Visiting LA? Ten Reasons to Go Downtown

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Believe it or not, Los Angeles has a Downtown. Though it was the hub of the city before 20th Century urban sprawl stretched LA in every direction, many travellers never set foot there.

It’s fair to say that Downtown has a reputation. Many assume it’s a dump, and a dangerous dump at that. But that’s increasingly a faded memory of the crime-ridden bad old days.

Nowadays the district is a lively place with a great architectural heritage; one of the few parts of LA where you can sense the pre-automotive history of the city. It’s also a very walkable area, and served by decent public transport in the form of trains, buses and light rail.

Despite the ongoing process of rediscovery and renovation, Downtown still has plenty of grit and edge – its infamous Skid Row is just a short walk from the latest hipster bars. Which means it’s an intriguing place to visit, as it slowly regenerates.

Here are ten highlights of LA’s Downtown and its adjacent neighbourhoods.

Grand Central Market

Founded in 1917, this sprawling food market is one of the great Downtown survivors, dishing up good food from bustling stalls under glowing neon signs. Try a burger from Belcampo, Mexican ceviche from La Tostaderia, or egg-laden treats from Eggslut. More details here


This long street is lined by the beautiful facades of old cinemas. Some house tacky discount shops, others have been converted to live performance venues, and some still function as movie houses. Learn more on the Broadway Historic Theatre and Commercial District Walking Tour, held each Saturday.
More details here



Grammy Museum

If you love music, you’ll love this museum. Housed in the LA Live entertainment complex on the Downtown’s western edge, the Grammy Museum covers pop, rock, soul, blues, and everything in between. You can listen to songs, learn about music stars, and pinpoint America’s most musical cities.More details here


Fancy eating a quick lunch in a mock forest, with a stuffed bear eyeing you over the tables? Head to Clifton’s, the newly reopened version of a popular 1931 restaurant whose forest-themed decor is like nothing else on the planet. Downstairs is an affordable cafeteria, upstairs is a cool bar with a bison in a glass case. More details here


Way back in 1908, this eatery invented (or so it claims) LA’s distinctive French-dipped sandwich - a roast beef roll dipped in gravy. More impressive are its cocktails, served in an atmospheric bar below street level. For a cocktail with a local flavour, ask for something spicy containing mezcal. More details here

The Last Bookstore

Whether this will become the last place on Earth selling books in print, who knows? In the meantime it’s a great place to browse. Housed within a glamorous old bank interior, its multitudinous volumes are spread over two levels of nooks and crannies, with places to sit and read. More details here

Main Street Crime

It isn’t all glamour in LA’s Downtown, and the Hotel Horrors & Main Street Vice tour provides the proof. Over four hours on and off a bus, its guides relate dark tales of the past including murder, robbery, seedy hotels and outlandish freak shows. It’s a fascinating true crime backgrounder. More details here



The Broad

In the Bunker Hill district to Downtown’s northwest, this impressive new art museum (pronounced ‘brode’) opened in 2015. Showcasing art from the post-war era to the present day, it has everything from Warhol pieces to giant colourful works by Jeff Koons. Though entry is free, it’s best to book online for a guaranteed timeslot. More details here

El Pueblo

Just north of Downtown is El Pueblo, the oldest part of the city. Highlights along its main thoroughfare, Olvera Street, include the outdoor Mexican Marketplace, the 1818 Avila Adobe house, and the América Tropical Interpretive Center which showcases a controversial mural from the 1930s. More details here

Standard Hotel

At the end of a day of Downtown sightseeing, you probably need a drink. Ascend to the rooftop bar at the Standard Hotel, order a beer, and enjoy the views of buildings and mountains. More details here

Tim Richards paid for his own airfare, and was hosted by the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board