The Ultimate Non-Touristy Guide to Los Angeles, California (2024)

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The Ultimate Non-Touristy Guide to Los Angeles, California (1)

Eat, learn, and discover the best parts of LA like a local.

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Keisha Raines

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The Ultimate Non-Touristy Guide to Los Angeles, California (2)

The Ultimate Non-Touristy Guide to Los Angeles, California (3)

All Time Greatsisn’t your typical city bucket list. Instead of tourist traps, you’ll find hidden gem venues, hole-in-the-wall shops, and lots of small businesses, recommended by in-the-know locals. Consider this your essential guide to getting the most out of the city and spending the day (or weekend) just like a Local.

In your quest for curating the perfect LA itinerary, you’ve likely been given repetitive suggestions, like hiking to the Hollywood Sign or riding the Matterhorn at Disneyland. And while those activities are fantastic in their own right, we’re here to show you LA’s more unique, under-the-radar aspects, from yoga in a world famous cemetery to the city’s best flea market. These are the 25 things we suggest all out-of-towners must do that are guaranteed to delight. Some of these spots you may have seen on the screen (that’s LA, baby), while others are true hidden gems locals don’t even know about.

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Hollywood Forever Cemetery might be as well known for its concerts and outdoor movies as it is for being the final resting place for notable figures like Judy Garland, Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone, and Burt Reynolds. Along with paying your respects to legends you can also stretch out and find your balance at a yoga class with an experienced instructor outdoors on the serene lawn. Classes are free and open to beginners and advanced practitioners alike.

Get brunch in Boyle Heights at Tenampal

This cozy family-owned restaurant aims to create community and nourish its guests with food that reflects their Mexican American background, featuring dishes ranging from Chilaquiles and Enchiladas to Smashburgers. Items vary with the seasons, and almost all the ingredients are made in-house. Their special Huarache Azul starts with blue corn masa and a bed of refried beans, piled high with tender, flavorful suadero (braised beef they cook for 5-hours), salsa macha negra (black sesame and fried morita salsa), and Oaxacan cheese, then topped with a citrus slaw and radishes that add brightness to the dish. You can taste the thought and care they put into their food with each bite.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology is a museum unlike any other. We don’t say this in a hyperbolic sense; this museum is simply that hard to define. It seems to answer the question: What would it be like if a cabinet of curiosities were an entire museum? The dimly lit space is laid out like a maze, with tight corridors leading you to exhibits containing real and imagined eccentric artifacts, like arcane manuscripts and the story of a bat that emits X-rays, which allow it to fly unharmed through solid objects. While we don’t want to say too much and give away its eclectic magic, the museum is humorous, inspiring, confounding, and above all, delightful. At the end of your visit, you can have complimentary tea and cookies amongst the resident birds on their rooftop space, the perfect spot to contemplate what you just saw.

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Peruse Chinatown’s fantastic food scene

If you find yourself in Chinatown and want a quick bite, pick up an exceptional bánh mì for $6 from My Dung. There are a dozen options, including cold cuts and grilled pork. Sandwiches also come with fresh cucumber, cilantro, jalapenos, pickled carrots, and daikon, all on a fresh baguette with a crisp crust and soft, airy interior. Have cash in hand because they don’t accept cards.

Once you’re done with the sandwich, walk less than half a mile for dessert at Phoenix Bakery, a beloved Chinatown institution that has been family-owned since 1938. Illuminated cases of sweet treats carry various cake slices, cream puffs, almond cookies, and more. Their most popular item is the not-too-sweet signature strawberry whipped cream cake.

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Step back in time at the Valley Relics Museum

Located in an unassuming hangar by the Van Nuys Airport, Valley Relics Museum is filled with a whole menagerie of objects, some dating back to the 1800s, that broadly pertain to the San Fernando Valley. See bright vintage neon signs of local businesses long gone, statues, photographs, pop culture memorabilia, and cars, notably a dazzling Cadillac with longhorns on the grill once owned by Valley legend, Nudie Cohn. They even have a playable retro arcade.

Hike on the serene Fern Dell Trail

From Runyon Canyon to Wilacre Park, every LA local has their favorite trail. For a short, relaxing (read: easy) hike, try the Fern Dell Trail in Griffith Park. The walking path is alongside a stream fed by a natural spring that sustains the surrounding tropical plants, and overhead, large sycamores provide shade on the trail, ideal for warmer days. While other areas of Griffith Park may dry out and lose their greenery throughout the year, Fern Dell remains vibrant and verdant. Plus, if you have some time on your hands, you can take the trail to the Griffith Observatory.

