Welcome to the vibrant tapestry of Los Angeles, a city that thrives on diversity, individuality, and boundless creativity. Sure, you can (and should) visit iconic sites like the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Santa Monica Pier, but this guide is all about delving beyond the surface and experiencing LA like a true local.
Los Angeles knows how to treat its guests, you’ll find something to please just about everyone here. These top 10 things to do in LA are all portals into the different facets of the city’s dynamic personality, and even if you only have time for a little taste of this incredible city you will leave you wanting more.
1. Blend nature and fitness with free yoga at Runyon Canyon
There’s a reason Runyon Canyon is a popular spot among tourists, locals, and even celebrities. From the stunning views across Los Angeles and the Hollywood Sign to the sense of community along the trail, reaching the top lies in the shared experience of accomplishment and positivity.
Beyond the beaten path is a lesser-known free yoga class that takes place every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:30am – and has been since 1999. The sessions are run in the fenced-in children’s play area inside the main bottom entrance and all are welcome. While there’s no admission fee, a donation of at least $5 is encouraged.
Planning tip: If you choose to do the hike as well, Runyon Canyon gets busy especially during early mornings, sunset, and weekends. The path is wide and there’s enough room for all, but if you’re thinking of stopping to take in the gorgeous city views (highly recommend you do), be sure to stick to one side.
2. Upgrade movie night at Hollywood Forever Cemetery
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery is not just a burial ground and a place to pay tribute to some of LA’s biggest stars like Judy Garland and Estelle Getty, but a cultural legacy and place of celebration. Located in the heart of Hollywood, the cemetery was established in 1899 and is one of the oldest cemeteries in Los Angeles. And while places of rest are typically somber, Hollywood Forever has been the home to outdoor film screenings during the summer since 2002. Just like in the movie Valentine’s Day, hundreds of people gather on Fairbanks Lawn to watch a movie that’s projected onto the side of a mausoleum.
Planning tip: If you’re not visiting during screening season, the grounds are open every day to tour.
3. Witness celestial magic when visiting Griffith Observatory at night
Griffith Observatory is an iconic must-visit landmark when traveling around Los Angeles, but it takes on a new level of enchantment from sunset to nightfall. The observatory is set on the slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains providing visitors with unparalleled panoramic views of the city. Marry this with one of Los Angeles’ picturesque sunsets and clear night skies and words truly can’t describe the magnificence of the surroundings.
Beyond the stellar views, inside the observatory itself is the Zeiss Telescope, where if you’re lucky, you can witness celestial objects like Halley’s Comet, firsthand. The spyglass was first installed back in 1935 and has now seen more than seven million people explore the universe through the original refracting telescope – the most looked-through telescope in the world.
Detour: Instead of joining the large crowds and traffic making their way up to the observatory in time for sunset, spend the day. With nearly 70 different trails around Griffith Park, including a hike to the Hollywood Sign, there’s plenty to do and see before dusk falls.
4. Savor global flavors at the historic Grand Central Market
Amidst the towering skyscrapers and urban pulse of downtown Los Angeles, Grand Central Market has been an iconic spot and immersive journey for food lovers since 1917. The city’s rich and diverse cultural cuisines, flavors, and aromas all come together into one melting pot. Beyond being a foodie destination, it’s a hub of cultural activities like live music and food festivals.
Local tip: While your senses won’t let you down when choosing what to eat, visiting The Donut Man is an LA non-negotiable. The legendary donut shop has been around since the ’70s and you’ll find their stall at the front left corner (if you enter from Broadway). The strawberry-stuffed donut is a must-try and is what made this little vendor an LA icon.
5. Immerse yourself in local artistry with a mural walking tour in the Arts District
Creatives will find inspiration and invigoration with a walking tour in the Arts District. The vibrant neighborhood boasts an impressive two miles of street art and murals that often go unnoticed by those rushing through the city with places to be. Stopping by and joining a tour will give you the chance to delve into the urban expression, and uncover stories and culture that live within the city’s walls.
Each guide is a local artist and consequently provides very knowledgeable commentary about the inspiration behind each piece, the techniques used, and the artists themselves. Each tour takes approximately two hours and movement is at a very slow pace, making it accessible for most.
