The entire metropolitan area of Los Angeles, the so-called Greater LA, is so large that it can boast neighborhoods and districts for all tastes: just think of the vip islands of Beverly Hills and Bel Air, the trendy seaside resorts of Santa Monica, Malibu and Venice Beach, the mecca of Hollywood cinema, the ancient and colorful Mexican district of El Pueblo and the elegant and history-rich streets of Pasadena; and in addition to all these districts there is obviously also the Downtown, the area of the city recognizable for its skyscrapers and modernist architecture, the center of Los Angeles business and economic life.
As I have already explained in my guide on where to sleep in Los Angeles, the neighborhood is in my opinion one of the best areas for go sightseeing, not only for the high concentration of hotels available, but also for organizing travel in a strategic way to the many attractions located throughout the area. It is therefore likely that you will find yourself spending at least a few hours in the downtown los angeles: what does this area of the city have to offer?
Is it advisable to spend a few hours there or is it better to run away with your legs up to fold in the most beaten areas? There are things to see or places of interest details? In this article we will find that despite Los Angeles Downtown is not the area with the greatest tourist attraction, it boasts a surprising number of attractions, especially from an architectural and artistic point of view. So here is an itinerary designed to spend a pleasant afternoon in the center of the city of angels.
- Los Angeles Downtown: what to see in the neighborhood
- The surprising architecture of Pershing Square
- A corner of ancient Egypt among the skyscrapers
- The Bunker Hill staircase and the Skyspace
- Angels Flight: Bunker Hill Historic Railroad
- Modern art and architecture along Grand Avenue
- 3 historic buildings not to be missed ...
- Events and entertainment in Downtown
- Advice on staying overnight
Los Angeles Downtown: what to see in the neighborhood
First of all, a premise: the Downtown area is quite large and also includes the suburb of Little Tokyo, a small corner of Japan in the city, the Fashion District, the fashion district, and Skid Row, slum area with a high concentration of homeless people. In this article, I will focus on a more limited area that we can identify with Financial District and the adjacent areas of Bunker Hill e Civic Center. The itinerary is to be done on foot, includes many interesting examples of modern architecture and is doable in a few hours, if you intend to enter the museums consider a full afternoon if not more.
NoteIf visiting the city with a rental car take a look at our tips on where to park in Los Angeles and how to rent a car in Los Angeles. Those who prefer to use public transport can instead read our guide on how to get around Los Angeles.
The surprising architecture of Pershing Square
Let's start our itinerary from Pershing Square, where I recommend you to park if you are driving (there is an underground parking lot at a good price), otherwise you can use the metro stop Pershing Square Station (red and purple line). Already from this square you can begin to understand the architectural redevelopment work to which Downtown has been subjected in recent decades, a mix between the search for modern and innovative architectural forms and the search for green spaces and places to promote sociability.
In fact, this square includes numerous spaces designed for the inhabitants (chess tables, children's play areas and areas for animals) but what is particularly striking is the singular design of the architectural works, for example the purple bell tower, the shaped fountain of turntables (Dj Reminisce), the surrounding statues and monuments. Those who thought of Downtown Los Angeles as something anonymous or uninteresting can already begin to change their mind ...
A corner of ancient Egypt among the skyscrapers
The next stop that awaits us is just 500 meters away, it is the Los Angeles Public Library, a sort of temple inspired by ancient Egypt nestled among Los Angeles skyscrapers, embellished with sphinxes, snakes, mosaics and a tower with a pyramid decorated with mosaics that reproduce suns on each side. A hand holding a torch surmounts the tower; the whole serves to symbolize the light of knowledge.
The library boasts more than 6 million volumes and contains many elements of artistic interest such as the 1933 mural by Dean Cornwell, which traces the salient phases of California history, as well as other mosaics and statues.They are not Egyptian influences ... In the Downtown area there is also the Chinese quarter of Los Angeles, to which we have dedicated an article. Read more about what to see in Chinatown Los Angeles!
The Bunker Hill staircase and the Skyspace
On the north east side of the public library, just across the road, we find our next 2 destinations, i Bunker Hill Steps, a beautiful and elegant staircase leading to the Bunker Hill area (I recommend climbing to the top to photograph the Public Library tower) and the skyscraper OUE Skyspace, which houses the highest observatory in all of Los Angeles (300 meters), with a 360 ° view.
