Disclaimer: This list does not mean to discredit any of the locations mentioned. On the contrary, if you have the time, do both. However, if you’re looking for the lesser known option, this line-up offers alternatives to the landmarks that get a lot of attention. I also focused more on activities since there are plenty of food recommendation lists online (links at the bottom).
Instead of the LACMA,
Museum of Broken Relationships
Started in Croatia, this museum collects tangible mementos that are attached to ephemeral memories of a relationship gone sour. Each item has a short blurb next to it explaining the story and the museum rotates new items in every few months. Not all relationships featured are the romantic kind but they’ve got their fair share of heartbreak.
They usually have an interactive part that visitors can add to as well, be it fill-in-the-blanks or an alter for moving on. I spent the most time at these.
Instead of the MoCA,
One of the best museums I’ve been to as far as contemporary art goes. It’s much less WTF, more FTW. With Koons, Kruger, and Murakami pieces, it’s vibrant while still having a witty intellectual critique on society’s vices. Plus some of the stuff is just weird AF so you can have a lot of fun with your camera.
Entrance is FREE but you have to wait in line for a while especially now that Yayoi Kusama’s got a whole setup there. Tickets are sold out for that but you can go early and hope to snag a few same-day standby tickets if you’re lucky.
Instead of The Last Bookstore,
$5 or Less Bookstore
Don’t get me wrong, if you make a trip to DTLA, definitely head to The Last Bookstore and peruse the shelves of affordable books, get lost in the labyrinth, and stop by Liz Huston’s shop upstairs. But if you don’t feel like heading to the city, there is a chain of $5 or $10 or Less shops that also have substantial collections of second hand stuff for pennies.
The Last Bookstore is still worth a visit but it’s poorly ventilated and parking in downtown is a nightmare.
Instead of Netflixing your Saturday away,
UCLA’s The Hammer
Currently hosting an exhibit on Radical Women: Latin American Art as part of Pacific Standard Time until the end of December, The Hammer holds 20 exhibitions and 300 events every year. It’s also located in Westwood which has lots of shops, restaurants, and public parking that isn’t a total ripoff.
Entrance is also FREE and they’re open until 8pm during the week, closed on Mondays. Another option is the California African American Museum in Exposition Park. Entrance is also FREE but they’re only open until 5pm and closed on Mondays too.
Instead of walking the halls of the Getty Villa,
See the Venus Shrine outside the Getty Villa
It’s hidden at the end of the gardens beyond the pool to the left if your back is to the Villa. Here, visitors have tied love prayers to Venus in the traditional Roman fashion: addressing her, complementing her, and then scribbling down wishes for her to grant. You can spend hours flipping through them only to find that everyone wants the same thing in the end: a little love and a little happiness.
Getty Villa has FREE entrance, you just have to pay for parking which is $15 or $10 after 3pm.
Instead of the local Starbucks,
Stumptown Coffee Roasters
Starbucks is definitely the king of convenience since they’re everywhere but if you find yourself near the Arts District in DTLA, head to Stumptown for a real cup of coffee. And it’s right around the corner from Bestia.
Instead of going straight to the bar,
Live Rude Girls at Second City
A lot of comedy legends emerged from this place but the 5-girl troupe that does Live Rude Girls every Friday have a knack for keeping it current, poking fun at today’s misogyny and political woes.
You can get tickets for $6 (50% off) on Goldstar. It’s not a very long show so head to Mama Shelter or Farida for drinks or food after.
Instead of Blue Star,
I read about how one foodie judges ice cream brands based on their vanilla flavor because it’s a fundamental flavor that will show you what a brand is really made of. I use the same logic when I judge a doughnut joint based on their glazed buttermilk. If you can’t get this basic staple right, you’re not on my radar. It also happens to be my favorite. I’m not a fan of the maple bacon cereal covered crap, just make me a classic old fashioned.
Primo’s is a family-run spot. I popped in with my little sister and met the owner who told us the whole spiel about how he took over from his dad. He then loaded a box of freebies so we could try all their greats. They also serve Stumptown coffee.
