Whether you’re interested in cocktails and art along Gallery Row, a play at the Music Center or a visit to the art collection at MOCA, The Broad or the Japanese American National Museum, Downtown has you covered. The Central City hosts an assortment of the performing arts in its cluster of venues atop Bunker Hill, including the landmark Walt Disney Concert Hall, while top-notch exhibits fill more than a dozen museums and galleries. There are special events, festivals and more to be found year-round in this culture-packed community.
This 8,000-square-foot Arts District warehouse is the only museum of its kind in Los Angeles. The A+D offers exhibits focusing on contemporary architecture and design, and there are educational and community programs. Current exhibits include a survey of the winners of the American Society of Architectural Illustrator’s Architecture in Perspective competition. Suggested donation $10; students/seniors $5. Open Thursday-Friday 2-8 p.m., until 6 p.m. on Wednesday and weekends noon-7 p.m. 900 E. Fourth St., aplusd.org.
African American Firefighter Museum
Fire Station 30 was established in 1913 to serve the majority African American Central Avenue community, and from 1924-1955 it was one of two segregated fire stations in L.A. It now serves as the first and only freestanding African American firefighter museum in the country. Check out vintage fire vehicles, photos, memorabilia and more. Free admission. Open Tuesday and Thursday 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and Sunday 1-4 p.m. 1401 S. Central Ave., aaffmuseum.org.
This stunning facility holds some 2,000 artworks collected over the decades by Eli and Edythe Broad (about 200 are on display at any given time). These are some of the most prominent examples of postwar and contemporary art in the world, with works by Koons, Warhol, Basquiat, Lichtenstein and hundreds of others. An eye-catching honeycomb design filters light into the block-long gallery and connects the museum to the Grand Avenue cultural corridor. There is also a 24,000-square-foot public plaza. Admission is free but online reservations are recommended. Closed Monday. Open Tuesday-Wednesday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday-Friday 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. 221 S. Grand Ave., thebroad.org.
California African American Museum
CAAM collects, preserves and displays the history, art and culture of African Americans. In addition to its permanent collection of more than 6,000 objects of art, artifacts and historical documents, and a research library, CAAM hosts nearly a dozen in-house and/or traveling exhibitions, and more than 80 public programs each year. Located in Exposition Park, the museum recently revealed its fall program, including a survey of painter Nina Chanel Abney’s work and a look at California’s little-known role in the 19th century slave trade. Admission is free. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 600 State Dr., caamuseum.org.
California Science Center
This museum is a wonderland filled with hands-on and creative exhibits that fill three stories: The Air and Space Gallery features real planes and spacecraft; the World of Life examines the living environment; and the Creative World explores human invention, from computer technology to solar cars. The Ecosystems wing showcases a diverse assortment of live plants and animals, as well as interactive exhibits in 11 environments. Also, be sure to view the awe-inspiring Space Shuttle Endeavour and the current King Tut exhibit. Beat the crowds by visiting on weekends or weekday afternoons after 1:30 p.m. A few steps across the Science Center plaza is the IMAX Theater, with a seven-story screen that puts science in larger-than-life perspective (some films are 3D). Free museum admission; tickets required for IMAX. Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 700 Exposition Park Drive, californiasciencecenter.org.
Chinese American Museum
Housed in the oldest and last surviving structure of the city’s original Chinatown, CAM is Southern California’s first and only museum dedicated to telling the history and stories of the Chinese American experience in Los Angeles. Located in the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, the museum houses artifacts including antique furniture, herbal store furnishings, traditional wedding gowns, toys, photos, letters, dishware and literature. There are also audio recordings of Chinese Americans who share memories of growing up in Old Chinatown. Admission $3; students/seniors $2. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-3 p.m. 425 N. Los Angeles St., camla.org.
