Things to Do in Los Angeles

Things to Do in Los Angeles

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Why are you going to Los Angeles again? I let my friend’s question linger a bit in my mind. Then, I cleared my throat. I’m going to L.A. to run away from wintery Europe. To watch the sunset while driving down Beach Boulevard. To shop til I drop. To stroll along palm-fringed beaches. To spend a whole day in a movie theatre, gulping down buckets of hot salted popcorn with butter…

 

But you could do all that in many other places around the world! I understood why my friend was being cynical. There is actually much more to do and see in Los Angeles.

 

I’ve been to Los Angeles more than a dozen times. Mainly because a part of my family lives there since the 1980s. Until I was in my mid-twenties, Los Angeles was sort of my “third home” (Paris was of course my second-home). And when you visit your other home, you rarely go to tourist attractions. You do what locals do: fitness, shopping, beach, and Vegas.

 

Besides, if you grow up in an Asian family, it’s likely that you also spend 80% of your time visiting all your relatives once you arrive in Southern California. This means your uncles, aunts, cousins, second-degree cousins, third-degree cousins. As well as your parents’ neighbors and friends, who also fled their country during the war, and who you also call “aunts and uncles”. The remaining 20% of your time is devoted to shopping and eating in Chinatown, Little Saigon, and Japantown.

 

But during my recent vacations in Southern California, I’ve explored numerous tourist spots, and here I’d like to tell you about my favorite things to do in L.A. If you plan to visit the Greater Los Angeles area for the first time, then these recommendations are for you.

 

Go behind the movie scenes at the Universal Studios

100 Universal City Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 91608

 

 

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No one really hates Hollywood blockbusters. I, myself, have a few Hollywood productions in my long list of favourite movies. So when Kerstin visited Los Angeles for the first time, we decided to spend a day at the Universal Studios, to get a peak behind the scenes. During a 60-minutes long Studio Tour, we got to experience flash floods and earthquakes. And having Norman Bates running toward us with a long sharp knife, after checking in the legendary Bates Motel from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

 

The Universal Studios in Hollywood is a one-of-a-kind theme park. For us, it cannot be compared to Disneyland, Six Flags, Europa Park, the Tivoli Gardens. Or even the Universal Studios in Florida. Because there is only one Hollywood. And to explore where Hollywood movies are made, there is no better place than in Hollywood itself, the capital of America’s entertainment industry.

 

Walk down the Walk of Fame

Hollywood Blvd at Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90028

 

 

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The Walk of Fame disappoints many travelers. I’ve read that many tourists expect to see a long, beautiful and clean boulevard, crowded with palm trees and movie stars that just happen to hang out there. Well no, it’s actually a place full of tourists, with a plethora of souvenir shops around the Chinese Theatre and Madame Tussaud’s.

 

Still, this is another place that cannot be found anywhere else but in Hollywood. Along the 2km long Walk of Fame, more than 2500 stars spaced at around 2m intervals are embedded on both sidewalks. The pink 5-pointed stars are made of terrazzo, whereas the embedded names are in brass (and not in bronze). Throughout the year, new stars are being added on the sidewalk to honour actors or film directors. During these ceremonies, everyone can attend and there is no admission fee. Check out their website for upcoming events. Perhaps more interesting than these pink stars are the famous movie stars’ handprints and footprints in concrete, especially in the Chinese Theatre’s forecourt.

 

“Fake” movie stars, disguised as Superman, Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley, are also part of the “attraction” at the Walk of Fame. They usually walk up and down the street. So you can ask them to take a picture with you. I was a bit surprised when sweaty Elvis asked us for a $1 note after we shot a picture with them. But since they win their bread with this, we didn’t mind giving them a few dollars. Although, make sure to avoid paying underage persons.

 

Watch sunset from the Griffith Observatory

2800 E. Observatory Rd., Los Angeles, CA 90027

 

 

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Far away from the crowd, the Griffith Observatory is one of my favourite places in Los Angeles. Located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood, it offers a magnificent panoramic view of the city.

 

The land surrounding the observatory once belonged to Colonel Griffith, but it was donated to the City of Los Angeles in 1896. With Griffith’s donation and according to his will, a planetarium, an exhibition hall and an observatory were built in the 1930s.

