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 oldest section of Los Angeles, where the city was first established in 1781 as a farming community, El Pueblo has an authentic, Spanish-style feel. The area comprises 26 historical structures, 11 of which are open to the public, as well as the famous Olvera Street, which is full of local independent vendors selling a range of goods.
The city’s main library is worth a look even if you have no interest in borrowing books. The exterior is an Egyptian and Mediterranean beauty, topped with a dramatic, tiled pyramid tower and decorated with bas-reliefs. The most stunning features, though, reside in the second floor rotunda, with its deco-meets-arabesque dome, California history mural and globe chandelier. There’s also a fine program of lectures and discussions in the Mark Taper Auditorium.
L.A. Live is an entertainment venue located in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles. Adjacent to Staples Center, it is the home of the Microsoft Theater, Regal Cinemas and various bars, hotels and restaurants, like the towering JW Marriott, WP24 and SBE’s swanky Katsuya. The area is jam-packed almost every night of the week (especially pre-Lakers, Clippers and Kings games) with tourists and locals alike.
This hundred-year-old movie theater was transformed into a handsome rock club after a 2014 makeover by the Echo’s Mitchell Frank. The theater has hosted the likes of Run the Jewels, Of Montreal and TV on the Radio, as well as live podcasts, comedy shows and the Rock ’n’ Roll Flea Market. The venue also houses Prufrock Pizzeria and the Love Song Bar.
Enter the terra cotta archway of this 1924 arcade and you’ll find a glass-roofed alleyway dotted with restaurants and shops. The crowds are still light—it’s no Grand Central Market competitor, at least not yet—but the food offerings are already strong. Stop by Guisados for a chorizo taco and some horchata, or Rice Box for some bao. Don Francisco’s pours cups of Cuban coffee, while Gelateria Uli has some of the city’s best gelato. If you’re in the mood for a glass of wine, step into Garçons de Cafe, a wine bar and boutique that instantly transports you to Paris.
One of Downtown’s busiest shopping and dining destinations, FIGat7th hosts movies, music and seasonal fests in its recessed plaza. The shopping center includes retailers like Target and Zara, a food court and Downtown outposts of Sprinkles, Mendocino Farms and Pazzo Gelato.
Wind your way through four floors of rock star memorabilia, film clips and interactive exhibits (belt your heart out in a fake recording studio!) at this 30,000-square-foot museum on the L.A. Live campus, which attempts to cover all the major music genres. A state-of-the-art, 200-seat Clive Davis theater is also the site of exclusive performances and events.
Visit the Original L.A. Flower Market in—where else?—the Flower District. Restaurateurs, wedding planners, florists and botany geeks (and okay, some tourists) make up the early morning hustle and bustle among rows of flowers, plants and “floral accessories” from around the world. Come out later during public hours to grab a bouquet for a friend, take some great pictures or just indulge your senses. Insider tip: Avoid Wednesdays and Fridays if possible—they’re the busiest days. And just a heads up: The surrounding area isn’t the greatest, so make use of the market’s secured parking garage.
Though the U.S. Bank Tower may no longer be the tallest building in the West thanks to the Wilshire Grand, it’s made some sky-high additions: restaurant 71Above, an open-air observation deck and a glass slide. Those last two are both part of the OUE Skyspace LA. Skyslide, accessible with an additional ticket, is an outdoor glass slide suspended 1,000 feet above Downtown Los Angeles. Tip: Skip the morning hours and wait for the typical marine layer to burn off for the best visibility.
Angels Flight—which you may recognize from La La Land—is literally the little funicular that could: The block-long railway has weathered mechanical problems, extended closures and relocation to keep pulling passengers up Bunker Hill over a century after its initial opening. The two, tiered cars that traverse its rails offer a view of the Historic Core below, as well as an amusingly bumpy ride. You can board Angels Flight from either Hill Street or Olive Street, but we suggest the former lest you end up hoofing it back up Fourth Street. Tip: Use your TAP card for a half-price fare.