El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument
This is the official birthplace of Los Angeles. Of the monument’s 27 historic buildings, four function as museums: the Avila Adobe, the city’s oldest house; the Sepulveda House, home to exhibits and the Visitors Center; the Old Plaza Firehouse, which houses late 19th century fire-fighting equipment; and the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, in the old Italian Hall. The most popular part of El Pueblo is the Olvera Street marketplace with restaurants, shops and booths selling handicrafts. The plaza serves as a lively gathering place and hosts year-round festivals and events. Open daily; hours at shops and halls vary. 125 Paseo de la Plaza, elpueblo.lacity.org.
FIDM Museum and Galleries
This fashion design school includes a museum that has a collection of more than 12,000 costumes, accessories and textiles, ranging from the 18th century through the present, including designs from Chanel, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. Visitors can also view an early Hollywood costume collection. Keep an eye open for FIDM’s two major annual exhibits, one featuring a stunning display of movie costumes from the previous year, which is mounted in the late winter and spring, the other focused on outfits from TV shows, which lands in the summer. Free admission. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 919 S. Grand Ave., fidmmuseum.org.
FIDM’s Annette Green Perfume Museum
This is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to scents. Its namesake Green has been an authority and leader in the fragrance industry since the early 1960s, and the collection contains more than 2,000 bottles, perfume presentations and documentary ephemera dating back to the late 1800s. About 200 objects are displayed and rotated every six months. Free admission. Open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 919 S. Grand Ave., second floor lobby, fidm.edu.
Four floors of exhibits celebrate the power and history of music at this sleek venue at L.A. Live. Incorporating film, sound and interactive experiences, exhibits highlight genres such as rock and roll, hip-hop, country, Latin, R&B and jazz. The vast collection includes lyric notebooks, archival photos, costumes, musical instruments and much more. The museum also explores the art and technology of the recording process, and the history of the Grammy Awards. Additionally, it programs everything from free guitar lessons for kids and artist-in-residence programs to intimate conversations with Grammy-winning stars. Admission $12.95; students/seniors $11.95. Open weekdays 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., weekends 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Closed on Tuesday. 800 W. Olympic Blvd., grammymuseum.org.
Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles
This Arts District mega-gallery opened in 2016. It occupies a seven-building compound that began life as a grain mill in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There is a mix of private sales rooms along with museum-caliber exhibitions open to the public. Community elements include an open-air courtyard, the on-site bookstore Artbook and the restaurant Manuela. During summer nights there are often public events, and admission is always free. 901 E. Third St., hauserwirthlosangeles.com.
Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
One of Downtown’s newest museums, the former Santa Monica Museum of Art moved from the Bergamot Station art complex to the Arts District in 2017, taking over a warehouse with 7,500 square feet of exhibition space. The museum mixes works by international artists with up-and-coming local creators. The ICA-LA is currently running an exhibit on painter Nina Chanel Abney and a survey of work by sculptor B. Wurtz. The museum also hosts discussions, community workshops and live performances. Admission is free. Open Wednesday-Friday 11 a.m.-7 p.m. and weekends 11 a.m.- 6 p.m. 1717 E. Seventh St., theicala.org.
Italian American Museum of Los Angeles
This museum at the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument opened in 2016 in the restored 1908 Italian Hall. An ongoing inaugural exhibit examines the Italian-American experience from the birth of Los Angeles to the present day. The museum also features historic documents and artifacts, including photographs and maps. Expect to find film screenings, language classes and performances throughout the year. Admission is free. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-3 p.m. 125 Paseo de la Plaza, #400, iamla.org
Japanese American National Museum
This is the only museum in the country dedicated to the Japanese American experience. There are artifacts from the first-generation Japanese immigrants, as well as oral histories and materials that document the lives of Japanese Americans before, during and after their World War II incarceration. Opened in 1992 in a former Buddhist temple, the museum is now housed in an 85,000-square-foot contemporary pavilion adjacent to the original location. There are often traveling exhibits, and family festivals, live concerts and speakers. Free admission every Thursday from 5-8 p.m. and all day every third Thursday of the month. Admission $12; $6 for seniors/students. Children under 5 are free. Closed Monday. 100 N. Central Ave., janm.org.
LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes
This cultural center celebrates the unique Mexican and Mexican American experience in Southern California with interactive exhibits, films, lectures and classes. It is near Olvera Street in two historic buildings, and is surrounded by a sprawling garden. Free admission. Closed Tuesday. Open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from noon-5 p.m. and Friday-Sunday noon-6 p.m. 501 N. Main St., lapca.org.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Grand Avenue
Downtown’s contemporary art museum was founded in 1979, and has amassed one of the country’s most renowned permanent collections of art created since the 1940s. MOCA boasts a cache of more than 5,000 Abstract Expressionist, Minimalist, Post-Modernist and Pop Art gems. Look for ambitious themed shows and retrospectives, surrounded by cool programming, especially during the summer. Admission $12; seniors/students $6; and free from 5-8 p.m. every Thursday. Closed Tuesday. 250 S. Grand Ave., moca.org.
Museum of Contemporary Art, The Geffen Contemporary
MOCA’s second space is a vast warehouse in Little Tokyo. The Geffen Contemporary offers 40,000 square feet of space, and the sprawling facility with high ceilings houses some of the more playful and expansive of MOCA’s shows. Admission $12; seniors and students $6; and free from 5-8 p.m. every Thursday. Closed Tuesday. 152 N. Central Ave., moca.org.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
This museum features a world-class dinosaur hall with 30 full-body specimens that let you get up close. There are also nature gardens and a lab, and an exhibit that digs into the growth of Los Angeles. Opened in 1913, the NHM houses a mindboggling 35 million specimens. Three diorama halls display mammals and habitats from all over the world. Other standouts include the gem and mineral hall, the family-friendly Discovery Center and Insect Zoo, and the Dino Lab. DJ events and special speakers fill the museum during the First Fridays series, which runs January through June. Admission $14; seniors and students $11; children 3-12 $6; children 13-17 $11. Open daily 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. 900 Exposition Blvd., nhm.org.
Chinatown is where you’ll find this emporium of kitschy velvet paintings. Founders and curators Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin have acquired nearly 3,000 pieces, placing some 450 on display at any given time. The museum also features a black light room, a tiki corner and the requisite hall of Elvis. Admission $10. Open Wednesday-Monday 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 711 New High St., velveteria.com.
Wells Fargo History Museum
This petite museum inside the Wells Fargo Center chronicles the bank’s role in Southern California, including the Gold Rush era of the 19th century. Items on display include an original Concord stagecoach, the 27-ounce Challenge Nugget, a historically re-created Express office and a working telegraph. The museum attracts school field trips, California history buffs and the occasional office worker looking for a break. Free admission. Open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. In the lobby of 333 S. Grand Ave., wellsfargohistory.com.
Aloud at the Central Library
Expect some of the world’s most interesting minds to make an appearance at the Central Library’s speaker series held inside the 235-seat Mark Taper Auditorium. For a quarter century, the Los Angeles Library Foundation, which runs Aloud, has hosted novelists, poets, scientists, educators, performing artists, journalists, political figures and filmmakers, and the frequent addition of a local scholar, critic or fellow artist makes for a lively dialogue. Programs fill up quickly, so reserve a space in advance. Free. 630 W. Fifth St., lfla.org/aloud.
A bevy of intriguing authors with new books are making a trip to the Historic Core for an evening appearance at the brilliant Last Bookstore. You can generally expect two or three events per week. You might hear a novelist, a journalist, a poet or a panel of people who all contributed to a collection. Prices vary. 453 S. Spring St., lastbookstorela.com.
Live Talks Los Angeles
Enthralling on-stage conversation should be expected at this citywide speaker series that has a number of Downtown locations. Founded in 2010, Live Talks books speakers who encompass a range of professions including authors, actors, musicians, scientists and more. Prices vary. Some of the Downtown locations include the Aratani Theater in Little Tokyo and the offices of architecture firm Gensler, livetalksla.org.
