5 Iconic Things to See in Downtown Los Angeles
Updated: April 19, 2023
AAA Travel Editor Frank Swanson
351 S. Hill St.
Providing quite a contrast to the sleek glass-and-steel skyscrapers around it, the orange-and-black slanted railcars of Angels Flight look like something from the 1800s. Close enough! The funicular has been carrying passengers up and down this hilly part of downtown L.A. since 1901, although there have been some gaps in service, specifically the nearly three decades beginning in 1969 when this quirky little railway was in storage. Today, for just a dollar, you can glide slowly up to the Top Station just as you would have a century ago.
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
555 West Temple St.
Don’t expect a traditional church when you visit downtown L.A.’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels because you won’t find one. The 11-story-high structure was completed in 2002 in an ultramodern style that might not appeal to some traditionalists, but it’s undeniably beautiful in its austere, angular way. Designed by Spanish architect Jose Rafael Moneo, there are few right angles to be found inside the building, which is lit by huge, translucent alabaster windows. It’s a massive space with seating for 3,000 people, and while embracing a minimalist approach to decoration, it contains splendid art and holy relics. Fountains and gardens grace the grounds surrounding the cathedral, and you can explore the site, inside and out, by way of self-guiding and guided tours.
200 N. Spring St.
Although Los Angeles’ City Hall is no longer the tallest building, it still dominates the immediate surroundings with its dignified, monumental lines and white-washed exterior. Completed in 1928, the Art Deco tower atop a more-or-less neoclassical base seems to declare itself an important landmark in an important city, which indeed it is. Head inside to see the huge, echoing rotunda with its imposing arches and marble floor, and take the elevator to the free observation deck on the 27th floor from which you’ll have a fantastic view of Los Angeles and its ever-changing skyline.
Olvera St. & Marchesseault St.
Some have criticized Olvera Street for being a fake version of a Mexican marketplace, but not only does it continue to draw thousands upon thousands of tourists every year, it has done so since 1930. And while there may be a little bit of make-believe at play (which seems appropriate for a city associated with the movie industry), there’s also genuine history here as well. The entire area is known as El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, the site where the city was founded in 1781, and it includes some of L.A.’s oldest homes such as the 1818 Avila Adobe. However you feel about reproductions, you’ll find it’s easy to enjoy browsing the colorful wares in the shops and stalls along this pleasant tree-shaded lane.
800 N. Alameda St.
Among L.A.’s iconic buildings, probably none are more visited than its historic train station, which lies across North Alameda Street from El Pueblo de Los Angeles. Completed in 1939, Union Station is both a beautifully restored artifact from the golden age of rail travel and a bustling transportation hub through which millions of people pass each year. From its 100-foot-tall clock tower and red-tile roofs to its massive arches and soaring ceilings that look as if they are supported by wooden beams (they’re actually steel), the station impresses visitors with its proportions and its distinctive blend of Art Deco and Mission Revival styles. Be sure to step inside and take a look at the Ticketing Concourse, which is closed to the public but easily visible beyond a barrier, and the equally ornate Waiting Room, which is in active use and usually filled with people hurrying to catch their commuter trains.
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AAA Travel Editor Frank Swanson
Frank Swanson is a AAA Travel Expert.