Modern metal and mesh buildings in the Downtown Los Angeles Art District.

In years past, if someone mentioned going to Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Hollywood might come to mind. Downtown was the LAST place people thought of. But now it’s a great place to explore, especially for an Art Day in Downtown Los Angeles.



For the entire world, Los Angeles is a city of dreams.

Barry Sanders

LOS ANGELES TRANSFORMED

Over decades, the once vibrant city had become a wasteland of dilapidated buildings and tent cities rife with crime.

But Downtown Los Angeles (or DTLA as it is now called) is undergoing a transformation. In the last 10 years or so, it has been infused with life;
artists seeking low rent, large light-filled spaces and grit to fuel their art moved in first. And once the artists came, so did the cool factor. Developers saw the goldmine and started converting the deserted factories into galleries, shops, restaurants and live/work spaces.

CULTURAL HUB

Now this nearly 5 square-mile area is once again a mecca for artists, art-lovers, restaurants and people looking for entertainment. DTLA is finally a much-needed cultural epicenter in a city that is vast and spread out- A place that is perfect for a one or two-day art & design focused get-away.

LOS ANGELES ARTS DISTRICT

The Arts District is on the eastern edge of the city bordering Little Tokyo and the Los Angeles River.

AN ART DAY IN DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES

Collage of various works of modern art, street art, The Broad Museum, and the Walt Disney Symphony Hall in Downtown Los Angeles.

MUSEUMS & GALLERIES

START THE DAY AT A MUSEUM

Lines get long at museums, so I like to go first thing in the morning so I can really explore and take my time. Two museums close to the Arts District are:

THE BROAD

This museum has a large, but accessible collection of more than 2000 pieces of contemporary art (from the 1950s to present). The Broad has one of the most prominent collections of postwar and contemporary art worldwide featuring artists like Jasper Johns, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol and riveting works by Kara Walker. When I was there recently, the rotating exhibit was Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age Of Black Power. The artworks were haunting, but pertinent even today during these racially tumultuous times.

*The Infinity Mirror Rooms by Yayoi Kusama is one of the most popular exhibits. It’s breathtaking… Definitely worth the long line.

MOCA

This has been one of my favorite places since my college days. It’s the only artist-founded museum in Los Angeles and houses a compelling collection of contemporary art from the 1940s on. The works here range from paintings (Mark Rothko being one of the most popular and recognizable artists) to mixed media, photography, video, installation and sculpture. This collection expands the notion of what traditionally is considered art. It’s a great place to expose children to the art world and teach them about the contextual framework that often informs artists and their pieces.

*It isn’t controversial like a lot of contemporary art, but I still love Mark Rothko’s work. MOCA has a lot of his pieces here.

HAUSER & WIRTH

One of nine locations around the world, Hauser & Wirth is an international gallery space/art center that collaborates with universities, museums, and local artists to make art and design more accessible to the public. The Los Angeles location is in an abandoned flour mill and has a few restaurants, cafes, galleries, an art-focused bookshop and a coop of chickens.

*The weekends are a bit hectic, so if you don’t want the crowds, visit mid-week.

LUNCH IN DTLA

After a few hours appreciating the art, I always find my brain in need of nourishment. Head a short drive (or Uber) away to…

THE HOXTON

The latest Hoxton property recently opened in Los Angeles and like the others scattered around the world, it is fun, trendy and built in an area that is once again becoming a destination. The Los Angeles outpost is in a building that was once the headquarters of LA Railway. At one point, it was also a garment factory, a candy shop and a grocery store. The lobby restaurant, Sibling Rivalry, is a great place to grab lunch.

*Indoor and outdoor seating.

ZINC CAFE

Within walking distance to the Arts District, this is the largest of the Zinc Cafes (others are in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach). It has a delicious selection of salads, pizzas, soups, pastries, as well as breakfast staples.

*Sit outdoors under a canopy of olive trees and listen to the trickle of the fountain. A very delightful place to spend an hour or two.

MANUELA DTLA

Within the Hauser & Wirth Arts Complex is Manuela– a mostly open-air restaurant that is bustling. The wait here is often long, but there is so much to do while waiting, it’s not terrible. Hauser & Wirth is an arts complex within an abandoned factory. It has a few galleries, cafes, an art-centric bookshop, a chicken coop and enough to keep everyone in the family occupied for a few hours.

*The outdoor seating is my favorite.

ZINQUE

ACE HOTEL

MORE SHOPS, CAFES, ART & BOOKS

ROW DTLA

This is an example of renovation and restoration at its best. This row of buildings that used to be the Los Angeles produce market in the 1920s and later became the American Apparel factory, is now a collective of independently owned shops, high-end restaurants, gyms, art stores and event spaces. On Sundays, dozens of food trucks and vendors sell everything from clothing to food.

There is a lot to see at ROW DTLA and each time I go, more seems to have been added.

ERICA TANOV

A beautiful collection of clothing, jewelry and home goods- many designed by the shop’s namesake. Natural materials used in a luxe way.

SCENT BAR

Hundreds of scents from obscure to well-known perfumers housed in a chic, easy to sample shop. Brands: everything from Serge Lutens, Byredo, Cire Trudon, Tom Ford to Maison Louis Marie. This is the place to go if you want a scent that none of your friends have.

*Favorite thing: Knowledgeable and low-pressure sales staff that is happy to give samples.

KINTO

A subltly elegant shop for tea and coffee lovers who appreciate the Japanese aesthetic and attention to design details. The emphasis here is on form and function, plus the space is beautiful to look at. It carries ceramic dishware made in Hasami and Tono Japan famous for 400 years for porcelain production.

HAWKINS NY

Another homegoods store with a city style/country living vibe. I especially like their vast collection of ceramics and walnut ladles and serving spoons.

STILL LIFE CERAMICS

A pottery studio and shop all in one. This space offers pottery classes and workshops for experienced potters and newbies alike. If you don’t feel like getting your hands dirty, buy some pretty pottery that’s on display in the shop.

FLASK & FIELD

An indie wine and spirits shop that specializes in handcrafted wines, beers, spirits and gifts. The owners scour the country for unique, but tasty alcohol made in small batches by hand. Some of the labels are very creative and beautiful.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Thanks for joining us for An Art Day in Downtown Los Angeles. Please let us know if you know of other hot spots to add to our list.

For other fun weekend trips in California, see our post on The Best 24 Hours in Montecito or An Insider’s Secret Guide to Laguna Beach.

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