Best Things to See and Do in Los Angeles, USA on Your First Visit

by | Last updated Jul 25, 2023 | City Guides, Live Work Play Travel, USA Live Work Play

Los Angeles, affectionately called LA, isn’t the capital of California yet, this sprawling city is a major stop on anyone’s visit to the United States of America. This city of nearly 4 million people is a huge drawcard with its iconic Hollywood sign, movie studios like Paramount Pictures, Warner Brothers and Universal and its stars on Hollywood Boulevard. But Los Angeles is more than movie stars in Tinsel Town, throw in fabulous shopping and spectacular beaches. If you are planning your first visit to the City of Angels, then here are some of the best things to do in Los Angeles.


Where is Los Angeles and How to Get There


Los Angeles is located on the West Coast of the United States of America (USA). It has Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for arrivals from all countries plus within the USA. You can also reach it by AMTRAK Train and Greyhound Bus from other American states. Santa Monica Pier near Los Angeles is the end of Route 66 so you could visit LA after doing a 1 month drive across the USA. However you get to LA, here are the best things to do, particularly on a first visit to Los Angeles.


Best Things to Do in Los Angeles


Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Bus


I start all of my city breaks by doing the Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Bus. Why? Because they take me to all the main attractions and provide a commentary where I discover about the attraction and decide which ones I want to return to to spend more time. And LA is no different. LAs Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Tour will take you to various famous Hollywood sites from television and movie studios to Hollywood sign photo opportunities.

Book your ticket online for the Hop-on Hop-off Los Angeles Sightseeing Tour here.


See the Hollywood Sign

You know you are in LA when you see the Hollywood sign on the Hill.

Seeing the Hollywood Sign should definitely be on your ‘Best Things to do in LA’ list


Who would have thought that nine white letters on top of a hill could become LA’s most iconic sight? And it is a sight everyone wants to see, particularly on a first visit to Los Angeles. The sign was originally created as an advertisement for a local real estate agency and nowadays it appears in many movies and TV as an establishing shot. I mean, who doesn’t know they are in LA when they see the Hollywood sign! 

The sign is visible from many places across LA but many like to climb up to the top of the sign for a panoramic view of the city and for a selfie! To get there, you can hike from Griffith Observatory (next on my best things to do in Los Angeles post) or follow the trail starting at the Bronson Canyon entrance to Griffith Park. Do the hike as early as you can as the trail can sometimes get pretty busy!


Griffith Observatory


Griffith Observatory is a world-famous observatory with some amazing interactive exhibits inside and outside offers fabulous views over Los Angeles and provides some great hiking trails. You will find it in the city of Los Angeles up on Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park. So you could visit the Hollywood sign and the observatory together. There is free entrance with parking becoming scarce quite quickly but you can easily take the cheap DASH shuttle located at the bottom of the hill up to the observatory.

Griffith Observatory is open Tuesday through Friday from 12 to 10pm and on weekends from 10am to 10pm. You can go anytime within this timeframe though if you went at night you can peer through the large telescopes out into the cosmos! How cool! Budget around 3 hours at Griffith Observatory to enjoy all it has to offer. If you want to go to the planetarium show you will need to purchase a ticket. 

So as not to miss out on a ticket to Griffith Observatory purchase in advance online here.
If you would like to do the hike from the Hollywood Sign to Griffith Observatory book your ticket here.


Walk of Fame and Hollywood Boulevard

Stars on Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Walk the Walk of Fame and check out all the Stars


Who hasn’t seen photos of celebrities posing next to their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? I mean, there is always a new one being reported on many different TV shows! Well the Hollywood Walk of Fame is probably the most famous sidewalk in the world and you can walk down it to see the terrazzo and brass stars in this eternal tribute to celebrities who have left their mark on the entertainment industry. It’s great to walk along the sidewalk checking out the stars and even having your photo taken with one. And you will be walking for a while! There are some 2,600 stars with hundreds of foot and handprints featured over 1.3 miles of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. If you are looking to see a particular star, check out the Walk of Fame’s online star search here.


TCL Chinese Theatre


The TCL Chinese Theatre is definitely a ‘not to miss’ when in LA particularly if this is your first time to Los Angeles. It is located on Hollywood Boulevard alongside the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This spot draws many tourists from around the world to see it. The theatre is where some of the most prominent movie premieres have occurred since 1927. And where some of the biggest movie stars have walked the red carpet. In what is called the Forecourt of the Stars you can put your own hands in the imprints of some of the most famous names in the movie industry. So much fun. You can explore this part for free but you can go on a tour of the theatre at a cost of $10 per person and it lasts around 30 mins.


