Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Top Recommendations for Tourists/Visitors

The Griffith Park Observatory

(official website, my blog post)
This is probably my top recommended L.A. activity. The Observatory building is beautiful, there are many child-friendly exhibits, admission is free, there are great views over the whole Los Angeles basin from the terraces, and you can do a moderate hike up to the top of Mt. Hollywood from the parking lot. The Observatory is centrally located so you could easily spend the morning exploring downtown and then go up to the Observatory in the afternoon or vice versa. You could get lunch on the way up or down from the Observatory in Los Feliz. If you are in LA on a clear night, you can also go to the Observatory at night to look through the telescopes which are open to the public free of charge.

The Huntington Museum, Library, and Gardens
(official website, my blog post)
If you like botanical gardens, you should definitely go to the Huntington. Admission is expensive, but the gardens (which include a Japanese garden, rose garden, Chinese garden, desert garden, and flower conservatory) are outstanding and the estate also includes several museums and a wonderful rare books library. The Huntington is very child-friendly.

The Norton Simon Museum (official website)
The Norton Simon is a small, high-quality museum with an outstanding collection. The collection is particularly strong in old master paintings and impressionism/post-impressionism. This museum is not a huge destination location like the Getty, but it is my favorite art collection in Los Angeles.

The Gamble House
(official website, my blog post)
According to my architectural guidebook, this immaculate Arts and Crafts style mansion is among the 5 best house museums in the United States. The docent-led tours are very professional and informative. I recommend doing a tour of the Gamble House and then visiting the nearby Norton Simon Museum.

The Getty Center (official website)
The Getty is one of the richest museums in the world and it shows - the architecture, gardens, and views are beautiful and the collection is impressive. The Getty Center is very kid-friendly with special children's exhibits. Admission is free but parking is $15/car (reservations are not required). Bring sandwiches to have a picnic in the gardens. The Getty Center is close to the UCLA campus so you could stop by the lovely UCLA sculpture garden on your way back from the Getty.

The Getty Villa (official website, my blog post)
The Getty Villa is another beautifully located museum with pretty gardens and a wonderful collection of antiquities. Like the Getty Center, the Villa is very kid-friendly, admission is free, and parking costs $15/car. You must make reservations in advance on the Getty Villa website. You could combine a visit to the Getty Villa with a trip to the beach in Malibu or a stop at the nearby Lake Shrine gardens in Pacific Palisades.

(Map of downtown with my recommended attractions labeled)
Downtown is compact and you can easily explore a number of attractions by foot. I recommend: the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Disney Hall, the Central Library, the Bradbury Building, and Union Station. All of these buildings are free to enter. There are many parking lots all around downtown that generally charge about $10 during the week and $5 on the weekend. There are also many places to get lunch downtown including Japantown, Chinatown, and Phillipe's classic diner across the street from Union Station.

Special Interests:

Watts Towers
(official website, my blog post)
If you are interested in folk art or if you are in town for a while, it is worth it to make the trip down to Watts to see the largest folk art monument in the country.

The Eames House (official website, my blog post)
Visitors who have a particular interest in 20th century design or the Case Study Program, should try to visit the Eames House in Pacific Palisades. You have to call ahead to make reservations and you can't go inside the house, but you can do an exterior tour and peer into the windows. The Eames House is close to the Getty Villa so you could make reservations on the same day.

People's History Mural
(my blog post)
If you like murals or are interested in leftist 20th century history, I recommend making the trip up to the San Fernando Valley to see this mile-long mural of Los Angeles history. The mural is located in Van Nuys north of the Getty Center so you could do a detour if you are visiting the Getty Center.

Unfortunately, I have to recommend that visitors to Los Angeles rent a car. You can get by without a car, but you will be seriously inconvenienced and limited in the activities that you are able to do.