They might have a bum rap among locals, but, hey, there's nothing wrong with being a tourist. Especially in a city like Los Angeles, where there's so much to see and do. So how to pare down what's worth your precious time in this sprawling metropolis? Just refer to our list below.
1. The Getty. Looking for fine culture on a shoestring? This L.A. rarity boasts dramatic architecture and stocks a world-class art collection (everything from medieval marvels to more modern Monets) -- and doesn't charge an admission fee (though parking costs $10). No wonder it gets more than a million annual visitors. Not an art aficionado? Come anyway for the tranquil gardens, fine dining, and sweeping panorama views. (www.getty.edu) Tip: Check the online events calendar for something special every day, including hands-on family art experiences and in-house artist demos.
2. Venice Beach. Venice's circus-like waterfront dazzles with one-of-a-kind street performers, eccentric vendors, distinctive restaurants, and worthy beach views. Walk, bike, rollerblade, or just chill while you watch the parade of characters, which is sure to include freaks, beauties, musclemen, artists, surfers, fortune-tellers, hawkers, delighted children, and everyone in between. (www.laparks.org/venice/venice.htm). Tip: Don't miss the vibrant murals on many of the buildings, especially the well-known History is Myth painting on Venice Beach Hotel.
3. Universal Studios and Universal CityWalk. Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm would have made this list if they weren't technically located outside of L.A. (they're in Orange County). However, Universal Studios is an amusement park within L.A. that's much-loved for its entertainment theme and lighthearted approach to engaging guests. Its biggest attractions include the studio tram tour and rides featuring dinosaurs and the Simpsons. Just outside the park is the free-entry CityWalk, a neon-lit convergence of exciting restaurants, shops, live entertainment, movie theaters, nightlife, and a few pleasant surprises. (www.universalstudioshollywood.com and www.citywalkhollywood.com). Tip: Check the website for online-only savings.
4. Rodeo Drive. If you don't recognize this street's name, you also probably think Coco Chanel and Harry Winston are just ordinary people. America's most famous shopping lane drips with luxury and designer labels. In case you're not in the mood to max out your plastic, you'll fit right in with the hordes of window-shoppers and celebrity-lookers. At Christmastime, everything is gussied up in holiday finery. (www.rodeodrive-bh.com). Tips: At Rodeo Drive and Payton Way, the Beverly Hills Trolley picks up for 30-minute tours ($2 per person, every hour from 10:30am to 5:30pm). Also, avoid Sundays; many shops are closed and the trolley doesn't run.www.hollywoodchamber.net and www.manntheatres.com/chinese). Tips: Pack a camera for movie-star-look-alike sightings. Prices are reduced for the day's first film screening. 6. Hollywood Sign. This one speaks for itself, though it's useful for tourists to know that they can actually hike to this infamous landmark, which started life as a real-estate advertisement. (www.hollywoodsign.org). Tip: To find the trailhead, enter Griffith Park through the Bronson Canyon entrance (2800 Canyon Dr.) and follow Canyon Drive until it dead-ends in the trailhead parking lot. Wear comfy shoes, and don't touch the sign.
7. Exposition Park.This wide-ranging cultural center is a collection of excellent museums, educational activities, sports facilities, and recreational areas. Across the street from the University of Southern California (USC), the 160-acre playground offers something for everyone: Absorb knowledge at the National History Museum and the California African American Museum. Check out the hands-on exhibits and seven-story IMAX Theater at the California Science Center. And stop to smell the flowers at the famous Rose Garden. (www.expositionpark.org). Tip: Pick up a Go Los Angeles Card (www.golosangelescard.com), which includes admission to museums here, plus 40 more of L.A.'s top attractions. Adult prices start at $55. 8. Sunset Strip. If you've ever watched Entourage or The Hills, you know this L.A. It's the L.A. of velvet ropes, bottle service, VIP rooms, and impossibly gorgeous people. The glam nighttime scene isn't for everyone, so it's worth knowing that this sliver of West Hollywood also proffers grittier venues, like the Whiskey-a-Go-Go, where the alt and emo kids can watch their favorite bands play. (www.thesunsetstrip.com). Tip: If you're headed to an upscale club, dress to the nines and have plenty of cash on hand.
9. Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. For some of L.A.'s most frequented dining, shopping, and entertainment, stroll down this lively 3-block stretch to experience restaurants from across the spectrum, energetic bars, local boutiques, big-chain favorites, and artsy vendor booths. Between eating, drinking, and browsing, watch the captivating street performers or catch a flick at one of the movie theaters. (www.thirdstreetpromenade.com). Tip: Park in the public lots on 2nd and 4th streets, which get less expensive after 6pm.
10. Watts Towers. In 1954, Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant, hand-constructed 17 structures of steel, mortar, and wire, a few of which are about 100 feet tall. It took him 33 years to finish the towers, which he encrusted in a mosaic of found objects like ceramic shards and bottle glass. The result? One of only nine works of folk art listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and one of L.A.'s four National Historic Landmarks. For a small donation, you can take a docent-led tour. (www.wattstowers.us). Tips: Be careful in this neighborhood, as it's known for occasional violence. If you're visiting in late September, catch the Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival.
Additional reporting by Justine Rivero.