Read on for what to do, eat, and drink throughout Downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Olenka Kotyk.
An Insider Guide to Downtown Los Angeles
BY COLLEEN CLARK
Outsiders might picture Hollywood as the center of L.A.’s cultural life, but locals know that Downtown is where it’s at. DTLA is a microcosm of the diversity that makes L.A. special — from the galleries and makers of the Arts District to the culinary hubs of Little Tokyo and Chinatown to the cultural titans at the neighborhood’s core. The past decade has seen Downtown’s once-abandoned hotels, theaters, and factories transformed into edgy arts venues, clubs, and restaurants. And, your Downtown LA apartments, Sentral
, sit at the center of it all.
Explore Downtown Los Angeles Area Map
EAT LIKE A DTLA LOCAL
Masterful Japanese udon, Thai street food, Michelin-worthy tacos. Downtown L.A. restaurants offer a delicious trip around the world, all just blocks from home. Whether you want a nonna-worthy bolognese in a glam dining room or a hangover-curing breakfast with friends, DTLA has you covered.
DOWNTOWN L.A. RESTAURANTS
To-go bites from Ditroit Taqueria (left) and the interior of high-end Mexican eatery Damian (right), two Downtown L.A. restaurants from famed Mexican chef Enrique Olvera. Photos courtesy of the respective restaurants
Dining in DTLA is an absolute delight, and one of our favorite things about the neighborhood. These are just some of our go-to Downtown L.A. restaurants we visit again and again.
There’s good pasta. And then there’s pasta you lust after for years after eating it. Picture a giant roasted bone whose caramelized marrow gets scooped onto pillowy spinach gnocchi to serve as a sauce. That’s why the crowds come to Bestia. That and the dining room vibe, with bar fight–themed wallpaper and meat hook chandeliers that channel the restaurant’s name (Italian for “beast”).
besitiala.com, 2121 E. 7th Place.
CORPORATION FOOD HALL
Next to Sentral DTLA — and we mean right next door
— Corporation Food Hall is like a mini Grand Central Market (see below) without the long lines. With stalls serving up Mediterranean fare, Southeast Asian dishes, Japanese gyoza, and more, you can find something to fit (almost) every craving. And, did we mention it’s right next door??
corporationfoodhall.com, 724 S. Spring St.
DAMIAN & DITROIT TAQUERIA
Los Angeles is the taco capital of the U.S.A., and this complex opened by legendary Mexico City chef Enrique Olvera celebrates the diversity of the bounty. His haute take on street food uses California produce and wines from Baja California. Dine in the tropical-industrial dining room or head to the casual nextdoor
for alfresco takeout tacos on plastic plates and the city’s best churros.
damiandtla.com, 2132 E. 7th Place.
GRAND CENTRAL MARKET
This microcosm of the L.A. food scene is all wrapped up in one stunning Beaux Arts building. Open since 1917, the market mixes old-school vendors like China Cafe
alongside cult hits like Eggslut,
whose lines snake down the aisles every morning. Grab their famous Fairfax Sandwich, then a cold brew and yeasted waffle with ricotta and jam at G+B Coffee.
Come back for a lunch of gai yang
at Thai hit Sticky Rice
or any of the Filipino rice bowls at Sari Sari Store.
Then finish it all off with a thick slice of key lime pie from the master bakers at Fat + Flour.
grandcentralmarket.com, 317 S. Broadway.
Santee Alley, a chaotic flea market shilling everything from sequined bra tops to basketball jerseys, is hardly the place you’d expect to find some of L.A.’s best Thai fare. But the Bangkok street food-inspired spot dishes up expertly executed pad see ew,
fiery wok-fried pork belly, and generally some of the most exciting Thai fare in town. For a city with the largest Thai population outside Thailand, that’s saying something.
holybasildtla.com, 718 S. Los Angeles St.
