A few decades ago, DTLA wasn’t on anybody’s radar: There simply were’t enough things to do in Downtown Los Angeles, aside from being a firsthand witness to the decline of a once great city center. These days, it’s a different story. While Downtown still has some growing up to do, it’s in the midst of a cultural and architectural resurgence that’s turning the area into a walkable, Metro-friendly destination dotted with museums, destination-worthy restaurants and beautiful buildings. Get to know Bunker Hill, the Historic Core and beyond with these things to do in Downtown Los Angeles. Just a heads up: Some blocks are cleaner and more family-friendly than others, and it likely won’t have the sheen you’d expect from a major American downtown, but we think there are plenty of incredible finds for visitors who arrive with an open mind.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Downtown Los Angeles
24 essential things to do in Downtown Los Angeles
As the crown jewel of the Music Center, Disney Hall opened in 2003 to rave reviews. The novelty hasn’t yet worn off: Both inside and out, this is a terrific venue. Designed by Frank Gehry, the hall is the home of the LA Philharmonic and the LA Master Chorale, but the schedule is surprisingly varied throughout the year. The complex also includes the 250-seat Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theatre, a restaurant and a roof garden. Take advantage of the free audio tour, or get lost among the many hidden nooks around the hall.
This European-style food hall has been operating on the ground floor of the iconic Homer Laughlin Building since 1917. Even if you’re not there for the food, it’s worth a trip; people from all corners of L.A. mix and mingle among rows of spices, produce and vintage neon signage. Of course, if you’re hungry it’s a great place to get cheap pupusas, carnitas tacos and aguas frescas, as well as food from handsome, trendy eateries like Sticky Rice, Belcampo, Horse Thief BBQ, Eggslut and G&B Coffee.
Three words: Infinity Mirror Rooms. Downtown’s persistently popular contemporary art museum has two of Yayoi Kusama’s immersive, mirror-laden rooms (and the standy queue to prove it). Elsewhere in the free museum, Eli and Edythe Broad’s collection of 2,000 post-war works includes artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger and Jeff Koons. Find out more in our complete guide to the Broad.
Walk through the archway entrance of this otherwise nondescript brick building and you're greeted with a stunning, light-flooded alley of wood, iron and brick. You’ll have to do all of your gawking from the ground floor (and half a flight of stairs) as the rest of the building is private office space. History buffs will appreciate its place as Downtown’s oldest commercial building (1893); movie buffs will recognize the zigzagging staircases from the climax of Blade Runner.
The Center Theatre Group programs two of the halls that make up DTLA’s original cultural complex. At the north end, the Ahmanson Theatre presents pre- or post-Broadway fare, while the smaller Mark Taper Forum stages a wide range of new dramas. Also part of the Music Center, the grand Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is the home base for LA Opera, as well as occasional concerts and dance events. Last, but certainly not least, the Center also includes the previously mentioned Disney Concert Hall.
We could fill an entire list with nothing but Downtown’s stunning architecture (unsurprisingly, quite a few of our picks for the most beautiful buildings are in DTLA). Instead, we’ll point you in the direction of the Los Angeles Conservancy’s acclaimed walking tours. Choose between tours of modern skyscrapers or the Historic Core, Art Deco icons or Victorian mansions. Most tours meet at Pershing Square, near the mini-groves of orange trees.
The slow, lumbering mission to turn Downtown L.A. into a vibrant cultural hub got a lift when a portion of Grand Park’s 12 acres officially opened to the public in July 2012. Dotted with fountains, picnic lawns, bright pink benches and plenty of nooks from which to sit and people-watch, Grand Park is a bright urban oasis that proves the city has a sense of romance. The park plays host to performances, gatherings and other community events.
The grand, white concrete tower has stood tall as a city icon since 1928, and today it’s the easiest way to take in an elevated view of Downtown and beyond. If you’re ever passing through the Civic Center during public hours—weekdays 9am-5pm—then you owe yourself a visit to the 27th floor observation deck. While you’re there, walk around the surrounding park and look for the 1984 Olympic torch near the Spring Street exit.
Train travel has gone in and out of fashion, but the last of the great American rail stations is just as handsome as the day it opened: Union Station’s Mission-style exterior opens up into a grand waiting area with marble tiles, faux-wood beamed ceilings and Art Deco touches. Wander through its halls and courtyards and you’ll find a building rich with history, locomotion and—with the eventual arrival of high-speed rail and a new concourse—progress.
The main branch of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) houses thousands of artworks crafted from 1940 until now. Spend half an hour or an entire afternoon absorbing contemporary pieces from lesser-known artists, punctuated by sightings of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock works. If you plan your visit for a Thursday night between 5 and 8pm, admission to MOCA Grand Avenue is on the house.