15 Things to Do in Los Angeles, California for First-Timers

15 Best Things to Do in Los Angeles for First-Timers

Fall in love with the sights and sounds of this vibrant metropolis!

Welcome to Los Angeles — aka the City of Angels! I bet when most of us think of Los Angeles, we think about the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood Sign and the Walk of Fame. But it is really more than just that. As the second-most densely populated city in the United States (just behind New York City), it’s practically bursting with energy and excitement. This incredibly ethnically diverse city boasts a strong food and art culture that continues to grow as more people are drawn to it in hopes of making their dreams come true. 

One thing’s for sure: My dream of having a jam-packed trip of intriguing sights and activities will definitely be fulfiled in La La Land. So, read on for the best things to do in Los Angeles (especially if it’s your first time!) to see and experience it in its entirety!

Also read: 14 Instagram-Worthy Airbnb & Vacation Rentals in Los Angeles for Your Next Visit

Top things to do in Los Angeles, California

1. Visit the iconic Hollywood Sign

Hollywood sign, best things to do in LA

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Let’s be real: If you didn’t take a picture with the Hollywood Sign, did you really visit Los Angeles? (I’m kidding, kind of). This 50-foot-tall Californian landmark plays an important role in American pop culture, often the establishing shot when introducing Los Angeles in films.

Hollywood sign, panoramic view

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There are several ways to get to this iconic American landmark: hiking through the Bronson Canyon entrance from Griffith Park; viewing it from the Griffith Observatory; and even on a horseback tour of Griffith Park. Whichever one you choose, enjoy the fresh air and panoramic views of the city. Get your wide-angle camera lenses out and take lots of shots when you’re there! And if you drop by at sunset, you’ll be treated to some truly dreamy views. Truly, this is one of the best things to do in LA!

2. Stroll down the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles

Street art murals, arts district LA

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As its name implies, the Arts District in the eastern part of Downtown LA is the artistic centre of the city. The area has seen a resurgence in the 21st century, with artists flocking in and numerous art galleries setting up shop here. Art enthusiasts will be especially delighted to visit Art Share LA: a creative hub where community art classes, events and exhibitions are held. 

But the art does not stop at the galleries! Take a walk down the colourful district decorated with a variety of street art on the side of buildings. From huge portraits of celebrities to abstract floral works, there’s definitely something that will intrigue you among the over 100 artworks. One mural that you should definitely check out is Colette Miller’s first mural from her Global Angel Wings project: the uplifting angel wing mural that turned into a global phenomenon. So, go ahead and snap a photo of yourself with your newly-minted angel wings in the City of Angels. 

3. Go behind the scenes at Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood

To fans of the popular television sitcom, Friends — imagine being able to sit on the couches in Central Perk. Well, now you can at Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood!

Whether you’re a film buff or someone who only watches shows on Netflix, touring the Warner Bros. Studios is definitely one of the best things to do in LA! This entertainment mogul created many memorable films and TV series; Gilmore Girls, Friends, Harry Potter, and DC Superheroes & Supervillains being just some of those.

Step onto the actual filming sites of these iconic films and shows and act out your favourite scenes. (We promise we won’t judge). Or spend hours at their exhibition on the evolution of the film industry over the years, as well as the techniques used in creating that extra-special movie magic. And of course, take lots of photos as a keepsake! 

4. Enjoy the sea breeze at Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier, Fun Things to Do in Los Angeles

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Santa Monica Pier is definitely a gem in the line-up of Los Angeles attractions. Drawing in both tourists and locals for its beach, vintage architecture, and numerous activities, this place definitely deserves a shout-out on our list!

Of course, many people come to Santa Monica Pier for Pacific Park. Other than being the only amusement park in L.A. to have free admission, it also has the world’s only solar-powered Ferris Wheel: the Pacific Wheel, which gives you an enchanting view of the Pacific Ocean. So, grab some cotton candy and hop on the thrilling rides. In between, take a walk around the boardwalk and catch some street performances. Visiting this amusement park will definitely be one of the best things to do in LA!

