Los Angeles | Discovering Downtown – 13 Reasons to Head to the City Center

Downtown Los Angeles probably never had the best reputation of being a typical tourist destination when visiting Southern California. But after my recent 24 hours city trip to the City of the Angels, I found at least 13 reasons why you should consider to include it in your next travel itinerary.

Angels Flight


It is called the shortest train ride in the world and is an L.A. landmark since 1901. Originally built as mass transport for well-to-do Bunker Hill residents to reach their downtown jobs, the 300 feet long tracks have lately been rediscovered by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as filming location in the Hollywood box office hit “La La Land”. Between its opening and the 1950´s, the two cable cars had already carried more than 100 million passengers! It is a convenient way to bridge the distance between the Contemporary Art Museum and the Grand Central Market for only 1 US$ and a great way to experience a piece of history in downtown.


Bradbury Building



While looking rather unimpressive from the outside, this 1893 built office building persuades once you stand underneath its extraordinary skylit atrium with access walkways, artistic ornate ironwork stairs and birdcage elevators. It is the city´s oldest landmarked construction and has been a popular filming location for various hit movies, tv shows and music videos.


Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels


Also referred to as COLA, this Latin Catholic church thrones on a hill-top between Bunker Hill and Chinatown. It is the seat of the archbishop and was constructed in postmodern architecture. The cathedral is widely known for enshrining the relics of Saint Vibiana and tilma piece of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Apart from a general visit, it is particularly interesting to witness one of the Sunday masses.


Central Library


With over six million volumes, the library belongs to one of the three largest publicly funded libraries in the United States. Yet it is its beautiful ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival architecture in and out that makes this landmark a must see location. The central tower is topped with a tiled mosaic pyramid with suns on the sides with a hand holding a torch representing the “Light of Learning” at the apex. But it is the four-part mural on the top floor of the heritage building that will leave you speechless.

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Grand Central Market


Los Angeles is a Mekka for foodies and food lovers from all over. One of the best places to experience the wide variety of local vendors, LA based chefs and entrepreneurs is the 1917 established GCM which is a feast for the eye and the stomach. Wherever you try yourself through the vast offerings or simply soak up the hustle and bustle of the place itself, Grand Central Market should not be missed on any sightseeing tour around downtown Los Angeles.


Jewelry District


Belonging to the Historic Core of downtown Los Angeles, this four block neighborhood spreading out between 5th and 8th Street holds some of the city´s most beautiful early 19th century buildings. Until today it remains the largest jewelry district in the U.S. with an average of 3 billion of annual sales. I like the urban atmosphere here with a touch of decay and the very colorful cultural diversity. It is quite an authentic view of what living in Los Angeles is really like and an amazing place for cityscape photography.


Los Angeles City Hall


This L.A. landmark is until today the tallest base-isolated structure in the world and its image has graced the Los Angeles Police Department badge since 1940. The building´s construction was completed in 1928 by using concrete that included sand from all of the 58 Californian counties and water from its 21 historical missions. It features a free-of-charge accessible observation deck which is open to the public during business hours and the airplane beacon topping the tower was named in honor to Charles A. Lindbergh.


Olvera Street


Calle Olvera is a three-shaded pedestrian mall market place with Mexican craft shops, restaurants and roving troubadours in the center of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument. It pays homage to a romantic vision of old Mexico and stands right where the original downtown of Los Angeles had been founded back in 1781 by Latin Americans. While it does have a bit of a Disney character, admittedly, the oldest buildings in the area around Olvera Street are original and date back to 1818, respectively. It is a lively community  which is fun to explore and enjoy fabulous Mexican food at. Like the Taquitos at Cielito Lindo.


OUE Skyspace LA


If you love skyscraper observation decks, you will definitely enjoy the 360 degree view from the Skyspace level of the iconic US Bank Tower in the heart of downtown. For 25 US$ you will have unlimited view over the entire city and the surrounding mountains (clear view implied) and access to two outdoor terraces shielded by bulletproof glass. If you feel like adding a little thrill to your visit, you can buy an extra ticket for the world´s first sky slide: A see-through glass slide running over the edge of the building´s structure. Scary!


Pershing Square


While having quite a modern art look to it these days, the public park is one of Los Angeles oldest historic places. The ownership can be traced back to 1781, the founding year of the city, when Spain granted the land to Los Angeles. It was first stated as public park in 1866 as La Plaza Abaja (The Lower Plaza). In the early 20th century, the park had been redesigned in the current Beaux Arts style and was renamed into Pershing Square after World War 1. One of the most prominent buildings around the square is the Biltmore Hotel with its luxurious and opulent lobby. You can enjoy a wonderful panoramic view over the plaza from the rooftop bar The Perch just off the park.


St. Vincent Court


The small square is named for its original owner, St. Vincent’s College. The little alley became useful when the massive Bullock’s department store opened beside it – it was where deliveries were received and sent out. Over the decades the alleyway became such a popular congregating spot that Bullock’s let it out to small businesses. Italian restaurants and espresso bars populated St. Vincent’s Court. In 1957 the plain alleyway was decorated like an ancient European lane, with plaster facades and a brick-paved street. Now home to mostly Middle Eastern restaurants, this quaint little alleyway still looks like it belongs in Rome or Florence rather than downtown Los Angeles. During the day, with ample umbrella-covered al fresco dining, the scene is a lively and welcoming respite from the world around it. You may feel yourself transported to a place and time altogether unlike the Los Angeles we know today.


Union Station


Known as the “Last of the Great Railway Stations” this L.A. landmark lies only a stone´s throw away from the El Pueblo Historic Monument. Its design inherits influences by Art Deco, Mission Revival and Streamline Moderne style and features a bright and airy entry hall with artfully decorated ceilings. It is still in use today and a fun place to hang out and watch the busy travelers rush around. The adjacent outdoor gardens offer a quiet and picturesque refuge surrounded by flowers, bushes and water fountains.

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Walt Disney Concert Hall


Probably the most illustrious building in Los Angeles, Frank Gehry´s architectural masterpiece opened in 2003 and became quickly one of the city´s most popular sightseeing spots. Originally, some parts of the building had been covered with shiny metal panels. But due to extreme reflection problems, modifications had to be made and the  complex is now entirely done in a matte finish.


And since you know that I am always having a difficulty finding an end to my exploration tours, here are snapshots from other wonderful places in downtown that are worth to see or at least to walk by…


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