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Downtown Los Angeles Travel Guide

Downtown Los Angeles remains the cultural and historic heart of LA. It was almost dead at one point, but recent revitalization efforts have successfully restored some life and activity back into the area. Infusions of business capital have given life to mega hotels, office skyscrapers, and stunning landmarks like the[1] Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and the Walt Disney Concert Hall (Disney Hall).[2] Much of the construction has taken place at Bunker Hill, which was once dotted with the Victorian mansions of the affluent in the 1900s.[3]

Today, Downtown LA can be an enjoyable visit for tourists, with its refurbished adobes, grand movie palaces, modern museums, and bold corporate towers. Only recently did LA start building taller structures. Until 1960, its City Hall at 28 stories was the city’s tallest. A construction boom in the 1980s changed all of that, with many of the Victorian buildings at Bunker Hill replaced. Bunker Hill is now LA’s beam of modernity, a small dose of the skyscrapers found everywhere in New York and Chicago.[4]

The best place to visit in Downtown LA is the Plaza district, otherwise known as “El Pueblo de Los Angeles”. This district is also home to the historic but commercialized Olvera Street. South from here, you’ll find LA’s Civic Center, the seat of the local government and home to the classical City Hall.[5]

South of the Civic Center district is the antique Spring Street and Broadway, whose heyday dates back to the 1920s when it served as the financial and cultural axes of LA. Much has changed since. While Broadway is still a thriving commercial district, it has become more Hispanic in character, lined with fast-food stands and T-shirt vendors. The old grand movie palaces that stand along this corridor are now used to host church worships and swap meets. Spring Street, on the other hand, has experienced a considerable decline – the grand neoclassical buildings once used for financial and banking services have now been renovated to serve as artist lofts and community theaters.

LA’s main financial district in Downtown is Bunker Hill, which has experienced substantial new development in the last decade. But its charm is limited only to its modern architecture and upscale museums.[6]

Districts to Visit


Belasco Theater
Bradbury Building
Eastern Columbia Building
Globe Theater
Grand Central Market
Herald-Examiner Building
Los Angeles Theater
Mayan Theater
Orpheum Theater
United Artists Theater

Bunker Hill

Angels Flight
Bunker Hill Steps
Gas Company Tower
Library Tower
Museum of Contemporary Art
Riordan Central Library
Wells Fargo History Museum
Westin Bonaventure Hotel


Sun Yat-sen Statue

Civic Center

Children’s Museum
City Hall
Disney Hal
Hall of Justice
Molecule Man
Music Center
Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church
Times-Mirror Complex

El Pueblo de Los Angeles

Avila Adobe
Fort Moore Pioneer Memorial
Garnier Building
La Placita
Masonic Hall
Olvera Street
Pico House
Plaza Firehouse
Sepulveda House
Union Station

Garment District

California Mart
Cooper Building
Flower Market

Grand Hope Park

Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising
Grand Hope Park
Museum of Neon Art
Staples Center

Little Tokyo

Doizaki Gallery
Freight Depot
Garden in the Sky
Geffen Contemporary
James Irvine Garden
Japanese America Theater
Japanese American Cultural and Community Center
Japanese American National Museum
Japanese Village Plaza
Noguchi Plaza
St Vibiana’s Cathedral

Pershing Square

Biltmore Hotel
International Jewelry Center
Oviatt Building
Pershing Square Park

Skid Row

Union Rescue Mission

Spring Street

Biddy Mason Park
Continental Building
I.N. Van Nuys Building
Los Angeles Theater
Pacific Coast Stock Exchange
Title Insurance and Trust Company

Downtown LA served as the city’s core for more than two hundred years. The first construction of buildings by the Spaniards in 1781 took place at the Plaza circle, but a fire destroyed the town and it was rebuilt in 1818 further out – expanding in size to encompass the present district of El Pueblo de Los Angeles. This district served as the commercial center for the town during the early years of Mexican rule.[7]

By the late 1800s, Los Angeles’ commercial hub had moved to Broadway, which was lined with vaudeville theaters and giant department stores. El Pueblo de Los Angeles (or Plaza District), meanwhile, was abandoned, left to decay until renovation projects in the 1920s revitalized the area. The City Hall was completed in 1928 and has remained the seat of the LA government ever since. In the 1960s, Bunker Hill replaced Spring Street as the financial centre of downtown, and both Broadway and Spring Street have not yet fully recovered. Efforts have been made to re-create the buzzing entertainment zone and draw back the crowds that once teemed both streets. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), for example, was built in the 1980s at the top of the hill a few blocks from Broadway and Spring, but while visitors come for the art and architecture, there is really nothing much else that bring them here otherwise.[8]

Baker, Christopher, Judy Wade, and Morten Strange. California. New York: Macmillan General Reference, 1994. ISBN: 0671879065.

Dickey, Jeff. Los Angeles, 3rd Edition. Rough Guides, 2003. ISBN: 1843530589.

[1] Baker, 115
[2] Dickey, 51
[3] Baker, 115
[4] Dickey, 51-53
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.

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