Home to the legendary Hollywood, Los Angeles (LA) is mostly famous for being the Entertainment or Creative Capital of the world and it really is, as its film industry is internationally the most popular one and one in every six of its residents work in a creative industry. This is the place where aspiring artists arrive from all over the globe to expand their career horizons. However, it is more than that and there is a huge list of amazing things to see and do, including natural beauty attractions, top-rated beaches, outstanding museums, incredible shopping spots, great food, and of course all of these under a fantastic sunny weather all year long. Definitely, you will not feel bored in the “City of Angels” !
I have visited Los Angeles several times within a two-year period (2014-2015), which gave me the opportunity to see quite many of its attractions (few of them more than once) but also to have some day trips outside LA. Both are really great experiences, but the main problem you have to get along with is the huge traffic jams that can drive you crazy sometimes !4
Los Angeles Regions
Los Angeles Country, one of the original countries of California created in 1850, sprawls across a broad coastal basin bounded by the Santa Monica mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The city of Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States after New York City, with a population of more than 4 million residents, while the population of the Los Angeles metropolitan area is more than 13 million.
LA city consists of many districts and neighborhoods, such as Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Downtown LA, Pasadena, Catalina island, LAX, Crescenta Valley, Malibu, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach. Each one has its own character and several attractions worth being visited.
And the best way to explore it is obviously by a convertible car so that you can enjoy the beautiful blue sky and sorrounding palm trees ! Or you can try something more alternative …
Considered as the apotheosis of the entertainment world, Hollywood is the most famous and popular suburb of LA. Most of its attractions are closely related to the film industry representing its glamour and prestige. Here you will find the spectacular Hollywood Sign, the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, the TCL Chinese Theatre, the Dolby Theatre, Universal Studios, Hollywood Bowl, Sunset Strip, a lot of museums and you never know … a celebrity. You should dedicate at least one full day or maybe two to explore and experience Hollywood.
1. Hollywood Sign
You can’t go to Hollywood and miss taking a photo of the Hollywood sign, the most coveted photo shot in Hollywood. There are several articles of where is the best spot to have a good view of it (for example from the Griffith Park) since even though you can see it from many places, it is always far to capture it as you would wish.
What is interesting is that the original site that was installed in 1923 at the Hollywood Hills of Santa Monica Mountains read “HOLLYWOODLAND” and it was a real estate advertisment with the intention to remain for 1 year and a half. However, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, they renamed it to “HOLLYWOOD” and eventually, it became the most iconic site in Hollywood and an internationally recognized symbol of the city.
2. Hollywood Walk of Fame
Maybe the most touristic place I have ever visited, but still it is worth walking across one of the world’s most famous sidewalks, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where most of the Hollywood stars and not only have left their handprints and signatures.
It was an idea of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to embed stars into the sidewalks in the 1950s in order to “maintain the glory of a community whose name means glamour and excitement in the four corners of the world“. For sure, there were debates, for the idea itself, the design of the star, the nomination process of the “stars” and so on. What I found a bit surprising is that one of the conditions to be eligible for nomination is that you must pay $30K. Well fame is not for free apparently. What though I find even more interesting is the “missing stars“, people you would expect to have a star but they don’t. For example, the two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro is one of those.
Today, the Hollywood Walk of Fame stretches along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and there are more than 2600 stars, with more added each year. Along it, you will find the legendary Chinese Theatre, home of the Hollywood’s most glamorous film permieres and the Dolby Theater that is hosting every year the Academy Award ceremony (Oscars).
Be aware though that most of the sights are fully packed with tourists and street performers asking for your attention and obviously a tip.
3. Sunset Strip
While still in Hollywood, our next stop was the legendary Sunset Strip, a 2.4 km portion of the Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood that connects Hollywood with Beverly Hills. The strip has a long history and has changed a lot over the years. Back in the 20s, it was mostly full of casinos and nightclubs that attracted the stars. By the ’60s, its character turned to a rock and roll culture with many famous bands such as Led Zeppelin, Doors playing at several venues.
Today, the Sunset Strip remains one of the most iconic neighborhoods of Hollywood, a place to see and be seen. It is full of high-end fashion bootiques, fine restaurants, rock clubs, elegant hotels and all of these towered by huge, colorful billboards. We visited the Sunset during the day and at night, and the scenery was totally different.
Apart from walking across the street, you can find many famous places to have lunch, dinner or a drink. We went to Bar Marmont, located at Chateau Marmont, a castle-like hotel where many celebrities have stayed and it appears in many films and musicals. They say it is the place where you increase your chances of seeing a celebrity … but we didn’t!
4. Melrose Avenue
Maybe the most alternative street in Los Angeles, Melrose Avenue is definitely a worth visiting destination. What it makes it so unique and special is that it combines posh and funky style shops, satisfying both luxury lovers and punk creepers. Starting at Santa Monica Boulevard where Beverly Hills and West Hollywood meet, it is known as the intersection of posh and funky.
But Melrose Avenue is not only a shopping destination. It also features plenty of dining and entertainment options, ranging from upscale restaurants to moderate cafes and bars. In and between shopping, we had our Sunday brunch, since nowhere in LA is brunch taken more seriously than here. The must-have in your menu is a bottomless mimosa, an orange juice with champagne ! Don’t over-do it though, as there are many things to explore !
After exploring Hollywood, our next destination was the neighboring city of Beverly Hills, sometimes referred as “90210” since this is one of its main zip codes and after the famous TV series “Beverly Hills, 90210” with Brandon, Brenda, Kelly, Donna, Dylan and Steve.
Beverly Hills is one of the most luxurious and prestigious areas of Los Angeles, and probably it wouldn’t be exaggeration to say of the world. Here you will mostly see expensive cars, designer boutiques, luxurious villas and hotels, top-rated gourmet restaurants and bars, it is a place for the rich and the famous. The main attraction for tourists is having a guided tour outside the houses of celebrities combined with other attractions. Maybe a good option, but we didn’t go for it. We just drove around and I was really amazed with the wealth and beauty of the place.
1. Rodeo Drive
What you should definitely not miss while in Beverly Hills is to walk along Rodeo-Drive, the most famous shopping street of LA … yes where Julia Roberts went for shopping in the movie Pretty Woman. It is the heart of fashion, luxury and lifestyle. Most of the shops are high-priced brands but you can also find good offers, as I did !
2. Mullholland Drive
A totally recommended route while in Beverly Hills (or in Hollywood) is driving along the Mulholland Drive. Mulholland Drive is not just the mysterious and enigmatic movie directed by David Lynch that is considered as the best movie of the 21st Century. It is a 21-mile long road that runs from the Santa Monica Mountains to the Hollywood Hills, dangerous for driving due to its many blind curves but totally rewarding with the breath-taking views it offers over the Los Angeles Basin, the San Fernando Valley (the place where the porno industry operates), the Hollywood Sign, the infinite Pacific Ocean and the desert between LA and the rest of US.
As you can imagine, nearby you will spot some of the most expensive and luxurious homes in the world, many owned by Hollywood stars, such as Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, Madonna (in the past) and so many others. Most of them are hidden behind gates, back into the hillside and a bit away from the road, but if you make a stop you can have a glimpse of few of them.
Last but not least to mention is that it is named after its main engineer William Mulholland, who was the head engineer of the construction of the massive aqueduct that brought water to LA allowing it to grow into the largest city of California. It is not random that David Lynch had said “you can feel the history of Hollywood in Mulholland Drive“.
3. Griffith Park
If you feel overwhelmed with the wealth and glamour of the famous districts of LA and you probably want to escape from the crowds and the massive traffic jams to a more natural environment, then the Griffith Park is the best next destination to explore. This was also what we opted for and turned to be a great choice. Located in the eastern part of Santa Monica Mountains, Griffith Park is one of the largest municipal parks in USA and the second largest in California. There are so many attractions and activities that spending one full day might not be enough.
The most famous landmark is the Griffith Observatory, a beautiful art-deco planetarium that not only offers impressive views to LA city especially at dusk, but also hosts very interesting and fascinating exhibitions. Other attractions include the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, a Greek theater, golf courses, tennis courts, lagoons and waterfalls, hiking and biking trails, horse riding.
What I mostly enjoyed was hiking to the top of the hill. It was the best way to explore the park and enjoy the view over the city and of course the Hollywood Sign.
Los Angeles Coastline
Los Angeles is famous for two main things. The one is Hollywood and its movie industry and the second one is its amazing long wind sandy beaches across the Pacific coastline. Its beach has its own ranking, such as the best for surfing, the best for families and kids, the best for photography, the best for being seen, the best for people watching, the best for infamous body-builders, the best for relaxing and of course the best of the best. So, you have to go yourself and vote your best one ! I have been to five of them and if you continue reading you will find out which one is my best.
1. Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica beach, also referred as “State” beach, is maybe the most famous one and for most of the people the best beach in LA. You most probably know, that this is the main beach where the famous TV Series “Bay-watch” was filmed. What you might not know is that along its pier one of the best scenes of the movie “Forrest Gump” was also filmed. It is when Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) stops his long journey and looks across the ocean before deciding to keep running.
The endless golden sand and the famous Santa Monica Pier with its iconic Ferris wheel are the main attractions. But there are much more things to explore and experience. It features one of the most scenic rides across the Pacific Ocean and with a great view to the ocean from one side and to the mountains from the other. Street performers, amusement parks, shopping, restaurants apparently couldn’t be missing from here.
Something we loved and I would recommend (unless you are allergic to shrimps) is having a lunch or dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp CO, the film-inspired seafood restaurant chain, that is located on the pier. Everything in the menu has shrimps, the atmosphere is great and fun, the views to the beach are gorgeous ! The only drawback is that there is a waiting queue and you cannot make any reservation. The good thing is you don’t have to stand in the line. They tell you when to return and they are extremely punctual ! If they tell you in 32 minutes, it is in 32 minutes…
2. Venice Beach
Just next to Santa Monica Beach, you will find Venice Beach which has a unique and unusual vibe, offering an entire different experience even though the sand and the ocean view are almost identical. Its main attraction is the world famous Venice Boardwalk or officially known as the Ocean Front Walk, an area about one and half miles long that runs parallel to the beach and fairly has the reputation of the place to see and to be seen, a human landscape actually.
One of the main spots along the walkway is the street market with eclectic and alternative shops such as tattoo and piercing stores and doctor shops providing medical marijuana. Street performers and entertainers of all kinds such as break-dancers, jogglers, fortune tellers also line the walkway. Another unique and bizarre hub is the appropriately called Muscle Beach where bodybuilders pump iron under the hot California sun. Here you will also find a Skate Park which is considered one of the best in the world. In a bit of contradiction to this scene, there is also a great selection of fine restaurants and bars.
I was wondering why it is called “Venice” since there is nothing in common with the namesake city in Italy, apart from a few channels above the beach. After searching for it, I found out that when it was initially developed in the early 20th century, the idea was to model it as Venice. However, in practice this didn’t work and the neighborhood adopted the Californian lifestyle, which I think makes sense since it is in California and otherwise it would be fake.
If you like Thai cuisine, there is a great one and reasonably priced along the canals, called Siamese Garden. The Phad Thai is amazing !
To sum up, Venice Beach is admittedly very unique and special. Maybe not the best for family and swimming but certainly worth to be visited.
3. Manhattan Beach
Manhattan Beach is the main beach of the city of Manhattan Beach, which is the place where I was mostly staying during my trips to LA. Partly that is the reason, this is my favorite one among the ones I have visited in LA. After going there quite a few times, I felt it somehow like home rather than a touristic spot to visit. But I do also believe that it is objectively a great beach combining a exquisite landscape and lifestyle without getting over-crowded with tourists.
