I’ve lived in Los Angeles since 2003, but only now am I (somewhat shamefully) coming to fully appreciate all the many terrific attractions in downtown LA. This is largely because of the continuing emergence of a newly vibrant downtown; even 5 years ago, downtown Los Angeles basically shut down at 5:00 PM, when all the bankers, merchants (etc) would close up shop and head home. These days, downtown LA is experiencing something of a renaissance. The attractions in downtown Los Angeles vary from historic tours to foodie delights to bar hopping: There’s something for everyone in the downtown area these days. These are my 5 favorite attractions in downtown Los Angeles.
LA Live — This is a huge entertainment megacomplex — there’s even talk of putting a football stadium here, if Los Angeles ever gets that NFL team we keep hearing about. LA Live is more than bustling; there’s something to do or see here every day of the year. Nokia Plaza is a 40,000 square foot open-air plaza, and the Nokia Theatre/Club Nokia hosts world-class rock stars and musicians, as well as the annual ESPY Awards and the Primetime Emmy Awards. The Grammy Museum is part of LA Live as well. and, of course, LA Live hosts downtown Los Angeles meetings and conventions of all sizes. Staples Center is the massive sports arena right next to LA Live, and they’re often spoken of as one (though, technically, they aren’t).
Walt Disney Concert Hall — When ground was first broken for Walt Disney Concert Hall, it was a real head-scratcher. Back then, there wasn’t much to promote about downtown LA. Since then the Walt Disney Concert Hall has been seen as one of the motivating forces behind downtown LA’s revitalization. It’s hard to miss the beautifully designed architecture (by Frank Gehry) of this building, with undulating waves of silver…at one point, light reflecting off parts of it was so blinding to commuters that its reflectivity had to be toned down. That doesn’t diminish at all from what’s inside; genuine culture, in a city that’s stereotyped as being culturally bereft. The LA Philharmonic is led by internationally renown conductor and music director Gustavo Dudamel, but jazz, pop, country, and other musical genres are often on show at the LA Phil as well.
Los Angeles Conservancy Downtown Walking Tours — I first stumbled across a Los Angeles Conservancy walking tour in downtown LA when I was checking out the Millennium Biltmore hotel for an upcoming event. The group friendliness and engagement was so contagious that I was tempted to abandon the task at hand and join them for the rest of the afternoon. Downtown LA has different types of walking tours; the one I crossed paths with was focused on examining the Art Deco architecture that is seen on many historic buildings in downtown Los Angeles. Other walking tours include the Biltmore Hotel itself, Union Station, downtown’s modern architecture, the Broadway Historic Theatre and Commercial District, and more. Now, reservations are required for these walking tours, and they are only available on weekends. Plan ahead, and learn a little about LA’s history, culture and architecture.
El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument — As much as people complain about a a lack of culture in Los Angeles, they complain even more about a lack of history. El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument at Olvera Street handily belies that stereotype (though there’s truth to complaints about traffic, believe me). El Pueblo Historical Monument is considered the birthplace of Los Angeles, and Olvera Street is a focal point of the city’s culture, history, and art. There are the usual tourist trap sorts of shops here, but all in a more charming outdoor mercado environment. Southern California’s history is represented in this one distinct area, having been under Spanish rule (1781-1821), Mexican rule (1821-1847), and then, finally, part of the United States after that. My favorite highlight: The Avila Adobe which, built in 1818, is the oldest standing residence in all of Los Angeles.
The Museum of Contemporary Art — If art museums are your bag, you’ll love strolling through MOCA in downtown Los Angeles. It’s on South Grand Ave near Walt Disney Concert Hall, and while there are two other branches of MOCA in LA, this one is the main one. Pop art and contemporary collections include those of Roy Lichtenstein, mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, and more. Other famous artists represented here include Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollack, Jasper Johns, David Hockney…the list goes on and on. While exhibits rotate, there’s always a crowd-pleaser on display. The Museum of Contemporary Art is the only LA museum focusing purely on postwar art.
There are other activities in downtown LA, of course, the above are my own favorites. The food scene is really breaking out downtown, and probably deserves a post of its own. Also, the Chinese American Museum, located in LA’s original Chinatown in what is now part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument elucidates Chines Americans’ history and rich cultural legacy in the city and our country as a whole. Modern day Chinatown itself is pretty good, though it doesn’t really compare to the Chinatowns of New York City or San Francisco. The first Saturday of every month has an “Undiscovered Chinatown” walking tour, and my favorite Chinatown restaurant is the Empress Pavilion; the all dim sum is really fun! Anyone traveling to Los Angeles will find plenty of culture, history and art activities downtown.