Downtown LA is a microcosm of the city’s past, present, and future. El Pueblo commemorates the city’s Spanish origins, while Chinatown and Little Tokyo are vibrant communities. The city’s financial center, along Flower and Figueroa streets, sits in sharp contrast to the early 20th-century architecture around Pershing Square. Cultural sites include the renowned Museum of Contemporary Art, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the galleries of the Arts District. The Fashion and Jewelry districts also add their own flair, and Downtown is dominated by L.A. Live, a vast sports and entertainment district.
This historic district near LA’s 1781 founding site comprises buildings dating back to the early 19th century, when the city was just an outpost under Mexican rule. Its main artery, Olvera Street, has been restored to a lively lane lined with Mexican trinket shops and restaurants.
800 N Alameda St
Built in 1939 during the golden age of railroad travel, Union Station blends traditional Spanish Mission elements with Modernist Art Deco touches. Its lofty main waiting room is graced with a coffered wooden ceiling, highly polished marble floors, and tall arched windows. Union Station has been featured in several movies, The Hustler (1961) and Bugsy (1991) among others.
200 N Spring St • Open 8am–5pm Mon–Fri • Guided tours: 10am–noon
This was LA’s tallest building for over four decades, with the central tower of this 1928 complex three times higher than the height limit at that time. Renovations have made it possible for the public to admire its marble-columned rotunda once again. City Hall has been immortalized on celluloid countless times, most famously as the headquarters of the Daily Planet in the Superman TV series. It was also attacked by Martians in The War of the Worlds (1953).
555 W Temple St • 213-680-5200 • Open 6:30am–6pm Mon–Fri, 9am–6pm Sat, 7am–6pm Sun • Free tours: 1pm Mon–Fri • www.olacathedral.org
LA’s strikingly modern Roman Catholic cathedral looms above the Hollywood Freeway. Enter through giant bronze doors cast by LA sculptor Robert Graham and guarded by a statue of Our Lady of the Angels. The interior of the cathedral is bathed in a soft light that streams in through the alabaster windows.
Bounded by 1st & 4th, Alameda, & Los Angeles Sts
The Japanese have been a presence in LA since the 1880s, but redevelopment in the 1960s replaced most of Little Tokyo with bland modern architecture. The few surviving buildings on East First Street are now a National Historic Landmark. Stop at the Japanese American National Museum, and check out the MOCA Geffen Contemporary.
111 S Grand Ave • 323-850-2000 • www.laphil.com
A spectacular addition to Downtown’s landscape is the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Frank Gehry conceived the dramatic auditorium, rather like the sculptural interpretation of a ship at sea. The exterior “sails” are clad in stainless-steel panels, while the hall itself (see Walt Disney Concert Hall) boasts a curved wooden ceiling with superb acoustics.
250 S Grand Ave • 213-626-6222 • Open 11am–5pm Sat & Sun, 11am–8pm Thu, 11am–6pm Mon, Wed & Fri • Adm (free after 5pm on Thu) • www.moca.org
An early player in Downtown’s cultural renaissance, MOCA collects and displays art in all media from 1940 to the present, in a building designed by famous Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. Works by Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein form part of its permanent collection.
Along Broadway Hill north of Cesar Chavez Blvd
The Chinese first settled in LA after the Gold Rush, but were forced by the construction of Union Station to relocate a few blocks north to an area that is today known as “New Chinatown.” The cultural hub of over 200,000 Chinese Americans, this exotic district sells everything from pickled ginger to lucky bamboo.
A 4,000,000-sq-ft (371,600-sq-m) development, adjoining the Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center, houses LA’s premier sports and entertainment district. Venues include the Microsoft Theater, with state-of-the-art acoustics and seating for 7,200 people, and The Novo by Microsoft, a live music venue. At the heart of the center is Microsoft Square.
317 S Broadway • 213-624-2378 • Open 9am–6pm daily • www.grandcentralsquare.com
Angelenos have perused the produce aisles of this exotic and lively market since 1917. Today, visitors stock up on everything from fruits and vegetables to fresh fish and meat, and spices and herbs to cakes and bread, all available at bargain prices. Many of the eateries here also have long traditions, such as Roast-to-Go, where the Penilla family has served tacos and burritos since the 1950s. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright once had an office upstairs.
This quiet, lantern-festooned lane in western Chinatown is the hotbed of LA’s art scene. Artists’ studios and several galleries have opened in between the traditional Chinese antique and furniture stores in the area. Follow a browsing session with a quiet drink at the Hop Louie restaurant.
Begin your day with the historic El Pueblo, which will take you back to the city’s vibrant Mexican and Spanish past. Browse colorful Olvera Street for authentic crafts and food, and then cross Alameda Street for a close-up of the grand Union Station.
Next, go west along Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, before turning right on Broadway for a stroll through exotic Chinatown and a superb lunch at the Philippe’s the Original.
Ride the DASH bus “B” from Broadway to Temple Street, dominated by the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. After admiring Rafael Moneo’s Modernist masterpiece, head south along Grand Avenue, past the Music Center and the Walt Disney Concert Hall to check out the latest exhibits at the MOCA.
Stroll down Bunker Hill Steps, stopping to gaze at Source Figure, Robert Graham’s exquisite sculpture and the Central Library. Walk to Pershing Square, lorded over by the baronial Millennium Biltmore Hotel, a nice place for tea or coffee. Leave in time to make it to the Victorian Bradbury Building before 5pm. Browse for treasures in the bountiful aisles of the Grand Central Market.
333 S Grand Ave • Open 9am–5pm Mon–Fri
A Wild West museum housing an original stagecoach and a gold nugget from the Gold Rush.
630 W 5th St • 213-228-7000 • Open 10am–8pm Mon–Thu, 9:30am–5:30pm Fri–Sat, 1–5pm Sun
LA’s main library consists of the original 1926 building, a Beaux-Arts design by Bertram Goodhue, and an art-filled atrium added in 1993.
221 S Grand Ave • 213-232-6200 • Opening times vary, check website • www.thebroad.org
A superb contemporary art collection housed in a striking building. Yayoi Kusama’s dazzling Infinity Mirrored Room is especially popular.
Hill St just off Pershing Square
Precious gems, watches, and fine jewels are sold in shops in what has long been the center of Los Angeles’s jewelry industry.
Bounded by Broadway, San Pedro St, 7th St, & 16th St
The 56-block district (see Santee Alley) is the heart of LA’s clothing industry and heaven on earth for bargain hunters.
766 Wall St • 213-627-3696 • Opening times vary • Adm • www.originallaflowermarket.com
This 1913 cut-flower market, the largest in the country, has it all from roses to orchids.
800 W Olympic Blvd • 213-765-6800 • Open10:30am–6:30pm Sun–Thu, 10am–8pm Fri & Sat • www.grammymuseum.org
You can record and perform a song at this interactive museum dedicated to the music industry.
100 N Central Ave • 213-625-0414 • Open 11am–5pm Tue, Wed, Fri–Sun, noon–8pm Thu • Adm • www.janm.org
Housed in a Buddhist temple, this museum chronicles the history of Japanese Americans.
152 N Central Ave • 213-626-6222 • Open 11am–6pm Wed & Fri, 11am–8pm Thu, 11am–5pm Sat & Sun • Adm (except 5–8pm Thu) • www.moca.org
This huge former police garage hosts traveling shows and exhibits.
Bounded by 1st & 7th Sts, Alameda Ave, & the Los Angeles River
As artists have moved into studios here, trendy galleries, shops, and restaurants have also opened.
617 S Olive St
This 1927 Art Deco gem has French fixtures and a forecourt decorated with Lalique glass. It houses the popular Cicada restaurant.
1334 S Central Ave • Not open to the public
A Streamline Moderne building, located in an industrial area, this resembles an ocean liner, complete with porthole windows. Two giant Coke bottles guard the corners.
404 S Figueroa St • 213-624-1000
The five mirror-glass cylinders of LA’s biggest hotel look like a space ship ready for take-off.
On 4th St between Main & Spring Sts
This trio of statuesque buildings, built between 1904 and 1910, has been converted into residential lofts.
633 W 5th St
Standing at 1,017 ft (310 m), this building was erected only after developers were forced to purchase the air rights from neighboring Central Library in order to exceed official height limits.
506 S Grand Ave • 213-624-1011
A range of architectural styles, from Renaissance to Neo-Classical, adorn this 1923 Beaux-Arts hotel.
Cascading from Hope Street to Fifth Street, these steps (see Source Figure) have many features, including a sculpture of a female nude by Robert Graham.
A bright turquoise terracotta mantle covers this former 1930s furniture and clothing store.
811 W 7th St Lobby • Open during office hours
Behind the richly detailed façade of this 1927 building awaits a galleried lobby in Spanish Renaissance style.
Along Broadway between 3rd & 9th Sts
During the silent-film era, Broadway was the most popular movie district. The movie palaces here are architectural marvels.
Music Center Plaza, 135 N Grand Ave
Created at the height of the Vietnam War in 1969, Jacques Lipchitz’s bronze Madonna has the dove, a symbol of peace, on top, and lambs, representing humanity, at the base.
333 S Hope St
Alexander Calder is best known for his suspended mobiles, but this looming 1975 steel work painted in glowing fiery orange-red is a “stabile,” an abstract stationary sculpture.
Wells Fargo Center, 333 S Grand Ave
The ground floor of this office complex is a treasure trove of public art with nudes by Robert Graham, Joan Miró’s childlike La Caresse d’un Oiseau, and Jean Dubuffet’s cartoonish Le Dandy.
255 E Temple St
This monumental sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky shows four embracing figures, symbolizing the commonality between people based on their shared molecular structure.
725 S Figueroa St
An evocative sculpture (1990) by Terry Allen and Philip Levine, this condemns the greed and erosion of moral responsibility in today’s corporate America.
Maguire Gardens, northern side of Central Library, Flower, & 5th Sts
Jud Fine’s 1993 installation is a visual allegory of a book – the well symbolizes the title page, the steps the pages, and the pools the plot flow.
333 S Spring St, near 3rd St
This memorial by Betye Saar and Sheila de Bretteville commemorates the story of former slave, Biddy Mason (1818–91), who established the city’s first black church.
Onizuka St, Little Tokyo
A 1/10th scale model of the Challenger, this 1990 memorial by Isao Hirai honors the first Japanese-American astronaut.
Hope St, near 4th St
Overlooking the Bunker Hill Steps stands this bronze African-American female nude. Designed by Robert Graham in 1992, she represents the source of the water cascading down the stairs.
Terry Schoonhoven’s 1993 ceramic mural (see El Pueblo de Los Angeles) depicts California travelers from the days of the Spanish explorations, and LA landmarks such as Pico House.
544 S Grand Ave • 213-891-0900 • $$$
Fish and seafood fanciers from all over flock to this clubby shrine, which uses only impeccably fresh ingredients. Desserts are superb.
617 S Olive St • 213-488-9488 • $$$
The sumptuous Art Deco dining room in the historic Oviatt Building almost overshadows the food. The menu features north Italian classics.
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 141 S Grand Ave • 213-972-3331 • $$$
Expect the latest innovations in French-Californian cuisine and be prepared to reserve far in advance.
330 S Hope St, Wells Fargo Center • 213-680-0330 • $$$
Loosen your belt for the juiciest steaks ever. Preview your cut in the glass-encased aging chamber.
1001 N Alameda St • 213-628-3781 • $
Philippe’s has served its famous French-dipped sandwiches since 1908. Seating is at long communal tables. Limited vegetarian options.
648 S Broadway • 213-627-1673 • $
LA institution with rustic woodland decor and plenty of taxidermy. Upstairs has themed cocktail bars.
408 S Main St • 213-687-8808 • $$
Chef Josef Centeno masters the flavors of the Mediterranean and Spain at his trendy diner. Choose the signature “bäco” flatbread sandwich.
819 N Broadway, Chinatown • 213-625-0811 • $
In this reliable Chinese eatery, a plate of the hallmark “slippery shrimp” graces almost every table. The moo-shu pork is also a good bet.
251 S Olive St • 213-356-4100 • $$$$
A romantic place for post-theater dining, Noe offers fresh seafood, meats, and poultry prepared in an American-Japanese fusion style.
800 S Main St • 213-627-7441 • Open daily, breakfast only Fri–Sun • $
A salsa bar with truly authentic regional dishes from Mexico, home-made tortillas, tamales, and spot-on service. Try the fresh blue-gill fish.
Price categories include a three-course meal for one, a glass of house wine, and all unavoidable extra charges including tax.
$ under $25 $$ $25–$50 $$$ $50–$80 $$$$ over $80