Back in October we published our 2016 Best of L.A. issue, our annual roundup of everything we love the most in Los Angeles (and there's a lot). Certain neighborhoods have a tendency to perform better than others, and downtown just happens to be brimming with some of the coolest, most award-worthy stuff in the city. Whether you're killing time before a show or making a special trip to sightsee in your own city, here are 11 things to make sure to check out downtown.
Get zen at the Kyoto Garden
We're all searching for that special somewhere to hide from the daily craziness, and who would have thought there was a secret garden in a hotel that's a favorite hangout for lawyers, politicos and other suits? Hidden atop the DoubleTree by Hilton, the Kyoto Garden is an oasis that's the perfect hideaway — even a place to top up your tan. Inspired by an ancient garden that was established for the 16th-century samurai lord Kiyomasa Kato as a gift to the residents of Tokyo, it's really meant for guests, but walk in casually and take the elevator to — where else — the Garden Level. Then you can let the traffic buzz below melt away as you stroll round a half-acre of fountains, ponds, statues and greenery, then find a quiet corner or grab one of the tables, and maybe even feel the wind in your hair. —James Bartlett
120 S. Los Angeles St., downtown. (213) 629-1200, doubletreeladowntown.com.
Check out the collection at the Broad
In a feature we published in advance of the Broad’s grand opening in September 2015, we gave voice to the unease surrounding the free modern art museum, a $140 million monument to a wealthy couple’s priceless collection, like a Great Pyramid minus the mummies. But something about the museum has struck a chord with average Angelenos and visitors alike. Last month, the museum announced 820,000 visitors had entered its doors in its first year (triple pre-opening projections), 62 percent of whom identify as something other than Caucasian; nationally, only 23 percent of art museum patrons are non-Caucasian. In terms of programming, summer ushered in “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life,” the museum’s inaugural exhibition, which was equal parts thorough and accessible, as well as the Broad’s Nonobject(ive): Summer Happenings, an incredibly well-curated series of nighttime parties with music, performance art and other surprises. —Gwynedd Stuart
221 S. Grand Ave., downtown. (213) 232-6200, thebroad.org.
Do more than read at Los Angeles Central Library
The Los Angeles Central Library is and has always been a great place to scour the shelves for exactly the right book, find exactly the right nook and read to your heart's content. Located on Fifth Street in DTLA, the art deco edifice — designed by New York architect Bertram Goodhue and constructed in the mid-1920s — has so much more to explore. An official L.A. historical landmark, the library has an exterior that features high- and low-relief sculptures, conceived by a University of Nebraska professor and themed "The Light of Learning." Inside, on the upper walls of the rotunda, a fabric mural by Dean Cornwell depicts California's history in rich, orange-y hues that conjure a SoCal sunset. Period-appropriate lighting fixtures and dense mahogany tables make the library feel grand but comfortable. If you need an excuse to visit, we recommend checking out the Library Foundation of L.A.'s ongoing discussion series, ALOUD, which this month hosts speakers including Emma Donoghue, author of Room (Oct. 19), and Hisham Matar, author of In the Country of Men (Oct. 24). The library's also home to an impressive collection of DVDs and VHS tapes, with titles you aren't likely to find on Netflix anytime soon. The library is plenty good for some quiet reading — but there's so much more to do, too. —Sam Ribakoff
