Growing up in Los Angeles, I have been surrounded by an infinite amount of culturally enriching opportunities. This city has so much to offer: amazing restaurants, incredible art scenes, outdoor music venues, charming coffee spots, gorgeous hiking trails, picturesque beaches, farmers markets, beautiful boutique stores, historic landmarks, sculpture gardens, concert halls, theatres, and more. These extraordinary experiences have certainly influenced me; I’ve always enjoyed discovering unfamiliar places that I didn’t know existed.
I especially love exploring hidden pockets of Downtown Los Angeles as I’m fascinated by its enchanting energy and unconventional beauty. I often focus my adventures on art, photography, architecture, and delicious food. I’m constantly observing new details, even when I’m revisiting familiar sites. As French novelist Marcel Proust once said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” In no particular order, here are 21 inspiring places every arts and culture aficionado should visit throughout Los Angeles.
The Theatre at Ace Hotel is the literal foundation of Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles. It’s a delicately restored, 1,600-seat movie palace from the 1920s with a three-story, 2,300-square-foot grand lobby, ornate open balcony, mezzanine, and vaulted ceiling with thousands of tiny mirrors that glimmer when lit. The theater serves as Los Angeles' burgeoning epicenter for art and modern entertainment with a prime setting for a wide array of events, including large-scale concerts, movie premieres, conferences, seminars, symposiums and other performances.
Located in the heart of Beverly Hills, California, the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts brings audiences world-class theater, dance and music, performed by many of the world’s most talented and sought-after artists. With eclectic programming that mirrors the diverse landscape of Los Angeles, and its notability as the entertainment capital of the world, The Wallis offers original and revered works from across the US and around the globe.
The Annenberg Space for Photography is a cultural destination dedicated to exhibiting both digital and print photography in an intimate environment. The space features state-of-the-art, high-definition digital technology as well as traditional prints by some of the world's most renowned photographers and a selection of emerging photographic talents as well. The venue, an initiative of the Annenberg Foundation and its trustees, is the first solely photographic cultural destination in the Los Angeles area, and it creates a new paradigm in the world of photography.
Bergamot Station is a facility housing more than 30 art galleries in Santa Monica, California. The site was previously a railroad station from 1875 to 1953. Bergamot Station has since blossomed into a widely popular art destination, noted for its growing cluster of galleries, which allow one to spend the day seeing art and photography. The Santa Monica Museum of Art is also located at Bergamot Station. It is an independent, non-collecting art museum, which exhibits the work of local, national, and international contemporary artists.
The Bradbury Building is a national historic landmark located in Downtown Los Angeles. It’s the oldest commercial building in the central city and one of Los Angeles’ unique treasures. Still magnificent more than 100 years after its 1893 opening, its magical light-filled Victorian court, open cage elevators, marble stairs, and ornate iron railings make this one of downtown's most photographed icons.
Afterwards, I suggest walking across the street to the Grand Central Market—a true food lover’s paradise! I love all the classic neon signs above the original food stalls throughout the market.
The Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden is one of the most comprehensive sculpture gardens in the United States. The garden is located on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles and is run by the Hammer Museum. The sculpture garden was founded in 1967 and spans more than five acres. It currently has more than 70 international sculptures by figural and abstract artists such as Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin, Henri Matisse, and others.
The Getty Center is located in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles and is one of two locations of the J. Paul Getty Museum. The Center branch of the museum features pre-20th-century European paintings, drawings, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts; and 19th- and 20th-century American, Asian, and European photographs. In addition, the Museum’s collection at the Center includes outdoor sculpture displayed on terraces and in gardens and the large Central Garden designed by Robert Irwin. New plants are constantly being added to the palette. Irwin's statement, “Always changing, never twice the same” is carved into the plaza floor, reminding visitors of the ever-changing nature of this living work of art. The Getty Center is truly one of my favorite places in all of Los Angeles.
The Getty Villa in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles is the other location of the J. Paul Getty Museum. It is an educational center and museum dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, within Roman-inspired architecture and surrounded by Roman-style gardens. The museum sits on a hill overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean. The Getty Villa hosts live performances in both its indoor auditorium and its outdoor theatre.
The Greek Theatre is located at Griffith Park in Los Angeles. It’s used for concerts and stage shows, and it’s one of my favorite small outdoor venues around town. Designed by architect Samuel Tilden Norton, the theatre stage is modeled after a Greek temple. There’s an incredibly charming and vibrant energy at the Greek. I’ve seen some amazing shows there including The Lumineers, Maroon 5, Jack Johnson, Rodriguez, The Weeknd, and many more.
Southern California’s gateway to the cosmos! The Observatory is located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, just above the Los Feliz neighborhood. Visitors can look through telescopes, explore exhibits, see live shows in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, and enjoy spectacular views of Los Angeles. Très romantique!
