Top 7 Must-See Los Angeles Attractions: The Best of L.A.

Top 7 Must-See Los Angeles Attractions: The Best of L.A.

So, you find yourself heading to LA for a couple of days.

If this is a planned vacation, chances are, your friends or family who live or have been to LA have already bombarded with you with the oh-you-have-to-go-here or you'll-love-it-there dialogue. This would be great, except, after hearing about so many places, it just doesn't seem to register anymore.

If this is a spontaneous trip, chances are, you have a bag in one hand and a phone with Google Maps in the other, and no idea how to go about.

Either way, to save you the trouble of worrying about planning your vacation, we've compiled 7 places that you can visit over the course of your trip in LA.

Don't worry, this isn't the "Definitive Guide to Los Angeles" and it won't spoil your spontaneity. It's just a couple of places, appealing to varied interests, that we thought you might want to know about. Also, links to the places' respective websites or good-to-know things will be provided as you read along.

1. The Getty Center

Photo: Rachel Titiriga | Flickr

The J. Paul Getty Trust is the world's largest cultural and philanthropic organization dedicated to the visual arts. The Getty preserves, studies, and interprets the world's artistic legacy for the benefit of present and future generations.

The thing about this place is that you can visit The Getty Center or The Getty Villa, or seeing as to you are already in LA, why not visit both?

The Getty Center is where you can see spectacular art and architecture at the top of Los Angeles. Always on view, the Museum's collection of European paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts is arranged roughly by era and the artist's nationality in galleries that span all four pavilions at the Getty Center. Displayed in rotating exhibitions are early Renaissance manuscripts, European paintings (including Van Gogh's "Irises") and a collection of prints and drawings. Contemporary and modern sculpture is featured throughout the grounds. Photographs are always on view in the Center for Photographs. The collection spans the entire history of photographic arts, and includes works from Europe, the Americas, and Asia. Rare books, photographs, artists' books, and more can be seen in the Getty Research Institute exhibition gallery.

The Getty Center also incorporates the modern design of architect Richard Meier, with beautiful gardens, open spaces, and spectacular views of Los Angeles. The view is breathtaking as the place sits on a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains, just off the San Diego Freeway. The whole complex is designed to highlight both nature and culture.

One of the highlights of The Getty Center is the Central Garden, an evolving work of art, with tree-lined walkways that lead visitors through extraordinary sights, sounds, and scents. More than 500 varieties of plant material are used in the landscaping of this garden. Its 134,000-square-foot design boasts of a cactus garden at the South Promontory, fountains in the Museum Courtyard and the Tram Arrival Plaza, shaded hideaways, and spectacular views of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and Los Angeles.

The Getty Center is open Tuesday-Friday and Sunday from 10 am to 5:30 pm. On Saturday it is open from 10 am to 9:30 pm. The center is closed on Mondays. Admission is free and parking costs $15, and $10 after 4 pm. Visitors can pay once and park twice on the same day. The parking lot opens at 9:30 am so be sure to be there earlier to get the best slots.

Map and Directions:
Access by Public Transportation, Taxi or Bike:
Where to Eat:
Where to Shop:

2. The Getty Villa

Photo: Harvey Barrison | Flickr

The collection and changing exhibitions at the Getty Villa offer 7,000 years of ancient art, from the end of the Stone Age to the fall of the Roman Empire. Here you'll find art from the ancient Greek and Roman world dating from 6,500 B.C. to A.D. 400. Over 1,200 antiquities are on view in 23 galleries at the Villa. These include monumental sculptures as well as artifacts of everyday life. The entire collection numbers approximately 44,000 antiquities. The galleries are arranged by theme and include Gods and Goddesses, Dionysos and the Theater, and stories of the Trojan War, among others. Changing exhibitions feature loans from renowned collections around the world; reflect the collaborative work of the Getty Research Institute, Conservation Institute, and the Museum; and often incorporate works from the Getty Research Institute collection.

A recreation of an ancient Roman country house, the Getty Villa offers a taste of life in the first century A.D. About 300 varieties of plant material are used in the landscaping of the Getty Villa. Fountains, arbors, reflecting ponds—the Villa's four tranquil gardens feature designs inspired by ancient Roman models and planted with species known from the ancient Mediterranean.

Admission is free at The Getty Villa, but advance timed-entry ticket is required. Operating hours are Wednesday to Monday, from 10 am to 5 pm. Take not that The Getty Villa is closed on Tuesdays. Parking costs $15, and $10 after 4 pm. Visitors can pay once and park twice on the same day. The parking lot opens at 9:30 am so be sure to be there earlier to get the best slots.

The Getty Villa Gallery Plan (Downloadable):
Map and Directions:
Access by Public Transportation, Taxi or Bike:
Where to Eat at The Getty Villa:
Where to Shop at The Getty Villa:

3. Griffith Park

Photo: Mitch Barrie | Flickr

Here's one for the morning run!

