Most ghost towns don’t become boomtowns, but you can barely walk a block in formerly forlorn downtown Los Angeles without evidence of a real and lasting transformation. From the Staples Center to the South Park neighborhood to the Arts District along Broadway, loft dwellers, tourists, and workers are filling stores, restaurants, and bars. Long-abandoned architectural marvels are reborn as nightclubs (the Edison, Exchange LA), while historical theaters and banks are turned into hotels, bookstores, or boutiques. And late next year, Disney Hall will get an upscale neighbor when Eli Broad’s contemporary art museum opens.
One of the Broadway theater district’s glitzy grande dames, the 1917 Rialto Theatre, was recast as the most urban of Urban Outfitters, offering everything from guitars to vintage amps to the requisite hipster plaid shirts. Books can transform minds, and, in the case of The Last Bookstore, former bank buildings, too. Its witty steampunk stylings combine into a cultural center, art gallery, and bookstore with a sci-fi section labyrinth. Stroll some rare green space in Grand Park, which stretches from the Music Center to City Hall and is the stage for concerts, free yoga sessions, food trucks, and farmers markets.
Start the night at Buzz, the Spring Street wine-and-beer shop where you can browse hundreds of bottles, or sip samples at the bar. Nearby, Bar Amá’s late-night patrons scoop up creamy guacamole ($10), fried Brussels sprouts ($11), and homemade tortillas with seared beef tongue ($11). Two blocks away, the trattoria Maccheroni Republic transports you to Italy with shrimp meatballs, supple pastas, and pillowy polenta ($7 to $15). Up the street, a newly upscale Grand Central Market mixes artisan foodie fare with stalls packed with ethnic staples. Line up for the eggy wonders—coddled, scrambled, sandwiched—at eggslut ($6 to $9).
Recently opened in the historical United Artists Building, Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles ($195 to $899)
is a distillation of hip design and quirky charm.
Its upstairs rooftop lounge twinkles with cozy seating and stellar views, while the adjacent restored United Artists Theatre is old-time, palatial glamour to the max. The spa at The Ritz-Carlton ($419 to $2,000) is one of the city’s best, and this spring it offers the Garden to Glamorous full-body exfoliation ($230 for 80 minutes), using seasonal herbs and botanicals, many sourced from the hotel’s rooftop garden. Stay the night and enjoy the city lights.
Photographs by Amanda DeFrancis
This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue.