Because Los Angeles is a city of neighborhoods, we have historically lacked a bustling, vibrant, and central downtown like other big cities. Although downtown was a hub of activity during the 1920s, after World War II, many of the Victorian mansions and old historic buildings of DTLA were demolished to make way for parking lots. Throughout the latter-part of the 20th century, residents continued to leave en masse and downtown became depressed and dilapidated.

Efforts to revitalize DTLA began in earnest in the 1990s, and have garnered massive projects like The Walt Disney Concert Hallthe Staples Center and Nokia Theatre, but many Angelenos are still wary of the neighborhood.

Which is a huge shame, because guys, there is seriously SO MUCH TO DO. We certainly couldn’t fit it all in one day, but we tried to capture the color and rich history of downtown in the mere eight hours we spent in DTLA – the markets, the street art, the hidden parks, the landmarks. We guarantee you will enjoy this slice of gorgeous history just as much as we did…

Stop 1: Bottega Louie

Bottega Louie is a grand restaurant near the historic center of DTLA, and people LOVE it. When we arrived on a weekend morning, the place was packed and we elbowed our way up to two stools at the bar, focused only on ordering one of their famous Bloody Marys. The high ceilings, marble floors and mix of stylish Angelenos and European tourists make Bottega Louie appear better suited for New York than Los Angeles, but hey, this is downtown!

Prices are reasonable, and the atmosphere is energetic, noisy and fun. Brunch favorites included Smoked Salmon Benedict and the Potato Pancakes (with creme fraiche). Do NOT miss their macarons on your way out. Those divine treats are famous for a very good reason.

(700 S Grand Avenue, Los Angeles)

Stop 2: Tierra Mia Coffee

Coffee culture is really starting to take hold in Los Angeles, with a wave of new coffee bars springing up around town (Stumptown CoffeeCafe Vita and Handsome Coffee Roasters, to name a few). Many of them are located in and around downtown, but Tierra Mia is special, because the coffeehouse is so uniquely LA. Yes, the beans are superb, but this roaster started in the southeast Latino community of South Gate, and serves “Latin-inspired coffee.”

We ordered a Horchata Latte and a soy Coco Loco, which were both incredibly delightful and unlike anything you’d find at your average corner coffeeshop. The company also bakes all its pastry offerings, and the Tres Leches Muffin topped our list of items to try next.

(653 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles)

Stop 3: Maguire Gardens

Although downtown’s skyline is impressive and the art deco buildings are beautiful, we set out to discover the peaceful and green areas of the neighborhood, too. Coffee in hand, we strolled over to Maguire Gardens, an almost hidden park near the Los Angeles Central Library. We almost forgot we were in the city as we wandered through the gardens, which include plenty of benches to rest or read a book on, fountains, pools, and a large lawn. Absolutely serene.

(630 W 5th Street, Los Angeles)

Stop 4: Downtown Flea

Forget weekend shopping at the mall. Downtown Flea is only a few months old, but this “Etsy-inspired” flea market sells a huge range of high-quality goods, from vintage fashion, bold artwork, antique furniture, handmade soaps and jams, bow ties and heaps of statement jewelry. We adored the Library Store on Wheels, and searching for the perfect vintage hat. $5 entry fee.

(246 S Spring Street, Los Angeles)

Stop 5: Grand Central Market

Grand Central Market may be our favorite market of all TIME. It is the largest and oldest market in Los Angeles, first opening its doors in 1896. And it has pretty much everything: pupusas, tacos, gourmet cheese, bento boxes, Kung Pao chicken, fresh-squeezed juices, kebabs, curries…and even a coffee float. You best come hungry because there is just so many scrumptious items to try!

On this particular day, we grabbed the pork and cheese pupusa with a heap of pickled cabbage at Sarita’s Pupuseria, and the Gaiyang BBQ Chicken with sticky rice and papaya salad, and a fresh young coconut at Sticky Rice. Both were incredible, but hardly kept us from drooling over all the other stalls and vendors we passed on our way out. We could eat here every day for a year and still find something new to try. Grand Central Market, we can’t wait to return.

(317 S Broadway, Los Angeles)

Stop 6: The Last Bookstore

It makes us incredibly sad to think that people only buy books on, or worse, read them on a Kindle. There’s nothing like the smell of old books, and an afternoon spent wandering the aisles of a bookstore in search of something new and interesting to read.

The Last Bookstore, housed in an old bank building, is a magical place. The ground floor – with an impressive collection of used fiction, art books, memoirs, travel books, and much more – almost looks like a normal bookstore of yesteryear. But if you head upstairs, you’ll find the Labyrinth: home to a massive amount of science fiction, as well as fantastic book art and thousands and thousands of $1 books arranged by color. Take a deep breath, and prepare to lose yourself amongst the stacks for a couple of hours.

(453 S Spring Street, Los Angeles)

Stop 7: Spring Street Park

It was a beautifully sunny day, our feet were tired, and we had a bag full of newly-purchased paperbacks we wanted to read. This made the Spring Street Park the perfect next stop. Located just across the street from The Last Bookstore, the spanking new park is very pretty and open, with wide pathways and a large oval patch of grass on the sunniest side of the park.

(426 S Spring Street, Los Angeles)

Stop 8: Perch LA

Cocktail hour! And it’s Los Angeles, so you know we’re heading straight to the nearest rooftop bar. And Perch LA is sure not to disappoint; their patio puts you smack-dab in the middle of the LA skyline, with stunning views from all sides. Their fresh “Parisian-inspired cocktails” are all part of the ambiance and The Lolita (vodka, St. Germain, grapefruit juice, cucumber and champagne) is always a hit.

(448 S Hill Street, Los Angeles)

Stop 9: Cole's French Dip

There are certain things Los Angeles just does better than everywhere else. French Dip is one of those things, and it’s probably because the sandwich is said to have originated here in the early 1900s. Cole’s serves them pretty much the same way they did back then: thinly sliced roast beef on a crunchy French roll with a jar of jus for dipping (and instructions on exactly how long to dip inside their menu). They also make a mean cocktail at The Varnish at Cole’s, which begins serving drinks every night at 7pm.

(118 E 6th Street, Los Angeles)

The Details:

We took the new Metro Expo Line from Culver City to the 7th Street/Metro Center in Downtown. Since we stayed mostly within Bunker Hill and the Historic Core of DTLA, it was then pretty easy to walk from place to place for the rest of the day.

A map of our day looks something like this:

Recent Posts
Showing 2 comments
  • Teresa

    I'm obsessed with French Dip. Need to check this out when I come visit!

    • My Best LA Day

      We are eagerly awaiting your visit, T! Will put Cole's at the top of the list.