6. Travel Back to the Prohibition era at No Vacancy
For those looking for a bar that’s something out of the ordinary, No Vacancy found tucked away in Hollywood, is a hidden gem and a one-of-a-kind experience. The speakeasy-style tavern transports you back to the Prohibition era with dim lighting, vintage decor, and a sense of mystery. For those who haven’t been, I don’t want to spoil the entrance for you, but it will set the tone and be something you will talk about for a long time.
Local tip: The bartenders at No Vacancy are skilled mixologists and craft cocktails that pay homage to the signature drinks of the speakeasy era. Twelve of the top mixologists (aka The Dirty Dozen, including Adrian Biggs and Simon Ford) were brought in to create a slew of drinks that paid homage to Prohibition times. If you’re not sure where to start, the gin-based China Doll is a popular choice and is made with Caprock Gin, jasmine water, lemon juice, coconut jasmine cream and egg white.
7. Find resilience and inspiration with a hike to Wisdom Tree
One of the many Griffith Park hikes leads you to the tranquil escape of Wisdom Tree. The tree gained fame during the 2007 Hollywood Hills fire when it was the only piece of nature to survive. Since then, Wisdom Tree has been an important place for those looking to reflect and gain perspective while seeking resilience and inspiration. Join in with a symbolic token of gratitude or add to the many handwritten notes that adorn the tree base, and feel connected with those who have visited.
Beyond the letters and the bonds, the views of the sprawling Los Angeles city when hiking to Wisdom Tree are breathtaking. On a clear day you’ll be able to see Downtown skyscrapers to the glistening Pacific Ocean on the west side.
8. Escape the crowds and discover the hidden coves and sea caves at El Matador Beach
El Matador State Beach is a hidden gem of breathtaking beauty, the kind of place you’ll eagerly share with friends and family when returning home. With its rugged cliffs, unique rock formations, and pristine setting, the site is known as a haven for photography enthusiasts especially during sunset. There’ll be no regrets about visiting any time of day but views during golden hour are unmatched. Beyond its natural shine, kids will also keep occupied with tidepool exploration where marine life like anemones, sea stars, hermit crabs, small fish and the odd octopus call home.
Planning tip: El Matador is not an accessible beach. To access the sand, you’ll need to walk down a steep pathway and a flight of stairs.
9. Let your spirit run wild along the Venice Beach boardwalk
What sets Venice Beach and its famed boardwalk apart is its celebration of individuality and diversity. There’s a good chance you’ll run into the local vibe setter who rides his bike up and down all day with his blaring boombox, while also seeing magicians, street performers, and artists. Meanwhile, your tastebuds will be salivating over the various exotic-yet-familiar street food options.
If you visit during the weekend, stick around until sunset for the famous Drum Circle. When the sun goes down, hundreds gather with their drums, shakes, congas and other percussion instruments to have a jam. Bring your music maker or just your dancing feet, and enjoy the communal festivities.
Detour: Venice Beach can be overwhelming at times, so if you’re looking for a charming escape to break up the day, head over to 25th Street and allow yourself to be transported to “Italy”. The Venice Canals were founded in 1905 after tobacconist Abbot Kinney was inspired by the Italian town. While he started with 13, by 1928 he was left with six which remain today. After many court hearings between Kinney and the City, the Supreme Court ruled that the City was within its rights to pave over seven canals as at the time it was decided that they needed more roads.
10. Treat your inner child to a treehouse escape at Café 27
It was a TikTok video that recently drew my attention to the secret little magical hideaway that is Café 27. It’s a “have to know it to know it” kind of place that’s tucked away in the Topanga Canyons. The charming eatery features a laid-back spirit that’s mixed with rustic surroundings and delicious bites in an open alfresco layout. You may hear locals refer to it as “Treehouse Restaurant” – all the more reason to visit, who doesn’t want to play and eat in a treehouse?
Planning tip: Café 27 is located in Malibu and its proximity to Topanga State Park makes it a popular spot for hikers and nature enthusiasts. Fuel up at the Treehouse before exploring the area.