 

Since parking and admission to the buildings are free of charge, except for the Planetarium shows, I liked driving up there even if I only had half an hour onsite. To get a clear view, it’s best to go in the morning. And to avoid visiting in the afternoon, when the rising smog covers the whole city in a foggy mantle.

 

Travel back in time at the Getty Villa

17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, Malibu, CA 90272

 

 

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I first visited the Getty Villa in 2011. For someone who majored in Greek Archaeology, I felt a bit ashamed that I had never visited before. Located in Malibu, the Getty Villa is a part of the Getty Museum, and holds around 45000 Greek and Roman artefacts, dating from 6500 BC to 400 AD.

 

For those who are not into Ancient Art, it is still worth visiting this Roman-inspired villa-museum. If not for the antiquities, then at least for the large fountain and gardens decorated with dozens of sculptures. The museum is built after the Villa of Papyri at Herculaneum (Southern Italy), but the building also offers many Etruscan and Greek decorative details.

 

Admission is free, but you need to book your timed-entry ticket in advance on their website. However, parking is quite expensive ($20). So, it’s best to drive to the Getty Villa with several friends in the same car, and share the parking fee.

 

Explore the Getty Center

1200 Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90049

 

 

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Built after J. Paul Getty’s death, the Getty Center is also part of the Getty Museum. However, this location does not feature Ancient Art, but European, American and Asian “modern art” (meaning from 17th to 20th century), as well as some medieval manuscripts.

 

The collection at the Getty Center is certainly interesting. But the real eye-catcher is the garden design of the campus. Imagine a circular labyrinth with a fountain at its heart, and you get the picture of the garden’s sophistication! What I also like at the Getty Center, is the spectacular skyline of Los Angeles that you see from the hill.

 

Admission to the Getty Center is also free. But again, you have to pay the parking fee. So the more people you bring along, the cheaper it gets. From the underground parking lot to the museum, located uphill, you have to take a free funicular cable car. Rides are frequent and not that long. But make sure to not forget anything in your car, because you might waste quite a lot of time returning to the parking once you have arrived at the museum.

 

Visit the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens

1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino, CA, Pasadena, CA 91108

 

 

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The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens is another of my favorite museums in Los Angeles. First, because it has among its many possessions a Gutenberg Bible, a copy of The Canterbury Tales, two quartos of Hamlet, and a copy of Thomas Shelton’s translation of Don Quixote.

 

Should you not be interested in rare books, paintings or sculptures, know that the Botanical Gardens are totally worth the visit. On a surface of 120 acres of botanical gardens, you can see 16 themed gardens. It ranges from a jungle garden to a desert garden, and even an Australian garden. Our favorites were the lily ponds, but also the Japanese garden, and the Chinese garden.

 

Wandering around the Botanical Gardens, Kerstin and I really had the impression that we had travelled around the whole world within a few hours. We even felt the difference in temperature, air humidity, odors and colors, as we strolled from one garden to another.

 

Parking is free, but the admission fee is quite expensive. This is why we visited during the “Free Day”, which is the first Thursday of the month, by booking our free tickets online.

 

Spend a day at the beach

 

 

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California’s beaches are not as spectacular as those in Florida. But there is a huge beach community in Los Angeles who spend their whole life at the beach, playing beach volleyball, cruising around in inline skates, meeting friends around a bonfire, or just surfing on the swells.

 

Santa Monica and Malibu are the most famous beaches in Southern California. Probably because they often appear in movies and TV shows. But my favourite beaches to chill, while watching locals engaged in their beach activities, are definitely Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach.

 

To get tanned on a soulless beach, where I can have miles and miles of sands just for myself, I go to Huntington Beach on a weekday. If you like fishing, you can rent your gears and join the anglers at the Huntington Beach pier. They primarily fish in water that ranges from fairly shallow to moderately deep. So a medium size tackle would be ideal to concentrate on either bottom fishing for halibut, or fishing the top for mackerel, sardines and bonito.

Hike the Runyon Canyon Loop

2000 North Fuller Ave, Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA 90046

 

 

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When I first went to hike the Runyon Canyon Loop, I didn’t know that it is actually a prime spot to see celebrities. We were surprised to a hiking trail highlighted by million dollar mansions and priceless views of the Hollywood Sign.

