Downtown LA offers free access to cultural attractions as well as architectural gems, street food and shopping districts.
1 - Walt Disney Concert Hall
This magnificent structure is the centrepiece of DTLA, its sleek curves and sloping steel facade juxtaposed with the San Gabriel mountains behind. Designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, the building is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2023.
If you’re more fascinated by architecture than music, opt for the free self-guided tour to explore the features of this architectural marvel – from the acoustic design to the oasis-like Blue Ribbon Garden perched 34 feet above street level. A QR code at the check-in table on the ground floor provides access to an audio guide with 26 chapters narrated by actor John Lithgow alongside contributors such as Gehry and Gustavo Dudamel, music and artistic director of the LA Phil.
Signposts are dotted throughout the space and friendly ushers ensure you don’t get lost. You can do the tour at your own pace, daily from 10am-3pm (last entry at 2pm). The centre also holds special events on select Friday nights – “Casual Fridays” include a post-concert chance to mingle with orchestra members alongside complimentary local beer tastings, while “Drinks in the Garden” sees ticket holders enjoy a complimentary pre-concert drink with downtown views. laphil.com
2 - The GRAMMY Museum
Jazz up your downtown trip with a visit to this interactive museum which showcases music through the ages across all genres. Located within the LA LIVE complex on West Olympic Boulevard, the building’s four floors feature interactive touchscreens, short films and artefacts from musicians’ archives – from glitzy outfits and diamond-encrusted instruments to handwritten lyrics and vintage concert posters.
Permanent exhibits include a gallery of outfits worn by musicians on the Grammy red carpet, and projections of memorable moments from the annual event – from powerful performances to emotional acceptance speeches. The museum also hosts discussions with artists (and often performances) in its Clive Davis Theatre. ‘Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit’ is currently on show until 4 September, 2024. Closed on Tuesdays; tickets from US$18. grammymuseum.org
3 - Grand Central Market
Los Angeles knows a thing or two about good food, and its largest and oldest public market is testament to this. The 2,788 sqm arcade on South Broadway is a buzzy food emporium, with neon signs for the 40 mouthwatering stalls beaming overhead. Formerly known as the Wonder Market, it’s been operating across the ground floor of the Beaux-Arts-style Homer Laughlin Building since 1917. Vendors span a range of cuisines, including lobster rolls at Broad Street Oyster Company, rice boxes at Korean spot Shiku and pastrami goods at Wexler’s Deli.
My recommendation is Sari Sari Store, a Filipino restaurant specialising in flavoursome garlic rice bowls, with toppings from crispy pork belly to organic rotisserie chicken, all served with a fried egg. I adored the vegetarian tortang talong option, featuring charred aubergine omelette, daikon, crispy onions, coriander, Thai basil and seasonal vegetables – perfectly spiced and incredibly moreish.
Local artisans sell handmade goods on the lower floor every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11am to close – count on original or vintage treasures. Open daily 8am-9pm (hours vary by stall). grandcentralmarket.com
4 - ROW DTLA
This industrial-style outlet is a creative and commercial hub spread across 13 hectares in downtown’s Arts District. Century-old buildings feature upscale boutiques, eateries, fitness studios and workspaces. Stores include vintage store Arcade, Japanese homeware shop ARJ and wine shop Flask & Field.
Head here on a Sunday from 10am-4pm for Smorgasburg, a street food market with dozens of vendors in an open-air plaza, or buy tickets for the Rooftop Cinema Club (Feb-Dec) for cult classics and recent releases. There are pick-up points for taxis. rowdtla.com
5 - Giving back
It’s hard not to feel shocked by the wealth disparity in LA, with homelessness and the drugs crisis particularly noticeable in the downtown area. So it would be remiss not to provide details on charities in the neighbourhood, should you have the means to donate.
Non-profit organisation The Midnight Mission has been helping those experiencing homelessness in LA since 1914, offering shelter and support services. Its mission is to “make available the necessities of life and offer a bridge to self-sufficiency for people experiencing homelessness”, with resources including medical care, job training, education, and counselling among other programmes. midnightmission.org