Welcome to the second walk in our How to do Los Angeles series, this one on downtown! So few people go downtown when they visit Los Angeles and that is a shame because downtown is amazing, with some of the best art, culture, and history in the entire city. Most everything is centrally located, walking distance from the Civic Center and Financial District/Bunker Hill. Here is the walk that will take you there!
Start: Union Station
End: Pershing Square
Headlining sites: Union Station, Olvera Street, City Hall, Grand Park, Our Lady Queen of the Angels, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Bradbury Building, Angel’s Flight, Bunker Hill, Central Library, Millenium Biltmore, Jewelry District, Broadway Theater District
How to get here: Metro Red, Purple, Gold, or Silver Lines
What to bring: Government issued photo identification, 50¢ or a metro day/week/month path and 25¢.
Total distance: ~4 mi, down to 3.3 mi with a shortcut or up to 5 mi with two half mile detours
Estimated time: Half a day
Best time to go: Weekday mornings/afternoons (some places close as early as 3pm), any time of year
The Walk: Our walk starts at * Union Station. Los Angeles’s main railway hub, Union Station is a major transportation hub for Southern California and the country as a whole, with Metrolink routes to Oceanside, Lancaster, Riverside, and Ventura, bus routes to San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Bakersfield, and Las Vegas, Amtrak routes to San Diego, Seattle, Chicago, and New Orleans, Flyaway service to LAX, and metro connections to local and regional buses as well as the Red, Purple, Gold, and Silver lines. More than sixty thousand passengers travel through Union Station every day.
Union Station opened in 1939 as is now considered the last of the great US railway stations. Its unique design is a combination of Spanish Mission (owing to its Los Angeles heritage), Streamline Moderne (an architecture movement popular in the 1930s), and Dutch Colonial Revival (the architect was born in the Netherlands). The site for Union Station was chosen smack-dab in the middle of Old Chinatown in an attempt to drive the Chinese out of the city. That effort proved unsuccessful however, with Chinatown simply moving a couple blocks away, to what was then Little Italy.
Exit Union Station through its gorgeous waiting room and out the west entrance. Head through the dropoff zone, to Alameda Street. Crossing Alameda (along Los Angeles Street), we enter the birthplace of Los Angeles, Pueblo de Los Angeles.
History lesson time (don’t worry, it’s quick). First settled by the Spanards in 1771, Los Angeles was the second European establishment in California (San Diego was first, in 1769). Originally established at the San Gabriel Mission, complications quickly set in, both from Los Angeles river flooding and resistance from Native Americans. As support/reinforcements arrived, a city was needed to house them. Following the Law of the Indies town planning regulations, the current site for Los Angeles was chosen, and in 1781 the Spanish governor of Las Californias, two priests, one military detachment, and 44 settlers created Pueblo de Los Angeles.
The entrance to Pueblo de Los Angeles pays tribute to the founders of this city. As you enter, head up the steps, where you’ll find a statue of Antonio Aguilar and a mural depicting, I actually don’t know what it depicts. Further down on Los Angeles Street is Los Angeles Plaza Park, an outdoor area filled with tributes Los Angeles’s first figureheads. And at the north end of the Plaza, from east to west, is Los Angeles’s Mexican Consulate, La Plaza United Methodist Church, and ** Olvera Street.
Olvera Street is a block long Mexican marketplace with an assortment of Hispanic goods, souvenirs, and foods. You’ll find pinatas, puppets, sombreros, Scarface posters, candy, churros, and many other items, mostly authentic and all super cheap. My Hispanic friend describes Olvera Street as the closest to Mexico she’s even been outside the country itself.
In addition to the marketplace, Olvera Street offers two historical residences preserved as museums. First is Avila Abode, built in 1818, it is the oldest standing residence in Los Angeles. Directly across is Sepulveda House, a 22-room Victorian mansion built in 1887 as part of a failed effort to transform this area into a Victorian commercial center. Adobe Avila is open Tues-Fri from 10am-3pm and Sat/Sun until 4:30pm, and Sepulveda House is open 9am-4pm seven days a week. Admission to both is free.
After finishing at Olvera Street, head back to Los Angeles Plaza Park and turn right, cross Main Street and head into La Iglesia Nuestra Senora Reina De Los Angeles. Remember that San Gabriel Mission and the city that was built to support it? Well, the city grew so fast that it soon required a mission of its own. Built in 1784, Nuestra Senora Reina De Los Angeles Asistencia (an assistant mission in the California mission system) quickly fell into disuse and in 1814, La Iglesia Nuestra Senora Reina De Los Angeles was built in its place. Now a fully functional Catholic Church (informally known as Old Plaza Church), La Iglesia Nuestra Senora Reina De Los Angeles serves as a reminder of the Spanish Mission history in California.
Heading back to Main Street, turn right and walk south, past La Plaza De Culturas Y Artes and the Pico House, over the 101 freeway (future site of Park 101) and into Los Angeles’s Civic Center. Cross to the east side of the street, where we’ll enter Fletcher Bowron Square.