Route 66 sign, Santa Monica Pier

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Before you leave, snap a picture at the iconic Route 66 End of the Trail sign. This highway holds great significance in American history, as it was the gateway of ideas and travellers between urban towns and rural areas in the 1920s. The highway and the sign represent freedom and mobility for the American people. So, do take a picture with this sign to really cap off your visit to Santa Monica Pier. 

5. Embrace the bohemian scene in Venice Beach

Venice Beach

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First developed as a resort town, Venice Beach is known for its eccentric charm. You can see all kinds of shenanigans going on — rollerbladers, mimes, jugglers, and fortune tellers, amongst many more. Thus, people-watching and absorbing its bohemian culture is one of the best things to do in Los Angeles! If you’re looking for some good cocktails, do check out the High Rooftop Lounge at Hotel Erwin for great views of the beach below. Who knows — you might even spot a Barbie and Ken strolling down the boardwalk in neon rollerblades. 

Just a few minutes’ walk from the beachfront, you’ll find Abbot Kinney Boulevard: the neighbourhood’s food and shopping paradise. This stylish area consists of some top restaurants and bars, as well as more affordable food trucks! And if you’re looking for a new outfit to strut down these posh streets on, the boutiques and other shops along the boulevard will certainly not disappoint. 

Also read: 14 Prettiest Barbie-Inspired Airbnbs Around the World

6. Soak in the magic of Hollywood Boulevard

Hollywood Boulevard, Best Things to Do in LA

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I’m willing to bet that anyone who is planning to visit Los Angeles has heard of the legendary Hollywood Boulevard — and for good reason! This place holds great significance in the history of moviemaking, thus making it one of the top things to do in Los Angeles. 

TCL Chinese Theatre, Things to Do in Los Angeles

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The TCL Chinese Theatre (previously the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre) stands out amongst the other buildings on this street. It is a historic location in the film industry as many iconic movies premiered at this theatre, such as Star Wars and The King of Kings

Inspired by traditional Chinese architecture, the building is a melody of gold and red. The outer architecture resembles a giant pagoda, while the inner design consists of countless majestic drawings of dragons, making you feel as if you’ve stepped into a regal Chinese palace! It also has the largest IMAX auditorium in the world, so you can consider catching a film in one of the world’s most beautiful cinemas. 

Hollywood Walk of Fame

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After stepping out of the theatre, you’ll still feel that you’re in the home of the stars as you walk down the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This is where several decades of celebrities’, directors’, and even fictional characters’ terrazzo-and-brass stars are cemented on the pavements. You’re literally walking on Hollywood history!

7. Check out the shopping and dining options at The Grove

The Grove would be my go-to shopping location when I visit Los Angeles. Arguably LA’s best mall, this outdoor shopping complex has everything you need, whether you’re looking for luxury goods or everyday brands. If you regularly shop from American brands when you’re back home, do take advantage of the lower prices and unique designs offered here!

When you get tired of walking from point to point in this giant megaplex, hop on the trolley that will take you around the mall. How cute is that? And if you’re extra hungry from all that shopping, you can consider eating at The Cheesecake Factory; many would say that the food portions are astonishingly huge!

Also read: 12 Shopping Destinations Around the World You Have to Visit in Your Lifetime!

8. Unleash your inner child at these famous theme parks

Ah, theme parks. Waking up at the crack of dawn, eating themed food, and even queuing for hours just for a five-minute ride; I love it all. Visiting theme parks is definitely one of the top fun things to do in and near Los Angeles as it is home to some of the most famous ones in the world. Below are some of the ones you shouldn’t miss! 

Also read: A Guide to the Best Theme Parks Around the World Worth Travelling For

Disneyland Park California

Disneyland Park California

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Ah, the first Disneyland in history. The original “Happiest Place on Earth”  is located in Anaheim, which is a short distance from LA. Granted, there’s often a lot of traffic going to and from here, but trust me, the journey is totally worth it! Expect the usual affair, attractions that bring a smile to your face, as well as immersive themes in the nine different “lands.” For long-time Disney fans, this Disneyland in particular will be worth visiting as it is the only one that was managed by Uncle Walt himself. 

Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood, Best Things to Do in LA

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If Disney is a place that immerses you in the magic of fairy tales, Universal Studios immerses you in the world of film and television. This entertainment dreamland features 10 sections and tons of attractions that are sure to keep everyone in the group engaged; from families and movie lovers to thrill seekers! With its latest addition of Super Nintendo World (the second of its kind after Universal Studios Japan), there is even more reason to get yourself down to play some real-life Mario Kart!

Also read: 10 Best Airbnbs Near Universal Studios Hollywood in California

9. Experience eating at an old-school American diner

Imagine this: neon sign boards, red leather-bound booths, chequered floors, and old-school music flowing out of a jukebox. There’s something about an all-American diner that makes you salivate for the classic American meal consisting of burgers, fries, and a milkshake. Back when diners first emerged in the mid-19th century, diners were not exactly the go-to sit-down dining choice. In fact, these catered to the busy working class, who needed a cheap and quick meal before rushing off. Diners have definitely evolved to become a staple in American culture! Thus, finding an old-school diner to chow down at is one of the best things to do in LA!

While Los Angeles diners have garnered a reputation for being overpriced and overrated, some diners are still worth visiting. A must-try would be Mel’s Drive-In, one of the oldest chains of American diners in the country. It has multiple locations in LA alone, and you can find one in these areas: Santa Monica⁠, Hollywood⁠, West Hollywood, and Sherman Oaks⁠. Their tried-and-tested formula of quick and delicious food has resulted in their expansion to 35 restaurants all over the world! 

Alternatively, you can get your American food fix at Swingers Diner along Beverly Boulevard. This one is known for serving up on-point nostalgic vibes with its traditional interior design and jukebox playing classic rock-and-roll. 

10.  Feast on various cuisines at Grand Central Market

Hungry from all that sightseeing? Let me introduce you to the Grand Central Market. Found between Broadway and Hill Street, this Angeleno food haven will definitely keep your belly full! It features a wide range of international cuisine: fresh oysters, Japanese sando sandwiches, Mexican fruterias (spiced fruit cups), savoury Filipino silogs (rice bowls), and even a curried version of the German bratwurst.

If you drop by on a weekend, the lower deck transforms into a bazaar, where independent artisans are selling their handcrafted pieces. So, look out for unique, one-of-a-kind souvenirs that you can take home to your loved ones!

11.  Expand your knowledge on different kinds of art at the museums

Los Angeles is home to a vibrant creative scene, so it’s not surprising that it houses many renowned art museums that attract millions of tourists from all over the world! Whether you prefer classical or modern artworks, museum hopping here should be on your list of best things to do in LA. 

The Broad

The Broad, Best Things to Do in LA

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The Broad is a great expansion to the already extensive supply of art galleries in Los Angeles. It commemorates the evolution of modern art from the 1950s — featuring the colourful and quirky styles of Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, and thought-provoking, neo-impressionist pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Visiting this museum is like stepping into the living, beating heart of modern and contemporary art. The conversations started by some of the works serve as very relevant commentaries on our world today. 

Infinity Mirror Rooms, The Broad

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When you decide to visit this museum, reserve a slot for the Infinity Mirror Rooms by Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama. The sparkling installation definitely deserves its title as one of the most popular artworks there. Standing inside the room will make you feel like you’re truly light-years away from reality!

The Getty Center

Getty Center

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Sitting atop a hill, The Getty Center has arguably the most breathtaking panoramic view of Los Angeles. It was founded by  Jean Paul Getty Sr.: an American-born British tycoon who had a passion for collecting art and antiquities. He believed that art should be available for public education and proceeded to establish The J. Paul Getty Museum Trust in 1953. Despite having a more contemporary exterior, the museum showcases mainly traditional and 19th-century masterpieces, such as Van Gogh’s Irises, and Rembrandt’s self-portrait Rembrandt Laughing

Getty Centre trams, Fun Things to Do in LA

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Not only is this one of the top Los Angeles attractions, but it is also the only museum that includes a 20-minute tram up the hill to its doorstep. The Getty Center also operates on a timed admission system, so remember to reserve your entry time beforehand.

