If there’s one complaint I have about downtown Los Angeles, it’s that too much is happening really (maybe too?) fast. It’s a lot to absorb, but the good news is that DTLA is back and it’s here to stay.
For those that have never ventured into the neighborhood, consider this a primer of things to do in downtown L.A. to get you started exploring the area. If you’re a resident or frequent visitor, you might just find one or two things on the list below you’ve still yet to check out.
Either way, enjoy the rundown!
(In no particular order)
1. L.A. Central Library
Every great city must have a great library and ours is worthy of holding that title. You start by entering through the original core with little orientation to the vastness that surrounds. Most eyes are drawn to the large atrium addition that houses the greater part of the library’s collection. You can find virtually anything in print, but take the time to visit the map room to look at some of their historical offerings. I prefer to take my books up to the older reading rooms that harken to early California. Make sure to view the elaborate mosaics from the main rotunda on the upper floors.
2. Happy Hours
For those that are into great food and adult beverages at discounted rates, there’s many, MANY happy hour options in the downtown area to choose from ranging from the dirt cheap to the absurdly bourgeois. Fortunately, we’ve already put together a list of the best happy hours in DTLA for you to try. I’ll refer you there for more information.
3. The Downtown Artwalk
Every second Thursday of the month see downtown Los Angeles creates a unique blend of art, community, culture and food known as the DTLA Art Walk. The Art Walk activities center around the galleries predominantly on Spring and Main streets between 2nd and 9th streets.
4. Grand Park
Beginning its transformation into a better public space, Grand Park is developing into one of L.A.’s favorite places to bask in the outdoors. The terracing and open plan has made the park more welcoming to groups, children or people just wanting to read a book. For cheap entertainment, let your kids run through the fountain for hours of fun. The children’s playground on the lower part is new and larger than most you’d find elsewhere. Still, there are plenty of opportunities to relax and layout without feeling like you’re in an urban metropolis. It’s even a great place to spend time as you’re awaiting trial next door!
5. Channel 101
Every month at the Downtown Independent Theater Channel 101 hosts a series of free screenings showcasing submissions of short pilots. The event is curated in part by Dan Harmon (producer who created Community) and the shorts each month get voted on by the audience, with the top echelon getting ‘picked up’ to have new episodes screened the month following. A T.V. network run by the people, for the people. Oh, and it’s FREE.
If you’re thirsty for some culture, then the Museum of Contemporary Art should be your libation. The question is, which flavor? I like doing both, since your admission crosses over. I tend to drive to the Geffen in Little Tokyo because parking tends to be cheaper and more available. Plus, they always seem to be filming something at the main one on Grand. There’s a free shuttle between the two you can take advantage of, but I tend to only take it up to the Grand location to avoid the elevation. On the way back, stop for a beer at the beautiful Kyoto Gardens at the Double Tree and grab some sushi down at street level.
7. Take a Stand Against Prohibition
There’s a lot of nightlife action in downtown, but a lot of places come and go. Everyone enjoys going to bars that you can rightfully still call watering holes. I always like dipping my feet into three of our oldest that predate prohibition. At the King Eddy Saloon, you still feel like you can find stains from Bukowski. The Golden Gopher still holds a rare license that allows you to purchase alcohol on the way out. And at Cole’s, the speakeasy back bar is a great place to hide if you get caught up arguing who invented the French Dip. My suggestion: don’t hit up all three in one night.
8. The Last Bookstore
In a time where bookstores are closing one by one, it’s nice to see some businesses buck the trend. The Last Bookstore is more than a place to find standard reading material. It is a celebration for all things books. This former bank has been transformed into a post apocalyptic homage to literature with artwork featuring flying pages, a tidal wave of books and other interesting discoveries. Make sure to wander through and support the artist’s spaces upstairs.
9. City Hall
Most of us have the idea that a city hall as prominent as ours should be unworthy to access for us plebeians. If you’ve never been, you’ll quickly realize our City Hall is one of the most welcoming places in Los Angeles(after you get through the security check). Start off by heading to the third floor to experience the fabulous rotunda and peek inside the city council chambers. Go through the building and find how easy it is to voice your opinions in most offices. The signature of this trip is taking the three elevators to top balcony to a 360 view of Los Angeles. It’s a million dollar view you pay nothing for. Except in taxes.
10. Santee Alley
Although Ridley Scott’s classic Blade Runner never came to fruition(we have a few years to go, but we’re not getting there), I always think of this movie when I head to Santee Alley. Hundreds of people chaotically filling a limited space all seemingly with the power to know where to go. It’s quite the experience seeing the dozens of stores selling clothing of varying quality, some of them with questionable authenticity. I find that most either go to browse or buy a boatload of everything. There’s very little middle ground. Don’t spend too much on your first trip. It’ll take awhile to get the lay of the land.
11. The Arts District
There is no other place in Los Angeles that is blowing up as quickly as the Arts District. I didn’t even know where to start until Tyler Durden told me to just let go! My advice is this: park your car in the early afternoon, give yourself the whole day and go block by block. Enjoy grabbing a fine Belgian beer at Wurstkuche. But sip, don’t chug. Go grab a slice of the maple custard at the Pie Hole. But nibble, don’t scarf. Wander through the galleries on Traction, but don’t worry about seeing it all. There’s too much to take in for just one trip. How much did Columbus discover over twelve years of travel?
12. Grand Central Market
There are whispers and other wild complaints that Grand Central Market is losing some of its character. The reality is the place is almost 100 years old. Do the same people expect Kobe to player forever? I find this venerable institution to be a perfect blend of vibrant new eateries, sturdy affordable staples and a variety of farmers market items that make you squint. What I like is when you’re in a big group, there’s no arguing where to eat. Everyone can go their own way. I’ve already taken an addictive liking to the pastrami sandwich from the recently added Wexler’s Deli.
13. Do the Walk Around
There’s so much history around downtown that you’re most likely not going to notice it. The best thing to do is take a tour(I know, it’s weird! You live here!) from one of the many groups that are smarter than us. The LA Conservancy and DTLA Walking Tours are two of the websites I send people to. Even when you stroll through Broadway, the history is so rich that it make take a few of these tours to understand it all. If you want to go by bike, try the LA Explorers Club or LA Cycle Tours.
14. Tea Time
When you’re done in Pershing Square reenacting dialogue from the hit movie Speed, class it up by heading across the street to the landmark Biltmore Hotel. The Rendezvous Court was once served as the hotel’s elaborate lobby before it morphed into a tea room. You’ll instantly appreciate the room’s Moorish Revival style. Grab a drink or pastry from the cafe and kick back to enjoy the opulence. If you really want to take it to the nines, come Saturdays or Sundays for their afternoon tea from 2 pm to 5pm for $35. Reservations highly encouraged.
15. Disney Rooftop
Any of Frank Gehry’s work can look a bit imposing. At the very least, you have to worry about getting caught on one of the sharp edges. Disney Hall is a beautiful building, but you can’t tell in passing that there’s a large rooftop sanctuary open to the public. The stairs are a bit of a challenge, but you’re definitely rewarded with solitude and a great view of the city. It’s such a nice setting that I’ve never been up there during daylight hours without engagement photos being shot. I always feel like I should have a book and sack lunch with me. And then I’d probably like to take a rest. Maybe that’s too much.
16. Kickin’ it Old School
There’s very few places where you could envision Los Angeles’ origins right in front of you. Heading to the El Pueblo de Los Angeles National Monument always seems to bring it together. I can imagine a dusty setting among these historic buildings back when the Spanish decided to establish this area as town instead of a missionary. It amazes me that La Placita started its construction over two hundred years ago and the Avila Adobe gives a look back at early life. If these people only know they were starting one of the greatest cities in the world!
Obviously there’s more to do than just this list, so we welcome your ideas for things to do in downtown Los Angeles. Let us know in the comments below!