Downtown, Los Angeles
In response to a forum question:
So many things to do in LA specially if it is your first time. But if you are a good driver and have international license, I suggest renting a car which is so cheap anyway -- there's a lot of good deals that sometimes just charge under $30 a day (sometime even less than 20 USD).
Having a car saves so much time becase unlike in Europe, public transportation is not as extensive in California. But if you can, try to rent a car with GPS, or if you have GPS, bring your own. The drive from LA to San Francisco is nice and can be done in less than half a day, depending how much you stop.
Driving is the way you can understand the California way of life --- traffic sometimes in LA specially during rush hour. Once in SF though, you can just leave you car in your hotel and just use the nice public transportation of trams and buses which are easy to understand. It is harder to drive around the congested "up and down" 45- degree hills in SF...but a nice experience to go through the world's crookedest street! In driving from SF to LA or vice-versa, you can also take the more scenic Carmel route which goes along the California coast (see the map and freeways).
The AAA map is nice and if you have a friend who is a member in USA, they can get the map for you for free and even a little book for free which will outline everything you can do around California.
The title says it all. While, Chinatown and Little Tokyo as well as a museum and the music center are downtown, after night fall, dowtown is pretty much a deserted no man's land. Some of the major swank hotels are located in this area, and unless you're doing something in particular at one of the areas above, you're just wandering around deserted streets. There are for example, no grocery stores in downtown at night and no foot traffic except for the bums in skid row. You heard it here first. Some boosters will disagree with me, but realistically it's a disgrace that LA's downtown is so deserted.
UPDATE- some major steps have been made, and downtown is starting to come around a little more, much like it did in the 80s before crashing. But it seems a bit different this time, and as a testament to the possible viability of downtown as a residential area, Ralph's supermarkets is even planning on putting in downtown's first full service supermarket.
Hoever it shakes out, don't expect to head downtown at night and see a bustling street life like you'd expect in NYC or other 'downtown' areas like European historical centers.
If you are in LA only for a couple of days, here is my personal list of things to see and suggestions on how to get organized for that. You don't need a car
1st day: the city
start from Union Station, an old beautiful train station (reach it by bus or metro, by car you can find reasonably cheap parking). Have a walk to Olvera Street where the historical core of LA is (the old mexican market, the oldest house in LA, the mission of Our Lady of Angels, el Pueblo, it's all there - 2 hours). You can walk towards downtown switching between grand, hope, flower, spring street. Along the way, have a look at the downtown area (the skyscrapers, the city hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall - 2 hours), take the metro redline at 7th / Figueroa to hollywood/highland and visit Gruman Chinese and Kodak Theater, walk of fame, it's all there (2 hours). You can take here the Bus to LA zoo and from there the bus to the Griffith Observatory. You must book in advance by internet. Be there at sunset, when LA turns lazily into the City of Lights (you can stay there until 10 pm).
If you are not tired yet and want to spend the night out, do it at Sunset BLVD, in the suset strip. There are some clubs that have made the history of music/glamour like The Roxy, The Viper Room, Wiskey a gogo. Take a taxi back to your hotel if you are late.
2nd day: the beach
take bus number 20/21 downtown to Santa Monica. step out and rent a bike somewhere with a locker. you can ride the bike all the way to Venice beach, there is a very nice byke\\pedestrian path. Stop where you like and enjoy the beach, people watching, entartainers, shops, etc. You can spend all the day and early afternoon to go and come back.
At Santa Monica I suggest a walk on the mythical pier and along third street promenade. At sunset stay on Pacific Palisades park at Santa Monica, another set of an endless number of movies. Enjoy the sunset and twilight on the Pacific.
at California Discovery Center! She has officially retired here in the Exposition Park venue.
Salute her at:
700 Exposition Park Dr. Los Angeles, CA 90037
Make a timed reservation for your visit!
Fondest memory: seeing the Endeavour literally creep down the streets of South L.A. and Leimert Park. A magnificent part of U.S. history rolled right in front of my eyes!
Real Deals and People in downtown
If you like to discover the daily beat of the locals while visiting a new area as I do, come to the Fashion District. And, oh yeah, if you refuse to pay full price for various items, make your way here, where you will find the famous cheap-sometimes chic shopping mecca of Santee Alley and more..
Warning--Streets in these parts are not pristine at all. This is a shabby area and you should take some extra precaution here though it's not a very dangerous area (basically, don't fall into the bad tourist traps of flashing money, not looking around you, etc). However, it is worth coming here to see the everyday, non-pretentious folk and the daily dealings of the sale.
At Santee Alley or "The Alley", sellers showcase everything knock-off-sunglasses, purses, jeans, suits, shoes, etc. Don't expect to find the truly authentic garb and accessories from the Guccis and all but , hey, don't knock the knock-offs- they're just as fabulous! There have been some police raids done here of fake merchandise but Santee continues to thrive.
Besides the Alley, one will come across the Flower Mart, really a district within the bigger one. The L.A. Flower District is the largest market dedicated to flowers in the U.S. It's amazing to see virtually every kind of flower on Mother Earth. Oh, the aroma here- come here to get your organic perfume on!
Fondest memory: Getting, at last, my fabulous $4 black purse in the district!!
I just found this very informative website on Los Angeles, not sure why I've never used it before. See My LA is the LA Convention and Visitors Bureau website and has a ton of info on what to see and do in LA. Log on and you can order a free visitors guide.
It also has a link to another website LA Downtown Guide which has terrific information on touring the city's downtown area.
This is how downtown Los Angeles looks like in the middle of the summer.
"The citycenter" is basically just this officebuildings in the background.
It was not bad weather when I took this picture. The grey/brown color is unfortunatly the smog.
This picture is taken from Griffith Park Observatory.
SUSPENDED: Lacking of Funding. The city's kinda broke! Maybe it will come back. "til then, consider this a MarinArena classic vault tip!)
Entertaining streets downtown!
Grand Avenue is one of many good streets downtown for going and out. The best way to sample what it has to offer is to arrive here for the Grand Avenue festival in the fall. The next one is scheduled to be in October. Last year was the second time for the official festivities and my first time there. On one day, one can get to see free highly caliber performances along the street and off Grand at the Music Center and other venues, as well as sample foods from various delectable downtown establishments that set up stalls.
Grand Ave Festival ...
is very family friendly
very accessible with Metro (Pershing Square stop, 7th/Fig and Civic Center stop all relatively close by (5-15 min walking distance). Driving and parking can be a little problematic.
Good food court/markets!
Grand Central Market is a neighborhood treasure. Downtowners especiallyappreciate it for providing a variety of fruits, veggies, meats, exotic spices and more which would all be otherwise hard to get. If you happen to be downtown, this is the place to go for a filling meal without emptying the pocket. Various deli-style sandwiches are served and gobbled up. There is a good selection of cuisines- but, of course Mexican and other Latino foods are most popular, given the heavily-populated Hispanic community living around and frequenting here. My special tip- try Sarita's Pupuseria for Salvadoran craving feeding hungry mouths.
Food vendors are scattered upstairs (street level). There is a discount store underground. Basically, it is good for a quick drink, snack, a cheap toy , crayons, greeting card, an item for school/work and various other "knick-knacks"that make their way on the shelves. I actually found a fashionable pair of sparkling pink shoes for just $3. They would have been easily $20 at the mall. Oh the thrill of walking up to a fabulous deal!!!
Grand Central Market is between 3th St and 5th St, between Hill and Broadway.
Fondest memory: OK, not the fondest but I do miss my Sarita's pupusas and paying just 33 cents for a head of lettuce here instead on 80 cents+ in the suburbs!!!
Contemporary art is always on display in downtown LA.- and not just at the Museum of Contemporary Art, or MOCA, as we locals call the venue. Rather, an intriguing showcase of what I'd deem contemporary and artistic (even though commercial also) is the continuous tri-wall mural of Hotel Figueroa. Each day, thousands or motorists and pedestrians pass by and many notice the latest commecial advertisement for us to take into our consciousness- or just to simply glance at and then quickly forget.
The Moroccan-Arabesque themed hotel, opened in 1925 is architecturally charming itself. Ooh, the ornate design of the tiles, lanterns, gates and doors here...ooh la la the bold rich red, yellow, orange, blues on the exterior and within the hotel- will make you think you're in Casablanca, or Fez.
Check it out: http://www.figueroahotel.com/pages/about02.html
939, S. Figueroa Street
near Staples Center
Fondest memory: drinking a few fruity spirits in the gorgeous lobby after work. Made for very happy hours!
There is a bad myth about L.A. It is said often that the city is not good for walking. I beg to differ! True, people are so dependent on cars here. This is evident on the jam-packed freeways and equally crowded streets. However, walking is quite common and convenient especially when in downtown.
On 5th, between Olive and Flower St, is especially nice for a stroll. This is where I have often begun my little trips in downtown because my bus stops around here. Along this street is Pershing Square , the Central Library (including Maguire Gardens park area adjacent), the historic One Bunker Hill building, Westin Bonadventure and Arco Plaza.
There is quite enough history just on this stretch of 5th St. itself, let alone other paths. I'll elaborate about these sometime soon!
One can explore latino (particularly Mexican) culture about everywhere in Los Angeles. Yet, going from downtown L.A. on Pico Ave is an especially interesting way to discover Latino life and culture.
Fondest memory: I love to capture murals like this one (along Pico). I happen to be on the bus when I snapped this one. The smeared look of this pic from the bus window adds an interesting effect of the image. It is that of an angel. The mural reads, " We are each of us angels with one wing. We can only fly embracing each other." There are so many murals, small and big, to count throughout the city.
Great websites for places to go in downtown L.A. with walking maps.
1. Civic Center (Cathedral, Music Center, Disney Hall, MOCA & Plaza, Bunker Steps, Library, Jewelry District)
2. Union Station/Olivera St. (across from Union Station)
3. Chinatown (near Olivera St.)
4. Little Tokyo
Ralph's Fresh Fare on 9th St
If you're staying in downtown L.A. for an extended time, you'll surely want to make coming here as an vital errand. As it stands now, this is the ONLY major chain supermarket in all of downtown. Fresh Fare is a high quality market in an emerging upscale part of town with an abundance of gourmet, organic and specialty grocery and misc items, as well as an on-site cleaners and fabulous deli and cafe with ample seating. The store is super clean and fancy. Come especially for the produce section. The fruit assortment is amazing. Surely, the prices here are quite costly in many cases but not all. On one occasion, I saw a toothbrush with a fancy Colgate or similar toothpaste advertised for only 98 cents! It helps to have the Ralph's club card to save but if just briefly in town, a shopper behind you may just lend his/her card or the clerk may swipe a a spare savings card as a courtesy .
Warning: Street parking is scarcse and sometimes risky here. One has to compete against residential parking across the market. There is a parking garage with validation as official market parking (90 min free parking). There are many car tow announcements in the store!
645 W 9th St, (213) 452-0840
Downtown Los Angeles
Just as you'd imagine, LA's downtown area is framed by freeways rather than any particular geographic boundary. The Hollywood Fwy lies to the north, the Harbor Fwy to the west, the Santa Monica Fwy to the south and a bird's nest of other freeways intertwine beyond the Los Angeles River to the east. In the thick of all this concrete and congestion, however, intrepid urbanites will find a number of pockets worth exploring.
Extending eight blocks east to west, the city's Civic Center is America's largest complex of government buildings after Washington, DC. It contains the most important of LA's city, county, state and federal office buildings, including the US Federal Courthouse, where the infamous OJ Simpson murder trial took place in 1995, and the 1928 City Hall, which served as the Daily Planet building in Superman and the police station in Dragnet. North across Temple St from City Hall is the excellent LA Children's Museum.
A few blocks east of the Civic Center, El Pueblo de Los Angeles is a 44 acre (18ha) state historic park commemorating the site where the city was founded in 1781 and preserving many of its earliest buildings. Its central attraction for most visitors is Olvera Street, a narrow, block-long passageway that was restored as an open-air Mexican marketplace in 1930. In addition to its restaurants, Olvera St teems with the shops and stalls of vendors selling all manner of Mexican crafts, from leather belts and bags to handmade candles and colorful piñatas.
