Whether it’s quirky, casual or quixotic, Los Angeles is such a big city it’s easy to miss some of its greatest charms. While the Hollywood sign and Venice Beach might already be on your list, let us guide you to five lesser-known local landmarks that you’ll be glad you’ve seen before you leave the city.
1. The real Hollywood Boulevard
If you’ve walked the boulevard - Hollywood Boulevard, that is - you’ve probably seen the famed handprints and footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. What you may have missed, a few blocks away, is Grauman’s other masterpiece, the Egyptian Theater, which still shows classic films, foreign cinema, and retrospectives from Hollywood’s Golden Age. And, seeing as you’re reliving Hollywood’s history at this less-crowded landmark cinema, cross the street to visit the oldest bar in Hollywood, Musso & Frank Grill. The old-time steakhouse is the type of place Charlie Chaplin, Sid Grauman and just about everyone in the early days of show business would have called their nighttime office. Try the martinis, widely regarded as the best in the city.
2. Art beyond LACMA
Most tourists don’t think of Los Angeles as a city of museums and art, but with dozens to choose from, it’s one of the most culture-rich cities in the world. You’ve probably heard of LACMA and the Getty - worthwhile visits, no doubt - but if you want to avoid the crowds and stretch a bit outside the norm, it’s pretty easy to broaden your art museum horizons.
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), another Los Angeles gallery, is just as modern as you would expect, but its main collection isn’t its star. MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary and Pacific Design Center outlets (in downtown and West Hollywood, respectively), offer more diverse and up-to-the-moment shows than its flagship Grand Avenue gallery, across the street from Los Angeles’ newest contemporary museum, The Broad. For more of a local flavor, visit UCLA’s Hammer Museum, which often features up-and-coming Los Angeles artists. Looking for something a bit stranger? Check out the Gothic-Victorian world of oddities at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, quite possibly the most under-rated museum in Los Angeles.
3. Hikes outside Griffith Park
One of the largest inner-city wild spaces in the country is Griffith Park, Los Angeles’ own hillside wilderness and home to the famed Hollywood sign. The incomparable Griffith Observatory and ensuing hike up to the sign are both standard tourist-trail fare, and perhaps the most satisfying of Los Angeles’ landmarks to visit. But views without the sign are just as stunning, and there are plenty of hikes that can take you across trails where you won’t encounter another camera-toting tourist at all. Explore great inner-city hikes in Elysian Park, another wild green space just northwest of downtown. The home of Dodger Stadium features a number of great hikes along Chavez Ravine and Portola Trail.
4. Ocean views aboard the Queen Mary
Yes, Santa Monica has a lovely pier. And you’re never going to find more weirdos and weight-lifters outside of Venice Beach. But both of these major tourist traps distract from one of Los Angeles’ most pristine and peaceful beaches: Long Beach! Travel south for a half hour to the Port of Los Angeles’ shipping containers, cargo ships and an industrial wasteland. Across an isthmus is the more residential Port of Long Beach. Swimming, sunbathing, beach cruising - it’s all there too!
But the most impressive component of Long Beach’s port is the grand old Queen Mary, a ship that could stand in for the Titanic if you squint. The towering smoke stacks and freshly painted hull are just the beginning. Step aboard for a tour of the ship, built in the 1940s and now permanently docked at the port. You can spend the night aboard the ship, dine at one of several restaurants on board, or attend the annual Art Deco weekend each September to revel in the excellent ocean views.
5. Giant stuff
The strangest of all Los Angeles’ landmarks are usually the parts of the city that make a big deal of nothing at all. The city used to be known for a variety of food-shaped buildings and oddball architecture, but now just a few of these epic business locales still exist. Hurry up and visit before they all go the way of the Brown Derby!
Randy’s Donuts, a fresh pastry joint near LAX airport, is known throughout the city for its giant “O” towering above Manchester Boulevard and the 405 interstate. The giant whiskey barrel-shaped North Hollywood bar, Idle Hour, is another favorite shaped-like-what-it-is building in the city. Finally, Highland Park’s Chicken Boy, a man with a chicken’s head holding a tub of what we can only assume is fried chicken, stands boldly atop an art gallery on Figueroa Street, beckoning a neighborhood of poultry lovers. Take heed and take a look.
Distinguish your tourist photos
If it’s something you’ve seen before in a photo, try skipping it this time! Los Angeles has so many landmarks and unique spots to try beyond the usual suspects. You’ll enjoy discovering the city in a more peaceful and original way when you explore these lesser-known landmarks and local Angeleno favorite destinations.
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