One of the great joys of L.A. is traveling five minutes and feeling transported across the world. That’s the experience at Marugame Udon in Little Tokyo. Watch as master chefs lovingly roll and cut the thick, toothsome noodles with all of the intensity of a Japanese master. They’re served in exquisite ceramics with handmade bamboo ladles alongside icy Sapporos and crunchy tempura.
marugamemonzola.com, 329 E. 1st St.
THE NICKEL DINER
Forget grain bowls and cold-pressed juices — L.A. has more donut shops than any city in America. And you’ll find some of the city’s best at this classic greasy spoon with quirky touches (think floor lamps hanging from the ceiling and mannequin heads of Marie Antoinette). Recover from a big night out with giant stacks of fluffy pancakes, eggs, and the signature maple bacon donuts.
nickeldiner.com, 524 S. Main St.
While this bustling Filipino restaurant and bakery is known for its L.A.-inspired lunch fare (Impossible-meat lumpia, adobo French dip sandwiches), the pro move is to come for breakfast. That’s when you’ll get ensaymada
— buttery pillows of cheese-topped pastry — still warm from the oven; burritos stuffed with tocino
(sweet grilled cured pork); and hangover-curing garlic rice bowls topped with housemade sausage and crispy fried eggs.
petitepeso.com, 419 W. 7th St.
Rossoblu is one of those rare restaurants that manages to feel truly special — towering ceilings, Renaissance-meets-street-art murals — but also deeply welcoming. That could be because it’s a twin love letter to chef Steve Samson’s childhood in L.A. and summer vacations with his grandparents in Bologna, Italy. Come for the housemade charcuterie, stay for the soulful pastas and wood-grilled seafood.
rossoblula.com, 1124 San Julian St.
In L.A., $3 can buy you the meal of a lifetime. That’s the case at this counter-service taqueria in the Fashion District where homemade, buttery flour tortillas cradle mesquite-grilled beef, finely shredded cabbage, red salsa, and a creamy smooth guacamole. Feeling spendy? Get a $5 chivichanga,
a medium-sized burrito stuffed with shredded beef, oozing cheese, and smoky Anaheim chiles.
sonoratown.com, 208 E. 8th St.
One of the most important lessons you learn as an Angeleno: The best food often comes in the most unexpected packaging. So don’t be surprised when you discover some of the best sushi in L.A. not at some beachside spot in Malibu, but in an unassuming strip mall. Go big at the sushi bar for the full omakase, or follow in-the-know locals for the shockingly affordable $23 lunch special, a generous sampler of what’s fresh and seasonal.
sushigen-dtla.com, 422 E. 2nd St.
SNACK AND SIP
While the rest of L.A. has to Uber between party spots, nightlife in Downtown is a breeze thanks to its compact nature. And that gorgeous California weather means alfresco is where it’s at, from tiki drinks by a rooftop pool to pints on a brewery’s patio. Recover the next morning with locally roasted cold brews, vegan donuts, and açai bowls at DTLA’s coffee shops and bakeries.
BARS IN DOWNTOWN L.A. (AND CAFES TOO)
A refreshing drink by the pool at Broken Shaker. Photo courtesy of Broken Shaker.
When it comes to bars in Downtown L.A., you won’t be disappointed. Our top picks below each boast their own unique flair, along with their signature libations, and always seem to have something new to try. Of course, the cafes are good too, offering specialty brews and breakfast in Downtown L.A.
ANGEL CITY BREWERY
Breweries aren’t always known for being paragons of design, but this one is housed in a century-plus-year-old warehouse that once made Slinkys and is now wrapped in a mural by famed street artist JR. The cavernous spot is the place for day drinking with food trucks parked out front, alt rock on the speakers, and locals and their cute dogs playing cornhole on the patio.
angelcitybrewery.com, 216 S. Alameda St.
