The Definitive Ranking of L.A.’s Tourist Traps
As with any popular tourist destination, L.A. is home to certain spots that large crowds of out-of-towners are compelled to flock to. You’ll see them on every entry-level list of must-sees in L.A., all over Instagram and in the opening credits of TV shows like The Hills or 90210.
But do these hot spots, like the Santa Monica Pier or Universal CityWalk, actually have any redeeming qualities? We've taken a closer look at L.A.’s quintessential tourist traps, from places that, despite their popularity among visitors, even locals might want to check out to the ones that should be avoided at all costs. Here's a definitive list of L.A. tourist traps, ranked.
Located just south of L.A. in Anaheim, Disneyland may technically be in Orange County but the pull of Mickey Mouse, Space Mountain (ahem, Hyperspace Mountain) and cotton candy is strong, and makes the short distance feel nominal for both tourists and locals. Sure, some criticize the high costs, lines and crowds — but none of Disneyland's pitfalls can outweigh the sheer magic of this amusement park experience. Whether you’re getting dizzy on the Teacups or getting dizzy on tropical drinks at California Adventure's Cove Bar, it's fun as hell for kids and grownups alike, even if you'll have to elbow a few Midwestern tourists along the way. 1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim. disneyland.disney.go.com.
9. Griffith Observatory
Located within the larger Griffith Park, the observatory offers some of the best views in L.A. — of the sky and of the city itself. Outside, visitors can look through telescopes and snap photos backdropped by the dazzling views, while inside, outer-spacey exhibits, live shows and a planetarium await. The Griffith Observatory is particularly renowned for its views of the Hollywood Sign, free admission and events, featured on a packed calendar of public talks, star parties and information sessions. Although parking is an experiment in torture, the observatory is probably equally popular among locals as it is among tourists. 2800 E. Observatory Road, Griffith Park. griffithobservatory.org.
8. Santa Monica Pier
For locals, it can be easy to forget how cool the Santa Monica Pier really is — but take a deep breath and a step back and allow yourself to marvel at the beauty of an iconic beachfront amusement park. It's got every cheesy thing a local is supposed to roll his eyes at, from the roller coaster and Ferris wheel overlooking the Pacific Ocean to carnival games and fattening treats, but there’s something to be said for this particular brand of Americana. (Tourists sure seem to think so.) Though it’s a year-round destination, the pier goes crazy during the summer months, but there are still reasons to visit, including the free public concerts held every Thursday night during this season. More than just a popular postcard snapshot, this shoreline fixture is worth a visit, even for jaded Angelenos. 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica. santamonicapier.org.
7. Third Street Promenade
Among locals, the Third Street Promenade doesn’t exactly have the best rep, and understandably so — it’s incredibly touristy, often crowded and is a breeding ground for street performers. But face it: It’s not all bad here if you consider how cool it is to get some shopping done on a pedestrian-friendly street just three blocks from one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world. And with some more recent developments — such as the recent opening of 1212, a restaurant that's hoping to bring about a culinary renaissance — maybe its appeal to locals will continue to grow. 1351 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. downtownsm.com.
6. Hollywood Sign hike
If you’re going to do something uber-touristy, you can definitely do worse than a hike up to the Hollywood Sign. A fairly user-friendly hike, the trail has a wide path, moderate grade and even some other attractions along the route, such as the Bronson Caves and the Hollywood Reservoir. You’ll be guaranteed some Instagram-worthy shots of the sign itself and L.A.'s stunning vistas, but you unfortunately won’t be the only ones trying to catch a glimpse of this movie-famous landmark — especially if visiting on a weekend, you’re likely to be on a trail packed with other hikers. Overall, it’s a middle-of-the-road attraction: It’s free and will definitely please visitors, but locals probably will opt for more obscure hikes. (Hey, like these.)
5. Venice Boardwalk
On the upside, the Venice Boardwalk offers tourists an opportunity to see what is, without a doubt, L.A.'s best feature: the beach. The downside is that most people will be too distracted by weightlifters, unsavory characters and the grungy smoke shops to even make it down to the sand. It’s certainly not the worst place you can choose to spend an afternoon, but it’s got its fair share of cheese, best exemplified by souvenir shops selling bro tank tops designed in terribly poor taste (see: a drawing of a wiener dog captioned “My Wiener Is Huge in Japan”). There’s also a 99.9 percent chance you’ll be handed a homemade “mixtape” and/or be offered a discounted piercing by a guy handing out fliers on the street. Ocean Front Walk, Venice. venicebeach.com/the-venice-beach-boardwalk.
4. Hollywood & Highland Center
Somewhere in the ideological intersection between Times Square and the Las Vegas Strip exists the Hollywood & Highland Center — a shopping complex overrun by bright lights and street performers. Right along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, it’s convenient for those looking to hit the other tourist attractions in the area ... and to officially confirm that the real Hollywood is nothing like the one you’ve been admiring in movies. If you’re staying in this area and want to get some shopping in, then sure, I guess this is a fine place to go. But if you have a car or are hoping for an experience you can’t find at your local mall, then maybe opt for somewhere else. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. hollywoodandhighland.com.
3. One Rodeo/Rodeo Drive
Unless you’re really into watching rich tourists shop at Versace or have, like, a million dollars lying around to spend frivolously, then there’s not much to see here. One Rodeo, a small walking street, takes about one minute to traverse and is reminiscent of the Forum Shops at Vegas — sure, there’s lots of fancy stuff to admire through the windows, but it certainly isn’t an experience that says anything (or at least not anything good) about L.A. And while some tourists might be under the impression that this is where celebs themselves choose to drop some serious cash on a gown or new handbag, let’s go ahead and bust that myth right here and now: Few celebrities would be caught dead shopping on Rodeo Drive. These businesses survive solely on the money (and blood, sweat and tears) of tourists. rodeodrive-bh.com.
2. Universal CityWalk
The Downtown Disney of Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal CityWalk is similarly touristy and overpriced — but without the nostalgic charm that can be found (at least sparingly) at Disney’s counterpart. Unless you want to be blinded by bright lights, spend your life savings on parking and check out oversized versions of chains like the Hard Rock Cafe or Yogurtland, there’s not much of a reason to stop by this kitschy complex. It’s probably the least authentic experience you can have in L.A., and one that offers nary a glimpse of the unique California culture that makes this city worth visiting in the first place. 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City. citywalkhollywood.com.
1. Hollywood Walk of Fame
For tourists seeking a glimpse of the notorious L.A. glitz and glamour, we understand the draw of visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But in reality, the strip of sidewalk stars is more grimy than glam — and much more tourist trap than hot spot. Yes, you can walk the Strip and think about all of the celebrities who have walked the same steps for their star ceremonies — but, in person, it’s hard to reconcile the images you’ve seen in the news with the sights of dirty streets, sidewalk buskers and cheesy souvenir shops. We can’t promise you’ll regret going (hey, some tourists just really want to hit all the attractions, lame or not), but we can promise you won’t feel any need to return — and that you won’t catch any celebrities, or even locals, walking next to you.
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