The best things to do in Los Angeles includes lazy beach days, exhilarating theme parks and amazing museums. We saw beautiful sunrises, stunning scenery and sampled the Californian lifestyle, and you can do it too in just 4 or 5 days. Or stay longer and explore more of this exciting city at your leisure.
Here is the best of what’s on offer with things to do for all ages and tastes.
When you fly long haul in a westerly direction, like we did from the UK, you tend to wake up really early so it makes sense to see some fabulous sunrises. We started our first day at the Griffith Observatory and it was gorgeous. We arrived at around 6.30am and the car park was almost empty with only a few people up there to catch the early morning scenic views.
The Los Angeles skyline was beautiful.
This is such an iconic photo; the James Dean bust with the Hollywood sign in the background.
You can plan ahead by checking the sunrise times online. Our trip was at Easter so the sun rose at around 6.30am and set at around 7pm.
The light is beautiful at this time of the day and you can really beat the crowds, it really is one of the best things to do in Los Angeles.
We are a family of football (soccer) lovers and know very little about baseball, but in the late 80s I declared myself a Dodgers fan and so really wanted to visit their stadium. It turned out to be a fantastic experience which all the family enjoyed.
You meet your tour guide at the top of the stadium where he tells you all sorts of fascinating facts and ours was superb. He was enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of the team and its history.
The trips behind the scenes were so interesting and it’s incredible how many trophies the team has won over the years.
There was a game that night so we brushed shoulders with some of the players, which was really cool. A couple were practising on the pitch while we were at the track side.
We could even sit in the dugouts! Although there is a lot of walking involved, on all levels of the stadium, it was very wheelchair-friendly.
There was a huge collection of memorabilia, from old tickets, posters, lockers, uniforms and even some seats from the original stadium.
If you’re a Dodgers fan then this is not to be missed, it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Los Angeles. Even if you just have a passing interest in baseball then it’s a great way to spend a few hours.
If you’d like to read more reviews of the Dodger Stadium tour then check out TripAdvisor here.
Petersen Automotive Museum
I’d read about the Petersen Automotive Museum in various blogs and thought it would be something that my husband would enjoy, as he’s really into cars. I never thought the rest of us would be so impressed though, and the collection of cars, motorcycles and other transport is simply stunning.
The Petersen is incredible from the outside, a work of art in fact! It was redesigned in 2015 by a firm of architects and is now such a distinctive building.
The museum was founded by a publishing millionaire, Robert E Petersen, and is a non-profit organisation. The collections of automobiles are spread over three storeys and includes a porsche collection, ferraris, hot rods, jaguars and many other makes and models.
This is a small part of the Porsche collection which includes cars which date back to the early 1960s and are extremely rare. Every single machine is restored to perfection and looks absolutely pristine.
This is just one example of the hot rod collection. I took so many photos that I could write a whole blog on this museum alone!
They even had Lightning McQueen! There was plenty for children to look at and a special room with loads of interactive things to do, including understanding how an engine worked and designing a car on a computer.
There were so many classic cars, some of which were used in movies such as the one below, seen in the Great Gatsby.
There is a Harley Davidson section too, with some of their earliest models.
There is also a collection of Indian motorcycles, and a “Harley vs Indian” exhibition.
More examples of movie cars include this Batmobile.
I would highly recommend a visit. We arrived at around 3.30pm and it was very quiet, with plenty of room to see the cars from all angles. You don’t need to be a petrolhead to enjoy this attraction and it’s officially one of the best things to do in Los Angeles according to TripAdvisor; read more reviews here.
When I was researching the holiday I discovered the GO Los Angeles card which includes entry to a number of attractions. I did my homework, comparing the individual prices, and it turned out to be great value for money for our trip. We bought a three day pass, and one of the attractions which is included is the OUE Skyspace which is a skyline viewing attraction located in the US Bank Tower. To find out more about GO Los Angeles cards, read more here.
The terms of the card mean that you need to visit attractions before 5.30pm, so we made sure to get there before that time. You can stay as long as you like though, so could stay for the sunset which is a great way to see the skyline.
