What should I do with one Saturday in LA? Plus subsidiary questions.
January 5, 2016 1:55 PM   Subscribe

If all goes according to plan, I will be in LA for one Saturday in March (work related travel, spare day). I'll be downtown and will need either to walk, use a city bike or take whatever public transit there is. What should I do? What should I eat? Should I buy things, and if so, what?

I like art and history museums and there seem to be a bunch. Which ones should I prioritize?

Are there any good places to buy books? I would also like to buy a couple of small presents for people - neat tiny objects that are less than $50 each. What do you recommend?

When I'm traveling by myself, I tend to get anxious about being alone in restaurants and therefore end up getting sandwiches or other take-away. Are there good small cafes, sushi places, etc, where I wouldn't feel too weird by myself? What kind of sandwich options are there? Vegetarian preferred, but I will waver if it's something local and unusual that I simply must try.

What is the best way to get to downtown from LAX?

What kinds of clothes should I bring? How out of place am I likely to feel as a short, pudgy midwesterner? (I have to admit, the stories I hear about visiting LA do not make me feel that confident and I am a little worried that I'll just be happiest holed up in my hotel.)
posted by Frowner to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You should post a meetup for the Grand Central Market!

You could come to Pasadena (train + bus) and go to the Huntington Library, then go to Vroman's for books & gifts. Right near there is Real Food Daily and Urth Caffe.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:04 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Personally, for that LA vibe, I'd go for the La Brea Tar Pits and the Griffith Observatory, also the Getty Center, maybe the Peterson Car Museum. I also love the Natural History Museum and the Huntington Library.
posted by Huck500 at 2:13 PM on January 5, 2016

DTLA has changed - and continues to change - at a breakneck pace lately. You can easily spend a day downtown and not worry about speeding around everywhere else.

In terms of getting there, I would personally take the FlyAway from LAX to Union Station, and then Lyft to your final destination from there.

The Broad Museum is brand-new and has been spectacularly popular since opening, but tickets are sold out for all weekends in March. You can visit on a "walk-in" basis, but there's quite a long line on Saturdays, unfortunately.

However, right across the street is MOCA, which is definitely worth a visit if your tastes in art skew modern.

Grand Central Market has gentrified to the teeth in the last year, but it would be a fun place for a MeFi meetup nonetheless. There are a ton of food options there, as well as a cafe on the north-facing side, which is great for people-watching with espresso (or whatever you like).

If you lean vegan, I recommend Café Gratitude, which can be pricey but has great nosh.

For books, run directly to The Last Bookstore. You won't find a better one.

I might recommend strolling over to El Pueblo de Los Angeles for inexpensive gift ideas that also give a flavor of historic L.A.

You should give zero fucks about being short, pudgy, and Midwestern. L.A. is not what the media would like you to believe (even if most of that media is produced here in L.A.).
posted by mykescipark at 2:20 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Last Bookstore is pretty great - on Instagram you can see people (of all body types) posing in front of their rainbow shelves.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:21 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

FlyAway to Union Station, and then Uber, MTA, or taxi to your hotel.

The Last Bookstore is downtown.

All of downtown is in a resurgence, there's tons of restaurants, bars, and art galleries though you want to be a little cognizant of where you're walking once it gets late and don't head down any totally deserted and creepy appearing blocks.

The LA Conservancy runs walking tours of downtown buildings Saturday mornings, check if one sounds interesting.

Should be warm and pleasant in March, maybe the tail end of El Nino.

LA is super friendly and you won't be judged by your looks unless you go out on the Sunset Strip amongst teenagers with fake ID's. For all anyone knows you're an eccentric millionaire or a reclusive successful screenwriter.

If you really just have the one day free I'd stick with stuff downtown. MOCA, the new Broad Museum, see if there's a tour of Disney Hall while you're here. Or better yet see if you can get rush tickets to a concert (if you like classical) and just go early and wander around it.

