Los Angeles is a destination unlike any other. While LA will always be associated with movies and movie stars being the home of Hollywood, it's a culturally vibrant city that boasts a wide range of attractions, and with so much to see and do, it can be overwhelming.
From Downtown to the Hollywood Hills and 75 miles of sunny coastline, LA is a thriving urban sprawl and if your time is limited you want to get the most out of your visit.
Below are my suggested things to do in Los Angeles for the first time visitor.
1. The LA Farmers Market
Open 7 days a week the 80 year old Farmers Market is one of my favourite places to visit in LA. It's got hundreds of merchants for shopping, and like most markets there are fantastic options for cheap eats from dozens of restaurants and specialty grocers offering cuisine from around the world. And you just never know when you might run into a celebrity - it's one of their favourite spots.
2. Bike from Santa Monica to Venice Beach
The historic Santa Monica Pier is a popular destination for the entire family, and although a little tacky it's one of those places you need to see for yourself at least once. Once your done with the Pier and Third Street Promenade, rent a bike and cycle along the beach path from Santa Monica to Venice Beach and back.
Venice Beach is full of crazy characters and street performers from all walks of life, just don't stay too long or you might get sucked into a psychedelic world trapped in the hippy free love movement of the sixties. The outdoor basketball courts is like watching scenes from the movie White Man Can't Jump, and soaking in the carnival atmosphere is good for an hour or so.
3. Stroll Rodeo Drive
For the ultimate window shopping take a stroll on world-famous Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, the epitome of luxury and style - leave your wallet at home, unless of course you're really rich or can pull off a Julia Roberts. It's worth a visit just to see how the beautiful and wealthy people shop, besides, it's a pretty looking street with some hot cars on show! Check out the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style which honors style legends for their contributions to the worlds of fashion and entertainment.
4. Hollywood Walk of Fame
Hollywood Blvd is fun for touristy things like the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame & Grauman's Chinese Theater. You can't come to LA for the first time and not see places like Hollywood Blvd. Located on both sides of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, see your favourite stars hand prints engraved in the concrete and people dressed up in character outfits. Check out the The Dolby Theatre (formerly known as the Kodak Theatre) whilst there. Use the underground transport to see Hollywood - surprisingly efficient and better than buses if you're not renting a car.
5. Manhattan Beach
My favourite part of LA is the South Bay Beaches. I generally skip Santa Monica now and head straight down to Manhattan Beach and nearby Hermosa Beach, two very cool California beach towns that remind me of Australia, and way less touristy than Santa Monica. The sunsets on the beaches are worth the trip alone, and the cafe scene and boutique shopping is first class. Stop for a sundowner at one of the beer gardens along the promenade - a great place for a walk or cycle - and if you enjoy beach volleyball then Manhattan Beach is THE place to be
6. The Getty Center
The Getty Center sits atop a hill in Brentwood, Los Angeles and is reached via a three car cable pulled tram from the bottom car park. The museum specializes in artworks, but way more interesting to me was the architecture of the building, the views and the beautiful sculptured gardens that surround the museum. It's worth a visit just for this alone. Oh, and it's FREE.
7. See a Baseball, Basketball or Ice Hockey Game
If you're into pro sports, LA has four teams, The LA Lakers and Clippers in Basketball, The LA Dodgers in Baseball and The LA Kings in Ice Hockey. I was in town during a Dodgers game, and whilst I'm not a big baseball fan, a live game is fun. Grab yourself a hot dog and a beer and stand and sing along during the seventh inning stretch. For tickets to sporting events try StubHub.com
8. Visit the "Happiest place on earth" - Disneyland
For the kids and big kids at heart, no visit to LA is complete without experiencing Disneyland. Walt Disney’s original theme park is where generations of families have made their Disney dreams come true. Divided into 8 themed lands there's something for every member of the family. For a change of pace, next door is Disney California Adventure Park where the rides are geared more to older children, but Cars Land is a great addition. There's so much to see and do at Disneyland you need multiple days to enjoy it all.
9. Take the Studio Tour - Universal Studios Hollywood
For behind-the-scenes film action you can't go past Universal Studios with a studio tour being the best way to explore Hollywood’s most famous backlot in the world’s largest working movie studio. The tour includes King Kong 360 3D, the world’s largest 3D experience plus 13 city blocks on four acres of historic studio lot. Next door is Universal CityWalk, a Three-Block Entertainment, Dining and Shopping Promenade.
10. Take a tour of the Hollywood Homes
Okay, I know. Very kitsch. But something for the movie and celebrity buffs. You can either do a bus tour or get a self-drive map. I chose the self-drive option. My keen eyes were out in the hopes of spotting Jennifer Aniston, but instead I mostly spotted tall brick walls and hedges built up to keep away the prying eyes of annoying tourists like me! As terrible as it was, we still had a lot of fun driving around Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Hills on a celebrity hunt.
11. Drive down to Orange County
Orange County has some really beautiful beaches. Laguna Beach is a lovely small cove beach and with its natural hilly setting reminded me a lot of beaches back home in Sydney and was definitely the pick for me. Other well known beaches include Huntington and Newport. And of course Orange County is home to Disneyland!