No one visits Los Angeles without certain expectations. From the City of Angels to La La Land, the city has more nicknames than probably any other city in the US. For some, it is the city where dreams are made. For many who live there, unfortunately, it is the city where dreams go to die. But regardless, it seems that everybody wants to experience a taste of life in Los Angeles.
Hollywood Boulevard, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica ... most people visit LA knowing exactly what they'll find. They expect to see extravagant houses, beautiful beaches, and tanned, toned celebrities driving around Hollywood in convertibles. What they don't know, is that the best of the city, the real Los Angeles, isn't the LA you often see on the big screen.
So what is the real Los Angeles? The LA that so many Californians have fallen in love with? Los Angeles is one of the most unique and eclectic cities in the US. There are not many cities where you can hike in the mountains in the morning and enjoy the beach in the afternoon. It is a city of artists of all kinds from actors in search of their big break, to musicians busking for change and street artists decorating the city with colorful graffiti.
Here are the best spots to experience in Los Angeles that you probably didn't even know existed.
20 Melrose Avenue
How many times have you seen Instagrammers posing in front of a set of wings painted on a bubble pink background? If you are an avid follower of big bloggers, you've probably seen this more times than you can count. But Melrose Avenue has long been a popular spot for graffiti artists and some of the best pieces of art, are the ones you don't always find on Instagram.
Melrose Avenue is also a popular shopping destination and the ever-growing Melrose Trading Post is open every Sunday at the Fairfax High School. Trading in handmade and vintage items since 1997, the market has expanded to become a weekend hotspot. Parking is competitive so you should arrive early.
19 Bradbury Building
This building you have probably seen on the big screen, but you might not have realized where it was. It is the oldest commercial building in downtown LA, but from the outside, you might not think of it as anything special. Built in 1893, the interior still stuns visitors today.
Inside, visitors discover five stories of beautiful brickwork, wrought iron railings, and open cage elevators bathed in natural light from the glass ceiling. Unfortunately, you have to be pretty important to make it beyond the central court as tourists are not allowed on the upper floors, but it is still well worth a trip downtown.
18 Pasadena City Hall
Another architectural feat, Pasadena City Hall isn't technically located in the City of Los Angeles, but it definitely deserves to be included on the list. Built in the 1920s, the City Hall is reminiscent of traditional ostentatious Spanish architecture. Unsurprisingly, the building has been a hotspot for film crews, but luckily it is still off the beaten tourist track.
Behind the overpowering facade in the shadow of the enormous dome, visitors can enjoy a beautiful secluded courtyard which transports you back several hundred years. It's the perfect spot to enjoy a coffee under the Los Angeles sun, iced of course.
17 The Burlington Arcade
Another Pasadena treasure, this is one that you won't find in the tourist guides or history books. In fact, walking down South Lake Avenue, you could easily miss it entirely. Modelled after the London shopping arcade of the same name, the long, glass covered arcade is quintessentially British, or rather, faux British. Visitors even have an iconic red telephone booth to pose alongside.
You'd expect the tiny arcade to be crowded with tourists but it is surprisingly quiet. While you might not find much to buy in the small selection of stores, the cafe at the far end of the arcade is one of the best places to grab a bite to eat while taking a break from shopping on Lake Avenue.
16 The Walt Disney Concert Hall
Home to the LA Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hall is every bit as fantastical and striking as the man it was named after. The project was originally put in motion after Walt Disney's wife, Lillian, donated $50 million towards the building. After financial setbacks, the building finally opened in 2003 costing over $270 million.
The fanciful stainless steel exterior is now a major downtown attraction. Inside the concert hall is just as beautiful and more importantly, it has astounding acoustics. Attending a performance is definitely a prerequisite for any visitor to LA. The Concert Hall is forever looking for ways to excite its visitors and currently, the steel exterior is being lit up by powerful projectors in an awesome mix of colors and patterns.
