Downtown Los Angeles has an authentic cultural buzz you won’t find in any other city. It’s a vibrant mix of old and new which has blended together to create something unique. Downtown LA is a part of the city where skyscrapers rub shoulders with historical buildings and museums share street addresses with movie theaters.
You never know what you’re going to find around the corner or on the next block. It could be a colorful mural covering the side of a building, a museum celebrating American music or a funicular railway. There are some fantastic suburbs in cities all over the States, but Downtown LA is one of the most exciting. DTLA is diverse.
Don’t miss out on any of these twenty-five things to do in Downtown LA when you’re there. Each and every one of them is unbelievably awesome.
1. Oue Skyspace
When you make it to Downtown LA, you’re going to want to see all of it. You can – from the Oue Skyspace Observation Deck.
The observation deck occupies the sixty-ninth and seventieth floors of the US Bank Tower. The iconic tower has featured in multiple films, ranks number ninety-two in the top one hundred tallest buildings in the world and is over a thousand feet high.
Take the elevator up, then step out onto the glass-walled terrace for incredible, three hundred and sixty-degree views of the city. You’ll feel like you’re standing on the edge of a precipice. Go during the day for uninterrupted vistas of Downtown LA stretching as far as the distant San Gabriel mountain range or at night, to see the city illuminated by a million lights.
Get tickets: OUE Skyspace LA Skyslide Combo Entry Ticket
If the sheer height of the Oue Skyspace doesn’t give you a dizzying adrenaline rush, then the Skyslide will.
The Skyslide is a forty-five foot long waterpark-style toboggan which juts out from the Oue Skyspace in the US Bank Tower. The chute is completely transparent, and as you whoosh down, you’ll see the street below, the sky above and the whole of downtown all around you.
It’s a wild ride and if you want to fly over Downtown LA, but don’t want to get in a helicopter, this is the way to do it.
3. Grand Central Market
Grand Central Market is not only the place to buy fresh produce; it’s the place to check out some of Downtown LA’s best street food.
The historic market has been serving the downtown community for a hundred years. Open seven days a week from early morning until ten at night, it’s the hub of the city and teeming with life.
Go hungry because you’ll want to taste it all. There’s everything from Mexican, traditional Japanese, sumptuous seafood and the all-American burger or barbecued ribs. Specialist breakfast stands, coffee, and confections, counter service or take away, you’ll definitely get well fed at the Grand Central Market.
4. LA Live
LA Live is a mega entertainment complex in Downtown LA. If it’s not happening at LA Live, then it’s not happening anywhere. Believe it.
LA Live isn’t just one building, it’s more of a city within a city and has its own streets and plazas covering a ground space of over five and a half million square feet.
Here you can catch a movie or theatre show, watch a concert, eat at any one of the numerous restaurants or chill-out with a drink in one of the many bars. You can even pamper yourself with a full spa treatment at the Ritz Carlton Spa. You can read some more about the spa a little further on.
5. Grand Park
Grand Park is the twelve-acre green heart of Downtown LA and the spot to choose if you want to have a relax outdoors away from the city hubbub.
If the LA temperatures are high, you can cool off in the public splash pads and have fun with the interactive water jets. Take a picnic and enjoy it while laying on the grass reading a book.
The parks also hosts multiple events, day and evening music and theatrical performances plus various food festivals throughout the year.
6. Escape Room LA
Think you’re clever enough to figure out the answers to a string of clues in a set amount of time? If so, you’ll have major fun at the Escape Rooms LA.
The Escape Rooms LA are the largest in the city, and there are five different mysteries to solve.
Test your skills of deduction in the 1940’s themed Detective Room or decipher the secrets of an ancient civilization to escape from the Cavern. Find elements to beat the Alchemist, let loose the phantom of the Theatre room or find a lost Mayan treasure in the Pyramid. The question is – will you do it quick enough?
7. Nickel Diner
The Nickel Diner serves original, American diner food in classy, vintage surroundings. If you’re a fan of the TV show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, you may have already seen it on your TV screen.
The diner’s furnishings will make you feel as if you’ve stepped inside a capsule where time hasn’t moved forward since the late forties. The only things which have changed are the prices. It does cost a little more than the five cents the name suggests.
Dive into wholesome all time favorites dishes like Mac and Cheese or something more contemporary like Stuffed Avocado with Quinoa. Whatever you eat – don’t miss out on tucking into a maple-glazed bacon donut.
