19 Actually Cool Things to Do in Los Angeles This Summer
Here are the best events, museums, beaches, food tours, and wine tastings to keep you cool, literally and metaphorically this summer.
In LA we get 285 days of sun per year and weather that’s pretty reasonable even at its worst, so the shift from spring to summer is more symbolic than anything. But there is undeniably something different in the air in the summer months—and it’s not just the smog. Energy buzzes through the city, radiating off the charcoal grills in the park, coursing hot across the dusty trails in the San Gabriel Mountains, jumping from rooftop pools to backyard comedy shows to the Left Field Pavilion at Dodger Stadium and onward across the city.
Whether you’re looking to impress a date or just want to remind yourself why we pay so damn much to live here, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of that summer energy. We’ve got a bounty of eateries ranging from high-end Italian hotspots to casual taco trucks, plus bars that run the gamut from glitzy rooftop lounges to dimly lit dives. And for those times that you want to get away from the traffic and the madness, we’ve got countless road trip destinations and weekend getaways to keep us entertained.
From watersports to music festivals, theme parks to food tours, museums to axe throwing and beyond, here’s everything to put on your LA calendar this summer. And don’t forget to check out our LA guide for cool things happening every weekend.
Celebrate Pride Month loud and proud
June marks the official beginning of summer, and there’s no better way to welcome in the season than by celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community with Pride Month. There are a slew of vibrant, inclusive events all month long, kicking off in a big way on June 11 with LA Pride! In The Park, a day-to-night festival of activities, exhibitions, food, drink, and music, headlined by Christina Aguilera, Anitta, Syd, and the party crew A Club Called Rhonda. On June 12, the massive annual Pride Parade returns to Hollywood Boulevard with over 130 floats, cars, twirlers, performers, and more. In Santa Monica, the outdoor shopping mall Santa Monica Place will host a pop-up market every weekend in June called Made With Pride, that will feature more than 15 LGBTQIA+ makers along with art installations, special workshops, and music. On June 18, OC Pom Rescue and Gay for Good are hosting an adoption and fundraising event at plant-based restaurant Jewel with raffle baskets full of LGBTQIA-owned brands and more. In El Segundo, Rooftop Cinema Club is screening LGBTQIA hits like The Birdcage (June 9), Rocketman (June 16), and The Wizard of Oz (June 23), with a portion of proceeds donated to The Trevor Project. And there are many more ways to celebrate all month long.
Get out on the water and get extreme, or extremely chill
Forty-five miles per hour doesn’t feel fast behind a windshield on the freeway, but when you’re zipping over waves on a jet ski it’s a whole different story. SoCal Jet Skis takes groups out from Channel Islands Harbor in Ventura, close enough to LA for an easy drive, and far enough to feel like a day trip. Not feeling the need for speed? They also rent electric boats, a refined and mature way to scoot around the harbor and hang out with the sea lions who call it home. The electric boats are also the perfect place to eat a leisurely dinner and enjoy an adult beverage at sunset, like a gently rocking picnic that comfortably seats ten.
Curate your own food and beer tour of a beach town
You don’t have to go into the water to reap the benefits of the ocean—our beach communities are always way cooler than it is inland, and driving to the coast to spend the day eating and drinking in the crisp ocean air is one of the best ways to escape the heat for a while. And the food scene in the beach cities has grown leaps and bounds over the last few years; you could opt for fine dining in Santa Monica or Manhattan Beach; get poke, pizza, pasta, and West Coast IPAs in El Segundo; there are amazing tacos, tapas, coffee, noodles, and taps in Costa Mesa; and perhaps best of all, Long Beach’s food scene has absolutely exploded lately. There is too much great food to list, but you could eat all day, from artisanal sourdough conchas in the morning to mariscos for lunch, locally roasted coffee for an afternoon pick-me-up and some of the Southland’s best beer at happy hour, with pizza for dinner and ice cream for dessert. And that’s just scratching the surface.
