Wander Freely Through Los Angeles
Top 10 Must-See Attractions in LA
Los Angeles is the land of warm beaches and Hollywood glamor, so it’s an attractive travel destination. There are lots of cool things to see and do, and many of them revolve around the entertainment industry, which is fun by definition.
But if you can only experience a few things, which ones do you choose? Based on scientific research and in-depth vetting—or a less-than-humble opinion—these are the Top 10 attractions you must check out when visiting the City of Angels.
1. Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood isn’t just about movie studio tours, but it is mostly about the film and entertainment industry. And you can immerse yourself in the world of movie stars and other celebrities by spending some time along Hollywood Boulevard, home to the Walk of Fame and the Forecourt of the Stars.
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Just try visiting LA without strolling along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s almost impossible. Stretching down Hollywood Boulevard as well as Vine Street, this is an internationally renowned icon of the entertainment world. With close to 2,800 stars placed on the ground since the walk was conceived in the 1950s, you’re sure to find most of your favorites.
New induction ceremonies are held about twice a month at 11:30am and livestreamed on the Walk of Fame website. If you happen to be in the area when they’re holding a star ceremony, you can be part of the audience for free, with no tickets or pre-registration required.
Forecourt of the Stars
Located on Hollywood Boulevard in the same vicinity as the Walk of Fame, and often confused with it, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (now branded TCL Chinese Theatre) is where celebrities have immortalized their hands and feet in cement over the years. The theatre opened in 1927 and is often used for movie premieres.
Do you want to compare your handprints to Marilyn Monroe’s, or John Travolta’s, or see just how big Jimmy Durante’s noseprint is? This is where you can do that. For free. There’s also a tire print from Herbie the Love Bug and droid prints from C-3PO.
Not many people know that this display of imprints is officially called the Forecourt of the Stars. And fewer know that the first imprint was an accident, when silent film star Norma Talmadge stepped into wet cement by mistake as the theatre was being built. Like many great inventions, this accident became a valued piece of history.
From this area of Hollywood Boulevard, you can look up and get one of the best views of the famous 45-foot-tall Hollywood sign on Mount Lee.
Did you know that when the sign was placed in 1923, it read Hollywoodland? It was supposed to be a temporary marketing piece for a local housing development called Hollywoodland, and the letters were made of wood with flashing lights. In 1949, the City of Los Angeles had it fixed up and the “land” removed so the sign would be about the entire district, not a single subdivision.
Another 25 years later, it was deteriorating again, so in 1978 the sign was replaced with a steel version. Each letter was donated by a celebrity or company, and donors include Alice Cooper, Gene Autry, Hugh Hefner, and Warner Bros. Records.
2. Disneyland Resort
So like … it’s “the happiest place on Earth.” Need we say more? This is the spot that people travel from around the world specifically to experience. Within Disneyland Resort, there are additional choices to make—do you want to visit the original Disneyland Park, established in 1955, or the newer Disney California Adventure Park, which opened in 2001?
The world’s first Disneyland Park, conceived and created under the watch of Walt Disney himself, has multiple themed “lands” you can visit inside, including Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland and Frontierland. And of course, it’s chock full of roller coasters, carousels and other amusement park rides. Popular attractions include Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and the new Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
Disney California Adventure Park
The adjacent Disney California Adventure Park takes the excitement to a new level with attractions modeled after real-world landmarks. This is where you’ll find Hollywood Land, Pacific Warf, Buena Vista Street and Grizzly Peak, as well as Disney-themed adventures like the Avengers Campus, Cars Land, and Pixar Pier. Skewing slightly older than Disneyland Park, there are plenty of full-service restaurants and bars here as well as the expected fast rides and themed areas.
3. Griffith Park and Observatory
Griffith Park is what inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland. It gives the best vantage point in the city for views of the skyline and the Hollywood sign. And at over 4,300 acres, it’s one of the largest municipal parks in the United States.
Escape from the city and walk through acres of hillside trails and green spaces. Explore the man-made caves in Bronson Canyon. Ride a train, or a horse, or a pony. And then watch a play at the historic outdoor Greek Theatre with almost 6,000 seats.
The Griffith Park Zoo (also called the Old Los Angeles Zoo) was built in 1912, but closed in 1966 when the new and improved Los Angeles Zoo opened up a little further north. However, you can still wander through the abandoned animal cages and displays, which now feature picnic tables. Yes, you can eat your lunch where elephants, lions and bears used to dine.
But probably the biggest draw here is the Griffith Observatory, one of LA’s most iconic landmarks since 1935. The impressive domed Art Deco complex has dozens of exhibits, a planetarium, and telescopes you can use to peek at the stars above your head or the city beneath your feet. If you’re there during the day, solar telescopes let you look at the sun.
4. Universal Studios Hollywood
It’s a film studio. It’s a theme park. Wait, it’s both! Billed as “The Entertainment Capital of LA,” this attraction was originally just a tour of real movie sets, but evolved into the first of several Universal Studios Theme Parks around the world.