Everyone has their favorite DTLA poolside bar, from the arty crowd at the Ace to the glamazons at the Hotel Figueroa. But our favorite for both views and vibes is the Broken Shaker, a tiki bar perched atop the Freehand Hotel. Reserve one of the vintage poolside tables topped in quirky mismatched tablecloths (or be prepared to wait on the weekend) and browse the menu of cocktails with winky names like the Thirst Trap (mezcal with kiwi, sorrel sirop, and white wine spritzer).
freehandhotels.com, 416 W. 8th St.
Opened by a former pop punk producer, this vegan donut shop is about as alternative as donuts can get. And as delicious. The goods are inspired by everything from bands to Girl Scout cookies — our favorite, Nutellavision, is filled with chocolate hazelnut spread and a dash of olive oil and topped with vanilla glaze and sea salt — but you can’t really go wrong.
donutfriend.com, 543 S. Broadway.
Tucked beneath twinkling lights down an alleyway in Little Tokyo, Far Bar is big on charm. But it doesn’t rest on good looks alone: The largest distributor of Japanese craft beer in Southern California also offers an impressive selection of more than 500 whiskies. All of the above works well with the Asian-inflected bar food (think shitake miso burgers and bacon fried rice).
farbarla.com, 347 E. 1st St.
Library Bar is like a perfect pair of jeans. It’s great for lots of different occasions — after-work drinks with colleagues, a first date, a post-dinner wind-down. The bibliological theme manages to be both endearing and a little kitschy. But you can get away with a cocktail named Tequila Mockingbird when it’s so expertly mixed, with serrano pepper–infused tequila, blackberry shrub, and lime.
librarybarla.com, 630 W. 6th St.
VERVE COFFEE ROASTERS
Screenwriters and streetwear designers, gallery girls and finance types — they all mix at this stunning roastery in the Arts District. Craft coffee is roasted onsite; order it iced and it arrives in the kind of elegant crystal usually reserved for Old Fashioneds. They make those, too, with cold brew, bitters, and coconut sugar. The breakfast and lunch menus focus on seasonal and sustainable ingredients — banana sesame pancakes with mascarpone and poached berries, soba salad with turmeric cauliflower and miso tofu.
vervecoffee.com, 500 Mateo St.
SHOP LIKE A LOCAL
Artists gravitated towards DTLA in the early aughts for the gritty but affordable lofts and stayed, opening galleries and boutiques. Fashion types opened shops in DTLA thanks to the proximity to the fabric district. And everyone comes together at developments like ROW DTLA, the former American Apparel factory turned shopping district.
DOWNTOWN L.A. SHOPPING
Find flowers and plants galore at the Downtown L.A. flower market. Photo courtesy of The Original Los Angeles Flower Market.
Shopping in DTLA spans the gamut of super-specific stores to sprawling shopping centers. The district is even home to the Downtown L.A. flower market — must-see whether you’re a skilled florist or simply wanting to pick up a fresh, DIY bouquet for your apartment.
Covering more than 32 acres, the former American Apparel factory has been repurposed into an industrial-chic shopping and culinary destination. From hypebeast streetwear at Bodega
to arty home goods at Poketo,
the playful fashions of Pantora
to the effortless basics of Shades of Grey,
it’s perfect for an afternoon of shopping followed by Japanese fried chicken at Pikunico,
elegant bento boxes at Hayato,
or oyster happy hour at Rappahannock.
On the weekends, you won’t want to miss Smorgasburg LA,
the country’s largest weekly open-air food market in America.
rowdtla.com, 777 S. Alameda St.
Owner Itika Oldwine has created floral fantasies for everyone from Hollywood celebs to fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and Alexander Wang. Her jewel box of a shop in Downtown L.A. sits just blocks from the Flower Market, ensuring that she gets the best of the best flowers for her in-shop bouquets.
oldvineflorals.com, 132 W. 7th St.
THE LAST BOOKSTORE
Few booksellers can claim to be as magical as the tales on their shelves, but the Last Bookstore does not disappoint. Housed in an old bank, the 22,000-square-foot space draws readers through an imaginative labyrinth of tomes, some suspended in mid-air, others forming tunnels, still others spiraling into sculptures and mobiles. Oh yeah — you can buy one to read, too.
lastbookstorela.com, 453 S. Spring St.
