Los Angeles is an ever-evolving city famous for its golden sand beaches, cutting-edge trends, and celebrity spotting, but how did it become the popular destination it is today? Los Angeles Tourism invites visitors to turn back the clock and discover LA’s groundbreaking art-deco buildings, historical studio tours, and iconic restaurants that have fed Hollywood’s brightest stars.
“From taking a walking tour through El Pueblo Historical District, the birthplace of LA, or treating your palate to a smorgasbord of flavors at LA’s Original Farmers Market, I encourage everyone to go explore and get immersed in the city’s fascinating – and sometimes surprising – history,” shared Mimi Slawoff, author of Oldest Los Angeles. “As a native Angeleno, I love exploring LA’s historical pockets and hearing peoples’ stories about coming here. While researching my book, I discovered countless treasures I had to share.”
As Los Angeles celebrates multiple monumental centennials throughout 2023, including the iconic Hollywood Sign’s anniversary on December 8, this is the perfect time for visitors to immerse themselves in the city’s rich history. Additional notable centennials include The Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, Warner Bros. Studios, the LA Memorial Coliseum and more.
“The Hollywood Sign is the entertainment industry’s biggest star,” said Jeff Zarrinnam, chair of the Hollywood Sign Trust. “As the Sign celebrates its 100th anniversary throughout 2023, fans around the globe are embracing its vibrant history while helping to preserve the future of this beloved monument that represents the hopes and dreams of people worldwide.”
Here are a variety of ways to step back in time to explore Vintage LA:
Spend a Day in Classic Hollywood
- See Marilyn Monroe’s dressing room and get the scoop on film history at the Hollywood Museum, housed in the historic Max Factor building.
- Sip a martini at Musso & Frank and stay the night (or just take a peek) at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, named for President Theodore Roosevelt, or the infamous Chateau Marmot, steeped in steamy Hollywood history.
- Live like a local and bring your own bottle of wine to a concert under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl, among one of the largest natural amphitheaters in the world and where the Los Angeles Philharmonic has been performing since 1921.
- Grab a bite at Pink’s Hot Dogs, where a hot dog cost 10 cents and cokes were a nickel when it opened in 1939. The classic hot dog stand looks about the same and is owned by the Pink family. Top selling franks named after celebrities are The Brando Dog and the Martha Stewart Dog.
- Take a studio tour of iconic filming locations at Paramount Pictures, which debuted in 1912, making it the oldest continuously operating Hollywood studio.
- Perched on Mt. Hollywood in Griffith Park (a 4,210-acre urban oasis in LA), the Griffith Observatory is one of LA’s top cultural and educational attractions and has been welcoming visitors since 1935 to utilize telescopes, explore exhibits, and see live shows in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium.
Explore Los Angeles’ Birthplace and Downtown History
- El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, marks LA’s birthplace when 44 immigrants formed a small farming community here in 1781. See the Plaza Firehouse (LA’s first firehouse), Avila Adobe (LA’s oldest standing house) and the once controversial America Tropical mural in the Interpretive Center adjacent to the Italian American Museum.
- Don’t miss Olvera Street, the historic district’s pedestrian marketplace where you can eat freshly made tacos and taquitos, shop for souvenirs, and attend festive seasonal events.
- Join in on the ‘Great LA French Dip Debate’ and visit Philippe The Original and Cole’s, which both claim to have invented the famed sandwich. Both institutions opened in 1908.
- Head over to Little Tokyo, for an array of Japanese eateries, shops, and cultural sites. Visit the family-owned Fugetsu-Do confectionery, which has been making mochi and other Japanese sweets since 1903, and stop by the Japanese American National Museum for a cultural and educational experience.
- Ride the Angels Flight Railway, a funicular built in 1901 to transport affluent residents in Bunker Hill to and from Grand Central Market, a bustling food court that has been open since 1917 and cultural culinary offerings that shape Los Angeles.
- Check into the luxe Hotel Figueroa, a property that boasts a rich history deeply rooted in the women’s movement in Los Angeles and is now known for exceptional art, culinary options and resort style-amenities in the midst of downtown.
- Spend the night like a movie star at the glamorous Millennium Biltmore Hotel Los Angeles, which debuted in October 1923 and quickly became the go-to venue for celebrities, dignitaries, filming and special events like the Academy Awards.
- Take a walking tour of the treasured Art Deco buildings that were built between 1925-1932, including Los Angeles City Hall, The Central Library, Union Station and The Bradbury building, a famed filming location.
Discover Movie Magic & Hidden Gems in the San Fernando Valley
- Home to the world’s major movie studios, the San Fernando Valley is where the magic of Hollywood really happens. Visit sets past and present on a behind the-scenes Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Burbank.
- Dine at the Smoke House steak restaurant (known for its garlic bread), which has been popular with locals and the entertainment industry since 1946.
- Universal Studios Hollywood, famous for its theme park and Studios Tour, is in Universal City, a movie-making community created by Carl Laemmle in 1915.
- For easy access to the park, stay at The Garland, a retro Southern Californian daydream originally discovered by Hollywood Actress Beverly Garland and that celebrated 50 years of business in 2022.
- Walk along Ventura Boulevard, one of the area’s oldest roads that is flanked by restaurants, coffee shops and retail shopping from Universal City to Thousand Oaks.
- The Valley Relics Museum is a one-stop shop for neon signs, classic cars, a working retro arcade, and other treasures, displayed in two hangars of the Van Nuys Airport.
Dive Into LA’s Beach Culture:
- Dip into LA’s maritime history on a narrated boat tour for closeup views of Angels Gate Light, the oldest operating harbor lighthouse, which was built on a concrete square at the San Pedro Breakwater in 1913. Also in San Pedro, the decommissioned Point Fermin Lighthouse, built in 1874, is open for guided public tours (except Mondays), and is near Angels Gate Park, home to the Korean Friendship Bell and Fort MacArthur Museum.
- No visit to LA is complete without a stroll along the eclectic Venice Beach Boardwalk where street entertainers, skaters and body builders strut their stuff against the backdrop of the sparkling Pacific. The Boardwalk and nearby Venice Canals were built in 1905 as part of Abbot Kinney’s Venice of America plan.
- Santa Monica Pier offers quintessential beach activities. Take a spin on a vintage carousel inside the whimsical Looff Hippodrome, built by Charles Looff in 1916. He also built the Pleasure Pier adjacent to the Santa Monica Pier, creating one big wooden pier that anchors seaside amusement park rides and restaurants.
- Catch a wave at Malibu’s Surfrider Beach, made famous by 1950s and ’60s surfing movies, then soak up local history at the adjacent Malibu Lagoon Museum and Adamson House, a throwback to 1929. Don’t leave Malibu without a bite to eat at Neptune’s Net, an old-school beach restaurant from 1956 and the site of many classic movies.