It’s hard to know where to begin when visiting a city like Los Angeles. Home to Hollywood – a name synonymous with the American film industry, exclusive neighborhoods, famous theme parks, and world-renowned landmarks, L.A. is a great place to visit at any time of year. But unlike other metropolises around the world, Los Angeles’s attractions and best places to visit are spread all over. If you are coming from a smaller town, you’ll probably find this sprawl a bit intimidating.
There are countless things to do in L.A., but unless you live here, like I do, you won’t be able to cover them all. Nonetheless, if this is your first time in Los Angeles, I’m sure you are looking for a guide that will give you some perspective on the top attractions and best places to visit during your trip. So let’s get started!
About this Guide
This guide will take you through a few of L.A.’s most famous neighborhoods, like Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, or Malibu. Show you some of the city’s famous landmarks, like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Chinese Theater, or Griffith Observatory. It will also give you an overview of the best theme parks in Los Angeles, in case you are traveling with children (or are still a child at heart!)
These are just a few of the popular tourist attractions in Los Angeles that I’ll be covering in this guide. I hope that by the time you finish reading this post, you’ll have an idea about what you’d like to include in your L.A itinerary.
Best Places to Visit in Los Angeles with Children
Los Angele is home to a ton of amusement parks which account for some of the city’s biggest attractions. And you don’t need to be a child to enjoy them. These parks are fun to visit at any age. Some of them are really unique and representative for the city.
Universal Studios used to be one of my family’s favorite places to visit in Los Angeles, when our son was growing up. It has plenty of fun filled rides, which can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. But don’t expect tall rollercoasters here. There are rollercoasters, of course, but they are rides filled with fun filled and adventures. Universal Studios is more about rides with stories, stunts and special effects, which is very entertaining.
The Mummy Ride is probably the best rollercoaster you would experience here. A few years ago, they opened the new Jurassic Park ride. I also recommend the Harry Potter ride and the Transformers. Yes, the wait might be an hour long… but its totally worth it!
The park is located in Studio City, 11 miles away from downtown Los Angeles. Admission price is $114/day if you buy your ticket online, vs. $134/day if you buy it at the gate.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
And speaking of rollercoasters, if you are an adrenaline junkie you’ll get plenty of excitement at Six Flags Magic Mountain. The rides are super fun and they accommodate all ages, so everybody will enjoy them. They also have the best stage shows. Our son’s favorite ride was the Hall of Justice, but there are many fun rides to try.
The 262-acre amusement park is located in Valencia, California, 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Admission price is $65/day.
Without a doubt the most popular attraction in Los Angeles for families with children is Disneyland theme park. This is a place that everybody visiting Los Angeles should see at least once. Disneyland represents more than just rides and entertainment; it’s a place that will remind you of your childhood characters.
Mickey Mouse and his cronies, the Lion King, Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid they are all present, waiting to entertain the park visitors with the wonderful world of Disney.
Built in 1955, the Disneyland Resort in California is in fact the original Disneyland. It is also one of the oldest and largest theme parks in the world.
The park is located in Anaheim, 27 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. Admission price is $104/day. You can buy a multiple day pass and save.
Santa Monica Pier & Beach
Just a short 20-minute drive from Downtown area is one of L.A.’s most beloved landmarks: Santa Monica Pier. The famous Santa Monica beach which stretches along either side of the historic Pier is a magnet for beach lovers from all over the world.
But the bustling wooden wharf is where all the action is. With its shops, small restaurants, arcade, roller coaster and giant Ferris wheel, the historic Santa Monica Pier continues to be the main attraction in Los Angeles for families with kids. Admission is free.
Griffith Observatory is one of the best places to visit if you want to takes panoramic photos of Los Angeles. On a clear day, you can also see Santa Monica from up here. The Observatory features space-related exhibits, star shows in the planetarium, and a telescope.
The best time to visit is the late afternoon towards the evening when you can stick around to see the sun setting and the city lights.
Admission to the Observatory building, grounds, and telescopes is free. However, you will have to buy tickets if you want to watch the planetarium show.
The grounds of the Observatory are very beautiful and fun to visit. And while up here, don’t miss the famous Hollywood Sign. You can catch an unobstructed view of the Sign on the opposite hill, to the right of the Observatory.
Since hiking to the Hollywood Sign is illegal, this is the best spot to observe this iconic landmark. One interesting fact to know is that the Hollywood Sign was’t part of a movie set, as many people believe. It was actually an outdoor billboard for a real-estate development.
Aquarium of the Pacific
The Aquarium of the Pacific sits on a 5-acre site in Rainbow Harbor, Long Beach. The aquarium is a one of the most educational attractions in Los Angeles, home to more than 500 marine species. This is a great place to visit for people of all ages, but especially for the little ones who in contact with touch pools and sensory exhibits.
