Sure, you could spend your entire L.A. vacation at theme parks, window shopping on Rodeo Drive, or trying to get the perfect picture of the Hollywood sign. (No, you can’t walk, drive, or hike up to it. Your best bet is going to be parking on Franklin Ave, or Beachwood Canyon and snapping a photo from about halfway up the street.) But to truly experience some of the culture, excitement and West Coast vibe of the City of Angels, try one or all of these adventures instead.
An icon of Los Angeles, the Griffith Observatory can be found in historic Griffith Park, at the top of Mount Hollywood. It features many different space and science-related exhibits. But the highlight of the Observatory has to be the planetarium’s star shows. If you go at night (and you should because the city views are breathtaking!) make sure to bring an extra sweater.
The Huntington Library
If you were to tell a non-Los Angeles native that you drove 30 minutes outside the city center to visit a library while vacationing in Southern California, they might just think you were crazy. But the Huntington has nothing to do with dusty shelves of books and sweet blue-haired librarians. Instead, it’s home to a stunning main house that hosts a copy of The Canterbury Tales and Gainsborough’s famous painting, The Blue Boy.
But even more impressive than the museum itself are the libraries gardens. Forget any botanical garden you may have seen anywhere else. This is 120 acres of jaw dropping beauty, including self-contained eco-systems, a jungle, a Japanese garden, subtropical displays, more roses than you’ve ever seen, and a desert landscape.
A trip to historic Olvera Street is worth navigating through downtown traffic. (You’re probably better off taking the metro to Union Station and avoiding the freeways for this one.) The original center of Spanish-owned Los Angeles, Olvera Street, or la placita Olvera, is an outdoor market with tons of kitschy souvenir shops, outdoor musicians, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of The Angels nearby. You’ll also find some seriously delicious and authentic Mexican restaurants here. Just save a little room for a caramel-stuffed churro.
The Farmers Market and The Grove
Just east of Beverly Hills you’ll find the world-famous Los Angeles Farmers Market. You’ll find a lot more here than just delicious, organic, locally grown fruits and veggies. Come hungry, as the food stands here are unparalleled. Take time to scope out the crafts for sale, or head on over to The Grove shopping center next door. Dancing fountains give way to big name and boutique stores, four star restaurants and a posh movie theater.
The Getty Museum
Perched on a hilltop overlooking the city, the J. Paul Getty Museum is one of Los Angeles’ most treasured jewels. Everything about the Getty is beautiful, from the soaring architecture to the shuttle ride back to your car. And unlike many other museums, it’s always free to get in.
It should go without saying, but no visit to L.A is complete without a trip to the beach. With so many stunning beaches to choose from, you may have trouble narrowing your choice down to just one, so leave yourself extra time for fun in the Cali sunshine.
Malibu’s Zuma beach is the quintessential California beach experience, with beautiful sun worshipers on the sand and talented surfers tackling the waves. For something completely crazy, try Venice beach, where roller bladders and street performers come face to face with the hard bodies of Muscle Beach. Or try Santa Monica, where you can play boardwalk games and catch the sunset on the enormous Ferris wheel.
No matter when you decide to visit Los Angeles, make sure you visit these places. Although you will have to do a lot of driving, you will definitely enjoy your trip. Sure, there are many other awesome places to visit in L.A., but these are my favorite ones. If you’ve ever been to L.A., feel free to share your experience in the comments section.