Sprawling on the Pacific Coast with 88 incorporated cities (from Santa Monica to Beverly Hills), Los Angeles is a whopping 500 square miles (for perspective, that’s the same size as the state of Rhode Island!). Of course, there’s no shortage of activities and attractions, but exploring the city like a local can be a challenge. From exciting restaurants to historic neighborhoods, we picked the top, can’t-miss experiences that make L.A. iconic, and continue to be perennial favorites for all types of travelers. Locals know best, so head to these “so L.A.” places that truly stand out in the City of Angels.
The essential neighborhood: Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills has come a long way from its origins as European-settled farming grounds to the glam city it is today. The iconic Beverly Hills Hotel truly spearheaded the citywide, affluent-forward gentrification when it opened in 1912, serving as the stomping ground for Golden-Age celebrities and high society. Not much has changed a century later; Beverly Hills continues to pander to the rich and famous. It’s chockablock with designer boutiques (from Gucci to Armani), celebrity chef-helmed restaurants (like Wolfgang Puck’s Spago and Curtis Stone’s Maude), expensive sports cars along famed Rodeo Drive, exceptional, five-star hotels and, of course, a strong concentration of cosmetic surgery clinics (yes, the motherlode of L.A.is here). There’s no other place in the world that has the ritzy allure and plutocratic history of Beverly Hills (see: Pretty Woman), and it remains an important fixture to Los Angeles today.
The best place to get coffee (and see a celebrity): Urth Caffe
The coffee shop scene often rivals nightlife in Los Angeles. At some popular spots, you can expect long counter lines, and people will wait up to an hour for a patio table to open. Coffee shops are integral to the L.A. lifestyle (it’s a great way to see and be seen) while serving up a mean cup of joe (organic, of course). Urth Caffe in West Hollywood is a longstanding favorite and a magnet for socialites, influencers, work-from-homers and celebrities alike. Famous faces are known to chill out here (like Ashley Tisdale, Katie Holmes, Aaron Paul, Kylie Jenner and mothers with kids, like Busy Philipps). To spread the love, there are now five Urth Caffes in L.A., though the West Hollywood location with a buzzing patio scene is the original hot spot.
The dinner reservation you need: Providence
Opened in 2005, Providence is the best restaurant in Los Angeles, period. It’s received seven James Beard Foundation Award nominations, two Michelin stars and the number-one rank on L.A. restaurant critic Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants. Providence, helmed by star chef Michael Cimarusti, is fine dining with a casual atmosphere (L.A. is notoriously laid back), perfect for special occasions or essential dining for foodies and gourmands. Setting a high standard for inventive, incredibly fresh and unforgettable seafood, Providence diners can expect progressive plates like The Ugly Bunch, a wonderful arrangement of sea urchin, abalone and geoduck served over creme fraiche panna cotta, which transforms traditionally “ugly” shellfish into a beautiful dish. Tasting menus start at $185.
The bar you can’t miss: The Abbey
There are hundreds of bars in Los Angeles, but nothing has star power like The Abbey in West Hollywood. Defying expectations and resonating with history, the famed watering hole spans several bars on multiple floors (both indoor and swank outdoor spaces with day beds), live DJs and legendary wild nights, though it’s a major hot spot for day drinking, especially happy hour. Known as the best gay bar in the world, The Abbey is an L.A. institution (opened in 1991), where everyone comes to hang out (not just the LGBT community). It’s not uncommon to see some of Hollywood’s most famous faces here, like Sarah Jessica Parker, Zac Efron, Taylor Lautner, Lady Gaga and even Elizabeth Taylor.
The mandatory L.A. hike: Runyon Canyon
Hollywood’s distinguished Walk of Fame is the number one attraction for tourists, but there’s another “walk of fame” geared toward Angelenos. Runyon Canyon is a renowned, 160-acre park with miles of trails that locals power hike or casually walk, immersing in the beautiful landscape that surrounds the city. A rite of passage, hiking Runyon Canyon is the most “L.A.” thing locals do, and it’s a testament to the city’s obsession with the outdoors and fitness. For the true, Runyon Canyon experience, take the popular Hollyridge Trail to the iconic Hollywood sign in the hills (yes, you can hike here!). It’s about a four-mile hike, and it’s definitely worth the selfie.
The classic experience: driving famous streets
Angelenos may gripe about the notorious traffic (and with good reason… it can be terrible at peak times!) but there’s no better place than L.A. to be inside a moving vehicle. Los Angeles is famous for world-renowned streets. When visitors hop on a TMZ bus or Star Maps sightseeing tour, there’s live narration that complements the drive, and even Uber drivers are excited to give you the 4-1-1 along specific roads like Sunset Boulevard, La Cienega, Santa Monica Boulevard, Rodeo Drive and Hollywood Boulevard. Lined with swaying palms, the streets of L.A. are teeming with famous institutions, historic celebrity hangouts and sky-high billboards, all of which root the city in place. Look out the window and you just might see an A-lister walking their dog, a storied landmark or even scenes from your favorite movie.
The best views: DTLA
L.A. is a city that sprawls, and it’s not flat, which makes views from higher ground quite breathtaking. Sweeping views are seized at dozens of hot spots (like EP&LP rooftop bar in West Hollywood, Sunset Tower in Hollywood, Will Rogers State Park in Santa Monica), though the perfect, million-dollar views are in downtown L.A. Famed for its skyline, DTLA has gone through a major revitalization project, where you can now find luxury hotels, celebrity chef restaurants and cool attractions, though rooftop bars are the main attraction. While there are plenty of places for inspiring cityscapes and Pacific Ocean views – like local-centric haunts Upstairs at Ace Hotel and Perch restaurant – we recommend you saddle up at SkySpace, an open-air observation deck with impressive, 360-degree panoramas. It’s home to the OEU SkySlide, a clear, all-glass slide suspended 1,000 feet above the city (beginning on the 70th floor).