Easter Sunday turned out to be a great day to visit, as Downtown LA was virtually deserted. We parked in a public car park underneath one of the skyscrapers and entered the US Bank Tower building. Our GO Los Angeles pass allowed us the basic entry, but I wanted to try out the Skyslide so paid the extra $8 to have a go.
After a security check we got the lift up to the 70th floor. There are lots of interesting exhibits and things to read along the way. I’m sure it gets very busy but on the day we went it was quiet so we could take our time and do everything at our own pace. The weather forecast hadn’t been great but we enjoyed amazing 360 degree panoramic views of the city.
I stumbled on a link to Skyslide when browsing online and really wanted to try it out. It’s a 45 foot glass outdoor slide situated on the 70th floor of this building, where you slide down to the floor below. Unfortunately you need to be under 6 feet tall to use it so my husband couldn’t take part. There was a short queue so my sons and I we waited our turn, and then it was time to sit on the mat (a bit like on a helter skelter) and then you were off! It lasts just a few seconds but is very exhilarating to slide on clear perspex 1000 feet in the air! There’s a soft landing at the bottom and a member of staff to help you up if needed!
If one of your party changes their mind and gets cold feet when they see the slide then somebody else can use their ticket.
Skyspace also features some Collette Miller wings. I will talk more about these in future LA blogs but these must be the most panoramic set of angel wings in the world!
Read more about the Skyspace experience on TripAdvisor here, with details about the ticketing options as you can get a daytime/sunset ticket and skip-the-line tickets if you plan to visit during a busy period. Definitely one to add to your list if planning things to do in Los Angeles.
Warner Brothers Studio Tour
One attraction which makes the GO Los Angeles card great value for money is the Warner Brothers Studio tour which is usually $65 for an adult. The tour lasts 3-4 hours and takes you around exterior and interior sets used in some of the most major movies and TV shows ever made. It’s a working studio so you could bump into the stars going about their daily business and catch a glimpse of a movie being filmed.
The tour guides are brilliant and drive you around on carts with around 15 visitors in each tour group.
It’s a great insight behind the scenes and you learn so much about how films are made, and how sets are reused for many different projects! All they do is change the door knobs and lighting so they can switch from an LMFAO music video to a Jim Carrey movie at the drop of a hat.
Friends was filmed here and part of the tour included the Central Perk set and visitors were invited to take part in a scene. We scarpered at this point as we don’t really fancy ourselves as the next Ross or Rachel!
There is a Harry Potter exhibition, with many costumes and props from the movies. We also saw a preview of the new Fantastic Beasts film which will be released this summer, which looks amazing. They even had a sorting hat which children (and the young at heart) can find out which house they would belong to at Hogwarts. My 10 year old was sorted into Griffindor, which was a relief as he’s a dead ringer for a Weasley brother!
There was even a little Dobby, which is just as ugly in real life!
Our tour of the sets included the interior of this house. Can you recognise which scene from Friends it was used for?
Yes, it was prom night in the Geller house, where Ross came down the stairs and thought he was going with Rachel but she ended up going with someone else.
There was also a Batmobile exhibition in a massive hanger, with lots of different types of bat-transport including this bat-boat!
The collection of movie memorabilia is extensive, including iconic films such as Rebel Without A Cause and these costumes worn by James Dean and Natalie Wood.
We visited the set of Ellen, which is filmed here four days every week. As we visited on a Sunday it was deserted so we could explore the stage and pretend to be Ellen herself!
This is definitely one of the best things to do in Los Angeles for all the family. Read more reviews on TripAdvisor here.
The Getty Center
The Getty Center is the number 1 attraction in Los Angeles according to TripAdvisor, and has FREE ENTRY so we just had to visit!
We arrived just before opening time so there was plenty of space in the car park (which costs $15 but that’s all you pay to get in) and then a small train takes you to the Center which is at the top of a hill overlooking Los Angeles.
There are plenty of ambassadors to guide you onto the train and then off at the end, explaining where to start and where to find the free audio guides which are available. The helpers also explain about the free guided tours on various subjects spread throughout the day, they do make a brilliant first impression.