Here you can see delicate sea horses, playful penguins, otters, and predatory reef sharks. Real marine biologists are at hand to answer questions.
The nearby Shoreline Village and the Queen Mary Hotel and Attraction are both worth visiting. The Aquarium is only 25 miles away from Los Angeles Downtown. Admission prices are: $35.95/adult, $26.95/child, $33.95/senior.
Los Angeles County Arboretum
Peacocks, waterfalls, a haunted mansion, and so much more! If you like parks and gardens, don’t miss the beautiful Los Angeles County Arboretum. This mesmerizing botanical garden has plants from all regions of the globe, grouped by geography. You’ll find Australian, Mediterranean, South American, African, and Asiatic-North American plants.
But in addition to the great variety of gardens, the L.A. Country Arboretum features a Historical Landmark: the Queen Anne Cottage, a significant example of Queen Anne style architecture.
Los Angeles Arboretum is located in Arcadia, about 20 miles away from the Downtown. Admission prices are: $15/adults and $11/seniors & children.
La Brea Tar Pits and Museum
It’s hard to imagine that thousands of years ago mammoths and sloths roamed freely throughout what is now urban Los Angeles. And yet, the La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park are living proof of that.
Back in the 1900s, scientists discovered fossils of large animals, plants and insects trapped in the sticky mud of this area.
The museum has fantastic displays of skeletons found here and does a great job explaining how the tar pits were formed. You will also find out why or how the animals died, as well as the procedures for excavating the sites. There is also a path that takes you through the active excavation sites, where you can actually see the gas bubbling up from the tar.
Admission is $15/adults and $12/seniors and students.
Angels Flight Railway
Located in Downtown area is one of Los Angeles’ oldest landmarks: Angels Flight Railway. This 120 years old cable car that takes passengers up to the top of Bunker Hill from the Pershing Square Metro station, is the world’s shortest ride. It takes only 50 seconds!
If you ever wanted to ride the funicular from the movie La-La Land, here is your chance. The funicular appeared in movies ever since 1918, but more recently it was used to film Ryan Gosling’s and Emma Stone’s characters riding it in the 2016 film La La Land.
Angels Flight has two funicular cars – Olivet and Sinai – running in opposite directions on a shared cable. Admission is only $1 each way and the experience is really fun!
Best Attractions in Los Angeles for Couples
Whether you travel with a big family, a group of friends, or just your spouse, Los Angeles has plenty of attractions for everyone. So here are some of the places that you may enjoy as a couple.
Malibu is a must, even if you only have one day in Los Angeles. This is where the famous Pacific Coast Highway drive starts. Here is where you’ll see some of the most picturesque stretches of beach in Southern California.
The beaches in Malibu are however very different from the ones in Santa Monica or Venice. They offer a truly laidback experience where you can just lay in the sand and dip in the ocean.
In Malibu you will find surf beaches and stretches of shore with tide pools, caves and strange rock formations (Leo Carillo). Some of them are private, so they allow alcohol on the beach (Paradise Cove), but they are notorious for the huge parking fees.
Getty Center is more than just an art museum. It’s one of the most unique places to visit in Los Angeles composed of numerous galleries that spread out in multiple buildings. The Center holds European paintings, drawings, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts.
Getty Center sits high up on a hill overlooking the city of Los Angeles and is connected to the parking lot at the bottom by a funicular.
Originally, the Getty Museum started in J. Paul Getty‘s house located in Pacific Palisades in 1954. After Getty’s death in 1976, the entire property was turned into a museum – the Getty Villa.
However, the collection outgrew the site and management sought a location more accessible to Los Angeles. And this is how the Getty Center was created. Today the Getty Villa displays only the antiquities collection. The rest of the Getty art collections have been moved to the Getty Center.
Admission is free, though temporarily requires a timed-entry reservation.
Hollywood Walk of Fame
The Walk of Fame is an internationally recognized Hollywood icon. It encompasses over 2,600 five-pointed stars made of terrazzo and brass and embedded in the sidewalks along Hollywood Boulevard.
The stars – which are given in recognition for achievements in the entertainment industry – bear the names of famous musicians, actors, directors and producers.
What began as a Chamber of Commerce marketing tactic, is today one of Los Angeles’s biggest magnets. It attracts an estimated 10 million visitors each year.
Located on Hollywood Boulevard, in Hollywood, the Chinese Theater became famous for being the venue of the Academy Awards ceremony from 1944-1946. But most visitors are lured here by the celebrity handprints and footprints in the concrete of the theater’s forecourt.
The tradition began during the theater construction, when one of the Hollywood legends at the time accidentally stepped into the wet cement outside the building.
