Downtown LA in a Day

For my birthday (which was ages ago), instead of a normal present, I asked for a getaway to Los Angeles to visit LACMA, the LA County Museum of Art. I didn’t know what to expect but I was blown away by the breadth of their collection! It truly is a world-class museum.

Urban Light
Urban Light and one of LACMA’s buildings in the rear

But first, let’s back up. We can play this like you are spending your whole day in LA. Traffic is a giant bummer, so we’ll pretend like you woke up there. Could be that you stayed at The Ace, where we stayed for my birthday, or in an Airbnb in the downtown area. Or crashed with a friend. I’m sure you know someone who knows someone who lives near… right?

For breakfast you can go a couple of ways. You can eat at Bottega Louie, which is basically what it would be like if Marie Antoinette designed a brunch restaurant–an amazing bright white emporium of small but impeccably crafted sweets, and big entrees. Or, you could poke around for a smaller place like Poppy & Rose, which is aptly named since it sits right in the midst of the Downtown LA Flower District. It’s hard to mess up brunch, but a meal that makes a lasting impression is worth writing about—so I include both places which were each very good. Also near the Flower Market is the Fashion District, where  you can find almost every kind of fabric and sewing notion known to man.

Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall by architect Frank Gehry

After brunch it’s worth driving around Downtown LA to check out some impressive sights like the famous Walt Disney Concert Hall and the new Broad [modern art] Museum across the street. The MOCA is right there, as well, so pay the parking meter and poke around these three famous sites. If you wanted to make your day an Art Triple Feature, you could check out the Broad and MOCA before lunch, and the LACMA after lunch. That is, if you have the Museum Stamina.

The Broad
The Broad

I just mentioned lunch — depending on how early you ate breakfast you may be in the mood to grab a bite. Go to the Grand Central Market— you won’t be disappointed. I heard that the line at Eggslut can get really long, so if it’s short (like it was when I was there), get on it. If it’s too long, just pick any type of cuisine and I’m sure you will find another vendor that fits the bill. I highly recommend Berlin Currywurst. The Market has been open for almost 100 years but is experiencing a kind of renaissance (or, you could call it gentrification or hipsterification). It’s really helping along the revival of rundown (scary) DTLA move from sketchy to nice, and by the way, the food is delicious.

Eggslut burger and “slut” (coddled egg with mashed potato)

Now head west a few miles to (in my opinion) the main event. Let me pause for a moment and tell you to drive through the super fancy neighborhoods near LACMA. WOW! You may even recognize some of the exteriors from movie locations. (I’m horrible at that kind of thing so I wouldn’t recognize any). You can park underground at LACMA so your car stays cool. The exterior of LACMA has a lot of interesting things to view without paying admission. The buildings themselves, from different eras and different architects don’t “match” but they “go,” kind of like a good outfit. You can see Levitated Mass, a giant boulder installation that caused quite a stir when it made its way to LACMA, and Urban Light (photo at top), the installation that launched a million selfies. You can even see an Alexander Calder mobile and fountain around back.

With admission, though, you can see art from every region in the world and almost every time period. It really is an extensive collection. Back in September we were there just about all day but didn’t even get the chance to see it all. I even went back a month ago and still haven’t seen everything there is to offer. The limited time exhibits are so, so good. The first time I saw a fascinating collection of works by Noah Purifoy, who I’d never heard of and now know so much about, and the second time Angela and I got to experience the famous Rain Room.

LACMA Calder
Alexander Calder – Three Quintains (Hello Girls)

Don’t forget that LACMA is directly adjacent to the fascinating La Brea Tar Pits, which are actual, active tar pits that have been excavated over the years and contain preserved animals. Like, real preserved prehistoric animals. You can see a lot of the tar pits by just walking around the outside, but if you pay for a ticket you can go inside the main building and get a tour and learn a lot more information and context about what you’re looking at. Oh yeah, and since they’re adjacent to the art museum you only have to pay for parking once, which is a huge win.

To be completely honest, I usually skedaddle before traffic gets bad so my tips for LA are more concentrated on the morning and midday—truncated around 4PM. My evening tips are lacking. LACMA is closer to Koreatown though, so do yourself a favor and get some authentic Korean BBQ nearby. Then, if you don’t have to be rolled outside by your friends (many KBBQ places are all you can eat) you can head back downtown to Spring Street to find some trouble to get into. Or instead, you can grab a quick In-N-Out burger and go catch an up-and-coming band or a newly released movie. You are in LA after all.


