Los Angeles is an expansive Southern Californian city known for its weather, coastal access, and scenic surrounding terrain. With so much land, there are a lot of things to do in Los Angeles and options for people with different interests. I’ve always been an advocate of getting to know the city you live or visit, which often includes lesser known neighborhoods with their own charm. In this article, I’ll share some of the nice finds and activities in LA that I’ve found since moving to the City of Angels.
Note: The list is 100% not-inclusive, but is my list of favorite things to do in LA. There is simply not enough space for all. If you know something I don’t please let me know in the comments so I can check it out!
Downtown LA and Eastside
For the purposes of this article I’m considering Silver Lake to downtown as part of this section, though it’ll change depending on who you talk to.
Arts district downtown
The Arts District downtown is filled with things of artistic nature as the name would suspect. You can visit museums, see expressive street art, bar arcades, and of course there are a few local breweries and some good eats for those who like to indulge. I recommend getting into the area and walking around until you find your spot.
An adopted NYC concept, Smorgasburg, inspired by the fusion of the Swedish word smörgåsbord and I believe the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn, has been a huge hit in both NY and LA. It’s a neat experience where you can get to know many different foods from around the world. The concept gives food start-ups the opportunity to trial their products before making large investments in brick & mortar locations or trucks. It also gives them a chance to gain recognition. Check it out and make sure you arrive ready to eat!
Silver Lake, known as one of the more hipster neighborhoods in LA, is a cozy Eastside neighborhood centered around a retired reservoir for the city. The neighborhood is filled with cafes, restaurants, shopping, art, and more. In my opinion it’s one of the more walkable areas in the city. Most exciting areas to me are the walk around Silver Lake (there’s a path) and Sunset Blvd, which is where most of the shops and restaurants are located.
One of my favorites things to do in Downtown LA is Grand Market. It reminded me of the indoor market in Philadelphia if you’ve ever visited there. There are tons of food and drinking options relatively speaking and not a bad way to spend your afternoon with friends or a date.
Echo Park has a similar vibe to Silver Lake, but is a little more homely and filled with families. The park is really cool and a great social activity. There’s room for picnics, places to educated yourself about the eco-system of the lake, and locals having a good time. The neighborhood is also home to the house from Charmed, the house from the Michael Jackson Thriller video, and the famed Toretto house of the Fast & the Furious, which are all within a short distance walking from the park.
Nearly every major North American city has its own China Town of sorts. The most notable being New York City, San Francisco, Montreal, and Washington D.C., but Los Angeles also has its own that is relatively isolated from the city tucked into the northern corner of DTLA.
The Fashion District is an interesting area of DTLA. It’s easy to get lost in the maze of shops that exist selling random goods to fabrics. An interesting place to visit, especially if you are looking for something specific.
Natural History Museum
Located right next to USC’s campus, the Natural History Museum is a neat place to visit with a variety of exhibits that I’m sure are constantly evolving. If you’re in the area it can be a good stopping point.
A neighborhood that’s gained fame for being a fitness mecca thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Colombo and others who spent time in Muscle Beach. I’d describe the neighborhood as eclectic and active, especially during the day and warmer months when there’s a lot going on. Walk along the promenade and you’ll find lots to see. A few streets off from the beach is Abbot Kinney Blvd, which has claimed the title of one of the coolest streets in the USA. It’s lined with a lot of shops, cafes and restaurants.
Santa Monica is definitely more upscale than its artsy cousin of Venice. The big draw for Santa Monica is the pier and it being the start or finish to the famed and Historic Route 66. I-10 also begins/ends here. The 3rd street promenade is also a cool draw to the area and a nice place to take a stroll. There’s certainly more to this neighborhood, but those are the obvious tourist picks.
Westwood is home to the UCLA and is located between the West Hollywood area and Coast. I like this neighborhood particularly because of the Persian influence. There are some great restaurant choices in the area for Persian food and culture.
I’m not really referring to the real North Los Angeles which would include the valley or the northern part of LA county which would include a lot more area and things to do. I’m writing this with the assumption that you are visiting or looking for some ‘inner city’ things to do in Los Angeles. Some of the true northern things to do in LA could be hours away depending on your starting point.
Los Feliz, located just north of the Silver Lake area and has some cool bars, stores and theaters along Hillhurst Ave. There is also a jazz club that has been recommended to me for Wednesday nights called Rockwell, but I haven’t been yet. Supposedly, Jeff Goldblum often hosts a jazz show there and it’s supposed to be great. Updates will come, when I go.
