Jo Bell shares her tips for a stylish stay in Downtown Los Angeles
Forget Hollywood, Santa Monica or Anaheim, right now, Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) is the place to be. Cutting-edge art galleries and museums, stunning architecture, hip eateries and concept stores are transforming what was once a wasteland of dark buildings and empty streets into one of California's most dynamic neighbourhoods. Here's a guide of what to see and do.
Get your bearings
The city's central business district since the late 1880s, Downtown was for a time down on its luck, before undergoing a renaissance beginning in the late 1990s. Since then the residential population has more than tripled, and with new bars and restaurants on every corner, it's no surprise that three-quarters of DTLA residents are in their 20s to mid-40s.
Building on that residential surge, an increasing number of businesses, many fashion, creative and innovation-related, are moving downtown. Historic art deco buildings are being refurbished to house adventurous chefs, artists, designers and tech developers. After decades of being all but forgotten, Downtown has reached a critical mass as LA's cultural epicentre.
Named for the activities concentrated there now or historically, distinct neighbourhoods include the Arts, Civic Centre, Fashion, Industrial, Jewellery, Theatre and Toy districts, as well as Little Tokyo and Chinatown, all within a relatively compact area.
One of the longest-standing hotels in DTLA, Hotel Figueroa's roots as a bastion of social progress and creativity run deep.
Step inside the recently renovated 14-storey hotel and you're met by a large red portrait of a woman on a motorbike. Her name is Maude Bouldin and she raced motorcycles, flew planes and was the hotel's first manager.
Built by the YWCA in 1926 as a safe haven for professional woman travellers, the Hotel Figueroa was the largest project of its kind in the United States to be financed, owned and operated by women.
Inspired by its original Spanish colonial splendour, today the Hotel Figueroa is a dazzling, sophisticated haven with 268 rooms, a pool nestled within a botanical oasis, and acclaimed dining destinations Breva and Veranda led by James Beard-nominated chef Casey Lane.
In homage to its feminist roots and ongoing support of the arts, the hotel showcases the work of LA's most compelling female artists in its impressive art collection and with regular exhibitions, music, comedy and poetry nights. A mural inspired by vintage florals and the hotel's garden twists and climbs its way up the building's rear facade.
After a late start, head to the local branch of Portland's Stumptown Coffee for some of the best coffee in LA.
With nothing much opening before 11am, the morning is a good time to check out Grand Central Market, a feasting ground of food stalls and a Downtown landmark since 1917. With 30-odd eateries, you'll find plenty of breakfast options with good coffee from G & B Coffee, egg sandwiches at Eggslut, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches courtesy of PBJ.LA.
From there, catch the Angels Flight Railway up to Bunker Hill and it's a short walk to Grand Ave, or "Museum Mile", where you'll find contemporary art museum The Broad.
Opening its doors just four years ago, there is perhaps nothing more representative of DTLA's artful renaissance than this futuristic museum-slash-gallery, pronounced Brood.
A gift to the city by philanthropists Eli and Edyth Broad, the bright white honeycomb-like exterior known as "the veil" provides architectural decoration and function, diffusing light as it enters the gallery.
Take the escalator up through cavernous, curved grey walls to the third-floor gallery and you'll find more than 2000 rotating paintings, sculptures, photographs and installations from some of the most famous artists in the modern world including Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Roy Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly, Takashi Murakami, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Cindy Sherman.
Must-sees include Jeff Koon's Tulips and Balloon Dog , Andy Warhol's Single Elvis , Robert Therrien's giant table and chairs Under The Table , and Yayoi Kusama's installation Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away .
On the way back down, peer into the "vault", a central storage space that houses yet more art. Entry to The Broad is free and tickets are available on the first of each month, but if like us you're not organised enough to know what day you'll be visiting, join the on-site standby line by 10.30am on a weekday and the wait should only be 30 minutes to one hour.
Next door on Grand Ave is the glinting metal boat-like structure of Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Centre, built in 2003, and just a little further, LA's Museum of Contemporary Art.
If you've got a little gas left in the tank, head to the Arts District and wander the quiet streets to check out the area's street art, murals and galleries, including the impressive Hauser & Wirth.
Stop for refreshments at any of a dozen nearby breweries like Angel City Brewery or Arts District Brewing Company, or House of Machines for motorcycles, live music and beer all under the one roof.
Catch an Uber to the nearby Industrial District and round off the day with a Middle Eastern feast at Bavel, the latest from chefs Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis, whose first eatery, Bestia, is a DTLA institution.
After a morning relaxing by the pool, enjoy an early lunch at one of pioneering Downtown chef Josef Centeno's eateries.
All within one block on Main St, Centeno's mini-empire includes the original and massively celebrated Spanish fusion Baco Mercat (be sure to try the hamachi crudo, caesar brussels sprouts and Centeno's trademarked baco sandwich); Tex-Mex Bar Ama with its signature deep-fried puffy tacos; and Japanese-Italian fine dining at Orsa and Winston, one of several Downtown restaurants recommended in the 2019 Michelin guide.
For sushi lovers, popular LA chain Sugarfish has a branch just a few blocks away and Sushi Gen in Little Tokyo comes highly recommended for traditional-style sushi. While there, be sure to check out Little Tokyo's authentic Japanese restaurants, shops, gardens and other hidden treasures.
Explore DTLA's historic theatre district, dubbed the best-preserved stretch of 1920s architecture in the US. Start at the Ace Hotel with its intricately restored 1920s movie palace and rooftop offering panoramic views of LA, and wander Broadway, 6th and 7th Sts. Chic concept stores nearby include Acne, Cos, Theory and South Korean eyewear brand Gentle Monster.
Around the corner on Spring St, you'll find the recently refurbished Spring Arcade, a once-grand 1920s shopping arcade and now home to food offerings including Guisados for simple, tasty tacos and Don Francisco's serving real Cuban coffee.
Taking on La Brea and Fairfax in West Hollywood, Downtown's "sneaker row" between 4th and 9th Sts includes dedicated Michael Jordan Nike store Jumpman. As well as product, the 2323sq m space has a state-of-the-art diagnostic and performance lab, product customisation, and a rooftop basketball court.
New development Row DTLA continues to take shape, transforming 32 acres of historic buildings into retail, restaurants, creative office spaces and events. On Sundays is the popular food market Smorgasburg.
For the complete LA experience, sports fans will want to catch an LA Lakers' game, the Staples Centre mere steps from Hotel Figueroa.
A complimentary lift in the hotel's Tesla, complete with Knight Rider doors, will take you to dinner in the nearby Fashion District. DAMA offers Latin-inspired food in an attractive lounge and outdoor space. Top picks are the whipped beans and crispy squash flowers.
With Downtown home to a multitude of good bars, enjoy a nightcap at rooftop bar Perch or Spire 73, the tallest open rooftop bar in the western hemisphere. Or make like a local and hop your way along nearby Spring St with friendly neighbourhood bars Spring Street Bar, Beelman's and The Falls all in close proximity.
Back at Hotel Figueroa the next day, we tour the impressive art collection, enjoying one final round of fresh fish tacos and a swim before it's time to go. Exceedingly in-the-know, the concierge team has provided so many expert tips on what to do and where to eat, drink and shop that we leave overflowing with things to do another time.
Hollywood may have glamour and celebrities, Santa Monica and Malibu the beaches, and Anaheim the amusement parks, but right now, down here in the beating heart of the city is where I want to be.
Air New Zealand flies from Auckland to LA.