Manhattan beach is also famous for world-class surfing and you will be really amazed watching people surfing ! There are also very nice restaurants and bars and at the end of the pier an aquarium with free entrance and interesting sea creatures. You have many reasons to visit it.
Malibu, also called “the BU” by locals and surfers, is not a single beach but a beach city with more than 30 beaches along the Pacific Ocean. Its name is derived from the word “Humaliwo” which means “The Surf Sounds Loudly“, which accurately describes the place. The houses here, many of which are owned by Hollywood movie stars, are just a few meters away from the ocean and as you can easily guess the cost of buying one here is extravagant. That’s why it is also nicknamed the “Billionaire’s Beach Resident“.
Among its beaches many of which are hidden and others private, one of the most famous is the Surfrider Beach which is the hot spot for surfers as its name implies. The Zuma Beach is also very famous for its length and no existence of houses. El Matador State Beach is popular for the stunning sunset and photographing models because of its rocky scenery. The El Pescador Beach is an excellent place for a picnic, watching birds and fishing (as its name suggests).
Apparently, this is just a taste I had from Malibu, but at least when I drink the cocktail it now tastes even better !
5. Getty Villa
If you feel enough with the beaches and you want to have a more cultural experience, you are very lucky since the Getty Villa is not only located at the eastern end of Malibu but also a very but very interesting museum that you should visit anyway.
The Getty Villa is actually one of the two Getty museums built by J. Paul Getty for a dual purpose. Being a lover of Ancient Greece, Rome and Etruria and having a huge collection of ancient antiquities, he decided to build a villa to house his collections but also to offer to the visitors the opportunity to see and feel how a Roman Villa looked like.
The museum complex includes a big ancient Greek-style theater, the Italian-style Villa and a cafe. The entire construction is beautiful and the views to the ocean outstanding.
The collection inside is also very impressive, especially for those interested in ancient art. There are 44000 sculptures dating from 6500 BC to 400 AD.
Admission is free but you need to reserve online and in advance parking for a specific time frame.
Markets in LA
A major attraction in Los Angeles its the great markets. There are many in almost every region, but the most famous ones are the Grand Central Market, the Original Farmers’ Market (since there are many farmers’ markets) and The Grove.
1. Grand Central Market
Established in 1917 at Downtown LA, the Grand Central Market is the oldest open-air market on the west coast and is famous for being a foodie heaven mainly because of the international diversity of the cuisines that are represented here.
2. The Original Farmers' Market
The Original Farmer’s Market is a historic landmark in LA that first opened in 1934 during the economic depression by eight farmers who decided to sell their products directly to the consumers. The idea was very successful and the market started expanding by incorporating more famers and other vendors. Today, it is one of the biggest markets in LA featuring food stalls, restaurants with american cuisine and ethnic food from many countries, specialty shops and many others. All these make it a great touristic attraction.
3. The Grove
Adjacent to the Farmers’ Market is The Grove which is an open-air mall with many retailer shops, shops, cafes, bars and entertainment venues. There is a music fontaine with the water shows that evoke the Fontaines of Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas.
If I haven’t been to LA as a work trip, maybe I wouldn’t have considered visiting Pasadena, since the list of major attractions is already huge. But staying here couple of times gave me the chance to visit the city place and explore it a bit. Pasadena is actually very close to Downtown LA, so it can be easily included in your list, unless you have to cope with the heavy traffic jams.
Pasadena is mostly known as an upscale community with many cultural, entertainment and scientific institutions and of course lots of great restaurants and shops around the Old Town. It is mostly famous for hosting the New Year’s Day Rose Parade, also known as Tournament of Roses, which includes floral float along with marching bands and high-stepping equestrian units. For more info https://tournamentofroses.com/
Day Trips from Los Angeles
Admittedly, Los Angeles is a world-class travel destination offering a countless list of great attractions and activities within the city. Being at LA for quite a few times, I was lucky to explore a few of them listed in my post Day Trips from Los Angeles.