Downtown Los Angeles is more fondly referred to as “DTLA” for short. It is arguably LA’s most exciting and “destination worthy” neighborhoods at the moment. With the resurgence of development juxtaposed with the preservation of some of the cities richest history, DTLA is just freakin’ cool. There are more attractions and reasons to explore this part of town than ever before. Whether we’re talking nightlife, entertainment, shopping, dining, living, working, learning – literally everything – it’s safe to say that I find myself in DTLA more these days than anywhere else around town, that goes for many of us frankly. (Don’t tell the other neighborhoods but DTLA has always secretly been my favorite neighborhood to hang.)
DTLA has come a very long way from the slump and confusion it faced even just 10 years ago. While the area still has a bit of maturing to do it has been inspiring to witness its incredible growth and evolution. It does not look like most city’s Downtown metropolitan areas. As with any major city, there are parts of town that I would simply advise to be careful. But to me, it’s all part of the charm. It’s a little gritty, a little glittery, but there is a palpable sense of possibility, and I can guarantee that at the very least it’s one of a kind.
From Chinatown, Little Tokyo, The Arts District, Bunker Hill, the Financial District, the Fashion District, the Flower District, Gallery Row, to the Historic Core (and beyond) – there is something special to experience every few blocks. If you’ve got a little curiosity and an open mind, then visiting DTLA is absolutely mandatory as far as I’m concerned, and here’s where you need to visit:
BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN DTLA
ROW DTLA is a historic (yet new) urban commercial district that is home to a curated collection of local boutiques, creative workspaces, restaurants, studios, and more. The collective is situated on 30 acres, making it (clearly) a great place to spend a few hours with friends, kids, family, dogs, solo – your hearts desire. Stop in for coffee at Go Get Em Tiger, do a little shopping at one of their 35 local retailers, have lunch/happy/hour dinner at one of their fantastic renown restaurants, get pampered at Powder Beauty, take a workout class at one of the studios, make something beautiful at Still Life Ceramics or Makers Mess – endless possibilities. And don’t forget: Summer Fridays every other Friday with food trucks, a DJ, and more, + Smorgasburg on Sundays (more on that below!)
GCM has been a Los Angeles landmark since 1917 and is still one of LA’s best places to find yourself should you find yourself famished, curious for a little culture, or perhaps in need of a grand photo opportunity. The market is made up of several food vendors that range in cuisine but collectively come together to beautifully represent the LA food scene. And at GCM we don’t play favorites because everything is incredible – follow your gut.
What was once just a warehouse ghost town, the Arts District has become without a doubt the buzziest and busiest neighborhoods in DTLA. The area around E 3rd St and Traction Ave is a great place to walk around and get an idea of the local scene; think great coffee shops, curated local boutiques, beautiful art galleries, creative spaces, gorgeous warehouse-style lofts, etc.
There are many museums in Los Angeles, but I’d go so far as to say that the crowd favorite seems to be the latest edition to our museum collection, The Broad. There are two things you need to know about The Broad: it’s contemporary art, and it’s free admission. Book your tickets in advance on their website, bring a camera, and enjoy the beauty housed within their wild white walls.
It doesn’t get more cinematic, historic, and stunning than Union Station. Still a totally bustling and functioning railway station, it might be past its teeechnically glory days, but it is still a sight to see and a place to be. Take in that gilded and gorgeous Art Deco design, enjoy a beer at Imperial Western Beer Co, grab a snack at Traxx, heck maybe even hop on a train!
At the center of LA’s most historic point, where the city was actually first established in 1781, El Pueblo is home to 26 historic structures, the most popular being “Olvera St”. It’s here where you can walk back in time, shop for Mexican goods in the open-air market, dine on fantastic casual eats from local street vendors, and more.
The Bradbury Building is my personal favorite historical building – possibly in the entire whole of Los Angeles. It’s special for three reasons: it was built in 1893 and is the oldest commercial building in DLTA, it’s one of the most photogenic spots in town, and it has been the backdrop in several iconic movies such as Blade Runner. Pop in after lunch at GCM.
DTLA has no shortage of stunning works of architecture and the Walt Disney Concert Hall could be the crowning achievement or at the very least the most unique. Inside or outside it’s a space to see! (If you’re planning a trip to the Broad, or vice versa, they’re located right next to each other.)
Small but mighty, Central Plaza is one of my favorite places to stop in the Chinatown neighborhood. I love the vibrant colors of the buildings, the rich history and culture, the neon lights, the variety of truly incredible places to eat and drink, and the major photo opportunities the space provides.
Oh, what a bookstore The Last Bookstore is! Located inside of an old bank building you can imagine just how many books actually occupy this space – hint: it’s a lot. I love that the Last Bookstore is always busy, it feels incredibly nostalgic, and that they’ve managed to make a bookstore a full space for the arts, creativity, and whimsy with their “literary labyrinth” of art installations made with books. Buy some books, bring your camera.
Angels Flight – a funicular built over a century ago to take passengers up Bunker Hill – is one of my favorite “silly” things from LA’s past. You might recognize it from the movie LaLaLand (among others) and while it was actually out of service for a number of years, it has recently been restored to its former *mostly functional* glory. You can board from Hill St or Olive St – enjoy the ride!
