From incredible beaches to amusement parks and quirky neighborhoods, Los Angeles has no shortage of offerings for every traveler. There is so much to see and do in this vibrant Californian city, that it can be a little overwhelming on deciding where to start!
If you only have a few days to explore, you’re probably wondering, “What should I not miss in LA?” I’ve got you covered, as I highlight the most iconic things to do in Los Angeles that you can’t miss and are worth visiting on your first trip to LA.
What to Do in Los Angeles
This list of what to do in Los Angeles includes a diverse mix of entertainment, amusements, natural beauty, and culture so you get a bit of all that LA has to offer.
Planning a trip to California? Get all of the essential details with more of my California travel guides, including where to stay in LA!
Explore Santa Monica
Santa Monica is LA’s legendary beach area with 3 miles of sandy shoreline and a vibrant pier, complete with an amusement park. Santa Monica is always full of life, and walking around this area is my favorite thing to do when I first arrive in LA.
If you’re visiting in the summer, you can relax on the beach, play volleyball, or take a dip in the ocean. However, Santa Monica is still one of the best places to visit in LA in the winter too. If you’re here during the colder months, head to Third Street Promenade in downtown Santa Monica, a hub for shopping and eating.
Soak up the atmosphere on Sunset Boulevard
Sunset Boulevard is one of the most iconic streets in Los Angeles, featured in countless Hollywood films. Walking down here will no doubt transport you back to some of your favorite childhood movies and give you a buzz of energy.
Sunset Boulevard is also famed for its long-standing history of music and show business, and the atmosphere is electric. You’ll spot many famous clubs and quirky attractions and can easily spend a few hours here. If you’re a fan of comedy, check out The Comedy Store. For movie buffs, don’t miss the historic dome-shaped movie theater, Cinerama Dome.
The road goes on for a 22-miles, running from the Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades east to Figueroa Street in Downtown Los Angeles. However, the most significant part of this street is from Sierra Drive to West Hollywood.
Get star-struck on the Walk of Fame
Another Los Angeles sightseeing spot in this area is the world-famous Hollywood Boulevard, known as the Walk of Fame. Yes, it’s incredibly touristy, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it. If you’ve never been to LA before, seeing the walk of fame is a must!
The Hollywood Walk of Fame is a historic sidewalk with over 2,700 embedded stars featuring the names of legendary celebrities. It spans 18 blocks in Hollywood, but if there’s a specific star’s name you want to check out, you can find the exact location online.
When you’re in Hollywood, don’t forget to take your eyes off the ground. You’ll find many landmarks on Hollywood Boulevard, such as TCL Chinese Theatre, Dolby Theatre, and Hollywood Palladium.
Take the obligatory photos at the Hollywood Sign
Another of the most touristic but must-do Los Angeles activities is to pose by the world-famous Hollywood sign. The iconic billboard sits atop Mount Lee, and from a distance, reaching it seems like a challenge. However, it’s actually pretty easy to get up here.
You should know that you cannot touch or stand right next to the sign as it’s fenced off and guarded by security. But you can get pretty close behind it, where you’ll experience dazzling views of the city below.
There are various ways to reach the sign, but I recommend heading to Lake Hollywood Park. When you enter the park, you’ll have an excellent view of the sign from below. Then, you can access a trail from Mulholland Drive on the east side of the park that will take you up to the top of Mount Lee.
If you’re traveling solo and don’t want to go hiking on your own, join The Official Hollywood Sign Hike. On this guided walk, you’ll have plenty of people at hand to take your photo by the sign. Plus, you’ll learn some insider Hollywood History from your local guide.
Hike to Griffith Observatory
I love Los Angeles because it’s so easy to escape the crowds and enjoy some natural beauty. Griffith Park consists of 4,210 acres of both natural shrubland and landscaped gardens.
Here you can hike the 2.1-mile round trip trail to Griffith Observatory, where you’ll be greeted with breathtaking vistas of the city and the Hollywood sign. It includes an ascent of 540 feet, so it is a little strenuous but is still accessible to most.
I recommend going early in the morning for a more peaceful experience (as there are some crowds). Or, for the most incredible skyline, head there at sunset. It’s safe to do the hike on your own, but there are guided group hikes if you’re traveling solo and looking to meet others.
