Several blocks east of the heart of Los Angeles’ financial center is the Downtown Arts District, an area once overrun by blocks of derelict manufacturing plants and otherwise questionable activity. Recently, the creative set made flight eastward, recognizing beauty in the quiet, worn down souls of the district’s aged structures. Today, designers, filmmakers and artisans of every sort populate the spacious and high-ceilinged rooms of crumbling brick buildings cloaked in faded signage. And while the area is seeing a resurgence of social life, its shops and cafes remain peppered throughout the district’s acres forcing visitors on maze-like hunts through its streets. Though quite inefficient for strolling, the layout is best suited for meandering on a bike, which delivers perspectives of casual life and unexpected instances of public art. Expect sightings of friends having drinks, seated on overturned crates on abandoned loading docks, or glimpses of Paige Smith’s subtle rock formations in cracking surfaces. Either are welcome divergences among the area’s grit and attitude.

Whether you’re new to the area or just looking for something to do on a casual Sunday, follow Darling’s guide for a perfect day in Downtown LA’s Arts District.

Start the day at Handsome Coffee Roasters. On weekends, the Eggslut truck makes its home at the curb, offering divinely crafted breakfast sandwiches and coddled eggs, which come in a jar, and are the perfect accompaniment to a hot beverage. Settle in for some conversation or meet a new friend. For alternatives, try The Daily Dose or Stumptown just down the street.

Take a short stroll east over the 6th Street bridge, admiring the LA River and the intricate architectural elements of the structure built in 1932. Pause to take in the elegant view toward Downtown’s gallant structures before heading back across the bridge.

Head north on Mateo Street and down 3rd Street. During the spring, these streets are energized by blossoming cherry trees – be sure to take-in the sight. Then continue down 3rd Street, popping in and out of shops and studios.Hammer & Spear, Poketo, Apolis, Matteo and District Millworks are a few favorites offering sultry, spirited and austere products for home and body.

Hungry for lunch, snag a spot at a communal table at Wurstkuche, an innovative beer and brat haus offering curious concoctions such as rattlesnake and crocodile sausages. Or sit outside on the patio to take in the wonderful Southern California climate, then head to The Pie Hole for post-lunch dessert.

For a dose of the area’s creative culture, pop into Sci-Arc, a highly conceptual architecture school, housed in an old freight depot. Admire walls of student work and galleries showcasing the work of Angeleno architects, while avoiding students skateboarding from one end of the linear building to the other. The true hidden gem is found in the school’s library. A lime green table that, if tugged from the edge, opens up like the mouth of a sea anemone. If you don’t make it inside, view the installations hosted in its parking lot, which are ever-changing, and be sure to check the website for upcoming events and exhibitions.

Dinner options range from hole-in-the wall, to home-cooking, to an outdoor market. Pizzanista offers innovative slices of pie in an old saloon-like dining room. For a perfectly executed meal try Bestia or Little Bear. If in the mood to be outdoors, visit The Produce Project market in front of Handsome Coffee, which tenders market baskets for taking home and preparing alongside offerings from Heirloom LA, Guerrilla Tacos or Sweet Clementine’s Popsicles. If a home-cooked meal amongst good company is what you prefer, snag a seat at a Whisky Wednesday dinner party.

To end the day, grab a drink at Villains Tavern, and enjoy the cool night air while listening to live folk music.



  1. Correction. Creatives have been in the Arts District since the 1980’s. Only recently, they are being pushed out because of over development and cannot afford the creative spaces that Beverly Hills boutiques and Coffee shops now occupy.

    1. Really, the Arts District was already over by 1980 as a spot for artists to live and show. Before 1980 there were about 30 commercial galleries and lots and lots of cheap space for artists to occupy. Cirrus Gallery, at Alameda and Palmetto, is all that remains from that golden age of the Arts District. It has been a slow decline as an art destination since then and has been taken over by professionals occupying the beautiful and now expensive loft spaces pioneered by artists now old enough to be retired from their University teaching jobs. A small group of tireless activists protect the image and work to make the zone a place artists can once again call home. The current trendiness is fine and inevitable, but lets not elide the past and the hard work of those who made this possible.

  2. This article makes me proud to be Angeleno. 🙂 Can’t wait to try out some of these spots!

    Thanks, Sarah!

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