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Los Angeles Times

Quick, I need Tostitos

Am I gonna get mugged?

Despite being used as a set for countless cops-and-robbers shows and movies, downtown crime rates are among the lowest in the city. Pedestrian traffic makes daytime crime almost a nonissue. Business Improvement District safety officers are a visible presence and respond by bike and car to calls, and residential buildings employ their own security teams. A free local weekly, the Garment & Citizen, publishes safety reports for three downtown districts to keep locals up-to-date. Still, it's a major city, and if you park on the street at night, your windows are candidates for smashing.

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Where would I walk the dog? Generally, the bigger the civic building, the larger its patch of park. Favorite Frisbee-tossing haunt: the park south of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration building, near the Music Center. Dogs, once a rare sight downtown, seem to be a growing presence. Near the apartment buildings on Flower Street, near 9th Street, residents cycle on the sidewalks with golden retrievers trotting behind. There is a nice open hillside near the Angel's Flight landing on Hill Street.

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Can I ride a bike without being crushed by buses?

Most downtown biking is done by three groups: bike messengers who gather outside the Central Library, Business Improvement District security guys and people who commute on bikes. Commuters are a diverse collection: those who don't own cars, die-hard environmentalists who really should live in Holland and USC students. The roads are not safe, even where there are bike routes. Even the security guys ride on sidewalks. The trick is to watch out for garage openings, where motorists pull out without looking. Also getting fit enough to deal with Bunker Hill (Some buildings won't allow bikes in the elevators.)

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Why is downtown such a magnet for the homeless? Skid row is as old as the city. Cheap rooming houses and hotels that served transient men were built close to the railroad depot in the center of town. Pay-by-the-night single-room occupancy hotels and missions took over buildings abandoned when downtown commerce moved west.

As development now returns to "old" downtown, housing prices, the single largest contributing factor to homelessness, have skyrocketed. On any given night in Los Angeles County, 84,000 people are homeless, 40,000 of whom are in the city of Los Angeles. There are 13,632 short-term shelter beds.

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Quick, I need Tostitos and a bag of ice. The area's first chain supermarket, a Ralphs, is planned for the South Park neighborhood near Staples Center. In the meantime, downtowners drive to supermarkets at 3rd Street and Vermont Avenue, or dream of a Trader Joe's. But what gives downtowners cachet is the food they carry to friends' houses on the Westside for potlucks. Does anyone need to know you paid $2 for delicate Vietnamese spring rolls?

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Who stays in all those high-end hotels on the hill?

Most guests are there for meetings or convention-related business, though experts say the Standard at 555 S. Flower St. is getting its share of entertainment industry hipsters. Tourism officials are hoping for a boost from the downtown resurgence. Local residents, they say, attract the dining and other attractions that ultimately will appeal to tourists. "That's what happened in New York," says Michael Collins of the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Those hotels are surrounded by apartment houses All the amenities in those neighborhoods were brought in by the residents who lived there."

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Can you hear me now? Yes, your cellphone will work downtown, despite an urban legend to the contrary. However, when you are in your loft late at night, you may not be able to hear your cellphone ring because of the noise of "street improvements," such as the trench work being done to lay fiber-optic cable for improved telecommunications. Seems the neighborhood never quite qualified as "residential," so there are no limits on construction noise. Hello, all-night jackhammers and klieg lights. * Come here often? No, you won't find much of a singles scene here. Get in your car and go to Santa Monica. That's what it's there for.

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But don't they roll the pavement up after 5? Sort of. But Ciudad and Engine Co. 28 on Figueroa are popular spots for expense-account types who work downtown. Pete's Café & Bar, in a grandly restored building at 400 S. Main St., is the hot new spot that appeals to residents and commuters. In Little Tokyo, there's 410 Boyd at (surprise!) 410 Boyd St., an artists' restaurant and bar. For seafood and dim sum, try Empress Pavilion at 988 N. Hill St. The Standard draws a big crowd of martini maniacs to its hip bar. Less hip but a classic hangout for almost a century, Philippe the Original at 1001 N. Alameda St. serves a great sandwich everyday till 10 p.m. For late night, those on tight budgets eat in B-rated favorites in Chinatown, or elbow Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer out of the way for a late-night burrito from the Taco Hut on Hill Street.

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Kid activities? Isn't that what suburbs are for? There are lively and varied children's activities downtown. After going to the Central Library, which has children's books, Internet hookups, shows etc., go up the Bunker Hill escalator to see a piazza with a delightful fountain. Children love it.

And don't forget the Toy District. Kids think you're lying when you tell them this exists. Also: The musical fountains in California Plaza; Olvera Street and Chinatown for trinkets, magic tricks and musicians; and mochi ice cream and snow cones in Little Tokyo.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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