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Southern California Close-Ups: Downtown Los Angeles

From Chinatown to Olvera Street to the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, downtown has a lot to offer.

March 30, 2012|By Christopher Reynolds | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Don't you want to lay hands on Disney Hall? Frank Gehry's rippling metallic beauty at 111 S. Grand Ave. is nearly irresistible, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic ( keeps it busy. Acclaimed young conductor Gustavo Dudamel leads about 40 performances each season, and the hall books jazz and world music too. But tickets are dear, so you might just take a free building tour, which doesn't cover the auditorium but does let you creep up and around the exterior. Most days, they hand out headphones between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and sometimes there are live guides. (Check Now, notice the Colburn School (200 S. Grand Ave.,, the music and performing arts conservatory just across Grand Avenue. It plays Juilliard to Disney's Carnegie Hall. And on Friday and Saturday nights, there are often concerts by students, faculty and visiting artists in the Colburn's 415-seat Zipper Hall, at notably sub-Disney prices. The Colburn Cafe, a breakfast and lunch stop, is often used by music students and their families. From there it's also an easy walk to the Music Center (135 N. Grand Ave.,, the Museum of Contemporary Art (250 S. Grand Ave.,, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (555 W. Temple St., and the outdoor fountains of California Plaza (300-350 S. Grand Ave.), which stages summer concert series (

9. The walk and the Stay

Downtown Art Walk (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Downtown's boosters dream of a 24-hour district teeming with loft dwellers who nightly browse restaurants, bars, galleries and one-of-a-kind shops. We're not all the way there yet, but if you show up on Spring or Main streets, between 2nd and 9th streets, on the second Thursday evening of any month, you'll see something like that vision. That's the night of the Downtown Art Walk, a loosely organized ritual, born in 2004, in which galleries and shops such as the Hive (729 S. Spring St., stay open late, DJs pop up everywhere, dozens of food trucks roll down Spring and Main streets like Conestoga wagons seizing prime prairie real estate, and hundreds of young artsy urbanites -- some of them loft dwellers, many of them adventurers from elsewhere -- roam the streets under the gaze of police and private security guards. There is a lot of amateurish art. Some people drink too much, and some say the food trucks undercut the area's restaurants. But there's a big buzz, and it's mostly fun. Near the center of the action, you'll find Stay on Main (636 S. Main St.,, a budget lodging with bunk beds and private rooms, and the Smell (247 S. Main St.,, an all-ages music venue. You'll also find the Nickel Diner (524 S. Main St.,, serving American comfort food (including maple bacon donuts) near the gritty corner of Main and 5th.

10. The writing on the wall

Wurstk├╝che (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

You can hate most graffiti and still admire the colors, textures and sheer creative energy on the walls of downtown's Arts District. The "Mona Lisa" on the shed at Rose Street and Traction Avenue, for instance, and the long wall of crazy critters along Garey Street between 2nd and 3rd streets. Of course street art is subject to change, but much of this work was done at the invitation of property owners in this Bohemian, post-industrial 'hood. You find many artists' lofts, a few galleries and eateries and the skinniest college ever (the Southern California Institute of Architecture, which occupies a former freight train depot at 3rd Street and Santa Fe Avenue). Hungry? Stop for sushi at R23 (923 E. 2nd St., or a gourmet hot dog at Wurstkuche (800 E. 3rd St.,

11. Little Tokyo

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