The Guide to the Historic Core of Downtown Los Angeles

Where LA's golden era meets modern times

The Bradbury Building in Downtown LA
The Bradbury Building  |  Photo:  Discover Los Angeles

There's a reason why one of Downtown L.A.'s most vibrant districts is called the Historic Core. Located between Hill and Main Streets and 1st and 9th Streets, this eclectic neighborhood showcases many of the things that originally put Los Angeles on the world stage, including lovely parks, ornate movie palaces and other architectural marvels. It's also where visitors can experience places that have helped contribute to L.A.'s more contemporary reputation as a food and arts destination. With no shortage of beautiful buildings, cutting-edge art galleries, trendy bars and gourmet restaurants, the Historic Core is where L.A.'s golden era meets modern times.

Orpheum Theatre Night
Orpheum Theatre | Photo: Candice Montgomery, Flickr

Broadway Theatre District

The historic Broadway Theatre District features the largest number of old movie palaces in the United States. Located along South Broadway between 3rd and 9th Streets, these stately cinemas also once hosted performances by early Hollywood celebrities such as the Marx Brothers, Fred Astaire and Judy Garland. Still operating as a theatre, The Orpheum is a gorgeous building with a 1928 Mighty Wurlitzer organ, elegant marble lobby and sophisticated lounge. Other nearby historic theatres that continue to welcome guests include the recently refurbished Theatre at the Ace Hotel, the Los Angeles Theater, and the Million Dollar Theater, to name just a few.

Clifton's Republic Redwood Tree
Redwood Tree, Clifton's Republic  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Clifton's Republic

Clifford Clinton founded the Clifton's restaurant chain in 1931 and eventually expanded to eight Southern California locations, each with its own theme. In 1935, the second branch, Clifton’s Cafeteria opened as Clifton's Brookdale, featuring a mesmerizing forest-like environment and tasty dishes at reasonable prices. Clifton’s Cafeteria is the last of the chain, known as the oldest surviving cafeteria-style restaurant in Los Angeles and the largest public cafeteria in the world. Clifton’s Cafeteria closed September 2011 for a multi-million dollar restoration financed by the restaurant’s new owner, developer Andrew Meieran, who also owns The Edison. Judging by Meieran’s previous work, the renovations will be just as impressive as the original Clifton’s. A new neon sign was turned on January 2015, and with chef Jason Fullilove and barman Damian Windsor helming the kitchens and bars respectively, Clifton’s Cafeteria is scheduled to reopen at last in September 2015.

The Hive Gallery Wizard Time
Wizard Time at The Hive Gallery, 2018 | Photo: The Hive Gallery, YouTube

The Hive Gallery and Studios

The Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk highlights the newest local gallery openings, but you don't need to wait for every second Thursday of the month to check out Gallery Row, where the art spaces are often open to the public year-round. Originally a black-and-white photo lab, DRKRM has since expanded to showcase photography specializing in documentary and photojournalism. Meanwhile, Hive Gallery & Studios features two galleries, a store and 25 resident artists. They're just a few of the galleries that have made Downtown L.A. synonymous with groundbreaking art.

Nickel Diner Sandwich
Nickel Diner | Photo: Nickel Diner

Nickel Diner

Not so long ago, five cents went a lot further than it does now. Still, the Nickel Diner manages to recall the good ol' days when lunch counters and soda fountains were go-to destinations for hungry Angelenos. The Nickel Diner features breakfast, lunch and dinner, but the fun, nostalgic ambience and tasty breakfast menu helps kick off the day, even if all you're getting is a maple bacon donut.

The Last Bookstore Book Tunnel
The Last Bookstore  |  Photo: Discover Los Angeles

The Last Bookstore

The Last Bookstore sells more than 250,000 new and used books and magazines. In addition to its vast selection of titles across all genres, the store itself is a must-see for its interior design alone. Not only are there books for sale, but printed material is adapted to create a unique environment where novels, anthologies, manuals and storybooks actually become a part of the store's own layout, too. Don’t miss the mezzanine level, which includes the Labyrinth Above the Last Bookstore (the back room sells 100,000 books for $1 each!), Gather Yarn Shop, and the Spring Arts Collective gallery shops.

KazuNori Hand Roll Sushi
Hand Roll Sushi at KazuNori | Photo: KazuNori

KazuNori | Downtown LA

KazuNori is a new concept from Kazunori Nozawa, founder of the burgeoning SUGARFISH restaurant group. KazuNori features a 22-seat bar and no tables - the minimalist interior was designed by Glen Bell of DEX Studio, who designed several SUGARFISH locations as well as Badmaash. The first restaurant of its kind, KazuNori offers a single-page menu of freshly-made hand rolls - crispy nori (seaweed) is wrapped around warm rice and ingredients like salmon, bay scallop, lobster and of course Nozawa’s signature blue crab. Hand rolls and sashimi can be ordered a la carte while to-go combos feature cut rolls and sashimi. The best options are the set menus with three, four or five hand rolls. The hand roll combos include a daily roll that alternates between toro and yellowtail.

Grand Central Market in Downtown LA
Grand Central Market in Downtown LA  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Grand Central Market

With a huge variety of local and international foods and treats, Grand Central Market satisfies those with even the pickiest palates. From prepared meals and groceries to beverages and sweets, there’s no shortage of delicious dishes at this historic eatery and gathering place, which has been in operation continuously since 1917.

The Bradbury Building in Downtown LA
The Bradbury Building  |  Photo: Discover Los Angeles

Bradbury Building

Lewis Bradbury, a Tajo silver mining millionaire and real estate developer, built his eponymous building after asking famed local architect Sumner Hunt to design it, but hired one of Hunt's draftsmen, George Wyman, to complete the design instead. Wyman reportedly took on the project after having a conversation with his departed brother through a Ouija board. (Incidentally, Wyman's grandson was science fiction publisher Forrest J. Ackerman.) The building's unique past is reflected in its curious yet elegant interior architecture, which has been spotted in films such as Blade Runner (1982) and Chinatown (1974), among many others. Built in 1893, the Bradbury Building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977 and is L.A.'s oldest official landmark building.

The Edison Bar Downtown Los Angeles
The Edison | Photo: The Edison, Facebook

The Edison

Once L.A.’s first private power plant, The Edison is now a steampunk-themed underground bar, lounge, restaurant and performance space that integrates remnants of the building’s 105-year-old history into its interior design. Whether you’re going to drink, eat, dance, catch a show or all of the above, the Edison is an eye-popping design marvel that is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Downtown Independent
Downtown Independent | Photo: Hodgett + Fung

Downtown Independent

Selling beer and wine in addition to film tickets, this isn’t your average movie theater. The Downtown Independent has a laid-back, lounge-type vibe, but the focus remains on its roster of rare, cult, classic and indie film programming. Whatever your taste in cinema, the Downtown Independent lives up to its name.

Los Angeles Times Building Vintage
Los Angeles Times Building | Photo: Archival

Los Angeles Times Building

Open since 1935, the Los Angeles Times Building features classic Moderne architecture, which won architect Gordon B. Kaufmann a gold medal at the 1937 Paris Exposition. Its unique Globe Lobby has an exhibit that highlights milestones in the first century of the paper's history, as well as large murals by Hugo Ballin, whose work can also be seen at the rotunda of the Griffith Observatory. The Times has recently relocated to El Segundo and the historic building is transitioning to new uses under its current ownership.