A good way to start exploring downtown is with a historical tour offered by the Los Angeles Conservancy. The two-hour crash course in the area’s classy past includes the 1923 Biltmore Hotel. Its fortresslike brick exterior barely hints at the palace within—a fantasia of gold columns, painted ceilings, and marble everything. Three years after the Biltmore went up, the art deco Central Library opened a block away. The crown jewel of the library is the second-floor rotunda with a domed ceiling and wraparound mural depicting the history of California. But the tour’s highlight is the 1893 Bradbury Building, a Romanesque revival beauty with a five-story central atrium. Stairs with intricate wrought iron banisters switchback upward toward a skylight. If you’ve seen Blade Runner, you’ve had a glimpse of its old-fashioned grandeur.
Grand in an entirely different way is L.A. Live, the massive sports and entertainment complex surrounding the Crypto.com Arena on the far western edge of downtown. Here you’ll find the 7,100-seat Microsoft Theater and the Grammy Museum, a four-story treasury of memorabilia from top recording artists. Be sure to check out the assortment of instruments in the Latin Music Gallery and an interactive exhibit that walks you through the recording process.
For a gorgeous view of modern architecture, you can tour the Frank Gehry–designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, part of the Los Angeles Music Center. Famous for its acoustics, the hall boasts a ceiling and walls finished with Douglas fir and sloped rows of seats encircling the stage. Treat yourself to a performance of the Los Angeles Philharmonic or check out the Center Theatre Group.
Preconcert or postconcert dining options are as varied as the cultural offerings. Angelenos have flocked to the lively Grand Central Market since 1917, and long-standing vendors remain, like the venerable China Cafe, which serves a $5 plate of chop suey.
For a more sophisticated experience, head to Otium where you can start dinner with a salad that includes ingredients grown in the restaurant’s mezzanine garden, move on to a pasta dish (such as spinach cavatelli with egg, bacon, clams, and crème fraîche), and finish with a slab of dense, fudgy chocolate torte.