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Visiting Los Angeles for the First Time? Here's What To See and Do

From mountain hikes to food tours, here’s how to make the most of your first trip to LA.

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Hi, I'm Daniel!

Daniel Modlin is a writer and editor based out of Austin, TX, covering food, travel, and the environment. His work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, WIRED, Architectural Digest, and more. Follow his work on Twitter and Instagram.

Los Angeles is synonymous with Hollywood, celebrity, and perfect weather. And while you’re all but guaranteed to catch a glimpse of a star (no matter how bright) and bask in the sun, LA has so much more to offer than the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the beach. (Though the beach is pretty great.) You can admire incredible architecture, visit museums, try dishes from around the world, and escape to the coast. Here are some great ways to enjoy your first visit to the City of Angels.

1. See the stars

Tourists on an open-air bus in Los Angeles.
Hop on an open-air bus and you may even catch a glimpse of your favorite star.Foto: Teal Thomsen / Viator

Is that J. Lo?

It’s undeniable, LA is home to the rich and famous, so whether you’re interested in the architecture of exquisite mansions, or hoping to see your favorite celebrity, a tour of the Hollywood Hills is your best bet. An open-air bus will allow you access to some of the hilliest parts of the city without walking (after all, nobody walks in LA). Tour the Hollywood Hills and check out the Walk of Fame while you’re in the neighborhood.

2. Grab a bite

People in a food store in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles is known for its many diverse flavors.Foto: Teal Thomsen / Viator

Eat your way through LA.

When it comes to foodie cities, Los Angeles is right up there with New York. From indulging in tacos Downtown to drinking overpriced smoothies, there’s something for everyone in this city. Book a tour and head to some iconic spots featuring pastrami sandwiches, hot dogs, doughnuts, and plenty more, no reservations required (well, besides the tour itself).

3. Make a splash

A surfer riding a wave at Malibu Surfrider Beach.
Malibu is a coastal town near LA county that's home to many beaches.Foto: Lux Blue / Shutterstock

Drive down to Malibu.

Thanks to the warm southern California climate, beach weather can be experienced even after summer comes to an end. Perhaps the most popular coastal town in LA—and one of the most picturesque—Malibu promises miles of ocean views, delicious grubs, and even a celebrity sighting or two. Popular among surfers and tourists alike, this town is home to plenty of scenic beaches like Malibu Surfrider Beach, Paradise Cove Beach, and El Matador State Beach.

Related: 10 of the Top Beaches in Los Angeles

4. Stroll the museums

People visiting La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles.
Visit La Brea tar pits to learn about life during the Ice Age.Foto: Sherry V Smith / Shutterstock

Admire art, architecture, and prehistoric sites.

Whether you go to the Getty, the Broad, LACMA, or all three, a day spent at LA’s museums is well worth it. Head to the Getty if you prefer art along with great views, the Broad to see modern art, and LACMA for something encompassing the two. Of course, Los Angeles doesn't just have art museums—head to the La Brea Tar Pits and learn about life during the Ice Age, a great option if you’re traveling with children.

5. Go behind the scenes

People touring Warner Bros. Studios in Los Angeles.
Witness a movie scene by exploring the sets at Warner Bros. Studios.Foto: Dania Maxwell / Viator

It’s movie magic.

Visit the sets at Warner Bros. Studios or hit up the legendary tour at Universal Studios. With a VIP ticket to the latter, you’ll have the opportunity to go on a backlot tour of real-life movie and TV show sets, gaining special access to locations that are otherwise off-limits to the general public. After exploring the backlot, you can then enjoy express access to the park’s many movie-themed rides.

6. Dance the night away

Aerial view of Downtown Los Angeles during the daytime.
Downtown Los Angeles is a central hub for lively nightlife.Foto: TierneyMJ / Shutterstock

Nightlife lives here.

New York City may be the city that never sleeps, but LA is also known for its collection of concrete buildings, diverse districts, and lively nightlife. If you're looking to let your hair down and dance the night away, then Downtown LA is where you want to be. Its different districts like the Arts District, the Fashion District, the Theater District, and Little Tokyo make it the central hub for bars, clubs, rooftops, and shows.

7. Hit Rodeo Drive

People shopping in Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills is a mecca for designer shops.Foto: Dania Maxwell / Viator

For shopping and sightseeing.

If you didn’t bring an extra suitcase with you on a trip to LA, well … maybe you can buy one? It’s a great town for shopping, and any big-ticket spree should start on Rodeo Drive. With luxury stores for window shopping, and stars to be seen, this palm-laden avenue is perfect for a main-character moment.

8. Take a hike

People hiking in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles is big on hiking culture.Foto: Dania Maxwell / Viator

Discover the landscape of LA.

Just because nobody walks in LA doesn’t mean locals don’t love to hike. After all, the city is encircled by mountains, which make for the perfect escape after eating or being stuck in traffic. Feel free to skip the hike behind the Hollywood sign, and go for one with a view of it. A hike up to the Griffith Observatory is an excellent option, complete with a Hollywood ending.

9. See the theme park of your dreams

Performers in Disneyland Park in Anaheim.
Plan a magical day trip to Disneyland® Park.Foto: SincityLin / Tripadvisor

Let your inner kid run wild.

No trip to Los Angeles is complete without a visit to Disneyland® Park. Head down to the theme park (just 30 miles, or 48 kilometers, away from Downtown LA) and take in all the rides and adventures this Anaheim favorite has to offer, whether you're traveling with kids or just want to soak up the magic for yourself. There’s no way to squeeze everything into one day, but these tips and tours can give you an edge.

10. Explore the coast

Man snorkeling in the waters of Catalina Island.
Escape LA altogether and take a ferry to Catalina Island.Foto: Brent Barnes / Shutterstock

Get out of town.

Just because you’re visiting LA doesn’t mean you have to stay within the city limits. After all, The City of Angels might have plenty to offer a first time visitor, but there's way more to Southern California than its largest city. For a taste of the coast, take an express trip to Catalina Island or a day trip up to Santa Barbara to sip local wines. The bottom line: you can’t go wrong in SoCal.

Related: How Santa Barbara Became a Wine Town (and Where To Go Tasting)

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