It has been a couple of years since I last wrote a “Lost in LA” post. Much of it has been busy writing about travels elsewhere in the world, to the point that I ended up neglecting my adventures in my own hometown. Considering that I’m not traveling anywhere at the moment (lest for a long time), I would like to return to this series and show you the wonders that the “City of Angels” can offer, should you decide to visit some day.
Downtown LA (or “DTLA,” for short) is commonly-referred to as the business and financial sector of the entire Los Angeles Metropolitan area. It is home to towering skyscrapers which house the “Big 4” accounting firms, along with a few big-name banks (US Bank and Wells Fargo). While not as abundant as in New York City, the skyscrapers of Los Angeles offer a similar, urban-jungle atmosphere that would make any city-goer proud of their roots.
Despite being the city’s business and financial district, DTLA has also become a cultural and historic hub in recent decades. There have been efforts at restoring buildings from the early 20th century, as well as opening numerous trendy restaurants and cafes for the foodie at heart. What used to be a cold (and, at times, unsafe) area of Los Angeles has since been transformed into a notable tourist attraction to check out.
At only 4.7 squared miles (12.2 squared kilometers), this particular LA district has the advantage of being walk-able, in comparison to other parts of the city. You can go from the Historic Core to Little Tokyo in 20 minutes on foot, seeing the changes from neighborhood to neighborhood within a couple of blocks. Forget about taking a car in DTLA– just walk! Plus, the small, one-way streets and $20 parking lots are just not worth it…
I personally have not visited every corner of DTLA to give you everything there is to know about each neighborhood within this part of town. I have not been to the trendy Arts District, nor have I dipped my toes in Skid Row (which is NOT advisable, by the way). For the sake of this post, I will only discuss the parts which I have been to in DTLA, which includes three main areas: the Historic Core, the Broad, and Little Tokyo. Let’s get to them!
The Historic Core
Covering about six blocks (from 3rd Street to 9th Street), the Historic Core is where you see plenty of landmark buildings from the 1890’s to 1930’s, well-preserved over the past century. There is the Broadway-esque Los Angeles Theatre (1931), as well as the beautiful Bradbury Building (1893), in which the latter was a filming location for Blade Runner and (500) Days of Summer. Architecture-goers will have a fantastic time strolling the streets and admiring the eclectic mesh of various styles– it really pays to look up!
One massive draw to this part of DTLA is The Last Bookstore, touted as the “largest new and used bookstore” in California. It’s true the place is a maze, with two stories and a dizzy amount of shelves and aisles of books, ranging from non-fiction to the occult and fantasy– you can expect just about any type of book to be available for anyone’s taste!
The main reason people visit The Last Bookstore is for its couple of book-art, located on the second story of the store. There are two book-arts, including a book arch to walk under and a book spiral to peer out from. They’re incredibly-popular for Instagram posters, as they’re quirky and fun for an afternoon stop in town.
Just a block away is the Grand Central Market, which opened in 1917. In the past decade, however, it has become a large hub for the foodie scene, with dozens of trendy food stands to choose from. You can get all sorts of cuisines, from Chinese to El Salvadoran, even German! The most-popular stops are Eggslut and Tacos Tumbras a Tomas (the latter with its goat tacos and never-ending queue).
The Angels Flight Railway is just across the street from the Grand Central Market. For only $1 USD (0.80€), you can take the rickety funicular ride to the top. It’s a historic establishment from 1901 and, despite closing and re-opening over the years, it remains a noteworthy attraction for those brave of heart!
At the north end of DTLA is the Broad, a contemporary-art museum that’s home to a well-curated collection of American art. Admission is completely free, and you can spend an hour or two enjoying the spacious exhibition of works from Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, and Jackson Pollock. It’s a blend of classic-modern and post-modern, all the while showing off the distinct American culture.
What especially draws visitors to the Broad are the “Infinity Mirrors” by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. It’s essentially a room of mirrors with scintillating lights, which make you feel as if you’re in outer space. The exhibition is small and wait times can be staggering (I waited 78 minutes), but it’s worth it if you go to the Broad. It’s absolutely stunning, and make your 45 seconds in there worthwhile! There’s also the smaller version “Longing for Eternity,” in which one can view a kaleidoscopic scene via a portal hole. Also 45 seconds, but less of a wait than the room!
Besides the honeycombed Broad, there’s also the Walt Disney Concert Hall across the street. Designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, this whimsical, steel structure is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and also offers a venue for international orchestras to tour at each year.
Heading a few blocks down on 1st Street, and you’ll come across Los Angeles City Hall, the “hôtel de ville” of the city. It’s in the Civic Center part of DTLA, and this is where the mayor’s office of Los Angeles is located. The city offers inside tours to explore this administrative and historic building (completed in 1928). Be cautious, though, as the area around it (including its garden grounds) has a good amount of homeless people sheltering.
Home to the largest Japanese-American community in the United States, Little Tokyo is a cultural and historic fusion of all things Japan, with plenty of restaurants, boutiques, and things to do. You only have to cross the street from the LA City Hall to already be in the neighborhood!
Options for food and drink are limitless: you can get solid tonkatsu, ramen, and teppanyaki at just about any part of the neighborhood. The Japanese Village Plaza is a picturesque area, as you enter the traditional-looking Watch Tower and wander the narrow streets with red-and-white lanterns hanging above for the atmosphere. Strolling the plaza with its various restaurants, snack shops, and video game/anime stores, I felt reminiscent of my own time back in Japan a couple of years prior.
I highly recommend the matcha shop just off 2nd Street. Its homemade and well-crafted matcha ice cream and lattes rival that of those I had in Japan– the ratio of creaminess and matcha taste is perfectly balanced, and I dream about returning there whenever I can.
…and that’s my take on DTLA! Although it has had its rough moments over the years, it’s since become a worthwhile tourist draw for the city of Los Angeles with its history, architecture, and emerging arts and food scene. It is easy to walk around in the area, and you’ll see a lot of what LA has to offer.
More of this series to come soon!