With its colourfully gritty street life, art deco architecture and numerous arts attractions, DTLA packs more cultural flavour into 15 square kilometres than many large cities do in their entirety. Off the tourist radar for years, the diverse neighbourhoods of L.A.’s historic centre offer a rich variety of sights and experiences that go way beyond the fun-in-the-sun ethos Southern California is known for.
Historic Core: A lovingly restored art deco cityscape
Look up! From the glorious art deco sunbursts on South Broadway’s Eastern Columbia Building to the Theatre District’s gorgeous movie palaces, downtown’s Historic Core is full of immaculately restored building exteriors that recall its Old Hollywood heyday. Once the city’s commercial centre, these revitalized blocks strike an old-meets-new balance exemplified by Grand Central Market, a once rundown (but continuously operating) 100-year-old food market reconceived as a bustling food hall populated by food vendors offering everything from classic Jewish deli fare to ceviche.
Little Tokyo: Japanese tradition meets pop-cultural profusion
One of only a handful of Japantowns in the U.S., this 130-year-old neighbourhood will make you feel like you’re in the land of the rising sun, right down to the cherry blossoms and 16-metre yagura, an iconic lookout tower that’s become an emblem of Little Tokyo. Take a wander around this compact neighbourhood packed with ramen and sushi joints, tranquil botanical gardens and shops full of Hello Kitty tchotchkes, Japanese comic books and sneakers.
Arts District: These former industrial digs remain gritty with a renewed air of creativity
Once predominated by railyards and warehouses, and later the underground punk rock bars of the 1980s, this sprawling district is pure grit and funk. Now one of the most happening neighbourhoods in all of L.A., the Arts District features dive bars and breweries, independent restaurants and coffee shops, colourful street murals that span entire buildings as well as independent art galleries and artist studios.
Olvera Street: Mexican tastes with open-air, street-market flair
With its strolling mariachi bands, vendors selling handmade pottery, weaving and other crafts, and the mouth-watering waft of spit-grilled meat, just waiting to be carved into tacos al pastor, DTLA’s Olvera Street offers a literal taste of Mexico. An open-air street fair and market, this tree-lined block is full of outdoor cafés and market stalls, many built in the 1930s by merchants whose descendants operate them today.
Bunker Hill: Arts and cultural establishments shape this chic area.
Whimsical postmodern architecture complements the cultural offerings of DTLA’s Bunker Hill. Anchored by the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, which houses the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the blocks around Grand Avenue and Second Street are home to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) and newcomer The Broad, both of which feature thousands of contemporary works of art.
Getting there: WestJet flies to Los Angeles 45 times a week from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto.