The insider’s guide to Downtown LA

This sprawling metropolis is a spider’s web of communities, each one shifting and changing, year on year. DTLA has seen a huge cultural renaissance, morphing from a vibrant theaterland in the Golden Age, to a business hub with a shady underworld, and now to a thriving art, food and hotel community. Here’s your essential handbook to the ’hood


The hip hideaways

When booking a place to stay in DTLA, you need to know your areas. A few blocks in the wrong direction and you could stray from hipster haven to a shadier spot of town. Our hotel picks? First up is The Freehand, located in the bustling financial district. This is where the city’s super-cool twenty-somethings hang out; the loft-style suites are so light and spacious that your soul will feel soothed the moment you open the door, and when the LA sun shines, head up to the roof where the Broken Shaker bar offers irresistible cocktails to sip while you survey the downtown scene. Next stop, the visually distinctive Line LA, originally built in 1964, for a buzzy, modern and super-stylish stay in Koreatown. The rooms here aren’t the biggest in LA, but they are comfortable and artfully decorated, with impressive views from the upper floors, and touches like boxed (rather than plastic-packaged) water. Besides, the hotel’s communal spaces are areas you really want to spend time in, from the second-floor pool to the light-filled Alfred cafe in the lobby and the Openaire restaurant, led by chef Josiah Citrin, which is so popular that you’ll need to lean in over shareable dishes of fresh, flavorsome Californian produce, in order to hear your dinner date over the buzz.

Both The Freehand and the Line Hotel enjoy epic views across Downtown

The culture corner

The DTLA arts district has swiftly become a destination in its own right, with the opening of The Broad in 2015 putting it firmly on the map. Even New Yorkers, with their pick of world-class galleries, keep making the pilgrimage to this modern art mecca, founded by philanthropists Edythe and Eli Broad, whose vision was to share their vast personal art collection with the public – for free. Four years later and the queues still wrap around the block, with people hoping to catch a glimpse of pieces by Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama, Richard Serra, Roy Lichtenstein and Cindy Sherman. Next up, LACMA. If you’ve seen an Instagram post of someone posing amidst a hoard of streetlamps, chances are the picture was taken at the light installation outside the gallery. Venture through the doors to explore pieces dating from Ancient Greece to the present day. Newer galleries like Hauser & Wirth have also opened up shop nearby – a testament to the area’s newfound creative credentials.

The foodie finds

Thanks to its diverse roots, nowhere else in LA boasts the cutting-edge foodie scene of Downtown. From food-truck renegades to experimental pop-ups, Grand Central market houses them all. Get in line for a turmeric and macadamia latte from G&B Coffee and a lox and cream-cheese bagel from modern Jewish deli Wexler’s. Then there’s Bestia, a Downtown institution, serving Italian-inspired small-plates, while vegan mainstay Café Gratitude is a must where, in true millennial style, dishes have worthy names like ‘Blessed’ (tempeh bolognese) ‘Committed’ (pulled mushroom sandwich) and ‘Humble’ (red lentil daal).

From slick Italian Bestia to hip vegan Café Gratitude, Downtown’s food scene ticks all the boxes
The artfully curated Alchemy Works is a retail, gallery and event space

Retail relief

Once a totally unlikely shopping destination, DTLA is luring shoppers away from Melrose and Abbot Kinney with the promise of something more avant-garde – when Dover Street Market opened last year in a sprawling, white-washed former factory, with interiors by Rei Kawakubo, it was a game changer for the area. For coffee-table books and one-off print editions, head to The Last Bookstore, a treasure trove of rarities where locals come to swap used paperbacks and gather with fellow bookworms. Alchemy Works is the place for bespoke gifts, like backpacks handmade with leather from WWII fighter plane seats and one-off ceramics. For mid-century pieces, interiors shop Hammer and Spear is an insider favorite where you can pick up an Ercol chair as well as healing crystals for your home.

Historic Hollywood

Be transported back to the Golden Age with a stop at the ornate theaters of Broadway, where Lana Turner, Katharine Hepburn and Veronica Lake all worked the red carpets and the buzz and beckoning of a new era once filled the air. The Los Angeles Theatre is the most extravagant of them all, dripping in gold leaf and marble and lit with crystal chandeliers, inspired by the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The Orpheum is a Beaux Arts marvel, now used as a music venue, while you may recognize The Million Dollar Theatre from films like (500) Days of Summer and The Artist.