Downtown Los Angeles is a unique city that is a one-of-a kind blend of the modern, futuristic and the historic. Here you’ll find space age architecture peacefully sharing space with grand historical buildings; giant wall arts staring you across the street as you sit cozy inside a French bistro sipping at your morning cup of coffee; city-within-city affairs such as the grand LA Live Complex, the picturesque Little Tokyo or the historic Chinatown.
In short, surprises galore. Also, the gentrification project taken up over the last decade has, in many ways, increased the touristic appeal of DTLA and there is such a whole host of things to do and enjoy that you may feel out of breath at times! However, go easy and simply take in the atmosphere and the buzz in the air. For the rest, plan your DTLA itinerary as per your time, schedule and budget.
Below is a carefully curated list of some of the best activities and attractions of downtown LA. Make sure to cover as many as possible during your stay at LA.
Where To Stay
You’ll have loads of choices when it comes to lodging options in downtown LA. However, in my opinion, your best option is the Ace Hotel. Located in the Historic Core neighborhood, this boutique hotel provides everything you need and at affordable prices. I’ve stayed here and twice and had a pleasant experience each time. There are all sorts of rooms to choose from; a number of restaurants, bars and wellness venues; a rooftop bar, theater and event space; and to boot, creative mothership facilities are also available at the location. The hotel is also conveniently located at the heart of Broadway St and many of its top shopping stores lie at walking distance from the hotel such as ACNE, Aesop and Urban Outfitters.
Things to Do in Downtown LA
Here are a few of my favorite spots in Downtown LA that’s worth visiting. I made sure to list several spots so there’s something for everyone.
OUE Skyspace and Skyslide
This could very well be the starting point of your DTLA odyssey. Located in the US Bank Tower, the OUE Skyspace has two observation decks at the 69th and the 70th floor of the building. The round glass-paneled decks let you have a stunning panoramic view of Los Angeles and beyond. And if you want to add some spice to the experience, you may also try the Skyslide which is a water-park style slide that whooshes you down from the 70th to the 69th floor and the slide is made all of transparent glass.
Conservancy Walking Tours
On the other end of the spectrum, you can enjoy the downtown from the ground level by opting to go for one or more of the many walking tours arranged by the LA Conservancy. Some of the more popular tours include Victorian Mansions, Modern Skyscrapers, Art Deco Icons and the Historic Core. Most tours take off from the Pershing Square.
Arguably the most stunning Victorian era building of downtown LA. As you make your way through the decorative archway, a marvelous sight of wood, iron and brick flights and alleys awaits you at the Bradbury Building. Although ample light simmers down the covered glass rooftop, the light has a penumbral quality to it which suits perfectly the mood and atmosphere of the building. For a moment, you’ll feel transported to another century! And the amazing thing is the building does not stand there as a tourist curiosity only, but is still occupied by private offices.
And movie buffs will have extra incentive to visit Bradbury building since this grand mansion plays an important role in the cult classic Bladerunner.
And while you’re at it, make sure to have glimpse at the historic Union Station, still another building from downtown that was featured in Bladerunner. The sight of the sumptuously designed edifice, especially the grand waiting room with its huge chandeliers, beamed ceilings, and wall-to-ceiling windows, will give you some good idea of what railroad travel of yore used to be.
And if you’d like to walk further back in time, head out for El Pueblo, the oldest section of the city. The foundation of today’s grand metropolis was laid right here when members of a farming community settled in the area back in 1781. Today, the area houses 26 grand historical structures and 11 of these are open to public. Walk into some of these places and then take a tour of the famous old Olivera Street and you’ll get the impression that, irrespective of all those gargantuan skyscrapers and whatnot, the old Los Angeles is still very much alive!
Another historic area of DTLA, Little Tokyo is worth a visit for anybody with a fondness for Japanese culture. Everything you’ll find here, from Japanese food to fresh produce to clothes to souvenir items—all of them are ‘authentic’ Japanese, so much so you’ll forget for a moment what side of Pacific you are in!
LA Chinatown is one of the oldest Chinatowns in the world and, to our opinion, the place is a must visit for anybody interested in the cultural history of the city. Located a few blocks down Olivera Street, you’ll find a host of interesting things awaiting you once you run deep into the district.
The Grand Park is the little green heart of DTLA and a great spot to spend a relaxing afternoon at, a remove from the bustle of the city. If you’ve little ones with you, consider setting aside a few hours for a family picnic at this beautiful spot.
Want to have a look at some original Jackson Pollocks or Mark Rothkos? You need go no further than LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) that houses a staggering collection of artworks dating from 1940 to the present day.
The Broad Museum
However, even more appealing to general tourists is The Broad. The place houses two Infinity Mirror Rooms (both designed by Yayoi Kusama) as well as other popular attractions such as the American Sign, Big Tulip and more. The art enthusiasts won’t be disappointed either as the place houses original artworks by artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Barbara Kruger, Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha and others.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Try, if you can, to catch a concert at this grand building located right across the street from Broad. The venue is said to have the best acoustics in all of California. However, even if something is not on, we suggest you take a walk around this fantastically designed edifice- lauded as a grand feat of futuristic architecture- and explore the nooks and crannies of its gigantic steel petals.
Angels Flight Railway
And if you’re tired with all the traipsing around, opt for a quick ride at this historic funicular railway. It is a quick ride that will transport you from Grand Avenue up to Hill Street and the ride itself will take no more than two minutes. However, you’ll enjoy the ride for its historic appeal and the nostalgic charm associated with it.
However, if you’ll like to scale greater heights, do consider taking a helicopter tour over the city of LA. From a height of thousand feet, the views are stunning and you may book the tours either for a daytime or a night flight.
Ritz Carlton Spa
It will cost you some worthy dollars, but if you’re in the mood to splurge, we strongly suggest that you go for a spa treatment at Ritz-Carlton and savor the sheer luxury of the affair. Services apart, the opulent surroundings alone will make you feel like royal! You may opt for a full treatment or settle for one of the less expensive lunchtime rejuvenation sessions.
And of course, while you’re at DTLA, you don’t want to miss out on the city’s exciting nightlife. And, as a tourist, the best way to enjoy it is to go on a hosted Club Crawl. So, no separate admission charges (or queues) and you get to hop along from one club to the next by paying a one-time fee to your Club Crawl host.
Covering a whopping five and half million square-feet, La Live is a mega entertainment complex with a number of event venues, restaurants, wellness centers and whatnot. Set aside at least a night to explore this bustling complex.
Where To Eat
The gentrification that has radicalized the face of many DTLA neighborhoods has likewise changed the food scene of the downtown. With a host of new generation cutting-edge chefs opting to run their own establishments, fine dining at downtown Los Angeles today is as vibrant and diverse as you can imagine. Below are some of the best and popular choices, but we do strongly encourage you to explore more options at your leisure.
If Italian is your thing, you would loathe to miss the authentic, prepared-from-scratch Italian fare offered by the celebrity chef Ori Menashe at his brainchild Bestia, located at the Arts District. Housemade charcuterie, wood-fired pizza, handmade pasta—this boutique restaurant offers the best of all. Take note though, it is not the easiest of things to get a reservation here, so you must make sure to plan ahead. Special recommendations: Alla’nduja pizza and Cavatelli alla Noricna pasta.
WP24 by Wolfgang Puck
I had the opportunity to visit this restaurant a few years ago and I had an amazing time. It’s located in the The Ritz Carlton at L.A. Live on the 24th floor. Not only was the food delicious, the views while eating were spectacular. It’s near the Staples Center so it’s a great place to grab a meal prior to a game, concert, or event. It’s also a great dining spot for a girl’s night out or an after work celebration.You can see my full review of the WP24 here.
Mexicali Taco & Co
For lovers of tacos and gueros, Mexicali is another must visit when you are around DTLA. This little but tastefully decorated eatery serves Mexican specialties prepared in the Baza Mexican style. The restaurant is a great choice as a quick snack option or you can delve deeper into their menu to find lesser-known but equally delectable dishes. The restaurant also has a salsa bar handy as well as fresh frescas and hostchata standing right on the counter for tourists looking for a quick thirst-quenching stopover.
This hotspot located at the back of Arts District is a veritable haven for sausage enthusiasts, especially of the adventurous type. So, we are like talking an exotic sausage menu (and that’s an understatement!) listing buffalo sausage, rabbit sausage, and (gasp!) rattlesnake sausages. However, have no fear if the above do not sound too appetizing to your taste buds! For the place does also offer more conventional fares such as bratwurst, pork or veal sausages. You can order some Belgian fries and a glass of fresh stout to complete your meal.
Sate your sweet tooth by having a quick stopover at Gelateria Uli, the famous gelato spot at the Historic Core neighborhood. Founded by Uli Nasibova, the Gelateria offers at least 16 different flavors in their list of sherbets and gelato that are prepared fresh in small batches many times over the course of a day. In addition to common flavors such as yogurt rose, stracciatella or salted caramel, the menu also includes rotating seasonal flavors like stone and saffron fruit sherbets, coconut lemongrass, maple pecan and many more.
The first time I went here with my mom, I was hooked. Each Sunday, the ROW DTLA hosts the popular L.A. open-air market Smorgasburg featuring local artisans’ shops, lifestyle vendors as well as an exciting array of local food fares. I’ve tried so many of the food vendors there, but my faves are: Bolo (pic above) which serves amazing chicken sandwiches on toasted butter buns, Donut Friend which serves plant-based, vegan donuts, URBN Pizza and Amazebowls smoothie bowls.
As we mentioned, Little Tokyo is full of pleasant surprises and the Hama Sushi restaurant is not the least of them. And the place makes it clear that they cater only to distinguished patrons of Japanese cuisine; so ‘no noodles, no teriyaki, no tempura’ as the sign at the door warns you beforehand, but ‘only sushi and sashimi’. The regular fares including sweet shrimp, albacore sashimi and the hand rolls are all hot favorites. But if you’d prefer to tread a little off the beaten track, we suggest you order one of their fresh mackerel, halibut, tuna belly or uni preparations. Keep in mind however that the place is in high demand, especially around dinner time, so if you’re heading towards this sushi haven, make sure to arrive as early as possible.
Fond of spicy Indian dishes? Then head out to BadmaashLA, a father-son endeavor (the father being Chef Pawan, a familiar name among the Indian food aficionados of the town) that, in addition to standard Indian dishes, offer some delicious hybrid twists as well. So, we’re talking about spicy mango pork belly or the yummy chicken tikka poutine and others. If the above sounds appealing, make sure to drop in here.
Faith & Flower
Located in South Park District inside the WaterMark Tower, Faith & Flower redefines the very concept of hybrid cuisine. They borrow freely flavor profiles from North Africa, Mediterranean, Latin America and East Asia and juxtapose them with traditional Californian dishes and the result is a host of succulent toothsome preparations. However, the names of many of their dishes (Huy’s ‘Pho Gras’, for example) may confound a newcomer, so make sure to ask ahead what exactly you are ordering! The ‘Pho Gras’, for instance, is an oxtail soup with rice noodles and foie gras. Also, the restaurant has roped in famous pastry chef Josh Graves, so make sure that you check the dessert section with more than usual care!
Church & State
Looking to enjoy a laid-back French bistro-style breakfast to start your day on a happy note? You need go no further than Church & State, an authentic French bistro run by Chef Ernault and wife and located in the Arts District. Enjoy classic French dishes, such as escargot, steak tartare, chicken liver mousse or housemade charcuterie—and all of it made only with the freshest ingredients.
Grand Central Market
However, no gastronomic tour of DTLA is complete unless you set foot at the decades old Grand Central Market. The place is famous for its fresh produce but it is also considered as THE food court of the city. If you want to taste authentic LA street food, this is the place to head for.
SHOP—Till You Fall!
Similar to the food scene, the shopping facilities that have come up in great numbers in and around the DTLA districts allow delightfully diverse shopping experiences to travelers and the town locals alike. You have special shopping districts (such as the Grove), boutique and one-of-a-kind shops, and of course, the ubiquitous all-inclusive shopping malls and centers.
This is an outdoor shopping complex spread across 32 acres. The hub is built in and around the Arts District. The complex houses more than 100 unique storefronts, both boutique and global chain stores, but also restaurants, rooftop decks, event venues, wellness centers and creative offices. Like I mentioned earlier, this place also hosts the popular L.A. market Smorgasburg every Sunday, featuring local artisans’ shops, lifestyle vendors as well as an exciting array of local food fares. From 2018, the complex also began hosting Pop Produce, its own version of farmers market. In fact, ROW is fast transforming itself into a space that reflects the best of everything downtown LA.
Located in the Financial District at the 700 West 7th Street, The BLOC is another one-stop shopping destination hosting a slew of popular and iconic LA lifestyle, fashion and tech brands. The latter include Macy’s, Nordstrom Local, Uniqlo, Drybar, Lululemon and many more. The shopping plaza connects directly to the 7th Street metro station. After you’re done shopping, you can catch a matinee at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
Another popular shopping, dining and event destination of the Financial District, the FIGat7th Shopping Center contains a recessed plaza, a spacious food court and an underground shopping mall. The open-air plaza hosts a number of seasonal fests, entertainment events as well as a weekly farmer’s market. The shopping area is still expanding, though it already houses a number of popular international brands and chain stores including H&M, Zara, Target, Victoria’s Secret and more.
Los Angeles Flower Market
This is this place to go in downtown los angeles to pick up a fresh bunch of flowers and there are a vast array to choose from. You’ll also find houseplants and all kinds of succulents. It’s open everyday except for Sunday and I highly recommend you get there early in the morning to get your hands on the best selection of flowers first.
Shopping at Historic Core
Many department stores as well as smaller neighborhood businesses in the Historic Core District had to close shop during the 1970s and 1980s and subsequently, Broadway, long considered as the premier shopping destination of the city, lost much of its traditional appeal and luster. However, thanks partly to the gentrification process of the last decade and partly to the dedication and passion of the local small business owners, all of that has changed for good. Today, the old thoroughfare looks as vibrant and lively as it ever was and you’ll find tons of shopping along the length of Broadway Street. This includes neighborhood businesses, boutique shops as well as a host of storefronts from international retailers like Acne, Aesop, Urban Outfitters, West Elm and COS.
Poketo is a DTLA community-driven brand run by a husband and wife duo. From housewares to leather items, from jewelry to books and stationeries as well as collection of men and women’s clothing, all locally-made Poketo items stand out for their exquisite design and their extreme attention to details. Till date, the brand owners have collaborated with over 200 international artists to craft exclusive designs for their lines of products.