Things to do in Los Angeles: Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District

We reveal the best things to do in Los Angeles' Downtown Arts District. Here's where to eat. drink, shop and play in LA's new favorite neighborhood.

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Photograph: Courtesy Guerilla Atelier

Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: Guerilla Atelier

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Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: Apolis Common Gallery

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Photograph: Courtesy Downtown Design League

Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: Downtown Design League

 

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Photograph: Courtesy Urban Radish

Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: Urban Radish

 

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: Mango jalepeño sausage at Wurstküche

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Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: the Daily Dose

 

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: The Original at Umami Burger

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Photograph: Becky Reams

Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: Spaghetti rustica at Bestia

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Photograph: Becky Reams

Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: Crostata al cioccolato e caramello salato at Bestia

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: Little Bear

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Photograph: Courtesy Villains Tavern

Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: Villains Tavern

 

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Photo: Jakob N. Layman

Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: Produce Project at Handsome Coffee Roasters

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: Latté at Stumptown Coffee Roasters

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Photograph: Ben McCambridge

Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: Art Share LA

 

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Neighborhood guide to Downtown Arts District: The French Slip at Angel City Brewery

It may seem like a no man's land at first glance, but the Downtown Arts District is a whole 'nother beast when you take a closer look. Equal parts warehouse wasteland and burgeoning hub for LA's young, professional and creative, the enigmatic Downtown Arts District is the city's neighborhood to watch. And with approximate limits of Second Street to Seventh Street and Alameda Street and the LA River, surprisingly, the Southeast section of Downtown from end to end is totally walkable. Sprinkled amidst these perimeters are the makings of a community rich in character, featuring stylish galleries, socially conscious boutiques and some of the best restaurants and bars. These pockets of budding establishments lie amidst a stretch of early 20th-century warehouses—many ex-factories—some of which are deserted, but all of which hold the promise of artist studios and loft apartments with exposed brick walls and floor-to-ceiling windows. Before it's crawling with crowds and Silver Lake expats, get the lowdown on the Arts District's best places to eat, drink, shop and play.

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Shop

The options for exercising your retail addiction in the Arts District are unconventional (in a good way). Your day begins with the delicately curated fashion, home decor and furnishings at Guerilla Atelier. If you have a few hundred-dollar bills handy, you might walk out with a handcrafted military-inspired jacket or linen scarf. The shop's open floor plan and handsome displays make it seem almost as much like a museum as it does a boutique. So, even if you have no intention of buying, feel free to take a purely observational spin.

Cross the street to husband-and-wife-owned shop, Poketo, to find all sorts of eclectic goods, from vinyl wallets and quirky coffee table books to colorful socks and tees. The store also takes an occasional break from vending to host art shows, classes and musical performances. With your newly acquired knick-knacks in tow, swing by the adjacent Apolis Common Gallery to purchase a pair of leather sandals crafted by a four-person collective in Tel Aviv or a '50s-style sweater hand knit by a women's co-op in Nepal. In addition to selling culturally driven handmade goods from the world round, the storefront also serves as a gallery and event space (of course).

Make your way to the Toy Factory Lofts on the Arts District's south side where you'll find Downtown Design League, a well-hidden, luxurious boutique. Behind a sophisticated glass storefront, you can peruse handcrafted clothing, footwear, leather goods and accessories—many of which are Angeleno-made. After all, what excuse do you have not to top off your day's collection with a pair of custom tailored suede shoes?

Conclude your Arts District shopping spree at Urban Radish, a grocery store recently beamed down from heaven to Imperial Street. Fill up on organic produce, grass-fed meat, artisan cheese, custom brewed coffee and beyond. Before heading home, choose a bottle of wine from Urban Radish's in-store collection to enjoy on the front patio with your new block of Manteca cheese.

Eat & Drink

Whatever time your day's dining begins, the Pie Hole is a good place to be. This family-owned cafe, whose interior consists of a few basic wooden picnic tables and chairs, offers one-of-a-kind sweet and savory pies. Popular choices include Mexican chocolate and savory mac and cheese (both $6). Across the street, you'll find the biergarten-esque sausage phenomenon, Wurstküche. On weekends, the line to get in might extend halfway down the block, but this sausage kitchen's mouthwatering creations—they're got everything from Polish-style kielbasa ($6.50) to spicy rattlesnake and rabbit ($8)—make it clear just why. Pair your links with a large "groot" ($5.50) worth of skin-on frites and a Belgian beer on tap for a meal that packs a serious punch. If your cravings tend to veer in the direction of beef and buns, head a few doors down to the spanking new Umami Burger. Suck down a housemade truffle burger and one or two of 30 local brews out on Umami's rear patio, for a hardy yet artisinal lunchtime siesta.