Fun fact: After first opening in 1956, they’re opening another branch in Venice soon.
Instead of Perch Rooftop,
This wine bar is out in Playa Del Rey across from Cantalini’s Salerno Beach Resto (which is a family-run Italian joint that’s on my food list). If it were closer, I’d be a regular here. It’s low-key, casual, and GOOD like a wine bar should be. Sit on the patio and enjoy the breeze around sunset. They have great wine, $14 sangria pitchers on Sundays, and yummy nibbles to share.
Instead of Hollywood Forever Cemetery,
Rooftop Cinema Club
I never made it to the Hollywood Forever screenings but a woman I gave my extra drink token to told me that she preferred Rooftop because it’s “bougie in the best way possible” because you get seats, blankets, and decent sound quality. It’s operational in LA, NYC, and London. Only downside is the headphones can get uncomfortable after a few hours – stick to shorter films.
Honorable mentions in this category are Street Food Cinema and Eat|See|Hear. I also watched two of my favorites (Edward Scissorhands and Goodfellas, respectively) at those so my opinion is a little swayed. Whatever you choose, make sure to bring a blanket because LA gets cold when the sunshine is gone.
Instead of Abbott Kinney Blvd,
Camarillo Premium Outlets
These are not near each other whatsoever but Camarillo will offer you much more for your money as far as luxury shopping goes. Abbott Kinney is hipster heaven but I get the gross feeling that I’m being ripped off by businesses that pushed out the real artists of Venice so if paying to dress like a hobo isn’t your thing, drive out to Camarillo and pop into the outlets there – they’ve got all the big names too.
Instead of Seeing LA from the 405 for 3 hours,
LA Conservancy Walking Tours
I can’t recommend this enough. I’m a huge fan of walking tours so these were my mission for the summer. I went on all three offered: Art Deco, Historic Downtown, and Broadway. The docents are extremely passionate about what they do and, after attending each one, you will look at DTLA as more than just the seedy place it can seem to be at times. The buildings have stories and details that you overlook when you’re walking through the atrium to get to Guisados. You learn things like the fact that Broadway was once home to 32 theaters or that Biddy Mason, who was born a slave and was one of the first African Americans to purchase land in the city, had a huge impact on the development of Los Angeles.
Instead of Chick-Fil-A,
ORDER THE FRIED PICKLES. The trick to experiencing this is showing up extremely early, waiting in line for 1.15hr, and eating at 11am. Or having your cousin wait early while you’re stuck on the freeway getting there only to arrive and have your anger dissipated with fried pickles and spicy Nashville fried chicken. No but really, get the fried pickles.
They’re open 11am-4pm and you will wait in line forever if you don’t get there at around 9am. It’s worth it. Make it a Bumble date and get to know each other in line. Worst case, you’re bored to death but, in the end, you still get fried chicken.
Instead of a Broadway show that’ll break the bank,
Rockwell Table & Stage
I saw an unofficial parody of Hocus Pocus at this spot in Los Feliz (pronounced “Fee-liz” because LA) and it was phenomenal. The talent is strong – you’ll recognize some Tony winners and supporting actors – and the jokes are stronger. It was a 90s throwback for a solid hour and a half and they’ll be doing one of Home Alone during the upcoming Christmas season.
Check out the upcoming shows here. Book ahead because they sell out. You can also go down the street to Jon’s International and stock up on Almaza, labneh, and markouk bread because that’s how you perfect an evening.
If you’re outdoorsy, hiking is big in LA and there are so many trails worthy of exploring. Instead of sticking to Runyon Canyon and hoping to see a celeb in Ivy Park, download the All Trails app and find something suited for you based on your level and location.
Temporary shows and exhibitions are aplenty in Los Angeles . Kerry Marshall’s Mastry at the MoCA is just an example of a fantastic show that came and went while I was here. There was also Barnsdall Friday Wine Nights which are only during the summer season but worth it. To stay on top of what’s currently going on while visiting, check out these references for LA activities: