Downtown LA beckons

By Richard Irwin
Staff Writer
Sure, “Sex and the City” makes a trip to New York City seem glamorous. Any chance to take a bite out of the Big Apple is always fun.
But with the cost of airline tickets skyrocketing, it’s easier to take a short drive to have our own urban adventure on the weekend.
Downtown Los Angeles offers a unique weekend getaway for those of us living in the ‘burbs. Best of all, the city center is infinitely easier to get around in when all the office workers are gone.
Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or a fun family outing, downtown offers a variety of activities.
The city’s art museums offer an enriching cultural experience. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art opened a $156 million expansion in February.
The museum offers its largest-ever exhibition of Chicano art, “Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement,” through Sept. 1. A new exhibit, “The Age of Imagination: Japanese Art, 1615-1868,” opened Sunday and runs through Sept. 14. 

The Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Avenue has a new exhibit of Marlene Dumas’ work. It also opened Sunday and runs through Sept. 22. Her work has been described as erotic, primal, violent and beautiful.
If shopping is your vice, you can find great deals in the jewelry district, as well as Grand Central Market.
And to save on your lodging, come in on Saturday morning and ask for a late check-out on Sunday. This gives you two days to explore.
Personally, I’m always entranced by the sweeping cityscapes. That’s one of the reasons I like to stay at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel.
Located on South Figueroa Street, the futuristic hotel features floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s fascinating to stand in your room and see the city spread out 30 floors below.
While this grand hotel is definitely showing signs of aging, the Bonaventure is still an architectural gem.
The exterior glass elevators have been featured in several movies. Who can forget Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger riding a horse into one of them in “True Lies”?
And you can get some great summer rates. This month, you could book a room for only $129 plus tax. For information, call (213) 624-1000 or see the Web site at www.starwoodhotels.com.
If your tastes run to something other than ultra-modern, there are many other downtown hotels. The nearby Millenium Biltmore is certainly a gem. The grand dame of L.A. hotels features an impressive interior.
There’s also the Hilton and Sheraton nearby. All offer different amenities, but share the same urban experience.
On Saturdays, I highly recommend the walking tours sponsored by the L.A. Conservancy. The Historic Core tour gives a wonderful overview of the historic landmarks in the downtown area, including the Central Library, Angels Flight and the Bradbury Building.
This time I opted for the Art Deco tour, a rambling 2 1/2-hour exploration of this unique architectural style.
While the building exteriors were interesting, some of the lobbies were breathtaking. And the guides really add a lot with their anecdotes about the builders.
The lobby in the Southern California Edison Building was beautiful. While you can visit on your own, you won’t get past the security guard without a conservancy guide.
The tour also visited the penthouse in the Oviatt Building. This grand apartment recalls the fabled past of film’s golden era, when movie stars frequented this art deco palace.
Other popular Conservancy tours include City Hall, Biltmore Hotel and Broadway theaters. The theater tour has been sold out for months.
Tours leave Pershing Square at 10 a.m. Saturdays. While the Conservancy will accept walk-ins for the Historic Core and Art Deco tours, it’s probably best to make a reservation at www.laconservancy.org. Tours are $10 per person.
After a day of touring, you’ll probably be looking for a great place to eat. While downtown has all the chain restaurants, it also shares some unique venues.
A friend treated me to one of her favorite downtown restaurants, Engine Co. No. 28. Located at 644 S. Figueroa St., it really is a beautifully restored fire house.
Visitors can still see the circular openings where the firemen slid down brass poles to their fire equipment. One of the poles can still be seen in the back. Large photographs and antique fire gear fill the soaring space.
Firemen have long been known to be great cooks, so firehouses in general are good places to eat. Engine Co. No. 28 is no exception. There are Creole red beans and rice with grilled andouille sausage ($16.75) to braised lamb shank with pappardelle noodles ($20.50). Check out its menu at www.engineco.com.
For a totally different dining experience, try Clifton’s Cafeteria at 645 S. Broadway. Branch cafeterias could be found for many years in Whittier, as well as West Covina. These are gone now, leaving only the Los Angeles site. But it’s still fun to push your tray along and sample the dishes that mom used to make.
A weekend getaway in downtown Los Angeles offers a smorgasboard of activities. Whatever you decide to sample, L.A. is a world a way from our lifestyles in the suburbs, but it’s only a tank of gas away.
richard.irwin@sgvn.com
(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801

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