The best things to do in Los Angeles

·9-min read
Hike up to Griffith Observatory and stay for sunset
Hike up to Griffith Observatory and stay for sunset

Measuring 44 miles across at its widest, there’s no shortage of things to do in Los Angeles – the tricky part is finding the time to fit them all in. There are the perennial favourites, like the movie studio tours, surfing in Malibu or a trip to the ball game. Then there are the newer attractions, like the crop of contemporary art galleries that have opened up Downtown, revitalising the neighbourhood. There’s also shopping and stargazing and hiking to be done – follow the lead of the native Angelenos and rise with the sun to make the most of it.

Read on for our experts' top tips, while here are on our in-depth guides to the city's best hotels, restaurants, bars and shopping, plus how to spend a weekend in Los Angeles.

Hollywood

Go stargazing in the Hollywood hills

You can drive up to the Griffith Observatory but it's much nicer to arrive by foot, hiking up one of Griffith Park's reasonably gentle paths and taking in the Hollywood sign and spectacular views over the city on the way. The Art Deco building is an impressive sight and it’s no less enchanting inside, with permanent exhibits exploring the cosmos and an excellent planetarium.

Insider's tip: One Saturday a month the observatory hosts a public star party, free to members of the public. With various telescopes dotted around the front lawn and knowledgeable astronomers on hand for questions, it’s a chance to get a closer look at the night sky.

Contact: griffithobservatory.org
Prices: Free

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles
Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles

Double your daily dose of culture

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is the largest art museum in the western United States, with a collection of over 135,000 objects. It’s popular with tourists and locals alike, who come for the innovative exhibitions and the Instagram-worthy outdoor sculptures, like Jeff Koons’ Balloon Monkey in the central courtyard or Chris Burden’s grid of restored vintage street lamps, Urban Light.

Insider's tip: The museum runs an ever-changing roster of special events, from art and music workshops to cookery classes with top chefs and family-friendly sessions every Sunday. Keep an eye on their monthly calendar to stay on top of what’s coming up.

Contact: lacma.org
Prices: ££

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles

Soak up some Hollywood history

After years in the making, the long-awaited Academy Museum of Motion Pictures finally opened its doors to much fanfare in September 2021, with the striking Renzo Piano-designed Museum now the largest in the world solely dedicated to the art and science of movie making. Inside you’ll find four floors of gallery space – including a vast 1,000-seat theatre in its much-photographed glass dome – filled with cinematic treasures, including the sole surviving shark from Jaws, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and the Rosebud sled from Citizen Kane.

Insiders’ tip: Pay the $15 extra for the Oscars Experience, where you’ll be able to step inside the Dolby Theatre on Oscar night via a spookily realistic simulation. You’ll hear your name called and get to hold one of the coveted golden statuettes, with the whole thing captured on video. Cheesy, yes, but good fun.

Contact: academymuseum.org
Prices: ££

Universal City

Take part in some movie magic

A must-visit for thrill seekers and movie lovers, Universal Studios is home to several heart-thumping rides, including the King Kong 3D experience, Revenge of the Mummy and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Hop into one of their trolleys for the studio tour, which takes in the Bates Motel from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and an encounter with the shark from Jaws.

Insider's tip: Pay a bit extra for the VIP experience, where you can actually get off the trolley and explore the backlot on foot. Visit the sound stages where some of the biggest blockbusters were filmed and tour the Property Department, home to thousands of set pieces and props.

Contact: universalstudioshollywood.com
Prices: £££

Universal Studios, Hollywood, Los Angeles
Universal Studios, Hollywood, Los Angeles

Venice

Browse the shops on America’s coolest street

Often dubbed as the coolest block in America, Abbot Kinney Boulevard is home to some of the most eclectic shops in the city. Beloved by Venice’s hipsters, the independent boutiques are the perfect place to pick up a quirky gift to take home - pick up a Venice Beach-scented candle from Tumbleweed & Dandelion or some whimsical stationery from Burro. There are plenty of places to refuel, too, such as vegetarian spot The Butcher’s Daughter and celeb favourite Gjelina.

Insider’s tip: Come on the first Friday of the month for Abbot Kinney’s evening food truck extravaganza. From 5pm dozens of the city’s finest food trucks crowd onto the boulevard, serving up everything from Thai, Southern soul, Greek and Vietnamese food.

Contact: abbotkinneyblvd.com

Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Los Angeles
Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Los Angeles

Two wheels are better than four

The Santa Monica to Venice bike path is one of the most famous in the world, and for good reason – there’s nothing quite like watching the sun set over the Pacific from this famous stretch of beach. Start at sleepy Will Rogers State Beach, just north of Santa Monica, and carry on past the gaudy Santa Monica Pier until you reach the Venice Beach Boardwalk, where you’ll be cycling along the grungy hawkers selling their tat, Muscle Beach regulars and the oceanfront skatepark. Perry’s Cafe and Beach Rentals, on Santa Monica's beachfront, is a good place to rent bikes.

