Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolitan area with amazing attractions and activities.
The best way to experience LA is by walking through downtown and surrounding areas and then hopping on one of the Metro lines to places further away.
The best starting place for this walking tour is Union Station, a transportation hub connecting LA with several major cities through Metrolink and the whole nation via Amtrak.
If you are coming to LA by train, you must stop at Union Station. This is the central hub of all trains, metro light rail, buses, and even bikes.
The station was built in 1939 as a consolation of several terminals and is considered the largest station in the West. Its main building is registered as a National Historic Place.
As you arrive at Union Station, you will disembark from your train and end up in a long hallway connecting the West and East portals. Follow the signs for your next ride. The metro rail lines are underground. The connecting trains are on the upper level.
But before you jump on the next tram, you may want to take a break and have a meal at one of the restaurants or snack shops at either East or West portals.
You can also grab a bike from the “Bike Share” program and explore the city at your leisure. Pricing for bike rentals is $3.50/30 minutes, but you can get a discount if you buy a monthly or annual pass.
Tip: If you are planning on several trips on the metro system, buy a 1-day or 7-day pass that works for all rail lines and buses.
El Pueblo de Los Angeles and Olvera St
This historic district was first established in 1781 and was the center of Los Angeles during Spanish and Mexican rule. It is home to many historic buildings and statues.
At Olvera Street, you can stroll along a narrow street and enjoy shopping at the colorful street vendors or grab a bite of authentic Mexican food. During my visit, I had lunch at El Paseo Inn. I enjoyed some very tasty enchiladas while watching people from their patio overlooking Olvera Street. The service was excellent and friendly.
A Plaza at the center of this district hosts many events throughout the year. For a listing of events, go here.
On a side alley from Olvera Street, you will see a sign for Avila Adobe – the longest-standing structure in LA. Adobe was built in 1818 and is open to the public. The tour is free of charge and takes you through the various rooms in the house. It has a well-kept cactus garden in the courtyard.
Tip: Olvera street opens at 10 am, so if you arrive early at Union Station, come back to this lively place for lunch or dinner.
After you spend some time at Olvera St and the El Pueblo de Los Angeles, take a pedestrian path from the plaza that takes you between 2 historical buildings: "Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church" and "LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes," and onto North Spring Street.
Spring Street takes you past several government buildings and courthouses, ending at the LA City Hall.
LA city hall was built in 1928 and is still used by the city government today. It was featured in many TV shows and movies like Superman, Dragnet, and V (the series).
As you cross between the two buildings, notice the nice garden with a wooden DOG statue. It was created in recognition of the many difficulties faced by people who journeyed from their homes hoping to find a better life in the United States.
Grand Park is across the street from City Hall and provides an oasis in the city's center with beautiful fountains, pink-colored benches, and snack shops.
During the summer months, free music and events are held here. Kids especially love the interactive splash pads and the new play area. The park welcomes visitors with a sign in many world languages.
Tip: If you bring your kids to play here, make sure they have a change of clothes. They will definitely get wet.
The park is a long promenade connecting The Music Center on one end and the historic LA City Hall building on the other.
Stroll through the park, catch a concert, get drinks and snacks from Starbucks, and sit and relax next to the fountains before crossing to your next destination.
The Music Center
The Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County (better known as The Music Center) is home to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Ahmanson Theater, Mark Taper Forum, Roy and Edna Disney / CalArts Theatre, and Walt Disney Concert Hall.
This is the place if you love classical music, ballet, opera, or theater.
The area around this large complex is walkable, with a nearby metro station, a beautiful park, restaurants, coffee shops, and the iconic city hall building.
The Jerry Moss Plaza is a 35,000-square-foot outdoor urban oasis connecting three of the venues at the center. Beautiful fountains, sculptures, and trees greet visitors on their way to their show.
The center also offers free or inexpensive events throughout the year, including the Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration, a Christmas Eve tradition.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
This iconic part of the music center was added in 2003 and became home to the LA Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
The exterior of the building is an architectural marvel with a riot of curves and reflections. At night, the multicolored lights turn it into a shining jewel in the middle of downtown.
Inside, the floor, walls, and ceiling flow into each other, continuing the sense of delightful confusion.
The Broad Museum
The museum houses a 2,000-piece collection of modern art that sometimes defies comprehension. Some look like a child threw paint on a canvas, while others are worth a second look.
I was most impressed by the “Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away,” a mirror-lined chamber housing a dazzling and seemingly endless LED light display, and the oversized dining set that made me feel like a midget in the land of giants.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Right after you pass the Broad Museum, a pedestrian walkway across Grand takes you to a pedestrian-only walkway between hotels and apartments with a beautiful infinity pool and fountains. The museum will be on your right.
The museum has a unique collection of modern sculptures, photography, and paintings.
Entry is free, but you must reserve a time slot in advance.
The area that includes the pedestrian walkway, museum, Omni hotel, and two Plaza towers is known as the California Plaza.
The plaza is a lovely place to relax, shop, and attend a free concert - if you time your walk right. The amphitheater and the fountains make this a beautiful place to visit in the middle of the concrete jungle.
It also sits at a high point in Downtown LA - on Buner Hill - with great views of skyscrapers and a funicular that helps us navigate the steep climb down to Hill Street and our next destination.
A one-dollar ride will take you on this short up or down steep incline. It is only a two-minute ride, but you will avoid the adjacent stairs and experience a part of history.
The original Funicular was built in 1901 and began at the west corner of Hill Street at Third and ran for two blocks uphill (northwestward) to its Olive Street terminus. You can read more about the history here.
Grand Central Market
Across the street from Angels Flight Funicular, you can visit Grand Central Market for a bite or shop.
This market was established in 1917 and offers an array of shops and ethnic foods from around the world.
Some of the cuisines represented here are Japanese, German, Mexican, Chinese, Texas BBQ, Italian, Korean, and Indian. You can see a full list here.
Pershing Square is a few steps away from California Plaza and Grand Central Market.
This small sanctuary in the middle of town offers great views of the old and new DTLA and connects to other great places nearby.
There is always something happening here. An Ice Rink is set up for winter skating in the winter months. It is also home to the DTLA Proud Festival and live performances.
A few steps away from the square, you will find an interesting place called “The Last Bookstore.” Even if you are not a book lover, this place is worth a visit. The store has a vast collection of books in every category. The second floor has more books and some art and craft shops. Sofas and benches are available everywhere so you can visit with an interesting book.
FigAt7th, LA Live, and Staples Center
The FigAt7th mall is one of the newest shopping centers downtown. You can find stores like H&M, Victoria's Secret, or Target. You can also find a food court with dining places like California Pizza Kitchen, George's Greek Grill, and Starbucks.
LA Live is an entertainment complex with several live music venues, movie theaters, and restaurants. It is also home to the Grammy Museum. If you like watching the music awards, then you must visit this place to learn about the history and winners of the Grammys.
And while you are here, you can’t miss the Staples Center - home of the Lakers and Clippers – and many touring concerts and events.
7th Street Metro Hub
Or you can take the Expo line to connect to USC, The Science Center and other museums, Culver City, and Santa Monica.
The red line continues on to West and North Hollywood and Universal Studios.
The blue line heads south towards downtown Long Beach. This line also connects to the green line to take you to Los Angeles Airport.