Once a renegade area of manufacturing and studios, Downtown’s Arts District is now a destination for influential galleries, cutting-edge boutiques and chic dining.
It’s no secret that Los Angeles’ Arts District is exploding. Manufacturing is moving out and artists, designers and urban adventurers are moving in. The first signs of life in the downtown enclave, which hugs the L.A. River, came in 1982 with the passing of the artists-in-residence code. This allowed creatives to rent live/work space in industrially zoned buildings and set the stage for the transformation of The Brewery, the site of the former Pabst Blue Ribbon factory, into artists’ lofts. But it’s only in the last few years that momentum has hit warp speed. Fine-dining options are plentiful, and even if beloved hot spots Bestia and Church & State are booked, there is no shortage of equally exciting alternatives. For coffee, Urth Café, Stumptown and Handsome Coffee Roasters all perfume the streets with a heavenly scent. But it’s the galleries, showcasing the work of artists both local and international, that are the district’s raison d’être. Here, a roundup of our favorites—along with a handful of standout shops and eateries—just perfect for a full day of exploring.
1. 356 Mission
356 S. Mission Road
Run by Los Angeles-based artist Laura Owens, New York gallerist Gavin Brown and Wendy Yao of Ooga Booga, this spacious gallery is worth the trip over the bridge. Works by painter Alex Katz are up until early July. You’ll also find an extensive selection of books on art and fashion.
2. Hammer & Spear
255 S. Santa Fe Ave., Suite 101
Interior designer and former Design on a Dime host Kristan Cunningham and husband Scott Jarrell sell a collection of exquisite (mostly vintage) finds, from furniture to textiles, including pieces from their home state of West Virginia.
3. Eat. Drink. Americano
923 E. 3rd St.
Consulting chef Juan Pablo Torre, originally from Madrid, puts his own spin on organic gastropub fare, successfully incorporating global influences that range from Africa to Asia to Peru. The fantastic bread is from nearby Bread Lounge.
4. Alchemy Works
826 E. 3rd St.
As if Apolis—a line of rugged, L.A.-made men’s sportswear created by Rann Parton and his brother, Shea—weren’t inviting enough, Raan and wife Lindsay have recently opened Alchemy Works, a rotating gallery, event space and retail shop that showcases unique and hard-to-find accessories and home goods, many made in California. A branch of the Warby Parker eyewear line recently set up shop in the back corner.
5. Guerilla Atelier
821 E. 3rd St.
Though Guerilla Atelier’s owner, Carl Louisville, has moved 13 miles east and shed the double-breasted suits he donned as director of Prada’s flagship Beverly Hills store, his exquisite taste remains intact. Expect clothing and jewelry you won’t find anywhere else in the city, including handmade leather shoes from St. Crispin’s and candles from Paris’ Hôtel Costes.
820 E. 3rd St.
Angie Myung and Ted Vadakan present an inventory of what they fondly call “art for your everyday”: beautifully designed goods that include Clare Vivier clutches, Hedley & Bennett aprons and Pendleton blankets. They also offer workshops for kids and adults on everything from calligraphy to looming.
7. The Box
805 Traction Ave.
The Box gallery has quadrupled in space since relocating from Chinatown two years ago. Mara McCarthy, daughter of longtime L.A. resident and artist Paul McCarthy, leans toward artists throughout history who have been overlooked.
8. District Gallery
740 E. 3rd St.
Specializing in artists who live or work in the neighborhood, this tiny gallery also serves as the temporary offices of The Los Angeles Downtown Arts District Space, a planned 5,000-square-foot art and performance arena that will be located at One Santa Fe, currently under construction.
9. The Factory Kitchen
1300 Factory Place, Suite 101
Though the Italian fare The Factory Kitchen serves up may be traditional, dishes are far from boring. The beautifully plated food, served in a 3000-square-foot dining room, is as delicious as it looks. If you can’t get into nearby hot-spot Bestia, you won’t be settling by coming here.
10. Fifty Seven
712 Santa Fe Ave.
This recent addition to downtown’s roster of fine-dining options has plans to rotate chefs with the changing seasons. Chef David Nayfeld, the former senior sous at the three-Michelin-star Eleven Madison Park in New York, is the man presently working his magic in the kitchen.
11. Wilding-Cran Gallery
939 S. Sante Fe Ave.
Run by husband-and-wife team Naomi deLuce Wilding and Anthony Cran, this elegant space is the latest addition to downtown’s burgeoning roster of galleries. They recently teamed up with The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation for an art auction fundraiser.
12. Soze Gallery
2020 E. 7th St., Suite B
Urban street artists like Retna and Gregory Siff are the focus of this small gallery, whose owner, Toowee Kao, also hosts residencies for international artists and runs Camp2E, an art camp aimed at inner-city children.
13. CES Contemporary
709 & 711 Mateo St.
After an inaugural year in Laguna Beach, CES Contemporary opened its doors on Mateo in January. Focused on young and emerging artists, owner Carl E. Smith shows work in a variety of mediums—the connecting thread being his passion for multilayered works created with integrity and astute attention to detail.