Anyone who's familiar with Los Angeles knows there are a few major restrictions when it comes to exploring the U.S.'s second most populous city: traffic, for starters. But also, LA's disorienting urban sprawl can leave some travelers scratching their heads as to where to find – in the midst of so many desolate strip malls, sketchy bus stations, and disconnected, pseudo-suburban residential areas – a sense of the "real" LA. When it comes to exploring by foot, dining, and finding decent accommodation without getting sucked into the black hole of Hollywood, we suggest starting in Downtown LA. Here are a few reasons why:
No car needed
Though cars are everyone's favorite mode of transportation when it comes to getting around in LA, Downtown is the one area where you can rely solely on the Metro and not feel encumbered by its limited route. For example, two main stops (Civic Center and Pershing Square) serve the entire Downtown area; from here, most attractions are walkable. And if you prefer to head up to Hollywood for the afternoon, that's only a 15-minute metro ride away.
Walking around Downtown's "Gallery Row" (spanning a fourteen-block radius between West 1st and Pico Boulevard), visitors can enjoy a wealth of public art, historic architecture, and even several green spaces. Overlooking Pershing Square, the PacMutual campus is set to debut an 80-foot vertical garden on one of its buildings in July. Meanwhile, a Downtown Art Walk, hosted monthly every second Thursday from 6-10 p.m., is a free way to acquaint yourself with local galleries (over 40 of them) at your own pace.
LA's trendiest new hotel
The fully-renovated United Artists Theatre building, in Downtown LA's Theater District, recently re-opened to the public as the Ace Hotel Los Angeles (from $188 per night). Boasting a 1,600-seat theater adjacent to the mosaic-tiled lobby, the hotel is pure Ace, and pure 1920s-LA-glamor. The sparsely-decorated rooms (which feature custom Revo radios and Rudy's toiletries) are only half the appeal, as guests can also enjoy a buzzing restaurant (LA Chapter), a Stumptown coffee kiosk in the lobby, and a rooftop bar with 360-degree views over downtown LA.
Food on the go
Thought you had to trek up to a fancy West Hollywood restaurant for a real taste of that sun-drenched California produce? Not so. Every Sunday from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m., the Historic Downtown Farmers Market, a small-scale operation started in 2012, sets up along 5th Street between Broadway and Spring Street, and offers a bounty of citrus, figs, fresh flowers, and pastries. It's also an outpost of organic foods purveyor Two Bits Market. In need of something quick and tasty? There's always the to-go window at Two Boots Pizza.
Free museum night
Any LA native lucky enough to work (or live) in the Downtown area has 24-hour access to the city's top art attraction: the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, which is free to visitors every Thursday evening (5-8 p.m.). Starting this weekend, visitors can head inside the Frank Gehry-renovated building to check out Mike Kelly, the largest collection of the late LA-based artist's work to date (comprising over 250 photographs, paintings, vies, and sculptures).
Offbeat souvenir finds
On your last day in LA, stock up on one-of-a-kind gifts to bring home to your friends and family by browsing the area's unique assortment of boutiques and studios. Whether you end up with a box of local chocolatier Droga's signature Big Bite Brittle ($11.95), or perhaps a gnome-printed t-shirt at the quirky Haus of Love, you'll be sure to return home with a fun souvenir from this artist-rich, eclectic neighborhood.