Six Hidden Gems in L.A., California

Maximizing One Day in Los Angeles

With less than a full day to spend together in Los Angeles, California, my daughter Alison and I wanted to make the most of our quality time. We sharpened our pencils and crammed an ambitious itinerary of hidden gems in L.A. Since Alison was now a Los Angeles native, I had an expert guide.

There are endless things to do and see in Los Angeles, but these six (6) hidden gems in L.A. made our short-list. You’ll find they’re great takes if you’re time-pressed, and a few are free if you’re on a budget. I might have taken a more leisurely pace on a few, but these six will whet your appetite.

1. The Bradbury Building

If you happen to be near 304 South Broadway at West 3rd Street in Downtown L.A., you might walk right past The Bradbury Building. But it’s worth stepping inside.

Built in 1893, The Bradbury Building is the city’s oldest landmarked building. Gold-mining millionaire Lewis L. Bradbury spared no expense when he commissioned it, making it our first of the hidden gems of L.A.

When it deteriorated into disrepair, it became an ideal setting for dystopian future sci-fi movies, including the neo-noir film Blade Runner (1982) starring Harrison Ford. (Did I mention how much I love Harrison Ford?)

Hidden gems in L.A - ornate interior of The Bradbury Building
The Bradbury Building

Now restored to its original splendor, natural light pours through the sky-lit atrium of this 5-story building with cake-frosting-like ironwork. While the first and second floors remain open (and free) to movie-buffs, the remaining floors are converted to upscale office space and residences.

Alison and I oohed-and-aahed at the fine details, because The Bradbury Building was an incredible piece of architecture to behold, even without its silver screen fame.

  • PRO TRAVEL TIP: Look for the framed Blade Runner poster hanging on the first floor.

2. The Last Book Store

In the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, Alison discovered a reservoir of quietude. It’s a peaceful refuge for those longing to escape the city’s frenzied pace. Here, we joined the dreamers and writers, book lovers and music enthusiasts, artists and eclectics, and curious travelers who passed through the oversized door on 5th Street. This oasis was The Last Book Store.

If you’re creative and looking for “your people,” you might find them at The Last Book Store. #enjoytravellife #dtla @lastbookstorela Click To Tweet

Turns out, it’s California’s largest used and new book and record store. It’s also one of the largest independent bookstores in the world. It’s a unique collection dotted with whimsical touches, artful retail shops, and even a Rare Books Annex. If you’re creative and looking for “your people,” you might find them at The Last Book Store.

Hidden gems in L.A. - The Last Book Store
The Last Book Store

Alison and I could have spent hours here poking around. We stayed long enough to take it all in as another of the hidden gems of L.A., then moved on to the next stop on our itinerary.

To see a full photo gallery, visit “California’s Largest Used and New Book and Record Store.”

  • PRO TRAVEL TIP: There’s no food or drink allowed at The Last Bookstore, so plan to have a bite before or after visiting. (Here’s a Free List of 20 Rooftop Bars in L.A.)

3. OUE SkySpace L.A.

Stop number three was the OUE Skyspace L.A. It offers one of the best views of downtown Los Angeles. On the 69th and 70th floor of the US Bank Tower (633 W 5th Street, Los Angeles), it features two observation decks, an interactive Media level, and a rooftop bar with light fare. The unobstructed, panoramic view is California’s tallest open-air observation deck. It even has a glass Skyslide!

Hidden gems of L.A. - View from OUE Skyspace L.A.
OUE Skyspace L.A.

From the rooftop, Alison pointed out Hollywood and other downtown landmarks. The OUE Skyspace L.A. was a great way to see the city from on high. This was definitely one of the hidden gems of L.A. with a birdseye view. Had we more time, I would have ordered up a drink and some apps from the Skybar to enjoy a sunset here.

You can find more details about OUE Skyspace L.A. in “High Above the City of Angels at Skyspace Los Angeles.”

  • PRO TRAVEL TIP: If you are planning to visit a few attractions in L.A., you might save some money with the Go Los Angeles Card. It saved us from purchasing individual tickets to the OUE SkySpace and The Huntington at a higher cost.

4. The Writers Guild Foundation Library

Alison and I share a love of writing, so The Writers Guild Foundation Library made the day’s bucket list. It is the “only library on the planet focused entirely on writing for the screen.” The library houses over 35,000 items, including produced television and film scripts, radio scripts, new media and video game scripts, and other interesting collections.

As a Television Writing & Production major at Chapman University’s Dodge College, Alison spent much of her time at The Writers Guild Foundation Library pouring over television scripts.

All scripts must be read on site, so with my license as collateral, I requested the script for “The X-Files” Pilot. Making myself comfortable in the library’s windowed conference space, I prepared to relive the magic. Skimming three revisions, I gained immense insight and respect for the process that created the characters, Mulder and Scully.  (X-Files fans, are you out there?)

Hidden gems of L.A. - The Writers Guild Foundation Library
The Writers Guild Foundation Library
  • PRO TRAVEL TIP: You don’t have to be a Writers Guild of America member to get in; The Writers Guild Foundation Libary is open to the general public.

5. The Huntington

If you appreciate art, books, and botanical gardens like I do, add The Huntington to your L.A. itinerary. The picturesque grounds cover about 120 acres and houses extensive collections.

We meandered through the cactus garden (it was so otherworldly) and the rose garden. I think we saw every color and type of rose in existence that day. The bustling Victorian “tea room” beside the rose garden offered refreshments and we were tempted but…

Hidden gems of L.A. - Rose garden at The Huntington
The Rose Garden at The Huntington

Instead, running short on time, we took a quick spin through the Library Exhibition Hall to view the handiwork of medieval and other important manuscripts. Among my favorites were the hand-lettered and illustrated Ellesmere Chaucer, inked drafts of Thoreau’s Walden manuscript, and the Gutenberg’s Bible. Talk about being one of the hidden gems of L.A. Wow!

We only scratched the service of all The Huntington offers, and, I was disappointed to learn I’d miss an upcoming museum exhibit featuring the iconic masterpiece by painter Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), “The Blue Boy.” I guess I’ll have to go back. 😉

You’ll find The Huntington in Los Angeles County and a short car ride from downtown L.A. at  1151 Oxford Road, San Marino.

  • PRO TRAVEL TIP: Plan to spend the better part of an afternoon or even a whole day here, and wear comfortable shoes. There’s so much to see!  

6. Manhattan Beach

Before leaving California, I wanted to take one last look at the Pacific so we headed for Manhattan Beach. Manhattan Beach is a city known for its laid-back vibe, outdoor enthusiasts, and pricey real estate. This is one of the hidden gems of L.A. in plain sight.

We strolled what’s known as The Strand (the street running closest to the water), window shopped, and grabbed a latte before heading to the breezy Manhattan Beach Pier.

To one side of the pier, we watched surfing lessons on the west coast’s signature waves; on the other, a barefoot volleyball game.

A golden hue arose from the horizon and the sun dropped like a spiked ball in slo-mo. It was a lovely last vision of Southern California, forever suspended in my memory. Game over, but so well-played!

Hidden gems in L.A. - Sunset over the Pacific Ocean at Manhattan Beach California
Manhattan Beach
  • PRO TRAVEL TIP: Coffee and candy connoisseurs will love the selection of delectable treats  (including ice cream) a short walk from the pier at Manhattan Beach Creamery.

Best of the Hidden Gems in L.A.

My last day in Los Angeles was a wonderful whirlwind, punctuated by the cultural attractions Alison and I loved best. She and I discovered we were compatible travel companions after all, with common interests and ambition. Truly, that was among the best of all the hidden gems in L.A.

A golden hue arose at the horizon, and the sun dropped like a spiked ball in slo-mo...Game over, but so well-played! #enjoytravellife #manhattanbeach #volleyball Click To Tweet

Which of these attractions would you put on your bucket list when visiting Los Angeles?

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22 thoughts on “Six Hidden Gems in L.A., California

  • December 8, 2018 at 6:20 pm
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    Thanks so much Jackie for this list! I don’t go to LA often (not a huge fan) but these places look amazing; I will have to check them out.

    Reply
    • December 10, 2018 at 10:24 am
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      I was pleasantly surprised by these stops. My first time in Downtown L.A. certainly was an experience made more interesting by Alison’s insights into the kinds of places I like and her knowledge of the area at large. I’d say definitely check these spots out if you have the chance. I thoroughly enjoyed each of them!

      Reply
  • December 6, 2018 at 12:04 am
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    Glad to stumble upon these hidden gems in L.A. My kiddo would love to visit the Skyscape for sure. I have a penchant for architecture, so loved the brief story behind the Bradbury building. This indeed is a useful and interesting list especially for first-timers who would be overwhelmed with the widely available must-visit lists published all over the internet! And..woohh ..the Huntington looks beautiful and I can actually smell the pages of the books..divine!

