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Best Things To Do in Los Angeles

AOL PICK from our Editors
The list of the best Los Angeles things to do runs the gamut from family fun to glam nights out—and in between are shops, spectator sports, museums, theater, rock concerts, and the symphony or the opera. It’s possible to sandwich into a day a surf lesson, a screaming tour through Universal Studios, and an evening of avant-garde theater at the Mark Taper Forum (or an adrenaline-pumping Lakers game at the Staples Center). All that’s required is stamina.

Universal Studios Hollywood

Neighborhood: North Hollywood

Universal Studios is so big that it has its own convenient subway stop (Universal City), which is a huge deal in L.A. The multi-faceted family attraction is known for exciting rides like “Revenge of the Mummies,” and “Shrek 4-D.”  There’s also a tour of the studio’s famous movie and television sets (the Bates Motel from “Psycho” and Wisteria Lane from “Desperate Housewives”). In addition, there are restaurants, shops, and a big movie multiplex at CityWalk. After drinks and a meal, grownups can stick around for a big-name concert at the Gibson Amphitheatre.

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Walt Disney Concert Hall

Neighborhood: Downtown
The sinuous stainless steel curves of this stunning architectural achievement by L.A. architect Frank Gehry can be appreciated from the street, or on a 60-minute guided tour, but it would be a shame to miss a performance of the renowned L.A. Philharmonic, now abuzz over its brand-new, energetic young conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Also in the building are RedCat, home to some of LA’s most cutting-edge, challenging performances, and the fine-dining flagship of chef Joachim Splichal’s restaurant group, Patina, 213-972-333.

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Walt Disney Concert Hall  

The Getty Villa

Neighborhood: Pacific Palisades/Malibu
J. Paul Getty’s collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman antiquities is housed in a replica of a Roman villa built on a hilltop between Pacific Palisades and Malibu. Over the years there have been controversies concerning fakes and claims of illegal purchases, and many people are put off by the kitschiness of a Roman villa on a California hilltop. But the gardens, the collection and the frequent family-oriented activities make this a great place to visit. You’ll need to call at least one day in advance to make a reservation.

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The Getty Center

Neighborhood: West Los Angeles
Controversial from the start, the jury is still out on the architectural virtues of this white, travertine-clad modernist complex located on a hill above Brentwood. The architect, Richard Meier (who, by the way, is not known for his modesty), had nothing nice to say about the landscaping designed by artist Robert Irwin. And then there’s the fact that the world’s wealthiest arts organization is a little short on significant art. But enjoy the natural light in the galleries, the interesting decorative arts collection which includes stained glass panels and period furniture, the beautiful gardens, and the spectacular views from the mountains to the sea.

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Museum of Contemporary Art

Neighborhood: Downtown
Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art is the only museum in L.A. devoted exclusively to contemporary art. There are more than 5,000 works of art on display here ranging from minimalist to abstract expressionist to prints and collections are grouped according to the donor who bequeathed them to the museum. The Panza Collection is especially notable for its pieces by the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Rothko and George Sega. MOCA was recently rescued from closing by an infusion of cash from philanthropist Eli Broad. The new director, Warhol acolyte and former New York gallery owner Jeffrey Deitch, ought to provide the beleaguered museum with an interesting second life. MOCA has an auxiliary site, the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo (150 N. Central Ave.) On a budget? Come on Thursday nights from 5-8PM when admission is free.

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L.A. Live

Neighborhood: Downtown
At this entertainment complex, visitors can choose between big-name sports (say, a Lakers game) at Staples Center or a big-name concert at the Nokia Theatre. There’s also Club Nokia and the Conga Room, which present more intimate performances by name entertainers. Music-lovers will also enjoy the Grammy museum. But wait—there’s more! There’s a 14-screen movie multiplex, a bowling alley, and 20 restaurants. There’s even two hotels here—the J.W. Marriott and the Ritz Carlton (yes, they’re both a splurge, but you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of Los Angeles, the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains). L.A. Live’s close neighbor is the Los Angeles Convention Center, and there are exciting restaurants and bars on surrounding streets.

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Neighborhood: Mid-Wilshire
Since opening in the mid-60s, LACMA—the largest art museum in the West—has grown in a series of unrelated architectural styles and continues to expand. Most recently, the Renzo Piano-designed Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) popped up between the former May Company department store (now part of the museum campus) and the main building housing the permanent collection. The big surprise was, after donating $50 million toward the building named for him, philanthropist Eli Broad announced he was hanging onto his renowned art collection, thank you very much. Next in line? The Piano-designed Resnick Pavilion, opening in October, 2010. LACMA is a far better museum than it’s credited to be, and the frequent special exhibitions are always worth checking out. On summer Friday nights insiders show up for free outdoor jazz concerts.

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Norton Simon Museum

Neighborhood: Pasadena
This jewel of a museum contains European painting and sculpture from the 14th through the 19th centuries, along with an extensive collection of Asian art. The large number of important Impressionist works alone make this museum worth a visit, and the gardens are like sitting in a Monet painting.

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Disneyland Park

Neighborhood: Anaheim
L.A.’s most famous attraction is actually a 45-minute drive south in Anaheim. If you’re confused by the theme park’s many titles, here’s a run-down: in 2001 a second theme park, Disney’s California Adventure, opened next door to the original Disneyland, then hotels, shops and restaurants created a Disneyland Downtown District, and all came together under the new umbrella title, Disneyland Resort. An ongoing $1.1 billion expansion plan for California Adventure include the welcome return of the show “Captain Eo” and the debut of the spectacular new performance called “World of Color.” If you’ve been putting off a visit, delay no more—this is definitely the time to go.

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Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens

Neighborhood: Pasadena/San Marino
The art collection, mainly 18th and 19th century British and French art and decorative art, is housed in the Myron Hunt-designed home of railroad tycoon Henry Huntington (1850-1927). Don’t miss Gainsborough’s famous “Blue Boy”painting. The American collection is also well worth seeing and includes works by John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt, as well as an Arts and Crafts exhibit. The Huntington sits on 150 acres, including Chinese and Japanese gardens, English landscape gardens, a stunning collection of desert cacti, and more. With a reservation (call at least three days ahead), you can have high tea—a much-loved outing for locals. The library contains rare manuscripts and the consummate collection on botany, history and civil engineering.

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Griffith Observatory

Neighborhood: Griffith Park
The Observatory is one of LA’s prime landmarks, visible from much of the city and from airplanes approaching from the east. It’s best known as the Deco building that appeared in film Rebel without a Cause. The Observatory is also a great family outing. State of the art telescopes, a planetarium and frequent lectures and events make it fascinating for all ages.

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Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Neighborhood: Hollywood
Over 75 years ago, movie theater mogul Sidney Patrick Grauman set out to create his dream theater and to this day the architectural masterpiece he created is one of the desirable venues for studio premiers. Grauman convinced film director Moon Quon to come over from China to direct the decoration of the theater, which includes temple bells, pagodas, stone statues, and ten foot tall lotus shaped fountains, all of which were imported from China. Even the entrance with its red columns and its 30 foot stone dragon, is impressive. See a movie here, but don’t forget to pay your respects to the sidewalk outside where you’ll find the cement hand- and footprints of the stars.

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Hollywood and Highland

Neighborhood: Hollywood
The unveiling of the Hollywood and Highland Center in 2001 marked a rebirth of downtown Hollywood. A whopping $615 million went into creating the 640,000 square foot Hollywood playground which encompasses over 60 stores, six restaurants, three nightclubs and popular attractions like the Kodak Theater and Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The whole area feels a bit like a Disney-fied version of Hollywood, but it’s fun nonetheless and it makes for a great L.A. family activity.

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Kodak Theatre

Neighborhood: Hollywood
This isn’t just any theater—the Kodak has been the annual home of the Academy awards since it opened in November 2001. The 3,332-seat theater is a breathtaking ode to the cinematic arts (it should be—it cost $94 million to build). We highly recommend taking a guided tour of the theater (they’re offered every 30 minutes seven days a week from 10:30AM to 2:30PM) to take in the architectural and historical highlights, but if you don’t have time you should at least poke your head in the lobby. The lobby was designed with Michelangelo’s Compodiglio in Rome in mind and towers five stories high, with a majestic spiral staircase as its centerpiece. The walls are decorated with photographs of Oscar winners past such as Grace Kelly and Marlon Brando. The Kodak Theater is named after, you guessed it, Kodak film, but we can’t think of a commercial-artistic marriage that’s more fitting. As Kodak points out, for 78 years in a row the film that won “best picture” at the Academy Awards was produced on Kodak film.

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Santa Monica Pier

Neighborhood: Santa Monica/Venice/Marina del Rey

The Santa Monica Pier is more than just a pleasant attraction, it’s a symbol of the community of Santa Monica. The pier has been a center of life in the town since it opened on September 9th, 1909 and is still going strong in spite of the fact that it faced potential destruction twice—once in 1973 when the city council tried to demolish it to establish a resort (the residents would have none of that—they petitioned the government until they won) and again in 1983 when mother nature took down one third of the pier in a storm (again, the locals rallied the government to save the pier). Today, four million visitors annually visit the pier to enjoy the ocean views and soak up the carnival-esque atmosphere, complete with fried food, street performers and arcade games. Don’t leave until you’ve ridden the historic carousel (Santa Monica’s first national historic landmark) and purchased an ice cream soda from Soda Jerks, an old-fashioned soda fountain in the historic carousel building.

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