Hidden Gems in Downtown Los Angeles

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

Downtown Los Angeles has undergone significant revitalization over the past several years, growing beyond the city's business center into a cluster of diverse neighborhoods, each with a distinct story and personality. From the Arts District to the Historic Core, and Chinatown to South Park, every enclave enriches Downtown with culture and opportunity. Check out a few of DTLA’s sometimes overlooked attractions, which highlight the best of its storied history and vibrant present while hinting at a bright future.

Outside photo of AMÉRICA TROPICAL
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. Gracing the second story outer wall of the Italian Hall, it depicts a Mexican Indian crucified beneath an American eagle, while two Latin American sharpshooters stalk the latter nearby. Siqueiros pioneered an experimental use of automotive equipment and paint that would later become spray paint as we know it today. The 80x18-foot politically-charged mural sparked controversy immediately upon its 1932 completion and was soon whitewashed. But beginning in 1988, América Tropical was restored by the Getty Conservation Institute in collaboration with El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, opening to the public in 2012 with a new viewing platform and interpretive center.

Picture of Timeline at Biddy Mason Memorial Park
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 mini 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 a Los Angeles court. Subsequently, she worked as a nurse and midwife in LA and gave time and money to charities, the poor, and the imprisoned. She was also among the first African American women to purchase land in the city and was a founding member of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. Mason’s eponymous park features a wall depicting a timeline of her many struggles, famed philanthropy, and entrepreneurial 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 worldwide as a Frank Gehry masterpiece, most people are unaware that the famed architect also designed A Rose for Lilly, the Lillian Disney Memorial Fountain. Shaped from Royal Delft Blue porcelain, this bloom-shaped creation was inspired by Walt and Lillian Disney’s tradition of buying imitation Delft vases from airport souvenir shops to see if friends would spot the fakes in their beautiful mansion. A popular backdrop for visitors’ photos, the fountain is located in the Concert Hall’s rooftop Blue Ribbon Garden, a Downtown oasis 34 feet above Hope Street boasting enviable views of the Hollywood Sign, the Bertram Goodhue-designed Central Library, and towering mountains beyond.

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


At Far Bar, “fusion” doesn’t mean “compromise.” Hidden down a long, narrow brick hallway off 1st street, this DTLA delight serves everything from sushi to signature burgers with passion and panache (now also open for lunch, Fri.-Sun.) These good eats are designed to pair with the largest selection of bottled Japanese craft beers in SoCal, one of the best whiskey and bourbon arrays in L.A., 34 craft beers on tap, plus fine cocktails, tequila, rum, and sake. Stop by Happy Hour (3-7 p.m., Tue.-Fri.) for faves like Ming's Wings, wasabi fries, and housemade pork tamales, paired with $5 beer can specials.

Cha Cha Cha LA

LA Cha Cha Cha

Follow the neon green lime to LA Cha Cha Chá, a hidden rooftop gem in DTLA’s 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 like Pescado Cha Cha Chá (charcoal-grilled huachinango with turnip, fennel, and red leaf chimichurri); Carnitas (pork shoulder confit with kumquat salad and pico de gallo) and Steak Pa' Taquear (bone-in ribeye with beef tallow, chicatana salsa, charred tomato, and huauzontle chimichurri). Leave space for the to-die-for Guanabana (white chocolate mousse, guanabana raspado, yuzu curd, and pistachio).

LA Plaza Cocina
Photo: LA Plaza Cocina

LA Plaza Cocina

La Plaza Cocina is the first museum dedicated to Mexican cuisine. Located in La Plaza Village, part of the Cultura y Artes space Downtown Los Angeles.  LA Cocina is a museum and a teaching kitchen dedicated to exploring the rich culinary traditions and treasures of Mexican and Mexican American cooking; and a store where Angelenos and visitors will find rare and high value culinary-related ingredients, cookbooks, decorative items, and utensils used in preparing the recipes.

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.

Strawberry Donuts at The Donut Man in Grand Central Market
Famous Strawberry Donuts at The Donut Man, Grand Central Market. | Photo: @grandcentralmarketla, Instagram

The Donut Man - Grand Central Market

Opened in 1972, The Donut Man is best known for its iconic fresh fruit donuts, especially the Fresh Strawberry Donut. The Strawberry Donut has been featured in countless times in local and national media. Most recently on the “Today” show and Food Network’s “The Best thing I Ever Ate”. Donut Man Jim developed the strawberry donut from an over abundant strawberry crop one year, thanks to the area’s strawberry farms. It became an instant success and evolved into an equally delicious “peach” donut, available in season.

Two Bit Circus

Two Bit Circus is a modern high-tech game hall exploring the future of fun. The space features different areas of attractions; Story Rooms which are Two Bit Circus' take on escape rooms, the Midway is full of re-imagined carnival games, the Arcade houses a mix of classic and newly invented games. The VR Arena includes the latest in multi-player virtual reality attractions. Two Bit Circus is a great place to visit for all-ages: date nights, birthday parties, and even happy hour.

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

The Varnish

To discover to The Varnish – named Best American Cocktail Bar at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards – you’ll have to navigate through Cole's P.E. Buffet, self-proclaimed inventor of the French Dip sandwich and a storied saloon in its own right. But this dark and moody, word-of-mouth speakeasy nestled inside the historic Pacific Electric Lofts building is well worth the hunt. Order from the classic-driven cocktail menu or let the skilled Varnish mixologists craft a libation to your specs. This delightfully intimate and atmospheric find hosts live music on select nights, ranging from jazz to Tin Pan Alley and modern covers.