Most visitors will skip Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) in favor of Hollywood, Santa Monica, or the theme parks. It’s understandable – LA’s inner city district isn’t really known for having tourist hot spots, but I believe that it’s worth putting aside a morning or an afternoon to explore. Here are some hidden gems and the best things to see in DTLA!
The Last Bookstore
The Last Bookstore is a highly Instagrammable book shop in DTLA. This place might seem like a regular bookstore on first glance, but when you look a little closer, you’ll find that it has a wonderous collection of book themed art hidden throughout the shelves.
Upstairs, there are book sculptures like the above magical warped bookshelves, or regular bookshelves with circular holes in the middle, or books ordered not by any particular genre but by the rainbow colors of their covers. It’s what I imagine the mind of Matilda looks like on the inside.
Angels Flight Railway
Angels Flight Railway is a funicular that opened in 1901. It was originally used to take passengers between Olive St and Hill St to shop in the markets at the bottom of the hill. You can still ride these adorable railway cars for just $1.00.
Unfortunately the railway was closed for maintenance when I visited, but it was still interesting to see this historic piece of Los Angeles juxtaposed with all the new skyscrapers surrounding it.Where to stay: Hollywood Hotel
Grand Central Market
Grand Central Market is another historic point in DTLA. This market has been operating since 1917 (100 years!) and was once the go-to place for LA’s stylish residents to buy their produce, baked goods, flowers, and coffee.
The current market is full of everything you would imagine fancy LA people to be craving, like organic kale salads and freshly pressed fruit juices. If you’re interested in discovering the history of the market while you wander the stalls, try this Downtown Walking Tour.
I only knew about the Bradbury Building as an architecturally beautiful landmark from a list of things to see in DTLA, but my husband got pretty excited when he realized that this building was a major part of the set of Blade Runner (the old movie, not the new one!).
The building is mostly closed to the public except for the lobby area. If you enter from 3rd street, you’ll step right up to the most photogenic spot on the first set of stairs. The interior has a huge skylight ceiling, which lights up the wrought-iron balustrades and Victorian-style architecture.
I was desperate to find a place to see views of downtown, so when I discovered that City Hall has a free observation deck, I quickly added it to my tour of DTLA.
It was a little confusing to get up the tower as there is no signage for it. What you have to do is this: Go in the visitors entrance off Main Street, then tell the security guard that you want to go up to the observation deck. They’ll give you some instructions, which is to go up 20 or so floors in one elevator, then switch to another elevator to go up another few floors, then once you have gone as far up as possible you take the stairs the rest of the way. On a clear day, you’ll get a fabulous view of Los Angeles from this viewpoint!Where to stay: The Standard Downtown LA
Walt Disney Concert Hall
The Walt Disney Concert Hall is known for its unique appearance. Designed by the famous architect Frank Gehry, the concert hall opened in 2003 and has been a center of musical culture in Los Angeles ever since.
I just admired the building from the outside, but you can actually explore the inside as well. Self-guided tours are available on most days between 10AM – 2PM or guided tours are offered twice daily on most Thursdays to Sundays. Both tour options take 60 minutes and are 100% free!
LA Public Library
I have a thing about photographing libraries. I just love the towering bookcases, and the architecture of a library is often grand and interesting. The Los Angeles Public Library was no exception.
We initially took the escalators up to the top level for views of the atrium, which was mildly impressive, but the real wow-factor was found in the rotunda. This space has a gigantic dome ceiling, and every surface except the floor has been covered with elaborate paintings, some of which have been there since the library opened in the 1920s.
I really can’t describe how beautiful this room was, you have to see it for yourself! If you want to learn more about the architecture of the Los Angeles Public Library, the building is included as a stop on this Downtown Architecture Tour.Where to stay: The Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites