The Arts District east of Downtown LA is one of the most vibrant, hip, and up-and-coming areas of the city. It’s now one of my favorite daytime date destinations in the entire LA area! It’s undergone an amazing revitalization with cool galleries, breweries, restaurants, and hipster bars. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon or evening with friends or someone special. I’m really psyched about this area – it’s an ideal place to visit with someone special!
Getting There & Parking
The Downtown LA Arts District is located east of Downtown LA, East of Alameda between 1st and 7th Streets, with most of the cool walkable areas at the north end of this map.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to include Smorgasburg and the Row (in the lower left corner of the map) as part of the Arts District.
There is street parking, but it can be hard to find. I parked in a centrally-located lot at E. 3rd Street and Hewett St. The sign said “$3 parking” but that was misleading, because it was $3 per hour with a $15 max. But, I paid anyway because I didn’t have time to look for scarce street parking. Some of the restaurants have valet parking.
The last time I went, I did find free street parking on Santa Fe Ave under the 1st Street overpass. We only had to walk a few blocks from there.
If you’re coming from the Pasadena area, you can take the Metro Red Line to the Little Tokyo / Arts District Station. It’s only a ten minute walk to the Arts District from there.
And now, on to my list of things to do and see in the DTLA Arts District!
1. Hauser & Wirth Art Complex / Manuela
For me, the centerpiece of the Arts District is the Hauser & Wirth art complex, located at 901 East 3rd Street. It’s a massive former industrial space from the 1890’s (the Globe Mills complex) which was restored into a cool art and restaurant complex in 2016. The industrial bare brick and massive iron doors have been preserved, creating a really unique vintage factory feel.
The art gallery contains about five or so large rooms which can accommodate massive installations or exhibits. When I went, they were featuring really cool installations by Jason Rhoades (I won’t spoil it by telling you what all of the words mean, but maybe you can figure it out. HInt: it’s X-rated).
This type of art may not be everyone’s cup of tea (definitely not for kids due to the language and imagery), but at the very least it’s interesting for adults! The installations change every few months, so check their website to see what they have now.
There is an open-air courtyard in the center, with a garden on one side where they grow herbs and vegetables for the restaurant. There are even live chickens!
The restaurant, Manuela, features Texas-inspired American cuisine using farm-fresh ingredients. The ambiance of this restaurant is really incredible, as it looks out into the courtyard of the complex.
There are lots of great non-chain coffee options within walking distance including:
Further to the south, there is Stumptown Coffee Roasters.
Keeping with the industrial theme that seems to pervade this area, Angel City Brewery is a huge two-level space located in a former cable factory. I really like the vintage industrial ambiance here and the huge space.
Grab drinks at the bar, then find a table to share. Or, play a game of Jenga or beanbags. If you’re hungry, there’s often a food truck outside. What more could you want in a brewery?
Another great brewery in the area is the Arts District Brewing Company. Not only do they have a great selection of beer and awesome chicken wings, they have Skee-Ball! Need I say more?
4. Casual Dining
PASTA e PASTA is a relatively new place just outside of the Arts District which has amazing reviews on Yelp. I haven’t been there yet, but it’s on my list! They’re famous for their beef ragu as well as their uni pasta.
If you haven’t been to a Pie Hole yet, you’ve got to go. They offer sweet and savory pies that are to die for. We split a small Shepard’s Pie and it was amazing, as well as filling! Their other favorite is the macaroni and cheese pie. Of course, their sweet pies are incredible as well!
Wurstkuche is an informal German restaurant featuring sausages, Belgian fries, and beer. And oh are they good together! Their most notorious sausage is rattlesnake and rabbit, but rest assured there are plenty of other more traditional options. Of course, they offer an amazing selection German and Belgian beers on tap! They have “picnic table” seating, so you may be sharing a table, but it’s all part of the fun. Wurstkuche is definitely not your typical hot dog joint!
For dessert, head over to Salt and Straw for their famous ice cream flavors. There might be a line though!
5. Fine Dining
The Arts District has a few of the best restaurants in L.A. including two on Jonathan Gold’s top 100 list.
Bestia is probably my favorite high-end restaurant in the Arts District. It’s a Jonathan Gold favorite, ranking #17 on his list of top 100 restaurants in Los Angeles, offers amazing Italian-influenced cuisine.
