Ask nearly any young Angeleno, and they'll tell you: Downtown LA, or DTLA, is the place to be in Los Angeles. Previously known for housing Skid Row and many of Los Angeles' homeless population, the historic area has seen a resurgence in people and popularity over the past ten years. I know it's certainly transformed in the five years we’ve been living here.
Downtown Los Angeles has become one of my favorite places to explore LA, mostly because it’s a take-it-as-it-is kind of place, not fake or plastic like other parts of the city. But many local people still find it overwhelming, complicated and sketchy. The goal of this post is to demystify Downtown Los Angeles by providing the perfect one-day itinerary, ideal for any art and architecture lover.
Where to Park?
If you drive to DTLA, park under the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a safe and easily accessed parking garage that offers flat rates for weekends ($9, provided there is not an event). Other local parking lots may be a few bucks cheaper, but this one feels safe and secure even after dark. Best of all, it's an ideal location to begin your day in Downtown Los Angeles.
Public Transportation Tip:
If you took the train, exit the 7th Street underground Metro stop and walk two blocks east on 7th St. Turn left on Grand Avenue and head north for five blocks.
Where to start?
Your day begins at the beautiful Walt Disney Concert Hall. As you come up the escalators into the Concert Hall, you'll be struck by the interior of Frank Gehry's amazing work of art. Step out onto the street for the real show-stopping view.
The polished stainless-steel exterior glistens in the sun, the curves undulating like waves of the ocean. Reportedly the acoustics are fantastic, but I've yet to see a show there so I can't attest to that personally.
locals Only Tip:
You MUST explore the upper level of the Walt Disney Concert Hall! The quiet little garden spaces provide a tranquil escape and much-needed shelter from the sun on brutally hot days in Downtown Los Angeles. I particularly enjoyed exploring the cavernous pathways.
Best of all are the views from the upper deck. They simply can't be beaten. A glance north toward the San Gabriel Mountains and old Downtown Los Angeles, then east toward City Hall and East Los Angeles, and finally south toward Downtown Los Angeles as we know it today. Looking south you'll see your next destinations, should you choose to accept the challenge.
Choosing a Downtown Los Angeles Museum
Downtown Los Angeles has a new "problem." It's now home to 2 world-class modern art museums within steps from each other. Both have a lot to offer visitors, and both are worth your time. I like the flash of The Broad, but I also like to the substance and content found at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Los Angeles or MOCA.
The Broad Museum
The Broad is all about making waves in the art world. From the art on display to the exterior of the building, The Broad is out to make a statement. The works presented are excellent examples of contemporary and pop-culture art. Although the Broad family collection is said to be enormous, the number of works on display is small. You'll only need 1-2 hours max.
You will need a timed ticket for entry, so you’ll need to plan ahead. If you're not able to secure an online reservation for your preferred day, you can line up for standby tickets. Que up as soon as possible the morning of your visit. I've seen the line wrap around the building.
Museum of Contemporary Art or MOCA
Although the exterior is simple in comparison, MOCA's permanent collection is much larger and more complex. It showcases not only major talents but also makes room for contemporary local artists. At any given time, MOCA houses various exhibits as well as an extraordinary permanent collection.
There is more than one MOCA location in Downtown Los Angeles, too. I'd set aside 2-3 hours to fully explore MOCA for first-time visitors. Admission includes entry to the MOCA Geffen collection in Little Tokyo, too. Access Little Tokyo via the LA Metro buses or the subway (Red/Purple line to Union Station to connect to the Gold Line).
Downtown Los Angeles: Where to Play?
Once you've had your fill of modern art, exit your preferred museum and walk north along Grand Ave. You'll pass alongside several notable buildings including the Walt Disney Music Hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre.
To the east, you’ll see the entrance to Grand Park, the largest open space in Downtown LA. The park opened in 2012 and quickly became the site of most major outdoor events, concerts and dance parties in Downtown Los Angeles.
The park sits in the shadow of the Los Angeles City Hall to the east, a tall, towering Art Deco structure used in many films. Amble through the park at your leisure, refreshing yourself in the pools and splash pads if you'd like. But don’t be tempted by the Starbucks. Trust me; you'll want to save your appetite for the next stop!
Downtown Los Angeles: Where to Eat?
Leaving the park on Hill St, walk South again until you reach the intersection of Hill and 3rd. To your right, you’ll find Angels Flight, a retired funicular that used to ferry passengers from Hill Street up Bunker Hill where many residential homes once stood in historic Downtown Los Angeles. Across the street sits Grand Central Market, your lunch destination.
Prepare yourself for an explosion of sounds, smells, and activity. The Market is usually very busy, especially on the weekends. The eclectic market offers a little bit of everything, including authentic Mexican, Japanese, Lebanese and more. Many people rave about Eggslut for brunch, but my vote is for falafel at Mercado. I highly suggest you make at least one loop before making any decisions.
Downtown Los Angeles: Where to Marvel?
The Bradbury Building
When you can’t eat anymore, exit the Market at the Broadway exit (opposite end from where you entered). Directly across the street is your next destination: the famous Bradbury Building. Used as the set for many great films, most notably Blade Runner, the building is an Art Deco masterpiece. The marble, brick and wrought iron blend beautifully inside the space which hearkens back to an age of busy street life.
The Last Bookstore
After viewing the interior of the Bradbury Building head south down Broadway until 5th Street where you’ll turn left. You’ll stumble upon The Last Bookstore, a hidden gem in Downtown LA. The bookstore offers something for everyone. New books, collectible books, vintage vinyl, and artisan wares. Hint: the main attraction is the labyrinth and old bank vault upstairs. It’s one of the most Instagrammed spots in Downtown LA. Wander through the maze to explore the most interesting part of the book collection, including the great travel section.
Walk west along 5th Street. Just past the intersection of 5th and Grand you’ll find the entrance to the Central Library. The historic library building was completed in 1926 and is another great example of Downtown Los Angeles' rich collection of Art Deco architecture. With beautiful statues, colorful murals and a jaw-dropping rotunda, this visit to the library will be well-worth it.
Downtown Los Angeles: Where to Drink?
Once you’ve explored the library exit back out onto 5th and walk east one block to S Olive St. After taking a quick right onto S Olive, you’ll find the grand entrance to the Millennium Biltmore Hotel. This stunner was built in 1923 and is simply too beautiful for words. Find your way to the beautiful bar and enjoy a classic cocktail of your choice while you wait for your dinner reservations at any of the fantastic local restaurants. Perch is on my list to check out next!
Well, what are you waiting for?
I hope you enjoyed my intro to beautiful Downtown Los Angeles. There truly is so many excellent examples of old architecture and LA culture that you're sure to find something for everyone. Downtown Los Angeles should be part of any LA itinerary!
If you need help planning the rest of your Los Angeles trip then be sure to check out my other LA posts. Find out how I find things to do in LA. Or take a scenic drive while visiting La-La-Land. Don't miss my epic LA map of stuff to see, do and eat! I've got you covered.
Want more Downtown Los Angeles? Then check out my guide to DTLA Street Art for a fun urban adventure.
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