Hollywood Bowl is a great venue for catching a music event. I was able to attend the Linkin Park and Friends tribute to Chester Bennington there and can say it was magical. If there’s ever a group that you like, I can recommend it as an experience.
Griffith Park Observatory
Griffith Park is a great place for hiking, views of Los Angeles, and visiting the museum. It’s welcoming for picnicking and hanging out too, but can be really crowded with tourists. Pro-tip: weekends can get really busy and there is essentially only one road up and one road down, so traffic and parking can be intense. Make sure you account for that. If you’re car-less and looking to save money, there is a bus called DASH from Los Feliz that brings you up to the Observatory or you could hike to the top.
One major food win for Los Angeles is Thai food. Though Thai restaurants are common in other major cosmopolitan cities, the quantity of restaurants makes finding a great option that much easier. Make sure to pass through if you are a fan of good spice and authentic Thai food.
Having one of the largest communities of Armenians outside of the actual country, the historic Little Armenia district has some great food options as well. Worth a visit and dine, especially in groups where you can order by the person count, such as for 2, and share.
The Hollywood Hills consists of a network of windy roads, canyons, and views. In relation to the busy mess that of Hollywood; it is tranquil and serene in some areas. If you’re in luck and have a car, I can strongly recommend a casual drive through the hills.
Hollywood and West Hollywood
These neighborhoods will be at the top of the list on most tourist websites, but not mine. You can see the historic Hollywood Walk of Fame and other attractions, but I don’t think they are the best that LA offers. Others will inevitably disagree.
Midcity & K-town
The Miracle Mile is a concentrated neighborhood in the central city area. It has a few attractions such as the LACMA. Another unique thing is the La Brea tar pits, which is something worth visiting at least once for the educational experience. The area also has other tidbits such as sections of the Berlin wall.
A little known, but worthwhile section next to the Miracle Mile is Little Ethiopia. It is a small area that contains a few select restaurants and shops that support the local Ethiopian diaspora.
The Original Farmer’s Market is a staple thing to do in central LA, which is pretty cool almost European-esque. It reminded me of the Marche des Enfants Rouges in Paris in some aspects. It can get crowded, but there is enough variety for everyone’s taste.
If you are looking to experience the Korean culture of LA, K-town is where you need to be. The largest population of Koreans , or Korean descendants, in the USA can be found in LA, which is followed by a lesser degree by NYC. There is an overwhelming amount of restaurants to choose from in this neighborhood, do your research and enjoy a great meal with friends!
In my first months in LA, most people told me that South LA basically consists of anything below Interstate-10. Not sure if all would agree with that, but for the purposes of this article, that’s what I’ll be referring to. This is probably the area that I’ve explored the least, mainly due to distance and inconvenience from where I spend most of my time.
This area was made famous to me from the Sublime years and growing up in the 1990s. It has a fair mix of commercial and industrial areas and areas with high concentrations of bars, shops and restaurants. It also has a few museums and an aquarium for indoor activities.
Manhattan Beach/Redondo Beach
If you are spending the day in the southern part of LA and looking for a beach day, these will be your best bets. Both these beaches are next to each other and are much quieter versions of the touristy Venice or Santa Monica beaches, at least in my experience.
A little outside of the main areas…
Pasadena is just a short drive from the Hollywood area. There is a main street there called Colorado Avenue, which is lined with shops and restaurants. It is also home to the Rose Bowl and Huntington Gardens.
Pacific Coast Highway
The setting of nearly every car commercial that you’ve seen, the Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH, is a must-see. It’s a beautiful drive that expands the West Coast. When completely connected, it can be taken from the north of the country to Baja California in some respects, but isn’t always connected due to environmental factors. If you have the chance to take part in a PCH road trip, don’t hesitate. Just make sure to do your research about the current road conditions if you are short on time.
You’ll notice that I’m not including anything related to hiking in this article. That’s mainly because I think the topic of hiking in Los Angeles merits its own article, which I’ll be writing soon. Truthfully, if you are the outdoorsy type, hiking is one of the best things to do in LA. Also, please don’t take my geographic references (North, South, East and West) to the parts of LA as fact. They are likely classified much differently as far as others, natives, or the official city is concerned. I’ve broken them down by my reference point which is West Hollywood, so in relation to WeHo what is North, South, East or West.
If you are a native Angeleno or have spent a lot of time in the city, feel free to add in your suggestions and favorite things to do in Los Angeles below. I’d love to have some new suggestions from a local!