Of course, there’s the sun, surf and Hollywood glamour. But Los Angeles also boasts top-notch museums, a thriving art scene and some of the most exciting restaurants and bars in the USA. The sprawling city gets a bad rap for its bumper-to-bumper traffic, but spend a week exploring by neighbourhood and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful natural scenery, cinematic ephemera and ultra-cool rooftop dining, plus ample shopping and celebrity spotting.
Here are our picks for the best things to do in Los Angeles, no matter how many times you’ve visited the City of Angels.
For fabulous views of the city (think: the Hollywood sign and downtown skyline) and a jet lag-busting workout, head straight for Runyon Canyon. One of the most popular outdoor destinations in Los Angeles, the two hiking trails are a hotspot for influencer types, tech bros and next-level people-watching. In need of a post-flight stretch? Join a donation-based yoga class on the grass.
Check-in at the Sunset Tower Hotel, a beacon of old-school glamour in West Hollywood. First opened as an apartment building in 1929, the Art Deco institution counted Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra as residents. It’s still a great place to get a glimpse of the stars, with an intimate, lounger-lined pool and 81 elegant rooms and suites looking out over the city. After a dip, head downstairs for jazz, cocktails and dinner at the wood-panelled Tower Bar and Restaurant.
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel’s chic poolside terrace, where the huevos rancheros are a must, before heading to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Billing itself as “encyclopaedic", LACMA’s 150,000-piece collection includes Greek ceramics, works by Picasso and Richard Avedon photographs, to name a few. The museum is currently under construction (extensions are due for completion in 2024) but there’s plenty still on display. Snap a selfie in front of the Urban Light antique street lamp, then take the 15-minute walk to République Café & Bakery for French-inspired sandwiches and salads inside a 1920s clock tower.
Jump in an Uber to the Griffith Observatory, high in the Hollywood Hills. Known for its impressive panoramas and appearances in films like La La Land and Rebel Without a Cause, the observatory hosts frequent astronomy shows and telescopes are available to the public (free of charge) every evening. Dinner is at fast-food chain In-N-Out Burger because you can’t go home without trying the Anthony Bourdain-approved burgers.
Spend your morning at the Richard Meier-designed Getty Center exploring the palatial gardens and admiring world-class art (the extensive collection includes Van Gogh’s Irises). Once you’ve had your culture fix, head to Santa Monica Pier, where kids of all ages will love the Pacific Park Ferris wheel. Grab a bite at Blue Plate Oysterette, then stroll down the paved beach path to vibrant Venice – from fortune tellers to skateboarders, there’s lots to see.
Wander the canals and bungalows behind the beach en route to Abbot Kinney Boulevard, touted as “the coolest block in America”. Highlights include boutiques Rag & Bone and James Perse and cult-favourite ice-cream shop Salt & Straw. Stick around after dark: there’s a food truck extravaganza on the first Friday of every month (subject to Covid restrictions), or book a table at hip Italian eatery Felix.
This morning is all about retail therapy. Shop cool brands not yet available in Australia like Outdoor Voices and Glossier over on Melrose Avenue or splash out on big names like Celine, Balenciaga and Valentino on Rodeo Drive. Rub shoulders with the rich and famous at Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura, a colourful rooftop restaurant above the Italian brand’s store.
Opened in 2021, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is home to some 12 million photographs, 61,000 movie posters, 80,000 screenplays and more than 2500 props, costumes and curios. Among them: the seven-metre-long fibreglass shark from Jaws, the tattered robe Jeff Bridges wore in The Big Lebowski and Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Stay for a movie-themed drink (buttered popcorn bourbon, anyone?) and a meal at Fanny’s, the two-storey restaurant furnished with red velvet booths and vintage sketches on the walls.
No trip is complete without ducking out of the city for a day. Disneyland is a no-brainer for families, surfers will be stoked at Laguna Beach, while Los Alamos has become a buzzy wine destination. Joshua Tree, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from WeHo, ticks lots of boxes – there’s the national park itself, full of bristling plants, craggy rocks and walking trails for all levels, or wander the main street to find boutique homewares stores and vegan-friendly cafés. Don’t skip Pioneertown, a dusty Old West town that’s actually a 1940s movie set, and Pappy & Harriet’s, a barbecue joint and music venue. Despite being in the middle of the desert, it has hosted gigs by the likes of Paul McCartney.
Set your sights on one of the city’s hottest neighbourhoods, the Arts District downtown. Kick things off with a two-hour street art tour that surveys large-scale murals, graffiti and yarn bombs and stops at several galleries along the way. Lunch like the locals at ROW DTLA, a huge development with office spaces, shops, bars and restaurants. The boutiques here are oh-so-LA: small-batch wines at Flask & Field, niche perfumes at Scent Bar and sought-after sneakers at Bodega, which happens to be hidden behind a fake convenience store.
Take a break for a craft beer in the sunshine at Arts District Brewing Company before heading to Cara Cara, the rooftop restaurant at the Kelly Wearstler-designed Downtown L.A. Proper Hotel. Order a Cucumber Gimlet with chilli-infused vodka, the Farmer’s Market Citrus Salad and grilled albacore served on focaccia with carrot slaw and lime pickle.
Make the most of your last morning by strolling around Silver Lake, LA’s original hipster neighbourhood. There’s the Reservoir to walk, cool fashion at Mohawk General Store and much-Instagrammed brioche topped with ricotta and homemade jam at Sqirl.
It’s your last chance to soak up some SoCal sunshine, so spend the afternoon by the pool back at Sunset Tower. If you’ve got time, book a treatment with facialist to the stars Joanna Vargas at the in-house spa. When in LA…