Exploring Walt Disney Concert Hall

The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles
Kurt Krieger / Getty Images

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is part of the Los Angeles Music Center complex in Downtown Los Angeles. It is the winter home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which moves its concerts over to the Hollywood Bowl for the summer season. It is also home to the Los Angeles Master Chorale. 

Architect Frank Gehry's monumental structure, designed to resemble a ship sailing down Grand Avenue, instantly became one of LA's Top Architectural Landmarks when it opened in 2003. In addition to appearing in countless movies and TV shows, it is a magnet for both professional and amateur photographers for its many photogenic angles.

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Frank Gehry's Masterpiece on Grand Avenue

Walt Disney Concert hall with a sun glint

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley 

One of the most unique aspects of the building is that it is designed to be explored. Stairways and walkways allow you to climb up and around the sweeping stainless steel sails to get really unique views of the structure and the downtown landscape. Best of all, it’s open to exploring inside and out during the day totally free of charge.

You can walk around on your own or visit as part of a free 90-minute guided tour of the whole Music Center campus or a 60-minute guided tour of just the Disney Concert Hall. A self-guided audio tour narrated by John Lithgow goes into even more detail. It is available for visitors 10 years old and older. All three tours begin in the lobby of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The Music at Walt Disney Concert Hall

For most visitors who never attend a performance, it's all about the architecture, but the building was designed as a vessel for music. Frank Gehry worked with chief acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics to design the 2,265-seat main auditorium, and most call the results exquisite. 

The auditorium is not included in the tour due to the full rehearsal schedule, so if you want to get a glimpse inside, you'll have to buy a ticket to a performance — or click through this slideshow to take a peek. In addition to the LA Philharmonic's season, there are other popular concerts scheduled at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, but the acoustics are really best for less amplified music.

At the south end of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, with a separate entrance off 2nd Street, is the Roy and Edna Disney/Cal Arts Theatre know as REDCAT, a 250-seat theatre run by the California Institute for the Arts, which focuses on presenting experimental music, theatre, and dance performances. It is not part of the Music Center. 

Walt Disney Concert Hall
111 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Disney Concert Hall Tickets
Building hours: Open Daily unless closed for special events.
Tour schedule: Hours vary. Check the website for this month's tours.
Admission & tour cost: Free for individuals and groups up to 14 people, a fee for groups of 15 or more.
Parking: There is very limited street parking in the area, which is metered until 6 pm on most streets. There is a self-park garage at the Disney Concert Hall, accessible from 2nd Street, or Valet parking off of Hope Street. There are additional garages below the Music Center on the block north, off of Grand, or on the opposite side of the street.
You may find additional lower cost lots within a few blocks by checking bestparking.com or using their app. You can also try finding an available parking meter using the Parker App.
Metro: The Civic Center/Grand Park Metro Station on the Red Line is about a block and a half from the Disney Concert Hall. 

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The Hall at Night

Walt Disney Concert Hall at night
Kayte Deioma

For photos of the Walt Disney Concert Hall after sundown, it's best to catch it right at twilight when the sky is deep blue. Even though the building is lit at night, it's not enough to make it pop against a black sky. 

After dark, you can see the name of the building punched in the steel to the right of the entrance, which is harder to see during the day. When there's an event going on, you can see the movement of people on the five lobby levels through the tall narrow windows.

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Looking North

Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles
Kayte Deioma

Most of the photos you see of the Walt Disney Concert Hall are from the corner of Grand Avenue and First Street looking south at the main entrance. Here you can see the other side of those curving sails looking north with the Dorthy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center, just beyond. 

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Climbing Around

people walking along the stairs of the walt disney concert hall

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley 

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is designed to be explored, and I can't resist climbing all over it whenever I'm in the neighborhood. This is one of my favorite views from the second flight of stairs up the Grand Avenue side of the building. Looking back, you see the Colburn School of Performing Arts on the corner, which also hosts public concerts. The green and red building beyond that is the Museum of Contemporary Art. Between those buildings and the taller highrises behind them is California Plaza, where the Grand Performances concert series is held every summer.

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Exploring Amid the Sails

Exploring the Walt Disney Concert Hall
Kayte Deioma

From above and within the curved sails, you can see that there are all kinds of windows and skylights throughout the structure, designed to take advantage of the Southern California sunshine, reflecting natural light into all five floors of the public area inside. 

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The Entrance

The entrance to Walt Disney Concert Hall
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You actually have to get up pretty close to the building to see that there are, in fact, windows that expose the activity on the multiple lobby levels, but you can only see into the building from that angle in the evening when it's lit up inside.

Of course, the door is open most of the day, so you can go ahead in and take a look. The outside of the building is open later than the inside, so if it's getting close to 2 pm, check inside first, as that's sometimes the last time to access the interior.

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A Peek Inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall Auditorium

The auditorium at Disney Concert Hall
Kayte Deioma

As I mentioned, the auditorium is not included in any of the Walt Disney Concert Hall Tours, and photography is highly frowned upon if you're there for a concert, so I had to have an official media escort to get this shot.