The atmosphere is what I call Arts District industrial chic, informal but hip, and lively but not insanely loud. Bring a date here and they won’t be disappointed!
Bavel is a newer entry by the folks who brought you Bestia specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine. I love the ambiance with the open kitchen and plants hanging overhead.
It’s best to order family-style. Everything we had here was amazing, from the duck to the roasted cauliflower to the octopus. But, my favorite was the baba ghanoush and seasoned bread. I’ve never had bread like that before!
Brera (formerly Officine Brera) offers Northern Italian-inspired cuisine, but this isn’t your typical Italian restaurant. Here, I shared a $100 plate of risotto with shaved truffles on top with a friend of mine. Wow! Brera comes in at #41 on Jonathan Gold’s list of top 100 restaurants in LA. Ambiance is great for a date!
Nightshade is a new entry to the Arts District fine dining scene from chef Mei Lin. Vibe is similar to the other high-end restaurants on this list, and the noise level is not too loud for good conversation. Another great choice for a foodie!
6. Modern Arcade Fun
If you’re into more cutting-edge gaming, you’re in luck. Filled with futuristic video games, VR rooms, an escape room, and various other high-tech amusements, Two Bit Circus is an unusual attraction, perfectly suited for the Arts District. Admission is free, but you pay for individual games. There’s also a bar and food area.
I went with my brother and we tried the Battlezone VR game. This is a sit-down immersive tank game, similar to the old school Battlezone arcade game, except way updated. It was great, but we left feeling nauseous due to motion sickness. I would recommend the other VR games where you stand rather than the ones where you sit.
If that’s not enough, EightyTwo is a bar that features vintage arcade games from 1978 to 1994 (the golden age), and they still only cost 25 cents to play. There’s even a pinball league on Tuesday nights.
There’s no cover, but this place can get crowded on weekends, sometimes with a line to get in. Come before 9PM on weekends to guarantee entry.
7. ROW DTLA / Smorgasburg
Just outside the official boundaries of the Arts District, at the former site of American Apparel on Alameda St., is ROW DTLA, a cool new marketplace of restaurants and shops.
The vibe is like a lot of the Arts District: industrial, retro, yet brand new. A cornerstone of ROW DTLA is Tartine, an amazing restaurant and bakery from the Bay Area that just opened here. They serve breakfast through dinner.
Reservations are recommended for table seating, but they also have a “grab and go” section with counter seating. It has a fast, bustling atmosphere, but the service was very attentive when we went, and it wasn’t too loud.
If you’re in the mood for seafood, I’d recommend the Rappahannock Oyster Bar, the first West Coast location of this venerable East Coast seafood restaurant. The environment is light and airy, and the ingredients are locally-sourced.
You can also grab coffee at Cafe Dulce, or browse various clothing and housewares shops elsewhere in the complex. Overall, it’s a really cool space and more shops and restaurants are moving in as we speak!
Every Sunday from 10AM to 4PM at ROW DTLA there’s a huge outdoor food marketplace called Smorgasburg featuring gourmet food trucks and arts and crafts vendors. I haven’t been to this yet, but it’s on my list!
8. Museum of Architecture and Design
The A+D Museum is located a bit further south of the other attractions in the area, and you have to cross some pretty busy streets with no crosswalks, but when there’s a good exhibit it can be worth it.
When I went, they were featuring the Museum of Failure, showing failed products through history such as the Edsel, Titanic, Coke Classic, and the Segway. The other half of the museum had architectural photos and drawings. Admission was $15. It’s a small museum, but if you’re into the exhibit, it can be fun. Check their site beforehand.
9. Lost Spirits Distillery Tour
If you’re into rum or whiskey (and even if you’re not), you might want to check out the now-famous Lost Spirits Distillery tour. This has been described as “an amusement park for adults” and “the world’s best distillery tour”, with areas themed after Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean.
So, Check It Out!
As you can see, there’s tons to see, drink, and eat in and around the Arts District. The whole area has a cool vintage industrial feel that is really unique. I’d recommend a trip out there when you have a chance!
What are your favorite hangouts in the Downtown L.A. Arts District? Please leave a comment or question below! – Brian