 

But this is only a fraction of what this hiking trail really offers. Apart from the amazing bird eye views of Los Angeles, known as the Cloud’s Rest, hiking the Runyon Canyon really connects you to L.A. City and its people.

 

In fact, we had more conversations on in Runyon Canyon than on any other trails in the surrounding area. We met people from all backgrounds. Of all religions and colors, and shared some good laughs with them.

 

Stroll around UCLA campus

Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA

 

 

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When traveling, we like to visit historic university campuses. Probably because we both spent so many years of our life studying abroad. And once we graduated, we took our nephews and nieces to visit other universities.

 

The UCLA campus can’t top the ones we saw in Oxford or Cambridge, nor Stanford University. But it is my one of the most beautiful university campuses in Los Angeles area.

 

The first buildings of the UCLA campus – up to 1950s – were built in a Romanesque Revival style. The more recent structures were designed by famous architects, such as Cesar Pelli (who also designed the World Trade Center), Ieo Ming Pei (who designed the Louvre Pyramid), and William Pereira (well-known for the design of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco).

 

Unlike British university campuses, the ones in the United States don’t charge anything from visitors. Nor do they ask you to show your Student ID, which you have to do to access the main building of the Sorbonne in Paris. However, parking in American university campuses is not free. There are several parking lots for visitors of the UCLA campus. So check their website in advance to avoid wasting your time on your arrival. You can also try to find a free parking spot in the nearby streets. But remember to check the exact hours for street cleaning, and to move your car before the cleaning crew arrives.

 

Shopping ’til you drop in and around Los Angeles

 

 

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USA is known to have thousands of huge malls and outlet stores, which offer a lot more choices than any mall in Europe. And if you like American fashion brands, such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Calvin Klein, Guess, Gap, Levi Strauss, Ralph Lauren, DKNY, and so on, it’s less expensive to buy the products in the U.S.

 

In Los Angeles County, there is only one outlet. And that is The Citadel Outlets, located at 100 Citadel Drive, Suite 480, Los Angeles, CA 90040. It’s designed after an Assyrian palace, hence its name. And has about 115 stores for you to shop ‘til you drop.

 

Outside of Los Angeles, there are several other outlets. Not far from Disneyland, you can find the Outlets of Orange. And if you are heading to Las Vegas for example, make sure to stop at the Fashion Outlets. On the way to visit Palm Springs, you might want to spend a few hours at Desert Hills Premium Outlets.

 

There are many other interesting things to do in Los Angeles. If you have already visited L.A. before, what is your favourite tourist spot?

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Traveler - Storyteller

Mei is a 30-something Archaeologist, born and raised in Luxembourg. Besides traveling, she loves eating sushi and stinky cheese (although not at the same time), as well as listening to Kerstin's funny stories while driving on long road trips. She's afraid of heights, but adores panoramic views. Her favorite places are those she chose to live in: Paris, Greece, San Francisco.

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30 Responses

  1. Indrani
    | Reply

    Never been to LA but the place instantly won my heart through these places to see.Universal Studio Tours is definitely in my list.
    Griffith Observatory with the views it offers sounds like a great place too. Amazing walking experience at the Botanical Gardens!

  2. trimmtravels
    | Reply

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article about my former residence and adopted city. I miss LA so much! But yes, there is so much more to do than Hollywood and no, the walk of fame isn’t glamorous. UCLA is one of my favorite places in the city. It’s where my husband did part of his training. You can be on that campus and have no idea you’re in the middle of LA! I love watching the sunset from Griffith and Huntington Library was very close to my home in Pasadena. Love the the gardens and having tea there!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Oh you lived in Pasadena? My sis used to live in Alhambra but right at the border of Pasadena, so we went shopping in Pasadena quite often. 🙂

  3. navigationjunk
    | Reply

    I am planning on visiting Los Angelos at some point this year, these tips and recommendations will come in handy. I have always wanted to walk the Walk of Fame. And Universal Studios sounds like a great experience!