Believe it or not, the tours began in 1915 and the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park was created in 1964. The hour-long World-Famous Studio Tour is still the flagship activity at the park. But since then, new rides and attractions have continually been added, including WaterWorld, Jurassic World, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash.
If you’ve seen everything Universal Studios has to offer and want to experience other movieland tours, check out the Warner Bros. Studio Tour and the Paramount Pictures Studio Tour.
5. Los Angeles Zoo
The new Los Angeles Zoo is located in a 133-acre corner of Griffith Park, about two miles from the aforementioned abandoned Old LA Zoo. This one is home to more than 2,100 animals from over 270 species around the world. We’re talking mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and even invertebrates, as well as 7,000 plants from more than 800 species.
This is where you can see elephants, giraffes, monkeys, gorillas, foxes, wolves, tigers, jaguars, leopards, zebras, otters, anteaters, koalas, kangaroos, and countless more animals from places like Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America.
6. Aquarium of the Pacific
In other cities, like historic New York, the museums and art galleries take the focus. In Los Angeles, it’s more about the aquariums. After all, where better to see aquatic wildlife than right next to their natural habitat?
But of all the fascinating aquariums in California, Aquarium of the Pacific is arguably the best, and definitely the largest. It’s in Long Beach, but that still counts as Los Angeles since it’s part of LA County.
This aquarium houses more than 11,000 animal exhibits, including the three-story, 142,000-gallon Honda Blue Cavern. They have touch pools, gracefully dancing jellyfish, and the world’s largest species of octopus—or should we say kraken?—the giant Pacific octopus, which grows to over 20 feet. Not to mention sea lions, and penguins, and sharks, oh my!
Best of all, they have seasonal Babies! exhibits, with teeny fish, jellies, tortoises and adorable baby otters. Oh, and the non-profit also offers educational programs to help tackle environmental issues and conserve endangered species and ecosystems.
7. Beverly Hills
From “The Beverly Hillbillies” to “Beverly Hills, 90210” to “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” the city of Beverly Hills is deeply etched into our collective consciousness (at least, for those of us who have ever watched TV). This is one of the original upscale neighborhoods known for opulence and huge, ornate mansions.
The Beverly Gardens Park runs for two miles along Santa Monica Boulevard, and it’s a joy to stroll through. It’s been there for over a century, and so has the giant Moreton Bay fig tree growing near the lily pond and the famous Beverly Hills sign.
The world-renowned Rodeo Drive shopping area is practically synonymous with Beverly Hills, and just a few blocks from the Beverly Gardens Park. You can window shop through the luxury designer stores and imagine you’re in one of the countless movies that have been filmed here.
8. Museum Row
Also called Miracle Mile, the stretch of Wilshire Boulevard between Fairfax and La Brea is known as Museum Row because it’s home to four major Los Angeles museums: the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA), La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, Craft Contemporary Museum, and The Petersen Automotive Museum. Each of them comes highly recommended, or you can pick your faves to visit.
- LA County Museum of Art (LACMA) is the largest art museum in the western United States, with close to 150,000 pieces showcasing 6,000 years of artistic expression.
- La Brea Tar Pits and Museum is the world’s only active Ice Age excavation site, and the tar is still bubbling. You’ll see life-sized statues as well as fossils and skeletons of mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, prehistoric wolves and a lot more.
- Craft Contemporary was founded in 1973 and focuses on craft media and folk art. Its dynamic exhibitions showcase artists and designers not often found in larger art galleries and museums.
- Petersen Automotive Museum has been dubbed “the world’s greatest automotive museum” and features over 100,000 square feet and four floors of exhibit space. You can see cars from movies and TV—including Bond cars, the DeLorean from Back to the Future, the Ghostbusters car and the Batmobile—as well as tons more amazing vehicles.
9. Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica is immortalized in the titles of at least three alternative rock songs—one by Everclear, one by Savage Garden, and one by Theory of a Deadman. But its ubiquitous presence in mainstream media extends far beyond music.
As seen in countless movies and TV shows, the focal point here is the Santa Monica Pier. This historic landmark is basically an amusement park on the beach, and has been attracting visitors since 1909. You can take a spin on the vintage carousel or roller coaster, and enjoy the view from the top of the solar-powered Ferris wheel.
In the summertime, you can also catch a concert or movie at the Santa Monica Pier. And all year round, the best free show in town is the ocean sunset, with the pier being an optimal vantage point.
10. Venice Beach
Just south of family-friendly Santa Monica you’ll find the more radical and edgy Venice Beach, where baby strollers are replaced by roller skates, skateboards and bikes. And no trip to LA is complete without checking out the Bohemian vibe at this iconic neighborhood. Officially called Ocean Front Walk, the Venice Boardwalk is where you’ll find Muscle Beach—Arnold Schwarzenegger’s old iron-pumping hangout—and other hotspots for interesting folks in various stages of dress.
From street performers and fortune tellers to drum circles and bikini-clad rollerbladers, this is a perfect place to people watch. Plus enjoy the larger-than-life art show consisting of graffiti, murals, and other street paintings. Some call it a hippy haven, and others call it an open-air urban gallery … but whatever you call Venice Beach, make sure you call it a sight to see.
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