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Visit an iconic work of art in Watts

A tour of LA isn’t complete without seeing the impressive architectural feat that is the Watts Towers. The group of 17 steel towering sculptures, the tallest standing at 99.5 feet, are covered with mortar and embellished with mosaic tiles, glass, clay, shells, and rocks. The monument was built by hand by one man, Sabato “Simon” Rodia, over the course of 33 years and is the world’s largest single construction created by one individual.

Shop for one-of-a-kind items at Pasadena City College Flea

Over 400 vendors carry selections of eclectic arts and crafts, collectibles, vintage fashion, antique furniture, and other unique treasures ranging in price points at the Pasadena City College Flea Market. Typically held on the first Sunday of every month, the flea market is worth driving all the way to Pasadena for. Admission is free, and parking is only $2, with the proceeds going toward student scholarships and activities.

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Spend the morning in Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo is one of LA’s oldest neighborhoods, with roots dating back to the late 1800s. While small in size, Little Tokyo is packed with restaurants, shops, markets, and great museums like MOCA Geffen and the Japanese National Museum. Start your day in the area with a traditional Japanese breakfast at Azay. The part-Japanese, part-French restaurant is a place where bento boxes and bowls of udon are served next to dishes of duck confit and beef bourguignon. The intimate restaurant lets in lots of light and is great for a solo date or a meal with friends.

For sweets, try Fugetsu-Do Sweet Shop. This confection shop is almost as old as Little Tokyo itself. Since 1903, the family-owned sweet treat shop has been serving made-in-house mochi and delicate desserts among shelves of imported candy and snacks.

Take in a classic car show with a side of burgers at Bob’s Big Boy

Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank is worth a visit for the history lesson alone. The restaurant, which has been declared an LA landmark, is the oldest operating location of the chain in the nation and features an iconic neon sign along with stunning mid-century modern architecture. Every Friday night, the diner turns into a classic car show that has been referred to as “American Graffiti come to life,” with vintage Mustangs, Chevies, and Cadillacs in pristine condition. Chat with car enthusiasts (sometimes Jay Leno makes an appearance) and order one of their famous burgers and fries. Make sure to request “The Beatles Booth,” a place where the band once sat and dined during their 1965 US tour.

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Have some fun in the sun in Malibu

We would be remiss if we didn’t include a beach day in a list of things to do in Los Angeles. In order to avoid massive crowds and general chaos, head north to Malibu. The area has been crooned about in many songs, served as the backdrop for films like Grease and Inception, and even inspired a Barbie doll, all for good reason. It’s a great spot to kick back, whether you want to watch the talented surfers at Surfrider, explore sea-carved rock formations at Matador, or enjoy a lazy day on the shore at Zuma. Before hitting the beach, pick up sandwiches and burritos at Lily’s Malibu, because food just tastes a little better while sitting in the sun and staring at the Pacific.

Take in a dinner and a show at The Baked Potato

The Baked Potato, the aptly-named jazz club in Studio City featured in the film La La Land, has been around since 1970 and has a come-as-you-are vibe with stellar acts performing nightly. Musicians perform while guests nosh on baked potatoes of epic proportions. The titular spuds come dressed in your choice of fixings, including standards like melted cheese and more elaborate concoctions like chicken parmesan. Buy your tickets online in advance of your night, as they tend to fill up fast.

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Catch a flick on film at The New Beverly Cinema

Movies from all genres and eras screen daily at one of the oldest revival houses in the region, owned by none other than Quentin Tarantino, who also curates the programming. On any day, you can see black-and-white classics, adult movies from the ‘70s, or a family-friendly feature during their weekend matinee. All screenings are shown on 35 millimeter film and are preceded by an intro from the staff, a short film or cartoon, and old-school commercials. Grab some popcorn at the concessions and prepare for a retro experience at this unabashedly vintage theater.

Eat dim sum at Atlantic Seafood

We have long praised the food haven that is the San Gabriel Valley. The area is home to countless restaurants and mom-and-pop spots that mainly specialize in a wide variety of Asian cuisines. If you’re looking for an old-school dim-sum experience, try Atlantic Seafood. On the weekends, silver carts make their way around the open banquet room where diners seated at round tables point and ask for plates of barbecue pork buns, shrimp dumplings, and chicken feet.

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As the name suggests, The California African American Museum (CAAM) delves into the art, history, and culture of African Americans, particularly focusing on California and the West. Nestled in the scenic Exposition Park in Los Angeles, CAAM offers a variety of dynamic rotating and core exhibitions and public programs designed to engage visitors of all ages and interests. Even better, admission is free.

Put on some skates and roll around Moonlight Rollerway

Stepping into the Moonlight Rollerway is like entering a portal to the 1970s. The decor is bright and bold, with music by artists like Cher, the Bee Gees, and Donna Summer setting the soundtrack. In the middle is a large wood-floored rink where skaters of all ages and levels jubilantly skate around, with the talented regulars impressing the crowd with their fancy footwork. They have a range of programming and events, like the LGBTQ+ skating session on Wednesdays, which they’ve held for over 20 years. Visit their website for reservations and check out their calendarfor their themed events.

