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Visiting Los Angeles for the First Time?

Los Angeles is home to many attractions, some more well-known than others. And while I've lived here for five years, I've still not seen all the LA attractions I want to see. There are a few places that I quickly checked off my Los Angeles Bucket List, but there's plenty more sightseeing to do. Many of the places I first visited are the same places I take friends and family when visiting Los Angeles. These aren't necessarily the best LA attractions, but they're a rite of passage that anyone visiting LA should see at least once. Here are the 11 attractions everyone should see while visiting Los Angeles for the first time.

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Hollywood Sign

If there's one thing that's synonymous with Los Angeles, it's got to be the Hollywood Sign. And while the sign is visible throughout the city, there's one spot you need to go to get the quintessential Hollywood Sign selfie: Lake Hollywood Park.

Located amidst a residential area of the Hollywood Hills, Lake Hollywood Park offers visitors the most unobstructed view of the sign. You'll also have excellent views of the Hollywood Reservoir.

The park itself is quite lovely and has a pleasant walking path where you can stretch your legs. But the real star is further up the hill at the Lake Hollywood Drive overlook. So practice your best pose and head up the hill to get that much-needed pic of you and the sign.

Pro Tip: If you want to combine two attractions, then book a ride on the Hollywood Sign Tour which leaves from Hollywood & Vine on Hollywood Blvd (listed below).

Griffith Park

Sometimes called the Central Park of LA, Griffith Park occupies over 4,000 acres in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. Home to the Griffith Observatory, the park is one of the most iconic LA attractions. It's an absolute MUST for anyone visiting Los Angeles for the first time. The park offers pristine hiking coupled with spectacular views and challenging trails. A few of the most popular trails include the Hollywood Sign hike, Amir's Garden, and the Griffith Observatory Loop.

Other attractions located in the park include the Bronson Caves, otherwise known as the "Bat Cave," the LA Zoo and the Griffith Observatory. It's also the home of the Greek Theater, a favorite open-air theater. "The Greek" is where you can see the most popular acts in music and more. By far the best part of any visit to Griffith Park would be the views of the LA basin. Head up to the park in time for sunset to get a stellar shot of the city blanketed in street lights below.

Santa Monica Pier

The Santa Monica Pier has long drawn visitors to the shore as the official end of the famous Route 66. It features a theme park and several restaurants, so it's perfect for families and date night. Plus you can access the beautiful Santa Monica State Beach right from the pier.

Three miles of pristine beaches stretch out from the Pier, giving you plenty of room to roam. Rent a bike and ride along The Strand. This 26-mile beachfront bike path that runs from the Pacific Palisades to Torrance.

When you're done at the beach head back up to the 3rd St Promenade, an outdoor shopping experience that screams California. With many nearby restaurants and bars, this is one of the hippest places to be after dark. Be prepared for crowds and to pay for parking, but otherwise, this is another LA must.

Venice Beach Boardwalk

No visit to Los Angeles is complete without a visit to the infamous Venice Beach Boardwalk. Go soak up the sun while watching skaters sail at the skate park. Or swing by Muscle Beach to get a sneak peek at the bodybuilders modeling a by-gone era of California living.

You can buy souvenirs from the many stalls and vendors that litter the boardwalk. Some vendors earn only enough to find a place to stay for the night. And you'll find plenty to eat and drink at the many bars, walk-up windows, and sit-down restaurants. Taste Venice Beach on a street food tour or opt for a private surf lesson and catch your very own wave.

No matter your age or interests, visiting Venice Beach is another MUST while visiting Los Angeles for the first time. Be sure to grab a pair of roller blades and boombox before hitting the boardwalk. Now you're having an authentic Los Angeles experience.

Getty Center

LA has many great museums including the famous Getty Center. Perched atop a hill overlooking West LA, the Getty Center is one of the MUST-SEE museums in Los Angeles.

The Center is home to many of the best examples of 20th Century paintings, a stellar collection of decorative arts and more. Ride the funicular up the hillside to access the museum. There you'll take in sweeping vistas looking out over West Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean.

The museum's architecture is another big draw. All the structures were designed by renowned architect Richard Meier. Travertine, glass, and steel give the museum an ultra-contemporary look.

But the gardens are the best part in my opinion. Designed by Richard Irwin, the amazing landscaping of the Getty Center is just as lovely as the art inside. Bring a picnic and stay for sunset after exploring the museum for an authentic LA experience.

Another fun way to enjoy the Getty is to embark on a scavenger hunt. Search for clues while learning more about the art, the architecture and the gardens of this amazing museum. What a fun way to keep the kiddos happy while the adults ogle the art!

Rodeo Drive

Most people envision Beverly Hills when they think of Los Angeles. But LA is so much more than reality stars and super expensive shops. Still, many people want to experience Rodeo Drive when visiting Los Angeles for the first time.

Palm trees, luxury retailers, and quaint dining line Rodeo. Visitors flock to the shopping mecca, some only able to afford to window shop in the fine retailers like Gucci, Prada and Tiffany's. The area is also known as one of the go-to places for celebrity spotting. Who knows? You may even spot a celebrity in an expensive sports car!


