Downtown Los Angeles Guide

Photo courtesy of djjewelz, Flickr

Bustling business center by day, vibrant metropolis by night, Downtown Los Angeles always has something going on.

Downtown LA’s recent renaissance has attracted a fair bit of attention. With a numerous attractions and cultural sights — and plenty of new hotels — the area has transformed into a bona fide LA destination.

 

Downtown LA Overview

Downtown LA’s recent renaissance has attracted a fair bit of attention. With a numerous attractions and cultural sights — and plenty of new hotels — the area has transformed into a bona fide LA destination.

The new Downtown entertainment complex L.A. LIVE has fast become the area's top hangout. Not only does it feature the GRAMMY Museum, it showcases Microsoft Theater L.A. LIVE, which boasts 7,100 seats and has hosted performances by headliners such as Kanye West and The Eagles. Now host to the EMMYs, ESPYs, American Music Awards and other prestigious ceremonies, the theatre has become LA’s premier red-carpet event venue. For those who want to break a sweat, Lucky Strike Lanes and the always-hot Conga Room have taken up residence at L.A. LIVE. A slew of restaurants and entertainment also anchor the entertainment complex: ESPN Zone, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, Lawry's Carvery, The Farm of Beverly Hills at L.A. LIVE, ROCK'N FISH, Trader Vic's at L.A. LIVE and more as seen below.

A great place to experience Downtown LA is the Watercourt at California Plaza, a whimsical urban park with fountains and outdoor entertainment. Don your sunglasses and then spin around. You’re in the middle of the skyline you’ve seen a million times. (That’s the building where people welcomed the aliens in Independence Day. Hey, this is the bank Robert De Niro and Val Kilmer robbed in Heat. This is where Vanessa Williams did that music video.) If you hang out long enough, you’ll probably see someone filming something.

In Downtown LA, there’s always something to do: museums and galleries to take in the arts; the Jewelry District for treasure hunters; LA’s fashion hub; Little Tokyo, Chinatown and Olvera Street representing LA’s renowned cultural diversity.

Sports fans can catch the court-pounding action of the Lakers or Clippers or the puck-smashing Kings at STAPLES Center. Meanwhile, Dodger Stadium is just a short drive north for nine innings and Dodger dogs.

The best part about Downtown LA is that you can experience it as a pedestrian with Downtown LA Walks, an urban “wayfinding” program. Take advantage self-guided tours and podcasts to Downtown LA’s attractions and frequently visited destinations.

Of course, if you don’t like walking, just hold on to a few quarters, so you can ride the DASH bus to Chinatown or pretty much anywhere else in Downtown. The Metro also offers a convenient way to get around.

There is so much to enjoy, you might have to come back for a second visit!

Where to Eat: What’s Your Flavor?

Philippe the Original, courtesy of You-Are-Here.comLocals regularly grab lunch at Philippe the Original, where French dip is the reigning champ of the menu. Get a slice or two at Lamonica’s New York Pizza (they're so serious about their pies they ship the water in from New York to get the crust just right).

Don’t leave LA without going to Chinatown and trying the slippery shrimp at Yang Chow. Call ahead 20 minutes and ask the staff to prepare steamed dumplings for your arrival. You can expect to see several stars while you dine, as this place is popular to all who call Los Angeles home.

On Olvera Street, you can grab tacos or tamales from a cart, or sit down in a café to enjoy enchiladas or tortilla chips with fresh guacamole. Afterward, linger for a churro — soft, warm, and covered in cinnamon and sugar. You won’t be disappointed!

The Kyoto Grand Hotel & Gardens in Little Tokyo boasts several restaurants. For upscale delights, try shabu shabu at Thousand Cranes while looking out on the Japanese garden. Or, try the lunch buffet at Azalea Restaurant and Bar, which offers a different ethnic emphasis each day (doesn’t Filipino Thursday sound tempting?).
Of course, Downtown has traditional fine dining, including Morton’s The Steakhouse, Café Pinot, and McCormick & Schmick’s (where we are particularly fond of the crème brûlée). For the ultimate foodie experience, Patina and Water Grill present you with culinary excellence. Or, consider ordering the firehouse chili with sopapillas at Engine Co. No. 28. L.A. LIVE has an assortment of restaurants to satisfy various palates, including Katsuya L.A. LIVE, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill, Rosa Mexicano at L.A. LIVE and Yard House (for those who enjoy televised sports with their meal).

For an after-dinner drink, grab a cocktail at The Library Bar, enjoy the view at Takami, or visit The Edison (aptly named for its location in Downtown LA’s first private power plant). Your night won’t be complete without sipping something cool at the Standard Hotel’s Rooftop Bar.

If, after that, you find you’re still a little hungry, meet your friends or make new ones at The Original Pantry Cafe (open all night).

Visit dineLA.com for more dining options.

Where to Shop: Downtown Style

Some go straight to Rodeo Drive when they want the latest in fashion, but Downtown LA offers much more for those visiting this sunny city.

Want to buy fabric? Visit the dozens of manufacturers and dealers who can offer you the widest variety in textiles. Or are you interested in the many independent designers who offer their wares throughout the district? Wedding dresses, suits, and sport and casual clothing all are available from highly diverse and creative artists.

Bargain hunters spend a few hours in Santee Alley, Downtown’s eclectic clothing market in the heart of the LA Fashion District. Here, you can buy anything you want at huge discounts: hats, jeans, shorts, suits, sweats, socks, ties, tees — you name it. Bring extra luggage (or maybe just buy new luggage in The Alley); you can fill it up and still have plenty of room left in your wallet.

Fashion mavens won't want to miss the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. An accredited college offering 18 majors, it is also the West Coast home of Project Runway. The institute houses more than 12,000 costumes, accessories and textiles from the 18th century through present day and you can visit their museum and galleries for current exhibitions. For affordable deals, stop by the Scholarship Store to buy fashionable clothing and accessories at great prices.

Throughout Downtown, traditional items are also available. Buy a silk kimono in Little Tokyo, porcelain tea sets in Chinatown, or go visit the many shops on Olvera Street if you are interested in items with a Latin flavor.

Don’t forget to accessorize. You’ll probably need a watch, earrings, or a bracelet or necklace to go with all those new clothes. Go to the LA Jewelry District and get something shiny. Gold, silver, platinum, diamonds — they’re all there for you.

What to See: Downtown LA Attractions

It’s not just the weather that’s always beautiful in Downtown LA. For example: the ultra-modern brushed steel finish of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. (You also should go inside and listen to the LA Philharmonic, but first just wonder at Frank Gehry’s masterpiece.) A new 45-minute tour explores the nearly one-acre community garden at the concert hall with its 45 blooming trees and 15-ton Delftware rose-shaped fountain, and explains how the garden was constructed 35 feet above the ground.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), MOCA at the Geffen, the Japanese American National Museum, the GRAMMY Museum and the Wells Fargo Museum are also worthy picks. For more art, head to Gallery Row or check out the Downtown Art Walk.

Another storied attraction in Downtown LA is Union Station, crafted in a combination of Art Deco and Spanish Colonial Revival styles. This architectural marvel has amazing detail, such as the sinuous concrete dividers, which are embedded with artifacts such as opium vials, broken blue and white china and horseshoes, all found while excavating the site.

Just about every night there is a show in Downtown LA’s Music Center, comprised of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Ahmanson Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. See a concert, musical, or play, as culture abounds in this wonderful city — day and night.

Need some peace and quiet? Experience the awe-inspiring architectural detail and spiritual refuge of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

Where to Sleep: Downtown Hotels

Searching for a place to stay after seeing a concert at Club NOKIA? You can enjoy luxury accommodations at JW Marriott Los Angeles at L.A. LIVE or The Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles at L.A. LIVE. The development boasts 1,001 new rooms available just steps away from the Los Angeles Convention Center and the excitement of the L.A. LIVE development.

After a long day walking through the city, you might choose an evening of quiet contemplation in the Japanese roof garden in the Kyoto Grand Hotel & Gardens in Little Tokyo.

Guests looking for a classic should, of course, visit the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, a Downtown landmark that can provide you with everything you need in terms of luxury. There’s plenty of architectural majesty here, too, including Rococo angels and painted ceilings.

If you would rather have a hint of Hollywood in Downtown, try The Standard Downtown. (Yes, they know the sign is upside down!) The Standard is über-hip, so bring the right clothes to wear to the Rooftop Bar, where you can lounge on a vibrating waterbed while you sip a chocolate martini.

Need a little Moroccan flavor? After a game at STAPLES Center, you can stay at the Figueroa Hotel, where warmth and comfort emanate from all sides. Whether you stay in the luxurious Moroccan suites or the equally upscale but more traditional guest rooms, prepare to be wooed by the vibrant colors permeating your living space.
Discover more great activities, restaurants and hotels in our 24-hour itinerary of Downtown LA.

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Discover Los Angeles