21 Best Things to Do in Los Angeles, California During Your First Time
Los Angeles, California, is probably one of the most visited destinations in the United States of America. So, when we got to score a relatively cheap flight to the City of Angels, I decided to make the most out of the 13-hour flight we had to endure. Los Angeles is a massive place with a lot of touristy spots to check out. But of course, we couldn’t miss our fair share of a visit to most if not all of them. It's our first time, after all! So, in this post, I’ll be sharing the 21 best things to do in the area that we’ve decided to do early this year.
1. Get lost in the labyrinth at The Last Bookstore
If you’re a bookworm or musically inclined, you better not miss out on visiting The Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA). It is the largest bookstore in Los Angeles that sells all type of books, from $1 to a few thousand dollars’ worths. They have new arrivals and second-hand books, too. The Last Bookstore even carries signed and rare books, so it’s heaven for book lovers.
The Last Bookstore also sells vinyl records. On the second floor, there are small shops for local artists that you must not forget to check out! Also, no visit at The Last Bookstore is complete without visiting the Labyrinth and taking a picture at the book tunnel. If you have books you wish to let go, you can bring them here as they not only sell but also buy used books.
2. Ride the Angel’s Flight
Also found in DTLA is the Angel’s Flight. It’s another famous landmark in Los Angeles which offers a short ride on the narrow and steep railway. While you can take the stairs going up, I think it’s quite an experience to try the Angel’s Flight. It’s quite cheap, too. You may ride for $1 per trip.
If you’re coming from the Grand Central Market, you will have to board first before paying at the booth upon disembarking. The Angel’s flight is apparently the world’s shortest incorporated railway.
3. Grab a bite at the Grand Central Market
Have you ever heard of Eggslut? You can enjoy this monster of a burger along with other delicacies from all over the world at The Grand Central Market. They don’t just have all-time American favorites. They also have stalls for Japanese, Filipino, Mexican (of course) and even El Salvadorian cuisines! It’s not unusual to find this market full of tourists and even locals looking for a quick bite. With over a hundred years of existence in DTLA, the Grand Central Market is already an institution in the area.
4. Visit the Bradbury Building
Just in front of the Million Dollar Theater is the Bradbury Building. Anyone can make a quick visit here after filling your stomach at the Grand Central Markey. The Bradbury building is another architectural landmark in Los Angeles, California. It’s also been a shooting location for movies like Blade Runner, Pay it Forward, and 500 Days of Summer.
The first floor of the building, until the staircase is open to the public at 9AM-6PM on weekdays and 10AM-5PM on weekends.
5. Strike a pose with the Urban Lights at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
I bet you $100 that not everyone who goes to LACMA actually visits the museum but only drop by at the Urban Light art installation outside it! Especially during the night, it’s hard to catch the place empty, so you need some high angle or photoshop skills if you’re planning if you hate photobombers.
What’s interesting about this art installation is that it’s a collection of real streetlights collected and restored by artist Chris Burden. He was inspired by, Max, a son of his friend who showed them antique lamps, spread in parts, while they were at the Rose Bowl Flea Market.
6. Take a look inside the Infinity Mirrored Room at The Broad
The Broad Museum is one of the free museums you can visit in Los Angeles, California. It’s just a few steps away from the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Although it’s open for general admission, it’s advisable to book it ahead of time to assure your entrance time. If you’re looking for The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, the infinity mirrored room by Yayoi Kusama, note that you need to fall for another line to register. Once you enter the building, join the queue on your left and register. You usually have to wait for an hour or more before your turn. So, you would have enough if not more time to explore the whole museum before you get your own 30 seconds inside the Infinity Mirrored Room.
7. See the Million Dollar Theater
The Million Dollar Theater has a long history that dates back to the 1940s. The Nat King Cole Trio used to perform in the theater. After being home to Spanish-language charge for many years, the Million Dollar Theatre met its new owners. These days, however, it’s used to hold special screenings of classic films set in Los Angeles.
8. Pray at The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
I got to visit The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on a rainy day. There was no ongoing mass, so it was tranquil. The cathedral is enormous, and it definitely can hold a lot of churchgoers. There are also smaller prayer areas and even corners for saints where you can light a candle and offer prayers.
I also discovered that the basement of the church is a mausoleum. Many departed brothers and sisters from all over the world entombed here that I even spotted a Filipino. Although it isn’t as huge as a typical cemetery in the Philippines, I think it’s not fully occupied yet. Others spots are still unnamed while others were reserved.
9. Meet Thomas at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County was our first stop when we started exploring Los Angeles. And admittedly, if you’ve been here, it would feel like you’ve been to the other natural history museums already, like the one in New York. Although of course, the one in New York is more prominent and have other installations.
Only here you can visit Thomas, though. You can also touch and feel the fossil toe bone of a grown-up Tyrannosaurus rex here! There are also taxidermized polar bear, tiger, and other animals in this museum. And in one of the exhibits, I saw Peter Pan’s original costume! Fun fact: did you know that Peter Pan has initially been a girl? Well, sorry if it was news to me, but I was amused when I found out about that!
10. Get the vibe at the Union Station
While it’s admittedly not as grand as New York’s The Grand Central Station, visiting the Union Station is also quite an experience. It’s one of Los Angeles’ landmarks opposite Olvera Street. If you’re coming to the state via train, chances are you’re arriving in this station as well.
There are also free monthly tours offered by Metro Art that begins here. Or if you’re craving from some See’s candies, you can quickly get a box or two here.
11. Take a stroll along Olvera Street
Just across the Union Station is the famous Olvera Street that houses everything Mexican. You may visit quite a few attractions in this short stretch. There’s the Avila Adobe, the oldest residential building in Los Angeles, California. You’ll see how houses looked like during the 1800s in this place. There’s also the Sepulveda House, which is another historical house that is now a preserved museum.
Olvera Street is also lined up with carts and stalls selling snack, souvenirs, and even clothing, which is a definite hit to tourists. And of course, there are also many Mexican restaurants in the area where you can get yourself your Mexican food cravings.
12. Watch a basketball game at the Staples Center
While not only basketball games take place at the Staples Center, (they also hold concerts and other events here) it’d be quite a miss if you don’t catch a Lakers game if there’s a match while you’re in town. I’m not exactly a fan of basketball, but I did quite enjoy watching the crowd go crazy when Lakers played against Timberwolves this January. It’s unfortunate for the game to end in an anti-climactic way with more than 10 points difference.
13. Unleash the musician in you at The Grammy Museum
The Grammy Museum is just walking distance to the Staples Center. So, it’s possible to make a quick tour before the game starts. Aside from getting to know the stories of the featured artists, my favorite part of the museum, here was the area of the instrument. Here, we could pretend to be musicians; from vocals to pianist and guitarist, it’s such a beautiful place to have fun!
Just outside The Grammy Museum, you can also find one of Colette Miller’s Angel Wings art.
14. Get competitive at Sta. Monica Pier
The highlight of our Sta. Monica Pier was Pacific Park. Although we’re a group of adults, we still put our game face on and did our best to win some stuffed toys. Sta. Monica Pier is always full of tourists, and so, of course, it would be usual to see artists perform. Just be warned though, I’ve seen here fake Buddhist monks who give away bracelets only to aggressively ask for ‘donations’ in the end! It’s been a known scam in the United States, so if you’re not careful, you might get scammed or even worse, harassed.
15. Have a fancy brunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel
Although the place was quite fancy, we had brunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel in celebration of my two sisters’ birthdays. The Cabana Café is the poolside café that serves large servings of salads, bowls, entrees, and appetizers. I loved the tomato soup with grilled cheese, but it got me so full I couldn’t enjoy the rest of my salad anymore. Well, American food is generally abundant in serving, but taking it in during brunch time didn’t help even if I came with an empty stomach. The ambiance of Cabana Café was relaxing. And the dominance of the pink color added to the cutesy vibe of the place.
