Hidden Gems in Los Angeles: Unique Things To Do in LA

Hidden Gems in Los Angeles: Unique Things To Do in LA

Los Angeles can be an overwhelming city to tackle because there are so many incredible things to do! Whenever I travel I always seek out the local’s recommendations for where to go. It may be the little hipster within me that never wants to appear as a tourist. When I moved to LA , I explored it the same way – looking for the best hidden gems in Los Angeles.

After living in Los Angeles for six months I have done a significant amount of exploring! I compiled a list of hikes, museums, and night life that will make you feel a little more like an Angelino while you adventure off the beaten path Los Angeles. Enjoy this list of hidden gems in Los Angeles and please add your own recommendations in the comments below.

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1. The Abandoned LA Zoo

Griffith Park is one of the most popular sites in Los Angeles covering 4,310 acres of land, making it one of the largest urban parks in North America. Located in the Los Feliz neighborhood of LA, Griffith Park is home to some of the most beautiful hiking trails, the Griffith Observatory, the Los Angeles Zoo and the incredible concert venue, the Greek Theatre. There are so many things to do within Griffith Park, but one of the most enjoyable parts of the park to explore is the old abandoned zoo.

hidden gems in los angeles abandoned zoo

The old zoo in Griffith Park has become one of my most recommended places when asked for off the beaten path activities in Los Angeles. Only a little over a half mile loop located just North of the Griffith Merry-Go-Round is the ruins of the abandoned zoo.

When the Los Angeles Zoo opened at its current location in the 1960s, the former zoo was neither torn down or destroyed and instead converted into a unique picnic area. The Zoo opened in 1912 and was shut down in 1965 due to the criticism of the cages being too small for the animals.

These old exhibits have been used as locations for film and television such as the Anchorman bear scene and in season two of Parks and Recreation. Exploring these ruins is an extremely fun way to spend a day in Los Angeles. The grounds even offer a beautiful view of Bee Rock which is only a short hike from the picnic area!

How to Get to The Abandoned LA Zoo

The Abandoned Zoo is free and a full day of exploration! That’s why it’s among the best hidden gems in Los Angeles.

To get to the picnic area you want to take the 5 Freeway to the Los Feliz Boulevard exit. Drive west on Los Feliz Boulevard to the first light and turn north on Crystal Springs Road. After 1.5 miles, turn left on Griffith park Drive. Continue a quarter mile and turn left into a parking area just before the road bends to the right.

There is a row of parking spaces by the turnoff and more parking as you drive into the picnic area. Keep in mind that during the Halloween Season this hike is closed and the trail is used as a haunted hayride.

2. Murphy's Ranch

Up there with The Abandoned Zoo, one of my favorite ruins to explore is Murphy’s Ranch. Located right in Pacific Palisades is an abandoned Nazi Camp that you can hike to. The hike is 4 miles roundtrip with over 500 steep stairs so make sure that you are prepared for leg day! 

The Murphy Ranch was built in Rustic Canyon, Los Angeles in the 1930s by Winona and Norman Stephens who were sympathetic of the anti-semitic, white supremacist Silver Legion of America. It was designed as a bas e for Nazi activities in the US and the compound had a water storage tank, a fuel tank, a bomb shelter, and various other outbuildings and bunkers.

On Monday, December 8, 1941 the local police occupied the compound and detained members of the 50-strong caretaker force. The abandoned buildings were transformed into an artists’ colony in the 60s and 70s but were abandoned after the Mandeville Canyon Fire in 1978. 

The site is currently owned by the city of Los Angeles and in early 2016 many of the buildings were demolished because they were deemed unsafe. The power house, water tank and gardens are still there. All of the entrances to these ruins are boarded up and the buildings that remain are covered in graffiti creating a very surreal experience.

Once you visit Murphy’s Ranch you’ll agree it’s one of the most interesting hidden gems in Los Angeles and American history.

How to Get to Murphy's Ranch

I can’t recommend exploring Murphy’s Ranch enough! To get to the trailhead you will want to put the corner of Capri Drive and Casale Road, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272 into your gps.

From the free street parking, you will walk up Sullivan Ridge Fire Road toward a gate 0.4 miles from the start at the entrance of Topanga State Park.

You will hike approximately 0.6 miles up a wide paved road before reaching a gap in the chain link fence on the left side. It leads to the top of those endless stairs I mentioned earlier.

