If you’re planning your next Los Angeles vacation, you’ve come to the right place. Making the most of your trip to LA can be a challenge, being that it’s a sprawling city with a truly limitless list of activities you can do. However, that means you’ve got endless opportunities to create an experience that will last you a lifetime!
We’ve racked our brains, researched, and polled other local Angelenos to gather the most unique options for once in a lifetime things to do in Los Angeles. Anyone who wants to have an out-of-the-ordinary trip, read on. Your Los Angeles vacay awaits. 😎
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1. Cinespia at Hollywood Forever Cemetery
You may think the City of Angels is all about glamorous, red carpet movie premieres. But believe it or not, the locals are actually having picnics in the cemetery for fun. Cinespia is an outdoor movie screening event where you can buy tickets to sit on the grass and watch classic movies at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. And this isn’t just any cemetery, it’s one where Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Rudolph Valentino, and scores of other Old Hollywood legends are buried.
2. Attend a TV Show Taping
There’s nothing more “LA” than the entertainment industry, and projects are being filmed all over the city on a daily basis. While you’re in town, get the once in a lifetime experience of being in the live studio audience for one of your favorite shows. Websites like 1iota and On Camera Audiences provide free tickets for fans to witness the behind the scenes process of getting a show made to air on the small screen.
3. Hike to the Hollywood Sign
This one’s a given. Any Los Angeles visitor will of course want to visit the Hollywood sign. There are lots of places where you can see it, but taking the extra step to do the full hike is an unforgettable experience. Pack some water, a tripod, and a camera because you’ll definitely want to have a photoshoot once you get to the top. (This TikToker gives full instructions on how to get there).
4. Car Wash Restaurants
One thing only true locals know about Los Angeles is that some of the city’s car washes have the best restaurants. It may seem crazy, but car culture is pretty big here. Grabbing some grub while you wait for a car wash is a quintessential experience to get during your LA travels. You may have to do a little research, but you can start with Indiemex Eats in Hollywood, Noho Café in North Hollywood, and Outdoor Grill in Culver City.
5. Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is undoubtedly one of the best once in a lifetime things to do in Los Angeles. As you walk through, it tells the story of Hollywood film history through memorabilia like costumes, Oscar statues, and impressive exhibitions showing how one of the biggest industries in the world came to be. Don’t forget to save time to check out the rooftop with panoramic views of the city.
6. Private Studio Tour
Want to get an up close and personal view of some of your favorite film sets? If you book a private tour, you can explore a studio lot where thousands of iconic movies were filmed. The Warner Brothers Studio Tour and Universal Studios VIP Experience Tour are great options. There’s nowhere else in the world that you can get such an authentic, behind the scenes experience–add it to your LA vacation bucket list!
7. Angels Flight Railway
Did you know Los Angeles is home to the (supposedly) world’s shortest railway? In Downtown Los Angeles you can book a very quick $1 trip on the funicular cable car Angels Flight Railway. This 298 ft. route along a hillside takes you from Hill Street to Grand Avenue (you can take the trip back too for another $1). It’s been functioning since 1901 and is a cool cultural landmark to visit during any Los Angeles vacation.
8. Hollywood Bowl Film Screening with a Live Orchestra
The Hollywood Bowl is a famed outdoor concert venue where Los Angeles citizens come to witness some of the most talented performers in the world… and drink a ton of wine. The BYOB event space also has film screenings of classic movies with a live orchestra accompaniment. This once in a lifetime thing to do in Los Angeles will be well worth it as you get swept away by the film score of some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters.
9. Party in an Old Hollywood Schoolhouse
No Vacancy is one of Los Angeles’ most popular bars, located right off of Hollywood Boulevard, in one of the city’s last remaining Victorian houses. But many don’t know that the 1902-built home was formerly a schoolhouse where children of Golden Age royalty like Charlie Chaplin and Cecil B. DeMille used to attend school . In true LA fashion, the schoolhouse has since been renovated into a destination for raucous, late-night partying with a sultry prohibition theme.
10. The Last Bookstore
You can find places to buy books all over the world, but none quite like this one. The Last Bookstore in Downtown LA is the largest new and used bookstore in California. The space features various art installations including a book tunnel that’s extremely photoworthy. This hundred-year-old bank building turned bookstore is an essential addition to any book lover’s LA travel experience.
11. Bioluminescence at the Beach
This ocean phenomena is truly an experience of a lifetime if you’re lucky enough to witness it while you’re in Southern California. Algae can sometimes cause a chemical reaction with the water that produces a brilliant, neon blue light when agitated. This makes the waves look electric as they crash against the sand creating an otherworldly sight. It doesn’t happen often, but you’re most likely to catch bioluminescence in Los Angeles from April to October. (Note: Bioluminescent algae can make you sick! It’s best to enjoy just with your eyes.)
12. Snow White Café
One of Hollywood Boulevard’s best hidden gem bars, the Snow White Café is a must-visit for any Disney fans. The café has been in operation since 1946 and was frequented by Walt Disney and his team of animators. Their claim to fame is the mural above the doorway that was painted by the original animators of the 1937 Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs film.
Anyone up for a bike ride? CicLAvia is a once in a lifetime experience where the city shuts down some of its biggest streets just for bikes. They hold a handful of events each year in a different neighborhood every time. Not many people can say they rode a bike across Los Angeles’ historic 6th St. Bridge. Attend CicLAvia and you can have those bragging rights for life!
14. Watch Lebron James at a Laker Game
There are only a handful of legendary basketball players still playing the sport today. If you’ve ever wanted to see a master on the court, now’s the time to get tickets to a Laker game. Lebron James puts on a mesmerizing show along with the other talented players at the Cryto.com Arena in Downtown LA.
15. Full Moon Celebration
Will you be visiting Los Angeles during a full moon? Embrace the “woo woo” of the city by celebrating the moon alongside some spiritually tapped citizens. You can do a simple Google search to find events like full moon yoga, meditation, sound baths, the list goes on. Only in LA can you so easily surround yourself with fellow fans of the universe and become one with the cosmos.
16. The Super Bloom
Each spring, Southern California gets to witness a super bloom of poppies–the California state flower. The Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve is the most popular place to see fields of these bright orange petals, being just an hour and a half north of LA. It’s a common road trip for locals to take for a photoshoot, but just remember, stay on the trails to avoid damaging our beloved blossoms.
17. Workout at Muscle Beach Gym
Are you one of those people who likes to work out on vacation? Make your exercise legendary by working out at the world-famous Muscle Beach Gym on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. This outdoor gym was made famous after being frequented by Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of bodybuilding culture in the ‘70s. All it takes is a $10 day pass and you’ll be pumping some iron with a perfect view of the Pacific.
18. Drink Inside a Giant Whiskey Barrel
The bar Idle Hour in North Hollywood is a local favorite that offers beer, cocktails, food, and an inviting outdoor patio. But what it’s most known for is its eye-catching whiskey barrel shape that can’t be missed. This neighborhood watering hole was built in 1941 and has since been made a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. Have a once in a lifetime Old Fashioned in the San Fernando Valley to get a true local experience.
19. Stay in Mariyln Monroe’s Hotel Room
Since it opened in 1927, The Hollywood Roosevelt has been one of Hollywood’s most famed historical landmarks. It was the site of the very first Academy Awards and was frequented by a variety of Old Hollywood stars, including Marilyn Monroe. The Marilyn Monroe Suite is the same room where she lived for two years (and it’s said to be haunted by her ghost to this day). Book your stay to have the unique experience of living the glamorous life of a Hollywood star.
20. The La Brea Tar Pits
What is possibly the weirdest attraction you’ll find in Los Angeles is actually a pit of pre-historic black tar… I’m somehow not joking. If you hadn’t heard, the La Brea Tar Pits is an excavation site where scientists have been digging up fossils since the 1900s. They’ve discovered wooly mammoth bones, insects, plants and other long-extinct animals. It’s the world’s only actively excavated, Ice Age fossil site in an urban location, so it’s worth a visit if you’re any level of nature nerd.