16. Tour the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) Campus
Do you want to take a look at one of the United States most sought-after university? Then take a tour at the UCLA Campus! It’s enormous, so you have to not mind the long walks from the parking area to the university buildings themselves. But well, if you’re getting yourself at least a couple of Diddy Riese cookies after, then I guess you won’t hate it at all.
17. Visit the Getty Museum
The Getty Museum is another free museum in Los Angeles. There’s The Getty Villa in Malibu, but it’s already too far from DTLA, so we didn’t get the chance to visit that location. The Getty Museum is incredibly huge are with different buildings showcasing different types of arts. Visitors need to take the tram to access the museum. It’s easy to spend at least half a day here. But let me tell you, the sunset was just downright amazing. Stay for that, I’m telling you!
18. Get your Hollywood sign fix from the Griffith Observatory
Well, you’re in Los Angeles; this means you’re in Hollywood! And what’s a visit to Hollywood if you’re not going to take a photo of the Hollywood sign? There are a lot of places in Los Angeles where you can see the Hollywood sign. It’s easily recognizable if you’re traveling from the airport to DTLA. But two of the best spots are Lake Hollywood and the Griffith Observatory.
Some people even hike the Hollywood sign before coming to the Griffith Observatory, hitting two birds in one stone. We preferred going straight to Griffith, though. We’re already fine by seeing a closer view of the sign and watching a couple of shows at the observatory. Just note that the entrance fee to the Griffith Observatory is free, but the shows are for a small fee, so ready your wallets for that.
19. Spend a day or two at the Universal Studios
Universal Studios Hollywood was quite little. I think it’s even smaller than Universal Studios in Japan. That’s why we were happily able to spend two unhurried days, and still, we got to cover all the attractions that we wanted to see. That’s inclusive of the long eating time we always take! The amusement park also has a downloadable app that helped us plan our route within the amusement park and see the waiting time of each attraction, which made our days even more relaxed. We admittedly enjoyed here rather than Disneyland, but that could also be just because we’re adults now. Putting that aside, you have to know that you can get Voodoo Doughnuts at the Universal Citywalk before or after entering the studios. Wouldn’t that be another treat?
20. Get a Dole Whip and more at the Disneyland Park and Disneyland Adventure Park
There are two Disneyland parks in Los Angeles, Disneyland Park, and Disneyland Adventure Park. If you’re looking for the Mickey Mouse Ferris Wheel, then go to the Disneyland Adventure. If you want the traditional Disneyland Experience, then hop onto Disneyland Park. It’s quite big, yes. Our visit was at a peak period, too, so there were a lot of people. Honestly, as a family, we even just rode the same stuff we did at Disneyland Hong Kong and Japan, but I’m not complaining.
I liked the DOLE whip, though. I guess it lived up to the hype, although just like any other food in Disneyland, it’s really on the pricey side. But not the tea and hot chocolate, though! They are surprisingly cheap than in Universal Studios.
21. Meet Stanley the Giraffe at the Malibu Wine and Safari
If you’re willing to drive or Uber your way from DTLA to Malibu for an awesome nature trip, then I suggest you try and meet Stanley the giraffe from Hang Over Three at the Malibu Wine and Safari. It’s what my father enjoyed the most because, well, it’s nature + wine. My two sisters and I don’t drink at all, so he and my other sister enjoyed six times three more serving of three-ounce wine samples we had for the tour. Not bad, eh?
The farm was affected by the Woolsey fire, but you can still get the idea of how beautiful the whole place used to be. There are other animals like alpacas and zebras that you get to feed and meet before the Star of the Farm, Stanley. When we got there, we also got to see the remains of the family house, which was torn apart by the fire. It was so sad! I wish everyone affected by the fire is doing at least a little better now.
I’m not claiming that these are the only best things to do in Los Angeles. I may have missed some things or deliberately stayed away from them as I didn’t find them interesting enough. But I hope that this list will help you get started with your own Los Angeles itinerary. Also, I didn’t hunt down shopping or eating areas that much which I guess warrants a different post. But at least, you get the idea of what you can find in LA that you probably can’t find just anywhere else. Do you have any favorites in the list? Let me know in the comments!