Hidden Gems in Downtown Los Angeles

Staircase to Mrs. Fish in Downtown LA
Photo: Mrs. Fish

Downtown Los Angeles has undergone a revitalization the past several years, growing beyond the city's business center to becoming a cluster of various neighborhoods with their own distinct personalities. From the Arts District to the Historic Core, and Chinatown to South Park, every enclave makes Downtown rich with culture and opportunity. Check out a few of the lesser-known attractions, which highlight the best of Downtown's history, its exciting present and bright future.

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América Tropical | Photo courtesy of Omar Bárcena, Flickr

América Tropical



América Tropical  is the only U.S. public mural by Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros still in its original location. Located on the second story exterior wall of the Italian Hall, the mural depicts a Mexican Indian crucified on a cross beneath an American eagle, with two sharpshooters aiming at the eagle from nearby. The 80x18 foot mural created controversy ever since its completion in 1932, and was completely painted over within its first decade. Beginning in 1988, América Tropical was restored by the Getty Conservation Institute in collaboration with El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, and opened to the public in October 2012 with a new viewing platform and interpretive center.

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Timeline at Biddy Mason Memorial Park | Photo by Daniel Djang

Biddy Mason Park



Hidden in a courtyard off Broadway and Spring Street, between 3rd and 4th Streets, is a park dedicated to Biddy Mason, affectionately known as “Grandma Mason.” Born a slave in the South in 1818, Mason went on to eventually win a petition for her own freedom in Los Angeles court, as California was a free state. Subsequently, she worked as a nurse and midwife in LA and gave time and money to charities, the poor and the imprisoned. She also became one of the first African Americans to purchase land in the city, and was a founding member of the First A.M.E. Church. This park features a timeline that traces her life's struggles, resounding philanthropy and numerous accomplishments.

"A Rose for Lilly" at Walt Disney Concert Hall
"A Rose for Lilly" at Walt Disney Concert Hall  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Blue Ribbon Garden - Walt Disney Concert Hall



While Walt Disney Concert Hall is known around the world as an architectural marvel designed by Frank Gehry, most people are unaware that the famed architect also designed A Rose for Lilly, the Lillian Disney Memorial Fountain. Made of Royal Delft, the fountain is located in the hall’s rooftop Blue Ribbon Garden, a Downtown LA oasis with a great vantage point for views of the Hollywood Sign, Los Angeles Central Library and even the San Gabriel Mountains.

Alley at Far Bar in Little Tokyo
Photo: Far Bar, Facebook

FAR BAR



Accessible from 1st Street through a long, narrow brick hallway, Far Bar serves up fusion fare along with a massive whiskey selection, Asian-influenced cocktails, an extensive sake list, and dozens of beer taps. Catch a game on the numerous screens and stop by the great Happy Hour to nosh on favorites like Wasabi Fries and Ming's Wings.

FIDM Museum



The museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) was originally a collection of personal garments gathered by staff and faculty for the purposes of educating students in textile drape, pattern structure and finishing techniques. At its formal establishment in 1978, Betsy Bloomingdale generously donated many French haute couture ensembles to the collection. Today, the museum showcases more than 15,000 objects of European and American design dating as far back as 1800 and collected from over 1,000 donors. Admission to the museum is free.

LA Cha Cha Cha



Follow the neon green lime to LA Cha Cha Chá, a rooftop hidden gem in the Downtown LA Arts District. Like the Mexico City original, the restaurant's Mid-Century design draws influences from Acapulco to Palm Springs. Start with ceviche or aguachile, then explore shared plates from like Pescado Cha Cha Chá (grilled huachinango with charred lettuce), Carnitas (pork shoulder confit, braised beans, pico de gallo) and Steak Pa' Taquear - New York strip steak with beef butter and red wine salsa. Don't miss the Flan de Zanahoria (carrot flan with cream cheese frosting).

The main dining room at Mrs. Fish in Downtown LA
Photo: Mrs. Fish

Mrs. Fish



Descend a colorful staircase into the basement of the historic Pershing Square Building, and step into Mrs. Fish, a spectacular restaurant and nightlife experience like no other. Dine beneath a 5,500-gallon aquarium, take a seat at the omakase bar, or tuck into a booth and admire the art from Tokyo's hottest galleries. Live music and DJs add to the lively atmosphere. Start with a refreshing highball on tap from the Suntory Toki machine, or choose a flight of Japanese whisky. The extensive food options include traditional sushi sourced from Tsukiji fish market; classic and signature rolls; yakitori, and a variety of small and large plates. Gather your friends and book the Karaoke Room with food and drink packages for groups of four or more.

Buko Pie at Sari Sari Store in Grand Central Market
Buko Pie at Sari Sari Store  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Sari Sari Store - Grand Central Market



The city's largest and oldest public market, the 30,000 square-foot Grand Central Market opened in October 1917 and has been in continuous operation ever since. GCM's food vendors range from half-century to new school favorites. Tucked inside the Broadway side, Sari Sari Store is the Filipino comfort food concept from chefs Margarita Manzke and husband Walter Manzke. Inspired by Margarita's Pinoy heritage, Sari Sari serves rice bowls like chicken, pork belly, Sisig Fried Rice (pig's head, pork belly, chili) and the Tortang Talong with charred eggplant, mushrooms and seasonal veggies. Don't miss the Buko Pie - coconut jam, coconut custard layered with young coconut, and topside crumble.

The Varnish by Thirsty in LA
The Varnish  |  Photo: Daniel Djang

The Varnish



To get to The Varnish - named Best American Cocktail Bar at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards - you have to pass through Cole's, one of the originators of the French Dip and an excellent bar in its own right. Once you settle inside this speakeasy-style bar and take your first sip, it'll all be worth it. Order from the classic-driven cocktail menu, or the skilled bartenders can craft a libation to your liking. Live music on select nights ranges from jazz to Tin Pan Alley and modern covers.