Universal Studios

Sharyn in front of Universal Studios Sign.

A must visit on your first trip to Los Angles is Universal Studios.


Universal Studios, is one of the top theme parks in Southern California. You can walk around or take the cable car tour around the studio and discover the movie sets including the largest street movie set in Hollywood. Then perhaps go on one of the 21 rides. Perhaps the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey for some wizardry magic! Visit the Universal Studios website for details and to plan your visit. There is so much to see and do at Universal Studios that I would plan on spending at least the whole day here. If you have time you could also do the Warner Brothers Studio tour too!

Purchase your ticket for Universal Studios here.




Disneyland in Anaheim, Los Angeles as one of the ‘happiest places on earth’! Your trip to LA will never be complete without a day at Disneyland. Definitely arrive at the main gate to enter. This is a great photo opportunity. While entering, pick up a map of Disneyland as it will show you where all the ‘different lands’ are, the rides, restaurants and cafes and toilets. Or you can download one from the Disneyland website here.

On entering Disney you will be in Main Street where there are plenty of shops and where the grand parade is held each day. And in the distance is the Disneyland Castle we all know and love that was based on the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. There are different worlds inside Disneyland to enjoy. From Fantasy Land to Frontier Land to the Star Wars Land, there is a land for everyone to enjoy. I hope you can enjoy them all. Be aware to go on the rides, there are often long queues and you may want to buy your ticket to ride in advance so you can jump the queues. Visit the Disneyland website for the different tickets available.

Disneyland Castle is one of the best things to do in Los Angeles.
Disneyland Castle at night is one of the best things to do in Los Angeles.

Spend the whole day in Disneyland to see the Disneyland Castle during the day and at night.


Shop Till You Drop on Rodeo Drive


You cannot come to Los Angeles and not go shopping. A must do on any Los Angeles visit is to visit the upscale neighbourhood of Beverly Hills. Here you will find Rodeo Drive where all the celebrities go shopping. Within the three blocks are over 100 world-renowned retailers. So if you are after something stylish and high-end, then Rodeo Drive is a must shop destination. 

If you prefer more affordable fashion and accessories check our Santee Alley in downtown Los Angeles. In this fashion district you will find a flea market plus many merchants selling garments, footwear, accessories and cosmetics. All at more affordable prices.


Discover Santa Monica Pier and other Beaches

Santa Monica Pier Has a Ferris Wheel.

Santa Monica is known for its Pier


Spend a day while in Los Angeles discovering its beaches, in particular the famous Santa Monica Pier at Santa Monica. You have probably seen the pier on many tv shows as it is, like the Hollywood sign another iconic spot in Los Angeles. 

Santa Monica Pier is a full-service amusement park with many awesome attractions, souvenir shops and numerous bars and restaurants. After all, it is 3.5 miles (5.6 km) long. Built in 1909 the pier was the first concrete pier on the USA West Coast so its super strong to hold all the rides and things on the pier. One of the most popular attractions is the solar powered red and yellow Ferris wheel. It is free into Pacific Park though there is a charge to go on the rides and enter some attractions. Budget between $5-$12 per ride and/or attractions. Santa Monica Pier is open daily from 10am to 8pm so you could spend a long time here.

After spending possibly a morning on the pier you can walk to nearby beaches including the quirky Venice Beach where you could relax on the sand. Or maybe go roller skating.  

End your day in one of the many restaurants enjoying a good ‘Clam Chowder’. This was the first place I ever tried Clam Chowder, and from that day, I was sold, and enjoy it often. 

You can take public buses to reach the beach or you could go on a tour. No matter how you decide to get there, Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach need to be part of every Los Angeles itinerary as it is one of the best things to see and do.


My Suggested 6 Day Los Angeles Itinerary


How long should you visit LA for? Who knows, is my answer. It will depend on what you want to see and do. If it is your first time, and you have the time I would suggest at least 6 days. Here is my suggested itinerary for Los Angeles for a 6 day visit.

1 – Arrive and go on Hop-on Hop-off LA Tour, Walk the Walk of Fame and visit the TCL Chinese Theatre
2 – Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory
3 – Disneyland
4 – Universal Studios
5 – Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach and Malibu
6 – Shop till you drop


Where to Stay in Los Angeles


Los Angeles is a sprawling city and therefore has lots of areas to stay in. Here is my overview of the best areas to stay in Los Angeles to help you choose where to stay during your visit to LA. There is something for every budget. As you will be staying a few days in Los Angeles consider booking accommodation with cooking facilities available so you can cook some meals to save some dollars.

