Los Angeles is one of the most recognized cities in the world. There are many places that spring to mind when someone mentions Los Angeles: Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Venice Beach, Universal Studios, Downtown. Downtown? Yes, you may not know it but Downtown Los Angeles, better known to locals as DTLA, has a variety of exciting and fun things to do and see. Get ready to discover another side to LA that will have you booking your next flight to the City of Angels.
1. On top of the world at OUE Skyspace LA!
Experience Los Angeles from a bird’s eye perspective. The OUE Skyspace is California’s tallest open-air observatory providing breathtaking 360-degree views of the city. Located in the iconic US Bank Tower, visitors experience at nearly 1,000 feet (304.8 meters) above the city, dazzling panoramic views of LA. And if that’s not compelling enough, there’s the added attraction of the world’s first ever Skyslide, an enclosed glass slide attached to the side of the building. The trip begins on the 70th floor and spits you out onto a terrace on the 69th, where the observation deck is located; truly not for the faint of heart!
Admission to the OUE Skyspace observation deck is 25 USD, plus an extra 8 USD if you want to ride the slide. The observation deck includes an interactive section featuring a digital topography wall of the city’s beacons. There’s also a small convenient store with snacks, soft drinks and some souvenirs available.
OUE Skyspace LA
Address: 633 West 5th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071
Hours: Sunday-Monday 10am to 9pm, Friday-Saturday 10am to 10pm
Contact: +1 2138949000
Website: OUE Skyspace LA
2. Strike the right note; visit Walt Disney Concert Hall
To experience a concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall is a grand affair. The acoustics are one of the most splendid in the world. Home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Walt Disney Concert Hall is an internationally recognized landmark designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. It is the fourth hall that comprises the Los Angeles Music Center. The other three are The Ahmanson Theater, The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and The Mark Taper Forum.
If a concert doesn’t fit your schedule take a tour of this amazing structure. Self-guided audio tours and guided tours are offered by the Music Center most days. All tours are only an hour long and begin in the Grand Avenue Lobby of Walt Disney Concert Hall. Getting an intimate glimpse of the stainless steel curves of the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s striking exterior and the state-of-the-art acoustics of the hardwood-paneled main auditorium will certainly be a highlight of your visit to Los Angeles. And if there are less than 15 people in your party, both the self-guided and guided tour is complimentary, but reservations are required. You can’t beat that deal!
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Address: 111 South Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012
Contact: +1 3238502000, for tour reservations +1 2139727483
Website: Walt Disney Concert Hall
3. The spirit of Mexico's alive on Olvera Street
Among the soaring office buildings and snarled traffic jams is a colorful stretch of Downtown LA that is a real treat to experience. Get immersed in the world of Old Los Angeles with a stroll down Olvera Street. Olvera Street is one of the most popular tourist destinations in LA; drawing people from around the world. The tree-shaded, brick-lined market consists of old structures, painted stalls, street vendors, restaurants and gift shops. Many of the current merchants on Olvera Street are descended from the original vendors.
Olvera Street is located in the oldest district of the city, so it’s no surprise to find Avila Adobe, L.A.’s oldest house. The structure, made of adobe brick; material consisting of clay, water and straw, was built in 1818, and is designated as a California Historic Landmark. The Avila Adobe is worth a visit when you’re on Olvera Street. Olvera Street exudes an air of pure Mexico; with Mariachi music filling the air, as well as the aroma of fried churros and sizzling fajitas. Once you step onto Olvera Street it’s easy to see and feel why so many people flock to see it. Olvera Street definitely has its own unique vibe.
Address: 845 N Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Website: Olvera Street
4. Take a cultured trip through The Museum of Contemporary Art
Not far from Walt Disney Concert Hall is The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). A contemporary art museum with three locations, actually, in greater Los Angeles. The main branch is located on Grand Avenue in Downtown and, like the other branches, is the only museum in LA solely devoted to contemporary art. Before you enter the facility, you’ll notice a large, distinctive sculpture fashioned from used airplane parts graces the museum’s front plaza. Do yourself a favor and don’t breeze past it. Take a moment to study, up close and at a distance, this amazing piece of art by sculptor Nancy Rubins.
