Downtown Los Angeles

By Levi Clancy for לוי on
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Many Angelenos will argue that downtown LA isn't really the downtown, like, LA doesn't really have a downtown, because LA is so, like, spread out.

But nonetheless, Downtown LA is developing into a true urban core. I've found it increasingly useful for fabrics, raw supplies, the library, the high-rise hotels, macarons at Bottega Louie (never mind their entrees) and leisure at a penthouse. Downtown LA is what you make of it. It is too large to stroll through and take in everything, and many of its most precious gems are not advertised. Further, security is inconsistent. It is easy to stumble into famously dangerous districts anchored by prisons and soup kitchens, where people live in ephemeral tent slums that pop up overnight and are packed into shopping carts during the day. Thin as they are, the borders between safety and danger are very discrete. Different ends of a city block can exist in entirely different worlds. One time I asked my friend if it was safe to walk to a certain bus stop at night. "Yes, that area is fine." "But aren't the soup kitchens just a block or two away?" "Exactly, a block makes a big difference in downtown LA."

Westlake (MacArthur Park)

Often just called MacArthur Park since the park dominates the neighborhood, this colorful area has a quintessential Latino neighborhood against an incredible historic backdrop. Sausage carts, fruit carts, free clinics and calling card tiendas abound in and around monuments like the Westlake Theatre and other early 20th-century structures. MacArthur Park's enormous pond is a source of relaxation, fun and even food for the Westlake neighborhood. Folks around the perimeter reach in deep to pull out cray fish. Others sit on the grassy lawns to watch the day pass by. Entrepreneurs roam for customers, slinging paletas and even fake IDs. This is the go-to spot for fake IDs.

Los Angeles Westlake Theatre
Westlake Theatre

Los Angeles Westlake MacArthur Park
MacArthur Park

Los Angeles Westlake MacArthur Park
MacArthur Park

Financial District (Bunker Hill)

The Financial District is a metropolis of tall buildings -- a mix of Manhattan's corporate height and downtown Chicago's sterile cleanliness. The core of the Financial District is along Grand Avenue, stretching from 8th St to 3rd St. It is a citadel of finance situated on Bunker Hill, which was once a natural feature rising above the basin but is now recognized only by the steepness of some blocks. In the evening it grows quiet -- why should a café stay open, when its clients are the 9-5ers? However, especially around 7th St there are some exceptional restaurants and hotels open late into the night. Highlights of the Financial District include Wells Fargo Center (with a history museum open weekday business hours, wellsfargohistory.com). The Financial District is an island of safety. Venture a block outside of its confines, especially at night, and you'll be swept away by addicts, lunatics, homeless -- the flotsam of urban life that washes up at Downtown LA's soup kitchens and shelters.

Civic Center

Civic Center is the largest complex of civic government buildings in the whole United States, outside of Washington DC. It fell into disrepair after the 1994 earthquake, and has been reinvigorated since the naughts. There are absolutely incredible sights here, many of which are hidden in plain sight, including LA City Hall, Cathedral of Our Lady Angels and the Department of Water and Power.

Music Center

Music Center and Civic Center are contiguous and are anchored together by Grand Park.

Union Station

Union Station is Los Angeles' primary rail hub. It was the last of the great American train stations to be built and is adjacent to El Pueblo.

El Pueblo (Olvera Street)

Also known as just Olvera Street, in 1781 this was the site where the Spanish founded the pueblo (civilian settlement) called Los Angeles.

Chinatown

Great for an assemblage of cheap goods all in a small walking distance -- an ideal option for those who want a place to stop and eat, and without the motivation to go to the Fashion District which sells infinitely more products, and in more colors and sizes too.

Historic core

New businesses, new lofts and frequent film crews are providing Los Angeles a live-work-play history-soaked urban nucleus. A density of art galleries has sprung up in the historic core. The myriad assortment of historic, ornate buildings is punctuated by Los Angeles' astonishing cinema palaces from yesteryear.

Wholesale districts

The Wholesale Districts are a mostly two-and three-story swath with a mind-blowing litany of wholesale shops. Goods percolate from here to fill neighborhood shops throughout the region. Within the Wholesale District are clumps of similar shops, giving rise to names like Toy District, Fashion/Garment District (anchored by Michael Levine), Flower District (anchored by Flower Mart), and that little row of shops that sell nothing but bongs, kinda near Little Tokyo. Many smaller stores admit individual shoppers, but others have blaring signs Wholesale Only! or Non-Members Please Use Other Line. Around any corner may be another busy alley or indoor bazaar; the gutters run with beads, threads and shards.

Skid Row

Soup kitchens, broken glass, wheelchairs, this is where those unable to assist themselves come for assistance.

South Park (LA Live)

Home to FIDM and a sterile attempt at a live-work-play -- it feels like a generic mega-city, but lots of concert-goers and some apartments keep the economy here going.

West Adams (USC)

Cupolas and facades give this beautiful but theft-prone neighborhood a sultry noir appeal. USC and Exposition Park ground the area with much needed islands of safety.

Exposition Park

Space shuttles, solariums and dinosaurs housed in Beaux Arts museums make Exposition Park a botanical, architectural, historic and scientific point of pride Los Angeles -- that is, if you ever get past the breath-taking, syrupy scents of the rose garden.