5 Alternative Attractions in Los Angeles for Your First Visit

5 Alternative Attractions in Los Angeles for Your First Visit

Don’t expect glamour or take a movie star home tour in Hollywood. The best attractions and places to go in Los Angeles may not be what you expect.

If you’re heading to Los Angeles, there is probably a long list of must-see attractions on your itinerary. While it is easy to cover the conventional tourist attractions in the City of Angels on your first trip, it is far more rewarding to venture off the beaten track and visit some “alternative” attractions. This list of not to expect and the alternative places to go in Los Angeles is for all those who are looking for an essential Los Angeles experience.

1a. DON’T…Expect glamour in Hollywood

LA’s warm climate and multitude of landscapes – arid desert, lush forest, mountain ranges, and coastal waterfronts – made it an ideal choice to be the centre of the film industry in the early 1900s. Today, one wonders whether tourists meandering with their heads down on the legendary Walk of Fame are locating their favourite artiste’s star or avoiding the panhandlers and tacky salesmen abound on the sidewalk. Those who make the pilgrimage to Hollywood Boulevard will enjoy the feeble recreation of its former glamour in touristy attractions such as Hollywood Wax Museum, recently rated by Vice as the “worst wax museum in America”, in between rest stops at decrepit buildings and scam artists offering you a ‘free’ CD.

1b. DO…Take a studio tour

As Hollywood bursts on the world scene and inflated budgets lead to a demand for far-flung filming locations, its soul still lives on within the “Big 4” production studios of Warner, Universal, Paramount, and Sony. The question, really, is which should you choose?

Studio Warner Bros Universal Paramount Sony
Price $54 $95*
Includes admission to USH
$53 $40
Duration 135 mins, tours run every 15 mins from 8am – 5.30pm 60 mins, tours run anytime during park operating hours but subject to long queue times. 120 mins, tours run every 30 mins from 9.30am – 2.00pm. 120 mins, four times a day.
Famous Works Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Conan, Batman, etc. Desperate Housewives, The Simpsons, Transformers, etc. Forest Gump, Star Trek, Glee, Community, Hawaii Five-O The Wizard of Oz, Wheel of Fortune, Spiderman, Gilmore Girls
Highlights The Movie Memorabilia Museum, which features an impressive Harry Potter collection and other rotating exhibits. In itself a theme park ride, the tour entertains with a 3D-King Kong, earthquakes and floods, as well the War of the Worlds set. Known for its architecture and history as a Hollywood landmark. Known for its ‘New York City’ set home to productions such as Seinfeld. Formerly the historical MGM Studios, the tour brings you to well-preserved sets of movie classics. Main lobby contains many film memorabilia.


Personally, I would recommend Universal for those who already intend to go a theme park and Warner Bros for those who don’t. These two studios generally have the best line-up of productions and most polished tour experiences.

Batman feature exhibit at Warner Bros Studios

Tip: Research your favourite shows by the studio beforehand and let your tour guide know right away – they often modify routes to cater to audiences’ preferences

2a. DON’T…Take a movie star home tour

Los Angeles’ native wildlife-watching features busloads of paparazzi-wannabe tourists with cameras poised eagerly awaiting the sight of a wild celebrity. Unbemused by the attention, many of these rare species have migrated away from their natural habitat of Beverly Hills and are scattered all over Los Angeles County. Others have adapted their dwellings with dense enclosures designed to keep would-be hunters out. If you are fortunate enough to see one, approach with caution.

2b. DO…Catch a free Hollywood movie premiere and/or show taping

Instead of perpetuating the paparazzi chase, consider getting up close to your favourite Hollywood stars and shows with the multitude of free events available online. Don’t forget to dress up for the red carpet of a movie world premiere, where you may find yourself seated amongst the movie stars themselves. Best still, stars often invite their fellow celebrity friends along to grace the event, where I saw Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) and John Cho (Harold & Kumar). Oh, and did I mention they have free flow popcorn and drinks?

A more interactive option is to be part of the studio audience of a sitcom or talk show. The most in-demand shows tend to be The Big Bang Theory and Jimmy Kimmel Live, where you have to reserve well in advance. I caught The Late Late Show at CBS, where a Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) boob-slip hilariously derailed the filming process. Look no further than this for a comprehensive list of sites to find tickets.