HENNESSY + INGALLS
As one of the most architecturally diverse cities in the country, L.A. deserves an entire bookstore devoted to art, architecture, and design. Hence Hennessy + Ingalls, a family-owned trove of books in the Arts District, across from renowned architecture school SCI-Arc. Need to upgrade your coffee table selection? This is the place.
hennesseyingalls.com, 300 S. Santa Fe Ave., Suite M.
Wife and husband duo Jodi and Stephen Zeigler created this appointment-only art gallery and lifestyle shop in a former 19th-century brothel. It’s become a community space hosting shows by artists like Gusmano Cesaretti and Kovi Konowiecki, and proffers a wonderfully curated mix of 70s-style ceramics, vintage music posters, sculptural jewelry, and out-of-print art books.
thesedaysla.com, 118 Winston St.
THE SMALL SHOP
Yeah, it’s small, but this DTLA boutique has a big heart, and the loose, funky displays of clothing and accessories have the vibe of a cool friend’s apartment. Locals drop by to check out owner Joel Stallworth’s quirky curated collection of vintage sunglasses and hats as well as their house streetwear brand, Lost in Los Angeles.
thesmallshopla.com, 215 W. 6th St., Unit 108.
THE ORIGINAL LOS ANGELES FLOWER MARKET
The Downtown L.A. flower market is a local legend. Here, the early bird gets the blooms at America’s largest wholesale flower market, spread over six square blocks of DTLA. Event planners, hotels, and florists-to-the-stars arrive as early as 4am to get the freshest of florals, flown in from around the world. Don’t worry, they don’t let the general public until 8am. Bring cash and shop around for the best prices, then head across the street to
Poppy + Rose
for Southern-inspired brunch.
originallaflowermarket.com, 754 Wall St.
GET OUTSIDE (AND BRING A FURRY FRIEND)
At first, Los Angeles may seem like just another concrete jungle — it’s known for its endless freeways and constant traffic after all! As you get to know it better, you’ll quickly realize it also offers a wealth of outdoor adventures. While L.A. has plenty of options for outdoor fun, from miles of sand and surf to epic mountain hikes, we also love wandering the beautiful micro-neighborhoods and outdoor spaces around DTLA.
PARKS IN DOWNTOWN L.A.
Spread out in front of the gorgeous Central Library, Maguire Gardens is one of the most charming parks in Downtown L.A. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library.
Hollywood set-worthy strolls, historic venues, and more — these are the parks in Downtown L.A. to explore throughout the neighborhood. Plus, they’re all walkable from Sentral DTLA.
LOS ANGELES STATE HISTORIC PARK AND CHINATOWN
If you feel like you’ve wandered onto a movie set while strolling through Chinatown, that’s because you have. After the original Chinatown was crudely demolished in the 1930s to make way for Union Station, Hollywood set designers created a new one with plazas and shopping arcades providing a larger than life retro vibe. Stroll amid the candy-colored buildings of Chinatown Central Plaza, grab a cold brew oolong tea from
, and check out the new 32-acre L.A. State Historic Park’s miles of paths — perfect for dog walking.
oldchinatownla.com, 943 N. Broadway.
What was once a parking lot was transformed in the 1980s into one of the most serene outdoor spaces in DTLA. Set in front of L.A. Central Library’s grand Egyptian Revival building (which is also well worth exploring), this 2.5-acre park features large-scale art installations. Sculptor Jud Fine’s Spine
is the centerpiece, with a pool as the central spine and the stairs, inscribed with quotations in various languages, forming the pages of a book.
lapl.org, Flower St.
GET SOME CULTURE
Downtown L.A. was the city’s original cultural hub, and it has regained that crown in recent years thanks to mega-institutions like The Broad and Hauser & Wirth putting down artistic (and architectural) roots. Couple that with restored movie palaces and historic monuments, and you’ve got a rich tapestry of cultural experiences all in one place.
