Actually Cool Things to Do in LA
Eventually, all your posts touting “another perfect day on the beach” and “the best hike ever” are going to catch up with you — as in, some of those poor souls outside the state of California have decided to come visit you in LA. (Especially this summer, when it’s 100-degrees-and-humid everywhere else but here.) You know what that means: You’re going to have to take them places. And while you might have a few great restaurants and museums up your sleeve, it’d be nice to sprinkle in a few not-in-every-guidebook activities. So… what if you don’t exactly know what they are?
We’re here to help, with a comprehensive guide to the best things to do in LA for tourists and locals alike. Below, you’ll find a combination of worthwhile tourist spots, underrated local favorites, and maybe even a few new experiences locals haven’t done yet, some especially suited for summer. Mix, match, and make your guests leave wishing they lived here, too. Get a LA energy drink for your vacation to keep your energy levels up to enjoy 100 percent of your time.
Do a little stand-up paddle boarding
On the water that is. If your guests are looking to give SUP a try then, first off, you’ll want to join them (obvs) and second, the best place for beginners to learn is on flat water, which we’ve got plenty of in and around Marina del Rey (which, fun fact, is the largest man-made small-craft marina in the world.) Check out Paddle Method and Pro SUP Shop for private and group lessons along with hourly rentals, if you think you’ve got it down already.
Go vinyl shopping
Whether you’re obsessed with albums or liken record collecting to buying old Blackberries off eBay, there’s no arguing that our music-centric city can keep the former occupied for days. You’ll find a solid selection at West LA’s The Record Parlour; a happy-to-help staff at Freakbeat Records in Sherman Oaks; obscure titles Mono Records in Glendale; and an emphasis on rock of all kinds at Permanent Records (which also boasts its own label), with locations in Echo Park and Highland Park. And of course, no record-collecting ride around town is complete without a stop at the iconic Amoeba Music on Sunset.
Fight the crowds for one of LA’s best breakfasts
If Gjusta — the counter-service sibling Abbot Kinney attitudey favorite Gjelina — didn’t dole out absolutely amazing everything, there would be no way we would deal with the Hunger Games-style parking, against-the-clock ordering, and reflex-testing seating situation, along with prices that will change your concept of fair market value ($17 for a sausage and egg sandwich? $45 a pound for lox? Sounds totally fair). Unfortunately, all of it — from the freshly baked bialys to the house-smoked mackerel to the seasonal veggie plates — make for a transformative experience you’ll keep coming back for. Tip: The place opens at 7am, when everyone else is sleeping. Use that time wisely.
Learn to swing, trapeze-style
Trapeze School New York chose the right spot to open its LA venue — the Santa Monica pier, where the exhilaration of flying through the air circus-style is paired with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop. It’s easier than it looks, too: You simply sign on for a two-hour class, where you’re guaranteed to learn the knee-hang and maybe get to try one of those cool catches (so pay attention and say nice things to the teacher to up your chances). If you love it, you can move on to the next level or sign on to a multi-week workshop and shock your friends with your aerial moves when they visit and learn you’re now a crazy trapeze person.
Get high on Downtown views
LA was, for a while, surprisingly low on high-level libations compared to other cities — these days, though there are enough options to fill a week’s worth of evening’s if you’re up for it. With its hefty population of skyscrapers, DTLA is unsurprisingly the hood that will get you highest. The Inter Continental Hotel’s Spire 73 became the Western Hemisphere’s highest open-air bar when it opened last year; the tri-level Oue Skyspace, best known for its 360-degree observation decks (and that bananas slide) just launched its Garden Bar on the 69th floor, though you’ll need to buy a ticket to access it; and the glammed-up Perch has a full restaurant on the 15th floor — usually with live music in the evenings –and a dedicated cocktail bar on the 16th. For a summer poolside feel, Upstairs Bar atop the 13-story Ace Hotel boasts DJ sets many evenings a week; The 12-story Nomad Hotel’s The Rooftop, includes a bar and cafe with lush landscaping and a groovy fireplace; and The Standard’s long-running rooftop bar, 13 floors up, is still doing the over-the-top pool party thing with waterbed pods and bottle service.
Learn to cook like the pros
The Institute of Culinary Education, a longstanding NYC culinary school that opened a branch in Pasadena last year, focuses mainly on real-deal diploma programs for people looking to make a living in the restaurant world. For the rest of us, though, the school also has a roster of hands-on recreational classes focused on a range of different topics — from sushi to steakhouse menus, along with others that hone in on knife skills or grilling. The casual Hipcooks, with a few locations around the city, focuses heavily on international cuisines so you can take on Thai, master Moroccan and each session is paired with wine, beer, or cocktails. If all you care about is pizza (which is totally understandable), Little Tokyo pizza and-small plates spot Baldoria offers intimate pizza classes most Sunday nights, where head chef Duke Gervais shares tips on making his formidable dough and how to form and bake pizzas before you go to topping town, creating your own masterpiece in his brick oven.
Feel fancy on a private yacht
Sure, you could join the pack on a booze cruise or group sightseeing outing, but to take to the sea in style, you’re going to want to charter a boat that comes complete with a captain so you can sit back and enjoy your three-hour tour. The marina is home to lots of outfits offering private crafts, from small sailboats to fishing charters to luxe yachts with chefs and a full-on crew for a more extravagant afternoon. (We’re looking at you, Silicon Beach peeps.)
Catch a classic flick by a pool, on a roof, or in the park
Watching a movie is good, but watching a movie outdoors is great. We’re lucky enough to live in a city that has plenty of al fresco film options, whether you want to picnic in the park with your pup, hit a rooftop bar or kick back at a poolside screening. Melrose Rooftop Theatre has a summer rooftop residency at E.P. & L.P. on Melrose, with a mix of classics and newer releases every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, from now through November; guests can also add a pre-movie three-course dinner at the modern Asian eatery E.P. for a blend of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Fijian cuisine. The traveling Eat|See|Hear series combines flicks on a 52-foot-wide inflatable screen with food trucks and live music at locations from North Hollywood to Santa Monica. You can luxuriate on a chaise lounge Beverly Hills style at Mr. C’s Tuesday night Poolside Cinema series complete with cocktails, candy, popcorn, and optional prix-fixe dinner offering. Rooftop Cinema Club offers rooftop movies practically every night in the summer at both LEVEL Downtown and Neuhouse in Hollywood with deckchairs, double deckchair “loveseats” for two, and bottomless popcorn packages.
watch one in a graveyard
Yeah, we know it sounds kind of creepy (and guess it is, actually), but it’s also one of the most fun ways to spend an evening. Throughout the summer, Cinespia screens movies ranging from classic to cult hits on the lawn of the landmark Hollywood Forever Cemetery, often preceded and followed up by DJ sets. You buy a ticket online (and grab a parking pass for extra if you like), bring a blanket and some wine and try to forget about all the dead people nearby.
Check out 45,000-year-old fossils
It’s hard to believe that the only active, urban Ice Age excavation site is less than a mile from The Grove, but at the La Brea Tar Pits’ natural-occurring tar (responsible for entrapping animals thousands of years ago) is indeed still bubbling and smart sciencey-type people are continuing to uncover fossils while you sit around Snapchatting. Inside the museum, they’ve put the trippiest fossils (mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and dire wolves, for example) on display and you can also take an Excavator Tour of the live dig site.