Exploring Downtown Los Angeles by Foot

April 20, 2017

By Kelly Zuniga

Compared to other city centers, downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) struggles to be a pedestrian-friendly area. Sure, the sidewalks are wide and new businesses attract clientele to the area, but it can still feel like a ghost town sometimes. My hopes and dreams for Los Angeles include a continuously evolving and booming city center. That’s why this week I’m encouraging you to help revolutionize the vibe of DTLA by exploring different neighborhoods on foot.

For those interested in guided tours, the L.A. Conservancy offers walking tours with a neat focus on architectural history and culture. The tours run on Saturdays and cost $15 for the public. Be sure to book ahead of time because the spots fill up. If you would like to explore downtown on your own, download one of their PDF guides for a self-guided tour.

I wouldn’t be a good L.A. guide if I didn’t provide my own tour. Here is a list of places in DTLA that are worth visiting in my opinion. I shouldn’t take all the credit—the tour was originally designed by my best friend and I have modified it a bit. I will provide a quick explanation behind my selection, and include printable walking directions and a link to Google maps. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes because this walking tour will most certainly help you reach your step goals for the day. Approximate time spent walking is 1 hour and 25 minutes, with plenty of stops in between of course. You might recognize some places from previous blog posts (I like when it all comes together!). Here we go!

Kelly’s Walking Tour of DTLA

Union Station
This is a good starting point thanks to the accessibility of the station. Convenience aside, the building is a Los Angeles gem. The Spanish architecture draws on the origins of the city and the palm trees evoke the Southern California spirit. In addition to the charming architecture, there are free happenings at the station that are worth checking out.

Philippe - The Original
The name may sound familiar because I spoke of the French dip rivalry between Philippe’s restaurant and Cole’s in my foodie post. This stop is not an indication of my favorite option; I just figured you might be hungry at this point and want to enjoy a meal before diving into the heart of the city.

Olvera Street at El Pueblo de Los Angeles
I remember visiting Olvera Street as a child on field trips. Our elementary school would arrange tours and visits to this area because of the historical Avila Adobe Visitors Center. I know the date may not impress you, but the Avila Adobe was built in 1818 and is considered the oldest standing residence in Los Angeles. I don’t mean to overwhelm you with choices, but you can also sign up for a docent-led tour of the area, called El Pueblo. Eat some Mexican food while you’re here!

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
When I was living in France, I really enjoyed comparing the Roman and Gothic architecture of cathedrals. Built in 2002, the cathedral in downtown L.A. embraces the new trend of postmodern architecture designed by Spanish architect Professor Jose Rafael Moneo. Sitting on a hill, the new cathedral was built after the 1996 Northridge earthquake damaged the standing one. The grandeur of the cathedral is impressive, though some questioned the need for such a large-scale project ($150 million) in a city with pressing social needs.

Walt Disney Concert Hall and Broad Museum
The Walt Disney Concert Hall is home to the L.A. Philharmonic. Even if you do not attend a show, the building is worth viewing from the outside thanks to its gorgeous facade. Right next door is the Broad Museum, a contemporary art museum that opened in 2015. It is free but be sure to reserve ahead of time.

The Last Bookstore
I don’t want to give too much away, but trust me when I say that this bookstore has several surprises in store for you. Make sure to visit the “maze” and galleries on the second floor. If you want to grab a book for your flight home, they sell used copies at a good price. This bookstore is truly a dynamic space—events happen regularly on their main floor.

Los Angeles Public Library
On May 20, 2015, former First Lady Michelle Obama honored the Los Angeles Public Library with the National Medal for Museum and Library Services. Our city’s public library was recognized for its role in providing social, educational, and cultural services unrivaled by any other public institution in Los Angeles. In addition to promoting literacy in tangible ways, the library offers social programs that help people earn a high school diploma, follow a path to citizenship, learn about wellness resources, and navigate personal finances. It truly is an incredible institution, and I welcome you to visit the exhibits and decor on all levels. If you’re looking for souvenirs, check out the library store on the first floor.

The Westin Bonaventure
This hotel made it to the list because of the view. You can ride the glass elevators to the top floors to take in the sight of the skyscrapers that make up the DTLA skyline. The first time I visited, I felt like Charlie in the ending scene of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. If this is your hotel, this could be your last stop. If not, you may want to stay a while and enjoy a drink at the Bonavista Revolving Lounge, which does actually revolve.

L.A. Live and Staples Center
We have reached our final destination, close to the Los Angeles Convention Center. The Staples Center is home to several sports teams: L.A. Lakers, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Sparks, and L.A. Kings. Last month, a statue of Laker legend Shaquille O’Neal was unveiled in front of the venue. Known for his powerful dunks, the statue captures Shaq as he blasts a ball through the rim. Look for the statues of other legends also on display: Kareem Abdul-Jabar (conference plenary speaker!), Magic Johnson, Jerry West, and Chick Hearn.

Here’s a link to a Google map of the tour (make sure you select the “Walking” option).

Here is a printable PDF with an overview of the walking tour and turn-by-turn directions.


Kelly Zuniga is J-1 exchange visitor counselor at the University of California-Los Angeles and the Local Arrangements Team (LAT) communications chair for the NAFSA 2017 Annual Conference & Expo.


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