There is no shortage of experimental architecture in Los Angeles – the city’s beauty is truly in the details. Award-winning buildings and heritage buildings aside, it is also a city of composite natural enjoyments, serving up consistent waves on one hand and lush hills on the other. And of course, it is home to the fantastical Hollywood, weaving dreams and creativity and electrifying venues in glamorous painting. To top it off, garnish your Los Angeles trip with a culinary yes, please. Seek out the subtle and scream-worthy sights that piece together Los Angeles’ dynamic and vibrant community starting with:
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Where there are glam districts, luxurious shopping experiences follow closely. Rodeo Drive embodies ‘wealth’, clusters of high-end boutiques and flagship stores lined by lofty palms. Reeking of money that most people don’t have, Rodeo Drive is generally more of a visual window shopping experience than a ‘let’s get down to business’ spree. If you are up to serious splashing out however, trot around the cobblestone alley with your shades on, diva out.
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It’s not just the sunset you’re on the lookout for. Joining downtown and upscale Malibu is the famed Sunset Boulevard, a strip of neon billboards and vibrant music venues where you can dine and drink. While the rock scene has migrated away, various genres of live music still have the boulevard thrumming like a wire. The beautiful Chateau Marmont Hotel is eye-candy too, and the further you drive the more star-studded mansions you’ll pass by.
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Direct your gaze towards Culver City and the sweep of downtown, the Pacific and Hollywood Hills once you’ve reached the top of Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. There are two ways up from Jefferson Boulevard. We recommend the slower popcorn flower-lined trail uphill and the grueling Culver City Stairs down, but go with the option your body will thank you for. If you’re going to start off your trip strong, what better than an aerial view?
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Comprised of top-tier attractions, Exposition Park is a sprawling emporium of museums, sporting facilities and entertainment venues. Dive deep into sciences at the California Science Center or Natural History Museum, or be swept up be the sport fervor at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Of course, you can opt for a slow meandering stroll around the City of Los Angeles Rose Garden and corresponding outdoor spaces. Exposition Park is a good starting point for those who aren’t sure what they’d like to do.
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We don’t actually recommend climbing the sign as you’ll probably need to be helicoptered off the hill, but stop by Lake Hollywood Park for an across-the-canyon shot. Hiking up Griffith Park will also take you close to this iconic sight, which, you probably didn’t know was meant to last a measly 18 months. Now this 1923 installation has become the symbol of, well, Hollywood.
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Avoid the tourists at this state park. Leo Carrillo State Beach offers a dewy 2.5-mile sand paradise, complete with tide pools and coves for a game of treasure hunting. Gentle waves draw you into warm weather, and there are plenty of hiking trails for those in search of greens. Best of all, it is teeming with puppies! Dog owners are allowed to bring their leashed companies into allocated zones, so if you’re hoping to see something cute and cuddly, add this Malibu beach onto your itinerary.
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Whether you are planning on climbing up Bunker Hill or not, Angels Flight is one of those old-timey landmarks you have to see. This tiny tangerine-colored railway is iconic – board the 100-year-old train cars (named Sinai and Olivet) for some head-tilting travel, or take a photograph of them as they slide laboriously up.
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12 rides may not seem like a lot, but Pacific Park doesn’t disappoint. First opened in 1910s and one of the remaining admission-free amusement parks in the Los Angeles, it is a pay-by-attraction experience. Take a turn on the solar-powered Ferris wheel or whip around the steel West Coaster. If you’re not one for rides, wander around the park anyway; it has been featured in various blockbusters and TV shows alongside Santa Monica Pier.
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Griffith Park is wilderness in the urban, taking up thousands of acres that include rough, chunky cropping of Santa Monica Mountains. While the up-mountain trails are tough on hikers, horseback riders get a run of the space. Los Angeles Zoo and the golf courses of Harding and Wilson are part of Griffith Park’s consortium, and visitors can also avail themselves to the tennis courts, picnic grounds and concession stands. Do take on the highest peak to get a 360-degree view over the city.
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Overlooking the city like a castle in the sky is Griffith Observatory. An Art Deco monument running since 1935, its white-coated face and copper domes evoke a majestic aura. Its terraces offer some of the best views in Los Angeles, and the building itself has been featured in many films. Enter to find over 60 space-themed exhibits and telescopes of various magnifying degrees. The crowning feature however, is the Samuel Oschin Planetarium in the central dome. Take a trip through time and space, where you’re shown Ptolemy and Galileo’s theorems and tipped into the Milky Way.
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Delve into the complex craft of film and TV production with a tour around the Warner Bros Studio. In two to three hours, you’ll realize the scale of much-loved TV shows like Big Bang Theory and magical Harry Potter series; the Sound stage and Prop House alone demonstrate the level of thought that goes into set and character design. You also get to pop onto stage sets and salivate over the Batmobiles in the Picture Car Vault. It’s a script to screen experience.
