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Top Things to Do in Downtown Los Angeles

Attractions in Downtown LA

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Unlike other large cities, many people visit Los Angeles without ever setting foot Downtown. That's a shame, since Downtown LA is rich with historic architecture and cultural attractions, not to mention sports and entertainment complexes. Here are a few things to do in Downtown Los Angeles that are worth a visit.

For the rest of Los Angeles, check out my massive guide to What to Do in LA.

El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument at Olvera Street

El Pueblo de Los Angeles at Olvera Street
Photo © 2011 Kayte Deioma, licensed to About.com

El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, also known simply as Olvera Street, is the location of the oldest remaining structure in Los Angeles, the Avila Adobe. The building itself is often overlooked, since people are primarily drawn to Olvera Street for its Mexican street market and shops that offer a cleaned-up taste of old Mexico. Olvera Street is a one-block pedestrian zone. Olvera Street is across from Union Station, which is served by the Red and Gold Lines of the Metro.

Also nearby: The Chinese American Museum, Union Station

Take the Olvera Street Photo Tour
Watch the Olvera Street Video Tour

The Music Center and Disney Concert Hall

Disney Concert Hall
Photo © 2005 Kayte Deioma, courtesy of www.KayteDeioma.com

The Los Angeles Music Center consists of the three original theaters that are home to the city's drama, dance and opera companies, as well as the more recently added Disney Concert Hall, which is the home of the LA Philharmonic. There are self-guided audio tours of the Disney Concert Hall, as well as daily guided tours of the Music Center.

Chinatown

Chinatown, Los Angeles
Photo © 2009 Kayte Deioma, used with permission

Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles, sometimes known as New Chinatown, was developed around the Central Plaza in 1938, just west of Old Chinatown, where Union Station is now. Before the move, this area was LA's Little Italy, and is still home to St. Peter's Italian Church and Casa Italiana Cultural Center. LA's Chinatown is less dense than New York or San Francisco. The shops don't line the streets as thickly, but there are still a few cute stores and plazas through the serpent gateway heading north on Broadway from Cesar Chavez. The neon pagoda lights and lanterns at Central Plaza make a colorful display at night.

The Chinese American Museum is not in Chinatown. It is a few blocks away at Olvera Street.

Watch the Chinatown Video Tour

Union Station

Union Station Los Angeles
Photo © 2012 Kayte Deioma, licensed to About.com
Union Station is still the hub of long distance and commuter rail transportation in Los Angeles, serving Amtrak, MetroLink and MTA Metro trains. It's also worth visiting as an architectural landmark, with a gorgeous waiting hall and public areas.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
© 2004 Kayte Deioma, courtesy of www.KayteDeioma.com

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles, designed by Spanish architect Jose Rafael Moneo, was completed in 2002, replacing the Cathedral of St. Vibiana, which was damaged beyond repair in the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. The modern structure towers over the 101 Hollywood Freeway from its perch between Olvera Street and Chinatown.

The modern gray architectural masterpiece that balances the opposite side of the freeway from the Cathedral is Central Los Angeles Arts High School #9.

Little Tokyo

Nisei Week
Photo © 2004 Kayte Deioma, courtesy of www.KayteDeioma.com

Little Tokyo is the Japanese cultural center of Los Angeles, with Japanese shops, restaurants and bakeries populating a few short blocks. Of special note is the Japanese-American National Museum, dedicated to the experience of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

Also nearby: The Geffen Contemporary, a branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art is located in Little Tokyo.

Watch the Little Tokyo Video Tour

L.A. Live and Staples Center

Aerial View of LA Live
Photo Photo © 2010 Kayte Deioma, used with permission

L.A. Live is a dining and entertainment complex next to the Staples Center in Downtown LA. Multiple live entertainment venues and restaurants surround the Nokia Plaza, which is adorned with a series of high definition outdoor screens with synchronized content to give a "bright lights, big city" feel of a miniature Times Square.

Nearby: The Grammy Museum, Pico Station on the Metro Blue Line

Museum of Contemporary Art

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Photo © 2007 Kayte Deioma, used with permission

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is located just down Grand Avenue and across the street from the Music Center and Disney Concert Hall. The museum's collection and touring exhibits feature work created since 1940.

Nearby: The museum is next to California Plaza, where Grand Performances hold summer concerts. At California Plaza, you'll also find the top station for the Angels Flight funicular railway down to Hill Street. Grand Central Market is at the bottom of Angels Flight.

Los Angeles Central Library

Public Art in Los Angeles Central Library
Photo © 2008 Kayte Deioma, used with permission

The Los Angeles Central Library is a great place to visit on a budget. It costs nothing to admire the Art Deco architecture, explore the public art installations and temporary exhibits, settle in to read a newspaper or book in any of a dozen languages, or check your email online. There are also extensive public programs including author readings, lectures, discussion panels and performances.

Nearby: The Standard Downtown Hotel

The Fashion District

Dream Girls - Sharen Davis, Costume Designer on display at FIDM
Photo © 2007 Kayte Deioma, courtesy of www.KayteDeioma.com

The Fashion District is a great place to shop for bargain clothes, textiles and flowers. People who can fit into sample sizes will find extreme bargains on designer garb. The Fashion District website includes a photo tour as well as a podcast tour you can download.

Nearby: The Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising (FIDM) has a gallery that features costume exhibits from movies and TV.

Watch the LA Fashion District Video Tour

Los Angeles Conservancy Downtown Walking Tours

Millenium Biltmore Hotel and Downtown Skyline from Pershing Square
© 2006 Kayte Deioma, courtesy of www.KayteDeioma.com
The Los Angeles Conservancy offers a variety of weekend walking tours featuring different sections of Downtown Los Angeles.

Coolest Downtown LA Clubs and Bars

The Vault at the Crocker Club
Photo © 2012 Kayte Deioma, licensed to About.com
Most visitors think of Hollywood and West Hollywood for LA nightlife, but Downtown LA has some of the coolest clubs and bars in town, from a subterranean power plant and a historic bank vault to lofty high-rise terraces and rooftops and secret hideaways.

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