Unlike other large cities, many people visit Los Angeles without ever setting foot in downtown. That's a shame, since the neighborhood is rich with historic architecture and cultural attractions, not to mention sports and entertainment complexes. Growing in popularity in recent years, downtown L.A. has plenty of things to do. Here are 13 of our favorites.
Visit El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument at Olvera Street
El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, also known only as Olvera Street, is the location of the oldest remaining structure in Los Angeles, the Avila Adobe. The building itself is often overlooked since people are primarily drawn to Olvera Street for its Mexican Marketplace that offers a cleaned-up taste of old Mexico. It is the home of the LA Plaza de Cultural y Artes museum of Los Angeles history and The Chinese American Museum. Olvera Street is a one-block pedestrian zone across from Union Station, which is served by the Red and Gold Lines of the Metro.
Visit OUE Skyspace LA for the Skyslide
Most major cities have an observation deck on top of a skyscraper. Los Angeles finally has one too. OUE Skyspace LA is a pair of observation decks on the 69th floor of the tallest building in L.A., the US Bank Tower. To go beyond the typical observation deck experience, OUE installed a glass sliding board from the 70th to the 69th floor. It's only a three-second experience, but you can't beat the view.
Visit the Broad Museum
The Broad, pronounced Brode, is a new contemporary art museum which opened in 2015 on downtown's Grand Avenue, next to the Walt Disney Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles. Built by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, the 120,000-square-foot museum houses their personal and foundation art collections of more than 2,000 works by 200-plus different artists.
See a Show at the Disney Concert Hall and the L.A. Music Center
The Los Angeles Music Center consists of the three original theaters that are home to the city's drama, dance and opera companies, as well as the more recently added Disney Concert Hall, which is the home of the L.A. Philharmonic. There are self-guided audio tours of the Disney Concert Hall, as well as daily guided tours of the Music Center. The best way to see the theatres is to see a show, from the LA Philharmonic at the Disney Concert Hall, the Los Angeles Ballet or Los Angeles Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion or live theatre at the Mark Taper Forum or Ahmanson Theatre.
Eat at Grand Central Market
Grand Central Market is an indoor public market that extends from Hill Street to Broadway at 3rd Street in downtown. The market has been open continuously since 1917 and has always housed a mix of greengrocers, butchers, delis, bakers and prepared food vendors. In recent years, offerings have gone from "fresh and local" to "artisanal and gourmet," sometimes referring to the same vendors with a new spin, but more often reflecting trendy newcomers. Grand Central Market is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
The Fashion District is a great place to shop for bargain clothes, textiles, and accessories. People who can fit into sample sizes will find extreme bargains on designer garb. Many businesses are closed on Sundays, so it's not as busy, but there's not as much selection. Clotheshorses will also love The Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising (FIDM) at 9th and Grand, just outside the Fashion District, which has a gallery that features costume exhibits from movies and TV.
Visit the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District
Most people assume that the Downtown Art Walk happens in the Arts District. But Gallery Row is not actually in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District. The Arts District is an industrial area in downtown L.A. a few blocks to the east of Gallery Row that has been growing into an artists' community since the 1970s. It has a high density of murals in the city, which you can explore on your own or on any number of tours. In addition to murals, street art, studios, and galleries, the area has drawn film and media companies, ad agencies and other creatives.
Explore Chinatown in L.A.
Downtown Los Angeles's Chinatown, sometimes known as New Chinatown, was developed around the Central Plaza in 1938, just west of Old Chinatown, where Union Station is now. Before the move, this area was L.A.'s Little Italy and is still home to St. Peter's Italian Church and Casa Italiana Cultural Center. Chinatown here is less dense than New York or San Francisco—the shops don't line the streets as thickly—but there are still a few cute stores and plazas through the serpent gateway heading north on Broadway from Cesar Chavez. The neon pagoda lights and lanterns at Central Plaza make a colorful display at night.
Visit Union Station Los Angeles
Union Station is still the hub of long distance and commuter rail transportation in Los Angeles, serving Amtrak, MetroLink, and MTA Metro trains. It's also worth visiting as an architectural landmark, with a gorgeous waiting hall and public areas. The historic station was built in 1939 and is a mix of Spanish Colonial, Mission Revival, Art Deco, and modern architectural styles.
Take a Tour of Los Angeles City Hall
Built in 1928, the 32-story Los Angeles City Hall was the tallest building in the city until modern building methods allowed taller high rise buildings to appear in the 1960s. The building is a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. It is still home to the mayor and city council office and council chambers. It is part of the Civic Center district, which also includes county, state, and federal buildings, and has appeared as itself and stood in for other locations in dozens of TV shows and movies. You can walk in (through the metal detectors) and explore on your own with the self-guided tour materials available at the information desk on the third floor. Be sure to take the elevator up to the observation deck on the 27th floor.
Visit Grand Park
Grand Park opened in July 2012, expanding green space 12 acres over the three blocks between the Los Angeles Music Center on Grand Avenue and Los Angeles City Hall on Spring Street. At the west end of the park, the restored Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain includes a spouted wading area that is a favorite place to cool off on hot summer days. At night, a light show draws romantic strolling couples and photo enthusiasts. The park also includes 24 botanic gardens inspired by the six floristic kingdoms of the world and plenty of green lawn for playing and relaxing.
Explore the Art at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles, designed by Spanish architect Jose Rafael Moneo, was completed in 2002, replacing the Cathedral of St. Vibiana, which was damaged beyond repair in the Northridge Earthquake in 1994 and has now been converted to a rental wedding and event venue. The modern structure towers over the 101 Hollywood Freeway from its perch between Olvera Street and Chinatown. Even if you're not interested in the religious significance of the church, the art pieces, from the courtyard windows over the freeway, through the grand bronze doors to the community tapestry murals, are worth a visit.
Browse at The Last Bookstore
The Last Bookstore, at the corner of 5th and Spring in Downtown Los Angeles, has become an international tourist draw. The shop is located on two floors of a re-purposed historic bank building that also houses the Crocker Club — one of Downtown LA's Coolest Clubs. The address is on Spring Street, but the entrance is around the corner on 5th. They don't just sell, buy and trade second-hand books and records at the Last Bookstore. They've created an intriguing combination of quirky art and wide-ranging literature in a really unique space. The bones of the original architecture are allowed to shine through with a painted beamed ceiling supported by classic columns. The second floor wraps around the open first floor with a balcony walkway, keeping your eyes busy with everything going on above and below. Upstairs houses unique art studios and galleries, a knitting shop and a Labyrinth of more books, including the dollar room, with over 100,000 books for $1. Several bookcases are organized by color — in case you need them for purely decorative purposes. In addition to the art studios and galleries, themed art installations, large and small, are scattered throughout. One of the most popular is the Tunnel of Books on the 2nd floor adjacent to the vault housing the crime and horror collection. There's a second vault downstairs in the children's section, with kid-size benches for reading. There are some overstuffed sofas and chairs around for reading, but you're as likely to see people pull up a spot on the floor wherever they've discovered treasure among the stacks. The Last Bookstore hosts a variety of events from book signings, author talks and art openings to comedy shows, music performances and open mic nights.