Less-Touristy Things To Do In Los Angeles: A Local’s Guide

May 12, 2023
things to do in la,things to do in los angeles,fun things to do in la,what to do in la,los angeles off the beaten path

I haven’t been shy about my…meh-ness about Los Angeles.  It’s not necessarily a city I feel drawn to, but over the course of a about 20 years, I visited one of my BFFs every couple years and she always did a great job finding fun, really local experiences for us to do together.

So I wanted to share some of the fun and less-touristy things to do in L.A. that I’ve enjoyed over the years—off-the-beaten path options that locals know but visitors usually miss.

L.A. sunset | Less-Touristy, Fun Things to do in Los Angeles, California

You might also like:  The Only Carry-On Suitcase You’ll Need

You won’t catch a whiff of talk about the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Venice Beach, Rodeo Drive, or Universal Studios.  No, sir.  Today we’re talking about the things that tourists usually miss…those more local spots or experiences that are the IYKYK (“if you know, you know”).

Music at Santa Anita Racetrack | Less-Touristy, Fun Things to do in Los Angeles, California

You might also like:  My Favorite Cross-Body Purse for Travel

Where to stay in the L.A. area

Every section of LA has different vibes, so providing lots of detailed recommendations for hotels would be hard…you’ll need to consider proximity to where you’ll be doing most of your stuff (to avoid traffic time) and what kind of vibe you want.

Research some of these areas:  West Hollywood, Larchmont Village, Santa Monica, Venice, Huntington Beach, downtown, Pasadena, Pacific Palisades, and Beverly Hills.  That’s by no means an exhaustive list of cool areas, but gives you a really good selection.

Here are a FEW great recos of a bit more under-the-radar options to get you started…

  • Proper Hotel‘s gorgeous decor & rooftop pool! (Santa Monica)
  • Casa del Mar is a beautiful luxury beachfront hotel (Santa Monica)
  • One of the O.G. hipster hotels, Ace Hotel has the grandeur of a Gothic building, with retro decor (Downtown)
  • The Andaz is super stylish and central, with great views of the LA skyline and a rooftop pool (West Hollywood)
  • Petit Ermitage is absolutely adorable, like a little hidden villa, with beautiful art and a Hollywood Hills view (West Hollywood)

If those don’t float your boat, Booking is my go-to site for finding hotels (and occasionally condos or apartments), though you can check Agoda or Trivago to see what else is out there or price compare.

It’s worth considering a rental, particularly if you’ll be there more than a day or two, and I’d assume having a car would be helpful too.  VRBO often has some really cool rental options, and you can check Airbnb too.

walk through Descanso Gardens - Less-Touristy, Fun Things to do in Los Angeles, California

You might also like:  My Favorite Makeup Brand For Travel (& It’s Clean, Non-Toxic, Paleo, & More!)

Do I need a car in L.A.??

Yeahhhh.  I mean, yeah probably.  It is an insane sprawling metropolis.  And yes, that means you’ll spend time in traffic, but I think trying to get Ubers all over the city would absolutely kill your budget.

I definitely price compare between companies using a couple different search engines—right now RentalCars.com and DiscoverCars are my go-to’s for rental cars, with Discover winning out more often.

How to find fun things to do in Los Angeles

Like all cities, especially major ones, Los Angeles is in a constant state of evolution, and there are always cool new experiences popping up.  Here are a few resources to check out for your visit, to see what’s “on”.

Do some Googling on farmer’s markets, flea markets, artisan craft fairs, and more, if that’s your thing (I’ve spent many a lovely morning at these types of things).

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention museums at all…if you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you know I’m just not a museum person.  But check out this article from Atlas Obscura for some recos if they’re your thing.

And of course you need to look into the various offerings on Viator, Get Your Guide, and TripAdvisor, in addition to skimming the Airbnb Experiences.  Yes, you’ll have to sift through some more touristy options, but you’d be surprised at the cool experiences that locals are offering these days!

wine glasses at Eataly

You might also like:  20+ Tips to Survive (& Thrive) on a Long Flight

Experience nature in the midst of the city

Despite it being a huge, sprawling metro famous for traffic and smog, there are actually tons of great options for a beautiful, peaceful nature experience.  Here are a few to consider.

Descanso Gardens

Descanso Gardens is a 150-acre botanical garden located in La Cañada Flintridge, a little north of Glendale and Pasadena.  It features a forested area with artificial ponds, streams, and lawns.  They do a few special themed light show setups throughout the year, usually around Halloween and the holiday season (they had one when we were there).

There are some additional galleries and things to do at the gardens (such as the Stuart Haaga Gallery), but the real draw is the diversity of different gardens and botanical variety.  There’s a Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, Camellia Collection, California Garden, and much more.

