Los Angeles is famed as the center of the American film and television industry, as well as for its never-ending sunshine and miles of white sandy beaches. However, there is so much more culture and nature to Los Angeles than the iconic Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame, and sandy shores. Some of L.A.’s attractions are under the radar, but they can give you a surprising sense of the city’s diversity.
Dorothy Parker once famously said: ” Los Angeles is 72 suburbs in search of a city”, and since everyone drives, traffic is a bit of a nightmare, so one of the most important things to keep in mind is that getting from point A to point B can take a surprisingly long time…
- Sunset Ranch in
I have always loved horses. Some of my fondest memories are of summertime riding lessons in the English countryside when I was a child, so I never miss an opportunity to go horseback riding when traveling.
One of my favorite activities in Los Angeles was a private two-hour horseback tour in Griffith Park with Sunset Ranch, bright and early on a Sunday morning.
The trail meandering along the cliffside affords dazzling 360-degree views of LA, the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, the Pacific Ocean, Rancho Palos Verdes, as well as close-up views of the famous Hollywood sign, which is surprisingly tricky to see in this smoggy metropolis.
- Huntington Botanical Gardens
For a relaxing nature oasis in a major metropolitan area, make your way to the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens, where you can spend a large part of the day casually strolling through the extensive botanical gardens, and if you are in the mood for some culture, pay a visit to Huntington Art Galleries and Library.
There are 12 gardens in total – featuring gardens like the Chinese Garden, the Japanese Garden and one of the most incredible desert gardens – with 15,000 plant varieties, so you will certainly be spoilt for choice.
I have a penchant of cacti – I have about three dozen of little cacti at home – so the elaborate Desert garden was my favorite.
_DSC0192 copyThe Huntington Desert Garden is one of the largest and oldest assemblages of cacti and other succulents in the world.Huntington Gardens is truly perfect for an afternoon of serenity.
The Garden of Flowing Fragrance, Liu Fang Yuan 流芳園, is amongst the largest Chinese-style gardens outside China.
- Spend a day with LA Insider Tours
For an in-depth introduction to the City of Angels, especially if you are limited on time and do not want too much tourist spin on it, spend a day with LA Insider Tours. LA Insider Tours is a premier tour company, providing fully customizable private tours depending on your interests and needs. No L.A. tour is the same here!
You can cover most of the city in a day, and see some secret yet familiar spots – like that fuchsia-colored house from the much-beloved Charmed TV series (in the photo above).
- Cherish the beautiful architecture of DTLA
Along with Venice Beach, Downtown LA is my favourite part of Los Angeles, because of a remarkable amount of history and many architectural styles represented in DDTLA, including some Beaux-Arts and Art Deco gems. You can either wander about on your own using a Lonely Planet guide like me or perhaps go for an in-depth tour with Architecture Tours L.A.
The elegant turquoise Eastern Columbia Building, a DTLA Art Deco jewel, is my favorite
Broadway Theatre district includes 12 movie theatres built between 1910 and 1931. The vertical and clean buildings were meant to evoke sophistication, jazz and elegance in this new time period.
Then there is the futuristic Walt Disney Hall, the brainchild of an architecture genius, Frank Gehry.
- Grab a bite to eat at Grand Central Market
Grand Central Market, a downtown landmark since 1917, brings together and celebrates the cuisines and cultures of Los Angeles. Open all day every day.
Juicy Burger from Belcampo Meat Co. definitely my favourite burger from Los Angeles. _DSC0694 copy
Eggslut inspired by a true love for eggs is another an extremely popular stand. One of the most popular items on the menu is their ultimate breakfast sandwich.
- The Getty Center
Straddling the hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains and overlooking the west side of Los Angeles, the Getty Center is a must-visit for any culture vulture. Vast funds from the Getty oil fortune were used to build this luxurious spacious campus designed by the architect Richard Meier and to embellish it with fantastic landscaping.
Further funds were used to accumulate a very impressive art collection containing masterpieces by many Impressionist and Modern artists. Two computer-operated trams elevate visitors from a street-level parking facility to the top of the hill. To top it all off, the views of the vast Los Angeles street grid are spectacular.
- Art, Art and More Art
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the western United States, so a must-stop for anyone even remotely interested in art. It holds more than 150,000 works spanning the history of art from ancient times to the present.
Just outside the museum is a much-photographed Los Angeles icon, an assemblage sculpture by Chris Burden, Urban Light. This enthralling open-air installation consists of 202 restored street lamps from the 1920s and 1930s, most of which once lit the streets of Southern California. The lamps painted uniform grey range from about 6 to 9 meters, and are placed, forest-like, in a near grid. At dusk these solar-powered lights switch on, adding a mesmerizing touch.
The Museum of Contemporary Art is a contemporary art museum with three locations in greater Los Angeles, California. The main branch is located on Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles, near Walt Disney Concert Hall. The museum’s exhibits consist primarily of American and European contemporary art created after 1940. The MOCA downtown Los Angeles location is home to almost 5,000 artworks created since 1940, including masterpieces by classic contemporary artists, and inspiring new works by emerging and mid-career artists from Southern California and around the world. This is the only museum in Los Angeles devoted exclusively to contemporary art.