  4. Aditi Sharma
    | Reply

    We travel to LA to visit family and friends frequently and I must say your guide is absolutely spot on!! Great tips and really helpful information for anyone visiting the city . I’d love to return to LA to explore it leisurely next time around and will definitely include a stop at Huntington museum and Gardens. That view of the city skyline at sunset from the observatory is truly mesmerizing.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      The Huntington Museum and Gardens is not very touristy, so I’m sure you and your family will enjoy your visit there! 😉

  5. josypheen
    | Reply

    It’s so strange when friends/family judge your choice for returning to a destination! I mean, if you love the area it is awesome that you can keep going back to explore it more. It looks fab, so i can totally see why you love it.

    The Runyon Canyon Loop looks like a really interesting hike! I have never been on a trail quite like that! Only in LA! 😀

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Haha.. well, don’t worry, we never let people’s comments or judgements change our travel plans. 😉

      • josypheen
        | Reply

        Good! 😀

  6. Smita
    | Reply

    I was in LA a couple of years ago and the Universal Studio Tours was my favorite experience – so much fun to see behind the scenes stuff! Sunset at Griffith Observatory wasn’t meant to be for us coz of huge traffic jams – we had to turn around midway!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Oh yeah, you need to go to Griffith Observatory in the morning during weekday or in the evening to catch the sunset. Combining it with another nearby visit is also a good idea to avoid wasting your time in traffic.

  7. Two Wander
    | Reply

    Wow the architecture pictured here is all so cool! We can’t wait to visit LA one day 🙂

  8. Korcula Island
    | Reply

    I really liked the format of this post. All of the different Instagram photos gave the post a cool and unique style.

  9. Ada
    | Reply

    LA is one of those places I’ve always known about but that I’ve never really known what you would do there if you visited as a tourist. So I really appreciate your suggestions. Also, isn’t it so fun to have more than one “home?!”

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thanks Ada, and yes it’s great to have several “homes” across the world. 😉

  10. Fares
    | Reply

    I’ve been to LA and I plan to go back soon, so Thank you for this helpful guide and I love your suggestions 🙂

  11. samantha karen
    | Reply

    I went to LA when I was younger and thought I hit a lot of hot spots in the city, but it seems I missed some! The Getty Center and UCLA look amazing and like the type of intersting places I’d like to spend some time.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      The Getty Center is definitely a must visit place in LA, even if you don’t really like art. The views and garden are worth it.

  12. Kevin | Caffeinated Excursions
    | Reply

    Despite having been to most major cities in the US, LA is one I still have yet to see. It’s good to know that the Walk of Fame might not be as grand as people expect, but I still think I’d want to see it at least once. Also, I’ve wanted to go visit Griffith Observatory ever since I saw it featured in La La Land! Do you know if there’s another public lookout point further up the mountain where you can see the observatory itself with the skyline in the background (like how it’s pictured in this post)?

  13. Candy
    | Reply

    Now that I’ve lived in LA for a little over 5 years, I have done almost everything on your list. I haven’t yet visited the UCLA campus and love the architecture of the buildings. I wonder if it’s ok to walk around and snap some photos? I also have not yet been to Universal Studios or Disneyland. It’s probably because I have been to those theme parks in Florida, but I am curious to see if there are any differences and which ones are better 🙂

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      We haven’t been to the theme parks in Florida, but our families and friends who have been to both have told us that the ones in LA are more… “original”. And yes, you can have a walk and take photos at the UCLA. You could be a student or a professor or anyone working there, so no one will wonder or ask about you’re there anyway. 😉

  14. Snazzytrips
    | Reply

    It’s been years since I went to LA, but would love to return and spend more time there. The shopping outlets would definitely be a must for me next time. The hiking trail of Runyon Canyon Loop would be fun to do too, and see some of the mansions of Hollywood. I love that you got to meet and chat with lots of different people whilst hiking there.

  15. Ketki Gadre
    | Reply

    Los Angeles looks breathtaking and I did not know there was so much to do and explore. MY favorite would be the hike to Runyon Canyon Loop. The views are fantastic! Lovely post 🙂

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thanks Ketki! The Runyon Canyon Loop is definitely worth going to for a hike or a view! 😉

  16. waexplorer
    | Reply

    Love all of these suggestions. LA is one of my all time favourite cities but haven’t been back for so long. One of my favourite places to visit is the Getty museum and always go to Malibu and Venice beach.

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