You can see opening days and times, special events, and other info to plan your visit here.

walk through Descanso Gardens - Less-Touristy, Fun Things to do in Los Angeles, California

walk through Descanso Gardens - Less-Touristy, Fun Things to do in Los Angeles, California

walk through Descanso Gardens - Less-Touristy, Fun Things to do in Los Angeles, California

Other California travel adventures to consider:

A Detailed Guide To San Luis Obispo, California: What To Do In SLO

A Jam-Packed Itinerary For California’s Sonoma County

Armstrong Woods: Hiking Sonoma’s Majestic Redwoods

Hiking Bodega Head Trail On California’s Sonoma Coast

Hiking The Point Buchon Trail (Montana de Oro State Park)

Huntington Gardens

The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens—generally just called “The Huntington”—is a research and cultural center in Pasadena that sits on 130 acres, split into 16 different specialized gardens.  Within this space you can see over 16,000 species of plants.

The gardens are themed, with some being geographic (like the Australian, Chinese, and California Gardens), some climatic (like Jungle, Desert, or Subtropical Gardens), and others focused on a particular type of plant (like the Rose, Herb, and famous Camellia Gardens).

Even if you’re not a big plant person or gardener (I’m NOT), taking a stroll or hike through on a blue-skied day is a wonderful want to spend your time.

walk through Huntington Gardens - Less-Touristy, Fun Things to do in Los Angeles, California

walk through Huntington Gardens - Less-Touristy, Fun Things to do in Los Angeles, California

walk through Huntington Gardens - Less-Touristy, Fun Things to do in Los Angeles, California

You might also like:  Why Fleece-Lined Leggings are a Travel Gamechanger

In addition to the natural beauty, The Huntington has a lovely collection of art, rare manuscripts (including a Gutenberg Bible and an illuminated Chaucer manuscript), and more.  We didn’t visit those portions of the complex but if you’re looking to add some culture to your itinerary, this is a great option.

walk through Huntington Gardens - Less-Touristy, Fun Things to do in Los Angeles, California

walk through Huntington Gardens - Less-Touristy, Fun Things to do in Los Angeles, California

walk through Huntington Gardens - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

You might also like:  My Favorite Face Sunscreens & Moisturizers for Travel

Hikes to take in the L.A. area

While we’re on the subject of nature, let’s talk hikes.  L.A. isn’t necessarily known as a hiking destination, and I’ll be honest and say that the hiking I’ve done here is less my own style (hot, exposed, dusty vs. the mountains and waterfalls I gravitate toward).

But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing because you can get some beautiful views and a glimpse of local life.  And this article opened my eyes to way more hikes that might be more up my alley.  So here are some of the hikes that are some of the best things to do in L.A.

The Hollywood Sign Hike

This is a pretty short and easy hike, and one you have to do once.  You climb through the Santa Monica Mountains right up behind the iconic sign, and are rewarded (on a clear-ish day) with views over Los Angeles, Hollywood, and the San Gabriel Mountains.

This post has a lot of great detailed info on how to hike it, where to park, etc.  If you’re not positive you want to do this on your own, you can also take a guided hike or even do it on horseback.

The Hollywood sign hike is a great less-touristy, fun thing to do in L.A. - off-the-beaten path ideas for Los Angeles

walk through Huntington Gardens - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

walk through Huntington Gardens - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

walk through Huntington Gardens - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

You might also like:  My All-Time Favorite Bra for Travel

Eaton Canyon Falls

This is a true locals hike, but an L.A. classic nonetheless.  It’s certainly better when there’s been rain, or at least when the area’s not in a severe drought…the falls were more of a trickle when I visited.

This is a fairly easily accessible hike, so it draws bigger crowds.  The best time to hike Eaton Canyon Falls is early on a weekday when the canyon is still peaceful, and the crowds haven’t yet arrived.

Hike to Eaton Canyon Falls - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

Hike to Eaton Canyon Falls - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

Hike to Eaton Canyon Falls - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

You might also like:  5 Essentials for Winter Travel: Must-Have Items for Cold Weather

Soak in the city’s music, art, & other fun experiences

Whether you’re an architecture fanatic, into live music, or some other immersive experience floats your boat, Los Angeles has SO many fun activities, especially during the summer.  Here are a few to consider (or just to give a sample of what’s out there).

Wine tasting & sunset at Barnsdall Park (example)

This is just an example because I don’t think this is an ongoing event.  When I visited a number of years ago, we spent one evening at a wine tasting at Barnsdall Park.

Specifically it was on the lawn in front of the Hollyhock House (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright), providing a spectacular backdrop for the sunset that spread out in front of us while we tried various wines.

Even without the wine, Barnsdall Park itself is worth a visit for the Hollyhock House (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).  The hilltop park was donated to the city as a destination for appreciating art and architecture.

look for events happening at Barnsdall Park - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

look for events happening at Barnsdall Park - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

You might also like:  The Best Travel Pillow for Different Types of Sleepers

Watch movie stars *under* the stars at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Every year, Cinespia screens classic favorites at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. This is one of THE quintessential LA locals experiences, and one of the main ones I haven’t gotten to experience yet.  But I’m assured it’s amazing.

And it definitely draws crowds, so pack a blanket (or low chair), an epic Trader Joe’s picnic, get there early, and enjoy the pre-show DJ as the sun sets.

Beyond this one, there are a number of great outdoor movie viewing options in the summer in L.A., so look up what’s playing when you’re in town!

