1. Downtown L.A. Art Walk.
A self-guided tour occurring every second Thursday of the month (from noon till around 9:00 p.m.), the Downtown L.A. Art Walk features galleries on Spring and Main streets (Gallery Row) but with plenty of related activities and shops all over the area. Expect food trucks, gastropubs, new retail stores, and chic restaurants popping up in unexpected places like the rooftop of a historic building with 360-degree views of the Downtown skyline (Perch Restaurant and Bar; perchla.com). You’re in for a treat.
2. Gourmet food trucks.
Once a cheap dining option for office workers or people on the go, food trucks have gone gourmet and attracted a foodie following. In Lobsta Truck, Maine lobster is flown in fresh daily, while Coolhaus serves architecture-themed artisanal ice cream sandwiches. Track their routes on Twitter, or for a detailed city map of food truck locations, check out foodtrucksmap.com/la.
3. Farmer’s markets.
Open daily, the original L.A. farmer’s market on Fairfax and 3rd features more than 100 food stalls, grocers, and vendors selling a wide variety of L.A.’s ethnic cuisines. The Grand Central Market, located on the ground floor of the 1905 Homer Laughlin Building in Downtown, offers fresh produce, fruits, spices, and Mexican food stalls. If you’re coming from California Plaza, the best way to get there is by taking Angel’s Flight, a funicular railway reconstructed from 1901.
4. Botanical and sculptural gardens.
The Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades houses J. Paul Getty’s collection of Roman-Greco and Etruscan antiquities and a lush botanical garden. The Fran and Ray Stark sculpture garden at The Getty Center features 28 works by the likes of Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein, and Joan Miró. The Huntington’s 120-acre botanical garden in the San Rafael Hills carries rare plants from around the world. The photography collection is also worth perusing. With 500,000 historical prints and negatives dating from 1850 to 1950, you can trace the evolution of the American West.
5. The Los Angeles Times Building and printing press.
Built in 1935, the famed Los Angeles Times Building on Spring and 1st in Downtown was designed by Cal Tech architect Gordon B. Kaufman, who won a gold medal for it at the 1937 Paris Exposition. Murals by artist Hugo Ballin, who painted the rotunda at the Griffith Park Observatory, are featured in the lobby. Twice a month, there are free tours of the building and the printing press. Call +1 213 237 5757 to reserve.
6. Vintage soda pop at Galco’s.
Originally an Italian grocery store in 1897, Galco’s Old World Grocery is now an emporium of soda pop, vintage candy, beer, and fine bottled water from around the world. Owner John Nese himself stocks the shelves with the unusual, like birch beer and rhubarb soda, and American classics like Jolt soda.
7. Venice Beach canals and Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
Venice is known for its circus-like boardwalk populated by fortune tellers, body builders, skaters, and artists. A block away sits the upscale neighborhood of renovated, architecturally eclectic houses lined with man-made canals built in 1905 to replicate the canals of Venice, Italy. The nearby Abbot Kinney is a strip of hip eateries (grab a seat at the communal table of swanky Mediterranean/Italian bistro Gjelina; gjelina. com), art galleries, antique stores, design studios, and unique boutiques.
8. Independent bookstores.
There’s a real tree in the middle of Skylight Books along trendy Vermont Avenue near Griffith Park/Los Feliz. Sit on the bench built around it and flip through the store’s selection of literary fiction, children’s books, art books, and L.A. regional culture and history. The store annex is devoted to a diverse selection of graphic novels and zines.
9. Historic buildings of Olvera Street.
L.A.’s roots as a Spanish and Mexican pueblo are still evident on Olvera Street, located in a district with 27 historic buildings. There are strains of mariachi music along the quaint alley and a colorful marketplace that sells Mexican pottery, souvenirs, and piñatas. Nearby is La Plaza de Cultura Y Artes, a Mexican-American museum housed in one of the oldest buildings in L.A., the Vickrey-Brunswig Building.
10. The murals of L.A.
You can tell the story of L.A.’s cultural past, present, and future in the city’s murals, a treasure that may soon disappear. Mural painting in L.A. surged in the 60s and 70s, led mostly by Mexican-American artists, but declined when a 2002 ordinance made it illegal to paint on private property. You can find murals in L.A.’s metro stations, or check out the database at the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, which also offers bike mural tours of Highland Park.
Photographs by Patricia Tumang
Updated story whose original form appeared on Vault Magazine Issue 7 2012.