The entire metropolitan area of Los Angeles is so large that it has a great variety of neighborhoods and districts. Just think of the VIP areas such as Beverly Hills and Bel Air, the fashionable coastal cities like Santa Monica, Malibu, and Venice Beach, the mecca of cinema in Hollywood, the old and colorful Mexican district of El Pueblo, and the elegant and historic streets of Pasadena. In addition to all these districts, there is, of course, Downtown Los Angeles, the center of business and economic life in Los Angeles that is recognizable thanks to its skyscrapers and modernist architecture.
As I have already explained in my guide on where to stay in Los Angeles, the neighborhood is, in my opinion, one of the best areas to stay in while visiting the city, not only because of the high concentration of hotels available, but it also allows you to better organize the trips to the many attractions located in the area. Since you are likely to spend at least a few hours in Downtown Los Angeles, you may be wondering what this area of the city has to offer.
Is it better to spend a few hours there, or is it better to get out of there as quickly as possible and head to the most popular areas of the city? Are there things to see or places of interest? In this article, we’ll discover that although Downtown Los Angeles is not the area with the greatest tourist appeal, it has a surprising number of attractions, especially from an architectural and artistic point of view. So here is an itinerary designed for you to spend a pleasant afternoon in the downtown area of the City of Angels.
- Attractions in Downtown Los Angeles
- Events and Entertainment in Downtown Los Angeles
- Where to Stay Overnight in Downtown Los Angeles
Attractions in Downtown Los Angeles
First, let me start by saying that the downtown area is quite large and here you will also find the suburb of Little Tokyo, a small corner of Japan in the city, the Fashion District, and Skid Row, a rundown area with a high concentration of homeless people. In this article, I will focus on a more limited area that includes the Financial District and the adjacent areas of Bunker Hill and Civic Center. The walking tour of Downtown Los Angeles includes many interesting examples of modern architecture and it is feasible to complete it in a few hours. If you intend to visit the museums, you will need to spend a long afternoon here or may need even more time.
Please note: If you visit the city with a car (or rental car), take a look at our tips on where to park in Los Angeles. Those who prefer to use public transportation can read our guide on how to get around Los Angeles.
The Amazing Architecture of Pershing Square
The itinerary begins in Pershing Square, where I suggest you park if you are driving a car (there is a cheap underground parking lot), otherwise, you can reach the Pershing Square Station by metro (red and purple line). As you look around this small square, you can already start to get a sense of the architectural transformation that Downtown has undergone in recent decades that sought to build modern and innovative architectural forms and create green spaces and places to gather.
In fact, in this square, you will find numerous spaces designed for the inhabitants (chess tables, children’s play areas, and areas for pets), but what is particularly striking is the unique design of the structures in the square, for example, the purple bell tower, the fountain in the shape of a turntable (DJ Reminisce), and the surrounding statues and monuments. After coming here, anyone who thought of Los Angeles’ downtown area as something unimportant or uninteresting will think again…
A Corner of Ancient Egypt among the Skyscrapers
The next stop that awaits you is about 1,600 ft away, the Los Angeles Public Library, which resembles a temple inspired by ancient Egypt. It is nestled among the Los Angeles skyscrapers and is adorned with sphinxes, snakes, mosaics, and a tower with a pyramid decorated with suns on each side. The tower, surmounted by a hand holding a torch, symbolizes the light of knowledge.
The library boasts more than 6 million volumes and contains many elements of artistic interest such as Dean Cornwell’s 1933 mural, which retraces the main stages of California‘s history, as well as other mosaics and statues.
The Bunker Hill Staircase and the OUE Skyspace
On the northeast side of the Public Library, just across the street, we find our next 2 destinations, the Bunker Hill Steps, a beautiful and elegant staircase that leads to the Bunker Hill area (I recommend climbing to the top to photograph the public library’s tower) and the OUE Skyspace, a hotel that is home to the highest observatory in all of Los Angeles (984 ft), with a 360° view.
But that’s not all. On the skyscraper, besides admiring the view, you can have fun riding the Skyslide, a transparent open-air slide more than 40 ft long that will transport you to the lower panoramic terrace. There are two types of tickets to visit the OUE Skyspace, one with and one without slide. You can buy them online and skip the line at the entrance by clicking on the button below:
Angels Flight: The Historic Railway of Bunker Hill
You will head northeast, walk up the staircase, and continue straight towards 350 South Grand Avenue to Angels Flight. Located near Grand Performances (a beautiful outdoor space used for concerts and events), one of Downtown Los Angeles’ most characteristic attractions awaits us, which seems to be the shortest railroad in the world.