630 W. Fifth St., downtown. (213) 228-7000, lapl.org.
Use the bathroom at Chimento Contemporary
Like most galleries, Chimento Contemporary has a main room and a smaller space for smaller projects. Unlike most, however, it also has a "Curated Loo" — or art shows in the bathroom. When the gallery opened in September 2015, artist Allie Pohl inaugurated the loo with a series of photographs called "Hot Seats." They're self-portraits of the artist sitting on toilet seats in various bathrooms (at high-end clothing stores, Hearst Castle or In-N-Out). Each photo has the same general composition: You see colored or patterned underwear stretched across a woman's knees and — usually — tiled floors beneath. Later, artist Jessika Wood hung her "X-Rated" needlework in Chimento's bathroom, images of nude women with splayed legs stitched into linen. The fragile, skinlike shapes that Margarethe Drexel made of sugar hung on a wooden stick and looked a bit like underthings left to dry. This fall, the loo will feature the messages and images people send one another through dating apps, an installation that's bound to be squirm-inducing. Thankfully, you can lock yourself in and experience it alone. —Catherine Wagley
622 S. Anderson St., downtown. (424) 261-5766, chimentocontemporary.net.
Shed some light on L.A.'s history at the Bureau of Street Lighting Historic Museum
By now everyone and their dog has taken a selfie at Urban Light, the LACMA landmark composed of 202 glowing street lamps (which went half dark earlier this year for repairs). Subvert expectations: Go somewhere that's hidden inside the austere Department of Public Works building downtown and check out 100 years' worth of L.A. streetlights. Open one Friday morning a month — by appointment only — the Bureau of Street Lighting Historic Museum opened in February 2015 and showcases some of the beautifully designed street lamps that have illuminated our fair city over the course of the past century. Up close, the lights are surprisingly large and ornate, and they're all here, from the earliest light attached directly to a power line to the latest LED variety, art deco treasures with dragons and fruit designs, the Hollywood Special, the Five Globe Llewellyn, the Paragon Senior and a dozen or so "ornamentals," all glowing for your pleasure. The city has around 220,000 streetlights in all, and they come in 400 different types, so next time you're outside at night, take a moment to look up — plenty of these classics will still be hard at work when the sun goes down. —James Bartlett
1149 S. Broadway, downtown. bsl.lacity.org/museum.html.
Dance till 4 a.m. at Lot 613
Tucked away on a downtown block of concrete nothing, just a few strides from the baby Brooklyn vibes of the Arts District, Lot 613 occupies a unique space in the landscape of Los Angeles clubbing. It has the aesthetic of a renegade warehouse — a stripped-down, industrial cave with few frills – but is fully licensed and legal, and often stays open until 4 a.m. It is the home base of Prototype, a party series that consistently features the best underground dance bookings in the city — Âme, Nina Kraviz and local legend DJ Harvey have graced 613's unadorned decks in the past few months alone. Its massive outside area, replete with full bar and taco operation, provides needed respite from the booming bass and heaving bodies of Lot 613's shadowy inner den, where you'll find a much wider demographic of Angeleno hip kids getting down than at any Hollywood club. While L.A. nightlife has a somewhat deserved reputation for flashy materialism, Lot 613 is about the music and nothing else. —Jemayel Khawaja
613 Imperial St., downtown.
Grab a drink at Clifton's
Since reopening in late 2015 with a deeply etched facelift, the historic Clifton's Cafeteria on Broadway downtown has developed an unlikely cult status as a favored venue for locals and intrepid drinkers alike. The cafeteria downstairs is still heavily frequented by tourists and geriatric day-trippers, but Clifton's four bars can be a totally different story. Centered around a massive, multistory faux redwood tree, the environs can feel like an amusement park log cabin at times, but there's a warm charm and quirky, immersive quality to be found amidst the taxidermied animals and ornate wooden furniture. The drinks menu is both ambitious and creative, but Clifton's manages to be approachable, despite its heavy layers of kitsch. Climb up its many staircases and you'll find three floors of bars, boudoirs and hidden nooks all decked out in fanciful style. Everywhere you turn has some strange novelty to ogle, and Clifton's wealth of environments and arrangements can turn an evening into an adventure. That you're drinking in one of the most historic spots in all of Los Angeles just adds to the magic. —Jemayel Khawaja
648 S. Broadway, downtown. (213) 627-1673, cliftonscafeteria.com.
Meet up with the cool kids at the Lash
From its sleek architectural lines and semi-industrial aesthetics to its boisterous, underground party-house vibes, the Lash may be the ultimate hip-kid haven in downtown or maybe all of L.A. Apparently "lash" is slang for getting smashed, and it's fitting because excess and escapism always seem highly appropriate inside this dark, hidden hot spot, which kinda feels like a chic dive in Europe. If it wasn't for the very L.A. crowd (you know, people with healthy social media followings and unhealthy sleep schedules), the Lash could be somewhere far, far away. But the promotions here are, in fact, some of the most interesting in town, like Mustache Mondays, which has found gregarious new life for its long-running gay grind-a-thons after leaving La Cita; Heav3n, which attracts hordes of uber-hip Technicolor-tressed and -dressed club kids; and '90s Goth Klub, which fills up with the flashback-minded fishnet set. In a city where fabulousness is governed by fuzzy memories and fickle favoritism, the Lash has managed to keep its buzz for three years now, and from the looks of things, it's gonna keep on swinging for a while. —Lina Lecaro
117 Winston St., downtown. (323) 632-7778.
Shop for a suit at Al Weiss Men's Clothing
Being your best bud's best man means getting a sweet suit that doesn't break the bank. Nestled among the myriad stores of downtown's Fashion District, Al Weiss Men's Clothing offers top-quality custom suits for not a lot of bucks. From name-brand designers like Ralph Lauren to anonymous labels, its menswear runs the gamut of colors and cuts, and the numerous, slightly sweaty sales associates in sharp suits are ready to attend to any need. For just over $100, guys can slip into a sharp new getup. Need the suit tailored? No problem. Their pal has a shop around the corner, where a team is poised to snip and stitch your suit in record time, at rock-bottom prices. Al Weiss has been outfitting dudes for decades, providing custom suits that will make you a total winner at every wedding. —Drew Tewksbury
1002 Wall St., downtown. (213)748-2022.
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Get your nails did at Nail Swag
To say gals like over-the-top nails these days is to merely scratch the surface. For many, it's an art form and their fingertips are nothing less than tiny canvases. Nail Swag's gel nail studio takes creative claws to a mind-blowing level, with a squad of artists who always seem to be experimenting with color and design as well as texture, hues and embellishments. Nail Swag's services go more than skin-deep: Techs use only "Japanese" gel for higher quality and pigment, and toenail work is done via a "heated bead pedicure" with water beads to promote water conservation and limit bacteria. The mani and pedi process includes a free consultation and multitiered options: Tier 1 includes popular designs such as ombre, blends, marbles and foil; Tier 2 features more intricate line work and embellishments, sticker work or gems and rhinestones; and Tier 3 is custom, imported designs by studio artists using multiple nail-art techniques. Oxygen Network airs a TV show featuring Swag's work, but you can get it yourself at the downtown studio, by appointment only. —Lina Lecaro
204½ W. Sixth St., downtown. (213) 458-5989, nailswag.com.
Admire the design (and cocktails) at Otium
When a restaurant is built as part of the Broad, one of the most highly anticipated modern art museums in the West, it comes as no surprise that it, too, is a work of art. Otium is an eye-catching masterpiece that pleases your visual palate even before you've tasted chef Timothy Hollingsworth's playful edible creations. The building, designed by architect Osvaldo Maiozzi, is a cubic, modernist shell, and a designer consortium collaborated to outfit it both inside and out. The Studio Unltd firm teamed up with House of Honey to create a modern rustic space. Handmade glass light fixtures by Neptune Glassworks dangle from above, shedding a glow on the yellow wall tiles from Heath Ceramics. The bright colors juxtapose with reclaimed wood from District Millworks, while custom pieces by chef/furniture maker Chris Earl make for comfortable seats in which to watch chefs in the stunning open kitchen. There, they use herbs and flowers from the rooftop garden. And it wouldn't be an art-museum restaurant without an enormous Damien Hirst fish mural on the outside wall, so there's that, too. —Heather Platt
222 S. Hope St., downtown. (213) 935-8500, otiumla.com.