  1. Los Angeles Downtown – great area to stay in for travellers without a car and who are after the nightlife. LA Downtown is centrally located for museums, trendy restaurants and live clubs. Some suggestions:
    Hostel: Freehand Los Angeles
    Mid-range Hotel: Knightsinn Los Angeles
    Luxury Hotel: InterContinental
  2. Beverly Hills – great area to stay in Los Angeles for travellers who like luxury. There are some points of interest in Beverly Hills like Rodeo Drive for shopping. Some suggestions:
    Mid-range Hotel: Hotel Del Flores
    Luxury Hotel: Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.
  3. Hollywood – great area to stay in Los Angeles for first-time visitors to Los Angeles. The iconic LA neighbourhood is centrally located to get to the emus-see LA tourist attractions of Hollywood Boulevard, Walk of Fame, TCL Chinese Theatre and more. Some suggestions:
    Hostel: SameSun Hollywood or Banana Bungalow Hollywood
    Mid-range Hotel: Elaine’s Hollywood Bed & Breakfast.
    Luxury Hotel: Le Parc at Melrose
  4. West Hollywood – if you are seeking the Los Angeles nightlife when West Hollywood is a great area to stay for music, entertainment and nightlife. Some suggestions:
    Hostel: Banana Bungalow West Holywood
    Mid-range Hotel: Hotel H-wood
    Luxury Hotel: Hotel Ziggy
  5. Venice Beach – great area to stay in Los Angeles for budget travellers, plus, it is near the beaches. Some suggestions:
    Hostels: Samesun Venice Beach
    Mid-range Hotel: Inn at Venice Beach
    Luxury Hotel: Venice V Hotel

These are just some of the areas to stay in while in Los Angeles. There are many others so check out for a place that suits you and your budget.


Are You Ready to Visit Los Angeles?


People go to Los Angeles for different reasons. Some to break into the entertainment industry or find a job while others come to see what all the fuss is about! No matter why you are coming to LA, there are some iconic things that you must do in Los Angeles. Enjoy. If you have been to LA or are planning a visit to LA I’d love to hear your comments on this post in the comments below.


Where to next? How about New York!


Best Things to See in Los Angeles PIN.

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Sharyn McCullum Travel Writer and Founder Of Live Work Play Travel, Work Abroad, Work Online, Travel Blog Enjoying At Beer At The Coldstream Brewery In The Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia.

Sharyn McCullum – Travel Writer / Blogger, Remote On-line Worker, sometime Digital Nomad and Travel, Live and Work Abroad Expert. Is a chocoholic, coffee connoisseur and lover of ’80s music. Been travelling all her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. Lived in London 4 years on a working holiday. Has holidayed in Hawaii over 15 times and currently calls Melbourne, Australia home. Is inspiring others to live work play travel around the world with this blog. Read more about Sharyn here.


  1. Andrea Cannon

    I’ve visited LA a bunch and still haven’t done all of these! Thank you for sharing.

    • Sharyn McCullum

      I hope you can visit LA a bunch more times and visit some of my suggestions.


    That Hollywood sigh alone gives such a vibe. I hope to see it in person one day.

  3. Coni

    Big cities in the US are super overwhelming when planning on visiting for the first time, so it’s great to run into guides like this to showcase the must 🙂

    • Sharyn McCullum

      I’m glad you think so because it can be overwhelming going to city you’ve never been to before and wondering what to see and do. Knowing in advance what you can do means you can plan your time effectively to make it so much more fun.

  4. Jenny

    As a California native, I can say you hit some great spots in this post. Great tips for those visiting LA. Thanks!

    • Sharyn McCullum

      Thank you. I greatly appreciate your positive feedback. I think I included the best spots to visit in LA for first timers and for a California native to think so is such a compliment.

  5. Melinda

    I’ve done a lot of these but missed the Observatory. Loved Malibu! This is a great overview for LA.

  6. Jenn Record

    Great recommendations..we’re planning on a summer 2024 visit and I am saving this post for futrue reference

  7. Jenny

    You certainly covered many of the amazing sites in Los Angeles! Harry Potter World in Universal Studios is my kids’ favorite! Thank you!

  8. Marga

    So much to see in LA! I’d love to visit again some day!

  9. Krista

    I haven’t made it to LA yet so this guide is great! There are a lot of really unique places to see here that are on my list.

  10. kmf

    I love LA! This is a great list of things to do in Los Angeles for first-timers!

  11. Jenn Record

    Great recommendations for getting a real feel for the area.


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