Things to Do in Los Angeles

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Big. Sprawling. Smoggy. Star-studded. Free. Yes, free. There are numerous free and affordable things to do in the City of Angeles, Los Angeles, California. Hundred of words have been used to describe this multi-district, varied and diverse second largest city in America (New York City is first), home of television and films; seat of entertainment of all descriptions.

L.A., as it is commonly called, was founded in 1781, part of Mexico until a post-war treaty shifted its ownership to the United States (we think Mexico has regretted that ever since!). Incorporated in 1850, the city, officially named for Our Lady, Queen of the Angels, has grown exponentially over the years, now with a based population of 4 million, and a Greater L.A. Metropolitan Area of more than 13 million; that’s why its freeways are so congested.

It’s more than just the hub of American television and film production; it has a surprisingly diverse economy, three public universities as well as a litany of private schools and colleges, and half a dozen professional sports teams; L.A. has hosted the Olympics twice. There is a huge local audience here for all types of entertainment.

Like any big city, it can be crowed and dirty, but Los Angeles, due to its basic location in an earthquake zone has other issues that travellers should keep in mind when planning a trip. L.A. sits in the region known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. Not just earthquakes, but tsunamis, too. It also literally suffers from wildfires. Because of the earthquake risk, there are fewer skyscrapers in L.A. than most other cities its size. The smog? That’s caused by exhaust from cars, mostly, and airplanes, not nature. Los Angeles and its soothing Mediterranean climate are a huge draw; no one should resist as it is a place everyone should see, if only once.

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Things to Do in Los Angeles

Universal Studios Hollywood

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The name is a misnomer. While Universal Studios Hollywood is indeed a film studio, remodelled as a massive attraction, it offers far more than studio tours, which are a blast! Movies are still made on sound stages like this, but Universal Studios, expensive but worth it, is a major entertainment complex and theme park.

The cinema section boasts 19 movie theatres, with deals on parking, and nearby shopping in 30 stores, and 30-plus restaurants of varying descriptions. Located in the San Fernando Valley, it’s easy to access.

Universal Studios Hollywood has a litany of attractions to lure visitors. Check our their Waterworld aquarium, wide selection of fairground rides and amusements, television and film characters wandering about, and themed sections such as Jurassic Park, and Hogsmeade featuring Harry Potter and company.

Our tip: go early and preferably on a weekday. Universal Studios Hollywood is a crazy-busy place. It’s fun for kids and adults, too.

Disneyland

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Los Angeles’s Disneyland, properly known as Disneyland Park, is the first of its kind in the world, and was supervised by Walt Disney himself; it opened in 1955 and started a run on themed amusement parks. Walk through the gates and up to the universal Disney image and logo, the Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Here, you’ll be surrounded by strolling Disney characters such as classic Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and Cinderella, as well as beloved Winnie-the-Pooh era friends, and more current ones like Elsa and Anna from the movie franchise “Frozen”.

Enjoy variety shows, rides, amusements, and restaurants of every type imaginable. Disneyland also has themed on-site accommodations (it bills itself as a resort), so you can book an entire vacation at Disneyland, and be a kid again if you aren’t one already! Packages vary in price, depending on level of accommodations and the number in your party, so book early to get the Disneyland getaway of your dreams.

Hollywood Walk Of Fame

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The Hollywood Walk of Fame is not only internationally famous, it’s free. Well, unless you want to buy your own star on it... Each year a committee studies thousands of applications and based on merit, these stars are awarded in one of five categories: television, radio, film, live theatre/performance, and recording/music. Gene Autry is the only celebrity to have a star in each of the five. Harrison Ford has two.

Receiving 10,000,000 visitors a year, the Hollywood Walk of Fame contains more than 2,600 brass-and-terrazzo stars embedded in its sidewalks, stretching along 15 blocks on Hollywood Boulevard.

You’ll unfortunately find quite a few homeless people along this path because there are countless opportunities to tap people for pocket change. But they’re not a threat. If you are opposed donating money, then buy them something to eat at one of the many vendors that line the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Getty Center

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J. Paul Getty was an extremely rich man, as well as being an avid art collector and philanthropist. Family members have said he was stingy towards them (check out the movie, “All the Money in the World” for an insider glimpse), but his high regard for great art was unparalleled and he could afford to buy it. Thankfully, he left it to the world to share.

Getty began his first art museum at home, at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, but it has since grown to a huge complex located in Brentwood (part of Los Angeles) that houses several buildings including “The Getty” art gallery and library. This facility and complex opened in 1997 at a cost of $1.3 billion. The architecture is stunning, the views of L.A. breathtaking.

Getty Centre, part of the vast Getty Trust, hosts 1.5 million visitors each year. People love to walk the gardens and gaze at works of art by the likes of Monet, Van Gogh and Cézanne. He may not have treated his family well, but he has been more than generous to the public at large; Getty Centre is a gift to mankind.

Griffith Observatory

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We should all pay homage to Griffith J. Griffith. He looked into the night sky through a telescope and saw the stars, and he believed that everyone should have that privilege. “I want to make astronomy accessible to the public,” Griffiths said, and he did. His observatory on the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood in Los Angeles, opened in 1935, free to the public.

To this day, the Griffith Observatory, a visually arresting blend of Greek Revival and Art Deco design, in Griffith Park, does not charge for admission. Visitors have the best view of the Hollywood Sign from up here (no need for a telescope to see that giant work of letters), as well as seeing a superb panorama of much of Los Angeles.

