We were all in Los Angeles over the weekend for our lovely Susan’s wedding! Renée and Molly returned to their old stomping ground Downtown LA and rented an apartment through Airbnb, just to reminisce the good old times, as there is no place like home.
DTLA is an acquired taste for many, but once you fall in love with it, it is a place like no other. We decided to put together a Downtown LA guide for this quirky town. Whether you’ve lived in LA forever and want to explore, or you just moved to the area and want to know what’s good, or just a visitor in town on an off beat path, we hope you fall in love with DTLA like we did!
Just a few years ago, DTLA is an area where no one venture out to, unless you worked there or were one of the few who lived there. Now, it is one of the hottest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. There are constructions at every corner, new plans announced every week, new shops and cafés popping up everywhere. It is a mix of yuppies and hipsters, college students and high rolling creatives. It has the California chill vibe but with the heartbeat of a metropolitan city. It is some place special.
For you Airbnb folks or apartment hunters, most rentals are in the Historic Downtown and South Park areas. Historic Downtown is the hustle and bustle of DTLA. South Park is close to LA Live, Staple Center, and all the tourist hot spots. Traffic can be a pain in the ass when there is a game or a concert, and the food and activity options aren’t as exciting.
If you want somewhere quieter, the Financial District and Bunker Hill are both a little further away from the activities, but close enough for a 10-15 minute walk. Most buildings in the areas are for commercial use, which means you can get some peace and quiet for a good night sleep. It is the art and music hub of downtown with multiple museums and performance halls within a 4 block radius.
If you want to opt for a traditional hotel stay, there are many options. For the hipster in you, Ace Hotel on Broadway is the perfect spot. Then there is The Standard. It’s a veteran, but its rooftop bar is still one of the hottest spots in downtown. If you want luxury, there are The Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott next to LA Live. Above your budget? Not a problem, there is a Courtyard by Marriott across the street.
For old school charm, there are Millennium Biltmore Hotel and Hilton Checkers in the Financial District. Want something more quiet? Stay at the Omni Hotel in Bunker Hill, which is only a staircase away from the Grand Central Market!
Try to avoid the super cheap hotels, as they are most likely too good to be true. There are quite a few sketchy ones… Although the area is becoming much safer, there are still a lot of dangerous spots, especially at night. Make sure you do a lot of research before booking. Sometimes it is better to pay more for an established hotel brand than risking your safety.
Get Cultured and Explore Your Artistic Side
Upper Grand Avenue, which is located in the Bunker Hill area, is turning itself into a cultural center. The four architectural structures between 2nd and Temple are known as the Los Angeles Music Center, which includes the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. You can easily catch a dance performance, an opera, or a symphony. Upper Grand is also home to one of the two MOCA Museums in DTLA (the other one is in Little Tokyo). As if there aren’t enough mind blowing architecture already on this one street, there is also the newly opened Broad Museum. Did we mention admission is free? Good luck scoring a ticket though as it is fully booked through end of the year.
Grab a Bite at Grand Central Market
The Market has been there since 1917. It is a mecca of drool-worthy food with every cuisine you can think of. The market has been transforming with many new, contemporary tenants moving in. Even if you are not hungry, it is still a landmark worth checking out. Across the street on Hill is the Angel’s Flight which is no longer in operation, but still a cool spot to snap a few pictures for your Instagram.
Stroll Around Historic Downtown
The blocks bounded by 1st and 7th, Hill and Los Angeles, is known as the Historic Core. There are tons of boutiques and cool cafés to check out. Many old buildings have been converted into lofts and you can often see downtown residents sipping their coffees at a sidewalk café, or walking their dogs in the urban jungle. Visit The Last Bookstore, it is quite a trip. Admire the details on all the old buildings. Pop in the Bradbury Building to take in the interior architecture.
Walk the Art Walk
Historic Downtown is also home to the Gallery Row, where the Downtown Art Walk happens every second Thursday of the month. If you aren’t too into art and galleries, still come for the atmosphere and the food trucks.
Buy Some Jewelry at the Jewelry District
Within a 5 block radius there is a ridiculous amount of jewelry shops. You can easily get a bargain up to 70% off! If you don’t care about branding, we highly recommend you to check out the offerings in the area. Make sure you do some research beforehand if you are serious about purchasing something, as it does get overwhelming.
Take in the View at the Observation Deck at City Hall
Surprisingly not too many people know about this, but there is an observation deck at the City Hall which gives you a 360 degree view of DTLA. Since it isn’t very busy, it really is quite a peaceful experience looking down from the top at the hustle and bustle of the city.
