Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolitan area with an amazing array of attractions and activities.
The best way to experience LA is by taking a walking tour 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 at Union Station, which is a transportation hub connecting LA with several major cities through Metrolink and with the whole nation via Amtrak.
If you are coming to LA by train, then most probably you will have to stop at Union Station. This is the central hub of all trains, metro light rail, and busses – 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 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 to 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 – located 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.
See a useful station map here.
El Pueblo de Los Angeles and Olvera St
Start your walk by visiting El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument and Olvera Street (Calle Olvera). It is a short walk from Union Station's Alameda street exit.
This historic district was first established in 1781 and used to be 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.
There is a Plaza at the center of this district that 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 and has a well-kept cactus garden in the courtyard.
Tip: Olvera street open 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 in use by the city government to this day. It was featured in many TV shows and movies like Superman, Dragnet, and V (the series).
As you cross between the 2 buildings notice the nice garden with a wooden DOG statue. It was created in recognition of the many difficulties faced by people who journey 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 center of the city 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 basically a long promenade that connects The Music Center on one end and the historic LA City Hall building on the other end.
Stroll through the park, catch a concert, get drinks and snacks from Starbucks, sit and relax next to the fountains before crossing to your next destination.
The Music Center
Continue your walk from Grand Park by crossing Grand Ave to get to LA Music Center, which is one of the largest performing arts centers in the country in downtown Los Angeles.
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.
If you love classical music, ballet, opera, or theater, this is the place.
The area around this large complex is walkable, with a metro station close by, 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 as they make 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
After admiring the Music Center and taking in the views from the plaza, continue on Grand Ave to the 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.
Read more about the Music Center here.
The Broad Museum
From the music center, continue on Grand Ave to this unique museum - right next to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
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 there is a pedestrian walkway that crosses Grand and 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 nice place to relax, do some shopping, 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 navigate the steep climb down to Hill street and our next destination.
Angels Flight funicular connects the low-end at S. Hill street and the high-end at the California Plaza and Grand Ave.
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.
The Square was renovated recently with beautiful landscaping, modern art, fountains, and a kid's play area.
This small sanctuary in the middle of town offers great views of old and new DTLA and connects to other great places near by.
There is always something happening here. In the winter months, an Ice Rink is set up for some winter skating. It is also home to DTLA Proud festival and live performances.
A few steps away from the square you will find a very interesting place called “The Last Bookstore”. Even if you are not a book lover, this place is worth a visit. The store has a huge 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 can visit with an interesting book.
FigAt7th, LA Live and Staples Center
You can take the Red Line to 7th street station, or you can just walk to this next destination.
The FigAt7th mall is one of the newest shopping centers in 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.
A few blocks from the station you can find LA Live and the Grammy Museum.
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
7th street metro station is also a hub for several rail lines branching in different directions. From here, you can take the Purple like to go to Wilshire Center and Korea Town.
Or you can take the Expo like 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.