The sprawling city of Los Angeles, in Southern California, has long been known internationally in the film and entertainment industry, particularly for Hollywood, a place that has drawn aspiring actors and actresses from across the country for over a century. Today, LA is a culturally diverse city with a reputation for being the creative center of America. Visitors will find a thriving culinary scene, incredible shopping, outstanding museums, and fun family attractions.
Sunseekers coming to enjoy the warm climate and beaches will find plenty of things to do and interesting neighborhoods to explore. Upgrades to the public transportation network in recent years and the addition of a Metro Bike Share in downtown LA have made getting around and sightseeing easier than ever. For families, nearby Disneyland and Universal Studios are key destinations that often warrant repeat visits.
To help plan your sightseeing itinerary, see our list of the top tourist attractions in Los Angeles.
1. Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Theme Park is known for its mind-blowing rides based on blockbuster movies, but it is also a working movie studio and an attraction everyone can enjoy. The highlight for most people is the ever-changing selection of rides, which range from simulators to roller-coasters. Favorite movie and TV-themed rides and sets include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Walking Dead, The Simpsons, and Transformers. New in 2019 is Jurassic World – The Ride.
When you are tired of the rides, you can check out CityWalk, a three-block entertainment area, with shopping, dining, and theaters. Another option is a guided tour of the studios to explore behind the scenes of some of Universal’s most popular movie sets. The VIP Experience allows you opportunities to see the sets and areas not open to the general public.
Address: 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, California
2. Griffith Park and Griffith Observatory
Griffith Park, in the eastern part of the Santa Monica Mountains, and covering an area of 4,210 acres, is the largest state park in California. It’s home to the Los Angeles Zoo, the Griffith Observatory, a planetarium, a Greek theater, a riding center created for the 1984 Olympic Games, golf courses, tennis courts, hiking trails, and other attractions. Walking trails and scenic drives through the mountains offer views over the city and beyond.
The Griffith Observatory is one of the city’s most interesting experience-based attractions, and it’s all free to the public. On the grounds are exhibits and telescopes. The main highlight is a look through the Zeiss telescope, used for viewing the moon and planets. You can use the telescopes free each evening the facility is open. Also on-site are solar telescopes used for viewing the sun.
The park and observatory are named for Griffith J. Griffith, who donated the greater part of the parkland to the city in 1896 and willed funds to the city for the creation of the observatory.
3. Disneyland Resort
Just outside Los Angeles, Disneyland is California’s premier family vacation destination, attracting visitors since the 1950s. Disneyland Park, with rides and experiences in elaborately created theme sets, is what most people picture when they imagine Disneyland. The Disneyland California Adventure Park, created during one of the expansions, holds even more action and adventure, with seven lands based on movie themes.
Beyond the rides and Disney characters wandering the streets, the resort also offers a full complement of features and services for a complete vacation. Hotels, restaurants, shopping, and all kinds of entertainment options are available at Disneyland Resort.
A suburb of Los Angeles, Hollywood is a destination in itself, with its own unique history and iconic sites. The attractions in Hollywood are closely associated with the film industry and the glamour of the silver screen. The hillside Hollywood sign, Hollywood Boulevard, the Walk of Fame, and the Chinese Theatre can easily fill a day or two of sightseeing. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a celebrity or two
5. The Getty Center
On a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Getty Center, designed by Richard Meier, is a huge complex measuring 0.75 square miles and set on 110 acres. The unique building and the beautiful grounds provide the perfect setting for this impressive museum. Collections include European paintings, drawings, sculpture, and decorative arts, as well as 19th- and 20th-century photography.
The Getty Center is one of two locations of the J. Paul Getty Museum, created by the late oil magnate, J. Paul Getty. The Getty Villa, set in a recreated Roman country house, deals with art from the Stone Age to the end of the Roman Empire.
Address: 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles
6. Petersen Automotive Museum
Car lovers will not want to miss the incredible assortment of vehicles at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Spread over four floors are a mix of permanent and temporary exhibits featuring more than 300 cars and motorcycles, ranging from perfectly preserved items from 1886 right through to concepts for the 21st century.
