Los Angeles is a vacation spot that I frequent often, for one I have close family there and I can’t resist a nice beach, but also because it has some incredible places to see! Last week I decided to take a tour of some of my very favorite L.A. landmarks and share them here.
1.) Griffith Observatory
Griffith Observatory was made uber-famous this year by the movie La La Land, also making the place really crowded these days. But don’t let the crowds dissuade you, it truly is a magical must-see spot in L.A.
And I swear that the view under the moonlight in real life was even more romantic and enchanting than the movie.
Here you can take in sweeping views of the city, explore celestial wonders in the observatory, and see fascinating narrated shows in the planetarium.
When you walk inside the observatory, look up to see the intricate ceiling mural. The mural was created by Hugo Ballin, and the Griffith Observatory site describes the mural:
“The Ballin ceiling mural celebrates classical celestial mythology, with images of Atlas, the four winds, the planets as gods, and the twelve constellations of the zodiac. The eight rectangular Ballin wall murals depict the “Advancement of Science” with panels on astronomy, aeronautics, navigation, civil engineering, metallurgy and electricity, time, geology and biology, and mathematics and physics.”
The rooftop terrace was my favorite spot.
The observatory sits atop Mount Hollywood in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. Visit the Griffith Observatory site for planetarium showtimes and observatory information.
2.) The Getty Center
Another one of our must-see places was the Getty Museum, which is a Los Angeles Eden unto itself resting in the hills above the city with the architecture of the building, the elaborate gardens, and the art it houses.
When you first arrive at the Getty, you’re directed to a tram to take you to the Getty Center, which contains the museum, the gardens, and dining. The tram ride is a smooth and scenic journey taking you up through the hills; much like the train ride in Hunger Games as my daughter humorously pointed out. However, instead of finding vicious games on arrival, you walk into a California paradise.
The first thing that struck me was the spectacular architecture of the Getty Center, which was designed by Richard Meier. The buildings combine modern, curvilinear designs with generous utilization of natural lighting to create a solid, clean, and natural experience.
The Getty Museum features a wide range of art, ranging from ancient antiquities to modern exhibits, making it an excellent cultural touchstone for all ages.
I was very interested in the current exhibit, Concrete Poetry: Words and Sounds in Graphic Space, so that’s where we started our tour. It showcased works by foundational figures Augusto de Campos and Ian Hamilton Finlay as well as contemporary poets including Henri Chopin, Eugen Gomringer, Ernst Jandl, Mary Ellen Solt, and Emmett Williams.
The simple beauty of this work by Eugen Gomringer astounded me:
Another interesting exhibit was the visual poem “O Pulsar” (1975) by Augusto de Campos with music by Caetano Veloso:
You can also experience furniture and decor from bygone eras, like this French chandelier. I may just be reeling from the observatory but I love how this looks celestial.
While exploring the various exhibits, you can stop to take in breathtaking views of the city, like this one as seen from the Greek sculpture building:
Step outside of the museum to see the manicured gardens of the Getty Center, like this cactus garden overlooking downtown L.A.
There was really an incredible variety of art to see here; to see more of the wide range of exhibits you can see at the museum, visit the Getty site.
3.) Santa Monica Pier
If you absolutely adore the beach, like I do, then you might want to drive south of L.A. to the Santa Monica Pier for long stretches of beach, seaside dining, and you can even take the kids to the pier amusement park if you like.
You can take the highway to the pier from the city, which will land you quicker, but if you have the time, I would highly recommend taking a drive on the nearby scenic Topanga Canyon Boulevard, which goes through Topanga State Park and is just beautiful.
When we first arrived, we walked the pier, which also serves as the famous “End of the Trail” landmark signifying the end of the historic Route 66.
Notice “Pier Burger” in the background? This little stand served some amazing old-fashioned greasy grilled burgers. We also enjoyed some ocean-fresh seafood on the pier, which can’t be beat!
The pier amusement park has a number of cute rides including a carousel for the little ones and the iconic Santa Monica solar-paneled ferris wheel.
The Santa Monica beaches are waiting for you to stretch out your towels and enjoy the soft sands and cool waves. It was a cloudy day when we went, but the beach was still gorgeous and very relaxing.
You can find pier walking tours, concert schedules, and more on the Santa Monica Pier site.
The next day we had to make a visit to another one of L.A.’s most valued museums, LACMA (The Los Angeles County Museum of Art). LACMA also has a wide variety of art on display from around the globe and from a number of time periods, and showcases a stunning collection of contemporary art, including a room full of Picasso paintings and works by Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein.
When you walk into LACMA, you are greeted by Tony Smith’s massive sculpture Smoke (1967).
The entrance also had Abdulnasser Gharem’s Pause on display, which featured Arabic and English text both reading from right to left. LACMA gives some insight into Gharem’s work and its connection to 9-11:
“For Gharem, like most of us, seeing the World Trade Center destroyed on television was one of those terrible moments that seems to make the world stand still or pause. Gharem has deeply absorbed this notion of pause into his work both as an occasion to examine certain universal dichotomies, which lead us to choose our life’s paths…”
5.) La Brea Tar Pits
So what’s really amazing, is that in the middle of this busy city, full of bustling traffic and towering buildings, are ancient bubbling tar pits.
Right next to LACMA are the La Brea tar pits. Here you can see fossils of extinct animals sticking out of these tar pits, and some of them hold hundreds of fossils of animals who got trapped in the pits, either trying to get the meat of other animals or just wandering in.
This was one of the smallest tar pits there, but I took this photo because it was the closest I got to one.
You can have a look at the fossils inside the museum, and watch some fun videos of the museum like this one at the La Brea Tar Pit site.
6.) Downtown L.A.
Last but not least – Downtown L.A.! Downtown L.A. is filled with culture; within a short walking distance, you can see the Museum of Contemporary Art, Olvera Street, and Little Tokyo, among other things!
Take a walk down Olvera Street for some Mexican food and margaritas, or shop at one of the many hispanic shops there.
You can also view the Avila Adobe on Olvera St., built in 1818, which is the oldest existing house in L.A.
Just a few blocks over is Little Tokyo, a beautiful center where you can enjoy Japanese dining, culture, and shopping.
There were so many cute things to buy here! I totally had to practice constraint!
One of the most interesting things I found was how people placed anonymous prayers on the prayer tree.
After long, exciting days of touring, there was always something delicious to be had in L.A. If Mexican or Japanese food doesn’t interest you after a day exploring the cultural centers downtown, then perhaps a taste of L.A.’s food trucks will. Just outside of Little Tokyo, you can try some of the city’s yummy food trucks, like the Blue Nova which serves L.A.’s unique ice cream rolls.
I hope you enjoyed my personal tour of L.A. It’s definitely a city rich in culture and full of magic!