10 Things To Do In Downtown LA
Here’s what to eat, see and get up to in the city’s thriving central business district
Keep on trucking: the Guerrilla Tacos food van. Photograph by City Foodsters
If LA is a city plagued by reductive stereotypes – smoothies, starlets, superficiality – then Downtown is the neighbourhood to defy them all. Stretching from the industrial warehouses of the Arts District to the crumbling art deco theatres of the Historic Core, the area has reinvented itself with the help (in true Californian style) of a handful of developer pioneers. Once abandoned by all but the Financial District bankers and the Fashion District wholesalers, the district has risen from the ashes to become the cultural lodestar of a shiny, new LA.
Still resolutely rough around the edges, Downtown LA in 2016 feels like Dalston in 2007, or Williamsburg in 2001: gritty, filthy, but thrillingly dynamic in parts. The opening of the Ace Hotel on Broadway in 2014 confirmed Downtown as the hipster mecca of the West Coast, and dozens of LA retailers and restaurateurs have since flocked south to set up shop. These days, its mix of high-design restaurants, tucked-away bars, and scaffolded architectural relics make DTLA – to use its hashtag-friendly acronym – feel like the epicentre of a city in flux.
o1. Take in some pop art at The Broad
Get a broader appreciation of art at The Broad on Grand Avenue. Photograph by Benny Chan, courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Housed in a gleaming honeycomb structure built by NY design studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the brand new Broad museum (opened in September 2015) combines cutting-edge curation with a heavy dose of LA pizzazz. The 2,000-piece collection of Mr Eli and Ms Edythe Broad (the philanthropists also behind LACMA’s contemporary art wing) comprises works by Messrs Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein. The museum’s 120,000 sq ft of space are yours to access entirely for free – just be sure to reserve your tickets online well in advance. This month’s Calling Out Of Context, “an aural complement” to the Broad’s Pop Art collection, is well worth a look.
221 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012
02. Eat oysters at Grand Central Market
Grand Central Market has occupied the ground floor of the Homer Laughlin Building for close to a century. Photograph by Dylan + Jeni
LA’s oldest foodhall has had a face-lift in recent years, and hip LA dining counters now punctuate the rows of grocers who’ve been there since 1917. These days, you could happily spend an entire day eating your way through the market – perhaps starting off with G&B’s macadamia milk cappuccino and the famed egg, bacon, cheddar, and chipotle ketchup breakfast sandwich at Egg Slut; stopping for home-made pupusas (a traditional Salvadoran dish) at Sarita’s at lunch; and rounding off the day with half a dozen of the chef’s choice at The Oyster Gourmet. Be sure to pick up some dried anchos chillis or mole from the Chiles Secos stand to recreate the taste of LA back at home.
317 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
What to wear
03. Stay with the cool kids at Ace Hotel DTLA
The Ace Hotel and restored United Artists Theater; the front desk. Photographs by Spencer Lowell
The opening of the hip hotel group’s LA outpost in January 2014 was all the endorsement that Downtown needed from the cool kid cognoscenti, who have made its Historic Core location (between Hill Street to the west and Los Angeles Street to the east) their meeting ground of choice. At any time during the week, expect to find a stylish, international crowd munching on Aleppo-peppered avocado on toast at in-house restaurant LA Chapter, or sipping rum slushies at the rooftop bar. If you can, catch a show at the United Artists Theatre on the ground floor – the Ace curates a suitably hip programme for this former 1920s movie palace, which has been restored to dazzling effect.
929 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015
04. Sip a G&T in a former cathedral at Redbird
The bar at Redbird, which is housed in a former rectory; Indian Summer and Thai Julep cocktails. Photographs by Mary Costa
It’s not hard to understand why Redbird was one of the most hyped LA openings of the past few years. Even in a town of grand venues, a restaurant in a former cathedral is going to stand out. It doesn’t hurt that chef Mr Neal Fraser’s cooking is a colourful fusion of modern American classics and pan-Angeleno accents; or that the main dining room occupies a courtyard beneath the original cupola of St Vibiana (as this space was once known). Sit outside beside one of the lemon trees, order chicken pot pie with a gin and home-made tonic, and enjoy LA hospitality at its elegant best.