The first thing that strikes you about the Getty Center is the amazing architecture. John Paul Getty commissioned Richard Meier to design this incredible set of buildings and the curves, views and gardens are absolutely breathtaking.
The museum houses art, sculpture and other collections gathered by the Getty family over the years. There are special exhibitions too, and it could easily take a whole day to see everything.
It was the architecture which blew me away and was a work of art in itself. The lines, the shapes, the way that everything flowed; it was a pleasure just walking around the site.
The gardens are a work of art too, including this collection of trees.
This water feature is built as a maze and is stunning.
The buildings are designed to provide amazing views of Los Angeles too, and many are ‘framed’ by the architectural features like the one below.
Personally, I’m not a massive art fan, so we concentrated on the ‘big hitters’ like the Van Gogh collection. We marvelled at the incredible talent it takes to produce something like the portrait below, which was our favourite.
There is modern art too, including a paper-cutting collection, which Daniel thought would allow him to get some scissors out to create a masterpiece of his own. But sadly it was just looking at other peoples’ work! It’s very clever though, how artists photograph an image multiple times and then cut it up to create a 3D piece of art.
There is an Egyptian exhibition with some amazing artefacts.
It is definitely one of the best things to do in Los Angeles for all ages. It never seemed to get very busy on the day we went, although you often get groups of schoolchildren so they may be milling around some of the exhibits, mainly in the mornings. Read more on their official site here.
You can’t visit LA without going to Hollywood. We started our visit here and although it’s a bit tired and run down in places, it’s such an iconic area which needs to be ticked off your list!
The Walk Of Fame was surprisingly long and stretched out on both side of the road. We hadn’t heard of many of the ‘stars’ but there were household names dotted amongst the lesser known artists.
The famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre has many handprints of the stars too, and although we didn’t linger it was a very popular spot for tourists.
Our GO Los Angeles card gained us free entry to lots of nearby attractions so we visited the Hollywood Museum first. It’s set over four floors and houses some incredible movie memorabilia.
The entrance lobby is a vision of marble!
This year there is a 1960s Batman retrospective exhibition, with lots of nostalgic pieces from the original shows.
There were Batman costumes and even a Batmobile, as well as toys, pictures and other collectables.
The museum included memorabilia from Planet of the Apes as well as a horror section in the dungeon which housed a Hannibal Lecter cell and was very creepy!
We then paid a visit to Madam Tussaud’s waxworks which was a short walk along Hollywood Boulevard and was also included in our GO Los Angeles card. The family had never visited anything like this and were blown away by how realistic the models were. I was just shocked by how tiny Lady Ga Ga is; she makes me look like a giant!
I’m not sure these would be top of our list of things to do in Los Angeles but if you buy the GO Los Angeles card then they make the trip to Hollywood Boulevard much more worthwhile because the Walk Of Fame alone isn’t enough to justify the trip!
If you need a rest from all the ‘glamour’ then we found a little oasis amongst the tourists and tat along the main streets. Berry Que coffee and juice bar is just off Hollywood Boulevard and is a cool resting place with a range of food and drink options. You can go super-healthy like I did and try one of their delicious juices, like the Hollywood one below (it seemed fitting to choose this one!), or just stick to coffee or a range of cold drinks.
Their protein balls are delicious, and my boys enjoyed a less healthy chocolate chip cookie! It was great for a morning break but I wished I could have come back for lunch as the food options looked amazing.
Here’s a link to their Facebook page if you’d like to find out more!
Santa Monica Pier
We spent the last 4 days of our holiday at an AirBnB in Santa Monica. We haven’t used AirBnb much but loved the ‘duplex’ we stayed in (it would be called a maisonette in the UK!). See where we stayed here, and if you’re a new customer to AirBnB then you can use this special link to get a $35 credit (around £25) towards your first stay.
Santa Monica has an amazing beach, and an iconic pier. The whole area is typical California, with long stretches of golden sand, tall palm trees and beautiful people running and cycling along the boardwalk!
What you don’t expect are the tightrope walkers! Some are very wobbly but so talented.
And here is the pier with its famous big wheel. It’s yet another benefit of the GO Los Angeles card and you can get a full-day wristband to go on all the rides.