Directly across from El Pueblo is Union Station, one of LA's oft-overlooked architectural treasures. Built in 1939 in Spanish Mission style with Moorish and Moderne details, it's worth a stop even if you aren't hopping a train. A few blocks north of the station, the 16 square blocks of Chinatown comprise the social and cultural nucleus of LA's 200,000 Chinese residents. Here, the businesses of traditional acupuncturists and herbalists mingle with scores of restaurants and shops whose inventories vary from cheap kitsch to exquisite silk clothing, inlaid furniture, antique porcelain and intricate religious art.
Immediately southeast of the Civic Center is Little Tokyo. First settled by early Japanese immigrants in the 1880s and thriving by the 1920s, the neighborhood was effectively decimated by the anti-Japanese hysteria of the WWII years. Thanks in part to an injection of investment from the 'old country,' Little Tokyo is again the locus for LA's Japanese population of nearly a quarter million. Among its streets and outdoor shopping centers, you'll find sushi bars, bento houses and traditional Japanese gardens. Housed in a historic Buddhist temple, the Japanese American National Museum, exhibits objects and art that relate the history of Japanese emigration to, and life in, the USA.
Just southwest of the Civic Center is the Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. It houses what is considered one of the world's most important collection of paintings, sculptures and photographs from the 1940s to the present. Just west of MOCA is The Westin Bonaventure hotel, a quintet of cylindrical glass towers that are instantly recognizable to any regular moviegoer.
South of the Civic Center, LA's Hispanic shopping district is a deliciously cluttery mix of cheap restaurants, frilly wedding dress shops and blaring Latin pop. For a shocking contrast to the bustling street scene, step inside the 1893 Bradbury Building, where a skylit, five-story atrium is surrounded by Belgian marble, Mexican tiles, ornate French wrought-iron railings, glazed brick walls, oak paneling and a pair of open-cage elevators. You've seen it in detail if you've seen the movies Blade Runner or Wolf. Across the street from the Bradbury, between Broadway and Hill St, Grand Central Market is LA's oldest (1917) and largest open-air food market.
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Los Angeles has built its reputation on the glamour of the movies, and most visitors want at least a little of its glitz to rub off on them. Hollywood itself (in northwestern LA) is no longer the movie mecca it once was, but it certainly holds plenty of historic interest. Take a walk down Hollywood Blvd and you'll pass by famous sights such as Mann's (née Grauman's) Chinese Theatre, where more than 150 of the glitterati have left their prints on the sidewalk out the front. Head east along the Boulevard, stepping on those famous bronze stars, and you'll find yourself at the Roosevelt Hotel. Soak up a bit of 1930s ambiance: this is where the first Academy Awards were held in 1928 and where Errol Flynn, Salvador Dali and F Scott Fitzgerald often propped up the bar.
The corner of Hollywood and Vine was once the heart of off-screen action for the Industry, but you wouldn't know it now. If you want a memento of those golden days, the Collectors Book Store on the corner is a treasure trove of memorabilia. If you don't manage to spot a real star while you're in Hollywood, drop by the Hollywood Wax Museum or (for real stars' knickers) Frederick's of Hollywood Lingerie Museum.
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Does anyone go to Los Angeles and not visit Disneyland? Apparently the happiest place on earth (though the hordes of screaming children and parents at their wits' end may make you doubt it), Disneyland is a masterpiece of picture-perfect choreography - even the litter bins are themed. The park is divided into four different lands: Adventureland has a jungle theme and features Indiana Jones and the Forbidden Eye; Frontierland celebrates the myth of the Wild West; Fantasyland devotes itself to Disney's favorite characters; and Tomorrowland is (you guessed it) all about the future. In summer, you'll spend the better part of your visit to Disneyland queuing - one of the best ways to avoid this is to come in the evening when the kiddies are in bed. Uncle Walt's wonderland is in Anaheim, half an hour's drive south of downtown LA; you can get there by bus, hotel shuttle or by car on I-5.