The architecture school in the Arts District hosts a multi-disciplinary slate of speakers throughout the year. Open to the public, the lineup features architects, artists, filmmakers, engineers and more. Recent lectures have focused on such topics as architecture in the digital age and urban planning. Free. 960 E. Third St., sciarc.edu.
Town Hall-Los Angeles
Business and city leaders, as well as those who simply want to stay informed, attend these timely events focused on issues that affect the lives of Angelenos. Formed in 1937, topics include public safety, business, education, the economy, infrastructure, government and more. Most events are at the City Club in the Financial District. 555 S. Flower St., 51st floor, townhall-la.org.
Zócalo, which means “public square” in Spanish, has featured more than 800 thinkers and doers in a free-flowing, non-partisan format. The wide range of topics has encompassed politics, government, economics, education, technology, arts and science. Free and at various locations, zocalopublicsquare.org.
One of two local venues operated by Center Theatre Group (CTG), the Ahmanson boasts the largest theatrical subscription base on the West Coast and is the biggest of CTG’s spaces. Built in 1967, the theater boasts more than 2,000 seats and hosts an array of dramas, musicals, comedies, classic revivals and touring Broadway shows. 135 N. Grand Ave., centertheatregroup.com.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Built in 1964, the Dorothy Chandler continues to wow visitors with its crystal chandeliers, wide curving staircases and one of the largest stages in the country. Located on the south end of the Music Center complex, the pavilion is home to exquisite operatic performances from L.A. Opera, led by tenor great and General Director Plácido Domingo. 135 N. Grand Ave., centertheatregroup.com.
East West Players
Housed within the historic Union Center for the Arts in Little Tokyo, this award-winning theater company has premiered more than 100 plays and musicals about the Asian-American experience. Its repertoire includes cutting-edge new works as well as adaptations of familiar plays with Asian casts. The main stage of this 240-seat venue is the David Henry Hwang Theater. 120 Judge John Aiso St., eastwestplayers.org.
Los Angeles Theatre Center
This multi-theater facility in the Historic Core is operated by the Latino Theater Company, and the venue showcases a diverse lineup of dramas, comedies, dance and theater. The LATC also works with the community to offer space for rehearsals, performances and cultural events. 514 S. Spring St., thelatc.org.
Mark Taper Forum
The Taper is an award-winning theater and the site of a number of prominent works, both local productions and shows on tour. The smaller of Center Theatre Group’s stages, it is more experimental than its neighbor, CTG’s Ahmanson. 135 N. Grand Ave., centertheatregroup.org.
REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater)
This cutting-edge, black box space has carved out a niche at the back of Walt Disney Concert Hall for experimental dance, avant-garde theater, films, panel discussions and literary events. Stumble across an impromptu performance in the lounge, stop in for a peek at the art gallery, or take in one of the innovative performances. 631 W. Second St., redcat.org.
24th Street Theatre
Located inside a 1928 carriage house, this 99-seat theater in Exposition Park has showcased a number of critically acclaimed performances since 1997, including one-offs and Spanish-language productions. They also do youth outreach, art exhibits, music and dance. 1117 W. 24th St., 24thstreet.org.
USC Bovard Auditorium
This 1921 red brick building is the centerpiece of the campus, and though it is home to USC’s formidable symphony, it also serves as a venue for many music groups and performance troupes. The hall seats over 1,230 people and is one of the oldest stage locations in Los Angeles. 3551 Trousdale Parkway, usc.edu.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
This iconic concert hall on Bunker Hill is home to the Gustavo Dudamel-led L.A. Philharmonic. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the venue presents classical, contemporary, world and jazz music in a unique, 360-degree setting. There are also occasional non-Phil concerts, as well as performances by the L.A. Master Chorale. 111 S. Grand Ave., laphil.com.