3a. DON’T…Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA]

An exercise in disappointment, MOCA takes your $12 entrance free into the recesses of the museum administration to barely keep itself financially afloat. Those intrepid enough to venture inside will find a one-floor collection of interpretively challenging exhibits such as a decaying bread house and seemingly random geometry. Do visit for the sexually explicit pieces that may or may not broaden your artistic sensibilities.

3b. DO…Visit the Mosaic Tile House

If you ever wished to reside in a rainbow, look no further than this quirky establishment in Venice. The brainchild of resident artists and husband-and-wife team Cheri and Gonzalo, you’ll be amazed at how the house has evolved from the first mosaics in the bathroom to the scale it is today.

Call or email in advance for a warm welcome and interpretive tour of the house by Cheri, who is herself also a skilled oil painter. Expect whimsical additions of various knick-knacks and everyday items to emerge from the mosaics. If you look carefully, you may even find an out-of-place black fridge packed with creations brought to life from the dark side of Cheri’s imagination.

What I found most impressive was how Cheri and Gonzalo integrated the mosaic art into their own individual pursuits in sculpture, pottery and painting [don’t miss Cheri’s dreamlike canvases in the workshop!] It’s a treat to see how the Mosaic Tile House has inadvertently turned into the couple’s magnum opus, a living fantasy where their creative powers come out to play. Find out more about this unique attraction and contact Cheri here.

4a. DON’T…Aimlessly wander around Chinatown

Though you may be tempted to re-enact Jackie Chan’s Foo Chow restaurant scene in Rush Hour, LA boasts one of the smallest Chinatowns in the U.S. and is a far cry from the scale and historical significance of the Chinatown in nearby San Francisco. Run-down by day and dodgy at night, the neighbourhood reflects LA as its worst.

4b. DO…Take a ‘free’ city tour to delve into LA’s secrets

Once known as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula, the city of Los Angeles began life as a sleepy Mexican town. These are the kind of interesting facts you may unveil when taking an insightful walking tour of LA with a dedicated local guide. During my visit, I took the “Empire to Now” themed walk with Free LA Tour. My tour guide Damian breathed life into LA’s downtown core with a constant stream of entertaining stories and noteworthy titbits of history and architecture. You may come away with a new perspective on the city – or at least a fascinating story about the LA Times’ first owners.

Thematic tours run throughout the day in both downtown and Hollywood. A $10+ tip per person is usually expected. Book in advance here.

5a. DON’T…hike to the Hollywood sign

Despite the best efforts of locals to hide the iconic Hollywood Sign, hordes of tourists descend upon the neighbourhood daily to find the best ‘selfie’ spot with LA’s best-known landmark. If you do choose to brave the unmarked trails, ambiguous directions and occasional horse poop, you’ll find the Sign itself cordoned off and the perimeter strictly enforced by LAPD. But – no worries, right? You should be close enough to snap a good photo. Except the only trail available ends at the rear of the sign.

5b. DO…hike to Griffith Observatory in the evening

Dedicated to the imaginatively-named Griffith J. Griffith, the Observatory perched near the summit of Mt. Hollywood features a number of epic attractions such as one of the few remaining Zeiss telescopes in the world [till the company started manufacturing precision instruments for Nazi Germany], the largest astronomically accurate image ever constructed, and a working Tesla coil that produces excitingly loud electric strikes. With equally badass-sounding annex names such as the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater and Gunther Depths of Space Hall, perhaps the quality of attractions should come as no surprise.

Start by making the pleasant hike up Mt Hollywood an hour before nightfall and witness the setting sun over a perfect panoramic view of LA. Enter the observatory to admire the Foucault pendulum, first conceived in the 1800s to illustrate the rotation of the earth. Browse your way through creative exhibits to the massive Zeiss telescope on the rooftop and queue to have a view of celestial bodies. If you wish to skip the queue, consider stargazing on the tranquil rooftop spaces instead – made easier by the north-south orientation of the building. If you have time, consider one of the three shows at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, which currently features a mesmerising piece on the aurora borealis (Northern Lights).

Shuttle buses only run on weekends. View the schedule here and find out more about the Observatory here.

About Author

Yu Hang Ng

The author thinks every life needs a good origin story. A second-year student at Singapore Management University, he studies Political Science, practices Strategy Consulting, and dabbles in Marketing on the side. His second favorite place in the world is at the peak of an arduous mountain summit, of which he has scaled in Malaysia, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, and Korea. His favourite place in the world is in the window seat of a plane that has landed in a new destination.


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