Instead of covering the imprint, theater owner Sid Grauman encouraged other celebrities to repeat the “mistake.” And so it all began. The courtyard is usually cluttered with tourists trying to snap a shot of the famous imprints.
Right next to the Chinese Theater, also on Hollywood Boulevard, is the Dolby Theater – the current and permanent home of the Academy Awards. Dolby Theatre opened its doors in 2001 as the Kodak Theatre.
Its façade is at the front of the Hollywood & Highland Center, a nice shopping area with boutiques and souvenir shops.
The Sunset Strip
The famous Sunset Strip is located in West Hollywood, one of the oldest and most fashionable neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Back in the 60s and 70s, West Hollywood became a major gathering place for the unconventional culture, with hippies, musicians and artists flooding the streets.
Today, West Hollywood is the hottest destination for the entertainment industry with its boutique hotels, celebrity-owned restaurants, and vibrant nightlife. From elite and trendy clubs to low-key casual bars, gay clubs and old school rock’n roll hangouts, you can find something for everyone. Young actors tend to live out here, so this is the most likely place to see celebrities out on the street.
Huntington Library & Gardens
Hidden in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, just a few miles away from Downtown Los Angeles, lies one of the best kept secrets in L.A.: the Huntington Library & Gardens. Spread over 130 acres, this marvelous arboretum features 16 stunning theme gardens, a library, an art museum, a tea house and two cafés.
The Library, which was founded by the railroad and real estate magnate Henry E. Huntington, contains a fine selection of books and manuscripts. There is also a great art collection in one of the buildings.
But the gardens are the most delighting part of this complex. Extending on 207 acres, the Huntington Gardens display more than 14,000 varieties of plants. Many of them are rare and exotic plants. The area is organized in over a dozen smaller gardens, each one with a very unique atmosphere and color. You have a Rose Garden, a Desert Garden, a Herb Garden, a Japanese Garden, a Jungle Garden, and many more. This is a great place to visit if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.
Rodeo Drive is a high end shopping area that stretches between Wilshire Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard and encompasses 3 blocks. The street itself – Rodeo Drive – is approximately 2 miles long.
Many people expect to see celebrities roaming around with hefty shopping bags, on Rodeo Drive. But you’ll probably meet more tourists than locals here, so don’t get your hopes up. Rodeo Drive is however a very fancy area, full of luxury stores, fancy boutiques and high-end restaurants, that will surely make you feel like a celebrity.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Located on South Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, Walt Disney Concert Hall is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Its distinctive appearance, with stunning stainless steel curves, makes it easily recognizable.
Since 2003, when it opened its doors to the public, Walt Disney Hall has received worldwide praises for its stunning architecture and extraordinary sound.
Attending a concert here is a dream-come-true. But if that doesn’t fit into you schedule, you should at least take a guided tour of the hall and the gardens.
Los Angeles Public Library
Also in Downtown Los Angeles you’ll find the L.A. Public Library, which has been designated a Historic Cultural Monument. The building itself is an architectural gem, featuring a tiled pyramid roof and a beautiful garden. Inside the library you’ll find many beautiful spaces, like the Atrium of the Tom Bradley wing, or the stairway outside the Getty Gallery.
But the focal point of the library is the Rotunda, a huge hall covered with elaborate paintings and a gigantic dome ceiling.
Admission is free.
Broadway Historic Theater District
The historic Broadway Theater District stretches along South Broadway, between 3rd Street and 9th Street, in Downtown Los Angeles.
The best way to visit these historic buildings is to take a tour of the Theater District. Walking into these theaters feels like looking through a window into the entertainment industry’s heyday.
What will surprise you is that some of these theaters seem much bigger on the inside than on the outside.
Tips for Making the Most of Your Visit to Los Angeles
• As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Los Angeles’s attractions are spread all over the place. That is why, when making your itinerary, it’s important to group them according to their location, in order to save time on the road.
• One of the best ways to see Los Angeles on your own is the Los Angeles Hop-on Hop-off Double Decker Bus Tour. Hop on or off at over 45 popular stops spread across 3 different routes and enjoy panoramic view of the city. You can explore Hollywood, Downtown Los Angeles, and Santa Monica Pier and beaches with a 24- or 48-hour bus pass.
• If you are interested in a guided tour, the 7-hour LA Grand Tour is your best bet. The open bus tour will take you through Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica Beach on an open bus, to show you what Los Angeles has to offer. Stop at 4 different locations to experience the highlights of the city.
A Final Thought
Los Angeles is one the world’s most fascinating cities, so no matter what you choose to visit you’ll have an amazing time. Because there is so much to see and do here, you should plan on spending at least 3-4 days in L.A. And if you have more time, you can add some day trips or easy getaways from Los Angeles. There are so many beautiful places around!