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Discover Los Angeles: a First-Time Visitor’s Guide

Updated May 2023

Los Angeles, California, may be one of the most famous cities on earth, and for good reason: it’s packed with sights and experiences that are familiar to much of the world thanks to all of the movies, TV shows, and music videos set there. But beyond the Hollywood sign, the tours of movie studios, and the glow of theme park lights, there’s so much more to see and do in this iconic Southern California city. From international cuisine, to pristine natural parks and beaches, to world-class museums and concert halls, LA’s got something for everyone. If it’s your first time visiting, here’s where to go and what to see in Los Angeles.

The must-sees

the hollywood sign in los angeles

LA’s must-see attractions make up a familiar bucket list: the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park (and, a bit further south, Disneyland), Mann’s Chinese Theater, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, Muscle Beach, the Griffith Observatory, the Santa Monica Pier. Visiting any of these spots will make your Instagram feed look like you’re vacationing on the set of a movie.

HI Los Angeles Santa Monica is the perfect place to base yourself if you want to do it all. A quick walk from the hostel at the Santa Monica pier, you can even buy tickets for Starline tours, which runs hop-on/hop-off shuttles to lots of the area’s top attractions.

Parks and beaches

Southern California’s known for its stunning natural beauty, and Los Angeles is no exception. Start at the beach in Santa Monica, just a short stroll from HI Los Angeles Santa Monica hostel. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon sunbathing, surfing, boogie boarding, biking, or running. A bit further up the coast, you’ll find Malibu’s famous coast, blanketed in white sand and lined with the homes of the rich and famous.

In addition to its legendary beaches, LA’s home to more mountainous terrain that’s perfect for hiking and other outdoor adventures. Go for a hike through Laurel, Topanga, or Temescal Canyons, or explore the greater Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. A bit further south, you can hop a ferry to Catalina Island, a wonderland of beaches and hiking trails.


columns in front of the lacma museum at night

The J. Paul Getty center houses a world-class collection of European art and is surrounded by beautiful public gardens and epic views of the LA skyline. Admission to the museum is free any time, though it’s a good idea to make a reservation for timed entry on their website as the museum can get crowded.

There’s also the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA, the largest art museum in the western U.S. Works in the museum span all cultures and time periods, and the outdoor sculpture installations alone will have you busy Instagramming all afternoon. LACMA is adjacent to the famous La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, an Ice Age fossil excavation site where you can see existing fossils on display and watch new ones being discovered.

Want even more? See contemporary art at the Broad museum or MOCA; get scientific at the Natural History Museum of LA County or the California Science Center; or immerse yourself in history and culture at the California African American Museum, the Japanese American National Museum, or the Museum of Tolerance.



Los Angeles is one of the world’s most exciting destinations for food, and for good reason: you can find just about any type of cuisine under the sun here. From Korean to Japanese, burgers and hot dogs to vegan eats, and of course some seriously inventive and authentic Mexican food, Los Angeles has everything you could possibly want to eat. Just within walking distance of HI Los Angeles Santa Monica, guests have their choice of a wide range of global flavors, from classic British pub fare at Ye Olde King’s Head Tavern, to handmade Italian pasta at Uovo, to Caribbean plates at Cha Cha Chicken. Just ask the friendly front desk staff at the hostel for their favorite recommendations!