Los Angeles: Home of Hollywood, City of Stars, La La Land.
L.A. is a city I fall more in love with every time I visit. Admittedly, it helps that several dear friends provide free room and board in a rather expensive city, but every time I start packing my bags to head back home, I start dreaming of reasons to miss my flight. While I can’t help you become best friends with someone who lives conveniently in that sweet spot between the 5, 10, 101 and 110, I can let you in on one my favorite parts of the city: the museums.
Spoiler: I’m listing every museum I’ve been to in L.A. because I haven’t been to a bad one yet. Whether you’re killing time before your conference begins, spending time with normally-long-distance BFFs or celebrating your birthday (all actual circumstances of my visits), I recommend exiting from the L.A. traffic to visit these stops.
1. Getty Center
Address: 1200 Getty Center Dr.
Kristin gave a shout-out to this art museum in her Weekend in Los Angeles post, and she’s spot-on about the lovely views of the city. But what she didn’t mention: If you park in the parking garage, a cute little tram takes you up the hill to the museum, and you’re greeted by gorgeous vistas as you climb up the hill. The experience of this museum starts before you enter a gallery.
What she also didn’t mention as an alternative to the pricey in-museum restaurant: The lawn is perfect for a picnic lunch. As much as I love justifying buying from museum shops as “supporting the arts,” sometimes your bank account reminds you also need to support the rent. On a rather perfect birthday, two of my best friends and I packed up bags with yummies and sat under a flowering tree for a leisurely lunch. When we finished, we checked our bags at the coat check and walked around the museum.
Because Los Angeles is notorious for its divine weather, the galleries are separated into different buildings that categorize art by different periods and styles with a courtyard between them. We spent much of our time in the Impressionist gallery featuring Van Gogh’s Irises, and I loved Édouard Manet’s The Rue Mosnier with Flags so much I bought a postcard of the painting.
If you do want to “support the arts” in a way that won’t cause Bank of America to send you mail about your dire account situation, stop by the little coffee kiosk in the courtyard between galleries for an iced coffee. Bonus: If it’s your birthday, a very enthusiastic barista will wish you well more than once.
Address: 800 W. Olympic Blvd.
Definitely one of the coolest, most creatively designed museums I’ve ever been to. In the heart of downtown LA, the building is flanked by restaurants, shops and the Staples Center. If you walk around these surrounding buildings, you can follow the history of the Grammys with “records” built into the sidewalk pavement displaying the winners of each ceremony’s major awards.
Once inside, they send you up to the fourth floor so you can work your way back down the entrance. As soon as you exit the elevator on the fourth floor, you’re surrounded by a continuous loop of memorable Grammy acceptance speeches on the walls and each version of the award’s design in glass cases in the center of the room.
Once you realize you probably won’t have time to watch the full montage of Grammy winners, the next room takes you through the history of modern music. Booths dedicated to each major genre (like pop, gospel and classical) feature interviews and mini-documentaries about their evolution, and a whole wall is dedicated to major musical moments of the 20th century. The floor also featured special exhibits about B.B. King and the history of Hawaiian music.
The third floor is dedicated to Grammy history. Another video plays on loop of memorable Grammy performances, and you can watch interviews with major musicians in the back room and follow step-by-step how music is written and recorded, how the Grammy winners are decided and how the annual ceremony is planned. Special exhibits on the floor focus on the Latin Grammys, the careers of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and their Songwriters Hall of Fame.
On the second floor of this museum, you can snag a souvenir postcard in the gift shop and take a turn through one last rotating exhibit. When I visited, the exhibit was Jim Marshall’s 1967, focused on the work of photographer Jim Marshall and the snaps he took in a significant year of music history.
The best part of this museum? It knows a museum dedicated to music should let you listen to it. Dozens (if not hundreds) of pairs of headphones are available to experience the music you are learning about. I recommend blocking off as much time as you can for this museum so you don’t feel rushed trying to take in so many tunes. Bonus: You will also learn Elvis wore this tiger shirt.
Address: 2800 E. Observatory Rd.
Admission: Free (Planetarium shows up to $7)
Have you seen La La Land yet? If not, you’ll feel really left out when you visit the Griffith Observatory. I couldn’t go five minutes without overhearing someone use the phrases “La La Land,” “Emma Stone” or “Ryan Gosling.” If you have seen the almost-Best-Picture-winner, you’ll know it’s because the two leads end a date at the Observatory and share one especially magical moment in the Planetarium. (Read my 2 reviews of this film here.)