Taste your way around Grand Central Market
Grand Central Market is a historic landmark in Downtown Los Angeles. It first opened in 1917 and was a vibrant venue, hosting game nights, movies, and other events. Today it has 40 stalls selling the finest local produce you won’t find anywhere else.
China Cafe and Roast To Go are two of the longest-standing tenants in Grand Central Market that are worth trying. In addition, there are plenty of exciting new vendors dishing up every cuisine from Texan to South American to Italian. The market is open Monday to Sunday from 8am to 9pm, so you can go for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Visit Universal Studios
If you’re looking for a day of fun and adventure while in LA, Universal Studios is one of the most exciting Los Angeles attractions for all ages. This world-class theme park features incredible attractions like the Jurassic World Ride, Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey, and the classic Simpsons ride.
One of the most popular things to do at Universal Studios for all movie lovers is to go on the studio tour, where you go behind the scenes of a real movie studio. You’ll learn some mind-blowing moviemaking secrets and see the sets of some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters.
Go celebrity spotting in Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills is well known as the home of the rich and famous. But, even if you’re not interested in celebrities, exploring this luxurious neighborhood and admiring the mansions is still worth it (Selling Sunset anyone?). While you’re here, check out the upscale shopping street of Rodeo Drive, too. Regardless of your budget, you can still appreciate the beauty of the palm-tree-lined avenue and get some fashion inspiration.
There are a lot of sightseeing bus tours that go around Beverly Hills, pointing out celebrities’ houses. While for some this may be too touristy, a unique alternative is to take a guided bike tour. You’ll cover 10 miles through Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and West Hollywood with a small group on an electric bike. Plus, you’ll even get to see inside a famous mansion!
Go hiking in Runyon Canyon Park
Runyon Canyon Park is a 160-acre park in Hollywood hills and one of the most popular hiking destinations in Los Angeles. There are a few short trails here, making for a fab alternate afternoon in LA. You can hike the short 1.8-mile loop that takes you to a scenic viewpoint, where you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the city.
If you want to extend your walk, continue past the viewpoint and follow the longer 3.5-mile trail around all of Runyon Canyon Park. Most people start their hike from the south entrance on Franklin Avenue, but you can also access the tracks from the north entrance on Mulholland Drive.
Walk along Venice Beach Boardwalk
One of the best things about staying for a few days or more in Los Angeles is exploring the hip neighborhoods like Venice. As the epicenter of bohemian culture, the boardwalk is always bustling. Here you can buy an original painting or unique piece of craft jewelry while listening to the live music of the street performers and watching the cool tricks of the skateboarders.
Venice is also full of creative murals, so save some time to wander the quirky streets, too. If you found Hollywood a bit over-the-top, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy Venice’s relaxed, hippy vibe.
Catch a show at the Hollywood Bowl
The world-class Hollywood Bowl is another of the top things to see in Los Angeles. Many of the world’s most iconic music artists have played at this impressive outdoor amphitheater in the beautiful Hollywood Hills.
The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Madonna, Elton John, and Tina Turner are just a few names that have graced the stage here. Still today, several events run each week during the summer, including the Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival and the annual July 4th Fireworks Spectacular.
So, if you’re visiting during the summer, check the schedule to see what’s on. If you’re not lucky enough to catch a show, you can still learn more about the historic landmark at the on-site museum.
Unleash your inner child at Disneyland
Without a doubt, Disneyland is one of the most famous attractions in Los Angeles. You’ll need at least a day to explore this magical theme park. Hence, a day trip to Disneyland is an excellent idea if you’re on an extended vacation in LA.
You don’t need to be a child to enjoy this whimsical resort, nor do you need to be traveling with kids to justify a visit here. Yes, it’s expensive and busy, but if Disney was a significant part of your childhood, relieving your younger years at this wonderworld is a must!
Los Angeles FAQs
The best time to visit Los Angeles is late Spring (April to May) and early Autumn (September to October). During these times, the climate is ideal (not too hot nor too cold), the air quality is good, and there are fewer crowds.
Los Angeles is huge, and the attractions are spread out, so you will not be able to explore the entire city in a day, unless you opt to focus on one area. Instead, I recommend staying for at least three days, which will allow you to visit various notable neighborhoods like Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood.