For those of us living in Southern California, Los Angeles is a great destination for a day trip. And for anyone with a layover at Los Angeles International Airport, this is an amazing city to explore, even for a short time. After all, there is always something new to see and do in LA.
For this post, One Day in Los Angeles, we will focus on the downtown area, specifically Olvera Street and the Arts District. One is the birthplace of LA, and the other is one of the hottest neighborhoods in the city. This one day Los Angeles itinerary can be easily managed on foot or Uber, and is also very affordable. I hope you’ll give it a try.
Here's how to spend Two Days in Los Angeles.
Table of Contents
Train to Los Angeles
Los Angeles traffic sucks.
For those of us living in Southern California, this is one of our favorite gripes. Don’t get us started on our LA traffic horror stories. But there is a great alternative that often gets overlooked, the train, or more specifically, Metrolink.
Over the holiday break a group of us wanted to spend a day in LA. I suggested we try the train instead of driving and the result was amazing. No stress about traffic jams and freeway construction. No one feeling carsick in stop and go traffic. And everyone can nap on the way home!
We took the MetroLink from the Tustin train station to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. The full schedule and selection of stations is easily found online. For our trip, the cost was $20 round trip per person. No matter where you live in Southern California, this is the ideal way to see Los Angeles in a day.
Here's our suggestions for what to do in West Los Angeles.
After arriving at Union Station and exiting through the front door, we walked across the street and arrived at the birthplace of Los Angeles, Olvera Street. Well, officially the birthplace is called El Puebla de Los Angeles, but Olvera Street is easier.
This was where the city of Los Angeles was founded in 1781 under Spanish Colonial rule. Later, after Mexican Independence, the city was a part of Mexico. It finally became a U.S. city in 1850 when California joined the Union. But as the original residents moved on to others parts of this city, this area became neglected, and was even slated for demolition.
Fortunately, through the efforts of preservationists, the historic buildings were protected and Olvera Street was closed to automobiles, making it into a lovely pedestrian street lined with brightly colored stalls, shops and restaurants.
We spent an hour browsing through the Olvera Street shops and stalls where traditional Mexican goods are sold including pottery, blankets, tinware, and leather items. We did not have lunch here, but there are plenty of great eating options from fruit carts to small taco stands and sit-down restaurants with flower draped patios.
But Olvera Street is not just about the shopping and eating. There are several small museums in this area that will help visitors better appreciate the history. My favorite is America Tropical Interpretive Center, dedicated to the Siqueiros mural that was renovated by the Getty Trust.
In 1932 famed Mexican muralist, David Siqueiros, was commissioned to paint his one and only mural in the U.S. on the side of the Italian Hall located in the middle of Olvera Street. But someone forgot to do their research. Despite this painter’s reputation for making strong political and social statements with his work, LA’s elite were outraged with the result. So after a few years it was painted over and forgotten.
In 1988 The Getty Trust began the painstaking work of conserving this 80 ft. by 18 ft. mural. While the mural is still quite faded, the story behind it is fascinating and well told at the Interpretive Center.
Other museums and historic sights include the Avila Adobe, the oldest standing residence in LA, Plaza Firehouse, the first fire station constructed by the City of Los Angeles, and Pico House, the home of the last governor of California under Mexican rule. Free walking tours of the area are offered Tuesdays through Sundays at 10 am, 11 a.m. and noon through the Las Angelitas Tour Office.
From Olvera Street we took a quick Uber ride to the heart of the Arts District and one of its newest restaurants, Guerilla Tacos. I don’t know what I love more, the story of how this restaurant came to be, or its excellent food and drinks. In 2012, Chef Wes Avila was between jobs and needed money, so he started a taco cart. When the city forced him to stop selling tacos on the street, he moved on to a taco truck. He gained a loyal following, including the Pulitzer Prize winning food critic, Jonathan Gold. So in July of 2018 he opened the restaurant.
The group of five of us chose to sit at the bar, which allowed us to chat with the bartenders, and watch them craft excellent drinks. I don’t usually think of a taco joint combining with a craft cocktail bar, but that’s happened here.
Where do I start with recommendations? The verdict in our group was that the sweet potato, butternut squash, albondigas and hanger steak tacos were all delicious. We also enjoyed the potato taquitos. For cocktails I highly recommend Brown is Beautiful, sort of a new take on a Manhattan. This was my second trip to Guerilla Tacos, and I will be back. (Though I may also start lobbying for an Orange County location.)
Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles
Again we took a quick Uber tide to a different part of the Arts District with the intention of visiting Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles. This is technically an art gallery, but far different than most I’ve visited. Hauser & Wirth is known for converting old, historic buildings around the world into gallery and public spaces. This particular building was formerly a flour mill, and parts of the mill operation have been left in place like the old iron doors.
In addition to three shows from internationally recognized artists, Hauser & Wirth offers a large outdoor space, a garden, a bookstore, and one of the best restaurants in downtown Los Angeles, Manuela. And did I mention that there is no admission charge? I definitely want to visit this galleries’ other locations!
Hauser & Wirth is located on 3rd Street which offers a few other galleries, boutiques and eateries like Salt and Straw Ice Cream and Stumptown Coffee. Walk towards Alameda street to see one of my favorite street murals, Bloom. Continue strolling through the streets here and you’ll see many other colorful murals.
Want to see more of LA? Here's a list of Ten Things To Do In Downtown LA.
A Day in LA
From 3rd Street we grabbed our final Uber to Union Station and our return trip to Tustin. But first we stopped in the Traxx Bar in Union Station for a glass of wine--another great perk for taking the train instead of driving!
When we arrived in the morning we were in a rush to get to Olvera Street, but in the afternoon we took some time to appreciate the beauty of Union Station. This Mission Moderne building was completed in 1939 and still retains much of its original character. The main ticketing hall is no longer in use, but instead is preserved for special events and filming. I personally love that the main hall still has the original terracotta floor tiles and six enormous Art Deco chandeliers.
LA gets a bad rep for its sprawl, traffic and high cost of living. And I can’t deny all those things are true. On the other hand, Los Angeles has so much to offer in the form of lovely historic sights, world-class art and excellent ethnic food. When you consider that I enjoyed this whole day for less than $60, then I think this city is definitely worth a day trip.