There's actually a lot of LA travel advice here on AskMe, and if you do want to get out of downtown the metro Expo Line can take you to Culver City in about 25 minutes and that's an interesting (but tiny) urban experience that can include great vegetarian indian food and a visit to the Museum of Jurassic Technology (which I don't like but everyone else on MeFi does), and/or the private art galleries around there and a drink at the Culver Hotel.
posted by mzurer at 2:21 PM on January 5, 2016

right downtown you'll find the last bookstore, which is amaaazing. the grand central market is a couple blocks from that, & you'll find tons of great vegetarian food there. it's also a perfect place to eat alone.
you can also grab a 15-minute bus to echo park, which has dozens of fun & funky shops along sunset all the way into silver lake (where I live). echo park lake is a really lovely place for a stroll.
on preview a lot of this has been said! I do think pasadena & culver city are pretty ambitious for a 1-day trip, when there's so much to do close by.
posted by changeling at 2:24 PM on January 5, 2016

As for how you'll feel as a short, pudgy midwesterner, the thing that I love THE MOST about LA is how everyone is gloriously themselves. So I think you'll be just fine.
posted by freezer cake at 2:25 PM on January 5, 2016

If you're going to be downtown, I'd recommend checking out Grand Central Market if you like street food with a few places to sit down. If you're a Blade Runner nerd, cruise by the Bradbury Building, and the Last Bookstore is also charming. There's also Little Tokyo if you like sushi/ramen/mochi; depending on what kind of books/little gifts you'd like to get, Little Tokyo also has Kinokuniya, an art bookstore that has a bunch of cute bits and bobs like fancy origami paper, nice ink, that kind of thing.

If you're doing public transit, the trains are fine and typically on schedule, the subway is shabby but no worse than NYC, but the buses are pretty much a mess. Buses get places eventually, but I would definitely not rely on one to get you somewhere in a timely fashion. There is a Flyaway from LAX to Union Station that runs fairly regularly, if that's close to your hotel.
posted by tautological at 2:25 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Los Angeles Central Library is a gorgeous building that is also home to a Library Store with lots of giftable items to buy. If the Saturday you are here is March 19th, there will also be a used book sale in the rotunda. Hardbacks are 50 cents, paperbacks are 25 cents.
posted by mogget at 2:30 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding the idea of taking the train to Pasadena. You could stop at Chinatown on the way, if you want to visit some interesting contemporary art galleries. Downtown Pasadena's fun to walk around, and you could go to the Norton Simon Museum. Huntington Gardens, via bus or Uber/Lyft/whatever, are amazing.

I used to work in DTLA back in its rougher days and love it, especially the architecture, but with a single day and no tour guide I think Chinatown + Pasadena would be more fun.
posted by three_red_balloons at 2:40 PM on January 5, 2016

Cheap and easy way to from LAX to DTLA: Flyaway Bus to Union Station for $8. Metro day passes are $7, I think.

Sadly, only Santa Monica has bikeshare at this point. If you are feeling adventurous and want to haul yourself to Echo Park, I could probably loan you a bike that multiple mefites have borrowed. But you can cover a lot of interesting ground just walking around DTLA.

Pack layers and check the weather. LA is very casual. No one really cares how you dress. Some people will look hipster af, others will not.

DTLA stuff you can walk/metro to:
If you book it now, you should be able to reserve a (free) ticket to the Broad Museum.
Also downtown: MOCA Grand (next to the Broad) and MOCA Geffen (in Little Tokyo) (one admission works for both places).
The store Poketo in the Arts District has nice small design-y gifts.
Little Tokyo is good for wandering. So is Chinatown. I encourage checking out the (strip) malls and alleyways in both neighborhoods! Both places have an assortment of gift-y stores of varying price points. Sort of hidden in Chinatown is the "independent art, books, music, and clothing" store Ooga Booga.

You could also take the Expo line to Expo Park/USC and check out the California African American Museum exhibits. Also the USC Fisher Museum of Art is nearby. Other non-art museums nearby: California Science Center and Natural History Museum. Mercado La Paloma nearby on Grand is a small business incubator with a tasty food court.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:58 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can take an express bus from DTLA to LACMA/Tar Pits. From there maybe an Uber to the Griffith Observatory for dinner, a planetarium show, and a look at the night sky via several telescopes (one on the dome, a few they roll out each night.) Food at LACMA is spendy, most food at Observatory is both affordable and A++.

You can also skip LACMA/Tar Pits and take a subway from DTLA directly to Los Feliz (Vermont Station) from and then take a bus or Uber to the Griffith Observatory. The planetarium show is $7 !!!! Wow! And they just cleaned the projection dome recently. The projections look awesome!!

LACMA is meh. The Huntington Library (Pasadena) has better art exhibits, although not right now because they are upgrading some galleries. The Huntington is a full day (of awesomeness) and I prefer it to LACMA any day. I am a member of both. I visit The Huntington 4x more frequently, and I live down the block from LACMA. So. There's that. You will need an Uber or LYFT from the train station in Pasadena to The Huntington. The train will take you from DTLA easy to Pasadena. Possibly a few minutes quicker than the bus gets you up Wilshire from DTLA, for comparison.

