Walking Tour of Downtown L.A.


I recently moved to downtown and so far, I love it!  There is so much to see and so many great restaurants and eateries to try… but before we go crazy with the eating (will write about this later), let’s first take a walk! 

I would like to share a walking tour that I put together.  It touches on a few “must see’s” to get a first taste of this area.  You can do all of this in one day if you feel like exercising a bit.  Wear good comfy shoes, take water (specially in the summer months), and put on a hat and sunscreen.  This walk is about 2.5 miles (4 km) and will take you a good 3 to 4 hours if you do it in a relaxed manner, stopping for photos along the way, and enjoying lunch at one of the many restaurants.

First you have to get to downtown.  If you can, take the metro to avoid the traffic in LA and the heavy car congestion found in the heart of downtown.  Get off at Union Station to begin your walk or find a bus connection to make it all the way into Chinatown.  If you have to drive, park your car in one of the paid parkings in China town.  Click here for some ideas.

A little bit of history will perhaps enhance your experience…

Downtown Los Angeles is not literally “down town” per se, but in the late 1800’s it was the area where businesses concentrated, infrastructure enhancements took place, and as land speculation increased, the population rapidly exploded.   In the early 1900’s the city’s private and municipal rail lines were some of the longest in the world (in terms of mileage).  A huge influx of new residents turned it into a big metropolitan area.  Some of the largest banking institutions like Bank of America and Grand hotels like the Rosslyn settled here.  The area saw a major decline after WWII when businesses started dispersing throughout the city, and lots of people moved out taking their street-front businesses with them.  A lot of buildings were demolished and turned into profitable parking lots.  It became an area where people came in briefly to conduct their business and go back out.  A few years back, the thought of downtown LA as a place to do tourism was not common.  The mention of going to downtown conjured a mental image of dirty streets and sidewalks and unsafe sketchy alleyways.  But now not so much…

Downtown LA has been undergoing redevelopment efforts since the 1950’s but one of the most noticeable revitalization efforts has taken place at the turn of the century.  The construction of the Staples Center has brought hundreds of events, attracting millions of visitors to the area every year.  Situated next to it, the creation of the L.A. Live complex; which includes big name restaurants and hotels amongst other attractions has brought even more visitors.   This was followed by the development of what our now some of our most famous City Landmarks- The Walt Disney Concert Hall, Grand Park, and The Broad Museum.  Despite some of its ever-present issues like the homelessness crisis, dirty sidewalks, and heavy traffic, downtown continues to attract new people to its many cultural events, great multi-ethnic restaurants, and luxurious apartment living.

Now that you know a bit about its background, let’s start walking! 

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If you begin your day already hungry, have lunch at Yang Chow in Chinatown.  If you can wait, continue the walk until you get to Olvera Street where you can have lunch at one of the Mexican restaurants- Casa La Golondrina, Cielito Lindo, or El Paseo Inn.  There are so many other food options along this walk that I invite you to get in your explorative mood and try something delicious near every stop!

Stop 1: China Town Central Plaza- at 943 N Broadway 

A hot tourist spot for the past sixty years, decorated with beautiful Chinese arches and lanterns.  Here you will find shops offering craft items, wood and jade, paintings, art, herbs, teas, pastries, books, restaurants and banks.

Continue on to reach Union Station, just 0.7 mi. of walking.

Stop 2: Union Station- 800 N. Alameda St

It is not only the bustling transportation hub of the city but also a cultural center.  Here you can find places like Subway, Starbucks, Traxx Restaurant and Bar, and Cafe Crepe amongst others.  There is usually some type of live music- weather is a random person having their moment of glory at the piano, or a DJ playing a live set.  A lot of Art & Architecture tours begin here.  And my favorite, the Art Gallery with its permanent paintings and sculptures around the station, or the revolving photography exhibits in the long corridor near the waiting area.  You can’t miss it if you head towards the main entrance on your way out.

Continue on to reach Olvera Street, just 0.2 mi. of walking.

Stop 3: Placita Olvera or Olvera St – 845 N. Alameda St

Beautiful street with a nice plaza, Olvera is located in one of the oldest parts of the city.  Here you can find various buildings of all ages, with the most iconic ones being the Avila Adobe (1818), the Pelanconi House (1857), and the Sepulveda House (1887).  Shop at one of the many stalls along the street or learn a bit of history from the City’s Spanish and Mexican origins.

