The Best “Touristy” Things To Do In Los Angeles
Besides taking the Celebrity Homes Tour that I mentioned last week, I wanted to show my out-of-town friends the best sights L.A. has to offer. I know some people will say, “That’s so touristy, you can’t take them there!” But the way I see it, if you’re a tourist then you should do touristy things. Imagine going to Paris and not seeing to the Eiffel Tower because it’s too touristy? Or vacationing in Rio de Janeiro but skipping out on Corcovado because it’ll be too crowded? You wouldn’t. Just like if you’re from some other part of the world and you come to Los Angeles, you should go to the Chinese Theater and put your hands in a celebrity’s handprints, look for your favorite star on the Walk of Fame, and enjoy the sights and sounds on the Santa Monica Pier. These places are famous for a reason, even if they seem kitschy to the locals.
Like I said before, we tried to cram as much as possible into three short days. There were a couple of popular sights we didn’t go to like The Grove & Farmers’ Market, The Getty Center (because it requires at least a half-day) and Universal Studios. However, we did go to Disneyland—a “must see” for all first-timers to L.A. So, here’s my take on the sights I enjoyed while being a tourist in my own backyard:
Hollywood & Highland: This is ground zero for tourists to Los Angeles. Yes, it’s a madhouse and yes it’s tacky, but there are all sorts of fun things to do here. The Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the Hard Rock Cafe, the Kodak Theater, a brand new Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and lots of shopping will keep your guests busy for hours. Disney’s El Capitan Theater is right across the street and the Egyptian Theater is just a couple blocks east too. Out front, you’ll see street performers dressed up as characters like Batman, Spongebob Squarepants, Freddie Kruger (creepy), and Michael Jackson (even creepier!). You can even pose for a photo with one of them for a small donation. Hollywood & Highland is the starting point for many tours of L.A., including the popular “Celebrity Homes Tour” that we took and the “Hop-On, Hop-Off” Starline Tours.
Griffith Park Observatory: For the absolutely best views of L.A.—from the downtown skyline to the east and all the way to the Pacific Ocean to the west—be sure to drive up to the Griffith Park Observatory. It’s also just about the closest you can get to the Hollywood Sign without trespassing. You’ll recognize the art deco Observatory from the film classic, Rebel Without A Cause in addition to many other films. Inside the recently remodeled Observatory is a planetarium that’s both fun and educational for kids too. If you have more time, there are excellent hiking trails and picnic areas in the hills surrounding the observatory, and the Los Angeles Zoo, Greek Theater, and Travel Town are nearby as well.
The Sunset Strip: This world-famous mile and a half long stretch of Sunset Boulevard snakes its way between Hollywood and Beverly Hills. It’s especially popular at night because of the many clubs, bars, and live music venues located there, including the Whisky a Go Go, Roxy, Rainbow Bar & Grill, Key Club, House of Blues, and Viper Room. There are also lots of fine restaurants, especially in the Sunset Plaza section. A more casual option is to grab a burger and shake at Mel’s Drive-In, like we did on Sunday afternoon. Our Aussie friends had never had American diner food before so it was a real treat for them.
Beverly Hills: No trip to L.A. would be complete without a visit to the most famous ZIP code in the world. Tourists love window-shopping on Rodeo Drive and the surrounding streets of the “Golden Triangle,” bound by Crescent Drive and Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards. The price tags at such ritzy boutiques as Valentino, Louis Vuitton, and Armani are probably out of most people’s budget, but it’s still fun to browse. Be sure to take a drive through the neighborhoods north of Santa Monica Boulevard to see some gorgeous and opulent homes. You can head a little further west into Holmby Hills and Bel Air for some exceptionally palatial estates too.
Santa Monica: You could easily spend an entire day (or more) in Santa Monica with its miles of wide, sandy beaches. Some fun activities that both locals and tourists enjoy include swimming, surfing, or even renting rollerblades or a bike to ride along The Strand, a 22-mile long, paved pathway linking Pacific Palisades to the South Bay. Or you can just lay back, relax, and catch some rays. The famous Santa Monica Pier is definitely worthy of a visit too. Built in 1909, it features a fun zone (called Pacific Park) with a solar-powered Ferris wheel, an antique carousel, and several other amusements. Perched on the bluff overlooking the pier and beach is Santa Monica’s Bayside District, with tons of shopping and dining opportunities. Tourists swarm along the Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian-only zone, and at the newly renovated Santa Monica Place. From the mall’s rooftop terrace, you can dine al fresco while watching a beautiful California sunset. Now that’s the proper way to end a vacation!
For some fun things to do off-the-beaten-path in Downtown Los Angeles, check out this article I wrote for the Denver Post and stay tuned for another issue of “A Tourist In My Own Backyard” when I venture to “The Happiest Place on Earth” … Disneyland!