Don't just do Disneyland: 11 activities L.A. locals and tourists will love

October 16, 2014                 6m read time
Megan Wood

Visitors to L.A. often want to do the cliche, celeb-chasing activities that make their local friends cringe. But hey, this is their vacation too, and sometimes those cheesy sightseeing spots can be totally fun. How about a compromise? We came up with a list of amusing tourist-friendly attractions and paired them with chill nearby destinations that even the most jaded Angelino will love. We promise, no movie stars’ homes tours here—just the California culture and sunny vibe that makes Los Angeles an ideal spot to vacation and live.

1. Tourist-Friendly: Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica pier at sunset Jorge Dalmau

Santa Monica pier at sunset

Jorge Dalmau


Since the 1920s, the picturesque Santa Monica Pier has attracted a diverse crowd—from actors such as Charlie Chaplin and, more recently, Chris Pratt annotation to moony-eyed teen couples and anglers fishing for mackerel and halibut. In the 1990s, this prime people-watching spot got even brighter with the addition of Pacific Park and its 55-foot-high roller coaster and nine-story-tall Ferris wheel. After taking a spin on the rides, mellow out with a stroll on the sand, learn about the area’s history on a free walking tour (tours start at the Pier Shop at 11 a.m. and noon, Saturday and Sunday), or rent a bike from Blazing Saddles and cruise the pier on two wheels.

2. Local-Friendly: Abbot Kinney

Intelligentsia coffeebar sign Niall Kennedy

Intelligentsia coffeebar sign

Niall Kennedy


After you’ve filled your lungs with fresh ocean air, drive 10 minutes (explain to your friend that walking most distances is unheard of in Los Angeles) down the coast to Intelligentsia Coffee Venice Coffeebar on Abbott Kinney Boulevard to sip espresso with surfers and artists. Once you’re fully caffeinated, browse the neighborhood’s high-end boutiques and galleries. Be sure to pop in the consistently compelling De Soto Gallery to view the current photography exhibit.

3. Tourist-Friendly: The Grove

The Grove mall Slimnastics

The Grove mall



Sure, your friends know they can buy Coach purses and Anthropology dresses where they live, but there’s something exciting about saying, “Oh, this? I picked it up in L.A.” Let them have that. First opened in 1934, the adjacent Original Farmers Market is a great place for lunch, especially if you end at Du-Par's for a slice of the legendary gooseberry pie. Locals rely on the bakery’s desserts during the holidays, when stacks of orders often reach the ceiling.

4. Local-Friendly: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Veronica Jauriqui

Exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Veronica Jauriqui


Something cool and cultured is always happening at LACMA, the largest art museum in the western United States. Stop by on a Sunday evening for the museum's weekly chamber music series, Sundays Live, to hear renowned local and international performers. Of course the museum houses plenty of visual art, too. Wander through the visiting exhibits and peek at the permanent collection, which includes more than 120,000 objects dating from antiquity to the present. Afterwards, you’ll have plenty to discuss at Petty Cash Taqueria, where you can dine on fish tacos, sea urchin guacamole, handmade tortillas, and produce harvested from the restaurant’s rooftop garden.

5. Tourist-Friendly: Hollywood Boulevard

Handprints on Hollywood Boulevard Looking for Janis

Handprints on Hollywood Boulevard

Looking for Janis


Come on, you have to admit that you get a little thrill knowing your hands are exactly the same size as Grace Kelly’s. In addition to the photo op worthy Hollywood Walk of Fame, you can visit several historic theaters, most notably the Dolby Theatre which hosts the Oscars, and the adjacent 87-year-old TCL Chinese Theatre (originally Grauman’s Chinese Theatre). If your friend insists on pulling you into a photo with Elmo or one of the other costumed characters milling outside the classic theater, just smile and know that a soothing cocktail awaits at the next stop.

6. Local-Friendly: The Spare Room at Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

Booth at The Spare Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel Thompson Hotels

Booth at The Spare Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

Thompson Hotels


Marilyn Monroe lived in the hotel for two years at the start of her career and some believe she still haunts the halls. Look for her spirit inside The Spare Room, an upscale but laid-back gaming parlor and cocktail lounge. All dark wood and leather, the place is a perfect respite from la-la land’s saturated colors. Order a tried and true house specialty, such as You Drink Our Milkshake, a mix that includes vodka, coffee liqueur, and dark creme de cacao, or sip a seasonal blend, like the autumnal Ten Penny Fizz with bourbon, bitters, and apple-cinnamon shrub. Test your lubricated dexterity at the two-lane bowling alley or try your luck at cribbage, checkers, or chess (or one of the many non-alliterative board games on hand).

7. Tourist-Friendly: Paramount Pictures Studios

Stages 25 and 26 at Paramount Pictures Studios Niki Moore

Stages 25 and 26 at Paramount Pictures Studios

Niki Moore


With more than thirty stages spread out over 65 acres, Paramount Pictures is the longest running and only remaining major studio in Hollywood. Recent and classic TV shows, such as “Community,” “Glee,” and “Mork and Mindy,” and major movie productions, including “Forrest Gump” and “Titanic,” were at least partially shot here. For movie buffs, it doesn’t get much better, and tour guides are aces at TV and movie trivia. There are two tour options at Paramount Pictures Studios: the first is a two hour walking tour of the movie lot and the second option is four hours and more in depth—and you get to cruise around on a golf cart.

8. Local-Friendly: Larchmont Village


After learning about Hollywood on the screen, check out nearby Larchmont Village for a taste of what residential life here is really like. This New York inspired street has sidewalk cafes (Louise’s Trattoria does a California take on classic Italian), yoga studios, and several cute boutiques. Shop Pickett Fences for designer jeans, stationery, and clothing curated by the fashionista staff. Larchmont Beauty sells all the products and makeup that starlets swear by.

9. Tourist-Friendly: Walt Disney Concert Hall

Walt Disney Concert Hall Philipp Rümmele

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Philipp Rümmele


Symphony fans may want to splurge and see a live performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at The Walt Disney Concert Hall. The less musically inclined should still swing by to marvel at architect Frank Gehry’s nautical design. Evoking a massive ship’s hull and unfurled sails, the curved exterior is especially impressive at night when the stainless steel skin gleams beneath floodlights. The building does have a restaurant, but it’s best to save your appetite for nearby Grand Central Market.

10. Local-Friendly: Grand Central Market

Grand Central Market Alex Torres

Grand Central Market

Alex Torres


Downtown’s Grand Central Market is a veritable playground for gourmands. The 30,000-square-foot building houses more than 90 vendors. Among them are local favorites DTLA Cheese, Belcampo Meat Co., and Sarita’s Pupuseria. Foodies line up at Eggslut for some of the best egg sandwiches in the city. Order one with hardwood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, and chipotle ketchup in a warm brioche bun. Then take a seat at the at the open-air counter and watch pedestrians pass by on Broadway.

11. Best of Both: Helicopter Tour Over L.A.

Aerial view of Los Angeles ZOZI

Aerial view of Los Angeles



To get perspective on the entire city—touristy and locals-only—take a 45-minute helicopter tour with Rotor F/X. The flight takes off from Van Nuys airport and soars over the ritzy neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, the Palisades, and Malibu as well as such iconic sights as the Hollywood sign and Dodger Stadium. Driving may be a necessary evil in L.A., but this ride lets you rise above it all. -Purchase on ZOZI-


Megan Wood

Megan is a world traveler and writer based in New York.

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