Category Archives: Urban Exploring

Downtown L.A.: A Light Ramble Through the Fashion District

    If Downtown L.A. is beginning to resemble a seedy but colorful Disneyland with its signposts marking out territories like the Historic Core and the Jewelry, Flower, Toy, and Old Bank districts, then it wouldn’t be remiss to dub the whole area Tomorrowland.

     Touring it, as I did the other day to see a friend’s new neighborhood, you get an undeniable sense that a foundation is being laid for a whole new future, one that in 15 or 20 years could make Downtown the true center of the city once again.

     For now, it’s alive with creativity and energy and the signs of change.  My friend, whom I’ll call Double N, has lived downtown for more than a year, and says the prevailing vibe is hustle and drive.  “The question here is not ‘who are you,’ but ‘what did you get done today, and where are you going with it?,” she says.  She recently moved from the tony South Park lofts to the newly opened Emil Brown building, which I love because the lofts are spacious with big banks of industrial-style windows.

Silhoutte of NN inside Emil Brown's Art Deco lobby

At the street level, this area near the corner of 9th and Santee is teeming with life, with vendors at work, storefronts open to the sidewalks and row upon row of crazily colorful bolts of cloth on display. 

    The Fashion District supplies all the raw materials of the design trade – cloth, sewing machines, mannequins, labor, and design and retail space – and it’s eight times the size of the garment district in New York, NN says.  “People on the Westside think they’re supporting downtown, but actually it’s downtown that makes the Westside possible,” she observes. 

  NN gave me a brief walking tour, starting across the street at Gram & Papa’s, a coffee and healthy eats café with the motto “Eat Clean, Play Dirty,” and on to the spectacular Bottega Louie, which opened last fall on Grand Ave. at 7th, and despite the grim financial climate, is a huge hit.  “Now this is downtown,” said Double N as she pushed open the glass door. We were immediately hit with an electric high of energy from happily chattering diners seated in a spacious, elegant, and appealing bistro that wouldn’t be out of place on the Champs d’Elysee.  The place includes a gourmet market with artisan-style takeout fare that looked incredibly tempting, and the prices for lunch are within reach. 

     Bottega Louie is housed in a former bank building, and that relates to what makes L.A.’s emerging downtown scene special and unique, according to Double N.  “In Boston, this would still be a bank,” she notes. But in L.A., where the whole downtown renaissance was kicked off with the 1999 adaptive reuse ordinance, there’s a large inventory of abandoned and neglected buildings that are actually stunning and ornate, and that are slowly being re-purposed.  That takes vision and passion, which is part of what draws a certain breed of people to the downtown scene.

    We also stopped at the spectacular Eastern Columbia building, a turquoise and copper-colored Art Deco edifice with a clock tower, built in 1930 as a clothing and furniture store, and converted several years ago to lofts (Johnny Depp is probably the best-known resident).   And we passed by the Orpheum building on Broadway, where loft residents get two free tickets to each live musical event in the historic Orpheum Theater.  That may be so they won’t complain about noise, but it might make it my residence of choice if I moved downtown (the likes of Van Morrison and Patti Smith recently played there).  What do you think?   If you live downtown or would like to, please add a comment.

    And that’s all for this time – I wish I had better photos for this post, but hopefully I’ll get some soon and add them in.



Filed under Downtown L.A., Los Angeles history, Uncategorized, Urban Exploring

Bikeway to the beach

Bikers at the Duquesne ramp.

Bikers at the Duquesne ramp.


The best bike path in the Culver City area is the Ballona Creek Bikeway, which lets you cycle all the way to the beach while staying completely separate from automobile traffic.  Put in at the Duquesne entrance, just north of Jefferson Boulevard – there’s ample free parking, and you get to start by coasting down the ramp past the Rivers of The World mural.  


Bike path view.

Bike path view.

From there to there to the beach it’s about seven miles, which takes a typical cyclist 30-40 minutes each way.  What’s fun is that there are plenty of small hills, even though you’re following the waterway, and some pretty significant scenery changes.   Weekdays you’ll have it mostly to yourself, but weekends it draws some serious cyclists – many say they’ve come all the way from the South Bay, or from Santa Monica.  I sometimes do this with my friend Anne – we’re proud of ourselves if we just make it to the beach and back!!  

Getting close to the ocean.

Getting close to the ocean.


When you get out past the Ballona Wetlands, you’ll get a pretty spectacular view of Marina del Rey on the right, and then you’ll be alongside the channel used for training by UCLA and other college rowing teams.  The bike path merges at that point with the famous beach bike trail.  You reach the ocean at the bridge between Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey. 


Success!  Nothing but sand and sea and sky, if you want to go on...

Success! Nothing but sand and sea and sky, if you want to go on...


Filed under Biking, Urban Exploring