See a show at the Hollywood Bowl

Opened in 1922 and making history ever since, the Hollywood Bowl almost always makes the list of top 10 iconic music venues in the U.S. (up there with Red Rocks, the Ryman, and the Fillmore).  Some even say it’s one of the most unique in the world (along with Slane Castle, which you should definitely check out).

The venue hosts everything from rock world tours to orchestral revues of John Williams movie themes, so keep an eye on their calendar.  While there are concessions and a couple restaurants, the Bowl is BYO, so you can bring in your own blankets and cushions, food, and alcohol (a Trader Joe’s stockup of cheese, crackers, & chicken salad with wine is highly recommended!).

One thing to know, the main Hollywood Bowl parking lot is what they call “stacked” parking, meaning everyone parks behind each other.  That means you have to wait until every person in line is back to their car to leave.  It’s…a mind-blowingly inefficent process.  Here’s a great article on tips for the best parking options and more.

catch a show at the iconic Hollywood Bowl - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

catch a show at the iconic Hollywood Bowl - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

the famous stacked parking at the Hollywood Bowl

You might also like:  15+ Of The Best Tips For Avoiding (& Surviving) Air Travel Woes

Food & drink experiences in L.A.

I won’t even begin to pretend that I’m an expert in the best food- and drink-focused things to do in L.A.  I haven’t even scratched the surface, and most of what I’ve done has been in Pasadena (where my friend lived).

But here are a couple thoughts just to get your brain juices flowing.  Pick an area and explore…whether it’s Venice, Thai Town, downtown, Koreatown, etc. (this list can get you started).

An alternative option if you can’t make do some of the experiences below would be to do walking food tour in one of LA’s many neighborhoods.

Sample a little of everything at Smørgasburg

If you wake up on Sunday morning in L.A. and are feeling a little peckish, but not sure where to go, then give Smorgasburg a try.  It’s a giant open-air food market in downtown L.A. (DTLA) that curates a selection of up-and-coming SoCal food.  They’re there every Sunday morning, rain or shine.

Check their website to confirm hours, see what food options are there, where to park, etc.

head out to sample the food & drink at Smorgasburg on a Sunday morning - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

head out to sample the food & drink at Smorgasburg on a Sunday morning - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

head out to sample the food & drink at Smorgasburg on a Sunday morning - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

You might also like:  11 of My Best Tips for ANY Trip

No matter what you’re in the mood for, I feel like you’ll find it here.  We had iced coffee, donuts, churro bites, sushi tacos, an amazing burger, and a number of other things I can’t remember.

As I recall, there were some local craft merchant tents set up in the middle of the area as well.  Browse all the vendors, pace yourself on food, people watch, and enjoy a sunny L.A. morning!

Smorgasburg is a fun thing to do in Los Angeles because you get to try lots of different local restaurants without spending all your time in traffic.

head out to sample the food & drink at Smorgasburg on a Sunday morning - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

head out to sample the food & drink at Smorgasburg on a Sunday morning - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

head out to sample the food & drink at Smorgasburg on a Sunday morning - what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles

You might also like:  Travel FAQ: Things You Might Not Know About Your Credit Card

Find a rooftop bar to have a drink

One of the best things about L.A. is the weather, and a rooftop patio is the perfect way to enjoy it.  The pics below are from The Granville in Pasadena.  I wouldn’t go there for food necessarily (you have better options), but the drinks and rooftop view are great.

Here are a few other Pasadena cocktail recos (where my friend was based, and also a cool, chill area):

  • Kings Row has a great British pub feel and gorgeous outdoor seating on a cute old alley of Old Town Pasadena, with great cocktails are great.
  • Magnolia House has lovely cocktails, built into a tiny old house with a magnolia tree in the middle.
  • The Blind Donkey is a great whisky bar if you want a specialty cocktail.

what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles - find a great cocktail bar or enjoy the sun at a rooftop bar

what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles - find a great cocktail bar or enjoy the sun at a rooftop bar

what to do in L.A., fun things to do in Los Angeles - find a great cocktail bar or enjoy the sun at a rooftop bar

So if you’re planning an L.A. trip, hopefully these less-touristy ideas for fun things to do in Los Angeles help round out your itinerary, and give you a flavor of how locals experience this sprawling behemoth of a city!

Other off-the-beaten-path explorations in tourist centers that you’ll love:

Pin for later!

Less-Touristy, Fun Things to do in Los Angeles, California | You can avoid the tourist traps in L.A. & instead find some of the less-touristy, fun things to do in Los Angeles...great recommendations from locals on nature, hiking, arts, food, & more! What to do in L.A., things to do in Los Angeles, off the beaten path ideas. #losangeles #visitla #visitcalifornia

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Prev Post

things to do in la,things to do in los angeles,fun things to do in la,what to do in la,los angeles off the beaten path

Where To Stay In Naxos, Greece: The Best Beach & Mountain Hotels

April 30, 2023

Next Post

things to do in la,things to do in los angeles,fun things to do in la,what to do in la,los angeles off the beaten path

10+ Of The Best (Lesser-Known) Wine Regions To Visit

May 30, 2023