1. Griffith Park and Griffith Observatory
Griffith Park, in the eastern part of the Santa Monica Mountains, and covering an area of 4,210 acres, is the largest state park in California. It is home to the Los Angeles Zoo, the Griffith Observatory, a planetarium, a Greek theater, a riding center created for the 1984 Olympic Games, golf courses, tennis courts, hiking trails, and other attractions. Walking trails and scenic drives through the mountains offer views over the city and beyond.
The Griffith Observatory is one of the city's most interesting experience based attractions, and it is all free to the public. On the grounds are exhibits and telescopes. The main highlight is a look through the Zeiss telescope, used for viewing the moon and planets. You can use the telescopes free each evening the facility is open. Also on-site are solar telescopes used for viewing the sun. The park and observatory are named after Griffith J. Griffith, who donated the greater part of the parkland to the city in 1896 and willed funds to the city for the creation of the observatory.
A suburb of Los Angeles, Hollywood is a destination in itself, with its own unique history and iconic sites. The attractions in Hollywood are closely associated with the film industry and the glamour of the silver screen. The hillside Hollywood sign, Hollywood Boulevard, the Walk of Fame, and the Chinese Theatre can easily fill a day or two of sightseeing. If you are lucky, you might even spot a celebrity or two.
3. The Getty Center
On a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Getty Center, designed by Richard Meier, is a huge complex measuring 0.75 square miles and set on 110 acres. The unique building and the beautiful grounds provide the perfect setting for this impressive museum. Collections include European paintings, drawings, sculpture, and decorative arts, as well as 19th and 20th century photography.
The Getty Center is one of two locations of the J. Paul Getty Museum, created by the late oil magnate, J. Paul Getty. The Getty Villa, set in a recreated Roman country house, deals with art from the Stone Age to the end of the Roman Empire.
4. Santa Monica
Santa Monica is a unique destination that is both chic and laid back, with a population that ranges from surfers, skateboarders, and yoga devotees to techies and business people. The beautiful stretch of golden sand along the coast and the famous Santa Monica Pier, with its iconic Ferris wheel, are what most tourists come to enjoy, but you can find a variety of experiences in this beachfront city next to LA.
Shoppers will find a range of options, from quirky and vintage stores to high end boutiques. For a little activity, check out the 26 mile bike path along the waterfront or wander along the Third Street Promenade to see street performers and do some shopping and people watching.
Getting to Santa Monica is now much easier since the opening of the new Expo Metro line, connecting downtown LA to Santa Monica.
5. Venice Beach
Venice Beach deserves its reputation as a place to see and be seen, making it perfect for people watching, although the area definitely has its own unique vibe. This stretch of golden sand and the Venice Beach Boardwalk are always thronged with people walking, cycling, rollerblading, and jogging.
Eclectic shops and street performers of all kinds line the walkway. The Skatepark, also just off the beach, is frequented by some of the area's best skateboarders, and nearby are a number of creative art installations. At the appropriately named Muscle Beach, people pump iron in the hot California sun.
Food stalls selling everything from shaved ice to kettle corn and funnel cakes make you feel like you are walking through fair grounds. You can also find some good restaurants here. This is not a typical family beach, but it is well worth a visit.
6. Long Beach
Long Beach is another community in the Los Angeles area where you can easily spend a day exploring. Bordering LA to the south, about 20 miles from downtown, Long Beach extends along San Pedro Bay. Things to do here include a visit to the historic Queen Mary ocean liner, now converted into a hotel and museum; the Aquarium of the Pacific; and exploring the unique shops at Shoreline Village. You can also catch the Catalina Express from Long Beach for a trip to Santa Catalina Island.
7. Universal Studios Hollywood
This Park is known for its mind blowing rides based on blockbuster movies, but it is also a working movie studio and an attraction everyone can enjoy. The highlight for most people is the ever changing selection of rides, which range from simulators to roller coasters. Favorite movie and TV-themed rides and sets include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Walking Dead, The Simpsons, and Transformers. To save time standing in long lines consider purchasing a Skip the Line: Front of Line Pass at Universal Studios Hollywood. This handy ticket gives you one time fast entry to each of the park's rides, attractions, and shows, as well as behind the scenes access to select attractions.
When you are tired of the rides, you can check out CityWalk, a three block entertainment area, with shopping, dining, and theaters. Another option is a guided tour of the studios to explore behind the scenes of some of Universal's most popular movie sets. The VIP Experience allows you opportunities to see the sets and areas not open to the general public.
8. Disneyland Resort
Just outside Los Angeles, Disneyland is California's premier family vacation destination, attracting visitors since the 1950s. Disneyland Park, with rides and experiences in elaborately created theme sets, is what most people picture when they imagine Disneyland. The Disneyland California Adventure Park, created during one of the expansions, holds even more action and adventure, with seven lands based on movie themes.
Beyond the rides and Disney characters wandering the streets, the resort also offers a full complement of features and services for a complete vacation. Hotels, restaurants, shopping, and all kinds of entertainment options are available at Disneyland Resort.
9. Petersen Automotive Museum
Car lovers will not want to miss the incredible assortment of vehicles at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Spread over four floors are a mix of permanent and temporary exhibits featuring more than 300 cars and motorcycles, ranging from perfectly preserved items from 1886 right through to concepts for the 21st century. The museum underwent major renovations and is now one of the most modern institutions of its kind.
The exterior façade is an eye catching architectural masterpiece. For an additional fee, you can sign up for either a 90 or 120 minute guided Vault tour, which provides additional insight on rare and unusual cars.