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Buy records, drink a beer, and see a show at Permanent Records Roadhouse

You’ve definitely been told to visit the famous Amoeba Records on your trip to LA, and while the music store is undoubtedly iconic, we recommend the underrated Permanent Records Roadhouse. It’s a vinyl shop, bar, and performance venu all in one where you can see musical acts spanning genres, comedy shows, and the occasional music trivia night. Their record selection offers an array of new and used vinyl records, and the laid-back vibes make it a perfect spot to kick back with friends or by yourself.

Order a plate of kebobs and stay a while at Hayat's Kitchen

Pulitzer-prize winning food writer Jonathan Gold’s #1 rule of dining in LA was, “If the restaurant you have been directed to lies between the 7-Eleven and the dry cleaners in a dusty strip mall, then you're probably at the right place.” Hayat's Kitchen, located in a strip-mall in North Hollywood, abides. The family-owned Lebanese restaurant has mouth-watering shawarma, charbroiled chicken, and falafel served in hearty portions. You will probably see fellow patrons leisurely dining for hours, talking over plates of food and cups of mint tea. While not a 7-Eleven, it is located by Circus Liquor. You may have seen its large clown neon sign in the background of a movie or two.

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Escape the city and frolic inWild Flower Hill

Wild Flower Hill is an easy and short trail (about ¾ mile) located at the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley. The trail is beautiful any time of the year, but spring is the optimum time to see the trail's namesake plants in full bloom, where you can expect to see hawks overhead and rabbits scurrying into California sagebrush. At the end of the hike, stroll through the on-site nursery and talk with the incredible volunteers to learn more about the native flora.

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Picnic and sip wine at Barnsdall Art Park

During the summer on Friday nights, you can enjoy a flight of wine curated by Silverlake Wine at Barnsdall Art Park and see stunning views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory. Hang out in the park, listen to local DJs, and go on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House. Bring a picnic to the park or pick up Mexican food from nearby Yuca, a hut in Los Feliz known for its Cochinita Pibil and substantial burritos.

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See puppets perform at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater

Whatever your age, you’re going to have a good time in the house of whimsy and kitsch that is the Bob Baker Marionette Theater. The historic monument and nonprofit in Highland Park Is one of the longest running puppet theaters in America. Lush, ruby red curtains line the interior of the one-room theater, and in the center, puppeteers spin handmade puppets around to music for a unique theatrical performance. Purchase tickets for a show ahead of time on their website.

Catch a comedy show at the Largo

Experience top-tier storytelling at this intimate 1940s-era theater, known for hosting captivating comedy acts, cabaret, and musical performances. A-list and fledgling artists alike routinely take the stage, with past guests ranging from Larry David to Fiona Apple, who even dedicated a song to it. It’s currently home to regular showcases by Patton Oswalt and the Improvised Shakespeare Company, which performs hour-long, entirely made-up-on-the-spot Shakespearean-style plays to the amazement of audiences.

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Peddle around Echo Park Lake in a swan boat

We've always said the best way to explore a park is by way of a self-propelled boat that resembles a giant swan. Go for a ride at Echo Park Lake and get a look at the gushing fountain, floating lotus blooms and lilypads, and stellar views of Downtown LA. At night the boats are illuminated with strings of light, adding a little romance to the experience. After you’ve built up a hunger from peddling, nourish yourself with food from one of the street vendors near the lake. Scrumptious carne asada burritos can be found at the Tacos Arizas truck, tacos on homemade tortillas at the El Ruso truck, and Alejandra’s Quesadilla Cart offers Oaxacan quesadillas on blue corn tortillas.

Feel relaxed and refreshed at Descanso Garden Spa

Everyone knows Koreatown is home to countless Korean spas. If you want the same experience without the hustle and bustle of K-town, venture to Tujunga for Descanso Garden Spa (not to be confused with the botanical gardens, Descanso Gardens, in La Cañada Flintridge). Descanso Garden Spa is a serene facility that includes hot tubs, cool pools, saunas, and steam rooms that will leave you feeling revitalized. You can choose to add on one of their services, like a deep tissue massage or body scrub that will leave your skin feeling nice and smooth. The communal rooms upstairs are a great place to meditate or read a book, and the spa also has a cafe that makes a spectacular bowl of bibimbap.

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Keisha Rainesis a LA-based freelance writer born and raised in the Palm Springs area with a tattoo of the San Jacinto mountains to prove it.

The Ultimate Non-Touristy Guide to Los Angeles, California (2024)
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