"Downtown Los AngelesJust as..." Downtown Tip by TikkanWS

Downtown, Los Angeles: 43 reviews and 75 photos


Favorite thing: Downtown Los Angeles
Just as you'd imagine, LA's downtown area is framed by freeways rather than any particular geographic boundary. The Hollywood Fwy lies to the north, the Harbor Fwy to the west, the Santa Monica Fwy to the south and a bird's nest of other freeways intertwine beyond the Los Angeles River to the east. In the thick of all this concrete and congestion, however, intrepid urbanites will find a number of pockets worth exploring.

Extending eight blocks east to west, the city's Civic Center is America's largest complex of government buildings after Washington, DC. It contains the most important of LA's city, county, state and federal office buildings, including the US Federal Courthouse, where the infamous OJ Simpson murder trial took place in 1995, and the 1928 City Hall, which served as the Daily Planet building in Superman and the police station in Dragnet. North across Temple St from City Hall is the excellent LA Children's Museum.

A few blocks east of the Civic Center, El Pueblo de Los Angeles is a 44 acre (18ha) state historic park commemorating the site where the city was founded in 1781 and preserving many of its earliest buildings. Its central attraction for most visitors is Olvera Street, a narrow, block-long passageway that was restored as an open-air Mexican marketplace in 1930. In addition to its restaurants, Olvera St teems with the shops and stalls of vendors selling all manner of Mexican crafts, from leather belts and bags to handmade candles and colorful piñatas.

Directly across from El Pueblo is Union Station, one of LA's oft-overlooked architectural treasures. Built in 1939 in Spanish Mission style with Moorish and Moderne details, it's worth a stop even if you aren't hopping a train. A few blocks north of the station, the 16 square blocks of Chinatown comprise the social and cultural nucleus of LA's 200,000 Chinese residents. Here, the businesses of traditional acupuncturists and herbalists mingle with scores of restaurants and shops whose inventories vary from cheap kitsch to exquisite silk clothing, inlaid furniture, antique porcelain and intricate religious art.

Immediately southeast of the Civic Center is Little Tokyo. First settled by early Japanese immigrants in the 1880s and thriving by the 1920s, the neighborhood was effectively decimated by the anti-Japanese hysteria of the WWII years. Thanks in part to an injection of investment from the 'old country,' Little Tokyo is again the locus for LA's Japanese population of nearly a quarter million. Among its streets and outdoor shopping centers, you'll find sushi bars, bento houses and traditional Japanese gardens. Housed in a historic Buddhist temple, the Japanese American National Museum, exhibits objects and art that relate the history of Japanese emigration to, and life in, the USA.

Just southwest of the Civic Center is the Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. It houses what is considered one of the world's most important collection of paintings, sculptures and photographs from the 1940s to the present. Just west of MOCA is The Westin Bonaventure hotel, a quintet of cylindrical glass towers that are instantly recognizable to any regular moviegoer.

South of the Civic Center, LA's Hispanic shopping district is a deliciously cluttery mix of cheap restaurants, frilly wedding dress shops and blaring Latin pop. For a shocking contrast to the bustling street scene, step inside the 1893 Bradbury Building, where a skylit, five-story atrium is surrounded by Belgian marble, Mexican tiles, ornate French wrought-iron railings, glazed brick walls, oak paneling and a pair of open-cage elevators. You've seen it in detail if you've seen the movies Blade Runner or Wolf. Across the street from the Bradbury, between Broadway and Hill St, Grand Central Market is LA's oldest (1917) and largest open-air food market.

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Los Angeles has built its reputation on the glamour of the movies, and most visitors want at least a little of its glitz to rub off on them. Hollywood itself (in northwestern LA) is no longer the movie mecca it once was, but it certainly holds plenty of historic interest. Take a walk down Hollywood Blvd and you'll pass by famous sights such as Mann's (née Grauman's) Chinese Theatre, where more than 150 of the glitterati have left their prints on the sidewalk out the front. Head east along the Boulevard, stepping on those famous bronze stars, and you'll find yourself at the Roosevelt Hotel. Soak up a bit of 1930s ambiance: this is where the first Academy Awards were held in 1928 and where Errol Flynn, Salvador Dali and F Scott Fitzgerald often propped up the bar.

The corner of Hollywood and Vine was once the heart of off-screen action for the Industry, but you wouldn't know it now. If you want a memento of those golden days, the Collectors Book Store on the corner is a treasure trove of memorabilia. If you don't manage to spot a real star while you're in Hollywood, drop by the Hollywood Wax Museum or (for real stars' knickers) Frederick's of Hollywood Lingerie Museum.

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Does anyone go to Los Angeles and not visit Disneyland? Apparently the happiest place on earth (though the hordes of screaming children and parents at their wits' end may make you doubt it), Disneyland is a masterpiece of picture-perfect choreography - even the litter bins are themed. The park is divided into four different lands: Adventureland has a jungle theme and features Indiana Jones and the Forbidden Eye; Frontierland celebrates the myth of the Wild West; Fantasyland devotes itself to Disney's favorite characters; and Tomorrowland is (you guessed it) all about the future. In summer, you'll spend the better part of your visit to Disneyland queuing - one of the best ways to avoid this is to come in the evening when the kiddies are in bed. Uncle Walt's wonderland is in Anaheim, half an hour's drive south of downtown LA; you can get there by bus, hotel shuttle or by car on I-5.

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Universal City
To lift your chances of running into a living, working actor, visit Universal City, home of the very-much functional Universal Studios and one of LA's biggest theme parks. The studios were built in 1915, and public tours have been running since 1964. Catch a tram on the Backlot Tour to see the locations of several famous movies and TV shows, or spend your bucks on one of the many movie-related rides. Universal also features special effects displays, musical-comedy revues and an animal actors stage. The studio's eight restaurants are prime star-spotting territory. Universal is in the San Fernando Valley, north of the city.

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Beverly Hills
No star-studded tour would be complete without a visit to Beverly Hills, home to the rich and famous. Just west of Hollywood, this city-within-a-city flaunts its wealth with opulent manors on manicured grounds and shopping streets overflowing with designer labels. The Hills' Golden Triangle is bisected by that locus of conspicuous consumption, Rodeo Drive, where retailers such as Tiffany, Armani and Vuitton flog their wares.

North Beverly Hills is the epicenter of luxury living, home to the likes of Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and Harrison Ford. For all the latest on who lives where, pick up a 'Star Home Map' from a street-corner vendor. If your desire to look over strangers' fences isn't sated by Beverly Hills, extend your trip to that other famous neighborhood, Bel Air, in western LA, or the slightly less lively (but nonetheless star-studded) Hollywood Memorial Cemetery, final resting place of Rudolph Valentino, Jayne Mansfield and Cecil B De Mille.

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Los Angeles' beaches have a lot of hype to live up to, and in most cases they don't quite make it. Immortalized by the Beach Boys, Beach Blanket Bingo and Baywatch as miles of golden sand awash with babes of both sexes, in reality the city's beaches are often polluted and sparsely populated. Nonetheless, some of them are definitely worth a look. Malibu is the archetypal Southern California babe beach and your best bet for sunning and swimming. West of the city, Malibu's beaches are backed by the rugged mountains of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. It can be quite difficult to find a stretch of sand, as much of the shoreline is privately owned, but there are some very pleasant state beaches.

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Santa Monica
Just north of the airport, Santa Monica is one of the city's most appealing neighborhoods. Although the beach only comes to life on the hottest summer days, the surrounding area is a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon. The heart of Santa Monica is the 3rd St Promenade, a lively pedestrian mall packed with buskers, movie theaters, bars and cafes. The Santa Monica pier, built between 1908 and 1921, is the oldest pleasure pier on the West Coast. It has plenty of old-world carnival attractions, including a 1920s carousel, and seafood restaurants. The neighborhood is also home to some excellent museums of modern art.

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Venice Beach
Venice Beach pretty much sums up the LA lifestyle. The beach's Ocean Front Walk is a human circus of jugglers and acrobats, tarot readers, jug-band musicians, pick-up basketballers, oiled-up fitness freaks and petition circulators. A hundred years ago, this place was just swampland, until an enterprising cigarette tycoon turned it into a network of gondola-poled canals and dubbed it the 'Playland of the Pacific.' Most of the canals have now been paved over, but the playland atmosphere is hanging in there. It's a great place to shop and an even better place to down a freshly-squeezed juice while the human tide washes over you.

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Getty Center
Contrary to popular belief, LA does have an intellectual, refined side. When you're shopped, glitzed, tanned and rollercoastered out, head for some of the best museums in the USA. Top of the list has to be the John Paul Getty collection of museums. The original Getty gallery, in a replica of an AD 79 Pompeiian villa on the Pacific Coast Hwy just west of Santa Monica, is undergoing extensive remodeling and will reopen as the Getty Villa in 2002. The Villa will house the Greek and Roman sculpture collections, which comprise only a fraction of one of the world's most valuable art collections (around US$3 billion worth). The museum's European and photography and numerous other collections are now on display at the stunning new 110-acre Getty Center in the Santa Monica mountains. Admission is free, making this one of the best bargains in town.

Other museums worth a look include downtown's Museum of Contemporary Art, which houses one of the world's best collections of modern art. The Museum of Tolerance, just south of Beverly Hills, presents a gut-wrenching look at some of the more appalling examples of human behavior. Its interactive, high-tech exhibits focus on the oppression of blacks in America and the Jewish Holocaust. At the other end of the spectrum, the Max Factor Beauty Museum in Hollywood lauds the cosmetics industry's role in creating many an LA beauty.

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  • Written Aug 26, 2002
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