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Los Angeles City Guide: Explore L.A. on Foot

Looking for the soul of the West’s largest metropolis? Find the right neighborhoods and hit the streets.

Griffith Observatory view of the Los Angeles skyline, photo
Photo credit
Photo: SEAN PAVONE / ALAMY
Photo caption
Admission to the Griffith Observatory and access to its telescopes are always free.

Los Angeles gets more than 48 million visitors every year, and sometimes it feels like they’re all at Universal Studios. Which is a pity, since the energetic, diverse, creative city has so much more to offer than what most people see. (And don’t believe the famous lyric: Walking in L.A. can be great.)

Trendy Shopping in L.A.

West Hollywood is a hub of hip—and to Angelenos obsessed with the new and now, that means something. Stroll Melrose Avenue, where dozens of stores specialize in L.A.’s brand of bizarre but cool. Notable are Necromance, a curiosity shop that makes taxidermy trendy; Goorin Bros., a bespoke hatmaker; and Fred Segal, the granddaddy of celebrity fashion. Over on Sunset Boulevard, legendary record store Amoeba Music takes up a full city block with its enormous selection of vinyl, CDs, DVDs, posters, and books. For more old-school vibes, head to Melrose Trading Post, a weekly flea market where musicians perform while vendors sell art, jewelry, crystals, vintage clothes, and all manner of unexpected finds.

Stargazing

There’s plenty to do in Griffith Park, but the Griffith Observatory is the must-see. Its role in La La Land rightfully flaunted its enchanting views of the heavens and the twinkling city below. The Samuel Oschin Planetarium wows with engaging, affordable shows ($7). Tickets are only sold onsite; come on a weekday for your best chances of getting in, or be in line by 10 a.m. on weekends.

More nearby: Also within the park’s 6.7 square miles: the Los Angeles Zoo, hiking access to the Hollywood sign, and the achingly beautiful 1926 carousel known for inspiring Walt to build Disneyland. Kids will love Travel Town, an endearing collection of retired trains where they can dart and explore.

Read more: 8 Iconic Movie Locations to Visit in the West

lobster with matsutake mushrooms at Providence in Los Angeles, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Noe Montes
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The regularly changing menu at Providence may include lobster with matsutake mushrooms.

Hottest Bites

Melrose is also the epicenter of L.A.’s exploding food scene, and Providence is its shining star. Chef Michael Cimarusti artfully plates seafood dishes such as crème fraîche panna cotta topped with edible flowers and delicate uni, abalone, and geoduck. Down the street at wallet-friendly Urth Caffé, you’re likely to spy a celeb while ordering organic coffee and a decadent Nutella Girella bun topped with toasted hazelnuts.

Read more: Hottest Restaurants in the West

High-Class Hollywood Culture

You should see the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but you should also make time for the J. Paul Getty Museum. The 1.2 million square foot structure, covered in travertine, is one of the city’s most dramatic—as is the sweeping view of Los Angeles from the gardens. Inside, the Getty’s walls are lined with works by Van Gogh and Monet.

Eccentric Venice

If you haven’t been to the beach, you haven’t really been to L.A. At Venice Beach, you can rent a bicycle—or skates—and join the parade on the boardwalk, gliding past bodybuilders flexing on Muscle Beach, performers busking for change, artists selling psychedelic works, and surfers riding the Pacific’s curling waves.

LACMA Urban Light installation lit up at night, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy of Museum Associates / LACMA
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Outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Urban Light comprises 202 vintage street lamps and is illuminated from dusk to dawn.

Miracle Mile Meander

Tourists often skip this area, and that’s a mistake. The renowned Los Angeles County Museum of Art (called “LACMA” by locals) is known especially for Urban Light, the heavily Instagrammed outdoor art installation. Close by, at La Brea Tar Pits, marvel at massive dinosaur skeletons, working fossil labs, and actual tar pits. Cap off your tour with a brew from one of 6th & La Brea’s 14 rotating taps and a heaping plate of sweet and spicy Korean fried chicken.

Santa Monica Stroll

Fabled Route 66 ends its cross-country journey at the century-old Santa Monica Pier, where a 90-foot Ferris wheel lights up the night. A few blocks away, Third Street Promenade bustles with shops and eateries. At Barney’s Beanery—with colorful booths and hubcap-covered walls—fuel up with buffalo chicken pizza and shoot some pool.

A family hikes on a sandy path in Malibu Lagoon, photo
Photo credit
Photo: MELISSA BARNES
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A sandy path dotted with interpretive panels runs through Malibu Lagoon.

Hikes with a View

L.A. has surprisingly great hiking. Hollywood Hills’ Runyon Canyon is a classic spot beloved for its dog friendliness, panoramic views, and three connecting paths of varying difficulty. Go early for cooler, less crowded trails, or join the daily free yoga class near the Fuller Avenue gate. For a kid-friendly trail near the ocean, head to Malibu Lagoon State Beach, which offers seabird-filled vistas over a serene estuary.

Nearby: Refuel after your Runyon hike at Pink’s Hot Dogs. The beloved stand has been on La Brea since 1939, and it still draws long lines.

Classic Los Angeles Eats

The city is full of dining rooms with rich histories and cult followings. Canter’s Deli serves Jewish comfort food 24 hours a day. Grand Central Market is downtown’s century-old food hall where vendors hawk a multicultural mélange of flavors. Nearby, 110-year-old Philippe the Original still plates the juiciest French dip sandwiches you’ll find anywhere.

Nearby Places to Explore

Everything you need to plan your perfect trip to Disneyland.

You guide to visiting San Diego, CA.

A weekend getaway to Los Alamos, CA.

The scoop on Santa Barbara’s hottest eats.

Tips for a sunny trip to Palm Springs, CA.

 

Up Next: 9 Revitalized Classic Hollywood Hangouts

If you're planning on traveling to Los Angeles, talk to the Vacation Experts for free at AAA Travel.

This article was first published in Fall 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.