N-Out to the next level, order your burger or fries animal style. This not-so-secret secret menu item adds a bunch of delicious toppings and extra spread to your burger or fries. Give it a go if you’re feeling wild!

From beach days and outdoor movie screenings to museums and historical sights, these are some of the best activities Los Angeles has to offer. Still, these 14 experiences will get you going, but there are so many other wonderful things to do all over Los Angeles. Start here and enjoy all things LA. Cheers!

14 Essential Things To Do in Los Angeles

14 Best Things to Do in Los Angeles, California

14 Best Things to Do in Los Angeles, California

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