Taking a trip to Los Angeles might conjure up images of visiting the Hollywood Sign, Universal Studios, and Grauman’s Chinese Theater, but there’s much more to the city than cinema related sites. In fact, if you think that visiting LA only means trips to the beach or searching for celebrities, you’re in for a surprise. As a hub of culture on the West Coast, there’s plenty of art to soak in and cultural sites to visit.
Whether you love ancient Greek sculpture, ultra-contemporary art, or gritty street art, there’s something for you. Architecture lovers will also appreciate the wide variety of building styles that LA offers, from Griffith Observatory’s iconic Greek revival structure to The Broad’s contemporary facade.
So if you’re planning your next trip to LA, check out My Modern Met’s curated list of art and culture sites to see while enjoying the California sunshine.
If you’re an art and culture lover, here are 7 must-see sites to in Los Angeles.
Whether you want to soak in the work of Impressionist master Degas or admire the minimalism of Piet Mondrian, a visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) will satisfy your urge. With a collection that holds over 150,000 pieces of art—from ancient masterpieces to amazing contemporary work—there is something for everyone. As the largest museum in the western United States, LACMA prides itself on innovation and there are several outdoor art installations visitors can admire in addition to the permanent collection and rotating exhibitions. This includes Alexander Calder’s kinetic mobile Hello Girls and Chris Burden’s installation of over 200 antique street lamps from the city of LA and surrounding areas.
Tip: Help plan your visit using LACMA’s huge digital archive, which has more than 20,000 works available for download.
A trip to LA’s iconic Griffith Observatory will not only get you closer to the stars, but give you an incredible panorama of Downtown Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign. The beautiful Greek revival building opened to the public in 1935 and—thanks to its benefactor, philanthropist Griffith J. Griffith—the building and grounds are free to enter. The planetarium was used to train astronauts for the first lunar missions under the Apollo program and has appeared in numerous films like Rebel Without a Cause and, more recently, La La Land.
Tip: For a truly unique experience, indulge in a private tour of the Griffith Observatory, where an expert will take you through the history of the building and its Greek-inspired murals, as well as the various astronomical exhibits and a planetarium show.
Street Art and Graffiti in the Arts District
Located on the eastern edge of Downtown LA, the Arts District is a thriving hub of creative activity. The neighborhood’s 20th-century industrial buildings have been transformed into art studios and contemporary art galleries. But the real treat is the sheer number of graffiti and street art pieces that line the streets. Here, it’s possible to gain insight into the history of West Coast graffiti and enjoy art by world famous street artists.
Tip: Get an insider’s look at the LA Arts District with a graffiti and mural tour led by local artists. They’ll help unravel the history of the area and lead you through the highlights of more than 100 murals that dot the LA Arts District.
J. Paul Getty Museum
The J. Paul Getty Museum has an unparalleled collection of Western Art spread across two locations—the Getty Center in Brentwood and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades. The Getty Villa houses a vast collection of art from ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria, with the design of the building based on Pompeii‘s famous Villa of the Papyri. If you love European art and can’t wait until your next trip abroad to museum hop, the Getty Center will leave you spoiled for choice. Rembrandt, J.M.W. Turner, Edouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh are just some of the great masters present in the collection.
Tip: Admission to both the Getty Center and Getty Villa is free. However, if you are planning to visit the Villa, you will need to call ahead and book a timed entrance ticket.
Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens
If you’re looking to escape the urban jungle and take in a little greenery, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens are just a 20-minute drive outside Downtown LA. While The Huntington has an extensive collection of 18th and 19th century European Art, as well as American Art from the 17th to 20th centuries, the real star is the botanical gardens. Spread across 120 acres, they’re designed to showcase plants from around the world. This includes a Liu Fang Yuan Chinese Garden—which is the largest outside of China—as well as a Desert Garden, Japanese Garden, and Australian Garden.
Tip: The Huntington provides free tours of the gardens with admission. Visitors can ask about the schedule at the ticket booth when entering the site.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Designed by acclaimed architect Frank Gehry, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is home to the LA Philharmonic. The orchestra calls the 2,265-person theater home from October to June. Architecture lovers will appreciate Gehry’s stunning design, while music buffs will want to take in a concert in order to experience the incredible acoustics, which were designed by Minoru Nagata and completed by his protege Yasuhisa Toyota. The sleek exterior is contrasted by the warm, Douglas-fir lined interior.
Tip: Foodies will also want to include a stop at celebrity chef Joachim Splichal’s fine dining restaurant Patina, which is housed within the concert hall.
Since opening in 2008, The Broad has cemented its status as one of the best contemporary art museums in the world. By focusing on art from 1950 to the present day, the museum has created a niche for itself with its world-class collection. Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, and Jean-Michel Basquiat are just some of the artists present in the collection, which should be on every contemporary art lover’s list of places to visit in LA.
Tip: Don’t forget that the building itself is a work of art. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro—the architects responsible for New York’s The Shed—in collaboration with Gensler, the “veil and vault” concept allows visitors to see straight into the museum’s storage area.