You’re welcome to hike around the area, but the Observatory has plenty to keep you busy. From the front lawn, you can see a small white line that spells “Hollywood” and a memorial for James Dean. (La La Land also provides the explanation for that statue.)
A science museum with a number of exhibits fills the Observatory, including one on the Solar System. My highlight was the show I attended in the Planetarium. Several shows are available through the day, but the one that fit best with my schedule was “Light of Valkyries.” The audience leans back in reclined seats to stare at the ceiling while a crazily-designed (and certainly crazily-expensive) light machine projects stars, planets and galaxies to make the you feel like you’re traveling through space while someone narrates the journey. If the show can wow even a non-science-prone person like me, I’d say it’s well worth the $7.
Bonus tip: If you’re planning on Ubering up to Griffith, be sure to pack an extra charger. Cell service is pretty terrible, which means the Uber app may be delayed with your driver’s arrival time and your battery will drain quickly. (I missed my first driver because of the reception.) A jacket is also a great idea—waiting for an Uber on top of a windy mountain can get chilly.
Address: Hollywood Blvd. and connecting streets (Grauman’s Chinese Theatre at 6925 Hollywood Blvd., Dolby Theatre at 6801 Hollywood Blvd.)
Full disclosure: I recommend the Hollywood Walk of Fame with a caveat because your enjoyment severely depends on the time you visit. The first time I visited, a Tuesday evening in March, was magical. A friend and I started out marveling over the handprints and footprints of major actors and actresses at the Chinese Theatre, waltzed around the Dolby Theatre where the Oscars are held each year and then trekked for a half-hour to find Audrey Hepburn’s star. My biggest complaint was that my feet were tired because I wore flat sandals, and we passed four Gene Autry stars before finding my beloved Audrey. As you can see, I was pretty excited upon meeting her sidewalk square.
The second time I visited was on a Saturday evening in August, and it was chaos. The crowds were thick and loud, and we couldn’t avoid the street entertainers in knock-off Mickey and Minnie costumes who want you to pay for a picture with them. There’s something magical about standing in the same exact spot someone you admire has stood, but it’s not nearly as fun when sharing the magic with hundreds of other people at the same time.
Bonus: Be sure to find the location of any specific stars you want to see ahead of time so your feet don’t wear out like mine did. Find the location on the Hollywood Walk of Fame website.
The Warner Bros. Studio Tour is the least conventional museum on this list—and the most expensive—but it’s also the one that made me geek out the most. As a rather huge fan of Gilmore Girls (I co-host a podcast about it), my dreams of visiting Stars Hollow finally came true here.
We also saw sets from Friends and the working sets for Fuller House and The Big Bang Theory.
And that’s just the beginning of the excitement here. After hopping on a golf cart with your tour guide and 10-15 other visitors, you’ll walk around to these working and historical sets and stop by mini-museums dedicated to different franchises (like Harry Potter and the Justice League) and a room holding every Batmobile ever. Our tour guide was excellent about asking our group which shows and movies we loved and making sure we didn’t miss spots of interest. (A friend of mine who was returning for the tour mentioned we saw new places she hadn’t seen last time.) And at the risk of talking your ear off about La La Land, for a limited time you tour the parts of the backlot the movie used.
Bonus: Be sure to grab coffee at Central Perk and stop by the gift shop on your way out. My Gilmore Girls and Friends mugs were under $15 each.
Address: 250 S. Grand Ave.
Admission: Up to $15
I’m calling MOCA my bonus recommendation because I actually only spent about 15 minutes at this museum, but those minutes were one of the happiest accidents of my life.
While killing time before meeting a friend, I wandered past MOCA and tried to buy a ticket. The staff informed me they closed in 15 minutes, but they’d let me in for free since it would be such a short visit. I only wandered around a few galleries and talked to a friendly security guard, but on my way out, I noticed a painting by one of my favorite artists, Composition of Red, Blue, Yellow, and White: Nom III by Piet Mondrian.
I experienced just a taste of this museum, but I was so impressed with the staff and the selection I saw that I plan to go back for a full-length visit (even if it means paying for admission).