Home to an urban artists’ colony in the ’70s, Downtown L.A.’s Arts District has recently re-emerged as a hotbed for creatives of all types. Located just east of Little Tokyo and west of the L.A. River, it’s now an exciting place for locals and visitors alike to explore—not to mention, eat, drink, and sleep. Kick off with a street art tour of the area, then check out the work of emerging artists at the community’s creative hub; sample bang-up tacos at a beloved food truck-turned-brick-and-mortar restaurant; and get your daily dose of hops at the laid-back local beer hall.
Housed in the former American Apparel manufacturing facility, the ROW DTLA is a massive development with offices, restaurants, shops, bars, and events spaces. You’ll find some of the most artful bento boxes outside Japan (at Hayato), a Tartine carb fix (at The Manufactory), and gluten-free karaage (at Pikunico). For shopping, there’s the homegrown design boutique Poketo, Still Life Ceramics, and Yolk; and every Sunday, the complex hosts Smorgasburg, a weekly street-food festival with some of the best artisan eats in the city.
When chef Wes Avila first opened his taco truck, plenty of naysayers claimed that no one would ever pay more than a few bucks for the signature offering. But fast-forward a few years, and Avila is now one of the city’s most notable business owners in the Arts District, where Guerrilla Tacos, his brick-and-mortar restaurant, never stops buzzing. Food-lovers flock here for the famous hamachi tostadas (topped with uni), vegetarian tacos, and killer mezcal margaritas.
Nightshade, a pan-Asian homage to modern Angeleno cooking, is where Top Chef winner Mei Lin turns inspiration from travel into a unique menu that masterfully balances the five elements of taste. The space itself is very Jungalow-esque, with hanging plants, eclectic decor, and mid-century furniture upholstered in jade-green velvet. If you’re into tropical flavors, don’t miss Lin’s canned collaboration with Underwood Wines in the form of a spritz with lychee and rose. Other standouts include the signature scallops: served with a house-made coconut vinegar and cilantro broth, they’re sweet, sour, and bright.
Art Share LA
As the Arts District neighborhood has rapidly gentrified, Art Share L.A. has emerged as a vibrant community hub for creative-types and arts enthusiasts alike, with residences, a gallery, ceramics studios, classrooms, and a theater. The 28,000-square-foot facility, which has exposed brick and beams, is all about inclusivity, so you’ll often find up-and-comers beside vets. Themes changes regularly, and include topical subjects like “Female Gaze,” a response to Laura Mulvey’s feminist theory of the male gaze.
LA Art Tours: Downtown LA Graffiti/Mural Tours
Downtown L.A. Graffiti and Mural Tour is the rare tour that feels at once homespun and professional—just as any street art tour should. Although the route focuses largely on murals, there are also stops at galleries like Dejavita, Arts District Co-Op, Art Share LA, Cleveland Art, and Hauser & Wirth. Depending on your luck, you might get to see artists in action. Guides are extremely knowledgeable, and although their tone feels comfortable and organic, the content is far from improvised.
Everson Royce Bar
Undoubtedly one of the coolest bars in L.A., Everson Royce is a great catch-all no matter which itch you’re trying to scratch: date night, birthday, business drinks, you name it. In addition to great cocktails, a solid wine list by the folks behind Silver Lake wine, and food from Matt Molina, the vibe here is particularly strong, especially on summer nights, when the string lights are aglow. A bocce court adds to the breezy, relaxed atmosphere.
Peter Lai’s Japanese Cultural Village
Fans of esoterica will be in heaven at this homage to Japanese culture, which is housed in Peter Lai’s Arts District loft. Lai’s 5,000-square-foot village is divided into vignettes—one a tea house, another a kabuki theater, and another a kitchen. His incredible, meticulously arranged collection of porcelain cats, kimonos, textiles, and paper cranes is a breathing—and breathtaking—piece of art. Lai, a famously eccentric designer from Hong Kong, is a real aficionado of Japanese culture and shows a reverence for each object in his collection, which comes through in his personally-led tours of the spaces.
Dustin Lancaster is known for his Midas touch with restaurants, and with Hotel Covell, in Los Feliz, he proved that holds true for boutique hotels, too. Firehouse, Lancaster’s second hotel, is a revamped firehouse where each room is themed by a single color. While this monochromatic approach could easily awry, designer Sally Breer has ensured that its execution is nothing but stylish and seamless. In addition, Firehouse has wonderfully communal feel, complete with an outdoor restaurant and coffee shop.
Although the Apolis Common Gallery is closed for renovations, you can still find the brand’s unique global goods at a somewhat permanent pop-up inside Alchemy Works, a mixed-use space that happens to house some other really great labels, too. It’s an open floorplan with lofted ceilings, and there’s always some sort of really cool vintage car parked in the center—the perfect Insta-shot. The collection here changes constantly, but you’re likely to spot unique fragrances, hand-thrown ceramics, bespoke jewelry, and bags.
Art District Brewing Company
Arts District Brewing, an expansive beer hall, may remind you of Denver; after all, the brewers’ fermentation tanks are on full display and there are heaps of communal seating, bar games, and Skee ball. The lineup of unique beers includes an IPA made with gin botanicals and a golden ale made with honey and Meyer lemon. There are also beer-friendly bites like burgers, fish tacos, mango-habanero wings, and nachos, plus plenty of vegetarian options.
Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis (the masterminds behind Bestia) have done something truly special at Bavel, which turns out food from across the Middle East, from Israel to Tunisia and Yemen. Be sure to order the signature dish: malawach, essentially a Middle Eastern roti, served with grated tomato, dill crème fraîche, soft-boiled egg, and an oh-so-Californian strawberry zhoug. People talk a lot about the meaty dishes, but we love the mushroom skewers just as much. Don’t leave without dipping into the silken hummus with duck nduja—and some of Gergis’ desserts, of course.
Hauser & Wirth
Founded in 1992 in Zurich, Hauser & Wirth has since grown to include outposts in Hong Kong, London, New York City, and beyond, making the institution a major force in the art world. The opening of the Los Angeles location was a feather in the cap of the flourishing Arts District scene. Programming here includes performances, film screenings, workshops, and artist-led conversations. Ever-changing exhibitions have recently included a retrospective of Annie Leibovitz’s early works, as well as textiles and handmade wares from the Italian conceptual artist Piero Manzoni.
Previously published on Conde Nast Traveler.