Downtown Los Angeles has transformed from one of L.A.’s “whatever” neighborhoods to a must-do that’s on everyone’s list. With the recent opening of the brand new JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels and an influx of hot restaurants in the surrounding blocks, the area is set for visitors to do more than just park and beeline to the Staples Center for a concert or sporting event, it’s now a place you want to get to early, stay all day, and maybe even spend the night.
Start at the California Science Museum, where the new Ecosystems exhibition opened in March. Yes, it is primarily designed to be educational for kids, but it is beautifully done and entertaining for adults as well. The kelp forest section, with its wave machine that causes the underwater flora and fauna to undulate with a hypnotic flow, is riveting.
Lunch at Church & State, one of Peter Jon Lindberg’s suggestions from his May 2010 T+L article “Best Restaurants in Los Angeles.” The tarte flambée (caramelized onions, bacon, and gruyere; $13; pictured above) and pomme frites au lard ($6) are best enjoyed on the sidewalk on this sunny quiet side street. Make a mental note to come back later to Royal Clayton’s, across the road, and imbibe amongst the faux-medieval portraits, instruments, and weaponry. Head over to the L.A. Live campus for dessert—a scoop of Hokey Pokey (honey ice cream with crunchy butterscotch balls)—at New Zealand Natural.
Next, check out the four-floor, 30,000-square-foot Grammy Museum at the L.A. Live complex, which is currently presenting “Songs of Consciousness, Sounds of Freedom,” celebrating a 200-year history of the intersection of music and politics, in its second floor gallery. And don’t miss the Crossroads interactive tables, for which the museum won a 2009 Muse Award. Colorful, graphic touch-screen tables display the history and relationship of 160 musical genres, and some 9,000 songs.
When the clock says it's time for happy hour, head to the bright, open lobby bar of the 10-week-old JW Marriott, Glance (pictured above), a fun place to meet up with a group for drinks as the sun sets. Light streams in the multi-story glass facades and a steady flow of people gives the space a nice bustle without feeling crowded. Three other venues in which to tip your glass are the Mixing Room, with white-leather lounge-able chairs and sofas and indoor and outdoor seating; ION, the rooftop pool bar; and WP24, by Wolfgang Puck, with incredible views and giant basket-like room dividers that make you feel perched up in a high nest. Back on the ground Rivera, also in Lindberg’s “Best Restaurants in L.A.,” swirls cocktails made with all-natural ingredients—fruits purchased daily at the downtown farmers markets and spirits from boutique craft distilleries.
Better get some dinner after all that sipping. Either stay put at Rivera, try one of the dining options on the L.A. Live property, or pick The Edison—with possible post-prandial entertainment in the form of a burlesque show or the resident DJ.
All tuckered out? Hopefully you’ve booked one of the 123 rooms at the three-week old Ritz-Carlton (doubles from $369), or one of the bright, fresh rooms at the adjoined JW Marriott (doubles from $269). Never made it back to Royal Clayton’s? Better stay another day.
Laura Teusink is Travel + Leisure’s associate managing editor.