8. Grammy Museum LA Live
If you’ve watched the Grammy Awards on TV and are a music aficionado, then the Grammy Museum will be a must visit on your list of things to do in Downtown LA.
The Grammy Museum is located in the entertainment nucleus, LA Live and has four floors of exhibitions dedicated to all aspects of the music industry as well as star items from the fifty years of the Grammy Awards.
You can even make your own kind of music on electronic instruments too and record yourself live while you do it.
9. The Ritz-Carlton Spa
Take time out and pamper yourself at the Ritz-Carlton Spa. The spa brings the glamor of Hollywood to Downtown LA. Lay back and sip on champagne while you’re given the red carpet treatment. Manicures, pedicures, facials or a twenty-four-carat gold powder body shimmer.
You’ll feel like a star of the silver screen in the spa’s sumptuous surroundings which take up a staggering eight thousand square feet of the luxury hotel’s floor space.
If you don’t want the full treatment, go for one of the lunchtime rejuvenation sessions instead. It lasts for an hour, and you get a Bento boxed lunch too.
10. Helicopter Tour
By day or by night, one of the most exciting ways to see Downtown LA is from above. You’ll have a birds-eye view of it all on a helicopter ride, and you’ll be able to snap off some seriously Instagrammable photos during the flight.
Take off then fly over the city at an altitude of around a thousand feet. The views of the skyscrapers are incredible, and you’ll be able to count the helipads on top of them.
The helicopter flights over Downtown LA also take in the Hollywood sign and some of the California coastline so there’s a lot more than urban vistas to see.
Suggested tour: Los Angeles at Night 30-Minute Helicopter Flight
11. DTLA Club Crawl
One way to have a great night out, but beat the weekend club queues and admission charges is to go on a hosted Club Crawl.
Meet your host at a designated venue, and they’ll give you the VIP treatment. There’s no standing in line once you’re wearing your Club Crawl wristband, you’ll be straight into the party. Hit the dance floor and enjoy a drink until it’s time to move on to the next club of the night.
A club crawl is a perfect way to meet people if you’re traveling alone or want to meet a few like-minded partygoers in the city. They’re real icebreakers.
12. Little Tokyo
Little Tokyo is a historic area of Downtown LA which, as the name might suggest, has a distinct Japanese atmosphere. The district has been a magnet for Japanese migrants and visitors since the early twentieth century. It’s a cool place to go sightseeing, shopping or to eat out.
Get some retail therapy at the Japanese Village Plaza Mall which is full of shops selling authentic Japanese produce and has a terrace strung with typical lanterns. Visit the Japanese American National Museum, the pagoda-style Little Tokyo Watchtower or the Friendship Knot statue. Eat all kinds of Japanese noodles or traditional Shabu Shabu soups. Browse the stalls at the Nijiya Market or rent yourself a karaoke booth and sing the night away.
Little Tokyo is so Japanese, while you’re there, you’ll forget you’re actually even in Downtown LA.
13. Angels Flight Railway
The Angels Flight Railway is one of Downtown LA’s most iconic landmarks and has been in operation since 1901.
The twin-railed funicular track, which carries over a million passengers a year, climbs the hill between Grand Avenue and Hill Street. It’s a steep but short ride in a tramcar-like carriage lasting just a couple of minutes.
If you ride the Angels Flight Railway, make sure you get the souvenir return ticket to keep as a memento.
14. Museum Of Contemporary Art
They can’t get enough art in Downtown Los Angeles. The Museum of Contemporary Art or the MOCA’s occupies two different locations in the district. One on Grand Avenue and the other in Little Tokyo. There’s also another branch in West Hollywood.
You don’t even need to go inside the building on Grand Avenue to see the first work of art as the facade is decorated with a gigantic mural depicting elements of the artist’s life. Inside there are numerous exhibitions which will definitely make you think. There are permanent collections and short-run presentations which change periodically. They’re all fascinating.
Related tour: Downtown Los Angeles: Food, Arts and Culture Walking Tour
Drink a cocktail, have coffee and cake or eat some all-American food in the surreal surroundings at Clifton’s. It may be a bar and cafeteria, but as the sign outside states, it’s a cabinet of curiosities. On that level, it doesn’t disappoint.
The interior of Clifton’s is a fantasy forest complete with trees and wild beasts. Stuffed deer, bears,buffalo and even a lion stare glassy-eyed over the tables. Go up a couple of floors and the décor morphs to Polynesian in the tiki bar. There’s even a DJ in a boat and hula-hula girls.