The Griffith Observatory offers a planetarium, exhibits, live shows, a café and gift shop, and the ability to look through one of its telescopes. Watch a bit of ethereal entertainment in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater. The Griffith Observatory is a gift to this planet, as it studies others, like showing live coverage of the 2008 Phoenix spacecraft landing on Mars!

Hollywood Sign

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Let’s start with a sage warning: do not attempt to climb the nearly 14-metre (45 feet) high letters of the Hollywood sign. For one thing, they’re flat and slippery. For another, the rocky, sandy terrain that leads up to them is on a steep, dangerous hillside on Mount Lee. People have done it and been injured in the process. One died.

The suicide of young actress, Peg Entwistle, who threw herself off the “H” in 1932, is the subject of a musical and soon to be a major motion picture, but in the meantime, she turns up now and then in ghostly form. Just don’t climb the sign!

There is a trail that leads toward the sign, but it’s a one-hour hike each way, uphill getting there, and it does not take climbers close to the 107-metre-long (350 feet) sign anyway. Best you go to Griffith Park and see it from there; that’s the best vantage point, and safest, too.

Why is the Hollywood sign there? It’s a historic landmark and icon now, but when it was put up in 1923, at the staggering cost of $21,000, by L.A. Times publisher, Harvey Chandler, it was an advertisement. Yes, a giant billboard for a new upscale residential development he was creating. The sign was in a bad state in the 1970s and was refurbished; it was rebuilt completely in 1978, presumably without Peg’s assistance.

La Brea Tar Pits

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A natural and very smelly attraction in Los Angeles is the La Brea Tar Pits on Wilshire Boulevard. In this location, natural oily tar (asphalt) seeps upward through the ground’s surface. The odour is akin to a freshly paved road.

This site has been a tar pit (rather a series of tar pits of varying sizes) for many millennia; the gooey liquid has preserved elephants and mammoths that got stuck there. You can still see the black goo bubbling up as you tour the various displays that include recreations of the animals, relics of the last ice age.

Admission is free (maybe because of the stench!) and the La Brea Tar Pits will fascinate anyone interested in palaeontology. Watch where you step as you tour this site; smaller new tar pits can break through the lawn at any time, but don’t worry, it’s only the larger ones that pose a threat and they are set within fences.

Santa Monica Pier

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If you ever feel like going back to one of those classic amusement parks from the early 20th century, but don’t happen to own a time machine, Santa Monica Pier is tailor-made for you. It even still operates its 1922 carousel with 42 painted horses in perfect detail.

Opened in 1909 at the foot of Colorado Avenue in Los Angeles, and stretching out over the Pacific Ocean, Santa Monica Pier, known as a “pleasure pier” as it does not serve as a commercial wharf, is home to a surprisingly large number of varied entertainments, despite its limited space.

Try your hand at the high-tech arcade. Take a ride on the roller coaster or solar-powered ferris wheel. Test your skills at all the games. Learn how to really be a swinger at the trapeze school. Go downstairs, below the pier, and see what’s swimming in the aquarium. Not sure what you should do? Go ask the fortune teller!

There is a terrific range of places to eat on Santa Monica Pier, and if you eat too much, just hop down onto the sand at Muscle Beach and work it off at the famous (free!) outdoor gym.

Los Angeles Zoo

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One of the things that makes the Los Angeles Zoo different from zoos in other large metropolises is the Mediterranean climate in the city. In this type of atmosphere, most animals thrive, whereas in colder locales, animals that are native to warmer climes can suffer. Formally called the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, situated near Griffiths Park and Observatory, the facility is home to 1,400 animals in 250 species categories, and 800 plant species.

The zoo is owned by the City of Los Angeles, and operates daily, with free parking. Visitors say the layout of the exhibits is easy to follow, that tours are informative and enjoyable, and that animal conservation is respectfully top of mind.

Exhibits include: Sea Life Cliffs; Peninsular Pronghorns; Elephants of Asia; Chimpanzees of Mahale Mountain; and the new, leading-edge Rainforests of the Americas, with a theme of “everything has a home”. And don’t miss the Children’s Zoo or hand-feeding the giraffes!

Madame Tussauds Hollywood

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There are dozens of franchises in this wax museums collection, but Madame Tussauds Hollywood is on a Hollywood stars theme with gusto! Right in the middle of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, near the former Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, on Hollywood Boulevard, the museums casts wax effigies of Marilyn Monroe and Johnny Depp to greet visitors in the lobby.

Inside, which can be a bit creepy thanks to how lifelike the figures are, “live” 125 of some of the tops stars from now and yesteryear, including Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Joan Rivers (look at her in wax and you can instantly hear her voice!), Bette Davis, Julia Roberts, and Lady Gaga. Angelina and Brad are there, too, just not together...

This three storey museum took eight years to build; its first two effigies were Beyoncé and Jamie Foxx; a life-size wax sculpture costs roughly $350,000 USD to create! The largest one in the collection is, of course, King Kong. But don’t ask for autographs, please!

Griffith Park Observatory

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TCL Chinese Theatre

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Walt Disney Concert Hall

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Hollywood Bowl

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Staples Center

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Museum of Contemporary Art

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Dodger Stadium

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Santa Monica State Beach

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Peterson Automotive Museum

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Dolby Theatre

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