LA’s original Museum of Contemporary Art is just a block down the street from The Broad Museum and a must-visit as well. It has been home to thousands of pieces created from 1940 until now, and like The Broad also offers free admission.
The Spring Arcade Building is one of the most underrated places to visit in DTLA, and yet one of the coolest and most historic. It was built in 1924 and reminds me very much so of the arcades you would find in Europe (and no, not the American “pinball” kind of arcade.). It’s beautiful with its glass-roofed alleyway and is home to some grade-A casual eateries and spots to stop in for a drink.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say “visit LA Live no matter what”, but if you’re planning on attending a Lakers/Clippers/Kings game at the Staples Center or catching a concert at The Novo, I’d say might as well check the rest of the place out! There are restaurants, bars, a movie theater, hotels, and more. Not a ton of DTLA is “kid-friendly”, but LA Live definitely could pass.
The Original LA Flower Market in the Flower Market district (go figure) is the mecca for beautiful and most importantly affordable florals. Even if you’re not exactly in need of blooms, this place is a sight to see (and a scent to smell). Mornings are the market’s busiest times, visit at your leisure, just be sure to stick to the Flower Market parking and area (you’re totally fine if you’re at the market, the surrounding space is just not exactly part of LA’s finest).
WHAT TO SKIP:
I know, you hear “fashion district” and get excited, but for the average person (one who doesn’t make clothes or know their way around the area, etc) it’s really not all that special or fun in my opinion. Not to say it’s not possible to have fun here! The crowds, the confusion, the quality… it’s just not really my cup of tea.
It’s a nice “park”, sure, but if you want to picnic in LA and people watch there are simply better places to do that in LA.
Spire 73 in theory sounds awesome. It’s an open-air bar located on the 73rd floor of the Intercontinental Hotel, it’s trendy, and as you can imagine offers some seriously unrivaled views. But unless you’re seated up against the glass, you’re not enjoying those views. You’re just outside very high up at a bar that you paid a premium to enjoy (last I’d heard there is a $60 minimum per person). You never know you might be lucky but I’d say spend your money at a better bar!
FOR A BITE TO EAT:
It’s the largest open air food market in America. It’s an open every Sunday at ROW DTLA, eats from hundreds of local vendors, a total blast and one of the single best ways to experience the best of LA’s foodie scene
Tex Mex, a total “LA classic”, great happy hour, epic tacos and tequila list
Modern American, upscale, one of LA’s most beautiful restaurants, indoor/outdoor seating, incredible cocktail menu
Italian, upscale but not stuffy, great pasta and Italian wines, beautiful space
Modern Latin menu, beautiful indoor/outdoor space, tropical vibes, great cocktails
Japanese, Omakase-style fine dining, Michelin Star recipient, located at ROW DTLA
Oysters (and more), great casual patio, located at ROW DTLA
Farm driven seasonal menu, all-day dining, located inside the rustic chic Hauser Wirth Gallery complex, incredible patio/ambiance
Italian, trendy, a favorite amongst many, acclaimed husband and wife duo
Middle Eastern, same acclaimed husband and wife team from Bestia, stunning and bright indoor/outdoor space
Mediterranean & seafood-centric, rooftop of the Hoxton Hotel, stunning views, casual, great for Happy Hour + beyond
Northern Mexican style tacos, critically acclaimed, casual lunch & dinner
Nashville Hot Chicken, casual counter only service, always busy (but worth it), critically acclaimed
Historic deli known for their French Dip sandwiches, old school (open since 1908), comfort food, casual
For more great bars in Downtown Los Angeles and beyond… head to my “101 of the Best Restaurants In LA” blog post.
FOR A DRINK:
Polished bar with a more casual and expansive outdoor patio. It is a great for groups, come for the drinks but dont skip the burger
Speakeasy inside famed Cole’s and custom cocktails (based off of what you want). Also, it’s a complete classic in terms of LA’s best cocktail bars
Tropical rooftop bar atop the Freehand Hotel, James Beard Award finalist for their cocktails, vibrant, fun, offers great views
Ultra stylish, specializes in Whiskey, “hunting lodge chic”, younger crowd, another great DTLA “classic”
The hidden gem of all hidden gems, “dive bar” esque, live music, great for groups, some of the best views of the DTLA skyline
Rooftop bar at the Ace Hotel, trendy, casual with nice seating, great cocktails
Famed NYC bar’s LA outpost, critically acclaimed cocktail program, dimly lit speakeasy vibe
Craft brewery with a full bar, lofty warehouse-like space, in house food, entertainment & games
Specializes in Hard Kombucha, Experimental Beer, and Hard Seltzers, indoor/outdoor seating options, entertainment, art
Swanky rooftop bar with views of Pershing Square and the DTLA skyline, handcrafted cocktails, French small plates
Cozy wine bar, feels like a local joint, small plates, Bistrot French fare, great rotating wines, quiet
Another beloved NYC cocktail bar with an LA outpost, critically acclaimed cocktail program, speakeasy/jazz club, mixologists in pharmacy style outfits, gorgeous interior and cozy patio
Craft brewery in the Arts District, beautiful warehouse-style space, casual
For more great bars in Downtown Los Angeles and beyond… head to my “101 of the Best Bars In LA” blog post.
What are your favorite spots in DTLA? Tell us in the comments!