Your friends or relatives are heading to Los Angeles and have tasked you with showing them around town. What do you do? As a local, you're likely loath to spend a day pushing through the crowd at Hollywood & Highland, nor do you want to look for a parking spot at the Grove. And the last thing you want to do is get stuck taking touristy photos on Rodeo Drive.
The best thing you can do for your out-of-town guests is show them the Los Angeles you know and love. Stay away from the things they can do back home; they didn't travel across the country to go to a mall. Mix up the cultural institutions with outdoor adventures before delving into the L.A. nightlife and late-night food runs. Here are 10 suggestions to help make your guests' trip to Los Angeles a special one.
1. Visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology may leave you and your guests baffled. Even if you sit down to watch the explanatory video at the start of your self-guided tour, your group may still scratch your heads as you make your way through the labyrinthian collection of strange odds and ends. The path, at times, seems endless; you'll realize that you've missed corners of the gallery before you head back into the gift shop. The finds in here may spark your curiosity. If you're a dog lover, the museum's tribute to the Soviet Union's canine space travelers will have you fighting back tears. Make sure you head all the way up to the roof of the museum to relax on the serene patio. You also can check out films in the Borzoi Kabinet Theater.
2. Tour the Arts District murals.
You don't have to stick to the museums to give your traveling friends a taste of L.A. culture. The Arts District overflows with murals from noted artists such as Dabs Myla.
If you're exploring on your own, leave no corner unturned. Look on the sidewalk and on the lamp posts — you'll probably find something. One of my favorite pieces, a group mural that recalls the work of fantasy artists like Frank Frazetta, is tucked inside a parking lot.
For those who want a little help navigating the neighborhood, L.A. Art Tours offers a 2½-hour trek through the neighborhood for $12.
While the art will bring you into the neighborhood, you should plan to stick around for a round of games at 82, beers at Angel City Brewery or grub at Umami Burger or Wurstküche.
3. Check out a Cinespia screening at Hollywood Forever.
Your friend has been moping about the house, complaining about the lack of celebrity spottings on this trip, and you've tired of trying to explain that most Angelenos aren't famous and you can't manifest interactions with movie stars at the local grocery store. Here's a solution: Go to a Cinespia movie screening at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Sure, the famous folks here are deceased, but it counts for something.
Superstar graves aside, a Cinespia screening will give you a chance to picnic, bond over an old favorite movie and maybe check out a local DJ before the show. If your guest is out here in the outdoor movie series' off-season, look for a show at the Masonic Lodge inside the cemetery. It's a beautiful, intimate venue that brings plenty of interesting, living artists to the stage.
4. Visit the South Bay beaches.
For the obligatory L.A. beach day, you might be tempted to hit up Malibu, Santa Monica or Venice, but the coast of the South Bay can be less of a hassle and more fun. If biking is your thing, you can hop on the Marvin Braude Bike Trail at Dockweiler State Beach and head toward Torrance County Beach.
For those seeking cultural outings, head to ESMOA, an “art laboratory” in El Segundo. For an outdoorsy experience that's away from the usual beach crowds, hike Abalone Cove Shoreline Park in Palos Verdes. Need more to do? Head into San Pedro and visit the Korean Friendship Bell before driving down to Ports O' Call.
5. Drink at a tiki bar.
If you want to catch up with your pals over drinks and give them a taste of L.A.'s retro side, head to your nearest tiki bar. For those in the San Fernando Valley, flip through the fat “grog log” at Tonga Hut for a collection of flavorful — and stiff — cocktails. The North Hollywood bar, which has been around since 1958, also hosts live entertainment and other special events.
Tiki-Ti is a must-visit watering hole when you're near Silver Lake. When you're overwhelmed by the drink options, spin the Wheel of Tiki-Ti Drinks and let fate decide for you. Those who are closer to LAX should venture to the Purple Orchid in El Segundo, where you can check out the occasional music or comedy show while you slurp down your sweet drink.
6. Hit up a show or DJ night.
Perhaps you want to impress your out-of-town friends by taking them to the biggest Saturday night bashes in town. Resist the urge. After an hour of listening to nightlife poseurs bragging about their connections while stuck in a line that won't move, the chances of having a non-shitty night will be slim. If your friends dig techno or house, look for smaller, weeknight events, such as Dig Deeper's monthly party on the Ace Hotel's rooftop patio or Clinic Wednesdays at Couture in Hollywood.
For live bands, think local. Look for local band residencies, DIY venues like HM 157, the Smell and other intimate music events. If it's summer, try a street fair, like Chinatown Summer Nights. Give your friends a chance to experience L.A. music instead of seeing someone they can catch at home.
7. Spend a day at the Getty Center.
Whether your guests are interested in Renaissance art, illuminated manuscripts, architecture or gardening, there's something to see at the Getty Center. The museum offers daily tours of its expansive collections, and the garden here is a serene place to spend an afternoon. If you're here on a weekend, look out for special performances as well.
It's incredibly easy to lose track of time at the Getty Center. Plan to make this a full-day excursion and explore as much of the grounds as you can.
8. Shop in Burbank.
If you and your guests want to shop, head to Burbank. No, I'm not talking about a trip to Ikea. Instead, you should cruise down Magnolia and Olive in search of the odd little stores Tim Burton's hometown has to offer. If there's a horror fan among you, Dark Delicacies on Magnolia is a must on your places-to-visit list. This bookstore/gift shop is committed to genre fiction and hosts frequent signings. Halloween Town, also on Magnolia, will captivate anyone whose favorite holiday falls on Oct. 31. This is a great place to stock up on toys and other gifty items. This nerdy boulevard is also home to Creature Features, which has a gorgeous collection of film-related collectibles. The store hosts art shows and panel discussions.
For more reading material, head to House of Secrets on Olive, which made our list of must-visit comic book shops. Nearby is Hyaena Gallery, which hosts collections of lowbrow art, often with an emphasis on horror-movie themes. It also sells “true crime” art, which will either intrigue or completely creep out your guests. Be prepared to make more stops, as you'll certainly come across more cool spots in Burbank.
9. Hang out in Koreatown.
There's something for everyone in K-town. Shopping ranges from high-end to budget-friendly. If you're in the market for designer duds, you'll find them at the Koreatown Plaza on Western, near James M. Woods. If you want to fill your shopping bags with $1.50 items, go to Daiso, near the Wilshire/Western Metro station.
L.A.'s history is strong in this neighborhood, which is home to the old Bullocks Wilshire building and the Wiltern Theater as well as the former site of the Ambassador Hotel. The aging buildings that line Wilshire Boulevard are a beautiful backdrop for an urban stroll. The food options are plenty and range from coffee-and-snack stops to sit-down Korean restaurants to trendy gastropubs. The neighborhood is bustling day and night and is a good option for either casual, daytime excursions or nightlife adventures.
10. Eat street food.
When you take your friends out for L.A. street food, it has to be legit. Avoid any truck selling snack-sized fusion eats for $10 a pop. Head to the taco trucks, the fruit stands, the hot dog carts. If your friend asks, “Are you sure it's OK to eat this?” you're doing something right.
L.A.'s fruit-cup vendors should be hailed as heroes on the hot days when you're hit by hunger pangs while the pollen has seriously stuffed up your nose. Nothing can cure those maladies like a bounty of fresh fruit sprinkled with chili powder, salt and lime juice. Similarly, the guy who sells tamales near Echo Park and Chinatown bars is a godsend at last call. As for the trucks, there's never a bad time to get a plate full of carnitas tacos.