Continue on to reach the Cathedral of Our Lady, just 0.6 mi. of walking.

Stop 4: Cathedral of Our Lady- 555 W. Temple St

The “Mother Church” of the city, the Cathedral where Archbishop José Horacio Gomez sits, located in the heart of LA.  It serves an archdiocese of over 5 million Catholics and celebrates all major Catholic events.  It welcomes countless visitors and pilgrims from all over the city and the world.  A tranquil place to pray, meditate, or simply walk around and admire the religious art collection of paintings and statues.

Continue on to reach Grand Park, just 0.2 mi. of walking.

Stop 5: Grand Park- 200 N. Grand Ave 

The life of the city, where a great display of its diversity and passion is found.  This is where Angelenos come to gather, take a leisurely stroll, have a picnic, or enjoy one of the many annual civic events.  Check out the calendar of activities at Grand Park.

Continue on to reach the Disney Concert Hall, just 0.2 mi. of walking.

Stop 6: Disney Concert Hall- 111 S. Grand Ave

Designed in stainless steel, you can’t help but take your camera out as you approach this building and become hypnotized by the light reflecting off of its external wavy panels.  This is also known as the home of the L.A. Philharmonic and its Director Gustavo Dudamel.  Walk in, take a look around, and grab a ticket for one of the great performances.

Continue on to reach The Broad, just 0.1 mi. of walking.

Stop 7: The Broad- 221 S. Grand Ave

A contemporary art museum, named after philanthropist Eli Broad who funded this wonderful building’s construction.  Get a ticket in advance to see the Infinity Mirrors Room or one of its various permanent and temporary art exhibits.  You won’t be disappointed!

Continue on to reach MOCA, just 0.1 mi. of walking.

Stop 8: MOCA- 250 S. Grand Ave

The Museum of Contemporary Art of L.A. collecting, presenting, and interpreting art created after 1940, and preserving it for future generations.  Another great museum to check out if you have time.

Continue on to reach the Angeles Flight Railway, just 0.1 mi. of walking.

Stop 9: Angels Flight Railway- 350 S. Grand Ave

Known as “the world’s shortest railway” and built 117 years ago, this funicular takes passengers from Hill Street and Grand Avenue on Bunker Hill for just $1 each way (discount for metro pass holders).  Open year-round, even during holidays.  And located just across the street from Grand Central Market so check it out before or after a bite!

Continue on to reach the Grand Central Market, just 0.2 mi. of walking.

Stop 10: Grand Central Market- 317 S. Broadway

My favorite landmark of all of downtown L.A. bringing together the various cuisines and cultures of the city.  Open 7 days a week and presenting over 30 different food vendors to delight your taste buds!  You can get beer, ice cream, pupusas, tacos, shop for vegetables, etc.  A great stop to grab food, sit, and watch the fun hustle and bustle happening all around you.

Continue on to reach The Last Book Store, just 0.3 mi. of walking.

Stop 11: The Last Book Store- 453 S. Spring St

A used and new record and book store.  A two story building offering tall shelves filled with tons of  books, an art exhibit, gallery shops, and a fun labyrinth made of books where you can take a fun photo for your latest FB or Instagram post.  I can easily spend an hour or two in this place!

OK, how are we doing?!  By the time you get to this point (physically on your walk), you may be too tired to continue further.  Your best bet is to grab an Uber to get back to Union Station or wherever you left your car.

If you still have energy and want to keep going, continue to L.A. Live for a late afternoon coffee break or stay longer for dinner and a show.

Stop 12: L.A. Live- 800 Olympic Blvd

A large area, adjacent to the Staples Center, where you can find big name restaurants, hotels, a movie theatre, the Microsoft Theatre, and the Grammy Museum, amongst others.  Stay and have dinner and enjoy a show or go dancing at the Conga Room.  For a list of events, click here.

I hope you enjoyed my walking tour of some of the best highlights of downtown L.A. (DTLA).

Feel free to leave me a comment with your feedback- What are some of your favorite places to eat in downtown?  where do you like to walk?  did I miss anything that you think is a Must-See?!

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Infinity room, photo courtesy of the Broad website

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The beautiful Disney concert hall structure

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Eating our delicious burritos at Grand Park, bought at one of the food trucks that park here

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The friendly and clean metro station

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Enjoying the exhibits at the Broad

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Chinatown Summer Nights

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Chinatown performances

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Chinatown entrance

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sculpture art in DTLA

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