Last Updated on January 20, 2023

Exciting. Eccentric. Energetic. The magnetic lure of Los Angeles is undeniable. Hollywood! The Beach! Disneyland! This dazzling West Coast metropolis is synonymous with glamour, fantasy and ambition. Not surprisingly, the list of Los Angeles must do attractions is a long one.

From luxury window shopping on palm-lined Rodeo Drive to the cinematic glitz and glamour of the Hollywood walk of fame, the melding of cultures and cuisines, museums, sports, concerts… Los Angeles has that ‘something for everyone’ kind of feel. And due to its mild temperatures and near constant sunshine, the region is a great year-round destination.

Sprawled out expansively in all directions, the City of Angels, as it’s often called, can be overwhelming for first-time visitors. Here are some of my not-to-be-missed Los Angeles must do recommendations of places I’ve loved visiting with my husband from our many trips to L.A.

What to do in Los Angeles

The Getty Center and Getty Villa Museum

Located in Brentwood just off the 405, the Getty Center holds a world-class art collection in a setting offering spectacular views of the Santa Monica Mountains and City of Los Angeles. Named after oil baron J. Paul Getty, who moved to Los Angeles in the late nineteen teens, the Getty Museum was founded in 1953 to display art objects he collected. When Getty died in 1976, he was purported to be the richest man in the world. The Getty Center and the philanthropic Getty Trust remain flush with cash from his accumulated empire.

Within the Getty Center is an extensive collection of European paintings, drawings, sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and photography from medieval times to present day. Collections are divided by genre throughout various loges and pavilions. The biggest names from art history are featured including Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir and Cezanne.

At the Getty Center, you’ll be taken by tram from the main parking lot to the hilltop where the museum is sited.

Do not confuse the Getty Center with the completely separate Getty Villa Museum in Pacific Palisades overlooking the ocean. The Getty Villa lies along the coast and shows off Greek and Roman art – one of the best collections in the world – in a recreated Roman house. The Getty Villa’s gardens are jaw dropping.

A full day could be spent meandering inside and out at both locations, which also feature restaurants.

The Getty Center is closed on Mondays. The Getty Villa is closed on Tuesdays. Admission to both the Getty Center and the Getty Villa are free, however, parking is $20 at both places, but you’ll only pay that once if you visit them in the same day and they’re only 30 minutes apart by car.

Griffith Observatory

Southern California’s gateway to the cosmos, Griffith Observatory, an iconic art deco landmark built in 1935, features a high-tech planetarium and an astronomy museum with telescopes available to the public for viewing.

The observatory is known for its commanding vistas of the Los Angeles basin and the famous Hollywood sign. More importantly, it is renowned for its amazing starlight and planetary views on clear nights. Incredibly, admission to the observatory and programs (like at the Getty museums) are free with only a nominal fee for planetarium shows.

Hollywood Sign

Originally, the famous sign was an ordinary advertisement in the Hollywood Hills. Today it is an American landmark and cultural icon overlooking Hollywood. Originally it read the HOLLYWOODLAND. The 45-foot-tall sign is situated on Mount Lee in the Beachwood Canyon area of the Santa Monica Mountains. Guided hikes to the sign are available.

La Brea Tar Pits

Smack dab in the middle of urban Los Angeles is the last place you’d expect to find a bizarre primal pool of oozing hot tar that’s been bubbling from the earth for more than 40,000 years. La Brea Tar Pits is a fascinating sticky asphalt swamp and site of the world’s most famous ice age fossil excavation. Nearly 400 species of mammals, birds, amphibians, and fish became trapped in the gooey tar resulting in their preservation including mastodons, saber tooth cats, dire wolves, camels and other long extinct North American megafauna.

Fascinating fossils and ancient treasures on the very site they were discovered are now the stars of the La Brea Tar Pits Museum. Displays are phenomenal and our favorite part of the visit was getting to watch the paleontologists at work.