After you’ve filled up on grub, head to any number of LA’s beautiful beaches and take advantage of everything our sandy stretch of coastline has to offer. Sign up for a surf lesson, rent a standup paddleboard, pedal the bike path, take an oceanfront yoga class on the sand, get in on a beach volleyball game, or just relax and take in the views. You deserve it. And just in case you need a refresher on the best beaches, here’s everything to know before you hit the sand.
Go to the movies
It’s hot out there, and there is one place that is all but guaranteed to be cool, dark, and chill—a movie theater. Head downtown to Alamo Drafthouse for a show and a beer or three, or out to Burbank’s Dolby Cinema at the AMC for an immersive experience. And if you just want to get into the a/c as cheap as can be, Pasadena’s Academy Six shows second-run movies for under $10 a pop.
Don your drapiest bohemian threads for festival season
Coachella has come and gone, but it is far from your only chance to listen to music and be photographed at your effortless best. HARD Summer is back for a massive three-day festival at NOS Event Center in San Bernardino from July 29-31, with headliners Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Uzi Vert, and Porter Robinson atop a long list of hip-hop and electronic music. At the Rose Bowl August 27-28, This Ain’t No Picnic hosts an eclectic lineup of indie, hip hop, and electronic acts over two days, including LCD Soundsystem, The Strokes, Isaiah Rashad, and Phoebe Bridgers. Further afield in Palm Springs, Splash House is a festival series spread across three weekends (June 10-12 and August 12-14 and 19-21) and three hotels in Palm Springs, with sets from Diplo, Channel Tres, and Hayden James pumping over a poolside stage, with plenty of after hours action. If you’re looking for a chance to camp out and immerse yourself in a festival, Lightning In A Bottle is taking over the Bakersfield-adjacent Buena Vista Lake area from May 25-30 for a festival of yoga, art, meditation, education, and music from a diverse array of artists including Kaytranada, Glass Animals, GoldLink, Four Tet, and Big Freedia.
Thanks to the rise of al-fresco dining during the pandemic, LA is in the midst of a rooftop renaissance. While the views at tried-and-true spots like Perch in Downtown or Yamashiro in Hollywood Hills are always resplendent, it’s worth checking out some of the city’s new arrivals too, like Grandmaster Recorders and Bar Lis in Hollywood’s Vinyl District, and Cabra, a Peruvian-inspired spot on the rooftop of The Hoxton hotel that’s helmed by Girl & the Goat owner Stephanie Izard.
Root root root for the home team
Baseball season is in full swing, and the Dodgers look like one of the best teams in the league again, with a chance to make some noise well into the fall. Games at Chavez Ravine are always a delight, with improving food options both inside the ballpark and out, some actually decent craft beers and micheladas, one of the sport’s most gorgeous stadiums, and a team with enough big bats to get the stadium rocking every night. Just don’t show up wearing black and orange, or think too hard about what’s underneath the stadium.
Catch a movie under the stars
Long, warm days bring the return of outdoor movie season, featuring a mix of cult and classic films as well as new releases that you can watch from the comfort of your car or a cozy lounge chair. Street Food Cinema has locations in LA Historic Park, The Autry Museum, Will Rogers State Historic Park and more, with food trucks and live music alongside films like Jurassic Park (May 28), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (June 11), and Friday (July 9). Enjoy movie screenings under the stars at Rooftop Cinema Club in Downtown LA, where you’ll have your choice of flicks like Scream (May 26), Purple Rain (June 7), and 10 Things I Hate About You (June 15). Melrose Rooftop Theatre is your best bet for dinner and a show, offering three courses with a movie included for just $65. This season they’re screening films like Dune (May 23), Zoolander (June 2), and Ghost (June 12).
