Your guide to the personalities and amenities of top value “downtown” hotels in California’s largest city.
What’s Happening in Downtown LA
Must-sees include the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall (323/850-2000 or 323/850-2040; 111 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012), where families can sunbathe on the polished titanium facade above street level, take a guided tour of the interior theatres or attend one of the regularly scheduled family performances of music or dance. A half-price ticket center is located at LA INC.’s Downtown Visitor Information Center (213/689-8822; 685 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90017) at the corner of 7th and Figueroa, selling tickets to more than 100 plays, operas, concerts and other performances courtesy of the LA Stage Alliance. Availability is announced every Tuesday, for tickets sold up to one week in advance.
The neon-girded STAPLES Center sports arena (213/742-7340 box office); hosts the city’s popular LA Kings hockey and Lakers, Sparks and Clippers basketball teams, the Grammys, X-Games, concerts and other mega-events.
The efficient underground Metro Rail is a futuristic attraction of its own, and helps make walk-able Downtown perhaps the only Los Angeles neighborhood where you really don’t need a car to get around. Metro Rail’s red, blue, gold and green subway lines run from Long Beach to North Hollywood with excellent-for-tourists service. The 12-minute ride on Metro Red between Downtown and the Hollywood/Highland sights is an attraction in itself. Regional scheduled buses serve Santa Monica, Long Beach, Pasadena and the San Fernando Valley; for more information check out www.experiencela.com. Note: Count on your own wheels to facilitate visiting LA’s famous beaches, theme parks and suburbs.
Old must-sees include El Pueblo de Los Angeles, the restored Spanish area between the great ethnic food enclaves of Chinatown and Little Tokyo, where you’ll be serenaded by mariachi along Olvera Street. The ancient Original Pantry Cafe (213/972-9279; 877 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90017) on South Figueroa still serves students and cabbies pie and coffee on a 24/7 basis. At our winter visit, we enjoyed the attractive, high-use Pershing Square Park (888/LAPARKS) and its skating rink, set up day and night from November to February.
In combination with the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) (213/621-1741; 250 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012), the beautifully restored Beaux Arts Public Library, the Geffen Contemporary (213/621-1745; 152 North Central Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90013), other nearby cultural institutions and fine restaurants such as Café Pinot (213/239-6500; 700 West Fifth Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071) and Border Grill (formerly Ciudad) (213/486-5171; 445 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071) ensure that “Downtown” has become a place where even Angelenos want to be seen.
Family-Welcoming Downtown LA Hotels
Millennium Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles
506 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90071
From its elegant roots as the Grande Dame of hotels in the days when the rails ruled Los Angeles (historic Union Station is only a few block away), the ca.1923 Biltmore became the first host of post-Academy Awards banquets and other major events. Today this hotel, recently restored to gilded perfection by the Millennium group, touts its history in B&W photomurals depicting famous former guests and occasions. Feature films from “Starsky & Hutch” to “Chinatown” have been filmed in the Biltmore, as have high-budget videos by Janet Jackson and Britney Spears. Even if you’re not staying here, by all means drop into this wellspring of history for the afternoon High Tea, offered from 2-5 p.m. daily with great fanfare. The Deco pool and spa are worth a peek and a swim (if you’re a guest, of course.)
If the Crystal Ballroom is open, take the kids to admire the ceiling fresco done by Giovanni Smeraldi (namesake of the restaurant) whose work is seen at the Vatican. High-caliber facilities include 656 spacious and classically furnished rooms and 27 suites; a beautiful tiled pool with Ralph Laurenesque blue and white broad stripe columns, small fitness center; tea room; Aveda spa with mini and full service treatments; grand seating areas and a friendly staff.
Even better, the hotel once again dominates a happening arts-filled neighborhood. With very reasonable rates, the Millennium attracts airline crews, tourists, sports buffs awaiting nightfall at the nearby Staples Center arena, and many, many families. There are frequent event-related room rate specials, but the Club Level accommodations are a particularly good family value because their higher rates include access to a large lounge with sweeping views of the skyline, a gracious concierge staff, a free Internet access computer, and a hearty, complimentary breakfast and afternoon snacks. And the Club Level concierge often has a line on Lakers tickets. Rates: $-$$$$ depending on season
The Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites
404 S. Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Monolithic glass and steel towers are not everyone’s first choice in housing, but there’s no doubt that the Bonaventure, a John Portman-designed development from the 1970s, has left its mark on Downtown’s horizon. This remarkable edifice, visible from miles around, boasts five reflective glass cylinders filled with rooms and striped with exterior elevators, all rising from a six-story atrium. Within its futuristic glass envelope are 42 shops and restaurants serving hotel guests and workers from the surrounding financial district. Somewhat dimmer and more foreboding than we recall (perhaps from seeing Jackie Chan’s Rush Hour and Clint Eastwood’s In the Line of Fire, among the many movies shot here), this convention-oriented hotel is still a magnet for the young and trendy. A 24-hour New Year’s DJ Jam party was underway during our visit.
Public spaces are dotted with welcoming plush furniture and op-art patterned rugs; rooms are recently renovated in a cool international pallette which doesn’t compete with the spectacular views. From the Flower Street entrance you can catch the red or blue tower elevators, both featured in the pre-governor Arnold Schwarznegger film True Lies, to the 35th floor for a striking view. Some children will shriek to get out, others will want to ride (free of cost) over and over again, and the movie credit plaques on the walls are a real head-turner for kids. The 135 city-view suites come in several configurations, though all offer Westin’s famous Heavenly Beds (and Heavenly Cribs on request), coffeemaker, ironing board setup and large bathrooms. The hotel has a Plaza-level outdoor heated pool and an interior jogging track with a variety of Cybex workout machines along its length. Adjacent to it is a private fitness center whose indoor pool and facilities are open to guests for a small fee. Rates: $-$$$
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