Established in the 1930's, Chinatown was once the epicenter of Chinese culture in the Los Angeles area. Now, the San Gabriel Valley holds that title. But Chinatown still retains the character and charm that those visiting Los Angeles for the first time seek.

The historic Chinatown gate is one of many attractions on a Beginnings of Los Angeles tour. Built in 1938, the East Gate on Broadway Ave is now a Los Angeles Historic & Cultural Monument.

Seen in epic Los Angeles films like Chinatown and Gangster Squad, Chinatown plays host to many mom & pop shops, restaurants, and grocers. Explore Chinese culture, drink boba tea, eat dim sum and search stores for fun Asian trinkets to take home.

The Grove & The Original Farmers Market

This outdoor shopping center is another big draw for first-time Los Angeles visitors. Situated next to the historic Original Farmer's Market, The Grove hosts several major retailers. The shops share space with a lovely fountain and manicured landscaping. The Grove is especially beautiful during the holidays.  A gigantic Christmas tree shines while carols play overhead.

The Original Farmers Market is the main draw here, though. With over 100 different vendors, the Farmers Market offers visitors the best of California living in one place.

Opened originally in the 1930s, the Farmers Market became an official Los Angeles Historic & Cultural Monument in 1991. Built atop a former dairy farm and oil field, the Farmers Market has been drawing visitors for nearly a century. Take a tasty tour under the swaying palms for an authentic California experience.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Another fantastic museum lies in the heart of Los Angeles in the middle of the Miracle Mile. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA for short, is the largest museum in the Western US. It's home to an extensive collection of arts and artifacts. LACMA also has one of the largest collection of Mezo-American arts in the world.

Some of the larger installations, such as Urban Light and Levitated Mass, sometimes steal the show. But the real gems lie inside among the many amazing works of artists throughout the centuries.

Prepare to spend an entire day meandering through the halls of this expansive museum. Plus you'll want to walk next door to see the La Brea Tar Pits and the George C. Page Museum which feature fossils of prehistoric creatures native to the area.

Hollywood Blvd

By far the most touristy site of all, Hollywood Blvd is probably the most visited site in the city. Everyone wants to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and Dolby Theatre. These attractions draw many first-time Los Angeles visitors. They look forward to the chance to snap selfies and find souvenirs.

Many of the cities tours also start here including the Hollywood sign tour and Starline Hop-On Hop-Off Double Decker Bus Tours. Other nearby attractions include the El Capitan Theatre, Madam Tussaud's and the Hollywood Wax Museum.

The Hollywood & Vine shopping mall is a one-stop-shop. It offers visitors a chance to shop, dine, and watch films. There are stellar views of the Hollywood Sign from the upper levels of the mall, so be sure to bring your camera.

Olvera Street

No trip to Los Angeles is complete without a visit to the "First Street," Olvera Street. Founded in 1781 as part of the original settlement of Los Angeles, Olvera Street is now part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument. The Plaza is one of many sights featured in the historic Los Angeles.

The monument hosts a traditional Mexican market along the Plaza streets. Each of the narrow "streets" contains stalls, shops, and restaurants dedicated to preserving the Hispanic heritage of the city. Shop for hand-crafted souvenirs, enjoy authentic Mexican street food and listen to Mariachi music as you stroll through "the birthplace of Los Angeles."

Need More Los Angeles Suggestions?

Well, there you have it! My suggestions for visiting Los Angeles for the first time will surely fill a 3-5 day itinerary.

But if you need more ideas check out my list of unusual things to do in LA or my list of resources for finding things to do in LA. If you have time and a rental car, be sure to enjoy a scenic Los Angeles drive. Or visit any one of the great homes of Los Angeles to see some of California's architecture history. Be sure to spend some time in Downtown Los Angeles. And don't miss the amazing Los Angeles street art!

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  • Reply
    Pieter Sake Feenstra
    January 17, 2017 at 10:25 am

    may be I am to much a real European, but I am not really charmed by LA

  • Reply
    Steve Burns
    January 24, 2017 at 6:48 am

    Nice list! I would love to do all of those things if I ever get back out that way again! 🙂

    • Reply
      Carlie Dayle
      January 24, 2017 at 6:33 pm

      Thanks so much, Steve! I hope you get a chance to come back soon!

  • Reply
    Mrs Linda chan
    July 13, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    Which hotel to book – 4 stars must have lift. Where to go? Where to eat? First time to LA. The itinerary. 3 days 2 nights then go Washington, D.C. . Where to get domestic tickets which airlines ?


    • Reply
      Carlie Dayle
      July 19, 2017 at 1:10 pm

      Hello Mrs. Chan, what great questions you ask! I’d have to know more about your interests to answer some of these questions. As for where to stay, that depends on what kind of activities you want to enjoy. If you’re hoping to spend more time near the beach cities, I’d suggest staying in Santa Monica, Westwood, or Venice. If you’re hoping to do it all, I think staying in Century City or the Fairfax district would be ideal. There’s also Downtown LA for those looking to do more of the cultural activities (museums, etc). As for domestic flights, I usually book with United or Delta. I don’t like budget airlines personally; if you would prefer budget, consider Southwest! With 3 days you have plenty of time to hit a few highlights. I would suggest visiting most of the spots in this post, as well as some of the Locals Only spots in my other post. Hope this helps!

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