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On the Up: Downtown L.A.

A Sprawling City Rediscovers Its Center
  • la

    Downtown Los Angeles

  • acne

    Acne

  • The Well

    The Well

  • Almal

    Alma (Left image courtesy of © Brian McGinn)

  • Poketo

    Poketo

  • Handsome Coffee Roasters

    Handsome Coffee Roasters (Images courtesy of © Handsome Coffee Roasters)

  • Bestia Restaurant

    Bestia Restaurant

  • The Line

    The Line

  • The Line

    Roy Choi’s famous Kogi Korean BBQ truck and The Line’s restaurant Pot

  • linus/rail

    A Linus rental bike and L.A.’s oft-forgotten Metro

  • la

    Downtown Los Angeles at night

CHEAT SHEET
WHERE

L.A. spans some 500 square miles on the Pacific Coast of Southern California.

WHY GO

Though it’s a mind-bogglingly varied place, ready to contradict every preconception, it’s not hard to encounter the high-gloss L.A. of our imagination — show business, impossibly beautiful people, legendary nightlife, bank-busting shopping, perfect weather and all.

HOW

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the major air hub on North America’s West Coast, with direct domestic and international flights aplenty.

TABLET TIP

Los Angeles gets a bad rap for its incessantly snarled traffic, but Downtown is the perfect place to leave the car behind and take advantage of the (unfairly maligned) Metro.

Los Angeles, January, 2014

“Seventy-two suburbs in search of a city” is how Dorothy Parker notoriously defamed Los Angeles, but she’d clearly never spent much time downtown. The area’s soaring buildings and chaotic wholesale districts stand in juxtaposition with the hills and palm trees that act as visual shorthand for L.A. And now, thanks to a handful of brave developers and creative pioneers, the area is thriving, home to a stylish new generation of restaurants, shops and hotels. On downtown’s bustling one-way streets, the buzz of city life is tangible. Los Angeles has finally found its hub.

With its panoramic rooftop bar and dazzling Spanish Gothic concert venue, the just-opened Ace Hotel already feels like Downtown’s new style nexus. Housed in the historic United Artists Building — a resplendent former movie palace built in 1927 — the ever-current hotel group’s latest outpost underscores the revitalization of the Broadway Theater District. Next door you’ll find Scandinavian future-fashion at Acne; around the corner is hair-salon-slash-streetwear-boutique The Well; and Alma, recently named best new restaurant in America by Bon Appétit, is a few doors down.

The industrial-chic atmosphere pervades the nearby Arts District as well, with the city’s Alexander Wang-clad masses gathering at Handsome Coffee Roasters on sunny Saturday afternoons. (Is there any other kind in L.A.?) After smoky Colombian espresso and braised oxtail tacos from Guerrilla, you can wander along mural-splashed streets towards Little Tokyo, picking up stationery at Poketo and understated menswear at Apolis en route. Dinner might be house-cured salumi at Italian hotspot Bestia, followed by live music at the Blue Whale — a jazz club that’s hidden, in perfect L.A. fashion, on the third floor of a shabby shopping mall.

The new Downtown also has some answers for Woody Allen, who described Los Angeles’s cultural apex as “being able to make a right turn on a red light.” From the intergalactic splendor of Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall to the bold programming at MOCA, the area has become the colorful (not to mention walkable) center of L.A.’s world-class art scene. For proof, see the Diller Scofidio + Renfro–designed Broad Museum which opens its doors on a 2,000-piece contemporary art collection later this year.

And if the concept stores, Art Walks and dive bars still aren’t enough, there’s more in the neon-lit streets of Koreatown nearby, where retro cocktail lounges and karaoke spots buzz until closing time (and often well beyond it). There you’ll find The Line, a sleek new boutique hotel which will soon house three restaurants from beloved L.A. chef Roy Choi and a club by the Houston Brothers. Borrow a Linus bike from the lobby and head out to explore the traditional spas of K-Town, the boutiques of Silver Lake or the architectural marvels of neighboring Hancock Park. L.A. has a lot to explore — just make sure you start out downtown.

Phoebe Lovatt

Book this story

CHEAT SHEET
WHERE

L.A. spans some 500 square miles on the Pacific Coast of Southern California.

WHY GO

Though it’s a mind-bogglingly varied place, ready to contradict every preconception, it’s not hard to encounter the high-gloss L.A. of our imagination — show business, impossibly beautiful people, legendary nightlife, bank-busting shopping, perfect weather and all.

HOW

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the major air hub on North America’s West Coast, with direct domestic and international flights aplenty.

TABLET TIP

Los Angeles gets a bad rap for its incessantly snarled traffic, but Downtown is the perfect place to leave the car behind and take advantage of the (unfairly maligned) Metro.

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