Downtown Los Angeles is not what is used to be – in a good way. The first time I visited DTLA was during a business trip nearly 15 years ago and I thought the place looked post-apocalyptic. As soon as business was done for the day and the banks closed their doors, it was all crickets and tumbleweeds. You could strut down the centerline of just about any side street and barely see another soul. Nothing was happening downtown other than whatever concert or sporting event was taking place at Staples Centre, now part of the LA Live monster-plex.
Hipsters had not migrated into the gritty area yet, igniting a demand for locally brewed coffee and craft beer. Very few people lived there, and even today the population of actual residents is said to be 50,000. Aside from some grand old theatres, downtown didn’t seem to offer much to tourists with dreams of Hollywood and stars in their eyes. What a difference a decade makes.
Strolling, eating and drinking your way along downtown’s eclectic streets today is mandatory when spending time in LA. But if you only have one day or afternoon to do it, head straight to the Arts District.
First, let me preface this with a safety precaution. Don’t walk there. Depending on which direction you’re traveling from, you could encounter some unpleasant streets. I thought it might be “fun” to walk from the 7th Street Metro Station across town, through the Fashion District. What I didn’t plan for was walking straight through Skid Row. I’ve gotten myself into some sticky situations while traveling over the years, but the dire situation in this part of town is not to be underestimated. My husband was actually prepared to smash his iPhone to use a weapon (in manner of Jason Bourne) if someone tried to mug the silly Canadians traipsing right through tent city. After many eerie empty lots, we finally turned a corner and spotted a bearded man spray-painting an art installation and thank fuck, we knew we had made it.
We rested our weary – and sweaty – souls in a shady alley alongside the Daily Dose café. From one block to another we were transported into a different world, suddenly surrounded by artists and creatives. I’ve never wanted to hug a hipster so hard in my life. The locally sourced food and fresh pressed juices were phenomenal and the vibe is super chill. Ivy has completely taken over the beautiful old brick walls and the garden-like setting is adorned with crystal chandeliers.
With our bearings intact we set out to explore this emerging community sprouting up from what was once mostly abandoned warehouses and industrial factories. Newly converted lofts, movie lots and bougainvillea-lined streets give the feeling of a new era, while still maintaining some street cred.
Stumptown Coffee has a café on Santa Fe and 7th and patrons can peer right into their roasting room to see their beans being churned up close. We grabbed a couple of iced Americanos and traveled east down 7th across the bridge over the Los Angeles River for a stark reminder of California’s never-ending drought. Then we spent the afternoon searching for street art and murals we had seen spattered across Instagram.
Unexpectedly, we spotted a massive wine shop so I had to take a peek. Silver Lake Wine carries an impressive selection of wines from California and all over the world. They had recently opened when we visited and were still getting set up, but weekly tastings and private parties are now available.
Plenty of shops and quality boutiques are popping up in this neighorhood as well. If you’re in the market for some handcrafted pieces for your home or wardrobe – and have a bit of cash to burn – check out Guerilla Atelier or Poketo for something truly unique.
If you linger long enough into the dinner hour, snag a table at Bestia, one of LA’s most talked about eateries, for an Italian feast you won’t soon forget. The husband and wife team behind the award-winning menu have created something really special in this part of town.
There’s so much more to explore in the Arts District, heading north towards Little Tokyo and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). But it’s easy to get stuck on a charming side street and people watch the afternoon away.
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