You will begin your descent to Murphy’s Ranch here. If you need any help along the way Google Maps provides landmarks for the trailheads and the remaining buildings! 

3. Discover The Bridge to Nowhere

The bridge to nowhere is an anomaly located in the San Gabriel National Forest of Los Angeles. For the outdoor lovers of Los Angeles, this abandoned bridge is a local treasure. The trek to this bridge is a 10-mile hike round trip and uses several river fords along the way. One should dedicate at least six hours to complete the hike and make sure to start early in the day because that high noon California sun can be brutal!

hidden gems in los angeles bridge to nowhere

The Bridge to Nowhere was constructed in 1936 over a gap carved by the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. It was meant to serve as a link in a roadway between the San Gabriel Valley and Wrightwood. However, in 1938 a flood changed the landscape of the canyon and washed out the road leading to the bridge. This road was never restored and the construction was abandoned due to a lack of financial investment.

How to Get to The Bridge to Nowhere

The bridge remains deep in the San Gabriel Mountains and feels apocalyptic. It has become an excellent destination for hikers and bungee-jumpers, so don’t be surprised if the trailhead is crowded. Once you find your way to Heaton Flats Trail, the only trail en route to Bridge to Nowhere, the traffic should slow down.

Be sure to pack hiking boots and water shoes because the rugged terrain of this hike requires wading through thigh to waist high water during the wet months. Beyond the bridge is a refreshing swimming hole which serves as the perfect break before your long hike back. This is an incredible hike and definitely a local favorite for a reason!

An Adventure Pass permit is required for this hike which can be purchased as a day pass for $5 or Annual for $30. For more information on where to purchase your Adventure Pass CLICK HERE.

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4. Slide Into The Sunken City

Just 9 miles south of Long Beach next to the Point Fermin Lighthouse you can find the Sunken City of San Pedro. This site is the remains of a devastating landslide that occurred in 1929. Experts that have investigated the landslide say that the ground was shifting at a rate of 11 inches per day making for a dramatic change in landscape in less than week.

The Landslide occurred at the southern tip of San Pedro sending nearly 40,000 square feet of land into the Pacific Ocean. Fortunately, everyone was able to evacuate the neighborhood safely and most of the homes were saved, but a few of the old bungalows slid right into the ocean.

hidden gems in los angeles sunken city

The remains of this landslide are marvelous and feel like you’re in your very own world. The seaside remains are covered in graffiti from decades of artist turning these ruins into their own canvases and if you venture far enough you may even come across some vintage furniture looking over the ocean, adding to the abandoned atmosphere of this site. 

Unfortunately, due to the remaining land being so steep and unstable, the area has been fenced off and prohibited from the public. If you do not wish to take the risk of trespassing you can still see the Sunken City by walking along the fence.

In 2015, a proposition for opening the area to the public was put forward, but there is no set timeline for when or if this will happen. If you decide to venture out to explore the sunken city be sure to wear sturdy shoes and hiking attire because the cliffs are not safe to climb in sandals or flip flops.

5. The Korean Bell of Friendship

In San Pedro, just north of the Sunken City, is the Korean Bell of Friendship, a massive and intricately-decorated bell and pavilion donated to the people of Los Angeles by the people of the Republic of Korea in 1976. In addition to the sunken city, this is one of the great hidden gems in Los Angeles in the San Pedro community. Visiting these spots makes a perfect day of site seeing!

hidden gems in los angeles korean bell of friendship

The bell was designed after the Bronze Bell of King Songdok, which was cast in 771 A.D. and is still on display in South Korea today.

The Korean Bell of Friendship has four pairs of figures. Each pair consisting of the Goddess of Liberty holding a torch, and a Korean spirit engraved on the body. Each of the Korean spirits holds up a different symbol: a symbolic design of the Korean flag; a branch of the rose of Sharon, Korea’s national flower; a branch of laurel, symbol of victory; and a dove of peace.

The bell has no clapper but is struck fom the outside with a wooden log and is run each year on: Independence Day, National Liberation Day of Korea, New Year’s Eve, September 17th to celebrate Constitution week, January 13th for Korean-American Day, and also 13 times on the 1st Saturday of the month at 11:30 a.m.

Where to Find The Korean Bell of Friendship

The bell is set in a pagoda-like stone structure and the pavilion is supported by twelve columns representing the twelve designs of the Oriental zodiac. The bell pavilion is located peacefully by the harbor, overlooking the sea gate. This is the perfect place to relax and have a picnic while taking in unsurpassed views of the Los Angeles harbor, the Catalina Channel and the sea terraces of San Pedro hill.  

