A Great Walking Tour of Downtown Los Angeles

Updated on Dec 26, 2018

If you are into history or architecture, the highly-rated Free LA Tour can be a great outdoor date idea! I recently took an out-of-town friend on the tour and we enjoyed it.  Here are my experiences.



The Logistics

You’ll need to register for the Free LA Tour on their website.

The tour can get hot on sunny days, so bring a good hat and sunscreen.  Definitely bring good walking shoes!  A water bottle would be good too.

Come Early for Union Station

The tour I took started at Union Station, which itself is a wonderful place to experience the streamline moderne architecture of the 1930’s. I highly recommend getting there a bit early to check out the station, as the interior of Union Station is not covered in the tour itself but is pretty cool.

Downtown LA Union Station
Los Angeles Union Station
Downtown LA Union Station
Waiting area at Union Station
Union Station Ticket Booths
The historic Union Station ticket counter

Be sure to park in the parking garage on Alameda, which is $6 for the day, not the front short-term parking lot on Vignes, which is $2 for every 20 minutes.

The Tour

The tour I took focused primarily on the history and architecture of downtown LA, from the time when it was a territory of Spain to the 30’s and 40’s.  Our guide was a young fellow who was very interesting and had entertaining stories about the history of LA.  Our only minor complaint was that he walked a bit fast at times. It was not a problem for us, but it could be for older folks.


From Union Station, you’ll cross the street to the oldest part of Los Angeles, near the entrance to Olvera Street.  There are quite a few historical buildings here, including the first church, oldest hotel, oldest building, and oldest fire house in LA:

Fire Station
Fire Station

Other landmarks you’ll see include City Hall, Grand Central Market, Pershing Square, and many old banks and hotels.  You won’t be visiting any modern skyscrapers on this tour. As I mentioned, the tour focuses on history and architecture, but the guide also has lots of interesting stories and factoids.

Los Angeles City Hall
Los Angeles City Hall
The Times Building
The Times Building
Grand Central Market
Grand Central Market

One of the highlights of the tour is the incredible Bradbury Building, featured towards the end of the movie, “Blade Runner”.  You actually get to go inside:

The Bradbury Building
The Bradbury Building, where Blade Runner was filmed

Overall, I found the tour very interesting because I’m into history. Even though I’m an LA native, I learned a lot.

Although the tour is advertised as being technically free, they do recommend a $15 donation at the end if you’ve enjoyed it, and frankly you’d feel really weird not paying anything after a two-hour tour.  Budget for tip as well.

The tour ends at Pershing Square. At that point, I recommend checking out the Biltmore Hotel, which is basically right there, on your own.  The interiors of the Biltmore are amazing.  Check out the historic photos of the early days of the Academy Awards and see which celebrities you can pick out.

The Biltmore Hotel
The Biltmore Hotel

To get back to your starting point, you can either walk, or take the subway.  We had lunch at Baco Mercat, a trendy but very good restaurant with a lot of buzz these days (reservations required).



Overall, I highly recommend the Free LA Tour!  What was your experience like?  Please leave a comment or question below! – Brian

 

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