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Bradbury Building
Photograph: Courtesy Brayden Law

21 of the best things to do in Downtown Los Angeles

Get to know L.A.’s resurgent city center with these quintessential things to do in Downtown Los Angeles

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano
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A few decades ago, DTLA never would’ve landed on any out-of-towner itineraries: There simply were’t enough things to do in Downtown Los Angeles, aside from witnessing a once-buzzing city center slump into a mix of sleepy postmodern high-rises . These days, it’s a different story. While Downtown still has some growing up to do, it’s in the midst of a retail, institutional 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: Though it’s home to L.A.’s biggest cluster of tall buildings, DTLA feels pretty different from most other cities’ downtown areas. For starters, L.A.’s cultural destinations are spread all over the city and not just in Downtown. And as for the neighborhood itself, it likely won’t have the sheen you’d expect from a major American downtown, nor does every block feel particularly family-friendly. But we think there are plenty of incredible finds for visitors who arrive with an open mind.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Downtown Los Angeles

Things to do in Downtown Los Angeles

  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Downtown
  • price 3 of 4

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. Take advantage of the free audio tour, or get lost among the many hidden nooks around the hall, including a hidden garden.

  • Restaurants
  • Downtown Historic Core
  • price 2 of 4

Even if you’re not there for the food, this century-old spot is 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 from Sarita’s Pupuseria, carnitas from Tacos Tumbras a Tomas and chow mein from China Cafe, as well as food from handsome, trendy eateries like Sticky Rice, BelcampoHorse Thief BBQEggslut and G&B Coffee.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Downtown

Typically we’d lead off anything about the free, contemporary art museum with three little words: Infinity Mirror Rooms. But the persistently popular museum’s two immersive, mirror-laden Yayoi Kusama installations are temporarily closed. But not to worry, there’s still plenty to love here, including more than a dozen Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings as well as Robert Therrien’s visitor-favorite Under the Table.

  • Things to do
  • Downtown Historic Core

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.

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  • Things to do
  • Downtown

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.

  • Things to do
  • Downtown
  • price 3 of 4

We’re still waiting for shows to ramp up at DTLA’s original cultural complex: That means no Broadway musicals at the Ahmanson Theatre, no dramas at the Mark Taper Forum and no operas at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion quite yet. But you can get some fresh air and see some outdoor dance performances at the Music Center Plaza, the fountain-adorned courtyard that links them all together (and has some perfectly framed views of City Hall).

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  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Downtown Financial District
  • price 1 of 4

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.

  • Things to do
  • Downtown

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.

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Looking for things to do in other parts of Downtown?

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