Originally it was built in 1901 in another area of the city, but it was then moved in the 50s to facilitate the ascent in this area. In reality, it is only 230 ft and you could even walk up the stairs that are right next to Angels Flight, but it is a historical attraction that the people of Los Angeles are particularly fond of. It certainly deserves a photo and maybe a ride, even if it costs $ 1 dollar one way (for a 1-minute ride …).
Modern Art and Architecture along Grand Avenue
Now let’s get ready for this next section of the walking tour of about 15-20 minutes, in which you will pass by theaters and museums and cross some of the most interesting examples of modern art and architecture in Los Angeles. Go back to South Grand Avenue and walk northeast. You only need to walk about 160 ft and you’ll find on the right a building that resembles a factory decorated with some murals. It’s the MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
Even if you don’t intend to enter the museum, it is still worth crossing the portico to view the fascinating sculpture composed of airplane parts placed in the small plaza.
Returning to Grand Avenue, you will not fail to notice The Broad, another museum erected by the city of Los Angeles dedicated to contemporary art. The futuristic building deserves to be photographed for its own sake and if you did not enter the MOCA, if I were you, I would seriously consider visiting at least this museum, even if you are not very fond of contemporary art or if you prefer more traditional museums such as the Getty Center. Admission is free, which is rare!
But the most fascinating example of architecture in this area, in my opinion, is the one that is about to appear before your eyes. Even in this case, it is impossible not to notice it and the effect will be even more surprising. This building is characterized by asymmetry and pure and disjointed shapes that create the effect of enveloping movement rather than a rigid form. I’m talking about the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a significant work of the famous “deconstructivist” architect Frank Gehry.
Just a block ahead, at the junction with Temple Street, you will see another imposing building, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, a large church built in the postmodern style. It is undoubtedly impressive, but from an aesthetic point of view, it has received much criticism. The underground floor houses a mausoleum containing 1,270 crypts and 4,746 burial niches, including the relics of Saint Viviana, a young Christian martyr from Roman times, and actors June Marlowe and Gregory Peck.
According to the itinerary, now you should turn right, but to get a better view of the church and admire another intriguing modernist building, I suggest that you cross the bridge, take a picture of the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts and then go back.
3 Must-see Historic Buildings…
If you want to see more modern buildings and you prefer not to go back from the same street, I recommend that you go on Temple Street, with the cathedral behind you on the right and head southwest on Spring Street, where 3 interesting historical buildings await you:
- Los Angeles City Hall. It was built in the 1920s in the style of the time, featuring a tower that was once the tallest in the city until the mid-1960s.
- The Los Angeles Times Building is located a few yards further, at the intersection with 1st Street. Built in the Art Deco style, it makes you imagine what Los Angeles must have been like in the 1930s.
- Bradbury Building. To get to this building of historical importance, walk until you reach 3rd Street and turn right. The Bradbury Building will be the second building on the left. It was built in 1893 and was declared a National Historic Landmark. In addition, fans of Blade Runner will see something familiar... the scenes of J.F. Sebastian’s apartment as well as the ending of the movie were filmed here.
Events and Entertainment in Downtown Los Angeles
It’s true that Downtown’s Financial District gets quiet in the evening, yet there are plenty of entertainment venues nearby, such as the Staples Center, where the Lakers and Clippers (NBA) and the Kings (Hockey) play, and L.A. Live, the nearby entertainment complex with theaters, restaurants, movie theaters, and clubs. In the Walt Disney Concert Hall area, you will also find Grand Park, a park that extends almost 5 hectares, which in addition to hosting many events, serves as a meeting place for locals.
Where to Stay Overnight in Downtown Los Angeles
Most of the accommodations are located in the Financial District around Pershing Square, the starting point of our itinerary. As I already mentioned, Downtown Los Angeles is also a good base to visit the attractions located around the Greater Los Angeles Area (for a detailed list, take a look at our article about the things to do in Los Angeles). For more information about Downtown L.A. and other recommended neighborhoods where you can find great accommodations, click on the button below.