Here's Our Travel Guide to This Nation of Over 7,000 Islands
An art installation that lights up the city block
You’ve seen the photos all over Instagram: the collection of lamp posts that attracts jubilant kids weaving in and out of the aisles, awkward teens posing for pre-prom pics, and photographers capturing newlywed couples. The famous Urban Light installation at LACMA faces the bustling Wilshire Boulevard and was designed by Chris Burden using cast-iron street lamps (202 of them to be exact), some of which were restored from actual streets in California. The solar-powered lights (soon-to-be LED lightbulbs, thanks to a partnership with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Foundation) have become an iconic image often representative of the City of Angels, and a popular locale for locals and tourists alike to stop and snap a few photos; why should you be any different?
Take a ride on the world’s shortest railway
The world’s shortest railway is right here in downtown Los Angeles, and has given over 100 million rides since it opened in 1901. After several shutdowns over the years and a petition to Save Angels Flight after safety concerns, a recent renovation has revived the historical funicular which is now fully operating year-round, from 6:45am-10pm. For just $1, passengers can take one of the two railway vehicles (named Sinai and Olivet) for a one block ride from Hill Street and Grand Avenue on Bunker Hill.
An art deco icon with impossibly photogenic views atop Mount Hollywood
If stunning panoramas of the city are what you’re looking for, Griffith Observatory has one of the best in LA -- which also happens to be one of the main backdrops in the award-winning film La La Land, and a popular hiking trail, too. If you’re an early riser, work up a sweat and hike up to the top to kick off your morning with sweeping views spanning from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica -- or, catch the twinkling lights of the city at night, and peep through one of the free public telescopes to see the stars. Once a month, the Observatory also hosts a free monthly star party with astronomers on-site, available to answer any burning galaxy questions you may have. Best of all, admission to the grounds and Observatory is free, excluding special programs and shows in the Planetarium or theater.
The Chandelier Tree
A brilliantly decorated sycamore that one local gifted to his neighborhood
Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is, and while it may sound a bit quirky it is equally magical and fitting of what you would find in the artsy neighborhood that is Silver Lake. With the help of his roommate (who conveniently happened to be an aerialist), Adam Tenenbaum, the man behind the Chandelier Tree, initially started by hanging three chandeliers he claimed from a staging project he completed on a massive tree outside his home. Neighbors and passersby were so receptive to the lit tree that it inspired Adam to add more chandeliers over time -- for nearly 10 years, what started as three has now grown to 33 chandeliers lighting up the tree on the corner of West Silver Lake Drive and Shadowlawn Avenue, and it’s a beautiful sight to see. And if you really can’t get enough of The Chandelier Tree, you can call it home and rent the back studio on Airbnb.
That other pier, where locals actually hang out
Skip the tourist-infested Santa Monica Pier and opt for the cooler (and cleaner) twin, the Malibu Pier, just a short drive north. While this pier may not have a massive amusement park at which to let out your inner child, it does have Malibu Farm Cafe, which is a popular local spot serving farm fresh dishes in an airy, beach house-like cafe overlooking the ocean. Watch as sunkissed surfers catch the afternoon waves, and stick around for some of the gnarliest cotton candy sunsets, perfect for ‘gramming!
Venice Canal Historic District
The lingering ghost of one man’s attempt to bring Italy to America
It might seem like a tourist trap, but the canal district is still a picturesque little slice of heaven in Venice Beach. The four waterways going east to west can be found in between Venice Boulevard and Washington Boulevard off of Grand Canal, and are actually only a shadow of the original canal system developed by none other than Abbot Kinney in 1905, as an ode to Italy calling it the “Venice of America.” Stroll through the mostly-pedestrian canal district these days, and you’ll be surrounded by charming beach homes, colorful kayaks almost intentionally placed, and an adorable duck pond. Home to some of the more expensive real estate in Venice Beach, the Canals are the closest thing we’ll get to Europe in LA.
A jaw-dropping historical office building that’s appeared in your favorite movies
You’d probably recognize this historical landmark from flicks like 500 Days of Summer, Blade Runner, or Lethal Weapon 4... all right, maybe not that one. Still, the five-story office building in downtown LA remains the city’s oldest commercial edifice, and it’s an architectural stunner inside; the brown brick of the walls, the ornate ironwork of the spiraling staircase, and the natural glow from the enormous skylight overhead make you feel like you stepped back in time to the Italian Renaissance -- or at least onto the set of The Artist. It’s hard to believe some people actually call this place their office.
