There’s more to Los Angeles than the hype of Hollywood, Santa Monica beach scene and fashion icons on Rodeo Drive. The city has been secretly cultivating a thriving design and culture scene in Downtown LA, or DTLA to the uninitiated, that few tourists have yet to experience.
This former urban wasteland of Art Deco skyscrapers and deserted streets is in the midst of a renaissance with an infusion of creative types transforming the area. Unlike most of Los Angeles, DTLA is walkable and the streets were actually designed with pedestrians in mind to feature wider footpaths, which is quite a novelty in this petrol-powered city.
If you visit London and New York for their art, design and architecture, then you won’t want to miss DTLA as the area is home to innovative buildings, world-class galleries and impressive street art, as well as a growing culinary scene with some of the hottest bars and restaurants in the city. To get you started on your design and culture quest, here are six of the must-see spots in DTLA.
One of the newest arrivals on the LA design scene is The Broad, a contemporary gallery with a honeycomb-like exterior that houses works from modern masters like Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. This is a gallery that understands the habits of modern gallery-goers and actively encourages social media sharing with complimentary Wi-Fi, a free-for-all photography policy and thoughtfully displayed artworks that create the perfect Instagram moment. Although impressive from the outside and well stocked with a curated mix of masterpieces and unique works, the gallery isn’t overly expansive so a visit is quick and easy, leaving you with time to explore the areas other attractions.
TIP: Take the stairs down from the third-floor gallery space for a peek inside the gallery’s cavernous art storage area.
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Walt Disney Concert Hall
Arguably the building that kicked off DTLA’s revival when it opened in 2003, Walt Disney Concert Hall was designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry and is a tangle of curved steel that ribbons around the exterior. Recognised as an international architectural landmark, the building serves as the city’s premier concert hall for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It is well worth a visit for a guided tour inside or to marvel at from the street.
TIP: Don’t miss the building’s serene rooftop garden that boasts one of the best views of DTLA.
The Bradbury Building
Steeped in history as the oldest commercial building in DTLA, The Bradbury Building is one of the city’s unique treasures and a national historic landmark. The building’s modest exterior belies the Victorian-era beauty within that includes a towering central court, open-cage elevators, marble stairs and ornate iron railings.
Street art of DTLA
Hidden design gems are everywhere in DTLA from Art Deco buildings to striking street art. One of the best examples of the area’s street art can be found on opposing buildings on Spring Street that feature the works of European street artists JR and Vhils, who collaborated on a pair of murals. Completed in 2010, the large-scale works feature a variety of techniques to create highly detailed portraits that appear to have been revealed from inside the walls.
Grand Central Market
This funky indoor marketplace has transformed into a dining destination in recent years, but retains much of its charm from its days as a working produce market that has been in operation since 1917. Now, hungry visitors stalk the halls in search of a tasty meal from one of the diverse food vendors who sit beneath a riot of vintage neon signs.
TIP: If breakfast is on your mind, you’ll find one of the best at EggSlut, but be sure to arrive early as this is easily one of the market’s most popular eateries.
Museum of Contemporary Art
The collection of contemporary art here is so comprehensive, LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is split across three locations, including opposite The Broad on Grand Avenue. For lovers of modern art, it is well worth a visit as the museum is committed to the collection, preservation and expression of artworks produced exclusively since 1940. The stark building was designed in 1986 by architect Arata Isozaki to house permanent collections and changing exhibitions, from contemporary masters and up-and-coming artists.
TIP: Admission is free every Thursday from 5 to 8pm.