Four hours in Los Angeles 2006

Downtown LA is often overlooked by visitors
heading to glamorous Santa Monica, Long Beach and Hollywood.
But there is plenty to occupy a first-time visitor, discovers Mark Caswell


1. Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

Start on the north side of Downtown at the
enormous Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, a modern 3,000-seater place of
worship. Set in gardens with fountains and olive trees, the cathedral is the third largest in the
world and the first to be built in the US for more than a quarter of a century. Free guided tours (1pm, Monday
to Friday) are available, or you can wander quietly among the pews at your leisure (tel +1 213 680
5200, olacathedral.org).

2. Walt Disney Concert Hall

Further towards the centre of the business
district, at the top of Bunker Hill, the
gleaming Walt Disney Concert Hall is a must-see for aficionados of experimental
architecture. The exterior is made entirely from stainless steel, while inside,
its acoustically-renowned concert halls are home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Orchestra. Visitors can take an hour-long tour of the building’s nooks and
crannies from US$12, or have lunch in the cathedral-like surroundings of the
Concert Hall Café (tour times vary; tel +1 323 850 2000, wdch.laphil.com).

3. Museum of Contemporary Art

A short walk along Grand Avenue is the Museum of
Contemporary Art (MOCA). One of two locations in Downtown LA (the other is on North Central Avenue
in the Little Tokyo district), the museum houses over 5,000 permanent pieces
ranging from colourful pop art to photography by Diane Arbus. There are also
temporary exhibitions such as the showing of 45 photography and text pieces
plus video installations by Lorna Simpson, from April 16 to October 7 (tel +1
213 626 6222, moca.org).

4. Grand Central Market and Bradbury Building

Los Angeles Broadway used to be almost as
famous for plays and musicals as its New York counterpart, but most of the
theatre halls are now lying empty (although there are plans to restore the
famous Palace and State Theatres). The street is still worth a visit though,
for the Grand Central Market, with its iconic neon signs – many of which date
back to the early 1900s. Straight across the road from the market is the
century-old Bradbury Building, the location for some scenes in the futuristic
thriller Blade Runner.

5. Pershing Square and the Biltmore Hotel

From the market, continue along Broadway
and turn right onto 5th Street. On your left Pershing Square is a modernist
take on a city park, with concrete water viaducts and a minimal landscape. The
nearby Biltmore hotel is an example of former LA grandeur, and was the venue
for the Oscars back in 1939 – its commemorative hallway is adorned with
photographs of Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and Walt Disney to prove it.

6. LA Central Library and the Standard Hotel

Further down 5th Street, the famous dome of
LA Central Library is visible. Inside, its muralled walls make a peaceful
detour. For a taste of what LA is trying to encourage Downtown, head to the
Standard Hotel, with its instantly recognisable upside-down
sign. On the rooftop there is an ultra-funky bar and restaurant with panoramic
views of the city, and a swimming pool for those needing respite from the
strong Californian sunshine.


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