The first few times I came to LA, I barely visited Downtown. I heard it was kinda sketchy and there wasn't much to do there. Whilst there are pockets that aren't the safest (which is common for any major city, right?) there's definitely some amazing things to do there and it seems, over the next few years, Downtown could be much more of the 'place to be' in LA.
The Arts District
On the subject of 'places to be' (and also because I was there the other day and it's literally the first thing I thought of) i'm starting with the Arts District. The Arts District is packed full of old warehouses, factories and artist studios, some of which have now been converted into trendy restaurants and bars (more on those in a sec). What I love most about it though is walking round the Arts District feels like you're strolling round a huge art gallery. I'd recommend just enjoying the sun and admiring the wonderful murals that cover walls all around you.
With a rotating collection of 50 classic arcade games and pinball machines, EightyTwo is a bar that combines drinks with nostalgia. It's the perfect bar to go if you'd rather kick your friend's ass at Street Fighter instead of making small talk over a table. All games run on quarters and there are 2 change machines on site that accept $1, $5, $10 and $20 bills. You can find what games are currently on via their website.
Angel City Brewery
This place is awesome. It's basically this spacious brewery which serves local beers, has a bunch of board games like Guess Who? and Jenga you can play, and hosts Bingo, trivia and game nights. I forgot how much I loved board games until I came here.
I'm aware I've jumped straight into drinking recommendations here so I'm going to move onto some culture now, but before I do, a couple of low key recommendations to drink around the Arts District are Tony's Saloon and In Sheep's Clothing.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
I mean yeah, what a phenomenal piece of architecture. I haven't watched anything here but i'm sure that's equally as phenomenal too. If you don't have time to see a show, just explore around the concert hall, there's a cool little garden round the back you can chill in and grab some photos outside one of LA's most striking buildings.
Down the street from the Walt Disney Concert Hall is The Broad, which I completely pronounced wrong the first time I was researching this place. (For reference it's pronounced 'Brood'). The Broad/Brood whatever you call it is one of LA's most popular art museums, full of instagrammable pieces of art. It's free to go to but it's worth reserving your tickets on The Broad website.
Grand Central Market
Grand Central Market is like an orgy of different food vendors all under one roof. The food hall has been active since 1917 and has food from all corners of the globe. If you can walk through Grand Central and come out the other side without a belly full of food you're a more disciplined person than I am.
Olvera Street/ El Pueblo de Los Angeles
Visit the spot that Los Angeles was first established as a farming community in 1781. This is the oldest section of LA and home to a bunch of historical buildings, some of which you can go in and explore, such as the Avila Adobe which was built in 1818 and claims to be the oldest building still standing in LA. It's also home to Olvera Street where you'll find a Mexican marketplace of local vendors selling a variety of stuff including delicious Mexican food.
Across from Olvera Street is the 80-year old Union Station. It seems kinda weird to recommend a train station as somewhere to check out, but it's definitely worth it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the interior of this station is damn cool and has been used in movies such as The Dark Knight Rises, Blade Runner and Catch Me If You Can. Secondly, one of the things in LA that is actually good value for money is train travel. Whilst public transport is often spoke badly about in LA, you can actually travel to a lot of LA via the Metro system and it's only $1.75 for one journey (plus a Tapcard which is like $2 but can be topped up once you have it.)
The Last Bookstore
I'm so happy that with the digital revolution, that bookstores still exist and are still so popular. Housed in an old bank building, I highly recommend just getting lost in The Last Bookstore. You'll come across the dollar room which contains over 100,000 books for $1, a vault room which houses the crime and horror collection. And of course, it wouldn't be LA if there wasn't an instagram hotspot in this bookstore, so no doubt you'll come across the instagrammable 'Tunnel of Books'.
Coming from England, where I often forget what the sun looks like, I love being able to chill in the sun on a rooftop somewhere as it seems like such a privilege. There are a bunch of really cool rooftop bars in LA, especially in Downtown, including Perch and Broken Shaker, but my favourite is Upstairs at the Ace Hotel. It has an awesome view of the 'Jesus Saves' sign, along with general stunning views of DTLA, and super friendly staff.
The Original Pantry Cafe
'The Pantry', as it's known by locals, is said to be one of the most famous restaurants in LA according to the Wikipedia page which references a random blogspot account as the source. It's also said that The Original Pantry Cafe has never closed or been without a customer since it opened, and that it hired its staff from among men recently released from jail or prison. I don't know how much of that is true, but what I do know is true is that their website looks like it was designed in 1991. I feel like I haven't sold this place very well to you.
Tilt Coffee Bar
I feel like I need to speak more about coffee before I end this article so here goes. Go to Tilt Coffee Bar. Customer service is generally pretty good in LA, but I remember being particularly impressed at Tilt and, if my memory is right, I had one of the best Matcha Lattes ever here. Or it may have been a Chai Latte. I can't remember but you get the point it was amazing so just go check it out if you like coffee.
Hope that was useful for anyone travelling to DTLA. If you're exploring more of LA, check out Things To Do In Venice Beach
and hit me up on insta with any other recommendations @sambentley