12. Dig for hidden finds with the locals at the Melrose Trading Post

Before heading home, you have to pick up a truly unique LA souvenir at the Melrose Trading Post.  Spend a Sunday perusing through the handcrafted trinkets and vintage fashion pieces at this outdoor flea market located at Fairfax High School. You could definitely spend hours here, with many food trucks offering some greasy goodness and local musicians playing their tunes live in the open space. 

If you love to immerse yourself in local culture, spending a few hours here is one of the best things to do in Los Angeles. This is definitely a step away from the touristy sightseeing as you have the opportunity to interact with residents! Plus, it’s also a meaningful place to visit as the market’s activities fund the community’s arts education program.

More fun things to do in Los Angeles County

13. Soak in the glamour of Rodeo Drive

Rodeo Drive, Things to Do in Los Angeles

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It would be a big mistake — no, huge mistake — for chick flick fans to miss out on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Known as one of the most expensive streets in the world, it is an iconic landmark for fans of quintessential films like Clueless and Pretty Woman. Beyond that, it is an epicentre of fashion in Los Angeles County — particularly, luxury fashion goods! You’ll be able to find almost every high-end brand name down these streets. 

Also, keep your eyes wide open! You might even spot famous A-list celebrities doing their own retail therapy. (While I might not do much shopping here, I’ll pretend to be Vivian Ward as I window shop.) 

14. Make a quick getaway from the city to Eaton Canyon Falls

Eaton Canyon Falls

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It is easy to get overwhelmed by ticking items off your Los Angeles attractions bucket list. So, why not dedicate some time to doing something relaxing, like immersing yourself in nature? Located in the nearby city of Pasadena, Eaton Canyon Falls is fairly easy to hike. The journey should take you roughly 90 minutes, so this is perfect for a morning hike before grabbing brunch.

Eaton Canyon Falls, Things to Do in Los Angeles

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The route has a fun terrain that changes from open and level ground to rocky creaks. It eventually ends at a grand waterfall. This is a relatively popular hiking trail among those looking for a less challenging climb, making it undeniably relaxing. Just close your eyes, take in the sound of rushing water, and feel the cool mist on your face. You can even wade around in the waist-deep pool to cool off from the California heat!

15. Fall in love with the sunset views at El Matador State Beach

El Matador State Beach

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Among the many beaches in California, El Matador State Beach is one of the most beautiful. Yet, it is one of LA County’s best-kept secrets. Located in Malibu, this secluded location makes it the perfect place for a romantic picnic or stroll along the waves. (It can even be a great proposal location as well — you’re welcome). But the true highlight is the stretch of beautiful rock formations that run along its coastline. 

El Matador State Beach sunset

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When the sunset approaches, expect to see a group of photographers lining up along these formations with their cameras and tripods ready. And for good reason! The rocks are the perfect backdrop for a dreamy, out-of-this-world scenic shot. 

Also read: 22 Best Beach Houses to Book on Airbnb, From California to Hawaii

Now you’re ready to take on this vibrant metropolis! Even if you’re a first-time visitor, Los Angeles will welcome you with open arms. Whether you’re seeking a taste of celebrity culture, a relaxing time in the Californian sun or a thrilling day on a rollercoaster, Los Angeles truly has it all. 

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About Author

Beautrice Oh
Beautrice Oh

Beautrice enjoys exploring new places and jumps at any chance to try something new. She loves learning about different cultures through their food, landmarks, and hidden local spots (if she can find them)! Always enthusiastic for an adventure, she plans itineraries that fully immerse herself in the destination’s culture, and will never forget to bring along her camera to capture the memories.