Take a stroll in L.A.’s most urban enclave.
Los Angeles Tour: Downtown
Credit: istockphoto.com

With the arrival of sports and arts institutions, mushrooming of hip boutiques and cafés catering to loft dwellers, and construction of new municipal rail lines over the past couple of decades, Downtown is now approaching its former 1920’s glory as Los Angeles's definitive business and cultural center. In car-centric Los Angeles, the neighborhood provides a rare opportunity to experience urban life untethered from the automobile; take the Metro to Pershing Square as a starting point for exploring its niche areas on foot. You can revisit the architectural grandeur of Downtown's Golden Age in the Historic Core, or get a glimpse of its future in loft-laden, entertainment-centric South Park.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Rising dramatically over downtown Los Angeles, the colossal stainless steel curves that comprise the exterior of this world-renowned concert hall create an immediate and powerful impression. Endowed by Lillian Disney and designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry, the Walt Disney Concert Hall opened in 2003 as the fourth hall of the Los Angeles Music Center, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Built to look and feel like the hull of a ship, the concert hall features a radically advanced acoustical design and a hardwood-paneled auditorium that houses an enormous Gehry-designed concert organ.

Hotel Figueroa

A retro façade and otherworldly interior distinguish this 1925 Spanish-Moroccan-style hotel just blocks from the Staples Center. The resplendent interior features hand-carved furnishings, Moroccan tapestries, atmospheric lighting, exotic plant life, and hand-painted ceilings, elevators, and doors. Figueroa Hotel’s accommodations include 285 uniquely appointed rooms and suites, each featuring flowing fabrics and Moroccan decor. The straight-out-of-Tangiers bar, its adjacent lounge and garden pool, and sumptuous event rooms further distinguish this one-of-a-kind tourist class hotel.

Drago Centro

Located inside Bank of America’s old high-rise buildling, this downtown eatery serves California-influenced Italian cuisine. Modeled after an urban area in Venice, Drago Centro favors clean lines with architectural touches, including floor-to-ceiling windows, stone walls, and a 15-foot, glass enclosed wine tower that houses wines from Italy, France, and California. Chef and owner Celestino Drago crafts antipasti like roasted butternut squash soup and crispy sweet bread with gnocchi, while pasta ranges from pappardelle with roasted pheasant and morel mushrooms to orecchiette with chicken sausage.

The Last Bookstore

Though there’s more than a hint of pessimism for the printed book’s future in the name of this indie bookshop, The Last Bookstore may actually restore your faith in its survival. New and used volumes are artfully displayed in the stunning space (formerly the historic Citizens National Bank), which melds original design features like vaulted ceilings and mosaic floors with quirky, modern updates like bike spoke fixtures and a wavelike sculpture of paperbacks mounted on the wall. Leather sofas invite quiet contemplation, while the coffee bar and performance stage (live bands regularly play) keep things lively. Don’t miss the $1 bargain book room.

The Bradbury Building

From the outside, the brick facade of The Bradbury Building—the oldest commercial building in the city center—looks fairly unremarkable, but walk inside and you’ll be rewarded by architectural treasures inspired by an 1880’s science fiction story and a Ouija board. Highlights of the 1893 structure’s central court include ornamental cast iron railings, open-cage elevators, and geometrically patterned stairways, all bathed in natural light from the dramatic skylight above. Film buffs will recognize it as Sebastian’s home from Blade Runner and as the architectural office in the final scene of (500) Days of Summer.

The GRAMMY Museum

This museum dedicated to the history of recorded music brings the music-making process to life through a variety of interactive exhibits. Multimedia “pods” make lessons about America’s most significant musical traditions and artists engaging, but the highlight is undoubtedly the opportunity to make music with the Roland electronic instruments on hand and to experience what it’s like to have a session in a recording studio. Of course, the museum is also a repository for all things GRAMMY, from an insider’s perspective on the awards telecast to memorable outfits from the red carpet.


In the midst of downtown’s Fashion District, WoodSpoon is a small, sweet café serving homespun Brazilian fare with heart. Chef-owner Natalia Pereira cooks up her mother’s specialties from her native Brazil, which include hearty, flavorful favorites like Brazilian chicken pot pie; pork burger with roasted cabbage and yam fries; and plates of grilled meat with rice, beans, and collards. In keeping with its fashion-savvy location, dishes are artfully plated, and the sunny, modern space references the colors of Brazil with brightly hued chairs, cushions, and fresh flowers.