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    • December 6, 2018 at 4:42 pm
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      Glad to turn you on to these spots! The Huntington WAS divine! I would have definitely been overwhelmed by all that Greater L.A. offers if it weren’t for my personal tour guide. Look for a more detailed post on the Bradbury Building soon!

      Reply
  • December 5, 2018 at 2:54 am
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    It seems like I went to a very different LA a few years ago lol. I don’t seem to have seen any of these places – The Bradbury Building looks pretty cool from the inside and so does The Last Book Store. I pretty much spent my time visiting Universal Studios and Disney but I wish I had spent some more time exploring these hidden gems!

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    • December 5, 2018 at 2:17 pm
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      It helps when your tour guide (daughter) has become a Los Angeles native. She’s explored quite a bit! Knowing I prefer more off-the-beat attractions, she honed right in on these six. If you get back to L.A., definitely check them out. But Universal Studios and Disney are pretty cool, too!

      Reply
  • December 5, 2018 at 1:01 am
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    I have never been to L.A. but I really want to go there. And as rightly pointed out, chalking out a first-timer itinerary can be overwhelming with so much to see. I find your list extremely helpful. I know my kid would love the Skyspace and I am a big lover of books. So, the Huntington seems perfect for me. May drop in at the Bradbury Building as well. I am glad you have brought so many hidden gems. Makes life a lot easier for me.

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    • December 5, 2018 at 2:18 pm
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      Glad you found our itinerary helpful, Soumya. There is certainly no shortage of things to do in L.A.! Hope these six narrow it down a bit for you.

      Reply
  • December 4, 2018 at 1:37 pm
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    Love discovering hidden gems especially when books are involved. Love the sound of the writers guild library, how fascinating seeing movie scripts etc. I’m saving this post for my next trip to LA.

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    • December 5, 2018 at 2:20 pm
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      The Writers Guild Foundation Library was great! You’d think it would be imposing, but very down-to-earth, approachable folks. I mean, ya gotta love writers, right? Hope you get a chance to visit.

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  • December 4, 2018 at 5:07 am
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    I’ve visited LA twice and not been a huge fan, so great to read some new ideas of hidden gems to visit, which might give me something more to appreciate. I’m utterly drawn to The Last Book Store, just my kind of place, we recently went to a similarly huge second hand book place in Northumberland in England, and this one really appeals. The other one I really like the look of is The Huntington, particularly for the gardens.

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    • December 5, 2018 at 2:22 pm
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      The Last Book Store is so quirky, Kavita — it’s hard not to love it. And the gardens at The Huntington are just breathtaking (plus there is so much more there)! I’m working on two new in-depth stories on the gardens, so stay tuned!

      Reply
  • December 4, 2018 at 4:58 am
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    A great post with tips for anyone looking for something a little different in LA. For me, the rose garden and Skyspace observatory deck stood out as places I’d like to visit. For film buffs the Bradbury Building and Writers Guild Library are perfect.

    Reply
  • December 4, 2018 at 1:58 am
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    What a lovely, comprehensive guide of LA! You seem to have covered the city’s highlights with just one article, that’s impressive. Thank you for sharing this list, I’ll bookmark it for my upcoming trip to LA.

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    • December 5, 2018 at 2:23 pm
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      Yes, please do! I’m glad you found these highlights useful.

      Reply
  • December 3, 2018 at 8:45 pm
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    Thanks for this list. Found some new places to add to my LA bucket list. Did you go down the Skyslide?

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    • December 5, 2018 at 2:25 pm
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      Haha, noooo—I did not go down the Skyslide. But we watched a few people come down and that was fun enough for me!

      Reply
  • December 3, 2018 at 4:52 pm
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    These truly are hidden gems, as a LA native I had only heard of Manhattan Beach. Thanks for the recommendations on places to visit in my home town. The Rose Garden at The Huntington looks absolutely stunning!

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    • December 5, 2018 at 2:26 pm
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      Wow, I am glad I was able to share something “new” that is local to you! I hope you get a chance to check them out. Let me know what you think if you do!

      Reply
  • December 3, 2018 at 1:38 pm
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    I’ve lived in San Diego for a few years now and am pretty sad I’ve hardly explored LA beyond LACMA… The Huntington Library is one of my dad’s favorite places. The cactus garden has always been my favorite part. I haven’t heard of OUE SkySpace LA but it sounds pretty cool!

    Reply
    • December 5, 2018 at 2:28 pm
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      L.A. is so huge! I didn’t make it to LACMA on this trip (but my son did when he went out to visit Alison). I hear it’s great! Yes, the Cactus Garden at The Huntington was out of this world for sure!

      Reply

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