Eighties New Wave band Missing Persons had it all wrong. People do walk in L.A.
Sure, the City of Angels is arguably one of the most car-friendly cities in the world; a place where it’s still what you drive that defines who you are.
It’s also true that most visitors to Los Angeles are there for the major tourist attractions that immediately spring to mind: Disneyland; Universal Studios; Six Flags Magic Mountain; The Queen Mary at Long Beach; The Santa Monica Pier and Hollywood.
Put two or more of those on your travel itinerary, however, and a rental car, wildly expensive cross-town cab rides or lengthy into-the-wild public transit forays become part of the planning process. Whichever way, plan for some stress associated with driving in L.A.
What about just walking in L.A.? Is it possible to visit this city of nearly four million souls for a couple of experience-filled days and not require wheels?
It is, and one of the most diverse, interesting and delicious trips is all contained within just one square kilo-metre between downtown L.A. and Beverly Hills.
Wilshire Boulevard borders L.A.’s Museum Row to the south, west 3rd Street to the North, Fairfax Avenue to the west and S. Curson Avenue to the east.
Spend a day or two walking and exploring this safe and friendly area and you’ll get on that plane back home with an entirely different view of Los Angeles, one enriched by the history, culture, food and flights of fancy found within this small area.
No fewer than six museums — from cars to crafts, from art to architecture — give Museum Row its name, and the historical L.A. Farmers Market and neighbouring restaurants provide visitors with the vast array of contemporary tastes in this multicultural melting pot.
And with iconic L.A. attractions like Hollywood just a few clicks north, Beverly Hills a few to the west on Wilshire, and downtown L.A. a few east on Wilshire, you couldn’t find a better base of operations for an assault on L.A.
And apart from a limo or taxi ride from LAX to and from the area, that assault can be foot-based.
Here are some highlights from Museum Row (and given the short distances between each attraction, you can do them in any order that suits you and your travelling companions.):
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Located on the northeast corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, the LACMA is the largest art museum in the western United States, holding more than 100,000 objects dating from ancient times to the present.
A seven-building complex spread over 20 acres holds the collection, which includes world-renowned pieces, particularly in its Asian, Latin American and Islamic collections. There’s also plenty for the Eurocentric, with a fine collection of Picassos and equally famous works by Cezanne, Degas and Rembrandt.
Adults get in for just $15, and children 17 and under get in free. Who said culture for kids was expensive?
Petersen Automotive Museum
Situated directly across Wilshire from the LACMA is an equally impressive collection of art, though of the four-wheeled variety.
However, the Petersen Automotive Museum is far from simply a car collection. Rather it is a 300,000-square-foot celebration of the automobile presented in a museum-like setting that leaves visitors inspired and awed by the role the motor car has played in shaping the city.
From authentic L.A. streetscapes to automaker’s earlier attempts at alternative-fuel vehicles, the hundreds of rare and immaculately restored vehicles provide car-crazies a one-of-a-kind education. And for parents like me, its easier to drag those preteens around a place like the LACMA with a promise that the next stop will be cool cars and thick milkshakes at the Petersen’s on-site soda bar.
Page Museum-La Brea Tar Pits
We’ve all heard of the tar pits, but how many of us knew they were located right in the middle of L.A.?
In fact, they’re located in the same Wilshire block as the LACMA, and along with the Page Museum provide visitors with a glimpse back in time a little further than the combustible engines of the Petersen and even the ancient art forms of the art museum.
Inside the Page Museum, you’ll learn all about those chilly days some 40,000 years ago, and outside in Hancock Park you’ll see faithful reproductions of the tar pits and the mammals that fell victim to them.
Admission of $7 for adults, $4.50 for youths 13-17, and $2 for kid’s ages 5-12 gets you into both the museum and the tar pits.
Architecture and Design Museum
This one might be worth a skip if kids are in tow, as the focus of this Wilshire Boulevard museum exists in that somewhat rarefied air of architectural design in Los Angeles.
Inside, you’ll find much more modern fare, and just as the Petersen collection reflects how L.A. has been shaped by the automobile culture, the ADM explores how the city has been defined by its architectural design of the past century.
And further proof that people walk in L.A. is the museum’s popular, though sporadic, Urban Hikes, "a unique series of tours devoted to the exploration and celebration of sometimes-forgotten parts of Los Angeles."
Craft and Folk Art Museum
Another uniquely L.A. collection housed in a historic building is the Craft and Folk Art Museum, located just a few steps from the ADM west on Wilshire.
With a simple and guiding philosophy — "We consider all art made in a cultural and social context as part of our domain" — the CAFAM’s focus on contemporary arts and crafts is a refreshing tonic to the sober art world offerings held across the street in the LACMA.
Folk art tends to offer quite different insights into traditions and cultures than does professional art works of a period, and this museum is a reminder that community played, and continues to play, a major role in the lives of L.A.’s citizens.
Park La Brea
No admission fee here as this is simply a historical housing development you’ll walk by on Fairfax Avenue heading north from Wilshire Boulevard towards the Farmer’s Market.
Named after the nearby tar pits (La Brea in Spanish), this sprawling apartment complex was built by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in the mid-1940s.
The setting is designed with a strong influence of Le Corbusier, while the Masonic street pattern is in reference to the company’s Masonic heritage.
At a time when single-family housing serviced by ever-expanding freeways was all the rage, Park La Brea focused on density and urban living.
The insurance company built similar developments in other major U.S. cities.
L.A. Farmers Market
Just over 75 years ago, a handful of farmers pulled their trucks onto an empty dirt lot on the north edge of Los Angeles, their fresh produce piled in the truck beds for sale. Word quickly spread, and by 1941 a clock tower was erected on the site of the growing Farmers Market, an architectural icon that still serves as a meeting place for market goers.
A decade ago the market — think Granville Island’s large main building — was integrated into a major shopping and entertainment development called The Grove. The market maintained its ethos of fresh food sold by independent farmers, and like the city itself, offers no end of tastes to savour and enjoy.
Du-par’s Restaurant & Bakery
Like any major American city worth its fresh sheets, there’s no shortage of great places to eat in and around L.A.’s Museum Row. But in keeping with the historical nature of this museum trek, you can’t go wrong with breakfast, lunch, dinner of just a coffee and piece of pie at Du-Par’s on the corner of Fairfax and 3rd.
A legendary restaurant and bakery chain for more than 70 years in L.A., Du-par’s specializes in homestyle food served with a large side order of 1930s decor.
If you go
Air Canada offers the most daily non-stop flights between Vancouver and Los Angeles, with WestJet and Alaska Airlines offering a handful of limited direct flights.
Accommodations fit for all budgets and tastes can be found in the very near vicinity of L.A.’s Museum Row.
To truly experience the glamorous life, there’s a Gucci-bag full of luxury hotels just a few kilometres to the west along Wilshire in the gilded, diamond-encrusted cage of Beverly Hills. Think the Beverly Hilton, the Beverly Wilshire and The Peninsula. And there’s always a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
To be right in the middle of Museum Row, there’s the Park Plaza Lodge Hotel, a Quality Inn and a number of chain hotels with very reasonable rates, particularly over the winter months.