The extraordinary buildings, its walkability and a history that takes in the city’s first-ever Spanish residents, as well as the best of old Hollywood. These things and more make Downtown LA a must-visit neighbourhood, says New Zealand travel writer Jacqui Gibson.
Downtown LA: why go?
For an urban neighbourhood once considered down on its luck, Downtown LA is remarkably abundant when it comes to things to see and do. The elaborate Victorian architecture of the historic core creates the perfect visual backdrop to any walking tour, weekend brunch or late night gig.
Food is incredible here. From fine dining to Little Tokyo’s sushi bars to glamorous rooftop lounge bars, Downtown LA will not disappoint. And if it’s the best of contemporary culture you’re after, this city stop won’t fail on that front either. Just head to Bunker Hill to The Broad, Downtown’s new contemporary art museum built in 2015 featuring more than 2,000 works of art.
With year-round, moderate-to-warm weather, Downtown LA is a great place to visit as you welcome the return of spring.
What to do in Downtown LA
The key to getting around Downtown’s eight districts is to don some comfy walking shoes and take to the streets. Join the LA Conservancy on Saturdays for the $15 Historic Downtown tour to see inside architectural gems like the Bradbury Building, a Victorian landmark built in 1893 used in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi film Blade Runner.
Head to Bunker Hill for a show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the LA Philharmonic – though this year’s billing features none other than Icelandic pop songstress Bjork. Shop for books (new and used), as well as vinyl at the cavernous Last Bookstore on Spring Street.
Meander through Olvera Street, the oldest part of Downtown. Founded in 1781 by Spanish settlers and home to original adobe architecture of the era, Olvera Street is part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument. Walk the narrow, cobbled pedestrian mall. Grab a colourful piñata, an oversized sombrero or take a seat at one of Olvera Street’s dozen or so restaurants to order up a margarita and an authentic Mexican goat meat stew, birria de chivo.
There’s Dodger’s Stadium if you’re sports-minded or the Jewelry District if you’re after cut-price gems and fine jewelry. Need a freebee? Pack a picnic and head to Grand Park for an afternoon of people watching.
Where to stay
Downtown LA takes heritage hotels to a whole new level with so many super-stylish places to stay on offer.
The ACE Hotel, in the historic district, offers the opportunity to stay in the revamped United Artists building and catch a live show or movie premier in its exquisitely restored 1,600-seat movie palace built back in the 1920s. In the financial district there’s The Standard, a 207-room hotel set in the stunning mid-century former headquarters of Superior Oil.
The rooftops of both hotels offer panoramic views of LA and the chance to take your cocktail in the pool.
Where to eat and drink
There are few things better than sipping a Parisian cocktail at dusk 15 floors above the city surrounded by live jazz, mesmerized by the twinkly lights of Downtown.
Your prime rooftop location is the Perch, a French bistro and bar at 448 South Hill Street. Take the lift to the 15th floor, nab a table and order up a spicy concombre, a gorgeous gin- and St Germain-based cocktail served with lime juice, cucumber and jalapeno.
Ready for dinner? In Little Tokyo, try Daikokuya for slap-up ramen. Or go vegan at Shojin, a Japanese vegan and macrobiotic restaurant located on the third floor of the Little Tokyo Shopping Centre.
To sate your hunger any time of the day, Grand Central Market covers all bases, whether you’re looking for fresh oysters, an organic fresh-pressed juice or a coffee and delicious hand-held peach and mango curd pie from the Valerie Confections stall.
It’s free to visit The Broad, but it’s often fully booked. Avoid disappointment by going online and booking in advance (advance tickets are available on the first of every month for the following month). For more information, check out http://www.thebroad.org/visit