But that's not all: on the skyscraper, in addition to admiring the view, you can have fun using it Skyslide, a transparent open-air slide over 13 meters long from which you can literally throw yourself on the lower panoramic terrace. There are two types of tickets: the one with and without a slide. You can buy them online and skip the queue at the entrance by clicking on the button below:
Angels Flight: Bunker Hill Historic Railroad
We continue up the steps heading northeast and head straight towards 350 South Grand Avenue, where, close to Grand performances (a beautiful outdoor space dedicated to concerts and events), one of the most characteristic attractions of Downtown Los Angeles awaits us, Angels flight, which appears to be the shortest railway in the world.
Built in 1901 in another area of the city, it was then moved in the 50s to facilitate the ascent of this urban stretch; in reality it is only 70 meters that can also be covered by climbing the stairs that you will find immediately next to it, however it is a historical attraction that the Los Angeles people are particularly fond of, it definitely deserves a photo and maybe a ride, even if it costs only 1 dollar outward (for 1 minute of running ...).
Modern art and architecture along Grand Avenue
Now let's get ready for a walk between theaters and museums of about 15/20 minutes to pass through some of the most interesting examples of modern art and architecture in Los Angeles. We resume South Grand Avenue and always follow it in a north-easterly direction: not even 50 meters and on the right we will find a building that resembles a factory decorated with some murals, it is the MOCA, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.
Even if you do not intend to enter for a visit, it is still worthwhile to cross the porch to enjoy the suggestive sculpture made up of pieces of an airplane placed in the square in front of it up close.
Returning to Grand Avenue we cannot help but notice the gigantic structure of The Broad, another temple erected by the city of Los Angeles to contemporary art. The futuristic building already deserves a nice photo in itself and if you haven't entered the MOCA if I were you I would seriously consider the idea of entering at least here, whether you are not very fond of the genre or prefer more traditional museums such as the Getty Center, admission is free and it doesn't happen that often!
But the most fascinating example of architecture in my opinion is the one that is about to appear in front of our eyes, even in this case it is impossible not to notice it and the effect will be even more surprising. A construction characterized by an unstable geometry, by pure and disjointed forms, where the idea of an enveloping movement rather than a rigid form prevails. I'm talking about the Walt Disney Concert Hall, significant work of the famous "deconstructivist" architect Frank Gehry.
Just a block away, at the intersection with Temple Street, you will be faced with another impressive building, the Cathedral Our Lady of the Angels, a large church built in postmodern style, certainly an impressive work but which from an aesthetic point of view has received several criticisms. In the basement it houses a mausoleum that contains 1270 crypts and 4746 burial niches, including the relics of Saint Viviana, a young Christian martyr of the Roman era, and the actors June Marlowe and Gregory Peck.
At this point, our route would involve turning right but to get a better view of the church and admire another intriguing building with a modernist design I recommend that you continue straight on the bridge, take a photo of the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts and then go back.
3 historic buildings not to be missed ...
If you are still not satisfied and you are not satisfied with going back the same street, I recommend that you take Temple Street, leave the cathedral on the right and head southwest on Spring Street, 3 interesting historic buildings await you:
- Los Angeles City Hall, the town hall built in the 20s in full style of the time, featuring a tower that held the record as the tallest in the city until the mid-60s.
- Los Angeles Times Building, is located a few meters later, at the intersection with 1st Street. With its Art Deco style it is good to imagine what Los Angeles in the 30s must have been like.
- Bradbury building, walk up to the third street and turn right at the intersection, the second building on the left has a significant historical significance, it was built in 1893 and was declared a National Historic Landmark, but there is more: for the Blade Runner fans will in fact have something familiar… here the scenes of JF Sebastian's apartment were shot, as well as the ending of the film.
Union Station, 800 N Alameda St, the Los Angeles train station, is one of the most architecturally significant buildings in the city. Don't just admire it from the outside, explore it inside too, Blade Runner fans will recognize another building used for the film here (in the scene of the police station).
Events and entertainment in Downtown
It is true that the financial district of Downtown goes down a bit in the evening, yet in the surroundings there are many areas dedicated to leisure and entertainment to fall back on, for example the Staples Center, where the Lakers and Clippers (NBA) and Kings (Hockey) play, e LA Live, the nearby entertainment complex with theaters, restaurants, cinemas and various clubs. In the Walt Disney Concert Hall area, you will also find Grand park, a park of almost 5 hectares, which in addition to hosting many events, acts as a meeting place for the inhabitants of the area.
Advice on staying overnight
Most of the accommodations are located in the financial district, near Pershing Square, the starting point of our itinerary. As mentioned, the area is also good as a base for visiting the attractions spread across the immense subway network (for a detailed list, check out our article on what to see in Los Angeles). For more information on Downtown and other recommended neighborhoods to search for accommodation in the city click on the button below.
Our tips on where to sleep in Los Angeles