The museum underwent major renovations and is now one of the most modern institutions of its kind. The exterior façade is an eye-catching architectural masterpiece. For an additional fee, you can sign up for either a 90- or 120-minute guided Vault tour, which provides additional insight on rare and unusual cars.
Address: 6060 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, California
7. Santa Monica
Santa Monica is a unique destination that is both chic and laid-back, with a population that ranges from surfers, skateboarders, and yoga devotees to techies and business people. The beautiful stretch of golden sand along the coast and the famous Santa Monica Pier, with its iconic Ferris wheel, are what most tourists come to enjoy, but you can find a variety of experiences in this beachfront city next to LA.
Shoppers will find a range of options, from quirky and vintage stores to high-end boutiques. For a little activity, check out the 26-mile bike path along the waterfront or wander along the Third Street Promenade to see street performers and do some shopping and people watching.
Getting to Santa Monica is now much easier since the opening of the new Expo Metro line, connecting downtown LA to Santa Monica.
8. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
While the Natural History Museum has numerous galleries and an extensive permanent collection that covers a range of topics, it is best known for its collection of dinosaurs. The 14,000-square-foot Dinosaur Hall has an awesome display of dinosaur skeletons, including a series of Tyrannosaurus rex fossils, known as the growth series, featuring three full skeletons that range from baby to adult. Also on display are a Triceratops and a Stegosaurus.
The museum deals with the natural history of California and areas throughout the world. Becoming Los Angeles, which explores the past 500 years of history in Southern California, is another must-see exhibit. The Discovery Center and Insect Zoo offers hands-on experiences and is particularly interesting for younger visitors.
Address: 900 Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles
9. California Science Center
The California Science Center, open to the public free of charge, is home to the Space Shuttle Endeavour, as well as other major exhibits. Mission 26: The Big Endeavour is currently on display at the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, while the new Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center is being built. You can see the space shuttle, as well as artifacts from the space mission, and learn all about it and the people involved in the program.
Other exhibits at the Science Center cover such topics as the living world, technology, and ecosystems. The Ecosystems exhibit features an impressive 188,000-gallon kelp tank, as well as live plants, animals, and fish. In addition to the permanent exhibits, the California Science Center also features special exhibits, for an ever-changing selection of things to see.
10. The Broad
The Broad opened in late 2015 and was immediately an overwhelming success and has remained popular. The museum focuses on contemporary and postwar art, with some large and dramatic installations. More than 2,000 works of art are on display in this unique building, with a “veil-and-vault” concept.
Tickets are free of charge for general admission, but these are often booked out in advance. Standby tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of admission, but this will usually require some wait time in a line, particularly on weekends. Admissions to some special exhibitions do carry a fee.
The museum was founded by Eli and Edythe Broad, who have been long time collectors of postwar and contemporary art.
11. The Original Farmers Market
The Los Angeles Farmers Market first started in 1934 as a very modest affair that sprung from the hardships created by the Great Depression. At the height of the economic depression, eighteen farmers came together and set up stalls on a piece of open land near Wilshire Boulevard in order to sell their produce direct to the consumer.
This experiment was so successful that the market continued to expand. At that time, it truly was a fruit and vegetable market, but over the years the market has grown to accommodate more and more vendors. Today, the market hosts vegetable and other food stands, as well as restaurants and specialty shops. You can find everything from jewelry and candles to kitchenware and toys.
If you are looking for things to do at night in Los Angeles, the market hosts a variety of entertainment, including free evening concerts on Friday nights in summer.
12. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art lays claim to being the largest art museum in the western United States, with almost 130,000 pieces spanning from antiquity through to modern times. Of particular note are the outstanding collections of Asian, Latin American, and Islamic Art.
The huge complex consists of a number of separate buildings that have been acquired and renovated over the years. The most recent expansion, known as the Transformation, saw the opening of several new buildings on the western half of the campus, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. The LACMA is next to the La Brea Tar Pits on museum row.
Address: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California
Official site: http://www.lacma.org/
13. Venice Beach
Venice Beach deserves its reputation as a place to see and be seen, making it perfect for people watching, although the area definitely has its own unique vibe. This stretch of golden sand and the Venice Beach Boardwalk are always thronged with people walking, cycling, rollerblading, and jogging.
Eclectic shops and street performers of all kinds line the walkway. The Skatepark, also just off the beach, is frequented by some of the area’s best skateboarders, and nearby are a number of creative art installations. At the appropriately named Muscle Beach, people pump iron in the hot California sun.
Food stalls selling everything from shaved ice to kettle corn and funnel cakes make you feel like you’re walking through fair grounds. You can also find some good restaurants here. This is not a typical family beach, but it’s well worth a visit.
14. Battleship Iowa Museum
An imposing site on the waterfront close to the Port of Los Angeles, the Battleship Iowa Museum is a great family activity. You can wander throughout this massive battleship and see what life at sea would have been like for the sailors on board.
Included with your admission is a self-guided tour showcasing the history of the ship. One of the highlights is a look at the massive 16-inch guns. Kids can enjoy a free scavenger hunt, searching the ship to find the 10 secret locations of Vicky, the ship’s dog (displayed on posters or in augmented reality).
For those wanting to really get behind the scenes, for an additional fee you can take the Full Steam Ahead Guided Tour, which allows you access to the inner workings of the ship, including the engine room, boiler room, and the Combat Engagement Center, among other restricted areas. Note that dates and numbers are limited for this tour, and it should be booked well in advance
15. Long Beach
Long Beach is another community in the Los Angeles area where you can easily spend a day exploring. Bordering LA to the south, about 20 miles from downtown, Long Beach extends along San Pedro Bay. Things to do here include a visit to the historic Queen Mary ocean liner, now converted into a hotel and museum; the Aquarium of the Pacific; and exploring the unique shops at Shoreline Village. You can also catch the Catalina Express from Long Beach for a trip to Santa Catalina Island.
16. La Brea Tar Pits
In Hancock Park, La Brea Tar Pits offers a unique opportunity to see live excavations of fossils and learn about the process. The Tar Pits were formed 40,000 years ago, when oil seeped through the rock, entrapping passing animals, which would get stuck in the substance. The tar then preserved the fossils throughout the ages, leaving behind an incredible glimpse into another age.
The museum at la Brea Tar Pits (formerly the George C. Page Museum) shows reconstructed fossils of prehistoric animals found at the site, as well as the process of fossil recovery. You can see bones being worked on and learn what takes place behind the scenes, before skeletons are able to be displayed.
The museum displays fully reconstructed fossils of a variety of mammals including mammoths, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, and others, all dating from between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago. An outdoor area displays replicas of extinct animals.
Plans are in the works for a renovation and new design. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is reviewing plans from architecture teams in the hopes of reinventing this unique attraction
17. The Nethercutt Collection
If you’re a fan of antique, vintage, and classic cars, this is the place to visit. The Nethercutt Collection displays an outstanding array of American and European automobiles from the 1890s to the 1990s. The pristine condition of these vehicles and the variety of models is beyond impressive. The history of the cars and descriptions of their previous owners are displayed with the vehicles.
The museum also showcases a collection of antique furniture and mechanical musical instruments. Outside, you can see a restored steam locomotive and railcar.
18. Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
The Museum of Contemporary Art consists of two separate facilities and is dedicated to works from the 1940s onwards. Pieces from the permanent collection are on display, and regularly changing exhibits feature new works and emerging media.
The MOCA Grand, on Grand Avenue, is the museum’s primary facility, with the main galleries, as well as the largest museum store. The MOCA Geffen is in Little Tokyo, in what was formerly a police car warehouse.
Double Negative is another art location associated with MOCA, located in the desert in Moapa Valley on Mormon Mesa near Overton, in Nevada. This land art by Michael Heizer was acquired by the museum and can be visited free of charge.