15 Grand Central Market
Another spot in downtown which shouldn't be missed, the Grand Central Market is a feast for the senses. The large indoor market has fed the LA population for decades, having celebrated its hundredth-anniversary last year. One can only imagine what it was like one hundred years ago, but today it is a bustling center for world cuisine.
You can find everything from delicious fish tacos to bento boxes and burgers. You can also shop for organic produce, enjoy your morning coffee or grab a pre-dinner drink. For those with a sweet tooth, McConnell's Fine Ice Cream has some of the best ice cream in the city.
14 Angels Flight
Famous for being the world's shortest railway, Angels Flight has been transporting people 298 feet back and forth from Hill Street since 1901. It is located right across the street from the Grand Central Market in the heart of downtown LA.
Now it might not be an essential form of transportation, but it remains a city landmark. A roundtrip ticket will only set you back $2. The small railway has battled many setbacks and closed multiple time since its opening, most recently in 2013, but it continues to survive as an iconic piece of historic Los Angeles.
13 Norton Simon Museum
Los Angeles has become well known for its incredible museums including the Getty and the LA County Museum of Art with its famous outdoor light installation. However, tucked away in Pasadena is one of LA county's best art museums.
The museum is small but perfectly curated with European and American art spanning from the medieval period to the modern era. Downstairs, the museum also has an impressive collection of Southeast Asian art dating back long before America was even discovered. Visitors can enjoy masterpieces by Picasso, Van Gogh, Degas, Monet, and many others, as well as the museum's peaceful sculpture garden.
12 Huntington Library and Gardens
This spectacular property was opened to the public in 1927 after the death of its owner, Henry Edwards Huntington. Today, the property is home to Huntington's impressive collections of art, books, and plants. The library currently houses 420,000 rare books while the art gallery contains European and American art dating back to the 16th century.
However, perhaps most popular amongst visitors are the property's wonderful gardens. The gardens cover 120 acres and contain 15,000 different plants from around the world. Highlights include the Japanese Garden and the Rose Garden, but there are also several more unusual gardens to enjoy such as the Desert Garden.
11 LA Eataly
You no longer need to travel thousands of miles to experience the flavors of Italy. Los Angeles has become a breeding ground for delicious food from around the world. Out of this was born Eataly LA. Located on Santa Monica Boulevard, Eataly is a large indoor marketplace, restaurant, and eatery, specializing in the best of Italian cuisine.
Shop for cheese, wine, and pasta or enjoy a delicious meal at the rooftop restaurant Terra. If you want the full Italian experience, learn how to make pizza or fresh pasta. Eataly hosts various cooking classes on a regular basis.
10 Rose Bowl Flea Market
This LA staple only comes around once a month so its best to plan ahead if you want to get in on the best flea market in LA! Every month, over 2,500 vendors gather together at the famous Rose Bowl on the second Sunday of every month.
You have to pay a fee to get in but it is well worth it! Stalls are crammed with vintage clothing and antiques as well as other bits and bobs you'd never find anywhere else. To make sure you are fully provided for, there are also multiple food options to keep you shopping through the day!
9 Venice Mosaic Tile House
This is something you certainly won't find anywhere else. This ordinary little house tucked away in Venice, Los Angeles has been almost completely covered in mosaic tiles inside and out! From a standard one-story house to a colorful oasis, the house has now begun to attract visitors with its unique exterior.
The area surrounding the house has been decorated with tiles as well covering a total area of 6000 square feet. The house is only open on Saturdays so best to book a spot ahead of time. It's definitely not something to be missed!
8 Little Tokyo
Everyone is familiar with Chinatown but there aren't many cities that can boast a fully fledged Little Tokyo. It has only grown since its birth around one hundred years ago and today it is even granted the perks of being a National Historic Landmark District.
Shop and eat in the Japanese Village Plaza and visit the Buddhist temple on the third street. There is, of course, a Japanese Garden which is free to the public, but perhaps more exciting is the Kyoto Garden atop the Doubletree Hilton Hotel which offers spectacular views of downtown in a peaceful and beautiful setting.