Those looking for a mid-day meal slightly lighter than burgers, sausage and pie should make their way to the charming, ivy-overgrown nook that is the Daily Dose. Try their breakfast and lunch items, which include not-so-ordinary options like the Guildsmith ($10) sandwich with pan-fried Akawi cheese, avocado, tomato, serrano peppers, feta cheese, arugula and sauce verte on ciabatta and the Ballerina ($10), ciabatta layered with butter, apricot jam, Toma cheese and fried duck egg.

For dessert, swing by the South Hewitt St location of Urth Caffé to enjoy some vegan chocolate cake while admiring the brick and stained glass exterior. This architectural masterpiece perfectly backdrops the outdoor tables of urban Angelenos discussing their latest installations while slurping organic java. If you fancy yourself a true coffee geek, your next stop should invariably be Handsome Coffee Roasters. Part coffee bar, part roasting plant, the shop is more than particular about their brew, offering a straightforward menu of coffee, espresso and espresso drinks made with whole milk, no sugar, no exceptions. What's more? Handsome stays open late Wednesday nights for a pop-up farmers market from the Produce Project, where said coffee geeks can shop a well-curated selection of local produce and coffee beans. If by the late afternoon, you still haven't met your day's caffeine quota, make your way down to Stumptown Coffee. The PDX coffee company makes it way to Downtown LA in a 7,000-square foot warehouse space that houses a 60-kilo Probat coffee roaster, pastries from Sugar Bloom and a menu of 20+ coffees and espresso-based drinks. Plan your visit for 3pm, when the staff leads daily cuppings (that's coffee tastings, for you non-coffee nerds).

Dinner in the Arts District presents a spattering of excellent options, all within a few blocks of one another. Located in the loading dock of the Biscuit Lofts, Steven Arroyo's French bistro, Church & State, serves classic fare—think steak frites, escargot and steak tartare—to Angelenos with big budgets and a taste for nuanced interiors. Across the street, one can expect a more beer-centric dining experience at Little Bear—a laidback, dimly lit café that proudly pours an extensive array of Belgian style brews to match eats best described as traditional Belgian with a modern twist. The kitchen's open til midnight and bar til 2am to suit Downtown's nocturnal. A warehouse on the Eastern-most border of the Arts District is home to all-the-rage Italian restaurant, Bestia. The cosmopolitan vibe, titillating (albeit limited) wine list, delicious cocktails, creative appetizers and gorgeous, authentic pizzas combine to make Bestia a cool-as-hell neighborhood eatery, a foodie's paradise and totally off-limits to those without a reservation.

Play

First of all, let it be known that the Arts District is a place you're gonna want to bring your camera. Laden with street art, brick walls, bridges and mostly empty streets, the landscape of the neighborhood makes for the perfect photo shoot. Wander for ten minutes in any given direction and you're bound to end up photo bombing someone's ad campaign or Instagram. It's a photogenic place, people. Take advantage. Beyond the photo ops, playtime in the Arts District involves precisely what you hoped it would—art, theater, yoga, guns and booze. Begin your amusement at nonprofit community arts hub, Art Share LA, where (schedule providing) you can check out an exhibition, take an art class, or inquire about availability on the building's second floor, which houses subsidized live/work lofts for artists. Not far down the street you'll find the Archway Studio/Theater. Drop in on a Sunday morning yoga workshop before catching a performance from the eclectic theater company, which is known to showcase everything from Shakespeare to performance art. With the largest selection of guns in the city, the LA Gun Club is worth checking out (preferably, before you engage in any imbibing) for both veterans and rookies. (If you don't own your own firearms, the club requires that you shoot in parties of two or more.) Not so into projectiles? You can at least get yourself a sweet souvenir—the gun club is stocked with a ton of awesome merch from the nearby American Apparel Warehouse. So, even if you didn't handle any pistols, you can still leave with a cool racerback or bullet shell pendant.

When the day nears its end and you're itching for a drink, the Arts District doesn't disappoint. Spend the evening on the outdoor patio at Villains Tavern, where you can sip draft beer out of mason jars, while taking in a steady stream of live blues, rock and bluegrass. For fans of the grape, casual wine bar and retail shop Pour Haus is a charming option. You can taste from a selection of flights or buy a reasonably priced bottle as you nibble on small plates. They've also got a shelf of board games that guests are free to play at any time, which significantly ups the quirk factor. On the district's Western border sits Angel City Brewery, an expansive beer hall with industrial decor, good for a casual brewski/pretzel or a behind-the-scenes tour of the brewery itself. This neighborhood staple attracts beer lovers in large groups, food truck followers and graffiti fans. Finally, for those who like their dance parties dark and kitschy will enjoy the off-color atmosphere and pumped up music to be found in the One-Eyed Gypsy. Decor out of a haunted Arabian harem matched with strong drinks, live music and quirky activities (including free skee ball and a photo booth) guarantee anything but a boring night at this re-appropriated warehouse lounge.

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