We spent most evenings on the pier, mainly in the amusements and watching the beautiful sunsets. Route 66 ends here too!
It wasn’t overly busy so no big queues for the rides.
While you’re in Santa Monica it’s only a short bike ride to the famous Venice Beach. I will write a blog just for this but just wanted to mention that bike hire is included in the GO Los Angeles card and it’s such a lovely thing to do. The children’s bikes are a bit odd as they only have ‘pedal backwards’ brakes, which some children may be used to but my 10 year old wasn’t, and I didn’t want to risk him not being able to make an emergency stop. So we hired a tandem and it worked really well (and is included in the card too). He could have hired a scooter, and the helpful staff tried to modify an adult bike for him but it was still too big.
The best thing for us at Venice was the skatepark. We could have stayed there all day, watching the skateboarders performing tricks and skills. Such a nice way to pass the time…
Another sunset and another tightrope walker!
When researching things to do in Los Angeles it’s definitely worth trying to fit in a visit to the beach, even if you don’t stay there.
One of the biggest moneysaving benefits of the GO Los Angeles card is a day in Universal Studios. This theme park is on a much smaller scale when compared to the theme park in Florida but it’s a working studio so there is a tour of various sets which gives a great insight into what goes on behind the scenes. It’s rated the 3rd best attraction in Los Angeles on TripAdvisor and you can read more about it here.
It’s best to arrive when the park opens to avoid the worst of the queues, although it never got very busy on our visit. It was in the second week of the UK Easter holidays and American children had gone back to school, so was a lot quieter than I imagine it gets in the summer.
You need to buy at least a three day pass for GO Los Angeles to qualify for the Universal ticket but you don’t have to use the pass on three consecutive days, just three days over a two week period.
One of the big attractions is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter which is very similar to the one in Florida with its rides, shops and characters wandering around.
One of our favourites was Springfield, a reproduction of the Simpsons’ home town with various places to eat (check out the donut shop!), drink (at Moe’s bar) and have fun. We won a Simpsons-themed basketball thanks to the shooting skills of my older son and took photos with various human and model characters.
There was a long queue was the studio tour when we got there at around 1.30pm, so we should have timed that better. I think it may be shorter first thing in the day or in late afternoon. We saw lots of sets including Jaws, Desperate Housewives and the plane wreck from War Of The Worlds below.
There are some live events to see too, and we really enjoyed the Animal Actors show featuring various clever dogs, cats, birds and other furry friends.
Hollywood Studios is definitely one of the best things to do in Los Angeles, with something for all the family including rollercoasters, virtual reality rides and play parks for younger visitors.
Where we stayed
We split our stay in two and had three nights in Hollywood and then spent the end of our trip in Santa Monica, in this AirBnB. Don’t forget if you’re a new customer to AirBnB then you can use this special link to get a $35 credit (around £25) towards your first stay.
For (relatively) cheap accommodation very close to Hollywood Boulevard then I’d recommend Coral Sands Motel. There is free parking, wifi, a laundry room, pool and the rooms are spacious and come with a fridge and a very powerful shower. It’s about a 20 minute walk to the Walk Of Fame and close to the Griffith Observatory. It’s next to a supermarket so is ideal for grabbing breakfast, snacks and food for picnics. Check out their rates on Booking.com below :
Things to do in Los Angeles – that we DIDN’T do!
When I research an adventure like this I tend to get my best ideas from Pinterest, but I didn’t manage to tick everything off my list due to lack of time. So if you’re planning a trip then do look into these extra things to do in Los Angeles as they sound really cool!
- LACMA – I’m gutted I didn’t get a picture of their urban lights at least
- Close-up Hollywood sign – when we went it was really foggy!
- The Hollywood sign at night – Mulholland Drive is supposed to have great views of the city
- The Last Bookstore – in downtown, a great place to chill and some really cool photo opportunities of book displays (trust me, they’re great!)
- The Broad Museum – another downtown attraction and has free entry, it was a shame we couldn’t fit it into our itinerary
During your visit you must try some of the sensational treats on offer in LA, so check out my recent post on where to find the Best California Desserts!
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