7 Colorado Street Bridge
Over a hundred years old, this beautiful Pasadena bridge has a dark and disturbing past. The bridge had a difficult beginning after a construction worker died before the bridge even opened to the public and over the years it has become known to locals as 'Suicide Bridge' due to the number of people who died after jumping off of the bridge, particularly during the Great Depression in the 1930s. It became so much of an issue that a tall iron fence was added to the bridge to prevent further deaths.
More recently the beautiful bridge provided a much happier setting in the film La La Land as a spot for one of Ryan Gosling's and Emma Stone's early dates.
6 The Museum of Death
Another spot highlighting LA's dark side, The Museum of Death was originally begun in San Diego in 1995 before moving to its locations in Hollywood and New Orleans. The museum is crammed with random artifacts all surrounding the concept of death.
The museum certainly isn't ideal for young children but it promises a unique experience for those curious about all things related to death. Visitors will see crime scene photos, serial killer paraphernalia, and most surprising of all, the severed head of Henri Landru, an infamous French serial killer executed in 1922. Clearly, this museum is not for the faint of heart.
5 The Berlin Wall on Wilshire
Where did the Berlin Wall end up after its notorious takedown at the close of the twentieth century? Surprisingly enough, it ended up on Wilshire Blvd in the heart of Los Angeles. Obviously, most of the wall is still in Berlin, but fragments of it have been carted to various places around the world. The largest of these sections made its way to Los Angeles.
The Wall is now a valued part of the Wende Museum. For the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2009, ten of these historic pieces were installed at 5900 Wilshire Blvd and are still there for public viewing today. They have been decorated with paintings from various artists including Thierry Noir, who first began painting the Wall in 1984 before its fall.
4 Los Angeles Public Library
Generally, public libraries are hotspots only for students, researchers and small children, but the Los Angeles Library is not your average public library. Built in 1926, the building is a unique blend of 1920s architecture with Mediterranean influences. Its crowning glory is the gold mosaic pyramid atop the central tower.
The library is the third largest public library in the US. Inside visitors will find over 2.8 million books. More important than the books themselves is the mural-covered Grand Rotunda. Painted in 1933 by Dean Cornwell, the rotunda's paintings depict scenes from Californian history.
3 The Bridge to Nowhere
Hiking is a surprisingly popular local pastime in Los Angeles. There are countless beautiful hikes in the LA area but one of the most memorable is the East Fork Trail up into the San Gabriel Mountains. Be warned, this hike isn't a walk in the park. The hike is ten miles round trip and can easily take up the better part of a day for inexperienced hikers.
The highlight of the excursion is the mysterious Bridge to Nowhere. Construction of the bridge was begun as part of the East Ford Road project but was left unfinished after mass flooding in 1938. Today the bridge is a destination for curious sightseers and thrill seekers. It has become a popular destination for bungee jumping.
2 Sunken City
Another testament to the destructive force of nature, Sunken City is Los Angeles' very own ghost town. Once a hotspot for beach houses with glorious seaside views in the 1920s, the area famously slid into the ocean in 1929. Many of the houses were quickly relocated before the landslide though two were caught up in the slide as well as many other neighborhood features.
Today, the area is an eery wreck of building foundations, sidewalks and incomplete railway tracks with stunning ocean views. Technically it is not open to the public but it has been a popular hiking destination for years with visitors climbing over and around fences to get the perfect shot of the ghostly space.
1 Los Feliz
This trendy neighborhood has long been a hidden Los Angeles gem known only to locals. While neighboring Hollywood is flushed with tourists, Los Feliz is quietly nestled into the LA hillside beneath Griffith Park. Real estate in the area is highly coveted and the neighborhood is a haven for artists and creatives.
The area is brimming with small restaurants, vintage stores, unique coffee shops and specialty boutiques clustered along Hillhurst and Vermont Avenues. Make sure to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Ennis and Hollyhock Houses and the historic single-screen Vista Theatre which dates back to 1923 and still uses film reels to show movies.