Insider’s tip: If you’re up to it, carry on the Marvin Braude Bike Trail for four more miles to explore Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey, one of LA’s smaller, more understated beach communities.

Prices: Free

Santa Monica beach
Santa Monica beach

Downtown

Fast food done right

Downtown’s Grand Central Market, located opposite the cute Angels Flight funicular, made popular in film La La Land, is a proper foodie haven, serving up everything from Sari Sari’s spicy Filipino rice bowls to Olio’s wood-fired pizzas and Lucky Bird’s famous citrus-brined fried chicken. Always heaving with people and buzzing with neon signs, it feels like a little piece of New York in DTLA.

Insider’s tip: While you’re in the neighbourhood, check out the nearby Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk, which encompasses tours of local galleries, artists’ studios and cultural institutions along Spring and Main Street.

Contact: grandcentralmarket.com
Prices: £

Grand Central Market in Downtown is a foodie haven
Grand Central Market in Downtown is a foodie haven

Take a trip to see some out-of-this-world art

The Broad, which opened in 2015, has swiftly cemented itself as one of the coolest art galleries in LA, with perpetual queues to visit its permanent collection. The gallery is home to some of the most exciting contemporary art in the city, such as Yayoi Kusama’s trippy Infinity Mirrored Room, an immersive installation with LED lights reflecting endlessly inside a mirrored room.

Insider's tip: Tickets for the gallery can book out weeks in advance, but if you haven’t managed to nab any you can join the on-site standby line, which runs every day. The line even has its own a Twitter account (@TheBroadStandby), providing regular updates on the length of the queue.

Contact: thebroad.org
Prices: Free

The Broad, Los Angeles
The Broad, Los Angeles

Step into a Gothic masterpiece

The Ace Theatre is a marvel of Spanish Gothic style. Designed by architect C. Howard Crane, it was modelled on the Segovia Cathedral in Spain and is just as impressive. Formerly the United Artists Theatre, it used to be the flagship theatre for Charlie Chaplin’s film studio, United Artists; today, as well as showing films, it also hosts concerts, stand-up comedy and live reads. 

Insider's tip: Eat an early supper beforehand at the hip Ace Hotel next door. Slide into a booth at their Loam bistro and order blue prawns with piri piri and hanger steak washed down with a Loam G&T, made with butterfly pea flower, grapefruit and lavender.

Contact: theatre.acehotel.com
Prices: ££-£££

The Ace Theatre, Los Angeles
The Ace Theatre, Los Angeles

Elysian Park

Go all-American at a ball game

The Dodger Stadium, home to the LA Dodgers baseball team, is the third oldest baseball stadium in America, after Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago, and one of the most picturesque, overlooking the San Gabriel Mountains on one side and Downtown LA’s skyscrapers on the other. Bring snacks– a typical ball game lasts for at least three hours.

Insider's tip: If you’re going for a day game, be sure to take a hat and sun cream – most of the stadium is in the sun and it can get uncomfortably hot. Book under the roof of the top deck for the shadiest seats.

Contact: mlb.com/dodgers
Prices: ££-£££

Dodgers Stadium, Los Angeles
Dodgers Stadium, Los Angeles

Malibu

Ride the waves in Malibu

Book in for a surfing lesson with Aqua Surf School, who operate out of Surfrider Beach, one of the most famous surf spots in Malibu (it has particularly slow waves, making it the ideal place to learn). Their two-hour lessons cater to beginners and more advanced surfers and they’ll provide all the necessary equipment, including boards and wetsuits.

Insider's tip: Shake the sand out of your hair and head across the road to the Surfrider Hotel’s rooftop bar after your lesson. Grab a sofa by one of the fire pits, order a cocktail and watch the sun go down over the Pacific.

Contact: aquasurf.com
Prices: £££

Surfrider Beach, Malibu
Surfrider Beach, Malibu

Rediscover Ancient Greece and Rome in Malibu

LA’s Getty Museum, founded by billionaire industrialist J. Paul Getty, is spread across two campuses: the sprawling, space age-looking Getty Center [sic] above the hills in Brentwood and the beautiful Getty Villa in Malibu, a recreation of a first-century Roman villa and home to displays of art from Ancient Greece, Rome and Etruria. The villa’s gardens are particularly impressive, featuring sculptures, wall paintings and Mediterranean plants.

Insider’s tip: Come in the late afternoon, when the crowds are starting to thin out and the gardens will be bathed in a warm glow. By the time you’re ready to leave, you’ll have missed the majority of the rush hour traffic, too.

Contact: getty.edu
Prices: Free

Getty Museum, Malibu, Los Angeles
Getty Museum, Malibu, Los Angeles
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