THINGS TO DO IN DOWNTOWN L.A.
The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, located just a mile and a half away from Sentral DTLA. Photo courtesy of The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA.
The list of things to do in Downtown L.A. is never ending but we’ve narrowed our favorite cultural attractions and activities that offer endless inspiration and welcome escapes.
There are gifts, and then there’s what Eli and Edythe Broad did for L.A.’s cultural scene in 2015, when they opened this free temple to contemporary art in Downtown L.A. Their 2,000-piece collection is housed in the now-iconic Diller Scofidio + Renfro building that locals lovingly call the “cheese grater.” Come for the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room
selfies, stay for the Cy Twomblys, Kara Walkers, and Roy Lichtensteins.
thebroad.org, 221 S. Grand Ave.
THE GEFFEN CONTEMPORARY AT MOCA
Frank Gehry transformed this former police car warehouse in Little Tokyo into an edgy 40,000-square-foot contemporary art museum. Exhibits tend to focus on edgier subjects, like Swiss media artist Pipilotti Rist or photographer and sculptor Zoe Leonard. (MOCA’s Grand Avenue location is where you’ll find the permanent collection, featuring works by Rothko, Twombly, Mondrian, and Pollock.)
moca.org, 152 N. Central Ave.
HAUSER & WIRTH
What’s now dubbed the Arts District began life in the 1990s as creative types moved to DTLA for the cheap warehouse lofts and studio spaces. The transformation arguably reached its pinnacle (in both reputation and rents) with the opening of Hauser & Wirth. In this 10,775-square-foot former flour mill, the Swiss heavy-hitter gallerist shows a mix of established names and edgy newcomers. Charming Southern restaurant Manuela gets its eggs from the gallery’s chicken coop.
hauserwirth.com, 901 E. 3rd St.
A stroll down Olvera will send you back in time to the early days of Los Angeles. Created in 1930, the street preserves the atmosphere of early California, centered around the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, which commemorates the site where 44 settlers of Native American, African, and European heritage established a farming community in 1781. Grab a beef taquito at
and listen to the strolling mariachi bands.
olvera-street.com, Olvera & E. Cesar Chavez Ave.
While we don’t typically recommend experiencing a place by sitting in front of a screen, watching a film is certainly one of the more popular things to do in Downtown L.A. There’s no better way to catch a flick than alfresco, perched on a rooftop or a blanket in the park.
Rooftop Cinema Club
, which shows classic films seasonally atop an apartment building, goes luxe with wireless headphones, cozy deck chairs, and a full bar. Prefer ground-level viewings?
Street Food Cinema
screens crowd-pleasing films in Expo Park and Los Angeles State Historic Park with gourmet food trucks matched to the movies on offer.
THE THEATRE AT ACE HOTEL
You can still spot original owners Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and D.W. Griffith in the murals beneath the Spanish Gothic flourishes of this grand movie palace, built in 1927 as the United Artists Theatre. The folks behind the adjacent Ace Hotel lovingly restored the 1,600-seat theater and have hosted everyone from James Blake and Billy Idol to Bernie Sanders. Advance tickets are a must.
acehotel.com, 929 S. Broadway.
Explore Downtown Los Angeles Area Map
EXPERIENCE THE BEST OF DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES BY LIVING AT SENTRAL, WITH TWO LOCATIONS RIGHT IN THE HEART OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD.
Discover Sentral DTLA at 732 S. Spring
Discover Sentral DTLA at 755 S. Spring
ABOUT THE WRITER
After a decade of traveling the world for publications like Travel + Leisure, Elle and Condé Nast Traveler, Colleen Clark settled in sunny LA. She now finds adventure scouring the far corners of the city to find tasty eats and hiking the city’s many peaks.
MORE TO EXPLORE:
An Insider Guide to Miami’s Wynwood District
An Insider Guide to Atlanta’s West Midtown
An Insider Guide to Chicago’s South Loop