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Discovering the Best of Downtown LA: A 3-Day Itinerary in Los Angeles

DAY 0- Travel day…TSA Pre . MIA . LAX . Sheraton Grand Los Angeles.

The trip started by using the TSA Pre-line for the first time, aka the VIP/fast lane at customs in the US. I was so happy to have gotten my approval and card before this trip. Its sooooo worth it, not having to take off your shoes, take out the laptop…., it’s just faster and with a shorter wait (link below). I traveled with American Airlines from the Miami International Airport on the 7 pm flight, by 2:30 am, I was finally at the Sheraton Grand Hotel Los Angeles.


The hotel lobby was gorgeous. It has been recently remodeled in an eclectic style, modern with old-fashioned accents. The lobby has a very cool bar area with high walls covered in wood, reminiscent of an old library with antique details and even a rail for a sliding ladder. The warmth and heaviness of the surrounding dark wood was contrasted with floor to ceiling see-through panels in the center, and a sleek reception area at the opposite end of the space. I loved it. At last I got to my room, I dragged my feet while settling in, then before I knew it I was asleep.


I spent all day working on a deadline before enjoying Easter weekend. Thankfully when 5 pm eastern time rolled around, I could wind down and start enjoying my weekend. I walked a bit around the hotel area, truthfully in search for a gluten free treat. Thanks to google I found Sprinkles Cupcake, a very well-known cupcake bakery, where I purchased a heavenly gluten free red velvet. (Sprinkles was founded in 2005, it was one of the first concept bakeries to sell only cupcakes, check out their cupcake ATM!!!) After my guilty pleasure break. I went to the gym to try and burn it off, really in my desire to travel as a local I do my best to keep my routines. The hotel gym has a panoramic view of the city’s skyline, you must love it when design integrates the indoors & the outdoors.


Finally, my first night out in Downtown LA, so excited. The night started at “The Varnish”. It’s a prohibition-style bar created out of the old storage room of the popular Sandwich restaurant Coles. (Coles has been around since 1908 and

its where the French dip originated). The Varnish is found behind a wooden door in plain sight in the Coles restaurant, not your typical speakeasy entrance, no password or hidden passages to overcome. Behind the door a cozy, small classic old bar reveals itself. Its first come-first served, no reservations can be made and you can wait up to an hour on the weekends for a table. What I love, is that it’s that kind of bar where highly knowledgeable mixologists can custom mix a drink for you by asking your preferences. My drink: Gin, egg whites, lime juice and grenadine. I was very happy- it’s my kind of place. Its small, cozy, historic, and with quality products, the place has lots of character.


Now for dinner at Perch, a French restaurant on a glamorous rooftop. My meal: loup de mer, it was delicious. There is indoor and outdoor seating, the outside has an amazing view, and the inside has elegant décor with dim lighting. After the meal, I ventured to the rooftop bar for drinks. The terrace had seating areas with fire pits and trees, the view is easy on the eyes, and the atmosphere is warm and relaxing.


From Perch I bar hopped to The Standard Hotel also located in Downtown LA. Getting to the rooftop bar was a bit of a challenge, as I was informed only after I had reached the bar above that non hotel guests had to register downstairs. Down the elevator I went, and around the building to the second entrance to get signed in. The Standard Hotel rooftop bar has a great vibe. It has funky decorations from sculptured grass animals covered in Christmas lights to organic red chairs. The space is open but still cozy due to the different enclosed seating arrangements leading to more intimate gatherings.There are numerous heated lamps to counter the chilly LA nights. I picked a lounge chair and enjoyed the amazing views as I savored my last drink to the DJ music. It felt as if I was in an elevated street plaza. The standard Hotel is surrounded by buildings that are many stories taller. The glow from all the offices make for a stunning backdrop.

View from the terrace of Perch


The day started off with breakfast at the hotel, then picked up the rental car and off to Griffith Park, a 30-min trip. Parking was easy at 8 am, but when I had finished the hike at 11:00 am, the park was crowded with tourists and locals enjoying the day off with their families. There are 3 main trails, but the one I took led to the Hollywood Sign view point from the front, a 90 minute, easy but long walk on a paved road, leading around the mountain from the Griffith Observatory. (The Hollywood sign was erected sometime in 1923 and it has long welcomed aspiring actors looking to make it big in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler and his real estate partner originally created the 45-foot high white block letters to promote his upscale real-estate development, called Hollywoodland. It cost them $21,000 which would be over $250,000 in today’s money. Despite decades of run-ins with vandals, pranksters and developers, among others, it has managed to hang on to its prime location near the summit of Mount Lee in the Hollywood Hills. But you can’t get close enough to touch the letters anymore, as one could in days gone by).

On my way...

I was lucky to have gone on a clear day when the city & the sights from the observatory were visible, but from what I've read, many times you aren’t able to even see the sign from the Observatory due to the infamous LA smog. There are public bathrooms located just outside the building, so take advantage before you head out on, since there are no others along the way. Remember to hydrate, use sunblock and have comfortable shoes. I didn't take any risks, as I brought my back pack with 3 bottles of a water, a banana and my regular gym attire w/ a sweatshirt. It was chilly at the beginning of the hike so I was thankful I was prepared. Before you start, there is a map at the entrance where you can select which trail to take. The views were beautiful and at 8 am there were already many finishing their hike. I don’t know if the trails get over-crowded, but I wasn’t alone for long periods, frequently seeing couples or groups. By the time I had reached the Observatory again at 11:00 am, the hill was filled with people trying to find parking. The observatory lawn had groups with picnics, people taking pictures and just enjoying the day. Many were exploring the grounds before the building opened, as the park opens before the observatory. (For more information on the hiking trails, park and observatory, as well as for maps, click on the corresponding links below).

Griffith Observatory front lawn clip


Back for a quick wash up and have a well-deserved lunch at “District” a new restaurant at the lower level of the Hrand Sheraton Hotel. The restaurant has two main areas; the dining more private, and the bar area that connects to the newly developed plaza on 7th & Hope. The atmosphere was industrial, eclectic with an urban relaxed vibe. There are pipes used as a wall dividers when you walk in, and large tapestries on the wall giving it a warm touch. They had a full bar and some TVs. I got the House smoked BBQ brisket: it was mouth-watering good. No time for resting, back in the car again to travel to the Getty.


To the Getty’s … my first LA highway experience, I braced for the legendary traffic & survived, it was actually mild, I was lucky. The building has paid parking, which gets full easily on busy days, especially on holidays and in the summer, so account for that. From there you take a monorail, its 3 mins to travel to the center. Enjoy the views, because in no time you will arrive. The museum entrance is beautiful, I thought of the hanging Gardens of Babylon… but that is just me. From then on, my inner paparazzi was unleashed…

The entrance has stairs alongside the tiers of gardens, take a pic it’s one of those memorable sights that conveys importance. I like that the center allows the visitor to walk around and pick how they want to experience the grounds. You can go directly into the building and start perusing the art or you can take a pause to explore the popular gardens. The Getty has a couple of food options, but I only explored the main cafeteria which had a nice selection of coffee. They did however lose points by not having gluten free cookies. ;( That was my first stop, a coffee in one hand and I was off to the gardens to pick a spot on the lawn and enjoy the sunny day. The landscape design offers many seating areas, from a watching perspective or from a participating one. There are benches alongside the paths. Even though it was busy it was never overwhelming.

The museum admission is always free, but like all of those that are if you wish to contribute you can. The Architect responsible is Richard Meier, when you think of the museums architecture I think it’s impossible to not reflect on the travertine, the light and city views. There is an impressive amount of natural light that floods into the building. The galleries are connected by central glass hallways that aid you in locating yourself, as well as maintaining a consistent connection with the outside. There are also several large terraces that oversee LA, its seems like the museum is always trying to frame the city. I loved how the design worked integrating its surroundings, it just felt like a fluid space. The collection of art doesn’t overshadow the buildings design. The Getty houses European paintings, drawings, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts; 19th- and 20th-century American, European, and Asian photographs; contemporary and modern sculpture.

-I suggest you go on their site and read up on what you would like to see, it’s a big museum. Or cheat, and head to the gift shop and get an idea of what is there and what you like to see.

View from the Gettys's museum


At Bäco Mercat during dinner, I finally had a Hollywood sighting! (Sarah Drew, from Greys Anatomy, she is as beautiful on TV as in person). Bäco Mercat, is a Mediterranean restaurant in the historic Old Bank district in downtown Los Angeles. It’s a small, very cozy but trendy at the same time. It’s one of those places you feel that you are between the cool locals. The menu is extensive, I wanted to order it all. I had the: Roasted Japanese Eggplant & the Octopus with Sishito and tomatoes. The food -Delicious/amazing- wow …. just looking at the pics makes me hungry. That place gets all my stars… Good food, good vibe, good service.


For after dinner drinks, I went to The Edison, a cool renovated basement that used to be a power plant in 1910. The bar has a burlesque/ old glamour theme in the mist of old equipment. The entrance is somewhat hidden, and when you walk in you are greeted at the door, and directed to a long staircase that takes you down to the basement. The ceilings are very high, and the space is ample with a couple of bars. You feel in a warehouse at times. The servers are dressed in an old fashion 1920's theme, and it was wonderful to see that many patrons had embraced the burlesque tone and dressed the part as well. The main area is easy to navigate, it frames a stage where a live band was playing, you can also find more secluded spots near the perimeters. (For band dates go to their webpage found below). Old movies are shown in the private areas, these added character and whimsy to the environment. Later in the night, I did some exploring and found the old machinery you can see in the pics. It so refreshing to find spots where they celebrate history.

Background old movies to add ambiance to the bar

Before leaving downtown I got to see the Walt Disney Opera House, utter happiness. It has rapidly become an Icon of the city. They offer self-guided free tours. In the Grand Lobby, you meet representatives at a temporary table to retrieve your audio guides. The tour lasts around 60 mins. I may have taken a bit longer as I stopped to take pictures and just enjoy. The audio guide gives you a great narrative covering the buildings history and its architectural/construction backstory. The architect is the world-renowned Frank Gehry and the famous acoustical engineer Yasuhisa Toyota. Together they discuss in the audio their challenges and solutions. Frank Gehry’s buildings tend to require the use of a unique 3D software and lots of creativity when it comes to their design and execution. Saying that this architect has broken the mold is and understatement. Enjoy the video.

Walt Disney Concert Hall Virtual Tour

The interiors are warm, there is an exuberant use of wood and lots of natural light. The outside, like many of the architect’s work, seems like an art piece, an organic metallic sculpture. Each of the metallic sheets are custom, they are coded with a number that identifies their location at the job site. It’s like a very complicated 3D puzzle. There is an elevated plaza, that you can access at any time from the street, or from the inside as I did. While there I witnessed around 4 photoshoots. The many angles and unique material, make for an interesting background, and at times engaging passageways. I was expecting to have a great visit, being as I am a longtime fan of the architect, but the audio guide is so well prepared that between the amount of history and the captivating anecdotes it surpassed my expectations. Make time and visit it, and if you can attend a concert: GO!. Gustavo Dudamel is the Concert Hall’s current conductor, I will have to come back to see him the Venezuelan Genius.

More..... where I stayed and visited


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