Once inside, you’ll see works by well-known artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Diane Arbus. Emerging artists are also represented. Special activities geared toward kids, adults and teens are offered regularly, as well as a free audio tour and access to outdoor installations. Enjoy free admission every Thursday evening from 5pm to 8pm. When you’re ready to eat there’s the Lemonade at MOCA, conveniently located adjacent to the museum entrance, where you can munch on light and tasty dishes, like mango coconut chicken in a bright cafeteria setting. If a museum day is on your agenda, you’ll definitely want to check out The Museum of Contemporary Art in Downtown LA.
The Museum of Contemporary Art
Address: 250 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday 11am to 6pm, Tuesday CLOSED, Thursday 11am to 8pm, Saturday, Sunday 11am to 5pm
Contact: +1 2136266222
Price: Adult 15 USD, Children 12 and under FREE
Website: The Museum of Contemporary Art
5. A foodies wonderland; Grand Central Market
With so much ground to cover in Downtown LA you need to refuel, and the best place to do that is Grand Central Market. Just about every food you can imagine is at Grand Central Market. If this place brings together the cuisines and cultures of LA, as it claims, then it is definitely the right size; huge! A downtown landmark since 1917, this mega-food fest “is a vibrant and thriving community of multicultural stands and food stops, with 37 vendors in total.” - Jenna Chandler and Farley Elliott, lacurbed.com
But be warned, the lunch hour is so popular it can leave you on a major hunt for a place to sit. To avoid big crowds, visit mid-morning and at night. With so many choices it’s easy to be overwhelmed. A few top spots to help narrow your list are Sarita’s Pupuseria, the menu’s inexpensive and the crowd favorite is the pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish of a thick corn tortilla stuffed with a savory filling. Pastrami is the order of the day at Wexler’s Deli. And Knead & Co. is the top pick if you want to enjoy some delicious pasta and meatballs at a leisurely pace.
Grand Central Market
Hours: Daily 8am to 10pm
Address: 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Contact: +1 2136242378
Website: Grand Central Market
6. Find your zen at Kyoto Gardens
One of the most surprising things to be found among the hustle and bustle of Downtown LA is a stunning roof-top Japanese-style garden at The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. Re-created from an ancient Japanese garden, Kyoto Gardens is a stunning sunlit garden filled with colorful flowers and plants. While you sit in the garden, you’ll be calmed by the sound of a cascading waterfall. And catching a glimpse of the surrounding skyscrapers reflected in a clear, tranquil pond will be the only reminder that you’re enveloped by a thriving metropolis. Stone pathways wind through the meticulously manicured trees and landscape creating a nice oasis-like feel.
Kyoto Gardens at Doubletree by Hilton Hotel is open to the public every day of the week, unless there’s a private event scheduled. So if you need to take a break from your frenetic vacation, spend some time relaxing by a babbling brook at this lovely hideaway called Kyoto Gardens.
Kyoto Gardens at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel
Address: 120 S Los Angeles St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Contact: +1 2136291200
7. Love books? The Last Bookstore is your refuge
The Last Bookstore is like no other bookstore on earth. Stepping into The Last Bookstore is like stepping into an alternate universe. It’s the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ of bookstores. When you enter an area known as the Labyrinth, located on the second floor, you’ll literally walk through a tunnel of books. The Last Bookstore is housed in an old bank, and it’s probably this former financial structure that allows The Last Bookstore to create such a unique space, as the Labyrinth room features doors that go nowhere and “secret passageways” that lead into hidden rooms. There’s even volumes of books displayed in a vault, and a functioning light switch embedded in a book! It feels like the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry’s school library. You almost expect to see Harry Potter among the stacks!
The Last Bookstore has grown into a beloved LA institution. With bookstores quickly becoming extinct, it is heartening to see The Last Bookstore’s devotion to its wares and their ingenuity to display those materials in a fresh and wonderfully bizarre manner. Don’t miss an opportunity to check out this unique place that houses more than 100,000 old and vintage books, some for only 1 USD each. It is a small price to pay for the future of books.
