When most people think of Los Angeles, the words glitz, glamour and movie stars instantly spring to mind. Still considered by many to be the home of the film and television industry, the City of Angels has numerous other attractions which are often overlooked. Looking to explore this hidden side of the city on your upcoming trip? Our guide to the best non-film related things to do in Los Angeles will ensure an equally fascinating holiday without the usual hustle and bustle of Hollywood.
Covering 4,310 acres of land, Griffith Park is one of the largest urban parks in North America – ensuring plenty of things for visitors to see and do during a day out in Los Angeles. Families can spend a pleasant few hours strolling around the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, which is home to 1,100 animals from over 250 species, including 29 that are endangered. That is in addition to over 800 different plant species with over 7,400 individual plants. Another way to guarantee a twinkle in the eyes of children is via a Griffith Park Pony Ride. Several options are available and include the Pony Sweep, a “live Merry-Go-Round” around a fixed carousel; Slow Ponies; Medium Ponies; and Big Ponies. As the pony rides are not suitable for adults, older explorers can instead wander around the Travel Town Museum or the Autry National Centre. Some visitors may be lucky enough to visit the park at a time corresponding to a show at The Greek Theatre, one of the city’s premier outdoor venues. Those who do want to fit in a piece of Los Angeles’s movie star life can view the Hollywood Sign from the famous Griffith Park Observatory. A picturesque view from the Pacific Ocean to Downtown Los Angeles can also be appreciated from here.
La Brea Tar Pits
On first glance, the La Brea Tar Pits are not very likely to signal a fun day out, unless a group of tar pits where natural asphalt has seeped up from the ground over tens of thousands of years is something that immediately gets your heart pumping. However, a closer look at this area of Downtown Los Angeles shows it be to a very interesting and educational section of the city. Not only can visitors discover the world’s most famous ice age fossil excavation site, they can also take part in the Excavator Tour, which showcases the highlights of the museum and the park. Within the Page Museum, there are over one million ice age fossils from over 650 species, as well as a multimedia Ice Age performance that takes place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
No visit to Los Angeles is complete without heading to Olvera Street, the oldest part of Downtown Los Angeles, as well as a part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument. Known as “the birthplace of Los Angeles”, it is a beautifully laid out Mexican marketplace with narrow, tree-lined brick streets wadded in old structures, painted stalls, street vendors, cafes, restaurants and gift shops. There is also a gazebo where there are always live performances of some kind, such as Aztec Dancers. The shops here sell an array of items including toys, clothing, huaraches, sombreros, sarapes and Lucha Libre masks. Sweet Mexican treats are also plentiful. Some iconic buildings still standing on Olvera Street include the Avila Adobe (1818), the Pelanconi House (1857), and the Sepulveda House (1887). Visitors travelling to Los Angeles close to Easter time may be lucky enough to experience The Blessing of the Animals which is held every Sabado de Gloria (Holy Saturday, the Saturday before Easter). This is an all-day event with vendors, performers and a procession where pets are brought to be blessed by religious authorities. An animal parade and informal displays of the pets also takes place.
Museum of Contemporary Art
As far as museums go in Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art is the best choice when visiting the city. It is also one of the most unique options as it is the only museum solely dedicated to contemporary art. Committed to the collection, presentation and interpretation of work produced since 1940 in all media, visitors can discover over 6,800 works across three facilities: MOCA Grand Avenue, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, and MOCA Pacific Design Center. Exhibitions include new and recent work by William Pope, a comprehensive survey in America of Sturtevant’s 50-year career entitled ‘Sturtevant: Double Trouble’ and a presentation of Kahlil Joseph’s m.A.A.d, a double screen projection that is a lush portrait of contemporary Los Angeles. The museum also has a number of permanent collections such as The Panza Collection, The Barry Lowen Collection, The Rita and Taft Schreiber Collection, The Scott D.F. Spiegel Collection and The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Photography Collection.
Runyon Canyon Park
There is no better way to soak up the Los Angeles’s sunshine than by taking a stroll through Runyon Canyon Park. With 130 acres of land, it can be entered via two entrances at the bottom of the park in the South, and one at the top, in the North. From each of the entrances, various trails can be enjoyed. When entering at the bottom, visitors can walk clockwise and gradually climb towards the back of the canyon, turning to the east ridge to Clouds Rest, coming down a steep slope to Inspiration Point, and then following a central fire road back down to Fuller Ave. A walk in the opposite direction involves climbing steps and steep slopes between Inspiration Point and Clouds Rest, finishing with a calm, descending walk back down. Entry from Mulholland offers a couple of short hikes up Indian Rock to the highest point in the canyon which boasts 360-degree views. An alternative route follows the fire road towards the Western Highway or Clouds Rest. Also available is a western trail where visitors can hike along the spine of the ridge to the second highest point in the canyon.
Another great vantage point of Los Angeles is the Getty Center, which is perched atop a hill connected to a visitors’ parking area at the bottom by a three-car, cable-pulled hovertrain funicular – certainly a more fun way to reach a destination than on foot. An entire day needs to be put aside to fully explore this vastly sized museum. In addition to the beautiful gardens and architecture the Getty Center boasts, it is also home to some of the most beautiful works of art in the world. No visit here is complete without seeing pieces such as Gentile Da Fabriano’s ‘The Coronation of the Virgin’ or Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn’s ‘An Old Man in Military Costume’. You should also keep an eye out for the small terraces at the rear of the West Pavilion from where there are the best views of the South Promontory.
(Header: Griffith Park Observatory. Photo by Ron Reiring via FlickrCC.)