Walking Downtown Los Angeles
Ditch the car and strike out on foot in downtown LA, a modern, walkable destination, thanks to a recent renaissance.
Downtown LA is much more walkable than you think.
Photo by Lori Eanes
We all know the clichéd traffic nightmare that a trip to Los Angeles can conjure. But what if you could enjoy the city on foot?
Downtown LA has undergone a recent renaissance that makes this possible. While it’s not quite Manhattan, a walking tour of downtown LA makes for a fun and energizing long weekend.
If possible, arrive on a Thursday. Hit the ground running at the Broad, a dazzling new museum built by philanthropist Eli Broad for his impressive 2,000-piece art collection. Admission is free, but reserve your ticket in advance or you’ll be stuck in the standby line. Even just the escalator ride into the dazzling atrium is worth a visit. Across the street, take advantage of free Thursday-night admission at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is small enough to see in about an hour without getting exhausted.
After all that culture, seek out refreshment. Walk a couple blocks to the very-happening Grand Central Market. Enter on the Hill Street side near Third Street to find 37 vendors offering some of LA’s best food in a casual, popular emporium. Among the best are Horse Thief BBQ, Sticky Rice, and Wexler’s Deli.
The next morning, return to the market’s main entrance for an eggcentric breakfast at Eggslut: Come early; it’s very popular. Be sure to cross the street to the Bradbury Building: Built in 1893, this architectural landmark with its skylit five-story atrium has appeared in numerous movies, including Blade Runner, Chinatown, and The Artist. Walk back through Grand Central to the Hill Street exit, cross the street, and ride the Angel’s Flight Railway, a recently reopened 116-year-old funicular ascending a short, steep slope between Hill and Olive streets.
From there, walk to Pershing Square, the block-long park at downtown’s heart. Its amphitheater holds summer concerts and is a major location for TV shows, films, and more. Check out the lavish lobby and Beaux Arts ballrooms of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, which hosted the Oscars during the 1930s. Just down the street, the historic Los Angeles Central Library is the nation’s third largest library, featuring a free gallery and a Dean Cornwell mural depicting California history.
Head down Fifth Street to the sprawling 22,000-square-foot Last Bookstore. Offering new, used, and collectable books as well as galleries upstairs, it’s California’s largest bookshop.
Spring Street between Fourth and Seventh streets is a historic district with 23 financial structures including the city’s first “skyscraper,” the 13-story Continental Building. It’s also home to many galleries; the second Thursday of each month, Artwalk.com sponsors a self-guided art tour. If you miss the Artwalk, check out the map on the website for the list of galleries to visit. The LA Conservancy or Downtown LA Walking Tours also sponsor entertaining, informative strolls.
For pure quirkiness, don’t miss Clifton’s Cafeteria. Once the flagship of eight notoriously kitschy Southern California restaurants, it was opened in 1935 by Clifford Clinton, whose Christian values never let him turn away a hungry patron for lack of money. The three-story building was bought in 2010 by film director Andrew Meieran, who has expanded it beyond the first-floor cafeteria. Upper levels feature bars, ballrooms, and an amazing top-floor speakeasy tiki bar—which has a dress code.
If you’re not craving cafeteria food, upscale options along Seventh Street between Grand and Olive include Bottega Louie, Little Sister, and Sugarfish. For a truly LA-style night, book a table at Perch, the glamorous rooftop bar and restaurant near Pershing Square.
Other walkable days might include LA’s birthplace, El Pueblo, with its 1818 Avila Adobe House; Chinatown, with its five-lane Dragon Gate; or Union Station, whose awesome interior combines Mission Revival, Art Deco, and Streamline Moderne styles.
When You Go
The Broad: 221 S. Grand Ave.,
Museum of Contemporary Art: 250 S. Grand Ave., 213-621-2766, MOCA.org
Grand Central Market: 317 S. Broadway, 213-624-2378, GrandCentralMarket.com
Clifton’s: 648 S. Broadway, 213-627-1673, CliftonsLA.com
Downtown LA Walking Tours: 312 W. Fifth St., 213-399-3820, DtLAWalkingTours.com