Frank Gehry designed the look of the space, from the seat upholstery to the wood paneling and the organ's visual design. It's rather startlingly orange and floral for a classical concert space, but Gehry's primary goal throughout the building was to make people feel welcome. 

The ceiling and wall paneling in warm Douglas fir help reflect the sound to the audience. The seating is in a "vineyard" style, which breaks the audience into terraced sections in order to place even more acoustic surface at the front of each section. It's also a semi-arena design, with seating behind the orchestra, but those seats are not always used.

When asked if using specifically Douglas fir for the ceiling and walls was important to the sound, acoustic designer Yasuhisa Toyota said that the exact wood for the walls and ceiling was less important, but for the stage surface, it is critical. "The stage floor must work as a part of the instruments," he explained. "The cello and double bass, for example, and the piano, touch the floor directly. So the material, the thickness, and the structure below the floor are so important acoustically."

The pipe organ at the Disney Concert Hall has 6,125 pipes and occupies a central position between the seating sections at the rear of the stage. Frank Gehry designed the form, but the sound was designed by Los Angeles organ designer Manuel Rosales. It was fabricated in Owingen, Germany by Glatter-Götz Orgelbau, GmbH.

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Wildflowers in the Concert Hall

Auditorium Seats at the Disney Concert Hall
Kayte Deioma

I guess it shouldn't be too surprising that a building that's such a party of shapes on the outside is also a celebration of colors on the inside. 

The orange, green and purple floral pattern on the seats was also Gehry's own design. He used a computer program to generate a random distribution of the different colors to create the effect of wildflowers growing in a field. 

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The BP Hall Pre-Concert Foyer at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Inside the public area in Disney Concert Hall
Kayte Deioma

This shot was actually taken through a window from one of the walkways climbing around on top of the Disney Concert Hall. It looks down the Mancini Staircase into the Pre-Concert Foyer, also known as BP Hall, where pre-concert talks and chamber music performances are held. 

The carpet on the landing matches the seats in the auditorium and the chairs below in the hall continue the colorful theme. The curved wood paneling, which reflects the building's outside curves, is the same Douglas fir as used inside the auditorium. The acoustics of this space were specifically designed so that the speaker could be easily understood by 600 people in the audience.

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The West Side of the Disney Concert Hall

Walt Disney Concert Hall from Hope Street
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The West side of the Walt Disney Concert Hall features a raised, walled garden that is sometimes used for private events, and otherwise open to the public to explore and enjoy. There are cafe-style tables where office workers come to enjoy their lunch.

Toward the south end, the William M. Keck Children's Amphitheatre is an outdoor performance space with rings of concrete stair-steps used for family programs. 

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The Blue Ribbon Garden

The Public Garden at Walt Disney Concert Hall
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The Blue Ribbon Garden at Walt Disney Concert Hall features six species of flowering trees from three continents especially chosen to flower in different seasons so there are flowering trees all year long. This Hong Kong orchid tree was in bloom in December when I was there for a Christmas concert.  

Other trees featured in the garden are Pink Snowball Trees from Madagascar, Naked Coral Trees from Mexico, Chinese Pistache Trees, Pink Trumpet Trees from Central and South America, and Tipu Trees from Brazil. In addition to the beauty and seasonality of their flowers, they were chosen for the artistic shape of their trunks and their suitability to the dry Los Angeles climate and to ​grow in special planters. Care was taken to plant the adult trees with the same directional orientation they had where they originally grew.

Unintended Consequences

You'll notice on the west side of the building that the surfaces are not as shiny as other parts of the hall. After the building was finished, the reflection of the sun off the western facade in the late afternoon was blinding to the people who live on the other side of Hope Street, and it was making it excruciatingly hot in their apartments. The polished panels had to be treated to cut down the reflection.

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"A Rose for Lilly" Fountain

The Garden at Disney Concert Hall
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A key feature in the Blue Ribbon Garden is the "A Rose for Lilly" fountain, which Frank Gehry designed himself. It was inspired by Lillian Disney's love for Delft china and roses. Eight mosaic artists placed the 8000 shards of Royal Deft China, specially imported from Holland and broken on site. I hope they were seconds.

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The LA Phil Gift Shop

The LA Phil Store at the Walt Disney Concert Hall
Kayte Deioma

For lovers of classical music — and lovers of people who love classical music — the LA Phil Store on the Grand Avenue side of the Walt Disney Concert Hall is a great place to pick up books, music and music-themed souvenirs and gifts as well as items related to the building itself.

The restaurant on the Grand Ave side of the Disney Concert Hall is Patina Restaurant, the flagship of Master Chef Joachim Splichal's Patina Group. They also operate the Concert Hall Cafe inside, which is open for lunch daily and in the evenings during concerts, as well as several more restaurants in the neighborhood.​

In this photo, the white cheese grater just beyond the Disney Concert Hall is The Broad, a museum of contemporary art.