Food at the Huntington is spendy. And so crap even after their big wonderful expansion recently. I always bring food in. It's more reliable. (Sorry Huntington!)

You are in DTLA and can also easily visit both The Natural History Museum and California Science Center - they are practically next door to your hotel! Food at both will pass muster. Science Center is free, so you can rock back and forth between them while enjoying the giant rose garden. It's not bad.

No. You should not try to truck it out to The Getty from DTLA. That's crazy pants without a rental car. I take a bus sometimes to get to UCLA because it saves hassle parking. I would never not no in a million years take the same bus 5 minutes further down Sunset to then transfer buses or Uber to the Getty. No. I drive that when I need to. It's not public transport friendly.

I think the Griffith Observatory, while wildly crowded sometimes, is by far my favorite place. The views of the mountains and the whole city all the way out to Catalina Island! It's relaxing! I go there for perspective! Talk to the Science Hero's and learn stuff! The planetarium shows are always amazing!! The Griffith is my favorite closely followed by The Huntington, The Tar Pits, and The Natural History Museum. In this order.

Side note: every time you see ice age (pleistocene) mammal or avian bones in a museum anywhere in the world, and they have a dark tint, chances are they came from the La Brea Tar Pits. It's staggering. So much of what we know about life on earth from plants to animals from this time period was learned from specimens preserved in this little area that's only about one block square. It is a very small museum, so it's good to be next to LACMA. It makes that trip worth it. You can combine a daytime visit to Tar Pits/LACMA with an afternoon evening visit to the Griffith. It's basically just opposite sides of Hollywood. You can and should drive through the little area on Hollywood Blvd with Mann's Chinese Theater on your way from one to the other.

Tar Pits closes at 5pm. LACMA a little after that (I think, depends on day) and Griffith closes at 9pm or 10pm.
posted by jbenben at 3:05 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I should add: I walk around DTLA alone a lot at most times of day and night. I might be more comfortable doing this than the average bear. Anyway, we are in the middle of a really bad homeless crisis. There will be people living in tents all over the place. Little Tokyo and the Arts District are both Skid Row adjacent, where homelessness is particularly concentrated. I've never had any problems, but this does ook some people out and you might have some unwanted verbal interactions.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:11 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

mykescipark covered downtown LA pretty well, but one thing I'd add is Walt Disney Concert Hall. It's a fantastic building just to go and see; I've heard the tours are absolutely worthwhile (though I haven't gotten around to taking one).

If you're still there in the evening, there'll probably be a concert by the LA Phil, which is always worth going to hear.
posted by golwengaud at 3:21 PM on January 5, 2016

As for clothes: things are generally pretty informal, and you'll see a *very wide variety* of manners of dress in just about any situation. For a guy, dark jeans, a reasonably nice shirt, and something other than white tennis shoes would be entirely appropriate choices for any situation I've been in, from wandering around Hollywood on a Saturday afternoon to an evening at the Phil---with the possible exception of one metal concert; those have their own rules. (Admittedly, I'll usually dress up or down a little more than that, but looking around, that'd be fine. I should also admit that I'm a grad student of slightly peculiar tastes.)

(Don't know your gender/style preferences/general taste, but hopefully this gives you a notion of what's expected.)

Hard to say what the weather will be like, but my guess is 40s F or warmer in the morning, warming up into the 70s or even 80s by the afternoon. There's some variation, but we're not talking Minneapolis here.
posted by golwengaud at 3:35 PM on January 5, 2016

....and dear lord, I forgot the recently-reopened Clifton's Cafeteria, which will probably not serve you well as a vegetarian, but if you happen to be in the neighborhood, it's worth taking a stroll through for atmosphere alone.
posted by mykescipark at 3:35 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

LAPL also has exhibits, but they haven't yet listed the ones they'll have in March.
posted by brujita at 3:47 PM on January 5, 2016

These days you can take the train all the way from DTLA to El Mercado, which is a thriving Mexican street market, a cultural museum, a cheapish Mexican restaurant, and a Mariachi performance venue, all rolled into one. (And not basically kitsch, like Olvera Street.)
posted by notyou at 5:48 PM on January 5, 2016

Go to LAX-C in Chinatown for the best Thai market (and food) you'll find outside of the Land of Smiles. I'm checking cheap Frontier flights JUST to go to LAX-C.
posted by cyndigo at 7:29 PM on January 5, 2016

A Deli old enough to be an LA Institution, but the best items are not vegetarian. Go for a Pastrami at Langer's, or don't bother. It's a short walk from a Red Line subway station.
posted by Homer42 at 8:58 PM on January 5, 2016

