Downtown L.A. (DTLA) is often overlooked as an L.A. destination, passed over by tourists and locals alike who prefer the beachy environs of Santa Monica, the tawdry buzz of Hollywood, or the tony shops of Beverly Hills. Though Downtown’s traditional reputation is that of a business center that shuts down early, things are changing; exciting, new restaurants open up each month as Angelenos flock to the area for its burgeoning nightlife and relatively cheap(er) rents. Luckily for us Claremonters, Downtown is just a quick hop away on the 10, and is easily accessible via the Metrolink to Union Station, just $16 round-trip for students.
Just outside the frenzy of Union Station, Olvera Street provides a glimpse to L.A.’s past; the oldest remaining section of Downtown, the small and winding street plays host these days to a number of vendors selling lucha libre masks, piñatas, traditional pottery, and Mexican cuisine. Try a stop at Mr. Churro, which specializes in the fried confections filled with custard, chocolate or caramel ($3.50) — the perfect treat to fortify you for the day ahead.
Walt Disney Concert Hall:
The Frank Gehry-designed home of the LA Philharmonic is a fantastic place to get a taste of L.A.’s architectural diversity; the stainless steel concert hall seems a world away from the brightly-colored buildings of Olvera Street. Hour-long tours of the grand space are free, with audioguides and docent-led tours available on most days. Alternately, take a look at the schedule for upcoming performances: Joshua Bell and Lang Lang will both be visiting in May (their shows are nearly sold out), but tickets under $25 can be found for other upcoming performances.
Electric Dusk Drive-In:
Tired of trekking to the Laemmle for your films? Give in to L.A.’s movie-rich history with a trip to the Electric Dusk. The drive-in movie theater offers tickets to a few films each month for roughly the same price as a traditional theater: but in this case, you get to see films like Clueless, Dazed and Confused, and Dirty Dancing … from the comfort of your car. If you don’t have a vehicle, you can bring some chairs and take a seat on the lawn — but purchase tickets early, because they often sell out. Retro bonus: “carhops” who will bring treats from the snack stand directly to your car!
Pick up a few flowers for a friend or loved one in the Los Angeles Flower District. The wholesale flower corridor is rife with options, from simple rose bouquets to more elaborate arrangements, with most businesses centered around 8th and Wall Streets. Desperately in need of glasses? Downtown’s only Warby Parker “Readery” is hosted at the Standard Hotel at Fifth and Flower; head here to try on the full range of the line’s $99 and under frames (yes, that includes the prescription!) and sunglasses. For some sample sale finds, head to the California Market Center (CMC!) on the last Friday of each month to browse thousands of brands at below-retail prices. Bring home some pastries from Bottega Louie— the brilliantly-colored macarons, eclairs and other delights will be much appreciated by your friends (and the macarons make a fantastic Passover-friendly treat!).
Dining options in DTLA have expanded of late, and it’s easy to find anything from tasty sushi (Sugarfish is consistent) and Italian (Drago Centro is excellent, and has bites for around $5) to bacon-wrapped matzo balls (at Top Chef Ilan Hall’s The Gorbals). But if you’re not looking to blow your budget at Patina, reasonable options abound: pay a visit to Grand Central Market for some of L.A.’s best coffee, a taste of Eggslut’s much-Instagrammed sandwiches or Belcampo’s burgers. If a restaurant meal is more your style, head over to Ricardo Zarate’s Mo-Chica; the food from a 2011 Food & Wine Best New Chef is tasty, and happy hour drinks and bites under $7 along with a $15 lunch special make the small, modern outlet more amenable to a college budget. For a more casual experience, try L.A.’s famed Nickel Diner, home of the maple bacon glazed doughnut.