114 East Second Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
What to wear
05. Enjoy the restaurants and galleries of Chinatown
The West Gate entrance into Chinatown. Photograph The Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M Highsmith's America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
From the warehouse-lined Arts District to the crumbling magnificence of the Historic Core, Downtown LA covers a mix of rapidly gentrifying neighbourhoods, and Chinatown is perhaps the most up-and-coming of them all. Once a lucklustre place to grab some greasy lo mein, it’s now a hub of exciting new restaurants (including an outpost of Portland’s famed Thai spot, Pok Pok) and independent galleries. Time your visit to coincide with one of the quarterly Chinatown Art Nights walks, when galleries open their doors all the way down Chung King Road.
06. Play Space Invaders at EightyTwo LA
Pinball wizard: blow your quarters at EightyTwo LA. Photograph by Jakob Layman
No trip to LA would be complete without some first-class escapism, and EightyTwo LA is the perfect place to indulge in just that. Part craft cocktail bar, part retro arcade, this multiroom Arts District venue houses more than 45 restored, playable arcade and pinball machines from the 1970s onwards. Visitors with little interest in Street Fighter can seek entertainment in an imaginative cocktail menu (try the “Wizard Mode”, with rye whiskey, cold brew coffee, and vanilla tea) instead.
707 East 4th Place, Los Angeles, CA 90013
07. Eat the best Mexican in town at Guerrilla Tacos
Fancy a roasted cauliflower taco to go with your almond milk java? Photograph by City Foodsters
There’s no shortage of excellent Mexican food to be found in LA, but little is executed with the flair shown by chef Mr Wes Avila from the confines of the Guerrilla Tacos truck. Twice a week, Mr Avila pulls up outside the (equally excellent) Blue Bottle Coffee in the Arts District, and Angelenos flock to pick up his roasted cauliflower tacos and ahi tuna tostadas to pair with their New Orleans-style cold brews.
At Blue Bottle Coffee, 582 Mateo Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013
(Mondays and Thursdays)
08. Stop for a cortado at Verve Coffee Roasters
Bean counter: get your caffeine fix at Verve Coffee Roasters. Photograph by Josh Telles
The eastside of LA offers a surprising abundance of excellent coffee shops and roasteries, and Verve is one of the very best. Its beautiful setting – all high ceilings, lush plants, and white tiled flooring – makes your cortado seem that little bit more delicious, and the charming outdoor patio area is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon. Peruse a selection of independent magazines and local wares while you sip your coffee or your fresh-pressed juice (because obviously Verve offers a rainbow of those as well).
833 South Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90069
What to wear
09. Shop design classics at Formerly Yes
Embrace the less-stuff aesthetic at Formerly Yes. Photograph by Justin Segura
Located just across from the Ace Hotel, this husband-and-wife-helmed boutique exemplifies LA’s specific brand of minimalist chic. Carrying a sleek edit of modern goods – from Japanese tea kettles to classic Braun alarm clocks – Formerly Yes was founded on Mr Brad and Ms Jenna Holdgrafer’s desire to curate a product inventory for those who wish to “buy less, but better”. This aspiration carries through to the space itself, which is a soothing combination of concrete floors, white oak fixtures, and whitewashed walls.
954 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015
What to wear
10. Dine with the locals at Bestia
Spaghetti rustichella, with lobster, sea urchin, garlic, squid ink bottarga and calabrian chilies; interior of Bestia. Photographs by Sierra Prescott
Who says LA doesn’t do carbs? Or industrial chic, for that matter? Arts District restaurant Bestia combines both to hype-worthy effect, and remains one of the most popular restaurants in town as a result. Book well in advance for the opportunity to sample chef Mr Ori Menashe’s bold but bright Italian cooking – the cavatelli with ricotta and black truffle is a signature dish worth waiting for.
2121 East 7th Place, Los Angeles, CA 90021