Know before you go: Want to visit the places recommended in this article? With local regulations changing frequently, it’s a good idea to check the web site of any attraction or business to make sure it’s open before you go.
The city of Los Angeles is huge and full of so many iconic things to experience, it’s impossible to do it all in one trip. But once you’ve ticked off those big bucket list items, you might be looking for something a little different on your next visit. There are plenty of great non-touristy things to do in LA, and when you see the city like a local, you’ll get to love it even more. Take a look at just a few of our favorite unique things to do in LA, and then when you check in at HI Santa Monica hostel, be sure to ask the friendly front desk folk for their recommendations.
1. See the Santa Monica Camera Obscura
One of the best kept secrets in Santa Monica is the camera obscura in Palisades Park on Ocean Avenue. Go to the Adult Recreation Center about a block from the pier, and you’ll find a ‘50s-style building with an office where you’ll leave your ID in exchange for a key. The key is for a room at the top of the stairs with a large white disk in the middle, onto which the camera obscura projects a live, moving image of the beach-goers on Ocean Avenue. The old-school photographic device was donated to the city in 1907, and is one of only a handful open to the public in the U.S. It makes for a quick, fun escape from the bustle on the boardwalk, and is a must if you’re a fan of photography.
2. Ride the Angel’s Flight Funicular then Eat All the Food at Grand Central Market
Downtown LA is an awesome part of the city to walk around and see great murals and architecture. While you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to check out the Angel’s Flight funicular, and Grand Central Market across the road. Angel’s Flight is a short, steep railway with two cable cars connecting Hill Street below with the California Plaza above. It’s a fun little ride up the hill, and at the top, there’s a small park and a plaza with an amphitheater. When you come back down, stop at the Grand Central Market, a magical hall full of food vendors from all over the world. Go hungry.
3. Go on a Paddle Boat on Echo Park Lake
Echo Park is another great area to explore, with its cool thrift stores, music venues, and hip bars. On nice Los Angeles days, you’ll find locals hanging out around Echo Park Lake. Rent a paddle boat and sail around admiring the lotus flowers and the sweet views of the downtown skyline between the palm trees. You can also walk along the winding path through the park, or bring a blanket to sit on the lawn and do some excellent people watching.
4. Dance at Motown Night at The Short Stop
While you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to pop in for a happy hour drink at The Short Stop, a bar on Sunset Boulevard. Not only are there good deals during happy hour (especially before baseball games), there’s also a jukebox, and, on Monday Nights, an epic dance party featuring classic Motown songs. Jam your heart out with the Angelenos who make this their weekly ritual, and take home some memories of a true LA night out.
5. See the Oddities at the Museum of Jurassic Technology
There’s really no way to define the exhibits at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, which sits halfway between the beach and downtown on Venice Boulevard, but it’s worth a visit for something out of the ordinary. Between the collection of tiny figures standing in the eye of a needle, the assortment of decaying playing dice, a series on knots, and radiographs of flowers, you’re sure to find something that will amuse and amaze you. After your browsing, headto the museum’s gorgeous rooftop Zen garden, where complimentary tea and cookies are served.
6. Watch a Movie at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery
While most people may flock to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery by day to see the final resting places of Hollywood legends like Judy Garland and Chris Cornell from Soundgarden, locals know to come on summer nights for the outdoor movie screenings. Bring a blanket, snacks, and drinks just before sunset and catch movies under the stars, from classics like Casablanca to modern-day favorites. There’s a DJ that plays before and after, and there are often fun events like dance parties and sleepovers at the scenic cemetery. We definitely recommend buying your tickets early if you plan on going to a screening.
7. Do Karaoke in Koreatown
Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in America, and there’s probably nowhere you can see that more than Koreatown, just west of downtown. As the densest neighborhood in terms of both population and 24-hour eateries, K-Town is famous for its good Asian and Latino food and is known as a mecca for anyone who considers themself a karaoke fan. Night-owls and club goers love it because there are plenty of places to have a good jam. Keep an eye out for good happy hour deals, and definitely gather a gang of hostel friends for a karaoke session in one of the many bars where you can rent your own private room.