6. Take a Ride on The Secret Swing in Elysian Park

Elysian Park is a hidden gem in downtown LA and it’s extremely underrated. This metro park is the city’s oldest public park and at almost 600-acreas, it is the second largest park after Griffith Park. There are numerous historical sites and natural marvels within Elysian Park that could easily occupy an entire day of exploring. One of my favorite parts of Elysian Park is the secret swing.

hidden gems in los angeles secret swing in elysium park

Since the swing is right over the 110, it is not necessarily the right spot for a serene afternoon. I recommend taking the short hike to the swing and then spend the rest of your day exploring some of the other sites in Elysian Park. For something a little more peaceful, I would recommend walking around the Rock Garden behind the Police Academy within the park. I highly recommend visiting the secret swing at Elysian Park because there is nothing more Los Angeles than swinging from a graffiti tree over the 110 freeway! 

How to Get to Elysian Park and The Secret Swing

The secret swing is a perfect spot to take pictures and have a picnic while you swing over the 110 freeway! The swing is on top of a hill at the intersection of Angels Point Drive and Park Row Drive in Elysian Park. You will see a turn out with about five parking spots on Angels Point Drive where you can park and you will see the trail head directly in front of you. The hike is fairly steep, but incredibly short, taking about 5 minutes to reach the top! This is actually one of the more well-kept secrets of Los Angeles and a lot of people don’t know it exists. 

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Browse Books on More Hidden Gems of Los Angeles

7. Head to Saint Vincent Court DTLA

Whenever I’m missing my European travels I take myself down to St. Vincent Court in downtown L.A. to enjoy the faux little European lane. This small square is named for its original owner, St. Vincent’s College which was the first institution of higher learning in Southern California in 1868.

The Alley was initially used for deliveries by Bullock’s department store. Over the decades this alley became a popular spot for congregating. So much so, that the store let it out to small businesses such as Italian restaurants and espresso bars. In 1957 the alleyway was decorated like a traditional European lane and a brick-paved street adding to its charm.

Today, St. Vincent Court is mostly Middle Eastern restaurants and this quaint alley feels like I’m traveling through Italy instead of downtown LA.  The umbrella-covered outdoor dining is lively and welcoming, unlike anywhere else in the city.

I highly recommend venturing to St. Vincent Court to experience an extremely unique experience within the city of Los Angeles. It feels like an entirely different time and place that one needs to see for themselves.

How to Get to Saint Vincent Court

St. Vincent Court is located between Broadway and Hill Street in DTLA and is accessible through a breezeway off the north side of 7th Street. 

8. Visit The Stars in The Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Some may find this one morbid, but one of my favorite things when travelling is to find a beautiful cemetery to explore. Up there with Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia and the Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, Scotland is the beautiful Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

This cemetery is currently a full-service funeral home, crematory, and cultural art center. It regularly hosts community events such as live music in the masonic lodge, summer movie screenings by the lake of legends and the annual Dia de los Muertos celebration. The latter of which is the largest celebration held outside of Mexico.

hidden gems in los angeles hollywood forever cemetery

The cemetery has been a California landmark for more than a century, but probably isn’t on the top of most tour guides! Hollywood Forever was founded in 1899 and is the resting place for hundreds of Hollywood’s legends. The cemetery was an integral part of the growth of early Hollywood and Paramount studios was built on the undeveloped south end of the original site, where the studio still operates. 

If you are looking for a unique afternoon out, Hollywood Forever is the place to go! With 50 acres of beauty, you can pay your respects to some of the most cherished figures from Hollywood such as Judy Garland, Cecil B DeMille, Rudolph Valentino, Mickey Rooney, and hundreds more. You can take a self-guided tour by picking up and map at the flower shop or you can book a guided tour by local historian Karie Bible HERE. This is truly one of my favorite spots and hidden gems in Los Angeles!

If you’re a Bravo fan, you may recognize this spot. It’s where Vanderpump Rules couple Stassi Schroeder and Beau Clark were engaged.

9. See a Show at Bob Barker Marionette Theatre

If you are looking for a unique theatrical experience in LA look no further than the Bob Baker Marionette Theater. This theater is filled with exuberant entertainment and a zest for life. The Bob Baker Theater strives to educate, celebrate, to rejuvenate puppetry and the allied arts. Any show here is bound to be one to remember. 