Guest Post: The Best of Los Angeles for Free

Alyssa Bacon-Liu is a new wife, southern California native, and wannabe world changer who lives with her husband in Los Angeles. She is passionate about justice, equality, anything sparkly, and reusable shopping bags. She blogs about life, love, and the pursuit of all things beautiful at You can also find her on Twitter (@alyssabaconliu).

I am very vocal about the fact that I love living in Los Angeles. I know that big city life isn’t for everyone, but the City of Angeles has my heart. One of the best things about L.A. is that there is SO much to do and see. There is never a dull moment and you will rarely find yourself bored. Want to know the best part? You can experience the best of what this city has to offer and you can do it on a budget! I’m here to give you an inside look at how you can explore my favorite city in the world for practically free.

If you like architecture…

The historic Bunker Hill area of downtown Los Angeles has so much eye candy in such a relatively small area. First, you can make your way to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. The architecture alone of this Catholic cathedral is worth checking out, but it also boasts a relaxing meditation garden, children’s garden, religious art, fountains and an open plaza where people can walk around or sit and talk. Next, head over to the Walt Disney Concert Hall which is home to the LA Philharmonic. The cool thing is that you can take free self-guided walking tours of the inside of the Hall when there isn’t a show going on. But even if that’s not your thing, you can just walk around the outside of the building and take in the awesome architecture. Finish your adventure at the California Plaza Water Court which is one of my absolute favorite places in downtown L.A. because of the beautiful skyscrapers and relaxing atmosphere.

If you like art…

The J. Paul Getty Museum is a must-visit for anyone in the Los Angeles area. The museum has an impressive collection of art and wonderful rotating exhibits. The grounds of the Getty are as stunning as the artwork inside. They have beautiful gardens to explore, plus an amazing view. Entry to the museum is free, but parking will cost you $15 so carpool with some buddies! You can also visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and get lost in the largest art museum on the West Coast! Their general admission usually comes with a price tag, but if you plan your trip right you can get in for free! Go on the second Tuesday of the month or go after 3 pm Monday through Friday if you are a resident of Los Angeles County and enjoy the expansive collection of art at no cost!

If you like the beach…

Los Angeles has so many beaches to choose from and any one of them is great for basking in the California sun and working on that tan. But I recommend Santa Monica because it has so much more than just the beach. When you’re done being a beach bum, you can do some serious window shopping at the Third Street Promenade. Towards the end of the day, make sure you head to the Santa Monica Pier for a breathtaking view of the sunset. An entire day full of fun with the ocean as your background, and it doesn’t have to cost you a thing!

If you like history…

The perfect place for history buffs is Los Angeles Plaza Historic District, nestled in the oldest district of Los Angeles. The area is a living history lesson and there is a lot to explore in this little gem. The three standouts are the Plaza, Olvera Street, and Avila Adobe. The Plaza is usually coming alive with live performances in Mexican music and dancing.  Olvera street is a bustling Mexican marketplace with colorful souvenirs and trinkets. Avila Adobe is the oldest residence still standing in the entire city of Los Angeles and it is well preserved for visitors. And if you can spare a few dollars, indulge in a delicious cinnamon churro. You won’t be disappointed!

If you like being a tourist…

If you want a quintessential Los Angeles experience, look no further than Griffith Observatory and Rodeo Drive. Griffith Observatory is a Los Angeles icon and landmark. Perched atop Mount Hollywood, it gives you great views of the greater L.A. area and the famed Hollywood sign. The grounds of the Observatory are great place to take pictures and take in the sights. And entrance to the Observatory is always free! I know that “Rodeo Drive” and “free” don’t seem like they belong in the same sentence. But fear not, my friend on a budget! Rodeo Drive is the infamous shopping playground for the ultra-rich and glamorous, but it is also a window shopper’s dream! The luxury stores on Rodeo Drive only stretch out over 3 palm tree lined blocks, making walking up and down the entire Drive very doable. Take your time and enjoy the scenery of Gucci, Armani, Versace, and Chanel…as well as some plastic surgery jobs gone wrong.

I hope this post inspires you to not only have fun, free adventures in my favorite city, but also inspires you to find the fabulous and free places to explore wherever you go.