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One of the largest museums in the United States, Los Angeles County Museum of Art is contained within seven buildings. More campus than singular museum, its collection covers ancient artefacts to modern works of art, and from all over the world. You can spend the day wandering the vast spread or focus on several points of interest; there are Greek and Etruscan art, American and Latin American pieces, Islamic and Asian themed galleries, art installations and decorative items to name a few. Some classics are must-see however: the Portrait of Frida Kahlo, Portrait of Jacopo and Paul Gauguin’s The Swineherd.
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Malibu is spotted with lavish residences and free-styling homes, and Adamson House is the first of them. Open for guided tours half of the week, this house is a must-see if you like architecture and interior design. Even from the outside you can see the gridded windows and vivid tiling in the frames. Adamson House is a spectacular museum of tilework, the elaborate swirls and patterns stand out strikingly against its plain white walls. Inside, you’ll find original furnishings that add to its timeless charm.
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Locals might think it overrated but Hollywood Walk of Fame is a tourist classic. Even just for a few minutes, follow the brass and terrazzo stars and try to find your favorite honorees for a proof shot. Be strategic as it stretches over 15 blocks. Do keep your eyes up and around as well! Along the walk are interesting monuments such as the exquisite Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. You might recognize it from one of the Iron Man movies.
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Starting out as a studio tour of Universal Studios to become fully fledged theme park, Universal Studios Hollywood is the first of its series. While you’re guaranteed fun rides in the Harry Potter World and other franchise-based attractions, we highly recommend doing the Studio Tour on the Upper Lot. You’ll be taken through replica sets on a tram, and experience some mishaps that are brought screen-to-reality. Enjoy the glimpse of movie magic!
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You might not be living in those multimillion dollar homes along the canal but you can rent a kayak and fancy yourself in Italy anyway. This cute, unique destination is a real toe-scruncher. Around the canals are walkable shopping districts and a monthly flea market, and plenty of craft beer for you to sip on. Wrap yourself in Long Beach vibes by trying the water taxis if you’re not up for some arm-pumping action.
Here is yet another neighborhood that will have you blinking in cultural shades. Leimert Park Village originated as a whites-only neighborhood, but after the illegalization of segregated housing, transformed into an African-American dominion. You’ll find lingering notes of its 1920s design and musicality thanks to open mic nights in retro buildings, but the loudest melody speak of African-American arts culture. An artsy, diverse neighborhood, Leimert Park Village is all about local community.
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The Museum of Contemporary Art is an art in itself, composed of geometric angles, glass pyramids and burnished red sandstone. Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and Joan Miro are only few of the big names permanently featured in this museum, and temporary exhibits showcase other award-winning pieces. The bizarre sculpture in its open square will also grab your attention; if you don’t step inside, at least snap a shot of this quirky exterior.
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Preserved art and lush botany intertwine at the sprawling Huntington. Meander through dreamy Japanese gardens with weeping willows and bonsais to desert gardens and subtropical sweeps. Rooted within this natural wonderland is one of the greatest research libraries in the world, worth nine million items dating back to the 1000s. Medieval manuscripts and historical text aside, the adjacent Huntington Art Gallery is also a trove of artistic treasures, featuring works by van der Weyden, Edward Hopper and Andy Warhol.
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There’s no shortage of coastal delights but even among them Santa Monica Beach is a gem. A 3.5-mile long gem that courses out into the waves and buffered by sandstone cliffs, it is a great location for idling. Climb up the footbridges to Ocean Park and Palisades Park for a more dynamic view over the ocean, or wade out into the chilly water. When you’re ready for a meal, Ocean Front Walk will treat you to some beachside dining.
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This seven-storey museum is home to the Space Shuttle Endeavour that experienced 25 space runs as well as a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. Impressive right? California Science Center boasts an impressive resume of displays that demonstrate ecosystems, dissect how human bodies work, outline the intricacies of air and space and show off world-changing inventions. Interactive exhibitions draw in curious crowds and help foster hands-on learning.
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You must funicular up the perch where stunning Getty Center is nested in light-colored, oscillating marble and thoughtful landscaping. Founded by Jean Paul Getty, the Getty museums and associated acts showcase some of Los Angeles’ most spectacular gardens and architecture. Getty Center in particular is an artwork of the Central Garden, outdoor sculptures, labyrinth-like complex and poised views. Its collection of 17th to 19th century paintings (including van Gogh’s Irises and self-portrait Rembrandt Laughing) are equally astonishing.
You know how there are some neighborhoods that just make you want to stay forever because they’re so nice? Magnolia Park is exactly the kind of quirky that will have you melting into your coffee. Browse vintage stores and fun boutiques in this tree-lined district for a small-town afternoon. When you need to come down from a high-tension morning schedule, this is your go-to.
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Go no further than Beachwood Canyon for quaint homes that emerged during the Golden Age of Hollywood. The secret to exploring this area is a network of staircases that wind around the hilly topography. Sneak around like a secret agent for a glimpse of the individualized residences; start at Beachwood Café for easy navigation. And if you get lost, well, maybe you’ll come across another secret spot or two.
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More accurately speaking, it is Natural History Museums but in this case, we refer to the Renaissance Revival building anchored at Exposition Park. Track how Los Angeles grew from a small town to the metropolis it is today, and through a fossil series, observe the growth of a T-Rex. Learn all you can about the earth and how things have evolved over time; it is perfect for both adults and kids as the hands-on Discovery Center keeps the young ones busy and curious.
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Like most abandoned industrial areas, Arts District has undergone reconstruction into a creative hub. Plaster your social media feeds with the neighborhoods brilliant street art; there are over 100 murals for you to pose your shot. If you’re seeking something more refined, independent galleries are the rage, and loft cafés and brew establishments will further your hipster cred.
Amusement parks deserve a quick mention despite being a clichéd tourist attraction. Bring your family (or enthusiastic adult self) to the self-contained Disneyland city, which combines two theme parks, an outdoor shopping area and resort. Enjoy the old Hollywood glam that pervades in classic rollercoasters, or hop on Marvel and Pixar’s character-inspired rides. From older Pirates of the Caribbean experiences to newer Star Wars land, Disneyland is one for all fun-seekers.
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The Broad is another top-level example of Los Angeles’ unique architecture. The asymmetrical cube-shaped building and rippling rhomboidal skein pops out even more than the neon stripped road-crossing before it. In complement, its three levels present contemporary and modern art works from mid-20th century onwards. Of the permanent and temporary exhibits, the Broad has featured Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Cy Twombly and Yayoi Kusama.
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Serving finger-lickin’ seafood on bright blue trays, San Pedro Fish Market retains the affordable, no-frills quality it is known for. The portions are guaranteed to satisfy, and you get your pick of crab, fish, shellfish and accompaniments. Scoff down the food with a pitcher of beer, and lean into the portside views. After all, seafood dining is a must if you’re anywhere along the coast.
If you haven’t been to a Frank Lloyd Wright project, Hollyhock House is the perfect introduction as this is his first house in Los Angeles. The low, straight angles, plaster walls, elaborate ceiling moldings and symmetrical yard space come together as elements of modern Californian architecture. Pay close attention to the details of this restoration-in-progress, which is remade as closely to the original as possible.
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Interestingly enough, Simon Rodia did not set out to be an artist, but rather built some of the country’s most famous folk arts out of unexplainable compulsion. The Italian immigrant added bits and pieces to the massive Watts Towers, sticking broken glass, pottery, tiles, sea shells and random ceramic pieces onto the steel spires over the years of 1921 to 1955. He later deeded the property to a neighbor, and the community founded the Watts Towers Arts Center in his memory.
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Join the crowds milling about Venice Beach Boardwalk in search of a taste of Italy. Eccentric characters, palms and aromatic street vendors evoke a perpetually laidback but vibrant atmosphere, and tattoo parlors and cannabis shops add a slight rebellious edge. To sum it up, Venice in Los Angeles is a place where you’re free to be whoever you want to be. Run wild along Venice Muscle Beach or skate your way down Strand trail before tackling the historic arcaded buildings for some nostalgic charm.
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Onto its fifth iteration as of 2019, the Hollywood Bowl is an impressive outdoor amphitheater cradled in the Hollywood Hills. Constantly undergoing improvement to maximize acoustics, this 17,500 seater venue is known as a premiere live music haunt. While summer home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and home to the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, it has played host to major names such as Louis Armstrong and the Beatles.
Los Angeles is blessed with both sea and hills so take advantage and enjoy the outdoors at Runyon Canyon Park. Casual walkers should start with the paved Runyon Canyon Road, while decent walkers will enjoy the steeper steps of Star Trail. Either way, the respective outlook points of Clouds Rest and Inspiration Point deals out clear skies and gentle city views. Or, challenge the Hero Trail and blaze your way to the top.
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Don’t miss out on Dodger Stadium and its record-breaking 56,000 seating capacity. The Dodger’s may no longer be the peak champions like when they won the World Series in 1988, but they play solid games that have baseball fans up and cheering. Catch a game and munch on the insane 16-inch hot dog the stadium is famous for, or invest more time for a 90-minute tour backstage and on to the field.
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Begin and end your Los Angeles adventures with a deep dive into the delicious offerings at Grand Central Market. Pay your respects to this heritage site by loosening your draw pants and taste testing everything – wood-fire pizza, fresh seafood, tacos, herby goodness, currywurst and Salvadorian street food are mere appetizers. Unleash your appetite!
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