The theater was founded in 1963 by Bob Baker and Alton Wood. It is the oldest children’s theater company in Los Angeles. The original theater closed in 2018, but the imagination continues to reside at a new location in Highland Park in a former Vaudeville Theater. This theater represents such a fun part of Los Angeles’s history and is a place where you just can’t stop smiling.

I think the best way to describe the theater is pulled directly from their vision statement:

The Bob Baker Marionette Theater sees the world as a birthday cake: Baked with care, frosted with imagination and intent, served across generations as a sanctuary of sweet, sprinkled with a little stardust, a living theater of whipped cream delight!

The Bob Barker Marionette Theater

 I mean who wouldn’t want to go to a place like this?

10. Explore The Museum of Death

This was actually one of the first places I went to when I arrived in LA. I ended up there on a whim, but it quickly became one of my top recommended places in Los Angeles especially for Murderinos (fans of true crime and the My Favorite Murder podcast). As soon as we walked up to this building located in the heart of Hollywood with a mural of Elizabeth Short (The Black Dahlia) on the side of the building I knew we were in for an incredible experience. 

hidden gems in los angeles the museum of death

This world-famous museum was founded in June of 1995 when DJ Healy and Cathee Shultz decided to fill the void in death education in the United States and make it their life’s work. Located in Hollywood and New Orleans, the museum houses the world’s largest collection of serial killer artwork, antique funeral ephemera, mortician and coroners’ instruments, Manson family memorabilia, pet death taxidermy, crime scene photographs and much more! Each location is entirely unique and does not feature any replicas or duplicates. 

The Museum of Death is a self-guided tour costing $15 for admission and lasting approximately 45 minutes to an hour. They also provide a student discount so make sure to ask about that and have your student ID on hand to attain that promotion. There is no age limit on the museum however it is strongly recommended that the museum is for mature audiences and I’d have to agree. There are some gruesome displays within the museum, so I’d discourage taking younger children for this experience. 

Don’t forget to check out the unique gift shop before leaving! This is not your average museum tour but the Museum of Death is one that you will remember for the rest of your life. According to their website, the museum in Hollywood is relocating to a bigger and better location, so double check the location when planning a trip to Los Angeles. Don’t forget to read my brother’s tips for visiting museums HERE.

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11. Visit The California Institute of Abnormal Arts

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Holiday weekends in LA are abundant with events and Valentine’s Day weekend was no different. As I searched for different places and events I stumbled upon a free variety show featuring a DJ set by one of my favorite artists, Alice Glass. Like most iconic events in Los Angeles, the location is kept secret and emailed to you only a few hours before the doors open and the location for this particular secret show was none other than The California Institute of Abnormal Arts in North Hollywood.

I was enthralled by the CIA as soon as I approached this venue with its warped Chinatown décor and the red glow created by an array of hanging lanterns. There is an outdoor movie screening area that was playing 80s music videos, an outdoor patio and bar decorated in unique artifacts and oddities and a full stage for live music and burlesque. This is one of those places that exploring the venue is almost as fun as the event itself.

What to Expect

The CIA is a nightclub and sideshow museum that is owned and operated by actor-screenwriter Carl Crew and Robert Ferguson. This venue primarily hosts underground music groups, performance art, movie screenings and sideshow acts. The owners befriended each other while working as embalmers in an LA mortuary in the 1980s and opened the California Institute of Abnormal Arts in 1994 as a location for underground bands and performance art. It features an extensive collection of sideshow memorabilia that the owners have collected over the years as avid fans and historians of the American sideshow.

The best part about an event at the CIA is that Carl Crew will give a tour of some of his oddities collection. He showed my group and gave a detailed history of his collected monkey paw, a Fiji mermaid, a shrunken head, and a haunted painting that I still think about. The atmosphere of this venue is like no other and the owners make sure that you remain entertained throughout the entire night! When it comes to events and venues in LA, this hidden gem is probably my favorite.

12. Check Out The Museum of Jurassic Technology

This is unfortunately a spot that I have not made it to yet, but it is on my Los Angeles bucket list! Whenever I ask people about their favorite hidden gems in LA, The Museum of Jurassic Technology always comes up and I have been intrigued from just the paradox of the name alone. This museum is considered one of the most underrated museums in the city. Tucked along Venice Boulevard in the small neighborhood of Palms you will find this bizarre museum which looks from the outside like a shop front from Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. When I’ve asked people what it’s like I am hit with the same response every time, “You just have to go, you’d love it!” Not really the most helpful explanation and I am left with more and more intrigue the more that I look into it. 

This intrigue and wonderment is exactly what the director of the museum, David Wilson, wants you to feel. Wilson started in Los Angeles working in the entertainment industry designing animations and miniature models. The first few years of operation, Wilson and his collection of “cultural curiosities” were just a traveling collection. In 1988, he opened the doors to the Museum of Jurassic Technology in West LA. Wilson shares a unique love for museum tradition and his is simply an homage to museums everywhere. This museum is meant to inspire those who walk through the threshold and challenge their understanding of what a museum is and where beauty lies in our world.

hidden gems in los angeles museum of jurassic technology

What to Expect

This museum certainly isn’t for everyone and Wilson will be the first to admit that there are many people who dislike what he is doing. However, if you are looking for a unique afternoon that transports you to another world then you should allow your curiosity to get the best of you and venture out to the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

The museum is open Thursday 2pm to 8pm, and Friday through Sunday from noon to 6pm. The cost is an $8 donation, $5 for students and teachers while children under 12 are free. I know I can’t wait to explore these eccentric exhibits with names such as, “No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again,” “Rotten Luck: The Decaying Dice of Ricky Jay,” and “Tell the Bees.” This is certainly one of those places that you just have to see and find out for yourself!

13. Go to The Time Travel Mart

Let’s be honest, everyone has considered the possibility of time travel at least once in their lives! It’s exciting to imagine the wonders of the future, events you’d like to experience from the past and what life would be like to travel through the fourth dimension. The Time Travel Mart is a niche little market that allows you to live out your time travel fantasies. The location functions as a retail space and non-profit literacy tutoring center where 20-30 students per day are tutored in creative and expository writing.  All proceeds from this quirky store goes to funding the non-profit organization.

The Time Travel Mart’s slogan is “Whenever you are, we’re already then.” They opened their doors in Echo Park in 2008 and Mar Vista in 2012. Their convenience store for time travelers contains many unique items that make fantastic gifts and souvenirs. The Time Travel Mart is also the headquarters of Barnacle and Barnacle Publishers that specializes in original student-authored books. Their website is as quirky as the store itself and claims their customers have been coming to them for centuries and includes Time Scouts, cavepeople, wooly mammoth, and many others! They run an artist residency out of their Echo Park location and encourage a space for visitors to be their most creative selves. It’s very clear that the Time Travel Mart is an incredibly creative space with a great sense of humor, making it an underground LA staple and must see.

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Cherrod

    Yes!!! Thank you for sharing this. I’m personally not a fan of LA, but I’ve been to some of these spots and they were some of my favorite highlights of some of my LA trips. There is so much more to LA then what meets the eye.

  2. Eric Gamble

    Now this is the Los Angeles I’d like to explore for sure. I love how you mixed it up with quirky indoor and urban activities while including bizarre outdoor sites like the swing or bridge to no where. Like you we love exploring cemeteries. Perhaps that’s cause I’m from New Orleans and its part of our culture. So for me a self guided tour of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery sounds like a neat experience. Also seeing the sunken land slide of the former San Pedro sounds cool. I wonder if you can see any remnants in the water if you scuba dive it?

  3. Jackie S.

    What a fascinating read of the off the beat places in Los Angeles. I would be interested in hiking the Bridge to Nowhere as I love finding new hiking trails. Plus, it sounds exhilarating to wade in the waist-high waters. The street art at Murphy’s Ranch looks awesome too.

  4. Kelly

    You have provided some fantastic places to explore! My favourite is also Murphy’s Ranch. It’s so sad that the buildings had to be demolished. So much history gone.

  5. Vanessa

    There are some fabulous ideas of unique things to do in LA. Glad the zoo shut down if the cages were small, much better use for it now. Murphy’s Ranch looks awesome too, I’d love this as it includes some hiking! The Korean Bell of Friendship is beautiful and has perfect views.

  6. Aditi Sharma

    I’ve often visited LA but have yet to see these hidden gems that you mentioned in this post. The hike to the Bridge to Nowhere sounds something we’d love to try though I’d probably save it for early spring or fall season given how warm it gets in the region during summer. The design of the Korean Bell of Friendship looks amazing – interesting to read that it is still rung on certain days. That photograph of the swing reminded me of Bernal Heights swing in San Francisco. I’ve got to add these hidden gems to our list for the next trip we make down there to SoCal – thanks for sharing.

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