Attend a Free Concert in the Middle of the Urban Jungle
If you find yourself in DTLA during the Summer, check out the Grand Performances which takes place at the California Plaza in Bunker Hill. The artists or bands are amazing and you never know what you will discover. Each night has a different theme so check out their website and see if there’s something that interests you!
Ice Skating at Pershing Square
If your visit is during the winter holidays, definitely go do a few loops at the outdoor Pershing Square Ice Rink. It isn’t anything like the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, but it has its own little charm.
There are so many amazing restaurants and cafés in DTLA, not to mention home to Little Tokyo, it is impossible to list them all, so here are our favorites that we frequent.
Italian: The Factory Kitchen | Maccheroni Republic | Bottega Louie | Terroni | Bestia | Vespaio
American: Faith & Flower | Redbird | Umami Burger
Mexican: Tacos Tumbras a Tomas | Guisados | Mexicali Taco & Co
Japanese: SUGARFISH | KazuNori | Sushi Komasa | Hama Sushi | Marugame Monzo | Daikokuya | Shin-Sen-Gumi | Men Oh Tokushima Ramen | KaGaYa | Sushi Gen | Kouraku
Brunch: Urth Caffé | Bread Lounge | Bäco Mercat | Zinc Cafe Market & Bar | Eggslut
Coffee: G&B Coffee | Spring For Coffee | Stumptown Coffee Roasters
Drinks: Perch LA | Pattern Bar | The Standard Rooftop Bar | The Varnish | Seven Grand | Library Bar
Sweets: The Pie Hole | Gelateria Uli | Semi Sweet Bakery
And shout outs to the very special ones…
The Factory Kitchen – Italian
Whenever we have friends in town or just need a place for a nice dinner with friends, we always default to Factory Kitchen. What we absolutely love about this place is that the food and service are 5+ star, but the atmosphere is super relaxed and rustic. Make sure to order the Handkerchief Pasta, Beets Casserole, Prosciutto, and Frittura. Your mind will be blown away.
Maccheroni Republic – Italian
If you want good old pasta with no fuss, this is the place. Molly has been to Italy twice, and Maccheroni Republic’s pasta always transports her back to Italiana.
Bottega Louie – Italian
This is the one with 11,600+ reviews on Yelp. Yes, it is THAT popular. They don’t take reservations, and the line alone to get your name on the book can be 15 minutes long. The pastry section is an adult candy store on steroids. Our favorites are the Hazelnut Beignets and Chocolate Croissants. The best time to go is actually early in the morning when there is barely anyone there. You get to grab a little table in the market area, order your cappuccino and pastry, and read your morning papers. Life is good.
Faith & Flower – American
Dining at Faith & Flower is really quite an experience. The interior is gorgeous, the food is delicious, and you almost feel like you are in Hollywood but you aren’t. It’s a perfect place for a date night with your significant other, or a fun dinner gathering with your girlfriends. Make sure to order the deviled eggs and the crab toasts!
Tacos Tumbras a Tomas – Mexican
Located in Grand Central Market, it is one of the few oldies still standing. They make one of the best tortas in town. The bread is so soft and the meat is tender and juicy, not to mention the portion is HUGE! You just can’t beat the price.
KazuNori – Japanese
A spinoff from Sugarfish, they serve only hand rolls, and it is genius. Like Sugarfish, you get to order set menus. The chefs make the hand rolls right in front of you, and you get your freshly made rolls with crispy seaweed the second it is ready.
Marugame Monzo – Japanese
Many people go to Daikokuya for ramen. Their relatively new neighbor Monzo is totally worth the wait! Udon is freshly made in the open kitchen, broth is just umami, not to mention all the delicious appetizers. Some of our favorites are the Duck Nanban, Mentai Squid Udon, Fried Chicken Skin (so fattening but so good), and Fried Chicken.
Kouraku – Japanese
After a night of partying or drinking, and all you want is a warm bowl of ramen or rice, head to Kouraku in Little Tokyo. It’s opened till 4pm and serves cooked Japanese food. They are known for their Tenshin Chahan (omelette fried rice). It tastes just as good sober.
G&B Coffee – Coffee & Tea
Also located in Grand Central Market, their Sweet Latte is something we have never tasted before, and we have been to a many coffee shops. Just the perfect level of sweetness and creaminess, it is so addicting it is almost like crack. Babinski (the B in G&B) is the champion of the 2015 Southwest Region Barista Competition.
Urth Caffé – Brunch
Yes there are plenty of Urth Caffés all over Los Angeles, but this one is special to our hearts as it is pretty much our canteen. Whenever we do brunch, 99% of the time we end up at Urth Caffé in the Art District. Seating is super easy to find (don’t be intimidated by the line), and something about being surrounded by industrial buildings makes the experience oddly homey.
Perch LA – Bar/Lounge Restaurant
Quintessential rooftop bar in an urban setting, the view is amazing from the top of the Pershing Square Building. With the string lights, the view just gets more and more beautiful as the sun sets. The crowd is primarily downtown working professionals or fashion insiders from Fashion District and Vernon, so they definitely know how to behave themselves. Go grab a drink during Happy Hour and you will not be disappointed.
After the gluttony and the indulgence, some of you may want to burn off those calories. For those who want to workout but don’t want to settle for a hotel gym, we do have a few spots where you can get your sweat on.
The Main Barre on Main and 6th is a boutique barre studio in Historic Downtown, and the girls there will kick your ass! They really know their stuff and are the friendliest bunch of instructors out there, we especially love Audra and Jessie. Not to mention you will be craving for more the day after even when your whole body is beyond sore!
If you want some zen for the yogi in you, Yoga Circle is a great option. It is a donation based studio, and what we love is that it offers classes late at night every week night. Not everyone can make it to that 5:30pm class! Plus they don’t require you to sign up in advance as the studio space is huge!
Of course, if you like your premium gym, there is an Equinox located in the Financial District.
Our favorite thing to do after an hour of barre is strolling to Grand Central Market and get our Iced Sweet Latte at G&B Coffee, so refreshing especially when it is 90 degrees out. At least there’s something to look forward to while your legs are shaking uncontrollably…
Itching to burn off some of those hard earned money? You are in luck. If you asked us this question three years ago, we wouldn’t know how to answer. But lucky you, there are more and more shops opening up in DTLA and the options are quite decent we have to say!
Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend
For that something shiny, there is the Jewelry District. If you are into vintage jewelry, we recommend Single Stone. They specialize in vintage jewelry and the staff is super friendly. If the idea of wearing some dead person’s jewelry freaks you out, they can always replicate whatever you want. As for the dainty jewelry for everyday wear, we highly recommend Belle Epoque Jewelers in the St. Vincent Building. They have so many options for you to choose from it’s almost never ending!
Roses are Red, Violets are Blue
If you are a flowers kinda gal, you must visit the Los Angeles Flower Mart. It is the ultimate playground for that inner florist in you, and you can find every single type of flowers and plants imaginable. Even if you are just visiting for a few days and cannot buy anything, it is still a fun experience and complete eye candy. Most places take credit cards but some stalls do not, so do bring some cash with you. There is also a public admission fee of $1 or $2, depending on which day you visit, and that is cash only.
Feeling a Little Vintage-y
There are quite a few second-hand vintage shops in the DTLA area. One of the biggest ones is Shareen, where many experienced vintage shoppers go there for some treasure hunting. It is in Chinatown so a little off path, but is only a short bus ride away if you don’t feel like walking. There is also a flea market in the Arts District. It is on a small scale, but still worth checking out especially after a full meal at Urth Caffé!
If you want more of a mall experience, head over to FIGat7th, with one of biggest Zara we’ve ever been to, and apparently also one of the top earning stores in its Region. There is also a City Target which is the anchor of the mall. Did we mention there is also Sprinkles Cupcakes? There is another mall in DTLA called The Bloc. It is the ugly duckling, but now under renovation to be converted into an outdoor shopping mall (hello Southern California). When it is complete, it will definitely become a shopping destination.
We Love Sample Sales
A lot of people know about the fashion district and Santee Alley. Most however aren’t aware of all the fashion corporate offices that reside at the edge of Downtown and the city of Vernon. Some of the major brands include Current Elliott/Joie, BCBG, J Brand Jeans, Joe’s Jeans, and Guess.
When there are fashion offices and warehouses, there are sample sales! BCBG houses multiple sample sales during the year, while Current Elliott/Joie has its corporate store that’s open to public. You can easily score a pair of Current Elliott jeans for $30. Together with the many fashion companies based in Los Angeles, sample sale really is the way to go, and a much better deal than the outlets. Warehouse Weekends is a good website to check out and see if there are sample sales to hit up during your stay!
Now that you know where to stay, what to do, where to eat, where to sweat, and where to shop in DTLA, what are you waiting for? Head over to the coolest area in Los Angeles right now and have some fun in the urban jungle under that California sun.