Take a walk on the architecture side with this Downtown L.A. itinerary, which includes some of the city's most iconic and classic buildings.
Begin this walking tour at Downtown L.A.’s Union Station. The last of the great rail stations (opened in 1939) and carefully restored to its full glamour, Union Station is a romantic blend of Spanish Mission, Moorish and Streamline Moderne elements. Imagine glamorous movie stars rushing across the elaborate marbled floor to catch a train east.
Walk down Alameda Street to Temple Avenue, west to Main Street to City Hall. The landmark has been carefully restored (a post-earthquake necessity). Built in 1928 in a quirky mix of styles, the top of the building pays homage to an ancient mausoleum. Add to that a mix of American skyscraper, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Romanesque and Byzantine design. The rotunda dome is elaborately tiled and is a "must-see" for any trip to L.A. For years, no other Downtown L.A. building was permitted to be taller (32 floors). The 27th-floor Observation Deck is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Exit on the Spring Street side and walk south to 5th Street, then five blocks west to the LA Central Public Library. Watch your timing so you can take a docent-led tour (Monday through Friday at 12:30 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.). Maguire Garden Art Tours are held only on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
If you miss the tour, roam around on your own. Opened in 1926, the library is a mix of Egyptian (the post-Tut influence), Byzantine and Spanish designs. The second-floor rotunda of the old wing has a spectacular chandelier, ceiling and massive murals - an L.A. tradition. After that, go see the postmodern, eight-story atrium in the Tom Bradley Wing. Library hours are Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The library is closed on Sundays.
There’s a lunch possibility next door at Café Pinot. The patio has great views of the surrounding park and tall buildings. As you leave the Library on the 5th Street side, look up — way up. Across the street is the U.S. Bank Tower, known to locals as the "Library Tower," the tallest structure west of the Mississippi (more than 1,000 feet tall — no roof access). Next to it are the Bunker Hill Steps, 103 graceful steps patterned after Rome’s Spanish Steps.
Just east of the Library is the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, one of the favorite places to stay in L.A. for presidents, kings and movie stars since 1923. The lush Italian Renaissance-style lobby is filled with columns, frescoes and boasts a dazzling ceiling.
For a late lunch, head to Grand Central Market by continuing east on 5th Street to Broadway, then north. Opened in 1917, this is one of those bustling, tempting marketplaces reminiscent of Europe. There are plenty of choices here when it comes to a fast meal or snack: Mexican, kebabs, Chinese, Salvadoran, Japanese and more. The stalls sell fresh and sometimes unusual fish and meats, plus produce.
At the southwest corner of Broadway and 3rd Street is the Bradbury Building, a reddish-brick, Renaissance-style structure built in 1893. “Office building” doesn’t begin to do it justice. The one-of-a-kind interior features a five-story atrium finished with glazed bricks, wrought-iron grillwork (including the cage elevator that will be familiar from the many movies filmed here). The building is open to visitors Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m, and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Brochures are available in the lobby.
Stroll south down Broadway, one of the liveliest streets in L.A., for several blocks and view elaborate façades — some faded, some sparkling — of historic movie palaces. This district has the greatest concentration of pre-WWII movie theatres and office buildings in the U.S.