Few neighborhoods in Los Angeles have seen as much change as DTLA has. A decade ago, it was a ghost town after sunset—office workers would clear out at 5 p.m., leaving the streets empty. Through revitalization efforts, it’s become the more than just a place of commerce, it’s become the hub of culture for our city, museums, boutiques and the hottest new restaurants and bars all call DTLA home. When it comes to kid-friendly activities, one might think Downtown is a virtual desert but having raised my own little Mowgli in the concrete jungle for the past five years, I can attest there are adventures aplenty. In fact, some of the most uniquely LA experiences are sandwiched between the 110, 101 and 10 freeways. Here are 10 of our favorite kid-friendly things to do in Downtown LA.
Best Things to Do in DTLA: Vista Hermosa Natural Park
This hidden gem of a park tucked on the other side of the 110 freeway, known as the western gateway to Downtown Los Angeles, offers some of the best views of the city. And one bench in particular is easily the most picturesque in the city. In addition to stunning vistas, the 10.5-acre well-sculpted park is home to small manmade stream, picnic benches, and hidden nooks and crannies. A play area consisting of giant, crawl-able turtle and snake sculptures is a hit with kids and a circular dirt path is perfect for running with a jogging stroller.
221 S Grand Ave.
Best Things to Do in DTLA: Walt Disney Concert Hall
Sydney has their Opera House, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, and we in Los Angeles, have the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Designed by the legendary Frank Gehry, the sweeping stainless-steel structure with dramatic curves inspired by the sails of a clipper ship is an architectural icon. For kids ages 5 to 11, the Toyota Symphonies for Youth concert series hosts music-themed workshops followed by a session with the LA Phil orchestra (canceled this season due to COVID). Currently available are free self-guided audio tours of the concert hall. When telling your kids about this destination, uttering the first two words are going to take some managing of expectations. As impressive as the facilities are, an amusement park this is not (we learned this the hard way).
111 S Grand Ave.
Best Things to Do in DTLA: The Broad
Having opened in 2015, The Broad is a great addition to the modern art scene in Los Angeles. Inside the honeycombed exterior structure is a collection of contemporary art from the biggest names, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Barbara Kruger, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, and Keith Haring. For little ones, exhibit highlights include Under the Table by Robert Therrien, a comically oversized dining set that will have parents empathetic of their kid’s height, Jeff Koons’ Tulips, giant polished stainless-steel flowers coated in highlighter hues, and Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors, mind-bending rooms that are life-sized kaleidoscopes. Best of all, The Broad is completely free. Head to their website to reserve a spot before showing up.
221 S Grand Ave.
Best Things to Do in DTLA: Grammy Museum
The Grammy Museum celebrates music and the artists who have won the prestigious award from the Recording Academy. The whole family will enjoy the interactive installations that walk through the process of creating music and the multimedia displays telling the stories of famous singers past and present, including artifacts from early sound recordings. If you appreciate fashion, the museum has a collection of some of the most recognizable outfits worn on the red carpet, from Taylor Swift to Lionel Richie.
800 W Olympic Blvd.
Best Things to Do in DTLA: The Last Bookstore
There are bookstores and then there is The Last Bookstore. Located in a former bank building in the heart of DTLA, The Last Bookstore is touted as the largest new and used bookstore in California, measuring 22,000 square feet. But more than just a vendor of the printed word, it’s a two-store world where books are thoughtfully staged in installations worthy of a gallery. There is a tunnel of novels, books arranged by color of their cover, and crime and mystery novels housed in the bank’s former vault. For your junior reader, there is a kid’s section offering new and used books at a discounted price. For discerning parents, there’s a room with first edition, rare books and collectibles.
453 S Spring St.
Best Things to Do in DTLA: Grand Park
Located at the foot of City Hall, Grand Park spans three city blocks, adding a welcomed bit of greenery to DTLA. The park features a custom playground area filled with colorful berms and a 12-foot tube slide that looks like it was plucked from a Dr. Seuss book. A water fountain at the other end of the park features a splash pad your kiddos can wade into. In addition to the fixtures, the park offers a variety of must-go programming throughout the year, ranging from holiday lights, live music and dance lessons.
200 N Grand Ave.
Best Things to Do in DTLA: Los Angeles Central Library
The Central Library isn’t your average library. The art deco architecture, gardens, water fountains, sculptures, and murals built in 1926 is a walk down memory lane of early LA with a museum feel. The third largest public library in the US, it’s massive, the children’s book section on the second floor alone is the size of most neighborhood libraries. Beyond loaning books, the Central Library hosts tours, regular events, classes and community services. It’s the perfect place to sign up your child for a library card, stoking a thirst for knowledge and a lifelong love for books.
630 W 5th St.
Best Things to Do in DTLA: LA Live
In the same area as The Grammy Museum, is LA Live—home of the Staples Center, Microsoft Theater and The Novo, the biggest entertainment venues in LA. It’s also home to solid restaurants, Lucky Strike bowling alley, and one of our family’s faves, the Regal theater. The multiplex has one of the nation’s few 4DX theaters boasting motion seats and wind, fog, mist, and scent special effects, all synced to the biggest blockbusters, creating an immersive experience (think Star Tours at Disneyland). During the holiday months, LA Live sets up an ice skating rink with a brightly lit Christmas tree at its center.
800 W Olympic Blvd.
Best Things to Do in DTLA: Olvera Street
The birthplace of Los Angeles, Olvera Street is home to the city’s earliest standing architecture—the Avila Adobe house dates back to 1818 and the main square is from the 1820s—when the area was still part of Mexico. That heritage continues in the bustling Mexican marketplace lined with stalls offering sombreros, ponchos, string puppets, candies and pottery. Tiene hambre? Cielito Lindo at 23 Olvera St. has been frying up crispy taquitos since 1934, and come slathered in their signature green avocado sauce. Afterwards, take the familia to Mr Churro for one of their fried treats. Perfecto.