10am - Walk to the Library, check out the store.
10:45 - Head North across 5th and take the stairs up, up, up! You'll come out where Hope St. curves into Hope Pl. Look closely into the lobbies of all of the skyscrapers; they all have art installations that are variously interesting. Keep walking North along Hope St. Check the Broad if you can get in. Check MOCA out. Just enjoy the outdoor sculpture if you want, all the way down to the Disney Concert Hall. Talk about outdoor sculpture!
Noon - About-face and head back South along Olive St. Maybe you can take the Angel's Flight furnicular railway down to the Grand Central Market. Good lunch options in the area. Or skip over to Broadway for more good little cafes.
1:30pm - Make for the Last Bookstore, but don't hesitate to barge into any of the galleries on Broadway, 4th, or 5th on your way to Spring street.
?? - Meander south, dodging between Broadway and Spring. Maybe get sucked into the Santee Alley melee, but that goes pretty far to the south.
Or head East and go have dinner in Little Tokyo at Shojin. *drool* Shoooooooojin.

DTLA really has all you need for a great day of art, walking outside, fantastic food, etc. Above is a decent plan (one I've done several times at different times of day and enjoyed quite a bit) that will tire you out easy unless you really sit and rest for a while along the way. There are lots of great suggestions from folks above if you want to branch out further afield, but it's really not necessary.

What kinds of clothes should I bring? How out of place am I likely to feel as a short, pudgy midwesterner?
Layers. Long pants, t-shirt, medium-weight button up, and a light/sport jacket if you're going to be out after the sun goes down. Sturdy shoes. Nobody here cares what you look like unless you're consciously making an effort to stand out and then you're automatically publicly reviled and secretly admired.
posted by carsonb at 9:11 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I live downtown near 6th and Spring, and I second carsonb's itinerary. The library is gorgeous (make sure you check out the historic rotunda and children's library on the second floor), and that is a great route up to the Broad/MOCA/Disney Hall. Another interesting site a few blocks north of Disney Hall is the LA Cathedral, which is a very architecturally interesting space built in 2002, unlike any other cathedral I've visited.

A walk through Little Tokyo is also fun; there are some great shops in the outdoor malls along 2nd St. And at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel on 2nd there is a very nice Japanese garden; take the elevator to the second (I think) floor.

Grand Central Market is a very bustling place to eat lunch, with a ton of options, although sometimes the lines can get a bit long. You should also try the Nickel Diner near Main & 6th, and have some unreal huevos rancheros. I think you can even sit at the bar if you'd feel weird taking up a whole table. Same goes for Guisado's (get the seafood tacos and a horchata with cold brew, fantastic) on Spring between 5th and 6th, in the Arcade building. Also inside the arcade is a wonderful coffee/gelato place called Cafe Uli.

Definitely, definitely explore Clifton's cafeteria (all floors!), and read up on its history-it's a real LA institution, recently revived. I think the food is of varyng quality, but the bartenders upstairs are good, and the themed design of the place is really special.

Nthing the recommendation also for the Last Bookstore.

As for the appearance concern: it has been my great joy to discover that LA (particularly downtown LA) is full of a great variety of different-looking people. I feel quite liberated to be as sartorially conservative, or as bonkers, as is my whim on any given day. And while I assume that the overwhelming pressure to be thin and lithe must exist in parts of the city that I don't regularly go to, I've never felt more than the normal amount of pressure to be so.

Oh, and one final note: while I travel all over town without a car just fine, I do think that you will have plenty to do downtown, and navigating LA works best if you don't try to neighborhood-hop too much in any one day. My biggest advice would be to pick one neighborhood (or maybe two) and really to get to know it, and save the others for next time.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 10:10 PM on January 5, 2016

One other cool thing about the Hope St. walking route is it puts you on the same level as the pedways, which are a nifty way to get from skyscraper plaza to skyscraper plaza and take you away from all the traffic.
posted by carsonb at 10:54 PM on January 5, 2016

Quick note: Angels Flight is closed indefinitely, so there's no shortcutting Bunker Hill.
posted by ApathyGirl at 10:13 AM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Should be warm and pleasant in March, maybe the tail end of El Nino.

March is traditionally rainy season, unless El Niño will make it less so?
posted by Room 641-A at 1:59 PM on January 7, 2016

Historically speaking, sunny and 70:

posted by mzurer at 2:47 PM on January 7, 2016

Oh, oh, just mind the Little Tokyo/Arts District Gold Line Station closure updates.

L.A. TACO is a good source for out-of-the-mainstream music an art happenings.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:23 PM on January 7, 2016

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