Clifton’s most outstanding feature? An enormous redwood tree with a fireplace in its cavernous trunk. This place really does have to be seen to be believed.
16. Staples Center
Catch a game of football, ice hockey, basketball or a live concert at the Staples Center. The mega arena seats around twenty thousand people and covers a ground space of nine hundred and fifty thousand square feet.
The Staples Center is home to several of LA’s big sports teams, has hosted world boxing championships and is the favored venue for the Grammy Awards. A multitude of diverse music artists, from Barbara Streisand to Bruce Springsteen to the Black Eyed Peas, have rocked the arena with their performances since its inauguration and all with record-breaking, box office success.
17. Santee Alley Flea Market
The Santee Alley Flea Market is in the Fashion District of Downtown LA. The pedestrianized alley is lined with open-fronted stores selling everything from accessories to fashion-wear and shoes.
Open seven days a week from nine thirty in the morning until six in the evening, it’s buzzing with life and attracts crowds of shoppers daily. The market is the ideal place for gift or souvenir shopping.
Snack on the Alley Dog food stand’s infamous hot dog or try the fire-grilled chicken from El Pollo Loco.
18. Regal Cinemas, LA Live
If you don’t see anyone famous while you’re in Downtown LA., make up for it by watching top actors in the latest films on one of the big screens at the Regal Cinemas in LA Live.
The Regal Cinema Complex has a total of fourteen screens one of which, the Regal Premiere House, is reserved for first night openings of the big blockbusters.
For a novel and futuristic cinema experience go for the 4DX. Moving seats that vibrate, air and water effects which spray in your face, fog or strobe lighting and bubbles. You’ll feel as if you’re participating in the movie rather than watching it.
19. Music Center
Downtown LA’s Music Center is a group of venues for live artistic performances ranging from classical music concerts to opera, dance and theatrical shows.
The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is the home of the LA Philharmonic Orchestra and can seat over three thousand in its huge auditorium.
The Ahmanson Theater was inaugurated in 1967, and its stages have seen many world premieres.
The Mark Taper Forum is a smaller, intimate theater which highlights more controversial and innovative dramatic works.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall, dedicated to the memory of the great animator, is a fantasy of stainless steel externally and acoustically perfect internally.
20. Wells Fargo History Museum
Once upon a time in the US, if you wanted to make a money transfer, you did it by stagecoach. Wells Fargo, the company who transported everything from gold bullion to livestock to mail, is now one of the US and the world’s leading financial and banking institutions.
The Wells Fargo History Museum is a fascinating insight into the past of the Wild West with an exhibition of an Express office with a working telegraph, a stagecoach, and the twenty-seven ounce, gold Challenge nugget.
The museum is in the Wells Fargo Center on Bunker Hill in Downtown LA and is open from Monday through to Friday.
The FIGat7th is the place to shop in Downtown LA. The open-air mall is spread over three floors and has more than three hundred thousand square feet of retail space. Yes, it’s a shopaholic’s paradise.
All of the thirty-five retail outlets at the mall carry big name branding with worldwide renown. There are over twenty different eateries and coffee shops serving everything from Italian ice cream to Greek cuisine to Spanish octopus.
The mall also hosts art exhibitions, fun days and workshops plus a Farmers Market every Thursday.
22. Villains Tavern
The Villains Tavern on Palmetto Street in the arts district of DTLA is a lively bar with art nouveau décor and cocktails with unusual names.
Sip on a Belladonna or Voodoo Vixen while admiring the bar’s colorful collection of vintage bottles and soda siphons. Slip out onto the open-air patio to listen to some great live bands playing music ranging from Johnny Cash to gypsy-style jazz. It’s a classy night out.
23. The Counter
The Counter is a burger restaurant with a difference. Take a table or sit at the counter amid the ultra-modern décor and large-screen TV’s showing all the big sports games.
Forget eating a simple beef patty between two pieces of bread with a slice of cheese thrown in for good measure. At the Counter, you get to build your own burger with the ingredients you choose.
Vegans and vegetarians are catered for too plus they also serve the meat-free Impossible Burger.
24. Exchange LA
Party the night away on the four floors of the Exchange LA nightclub. The club is housed in a renovated historic building on Spring Street which was the LA Stock Exchange.
The twenty-five thousand square foot venue presents some of the US’s top DJ’s, hosts TV shows, and has a catwalk for fashion parades. There are also intimate VIP rooms and special chill out spaces for when the partying gets too much.
It’s over 21’s only so don’t forget to take some ID.