Once a deserted wasteland of crumbling warehouses, the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles is now an urban hub for LA’s young and inspired, ushering in a thriving influx of restaurants, stylish boutiques, and art galleries. With bright, massive murals and stenciled sidewalks permeating the streets, it has become a living, breathing outdoor museum and one of the most explorable neighborhoods in LA. Read on for a guide on the best things to eat, see and do while wandering through the Arts District.
Start your day off at Café Societe (formally known as Daily Dose Cafe), whose entrance is so discreet that you might walk right by it. Hidden away in a narrow, curving alleyway, the café was actually built on top of a century-old railroad track. Everything at Café Societe, from its lush, vine-covered facades, to its canopy of stringed Edison lights, exudes a romantic, whimsical charm — which feels less like Downtown LA and more like a quaint side street in Europe.
The health-centric menu at Café Societe features espresso drinks, hearty sandwiches, and other tasty bites. Order the nut and honey open face toast. Brioche topped with fresh fruit, crunchy peanut butter and a generous drizzle of honey pairs perfectly with their matcha rose latte. Light and refreshing, floral lattes have become all the rage in Los Angeles. Try Café Societe’s take on the floral latte, which seamlessly blends the dreamy flavors of matcha and rosewater.
Walls talk, and in the Arts District, they speak volumes. Everything is a canvas, from fences to stop signs to dumpsters. Take your time as you walk through one of the most condensed collections of street art in the city. Whether poetic or politically charged, the public works of art speak boldly and bravely — if only for a brief moment. The colors fade over time or are painted over by someone else, keeping the Arts District in a constant state of transformation. And perhaps it is this transient, fleeting quality that makes street art so appealing.
Visible still, are the skeletons of old warehouses — architectural relics that tell stories of the neighborhood’s industrial past. Stop by the Starkman building on Mateo Street, built in 1908 as the Pan Pacific Warehouse. Its picturesque brick structure and green-arched doorways have been immortalized in numerous films and TV scenes, most notably as the exterior of Paddy’s Pub in the long-running sitcom ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.’
Look for the red and yellow striped doors on 3rd and Traction and grab lunch at Wurstküche, a local favorite for fast-casual comfort food. Touted the sausage kings of Los Angeles, Wurstküche offers an impressively curated selection of both classic and exotic sausages. Peer into their display case and you’ll see gourmet options like Filipino maharlika and mango jalapeño, as well as more adventurous offerings like rattlesnake and rabbit. But you absolutely cannot go wrong with their classic bratwurst, grilled till crispy on the outside and served inside a freshly baked roll. You can customize with toppings like sauerkraut, sweet peppers, and caramelized onions, but the mustard at Wurstküche is definitely a highlight. Varieties include dijon, whole grain, honey, spicy brown and classic yellow. Grab one of the giant, conveniently labeled squeeze bottles and drizzle to your heart’s desire. Partner your bratwurst with their thick-cut Belgian fries served in a classic paper cone. (Tasty tip: get it with the blue cheese and walnut dipping sauce).
Industrial yet hip, Wurstküche is a modern shoutout to the German beer hall experience. The long banquet-style tables covered in brown butcher paper cue customers to chow down and get their hands dirty. With imported German beers on tap and DJs spinning live tunes on the weekends, Wurstküche is an overall good time.
Make your way to Art Share LA, a nonprofit gallery offering a sanctuary for artists and creatives since 1997. Browse the galleries and view stunning pieces from both seasoned and emerging artists alike. Dedicated to helping artists gain more exposure, Art Share accepts artworks throughout the year with no submission or exhibition fees. With a performance theater, ceramic studio and several classrooms, they have become an irreplaceable fixture of the neighborhood.
On their top floor, Art Share provides affordable live/work lofts for artists who would otherwise be pushed out of the neighborhood due to rising rent costs — staying true to their mission of keeping the art in the Arts District. Check their website’s calendar for schedules to performances, live sketch sessions, and poetry workshops.
In addition to the artworks inside, Art Share’s colorfully muraled exterior captures the raw, edgy and experimental spirit that has come to define the Arts District. Make sure to scope out the highly Instagrammed Collette Miller angel wings, charmingly painted on a small aluminum fence next to the Art Share building. Instagram away — this is the original site of Miller’s first-ever wing pair, which soon after launched the Global Angel Wings Project that has taken flight through cities across the world.
Next, head over to the Hauser & Wirth complex, peruse through the bookstore and sprawling galleries, then find yourself at Manuela for a bite. Though fairly new to the Arts District, Manuela looks and feels like it’s been around for decades. Exposed brick, rustic wooden furniture, steel chandeliers and eclectic contemporary paintings all create a unique visual backdrop for its food.
Try their deviled eggs with the biscuit and ham board. Warm, flaky homemade biscuits, decadent honey butter, thinly-sliced prosciutto — these are all the makings of a happy tummy. The eggs are creamy but not too rich, subtly accented with dill and celery salt. A sense of nostalgia pops up while eating here, and perhaps that is the point. Soulful yet simple with good food at its core, Manuela evokes memories of simpler times and eating in grandma’s kitchen.
There are few places in LA that take the words homegrown and locally-sourced as literally as Manuela. By using herbs and vegetables grown from their on-site garden and sourcing fresh, daily eggs from their own chicken coop, Manuela is completely redefining farm-to-table cuisine. Make sure to stop by the courtyard garden to see a badass mural and some really happy, rare-breed chickens. Aside from the obvious quirk and charm of an actual chicken coop in the middle of metropolitan LA, you can see how much care and dedication Manuela puts into their food. Located in an unassuming warehouse away from the busier parts of the Arts District, Boomtown Brewery is the perfect place to end the day and definitely worth going off the beaten path for. Their taproom offers a rotating roster of old-world craft beers, brewed in the 9,000-square-foot room right next door. All beers offered are full-flavored, unfiltered, and given witty names like Bad hombre and Doof wagon. Grab yourself a beer flight to sample from their selection. Boomtown also supports the art scene with murals painted by local artists, including the colossal black and white Fuzi piece that stretches along its streetside exterior.
As is expected from any great brewery, the community feel at Boomtown is spot on. Good vibes ring through the high-ceilinged space with games like shuffleboard, darts, and cornhole allowing for an all-evening hangout with friends. With rows of communal tables perfect for mingling and comfy leather couches for lounging in the corner, Boomtown makes you feel right at home.
In many ways, the Arts District is a microcosm of Los Angeles. A mecca for creativity, the neighborhood radiates the city’s enduring spirit of reinvention. With splashes of color juxtaposed against bare industrial buildings, the “gritty is pretty” aesthetic of the Arts District is unforced and seemingly accidental. Though the days of the starving artist are long gone, art still remains a priority. And perhaps more than anywhere else in Los Angeles, things are kept alive here. Whether it’s an abandoned factory or an old railroad track, the Arts District preserves and repurposes, creating a distinct character only found in this burgeoning, rectangular haven west of the LA River.
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