Go to a theme park
Southern California is awash in theme parks, and with the kids on break, summer is peak season. Knotts Berry Farms annual Summer Adventures series is ongoing from May 20 through September 5, with their Ghost Town Alive! Wild West experience and Summer Nights, featuring food, live music, and activities for all ages. At Disneyland, fireworks, parades, and live shows are going strong. The Main Street Electrical Parade is back on Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland, just in time for the nighttime parade’s 50th anniversary. At Universal Studios, you can board their Jurassic World Veloci Coaster, zoom through the Fast & Furious: Supercharged adventure, and soar over Hogwarts on a broomstick at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. For even bigger thrills, head to Magic Mountain to experience the world’s first single-track, quadruple-launch racing coaster with West Coast Racers.
Indoor axe throwing has risen in popularity since the trend first popped up in Ontario, Canada, in 2006, with multiple axe throwing facilities opening across the city in the last few years. Try it out at LA AX, an indoor/outdoor axe-throwing facility in North Hollywood with 38 lanes for perfecting your pitch. Don’t worry if it’s your first time, as your booking includes an axe coach who will supervise you throughout your visit, teaching you the proper form and running down everything you need to know about axe-throwing safety. Walk-ins are accepted, guests can bring their own food, and beer and wine are available for purchase. The facility is 21+ and closed-toed shoes are required.
Two Bit Circus is fully open, with walk-ins and a reservation-based ticketing system. You can book with a date or for a group of up to eight people, and your reservation grants you access to themed and immersive story rooms like Dr. Botcher’s Minute Medical School; a VR playground with games like Hologate, a four-player game that involves robots, zombies, dragons, and music; an arcade with classic pinball machines, retro and modern games, and air hockey; and reimagined carnival games at the Midway. Your package can also be applied towards carnival-inspired food and beverage, including a full bar. If you prefer to spend your credits on VR and other experiences, you can purchase food and drinks at an additional cost.
Tour a museum
All of LA’s most impressive museums are back open, many with new and exciting exhibits—just take note that many now require that you reserve your spot in advance. The Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit is ongoing through early July, inviting you to immerse yourself in 500,000 cubic feet, 60,600 frames of video, and 90 million pixels of the Dutch impressionist’s most famous works, while an Immersive Frida Kahlo exhibit that celebrates the iconic Mexican artist’s life and work is also on view through early July. There is also the new exhibit A Forest For The Trees, an immersive nature-inspired show by artist Glenn Kaino which takes visitors on an interactive journey through a surreal forest full of illusions, animatronics, and sound sculptures.
At the California African American Museum (CAAM), browse Matthew Thomas: Enlightenment, on view through August 7, which features multimedia works from the artist that were influenced by Eastern religions and philosophies as well as his personal Buddhist practice. Body + Text: Selections from the Permanent Collection, which pairs representations of the Black body with linguistic and textual elements such as words, musical notations, and other symbols, is also on view through August 7. Don’t sleep on the museum’s event programming, including a conversation between chefs Kwame Onwuachi and Nyesha Arrington on May 31, and a reading by multidisciplinary artist Saul Williams on June 9 as part of the LA Phil’s Power to the People! festival.
Hike it out
The close proximity to mountains is one of the most underrated joys of the LA basin. Entertaining out-of-towners? Take them on an unforgettable hike that drops you right in front of the iconic Hollywood sign. If you’ve got your pup in tow, you’ll want to hit Runyon Canyon, of course, one of LA’s most dog-friendly hiking areas. For a more lowkey trek, try one of these less-trafficked, secret hikes around the city. For a serious sweat, trek the Westside’s Los Liones trail, a seven-mile-plus in-and-out trail that pays off with awesome ocean views up top. If you’ve got time for a ride up the coast, make your way to Sandstone Peak—the tallest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains at 3,114 feet—that offers a six-mile loop trail with equally excellent views and quad-burning potential. Or go take a bracing dip in one of our many spectacular waterfalls.
Laugh your ass off
Some of LA's top comedy clubs have reopened with shows several nights a week featuring lineups of both household names and lesser-known funny folks. The Hollywood Improv is putting on a full slate of shows, and The Comedy Store is back to a near-nightly schedule. If you’d prefer to take your comedy outdoors, Don’t Tell Comedy, an underground series of “secret” standup shows, is still offering pop-up shows at venues including parking lots and rooftops. There are always new shows at interesting venues popping up all the time, and plenty of other shows to go see—like a wholly original musical made in 24 hours on May 23.