The Last Bookstore
Address: 453 S Spring St Ground Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Contact: +1 2134880599
Hours: Monday-Thursday 10am to 10pm, Friday-Saturday 10am to11pm, Sunday 10am to 9pm
Website: The Last Bookstore
8. Tea time is the right time at Rendezvous Court
The posh Millennium Biltmore Hotel’s Rendezvous Court offers a singularly refined experience in Downtown Los Angeles. The renowned weekend traditional Afternoon Tea is the chance to relax with a pot of fine-blended custom tea, while enjoying the beauty of the Rendezvous Court. A historic location, Rendezvous Court is a feast for the eyes with its rose marble fountain, gold-leaf accents, and immense Baroque stairwell. You will feel like royalty as you sip tea in this elegant atmosphere.
The Afternoon Tea service is available Saturdays and Sundays, from 2pm to 5pm. Along with tea is a very nice assortment of elegant tea sandwiches, fresh baked scones, a selection of French Macaroons and various other pastries served on three-tiered plates with an old country rose pattern. Reservations are recommended.
Afternoon Tea at Rendezvous Court
Address: 506 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90071
Contact: +1 2136121562
Price: from 35 USD
Website: Afternoon Tea at Rendezvous Court
9. Santee Alley; a shopaholics nirvana!
Popular for its bazaar-like atmosphere, Santee Alley creates a unique shopping experience in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles. For die-hard shoppers, you’ll have from over 150 stores to choose from, selling such items as clothes, shoes, cosmetics and more. Santee Alley comprises two blocks of the 100-block LA Fashion District, and has traditionally been the retail core of the area for those shopping for a great deal.
The scene along the main corridor is packed with tourists and bargain-hunting locals making their way through the myriad of storefronts crammed with affordable accessories, footwear and thousands of mannequins clad in all kinds of apparel. Many of the merchants hail from far away places, like Kenya, Korea, and Lebanon, just to name a few, making Santee Alley a truly international shopping experience. Santee Alley isn’t all about bargain shopping. There’s plenty of eateries when you need to take a break and re-energize. The Alley Dog is a crowd favorite and home to the original bacon wrapped hot dog. Santee Alley is open 7 days a week, rain or shine.
Address: 210 E Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Website: Santee Alley
10. The Bradbury Building; explore an architectural marvel!
It is truly grand that one of Los Angeles’ most enduring landmarks, The Bradbury Building, has appeared in a fair amount of Hollywood movies. Those not able to travel to LA can at least get a glimpse of this five-story piece of divine architecture that has appeared in such films as, Blade Runner, Citizen Kane, Double Indemnity, Chinatown and Lethal Weapon 4. But if you are lucky enough to make it to Los Angeles, a trip to The Bradbury Building should be at the top of your tourist list. It’s not surprising many film directors have chosen to showcase The Bradbury Building. With its airy Victorian courtyard, open-cage elevators, marble stairs, and ornate iron railings, The Bradbury Building deserves a spot in front of the camera!
One of the most fascinating qualities about The Bradbury Building, constructed in 1893, is that it presents a very sharp contrast in appearance. The exterior is like any other commercial structure. But the interior is a dazzling crown jewel, dramatically lit by natural light. You might say the exterior is the cocoon and the interior is the butterfly that emerged. The Bradbury Building underwent a restoration project in the 1990s, and while the general public is only allowed to wander the first two floors, the rest is private business offices; do not let that deter you from experiencing one of LA’s most treasured gems.
The Bradbury Building
Address: 304 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Hours: Daily, 9am to 5pm
Website: The Bradbury Building
An overflow of surprises in Downtown LA
As you can see, Downtown Los Angeles can hold its own against rivals like Hollywood and Beverly Hills. With a variety of delectable foods, wild attractions, historic points of interest and inspiring tranquil locales sprinkled throughout, there’s so much more to Downtown LA than meets the eye. So when you plan a visit to LA that includes shopping on Rodeo Drive and a trip to The Hollywood Wax Museum, don’t forget to include a few of these activities on your itinerary.
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