The Hammer Museum, which is affiliated with the University of California, Los Angeles, is an art museum and cultural center known for its artist-centric and progressive array of exhibitions and public programs. The Hammer Museum also hosts a rotating selection of programs throughout the year, from lectures, symposia, and readings to concerts and film screenings.
The Hollywood Bowl is a 1920s amphitheater that is used primarily for music performances. It’s one of my favorite outdoor venues in the world. I love arriving early to enjoy a delicious dinner before the show. It’s the perfect evening spent with family and friends! A few of my past favorite concerts at the Hollywood Bowl include The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Jay Z and Mary J. Blige, Wilco, and John Legend.
In 2010, European street artists JR and Vhils collaborated on two large murals facing each other in Downtown Los Angeles. They used two buildings on Spring Street as their canvases. French artist JR presented monochromatic photographs by wheat-pasting them on the buildings, while Portuguese street artist Vhils gave finishing touches and revealed the striking portraits using his chiseling technique called “Scratching the Surface.” The details are remarkable; the hands, eyes and facial expressions are so real.
Nearby on South Grand Avenue, you’ll find the celebrated gourmet market, restaurant, and patisserie Bottega Louie. I recommend going in for some sweet treats... their rose macaroons are my favorite!
Since its inception in 1965, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has been devoted to collecting works of art that span both history and geography, in addition to representing Los Angeles's uniquely diverse population. Today LACMA is the largest art museum in the western United States, with a collection that includes more than 120,000 objects dating from antiquity to the present, encompassing the geographic world and nearly the entire history of art. In addition to art exhibits, the museum features film and concert series.
I especially love the magnificent Pavilion for Japanese Art. It’s a part of LACMA containing the museum's collection of Japanese works that date from approximately 3000 B.C. through the 20th century. The building itself was designed by renowned architect Bruce Goff. There’s such a peaceful and beautiful energy in this space.
Founded in 1979, MOCA is the only museum in Los Angeles devoted exclusively to contemporary art. It is committed to the collection, presentation, and interpretation of work produced since 1940 in all media, and to preserving that work for future generations. In a remarkably short time, MOCA has developed one of the nation’s most renowned permanent collections. Now numbering over 6,800 works and steadily growing, this invaluable cultural resource provides extensive opportunities for education and enjoyment to thousands of national and international visitors. Today the museum is housed in three unique facilities: MOCA Grand Avenue, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, and MOCA Pacific Design Center.
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (NHM) is the largest natural and historical museum in the western United States, and its collections include nearly 35 million specimens and artifacts and cover 4.5 billion years of history. The mission of the museum is to inspire wonder, discovery and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds.
The Norton Simon Museum is an art museum located in Pasadena, California. It is known around the world as one of the most remarkable private art collections ever assembled. The Norton Simon collections include: European paintings, sculptures, and tapestries; Asian sculptures, paintings, and woodblock prints; and sculpture gardens displaying many sculptors’ work in a landscape setting around a large pond. The museum contains the Norton Simon Theater, which shows film programs daily, and hosts lectures, symposia, and dance and musical performances year-round. From 1996 to 1999, the Museum underwent a major interior renovation by Frank Gehry. It is a beautiful work of architecture that blends structural passion with the tranquility of its surroundings.
Olvera Street, known as “the birthplace of Los Angeles,” is a Mexican marketplace that recreates a romantic “Old Los Angeles” with a block-long narrow, tree-shaded, brick-lined market with various structures, painted stalls, street vendors and cafés. Olvera Street was created in 1930 “to preserve and present the customs and trades of early California.” Many of the merchants on Olvera Street today are descendants of original vendors. My favorite discovery? The delicious dulce de leche churros dipped in cinnamon and sugar!
Open to the public since 1996, the Skirball Cultural Center has established itself as one of the world's most dynamic Jewish cultural institutions and among the leading cultural venues in Los Angeles. Its mission is to explore the connections between 4,000 years of Jewish heritage and the vitality of American democratic ideals. It seeks to welcome and inspire people of every ethnic and cultural identity in American life.
The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens (or The Huntington) is a collections-based educational and research institution. In addition to the library, the institution houses an extensive art collection with a focus on 18th and 19th-century European art and 17th to mid-20th-century American art. The property also includes approximately 120 acres of specialized botanical landscaped gardens, most notably the “Japanese Garden”, the “Desert Garden”, and the “Chinese Garden.”
Designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, Walt Disney Concert Hall (WDCH) is an internationally recognized architectural landmark and one of the most acoustically sophisticated concert halls in the world. From the stainless steel curves of its striking exterior to the state-of-the-art acoustics of the hardwood-paneled main auditorium, the 3.6-acre complex embodies the unique energy and creative spirit of the city of Los Angeles and its orchestra.
Like what you see? Follow Gabé on Instagram @ghirsch for more art-world inspiration!
Have you visited any of these locations in Los Angeles? Which were your favorites? What else would you recommend? Tell us in the comments below.