The Broad is a newest kid on the block on the Los Angeles art scene – this contemporary art museum in DTLA opened last year is named for philanthropist Eli Broad, who financed the $140 million building to house the private Broad art collections. The 2,000+ art works constitute one of the most prominent holdings of postwar and contemporary art worldwide. General admission is free.
- Hang out in Venice Beach for a day
Venice Beach is the bohemian beachfront neighborhood of Los Angeles, and people-watching is the raison d’etre here. Venice Boardwalk is the the center point with its skater boys and girls, hipster purveyors of random things and gym bunnies at Muscle Beach.
For a completely different aspect of Venice Beach, stroll along its idyllic quiet canals and the stylish Abbot Kinney road with its myriad of pretty boutique shops, interesting art galleries and buzzing eateries.
- An Evening of Music at Walt Disney Concert Hall
The striking stainless steel curves of Walt Disney Concert Hall make it one of the internationally recognized Los Angeles architectural landmarks. This futuristic edifice is the brainchild of an architecture genius, Frank Gehry. In addition, this is one of the most acoustically sophisticated concert halls in the world and home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra. Walt Disney Hall presents the best in classical and contemporary music, as well as jazz. Book your concert tickets here.
- Go on a behind-the-scenes tour of a film studio.All the big film studios offer intimate behind-the-scenes tours: Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros.
VIP Experience Universal Studios
Universal studios is considered to be a must-visit for any Los Angeles novice, so I decided to splash out on the VIP Experience of Universal Studios, which promised a small tour group, an extended backstage tour, delicious breakfast and lunch as well as skipping all the lines in the theme park.
In the morning, I enjoyed the tram tour where we visited some familiar TV and film sets, including the much-beloved Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives (I am in front of Gaby’s house in the photo above)…
The ever-creepy house from Psycho.The airplane crash set from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds (which is one of the largest films sets ever built), as well as admiring many fabulous, crazy cars from different movie franchises. However, I must say that the theme park part of the tour was crowded and tacky, and none of the rides gave me the thrill I wanted (too many simulation rides).To the joy of many Harry Potter fans, they have just opened a vast Harry Potter area.
Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros also offer intimate backstage access minus the loud theme park supplement. Definitely on my list to do next time I set my foot in Los Angeles!
And now for FOOOOOOOOOOOOD…
Tasting Kitchen (Abbot Kinney/Venice beach)
This might have been my favourite spot for dinner during my last visit to LA. Sitting on the fashionable Abbot Kinney road, this trendy restaurant serves inventive Mediterranean cuisine. Just glancing at the menu makes you ravenous, and their wine list is voluminous and exquisite. In the photo above, you can see their divine bone marrow.
I am generally not a fan of the Nobu chain – in both London and Moscow it feels somewhat dated. Nobu in Malibu, on the other hand, with its dreamy beachfront location affording splendid ocean views and ultra-fresh sushi and sashimi is a breath of fresh air. Close your eyes and listen to the crashing aways, as you are savoring every morsel of sea urchin and other ultra-fresh seafood.
Plant Food + Wine (Venice Beach)
A beautiful selection of locally sourced vegan food, as well as an extensive wine list of organic and biodynamic wines. A charming alfresco dining area with fairy lights and lots of cushions to make lunch or dinner here even more enjoyable.
Sushi Park (West Hollywood)
Los Angeles is certainly the place to go if like me you love fresh sushi. Nobu Malibu was my favorite, but another highlight for me was Sushi Park, a hidden gem occupying an unassuming spot on the 2nd floor of a strip mall on Sunset Boulevard serving omakase (chef’s choice) Japanese sushi. low-key, authentic sushi bar feels like you were sitting in Roppongi.
Ink. (West Hollywood)
Ink. serves cutting-edge new American fare. Order many different dishes, to taste and share, each dish an explosion of flavors. The most amazing crab rice is in the photo above.
I stayed at a Moroccan-inspired Petite Ermitage in West Hollywood for the first few nights. This is considered to be one of the trendiest hotels in Los Angeles, and its epicenter location was perfect for exploring this sprawling city. Around the hotel, you will find over 150 artworks from the owner’s private collection, including pieces from the 17th century to the present day by such illustrious artists as Dalí, Miró, de Kooning, and Rauschenberg. I absolutely loved the charming rooftop with its heated saltwater pool, a Mediterranean restaurant featuring cabana dining, and hummingbird sanctuary.
The second half of my stay was in Venice Beach as I wanted to be closer to the water and experience a different part of LA. West Hollywood and Venice Beach are like chalk and cheese! This hip hotel overlooking Venice Beach Boardwalk really exceeded my expectations. The room was simple but spacious with an extremely comfortable bed; to make my stay even more enjoyable, I received a complimentary upgrade to a room with a sea view. Just like Petit Hermitage, this hotel also features a rooftop bar with panoramic views of Venice Beach.