Welcome to the Jungle. Looking for fun and games? If you know where to look in Los Angeles, you can find amazing activities!
I lived in Los Angeles for 25 years. To avoid the crowds (and the traffic), my squad and I looked for the best hipster spots and hidden gems. Out of the places I’ve seen, the ones below are by far my favorites. If you’re bored of tourist traps, check out these places for a more authentic LA experience:
The Museum of Jurassic Technology - Culver City
Do you have a taste for the odd and surreal? This museum is perfect for you. With random exhibits, strange art installations, and the famous dove room, walking through galleries feels like whiplash - in a good way. No matter what strange content they have on display, you’re sure to leave the museum learning something new and obscure. Plus, they may or may not serve free cookies on their second floor.
California Science Center - Los Angeles
Science nerds, oh boy do I have the place for you! California’s Science Museum and Natural History Center are two of the best museums in the country. The exhibits range from fun and interactive to impressive and inspirational.
While the science center has an exhibit that shows off the Endeavor Space Shuttle, the natural history center has complete dinosaur fossils! Both are awesome and definitely worth the extra ticket price.
Honorable Mention: The Last Bookstore - Los Angeles
So this one isn’t technically a museum, but the sheer amount of books and art you can peruse make this one count in my books (pun intended). Plus, the store offers a crazy selection of records, old and new, which are super fun to check out!
Placerita Canyon Nature Center - Newhall
If you’re a fan of flowers, birds, and the sun, you definitely have to check out Placerita Canyon. Along with gorgeous trails to wander, this hiking trail offers a mini nature museum, a gorgeous garden, tons of hummingbirds, and more! Plus, if you love woodpeckers, there are a ton of them here!
Pro Tip: Show up at dawn or dusk to see all the birds this location has to offer.
Vasquez Rocks - Agua Dulce
If you or your kids love scrambling around on big rocks, The rocks at Vasquez are literally perfect for you. This gorgeous piece of [federally?] protected land boasts massive rock formations formed by the movement of tectonic plates.
Pro Tip: an episode of Star Trek was filmed here (for those in the know, the one with the Gorn!). If you’re a fan, look into meetups happening around this area - I met the Gorn’s stunt actor there once!
El Cocinero - Van Nuys
El Cocinero is one of the top things I miss in Los Angeles. This all-vegan Mexican food eatery in Van Nuys opened in 2020 right before the pandemic without delivery options and survived that way with lines going out the door despite mask mandates and social distancing. The restaurant offers a wide variety of fake meat types that are closer to authentic than many restaurants in the San Fernando Valley. Even if you aren’t vegan, this restaurant is worth a try - it’s amazing.
Odyssey - Granada Hills
If you love dining with an atmosphere, look no further. This upscale restaurant doesn’t just serve amazing steaks and pastas, it also overlooks Los Angeles! The views are worth the visit alone. Pro tip: You can totally check out the view without having a reservation - there’s a pathway with public access on the left side of the building.
Vinh Loi - Reseda
Voted one of the top vegan places in all of LA, this is the perfect spot for Vietnamese food. The owner makes this place. If you’re lucky enough to visit while he’s in the kitchen, he’ll make you something unique! The food he’s able to whip up is legendary. Plus, the restaurant sells amazing vegan jerky.
Leo Carrillo - Malibu
If you love looking at beautiful views, climbing on rocks, or looking at little critters in tidepools, I can’t think of a better location to check out than Leo Carrillo State Beach.
Pro tip: Leo Carrillo has an amazing campsite, too! It’s well worth the stay. Just make sure you make reservations in advance, this campsite books up quickly during the summer months!
Matador - Malibu
This beach is my second choice when Leo Carrillo is too crowded. Though it doesn’t have tidepools like Leo Carrillo, it’s still gorgeous! This beach is incredibly fun to wander around. With a bit of exploration, you can find caves, rare seabirds, and unique eroding rock formations! Plus, watching the sunset here is a MUST.
Zuma Beach - Malibu
If you’re looking for the classic, California experience, there’s no better place to go than Zuma. From beachside food shacks to soft sands, you’ll feel like a true native setting up your towel and soaking up the SoCal sun. Plus, if you nab the right spot, you’ll get to listen to music, too! Some of the food shacks blast pop music from their speakers - super fun!
Pro Tip: When Zuma is overcrowded, drive a bit South. There’s a small handful of nearby beaches that are a little less busy!
Bars and Clubs
Beetle House LA - Los Angeles
Tim Burton fans can’t miss out on this hidden treasure. The Beetle House, which is themed on Burton’s collection of movies, is a must-visit.
Pro Tip: Grab a group of friends and try their fish bowl. You’ll all be properly sauced by the end of that beverage. It also comes with Swedish Fish! Yum!
La Descarga - Los Angeles
Los Angeles has some amazing speakeasies littered throughout, but La Descarga takes the cake. This Cuban bar has it all - drinks, dance floors, a lounge, cigars, and even burlesque shows!
Pro-tip: head to the website and grab a reservation before you go. This bar can get really busy on the weekends.
Wanderlust - Los Angeles
If you haven’t been to Wanderlust, stop what you’re doing right now and go! This ice cream specialty store, which themes its treats around the flavors of countries around the world, offers some of the best ice creams I’ve ever had in Los Angeles.
Porto’s Bakery - Glendale
Porto’s is one of those places commonly listed on “Eat this before you die” lists that focus on Los Angeles. The lines for this one are awful - it’s no secret that Porto’s is one of the best places to grab a bite in LA. But, trust, it’s one of the few places in LA where the lines are worth it!
Salt and Straw - Anaheim
The second ice cream place on the list, but I just had to mention it. The flavors here are bizarre, to say the least. Though they do offer the regular stuff for those who are less adventurous, I absolutely recommend trying their Olive Oil Ice Cream. I know it sounds weird, but it’s weirdly good.
Pro Tip: Grab their ice cream flight and try out a bunch of flavors at once!
Fat Sal’s - Encino
Oh my god, those milkshakes. Seriously, I’m obsessed. I used to live right by this one, and it would often be the last stop after bar hopping through Ventura Boulevard. If you’re looking for food too, this is a great spot for burgers and fries as well!
Pro tip: This restaurant has multiple locations (it’s that good!). The one in Encino is the best, though. If you’re in the area, definitely check it out.
Did I miss one of Los Angeles’ hidden treasures? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear about your favorite SoCal Locales! :)