It may seem like a no man's land at first glance, but the Downtown Arts District in Los Angeles 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 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 is totally walkable.
Sprinkled amidst these perimeters are the makings of a community rich in character, featuring stylish galleries, handsome coffee shops, 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 Downtown Arts District's best places to eat, drink, shop and explore.
RECOMMENDED: See more in our guide to Downtown Los Angeles
Where to eat and drink in the Downtown Arts District
To say that you'll need a reservation for Bestia is an understatement—as one of the most talked about (and as a result, packed) restaurants in LA, securing a table months in advance is a necessity. Chef Ori Menashe is the brains behind Bestia’s thoughtful, ingredient-driven Italian menu. His house-cured salumi is superb, whether it's part of a charcuterie board or atop a puffy pizza with mozzarella, black cabbage and fennel; and housemade pastas come tangled together with lobster and sea urchin or tossed with lamb ragu and saffron. Menashe's wife, Genevieve Gergis, is Bestia's phenomenal pastry chef, and you'd be wise to order her chocolate budino tart to end an unforgettable meal.
Located in the loading dock of the Biscuit Lofts in DTLA's Arts District, chef Tony Esnault's French bistro serves classic fare—steak frites, escargot, steak tartare and more—to Angelenos with big budgets and a taste for nuanced interiors (think: white subway tiles and leather banquettes). Start with a seasonal cocktail and oysters on the half shell, then progress to housemade charcuterie and savory tartes. Don't miss the weekday meal-deal: a three-course lunch for a steal at $21. With a French-heavy wine selection, proper fromage option and alfresco dining, it's a little slice of Paris in the middle of Downtown.
The concrete exterior of this downtown Arts District haunt seems intentionally non-descript. A bold neon sign above the door reads simply “BAR”—the small plaque beside it, “everson royce bar, est. 2015,” verifies the bar’s identity. Inside, the bar is bustling and bright, and a spacious patio out back offers ample seating for drinking, dining and stargazing. Varnish alumn Chris Ojeda adds a whole lot of credibility to the cocktail list, like the Infanté, a tequila tipple with lemon, almond, nutmeg and rosewater. The Business is another favorite that Bee’s Knees fans should enjoy—lime replaces lemon in this delightful mingling of gin, citrus and honey. To eat, Osteria Mozza chef Matt Molina cooks up bites like the steamed buns, made with melt-in-your-mouth roasted pork belly, cucumber pickle and hoisin wrapped in pillowy warm bao.
Live music, burgers, beer, cocktails—what more could you want in a casual neighborhood bar? This friendly hangout hosts a steady stream of blues, rock and bluegrass musicians that perform inside the steampunk space almost every night of the week. A fantastic grilled cheese, beer battered fish and chips and more hearty eats satisfy hungry patrons, while a list of creative cocktails and craft beer fills out the drink menu. The best part? No cover.
This family-owned café, whose interior consists of a few basic wooden picnic tables and chairs, offers homemade pies deemed by many as the best in LA. Made from scratch every morning, popular pie options include Mexican Chocolate, Earl Grey and a savory Mac and Cheese hand pie (if that's not a match made in heaven, we don't know what is). To accompany your slice, Pie Hole's coffee selection is top-notch, including their own fare trade organic blend. Craving something a little more funky? The shop also offers cold brew nitro iced coffee—one of the few places in the city to do so.
The hand-tossed, thin crust pies at this Downtown pizza joint show off local ingredients like arugula, tomatoes, cage-free eggs and ethically-raised pork-and-beef meatballs. Aside from the standard pepperoni, margherita and veggie options, Pizzanista offers inventive slices like macaroni and cheese (available on Sundays only), along with gluten-free and create-your-own pies. A selection of beer and wine is available, but if you want to drink elsewhere, order your pizza and take it next door to Tony's Saloon.
