Though it's affectionately known as “downtown,” Los Angeles' most historic district has often been overshadowed by the glitz of West Hollywood, the beaches of Santa Monica, and the luxury of Beverly Hills. But thanks to a recent influx of world-class restaurants, buzzing nightlife, experimental shopping, and ultra-hip hotels, DTLA (as locals call it) is finally living up to its name. For your next trip to the City of Angels, find yourself in the center of L.A.'s coolest neighborhood.
FOOD AND DRINK
Located in the up-and-coming downtown Arts District, Bestia (average main: $30) is the brainchild of husband-and-wife duo chef Ori Menashe and pastry chef Genevieve Gergis. Though the neighborhood may look a little dodgy, Bestia's warehouse location—strung with bright lights and always filled with a bustling crowd of industry professionals, hipsters, and foodies—is a hidden gem. Serving multi-regional Italian cuisine, Bestia has something for all ages and taste palates, from a classic margherita pizza to the more-adventurous grilled whole orata.
Insider Tip: Though chicken gizzards aren't always the most enticing of parts, Bestia's version, made with roasted beets, Belgian endive, and aged capra sarda, is a must-have.
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Voted Bon Appetit's Best New Restaurant of 2013, Alma (tasting menu: $95 per person) started as a pop-up. Now, thanks to owners Ari Taymor and Ashleigh Parsons, Alma's permanent location on South Broadway is always packed with diners looking to sample the locally sourced cuisine. The tasting menu changes daily, but expect oxtail, sturgeon, and pigeon, as well as a plethora of items grown in the restaurant's Venice Beach garden.
Insider Tip: Alma is one of the toughest reservations in town. Book yours, up to a month in advance, here.
Chef Josef Centeno's riff on Tex-Mex cuisine, Bar Ama (average main: $15) is inspired by the women who raised him. Casual and raucous, the restaurant serves family-style comfort food, like pork belly chicharrón, mole eggplant, and chile relleno. Vegetarians and vegans rejoice—most items, including the utterly addictive queso and fried Brussels sprouts, can easily be ordered meatless.
Insider Tip: Didn't make it in time for lunch, but too early for dinner? Bar Ama's Super Nacho Hour, Saturdays from 3 pm to 5:30 pm, is cheap and delish, offering chorizo nachos, guacamole, and fish tacos, along with the restaurant's full cocktail menu.
Also in the downtown's Arts District and just around the corner from Bestia, Stumptown Coffee is Los Angeles' newest coffee import. Hailing from Portland, the shop offers espresso, cold brew, pour-over, and take-home bags of beans. The converted warehouse, now home to one of Stumptown's roasteries and a cavernous, light-filled café, is the perfect place to soak in the local culture.
Insider Tip: The coffee shop hosts public tastings at noon on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Synonymous with new and cool, Ace Hotel (rooms from $199) is located in the historic United Artists Building, first built in 1927 for the film studio. Mixing Art Deco and Spanish-style influences like carved wood, colored tile, and metal spires, the hotel is decorated with a minimal, modern California aesthetic for a mix of traditional and contemporary.
Insider Tip: The hotel's rooftop pool is open to the public, but guests get first priority. Call ahead to check availability.
Swedish fashion brand Acne started as a denim brand, but has grown to be a cult leader in the industry thanks to its perfectly cut jeans, luxurious leather jackets, and simple sheath dresses. The L.A. store, opened in late 2013, is the brand's largest in the world and is simple, stark, and urban. If you're not much of a shopper, stop by to check out the store’s giant mushroom sculpture, an installation by Belgian artist Carsten Holler.
Insider Tip: The boutique has a chic indoor coffee shop called Il Caffe, ideal for watching passersby stroll down Broadway.
Caravan Book Store
Celebrating its 60th anniversary, Caravan Book Store (550 S. Grand Ave, 213/626-9944) is the only surviving bookstore from downtown's booksellers row, a block of independent book stores that set up shop during the 1960s. Specializing in rare, out-of-print, and limited-edition books, Caravan also has a small collection of found items and antiques, including vintage train timetables and railroad bonds. Stop by, settle in, and get lost among the shelves.
Insider Tip: Owner Leonard Bernstein is an expert in the California Gold Rush and the western migration. Ask him anything.
Allyson Rees is a writer, trend forecaster, and creative consultant based in Los Angeles. She covers fashion, retail, design, and consumer trends for a variety of international outlets. Find her on allysonrees.com or follow her on Twitter: @theintlshopper.