Hollywood Boulevard

Every Los Angeles must do list includes a journey through time along famous Hollywood Boulevard. This somewhat rejuvenated cultural icon is filled with museums, landmarks and other Hollywood attractions celebrating the city’s rich film and entertainment heritage.

Millions of visitors each year walk in the footsteps of Hollywood legends like Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart at the quintessential TLC Chinese Theatre previously known as Grauman’s. It’s virtually a requirement to place your hands and feet over the prints of famous stars immortalized in cement at the theater entrance and have your photo taken for posterity.

Nearby, the world’s most famous sidewalk, the Hollywood Walk of Fame honors more than 2,500 stars of motion picture, television, radio, and live theater.

Universal Studios Hollywood

Even if you’ve been to the Orlando Universal Studios, a visit to this Hollywood park is a must. Due to the lay of the land, the park is multi-leveled giving it a cool vibe and awesome panoramic views.

We recommend you don’t get all caught up in the rides and attractions like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Jurassic Park and miss one of our favorites – The World-Famous Studio Tour. Located over 13 city blocks on 400-plus acres of historic motion picture lot, you’ll see the largest set construction project in film history, a real working studio, built with consultation from Steven Spielberg.

The 60-minute tour is included with park admission.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

In Los Angeles, even the dead maintain their magnetic appeal. Never is this more apparent than at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Known as the resting place for Hollywood’s immortals, Hollywood Forever is one of L.A.’s oldest cemeteries. With meticulously manicured lawns, ponds, and fountains, the fascinating yet bizarre resting place for the rich and famous captivates you with its weirdness. Our plan to stop by to “check it out” resulted in over an hour’s visit as we found ourselves compelled to find the gravesites and mausoleum vaults of familiar Hollywood legends like Judy Garland and Rudolph Valentino.

Rodeo Drive

You have to do it. At least once. In the heart of Beverly Hills sits one of the wealthiest and most famous shopping streets in the world – the renowned Rodeo Drive. Showcasing the glam of L.A., Rodeo Drive is home to such couture high fashion names as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Fendi, and Versace. There’s something about driving down that street in a convertible that’s a natural high, and you’ll see the jet set doing so in Ferrari’s and Maserati’s.

Located at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel is the grand dame of Beverly Hills. Built in 1928 in the Italian Renaissance style, the elegant hotel with crystal chandeliers, elegant oak paneling, crown molding, and frescos gracing the walls has hosted presidents, foreign dignitaries, and of course, the rich and famous. The hotel is most noted for its featured role in the film, “Pretty Woman.”

The Original Farmers Market

Established in 1934, the Original Farmer’s Market is the granddaddy of the L.A. markets. With its amazing array of clapboard stalls and over 100 vendors, the market sells everything from baked goods, fruits and vegetables to fresh meat, poultry and fish.

Cuisines from across the globe can be purchased as meals making the market a sensationally international melting pot of food choices. You just have to do it.

El Pueblo de Los Angeles

One of downtown’s biggest surprises is the historic district located in the oldest section of the city known as El Pueblo Los Angeles, established in 1781. The old pueblo, preserved as a historic park contains the oldest house in the city.

Olvera Street known as the ‘birthplace of Los Angeles’ is a lively brick-lined Mexican marketplace filled with historic museums, colorful shops, outdoor markets, cafes, restaurants and plenty of live Mexican entertainment.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Home of the L.A. Philharmonic, the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall breathed new life into the city’s downtown when this architectural masterpiece opened in 2003. Lillian Disney made an initial gift of $50 million to build the performance venue as a gift to the people of Los Angeles and a tribute to Walt Disney’s devotion to the city’s art culture.

The hall is known for its curvaceous stainless-steel exterior but its amazing acoustics are praised worldwide. Even for those not seeing a concert, it’s worth a visit to gaze at this awe-inspiring structure.

Venice Beach

It’s edgy, artsy, funky, and a bit odd, but Venice Beach is L.A.’s premier, out-there beach town, and it’s a whole lot of fun and a Los Angeles must do.

Mimes, jugglers, musicians, palm readers and street performers of all kinds hang out at the beachfront boardwalk and pier providing an unforgettable bohemian environment that’s ideal for people watching.

Due to L.A.’s great weather, visitors will also see their share of pickup basketball games, beach volleyball and skateboarding.

Santa Monica Pier

Jutting out over the Pacific Ocean, this pier isn’t just a pier, it’s a location unto itself, and it’s been around since 1909. As a National Historic Landmark, the Santa Monica Pier retains a nostalgia of days gone by.

Pacific Park is also on the Pier offering 12 amusement rides including the West Coaster and Pacific Wheel, the first solar-powered Ferris wheel. The Wheel is great to ride at sunset offering spectacular views of the ocean. You’ll also find a myriad of boardwalk games along with the ever-popular carousel.

And here’s something unique – if you’ve ever thought of being a trapeze artist, Trapeze School New York offers sessions in flying trapeze, trampoline and more on the historic pier.

Iconic Dining in L.A.

In a city filled with so many diverse cultures, dining out is an incredible experience. This is the taco capital of the world. Food trucks are everywhere. Koreatown. Soul food. Sushi.

Put one of these restaurants on your Los Angeles must do list… or just hit up In-N-Out Burger!

Dan Tana’s

This is the quintessential Hollywood hangout. Opened in 1964, the Italian American haunt serves late every night of the week with hits like Chicken Parmesan and grilled steaks. The bar continues to be a legendary place to grab a drink and hobnob with celebrities.

Cielito Lindo

This Mexican restaurant has been serving its famous rolled tacos slathered in avocado salsa since 1934. The proud tradition continues today as the restaurant anchors bustling Olvera Street in downtown L.A.’s historic El Pueblo district.

Pink’s Hot Dogs

Yes, Pink’s always has a long line, and for a darn good reason.

What began as a humble hotdog stand owned and run by Paul and Betty Pink in 1939 has grown into a profitable renowned franchise with multiple locations across the country. The interior of Pink’s is adorned with signed photos and celebrity endorsements of the restaurant’s innovative hotdog selection.

Menu items includes a mix of classics and avant-garde creations like the Guadalajara Dog, crowned with relish, onions, tomatoes and sour cream. 

The Original Pantry Café

Few restaurants in the heart of Downtown L.A. are given the same respect as The Original Pantry Cafe. The classic, 24/7 cash-only diner has served loyal patrons on the same corner of Figueroa and James M. Wood Boulevard since 1924.

Repeatedly named as the most famous restaurant in L.A for its unchanging approach to good food and authentic 1950s diner decor, the restaurant is now owned by former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan.

If you don’t mind a little wait, slide into a booth at this cavernous diner and expect servers to shuttle out towering stacks of pancakes and platters of gravy-smothered biscuits. The food is on the heavy side, but nonetheless, this popular café is always packed full.

Spago

Located in the heart of Beverly Hills, Spago, now the flagship of the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, has been hosting Hollywood A-listers and deal makers since the 80s. You’ll need a three-picture option to pay the bill!

Musso & Frank Grill

Also in Beverly Hills, also expensive, this steakhouse and gin palace has been defining “old school” since 1919.

Hotels in Los Angeles

Looking for hotels in Los Angeles is like looking for restaurants in Los Angeles – they’re everywhere and range in price from bargain basement to budget busting. The best way to pick your L.A. hotel is to define the part of town you’ll be spending the most time in and start looking there. L.A. is super spread out and the authentic L.A. experience you don’t want is spending hours in your car.

Whatever part of town you want to base your vacation around you’ll have plenty of options. Use the map below to get started.

Booking.com

Author

  • Noreen Kompanik

    Noreen Kompanik is a retired registered nurse, legal nurse consultant and military spouse turned travel writer. She launched her travel writing career in 2014 and has over 1,000 published articles in a variety of digital and print publications.