The quintessential Hollywood Hills home that became a local landmark
When you think of LA, one of the prominent visuals that might come to mind is a sleek mansion in the Hollywood Hills with spectacular views, infused with a bit of LA history or perhaps just scandalous stories that include A-list celebs. Interestingly enough, the Stahl House has made its way into LA history simply because it’s an architectural marvel. The mid-century modern home designed by Pierre Koenig was named a Historic-Cultural Los Angeles landmark in 1999, and became a local attraction owned and operated by the Stahl family. The home’s design, which has gained recognition from several notable publications over the years, represents quintessential LA architecture and can be viewed by the public during afternoon or evening tours.
A symbol of international unity, with panoramic views of Catalina Island
Located in San Pedro, the Korean Bell of Friendship is a symbol of unity between Korea and the US, donated by the Republic of Korea in 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial of US independence, but also to commemorate the veterans of the Korean War. The massive pagoda-like structure weighing a whopping 17 tons houses a bronze bell that only rings on certain occasions, like the Fourth of July and Korean Independence Day, and is perched on a hill overlooking the Pacific. Located in Angels Gate Park, it’s no coincidence that a landmark representative of peace would be set against an idyllic backdrop.
Where some of Hollywood’s icons are laid to rest (and occasionally appear on-screen)
Strange to think that a cemetery has become a local attraction, but with the laundry list of Hollywood luminaries and legends who are laid to rest at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (like Jayne Mansfield and Douglas Fairbanks), it’s clear why movie buffs can appreciate this place. The cemetery also hosts Cinespia, the popular outdoor summer movie screening series set among the tombstones, as well as notable musical performances by James Blake and The XX, to name a few.
A picturesque Eastside park to stroll through, go pedal boating, or spot swans
There are so many ways to experience the beauty of this Eastside park, which recently underwent a $45M renovation. You can walk or run the approximate 1-mile loop around the perimeter, or ride a pedal boat across the lake amongst beautiful swans set against the dramatic backdrop of Downtown skyscrapers and classic LA palm trees. It’s perfect for a family picnic day, or a relaxing afternoon under a tree with a good book in hand -- but if you forgot to pack a picnic, don’t worry, as there are plenty of food cart vendors roaming the park serving snacks like fresh fruit, and the famous “elotes” (grilled Mexican street corn) that are finger-lickin’ good.
A historic, beachside community pool for when you actually want to take a dip
If the beach is what you’re craving minus the sand in your feet (or hair), then head to this community beach house in Santa Monica overlooking the ocean. The recreational space was constructed on the site of a now-demolished mansion from the ‘20s (which William Randolph Hearst built for actress Marion Davies, his mistress), and still features the stunning marble swimming pool from the original house, which is open to the public during the summer months. The facility also offers yoga classes (almost) daily for a $15 fee, volleyball and tennis courts, common beach gear available for rent, and a kid-friendly community pool with a game room available during the summer season.
Massive landmarks made with nothing but hand tools
This cluster of 17 steel sculptures wrapped with wire mesh was created in 1954 by an Italian immigrant, Simon Rodia, using only his bare hands and hand tools. The impressive monument, located in the city of Watts, took 33 years to build and made the National Historic Landmark list in 1990, so you should probably check it out. Although complimentary guided tours are only available outside the fence (to prepare for sculpture restoration over the next few years), they’re still well worth your time.
A Craftsman-style masterpiece tucked away in Pasadena
Designed by Charles and Henry Greene in 1908 for the Gamble family (as in Procter & Gamble), this National Historic Landmark is an example of American Arts and Crafts architecture at its finest. It took 11 months and 17 various wood species to craft the iconic home, which you can view on docent-led tours every Thursday thru Sunday (advanced reservations recommended); or, buy a ticket to the House Music Concert Series featuring classical and jazz performances in an intimate living room setting. The historical house is owned by the city of Pasadena, but it’s closely associated with USC’s School of Architecture to promote public recognition of architecture and design.
An inspired public art collection along a stretch of Van Nuys Boulevard
Mural Mile was a movement that started back in 2012 by locals and artists in an effort to revitalize the community through colorful art on street walls, and the project has now grown to more than 50 murals in a 3-mile radius surrounding Pacoima City Hall -- most notable of the murals is a portrait of LA native, actor, and restaurateur, Danny Trejo painted by Levi Ponce. Take a look at the map on the website and spend an afternoon strolling along Mural Mile learning about the history behind each piece and appreciating the murals that each artist gifted to the community.