Blow some cash on a big fancy dinner
If your dining out game has gotten a little rusty, there’s no better way to get back at it than with a big old blowout dinner at one of LA’s most exciting restaurants. The Arts District has become a treasure trove for fine dining, with newcomers like Camphor, which elevates classic French dishes with well-sourced Indian spices; vibey new izakaya kodō, which is attached to a daytime cafe and forthcoming boutique hotel; and the rollicking Brazilian restaurant Caboco, joining noteworthy stalwarts like Bestia, Manuela, and Bavel.
Take yourself on a fine-dining tour of Hollywood’s emerging Vinyl District with Grandmaster Recorders, a day-to-night Italian-Aussie hotspot by the same restaurant group behind EP & LP; Mother Wolf, a new destination for Roman cuisine from celebrated chef Evan Funke within the historic Citizens News building; Ka’Teen, a new Tulum-inspired spot from Wes Avila; and MAGARI, a new Tokyo-Italian concept.
Go wine tasting
The LA area may not be an international destination for oenophiles, but there are plenty of good options for Angelenos who want to spend the day sipping local juice. The Sunday Funday hotspot Malibu Wines & Beer Garden in West Hills serves its wines by the tasting flight, glass, or bottle and they also have local craft beer, plus pizza on weekends. They’re also offering wine hikes and tours if you want to break a sweat while you sip. In Pasadena, Vin de California just opened their tasting room to reservations for glasses of their zippy natty wines. And Angeleno Wine Company continues to push boundaries with natural wines sourced from local grapes in interesting varietals like Godello, Loureiro, and Treixadura. There are also plenty of wine tastings and pairing dinners around town from enthusiasts like the Westside Winos, who are collaborating on a dinner at the Ace Hotel’s LOAM on May 25 and host regular wine nights at The Friend in Silver Lake. And if you’re up for a longer trip, Temecula Valley, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo are awash in wineries and well-worth the drive.
We never knew how much we wanted to see blue-eyed black lemurs, western lowland gorillas, Nigerian dwarf goats, and southern hairy nosed wombats until we weren’t allowed to anymore. And lest you think we’re making up any of the above species, we most certainly are not and all of them—along with around 270 other species of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians—are currently living their best lives at the LA Zoo, which has been welcoming humans back for a few months now. Since the zoo is operating at limited capacity, you’ll need to buy a timed-entry ticket in advance.
Get a taste of LA’s finest farmers markets
If you can dream it (and it’s in season) you’ll find it at the farmers market—from the sweetest tomatoes and stone fruit, to obscure heirloom beans, to every fresh herb known to man. Now that summer is in full swing, LA’s farmers markets are more abundant than ever, providing Angelenos with daily opportunities to stock their fridges with fresh produce, pantry items, desserts, and more. If Downtown Santa Monica’s massive market is too much to take on right away, work your way up with a visit to Culver City’s farmers market on Tuesdays from 2–7 pm, or head to The Original Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax (open daily) early to beat the rush. If you’re up early on a Saturday, the Crenshaw, East LA, and Torrance farmers markets are great, less crowded options.
Do some good
Volunteering gets a lot of buzz around the holidays, but nonprofits focused on making the lives of our fellow citizens better need help all year round. Established and successful nonprofits are always looking for volunteers—Homeboy Industries, or 826LA, for example. Also consider the LA Mutual Aid Network, a collection of people doing direct, street-level service for others on a weekly basis. The City of LA also has its own portal, VolunteerLA, to help connect people with opportunities to get involved.
Ben Mesirow is an Echo Park native who writes TV, fiction, food, and sports. At one time or another, his writing has appeared in The LA Times, Litro, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Los Angeles Magazine, and scratched into dozens of desks at Walter Reed Middle School.