21. The Rose Parade
Visiting Los Angeles during the holiday season? The Rose Parade is a solid event to add to your itinerary. This annual parade happens on January 1st at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. If you’re from the US, you probably already know that the parade is broadcast nationwide, showcasing the dozens of impressive floats covered in flowers. If you’re already in town you might as well get the full LA holiday experience!
22. Cocktails at Nightlife Playground Clifton’s
Have you ever been to a four-story nightclub filled with taxidermy animals and a tree growing through the middle of the room? Probably not. That’s exactly why you need the once in a lifetime experience of visiting Clifton’s Republic–a Downtown Los Angeles mainstay that’s been open since 1932. The property is home to a dancefloor, lounge, ballroom, and even a speakeasy tiki bar. It’s easy to spend hours exploring this whimsical space with a one-of-a-kind vintage design. (As of publication they’re temporarily closed for repairs, but well worth a visit when they’re back open!)
23. Venice Beach Drum Circle
Venice is a neighborhood known for its eccentric and artsy environment. If you’re planning to visit Venice Beach on a weekend, definitely stop by to witness the weekly Venice Beach Drum Circle. Dozens of people gather to quite literally dance to the beat of their own drum as the sun sets. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that will give you an authentic taste of Venice Beach culture.
24. TMZ Celebrity Tour
The TMZ Celebrity Tour has become a go-to for tourists thanks to TMZ’s reputation as a celebrity gossip powerhouse. The online publication and TV show has a bus tour where you travel around the city viewing locations of celebrity homes and A-list hot spots. Since the company knows exactly where the best hangouts are, they’re known to spot top celebs along the route.
25. Drive-In Movie
Drive-in movie theaters have been a classic American experience since the 1960s. Unfortunately, many have closed throughout the country and only a few remain in Southern California. The Electric Dusk Drive-In is Los Angeles’ oldest operating drive-in where you can still watch a movie from your car under the night sky. If you’ve got a rental car during your LA vacation, try out this soon-to-be-forgotten, classic American experience.
Bonus: Los Angeles Tourist Destinations
Of course, there are lots more tourist-centric things you can do in LA. We won’t get into detail on these, because you’ve probably already read all about them. But they’re all definitely notable mentions if you’re planning a once in a lifetime trip.
Hollywood Walk of Fame – The star-studded pavement is worth a stroll so you can see the names of some of your favorite celebrities. The area isn’t very glamorous though, so don’t be surprised to see the rough side of LA here.
TCL Chinese Theatre – Right next to the Walk of Fame, you can visit this theater to place your hands in the molds of Old Hollywood actors.
Universal Studios Hollywood – Get tickets to this Los Angeles amusement park that features rides, shops, restaurants, and Harry Potter World.
Santa Monica Pier – Head to Santa Monica to ride the Ferris Wheel and play some carnival games with breathtaking views of the ocean.
Griffith Observatory – This historic Hollywood landmark is an impressive spot for learning more about the cosmos. It’s pretty much just a museum, but still a cool place to go (especially if you’re a fan of James Dean movie Rebel Without a Cause which was filmed there).
Rodeo Drive – Unless you have some major money to spend, there’s not much to do on Rodeo Drive except walk around. But you may want to still visit Beverly Hills to snap a few pics and check it off your list.
Disneyland – Disneyland is a bit of a trek to get to since it’s more than an hour from LA in Anaheim. If you’ve got a rental car and can afford to spend at least one whole day there, it may be worth your while to visit the mouse’s house.
You should also check out:
⭐ Our picks for the trendiest Los Angeles hotels for 20-somethings
⭐ Need a dip and sip? Take a look at these 10 cocktail bars with a swimming pool
⭐ Visit LA’s coolest disco bars for a vintage night out