With a menu that includes Peruvian ceviche, orange chicken wings, Asian-spiced pulled pork sandwiches and tacos de barbacao, there's no question that Cerveteca embraces fusion and experimentation. Offering brunch, lunch and dinner, the restaurant serves as a popular hangout for neighboring Sci-Arc students ready to wind down with a couple drinks. Beers come from both local and international breweries; French, Portuguese, Chilean and California wines are all available; and specialty drinks like maragaritas, mojitos and sangria are served throughout the day. Mimosa fans should plan on stopping by for brunch, where they can indulge in a "Build your own" bottomless mimosa bucket for $15.
Cousins Tyler Wilson and Joseph Pitruzzelli transformed a triangular space on the corner of E 3rd St and Traction Ave into Wurstküche, a contemporary "sausage kitchen" (a second Wurstküche is located in Venice). The cousins' crew will gladly grill sausages like Polish-style Kielbasa or more adventurous Rattlesnake & Rabbit to pair with a "groot" worth of skin-on frites; in case you didn't know, that amounts to a lot of fries. Wurstküche primarily pours Belgian and German beers from (surprisingly) brand-free tap handles. Try the notoriously tart Duchesse de Bourgogne or sweet Aventinus Eisbock that packs a punch.
Located next to Pizzanista, Tony's Saloon is a favorite for Arts District denizens who come to play a few rounds of pool, down a couple well-crafted drinks and indulge in cheesy slices from the pizzeria next door. For those looking to challenge their drinking buddy to some friendly competition, there's darts and table tennis in addition to pool. And if you're hungry? Pair your Peroni with a piece of pizza (you can either order from the bar or pick it up at Pizzanista to bring into Tony's), then head to the back patio for some fresh air under twinkling lights.
The Factory Kitchen, a Northern Italian eatery made noticeable only by red neon signage above its door, focuses all of its efforts on the food and almost none on the decor. Cement floors and peeling pillars blend into the background as servers in checkered-shirt uniforms bring out one excellent dish after another. There are many stand-out options to start with, but the focaccina calda di recco, a heavenly flatbread, should be at the top of your list. When it comes to pasta, a fan favorite is the mandilli di seta, a delicate handkerchief option with pesto, though an oxtail ragu spooned over beautiful ribbons of pappardelle is just as excellent. And to finish? The dessert list is short, but let us narrow it down for you further: ask for the cannoli.
Where to shop in the Downtown Arts District
This husband-and-wife-owned shop and gallery space (named for her grandmother's mispronunciation of "pocket") strives to bring art into customers' everyday lives. Find all sorts of eclectic goods, from the artist-designed vinyl wallets to colorful socks and tees. Plus, the store occasionally hosts art shows and musical performances, making it a great place to get to know the Art District's eclectic, creative community.
LA-based textile shop Matteo offers carefully crafted home bedding and apparel using luxury threads for ultimate comfort. Their showroom, a huge, multi-level space in the Arts District, has a main shopping floor, plus a staging area with dreamlike beds and a basement with an insane selection of goods including backorders, special collaborations and discounted one-offs. Everything is made right here in LA, just across the river. Keep an eye out for bi-annual sales when these luxury linens go for as much to half off.
The delicately curated fashion, home decor and furnishings have plenty of breathing room in the lofty warehouse space that houses Guerilla Atelier. What began as a 30-day pop-up shop has aptly secured its place amidst the burgeoning neighborhood. If you're in the market for a handcrafted military-inspired jacket or linen scarf, and have a few hundred dollar bills handy, you might walk out with a true style gem. But the shop, with its open floor plan and handsome displays, reads almost as much like a museum as it does a retail store. So, even if you have no intention of buying, feel free to take a purely observational spin.
Shopping at the Apolis Common Gallery is like stepping into an epic ’round-the-world travelogue, where every globally-sourced item has a story behind it. Leather sandals were crafted by a four-person co-op in Tel Aviv; jute market bags were assembled by a collective of mothers in Bangladesh; a women’s co-op in Nepal hand-knit the ’50s-style sweaters made in collaboration with cycling brand Rapha. Brothers Raan and Shea Parton launched Apolis the brand in 2004, employing and empowering artisans worldwide (and right here in Cali) to create their heritage-inspired pieces—this flagship shop serves as a showcase for the full product range, as well as an event space and gallery.
This super-hip outpost of home goods, art, skincare, clothing and accessories from husband-wife team Raan and Lindsay Parton (he’s the creative director of the highly curated neighboring men’s emporium Apolis: Common Gallery) is a welcome addition to Downtown’s Arts District. The bustling neighborhood is a bastion of wares for the aesthetically minded, including the shop’s own navy blue 1959 Fiat Abarth Spyder—the only of its kind in the US. Be on the lookout for Rodin’s much-loved Olio Lusso as well as items from brands like The Hill-Side and Gitman Vintage. Grab a coffee at Blacktop nextdoor, and look out for the Guerilla Taco truck that sometimes parks outside.
Positioned amidst the Toy Factory Lofts just a few doors down from Belgian beer cafe Little Bear, the curiously luxurious Downtown Design Leage boutique would be easy to miss. But those who luck upon double-taking into its floor-to-celing glass windows will spy a sophisticated retail space, featuring handcrafted clothing, shoes, leather goods and accessories, many of which are locally made. This is one of the higher-end shops in the Arts District (for now), which becomes clear the moment you perceive how few purchasable items there are per square foot of store space—a ratio that immediately identifies any upscale boutique. The shop's creative team and collaborators are palpably focused on their philosophy of creating luxury goods with both love and artistry. The shop is open 11am–7pm on weekdays (closed on weekends), but appointments are also available for those who'd like to discuss crafting their own custom Angeleno-made suede shoe, for example.
This semi-hidden, chock-full shop is a great place to go if you've got money to burn and are looking for an ecclectic collection of vintage and vintage-inspired goods. It's incredibly well-curated, the staff is knowledgeable (and not too cool for school) and they've got some pretty impressive, rare finds. If you look at the shop more like a gallery (art's expensive!) you can enjoy yourself here just perusing the wares—though be warned, you'll probably be pretty tempted to invest in a statement and/or staple piece, whether it's for your wall or your wardrobe.
Okay, so it's a little different than the rest of the shopping experiences we've highlighted, but we'd be remiss not to mention 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.
Things to do in the Downtown Arts District
This industrial space has a bare-bones, beer-hall feel, with plenty of room to spread out among picnic tables beneath a renovated mezzanine. But the main focus is the well-lit bar with 12 coveted bar stools, clean copper taps and an Art Deco-inspired backdrop. Plus, Angel City also hosts regular trivia, bingo and game nights, along with fests and performances in its front lot and renovated shed.
Art Share LA is a warehouse sanctuary situated across 28,000 square feet of studio space. The ground floor houses a community-programmed facility (including a dance studio, gallery, classrooms and painting studio) that's available for art classes, pop-up exhibitions and events. One level up, they offer 30 subsidized live/work lofts for artists.
If ever there was a bar to geek out in, this one is it. Los Angeles' first barcade (that's bar + arcade for you noobs) boasts more than 40 classic consoles, from Centipede to Ms. Pac-Man—all fixed with cup holders for endless booze-fueled sessions. An entire section of the bar is dedicated to vintage pinball machines.
International art gallery Hauser & Wirth has occupied a former flour mill with its collection of contemporary art and modern masters. The Arts District space has restored the Globe Mills complex into a cultural center with museum-caliber exhibitions as well as public programs and educational activities.
Los Angeles' indoor shooting range has the largest selection of guns in LA and is open seven days a week, but you might need a friend if you want to shoot off a few rounds—visitors who don't own their own firearms must be accompanied by a second person. Never shot before? The club offers free safety briefings—although target practice is up to you.
You best brush up on your Spiderman-like wall climbing skills before tackling LA Boulder's 12,000 square feet climbing playground. The Arts District spot is a bouldering gym, meaning there are no ropes or harnesses while you climb. Don't worry: The foam-lined venue is as concerned with safety as it is fun, but you should definitely know how to climb and—eek—properly fall before you find yourself 17 feet off the ground.