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To lift your chances of running into a living, working actor, visit Universal City, home of the very-much functional Universal Studios and one of LA's biggest theme parks. The studios were built in 1915, and public tours have been running since 1964. Catch a tram on the Backlot Tour to see the locations of several famous movies and TV shows, or spend your bucks on one of the many movie-related rides. Universal also features special effects displays, musical-comedy revues and an animal actors stage. The studio's eight restaurants are prime star-spotting territory. Universal is in the San Fernando Valley, north of the city.
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No star-studded tour would be complete without a visit to Beverly Hills, home to the rich and famous. Just west of Hollywood, this city-within-a-city flaunts its wealth with opulent manors on manicured grounds and shopping streets overflowing with designer labels. The Hills' Golden Triangle is bisected by that locus of conspicuous consumption, Rodeo Drive, where retailers such as Tiffany, Armani and Vuitton flog their wares.
North Beverly Hills is the epicenter of luxury living, home to the likes of Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and Harrison Ford. For all the latest on who lives where, pick up a 'Star Home Map' from a street-corner vendor. If your desire to look over strangers' fences isn't sated by Beverly Hills, extend your trip to that other famous neighborhood, Bel Air, in western LA, or the slightly less lively (but nonetheless star-studded) Hollywood Memorial Cemetery, final resting place of Rudolph Valentino, Jayne Mansfield and Cecil B De Mille.
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Los Angeles' beaches have a lot of hype to live up to, and in most cases they don't quite make it. Immortalized by the Beach Boys, Beach Blanket Bingo and Baywatch as miles of golden sand awash with babes of both sexes, in reality the city's beaches are often polluted and sparsely populated. Nonetheless, some of them are definitely worth a look. Malibu is the archetypal Southern California babe beach and your best bet for sunning and swimming. West of the city, Malibu's beaches are backed by the rugged mountains of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. It can be quite difficult to find a stretch of sand, as much of the shoreline is privately owned, but there are some very pleasant state beaches.
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Just north of the airport, Santa Monica is one of the city's most appealing neighborhoods. Although the beach only comes to life on the hottest summer days, the surrounding area is a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon. The heart of Santa Monica is the 3rd St Promenade, a lively pedestrian mall packed with buskers, movie theaters, bars and cafes. The Santa Monica pier, built between 1908 and 1921, is the oldest pleasure pier on the West Coast. It has plenty of old-world carnival attractions, including a 1920s carousel, and seafood restaurants. The neighborhood is also home to some excellent museums of modern art.
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Venice Beach pretty much sums up the LA lifestyle. The beach's Ocean Front Walk is a human circus of jugglers and acrobats, tarot readers, jug-band musicians, pick-up basketballers, oiled-up fitness freaks and petition circulators. A hundred years ago, this place was just swampland, until an enterprising cigarette tycoon turned it into a network of gondola-poled canals and dubbed it the 'Playland of the Pacific.' Most of the canals have now been paved over, but the playland atmosphere is hanging in there. It's a great place to shop and an even better place to down a freshly-squeezed juice while the human tide washes over you.
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Contrary to popular belief, LA does have an intellectual, refined side. When you're shopped, glitzed, tanned and rollercoastered out, head for some of the best museums in the USA. Top of the list has to be the John Paul Getty collection of museums. The original Getty gallery, in a replica of an AD 79 Pompeiian villa on the Pacific Coast Hwy just west of Santa Monica, is undergoing extensive remodeling and will reopen as the Getty Villa in 2002. The Villa will house the Greek and Roman sculpture collections, which comprise only a fraction of one of the world's most valuable art collections (around US$3 billion worth). The museum's European and photography and numerous other collections are now on display at the stunning new 110-acre Getty Center in the Santa Monica mountains. Admission is free, making this one of the best bargains in town.
Other museums worth a look include downtown's Museum of Contemporary Art, which houses one of the world's best collections of modern art. The Museum of Tolerance, just south of Beverly Hills, presents a gut-wrenching look at some of the more appalling examples of human behavior. Its interactive, high-tech exhibits focus on the oppression of blacks in America and the Jewish Holocaust. At the other end of the spectrum, the Max Factor Beauty Museum in Hollywood lauds the cosmetics industry's role in creating many an LA beauty.