Griffith Park is a stunning municipal park at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountain range. This park is HUGE--we're talking more than 4,000 acres of land, both natural terrain and landscaped parkland and picnic areas. That goes without saying, upon visiting Griffith Park, you'll get bragging rights to one of North America's biggest urban parks, also the second largest city-park in California (San Diego's Mission Trails Preserve taking first place).

Ideal for morning jogs, the park is also home to a lot of other activities such as hiking, bike and horseback riding, camping, swimming, tennis, golf and soccer--not to mention it's an excellent picnic site.

Make sure to plan the activities that you want to do ahead of time (and check for where you can find them), as opposed to deciding only when you get to the park and wasting all time figuring out what to do!

Griffith Park Activities:
How to Get to Griffith Park:

4. Griffith Observatory

Photo: Tom Benson | Flickr

One of Griffith Park's biggest attractions is the Griffith Observatory. It is located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, just above the Los Feliz neighborhood. It is 1,134 feet above sea level and is visible from many parts of the Los Angeles basin. It contains a unique hybrid of public observatory, planetarium and exhibition space. It's the best place to view the world-famous Hollywood Sign. As of posting, the observatory's most recent development is the Samuel Oschin Planetarium. This 290-seat theatre is the world's finest planetarium. Each show is presented by a live engaging storyteller.

Both Griffith Park and Griffith Observatory are open to the public, free of admission. The park is open from 5 am to 10:30 pm, while the observatory is open at 12 noon to 10 pm on Tuesdays to Fridays, and 10 am to 10 pm during weekends.

Samuel Oschin Planetarium shows:
How to Get to Griffith Observatory:

5. Santa Monica Pier

Photo: gustavo.tejal | Flickr

So now you're tired from all that walking around and hiking. Time to hit the beach, after all, you are in Los Angeles.

The Santa Monica Pier is a double-jointed pier found at the foot of Colorado Avenue. This 100-year-old landmark is home to a recreational and entertainment center featuring restaurants, retail establishments and an amusement park. Its major attractions include Pacific Park (the iconic Ferris Wheel by the beach), Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, Playland Arcade, a trapeze school, Blazing Saddles (a bike rental shop), the historic carousel, fishing at Pier Bait and Tackle, free historical walking tours, live music/dancing and beach shops, among others. You can find the complete list of attractions and their operation hours below.

As if you needed any more motivation to head to Santa Monica Pier, can we just say that the food here is absolutely delectable? From seafood to burgers to Italian dining to soda and cocktails--you name it, they have it. Check out the Santa Monica Pier food joints below, and make sure to catch them during their open hours!

The Pier is open to the public year-round, but it's best to check individual businesses for their specific hours of operation. Below is information you need to plan your visit to the ever-fun Santa Monica Pier.

Santa Monica Pier attractions and hours:
Santa Monica Pier food joints:
How to Get to Santa Monica Pier:
Where to Park (including seasonal rates and hours):

6. Amusement Parks

Don't leave LA without visiting at least one of the amusement parks below. It's not all exhilarating roller coaster rides—there are plenty attractions that involve tours and shows as well. Plan out the attractions that you want to check out before the day of your trip. Also it's best to clear out your schedule for the day, so you can maximize your ticket/time at the park. Make sure to wear shoes that you'll be comfortable in as you'll most likely be doing a lot of walking and waiting in queue. Don't forget to bring an extra shirt or set of clothes, just in case!

Disney California Adventure Park
Hours and Schedule:
Maps and Directions:

Photo: melfoody | Flickr

Universal Studios Hollywood
Hours and Schedule:
Tickets and Parking:
Maps and Directions:

Robert Linsdell | Flickr

Six Flags Magic Mountain
Hours and Schedule:
Maps and Directions:

Photo: Jeff Turner | Flickr

Warner Bros. Studio Tour
About the Studio Tour:
Hours, Maps and Directions:
Arrival Information:

Photo: William Warby | Flickr

7. Hollywood Sign

Photo: minnemom | Flickr

Last but not the least is the one, the only Hollywood sign. (Pardon the cliché destination, but then again it's your vacation and you can "tourist" if you want to.)

The Hollywood Sign is the final stop in this list. To reach the much-coveted destination, you either hike or take the shuttle. Information on the easy, moderate and difficult routes as well as the shuttle schedule (cross your fingers that it's in operation) can be accessed below.

Not very many people know that it's actually illegal to come close to the sign, apart from behind the Sign on the trails. Your best chance at a great viewpoint? Either Hollywood and Highland, Griffith Observatory (told you so!) and the iconic Mulholland Drive.

Hiking Routes:
Shuttle Schedule/Availability:

And that’s a wrap! We hope this short but detailed list helps you get an idea of the kind of things you would want to do in LA. Feel free to check out our other travel guides and stay tuned for more travel tips!

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