6. Noodles in ChinatownChinatown (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
L.A.'s Chinatown can't match San Francisco's or New York's for pedestrian friendliness or retail and restaurant variety. But this Chinatown has its own story. The original neighborhood was leveled to make way for Union Station in the 1930s, so the community rebuilt itself a few blocks to the northwest. You can get ginseng by the barrel or dried shiitake mushrooms by the pound or inspect a vast selection of teas and traditional cures at Wing Hop Fung in Far East Plaza (727 N. Broadway, No. 102). Then, for a modern spin, head a few blocks up to Realm (425 Gin Ling Way), a retail haven of stylish home items. Under the lanterns in the courtyard outside, you can find colorful toys and tourist gimcracks along with a few fledgling art galleries, quality variable. Among restaurants here, Yang Chow has the greatest wall of fame and a pleasant atmosphere (819 N. Broadway), and Phoenix Bakery has tempting sweets (969 N. Broadway). But you're going to double back to Far East Plaza for a cheap, healthful lunch and a reminder that Chinatown isn't just Chinese anymore. Hoan Kiem, the square little Vietnamese restaurant space at 727 N. Broadway, No. 130, offers just three dishes: pho (chicken noodle soup), rice crepes and rice with chicken, nothing pricier than $6.75. "We want quality, not quantity," says hostess and co-owner Lien Ha. "That's the mentality in our family."
7. Union Station and Olvera StreetOlvera Street (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Angelenos sometimes avoid Olvera Street, maybe because its genuinely historic buildings are crowded by vendors and carts peddling cheap trinkets, maybe because parking can cost a fortune, maybe because the neighboring buildings seem to have been under renovation for longer than most of Los Angeles has been standing. But this is where settlers from Mexico founded Los Angeles in the late 18th century, and it's where the 1818 Avila Adobe, oldest home in Los Angeles, still stands. And it's an excuse to see Union Station. To visit, leave your car behind and take a Metro train to Union Station, and linger. This 1939 building is the last grand train station built in the U.S., and its entwined Art Deco and Spanish Colonial styles suggest the mansion Hernando Cortés might have built had he married a flapper. Traxx, an upscale bar-restaurant, is tucked just inside the main entrance. Now, head across the Alameda Street and walk the crowded alley that is Olvera Street. Unless you need a plastic guitar or wrestler's mask, stroll briskly past the stalls on your way to browse the more varied goods at Olverita's Village (No. 24). Then take a patio seat at La Golondrina (No. 17, main dishes $10-$24), one of several restaurants on the alley. It's not awesome food, but it's hearty. And if it's Friday night between 6:30 and 9, you'll have a five- or six-man mariachi playing for free. If it's not a Friday, think twice before you hire those strolling singer-guitarists. They've been known to ask as much as $4 per guy per song.
8. Disney Hall, inside, outside, across the street
Walt Disney Concert Hall (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Don't you want to lay hands on Disney Hall? Frank Gehry's rippling metallic beauty is nearly irresistible, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic keeps it busy. Acclaimed young conductor Gustavo Dudamel is scheduled to conduct about 45 performances in the 2010-11 season, and the hall books jazz and world music too. But tickets are dear, so you might just take the free 60-minute building tour, which doesn't cover the auditorium but does let you creep up and around the exterior. Most days, they hand out headphones between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and sometimes there are live guides. Now, notice the Colburn School, music and performing arts conservatory just across Grand Avenue. It plays Juilliard to Disney's Carnegie Hall. And on Friday and Saturday nights there are often concerts by students, faculty and visiting artists in the Colburn's 415-seat Zipper Hall, at notably sub-Disney prices. And there's the Colburn Café, a breakfast and lunch stop that's nestled just so, often used by music students and their families. From there it's an easy walk to Disney Hall, the Music Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and the outdoor fountains of California Plaza.
<a name= "9"></a>
9. The walk and the StayDowntown Art Walk (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
Downtown's boosters dream of a 24-hour district teeming with loft dwellers who nightly browse restaurants, bars, galleries and one-of-a-kind shops. We're not all the way there yet, but if you show up on Spring or Main streets, between 2nd and 9th streets, on the second Thursday evening of any month, you'll see something like that vision. That's the night of the Downtown Art Walk, a loosely organized ritual, born in 2004, in which galleries such as the Hive (729 S. Spring St.) and shops such as Metropolis Books (440 S. Main St.) stay open late, DJs pop up everywhere, dozens of food trucks roll down Spring and Main streets like Conestoga wagons seizing prime prairie real estate, and hundreds of young artsy urbanites — some of them loft dwellers, many of them adventurers from elsewhere — roam the streets under the gaze of police and private security guards. There is a lot of amateurish art. Some people drink too much, and some say the food trucks undercut the area's restaurants. But there's a big buzz, and it's mostly fun. Near the center of the action, you'll find the Stay, a clean budget lodging that offers bunk beds for as little as $35, private rooms with bath for $75. You'll also find the Nickel Diner, serving American comfort food (including maple bacon donuts) near the gritty corner of Main and 5th.
10. The writing on the wallWurstküche (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
The color, the texture, the invention — you can hate most graffiti and still admire the lavishly colored walls, urban grit and exposed brick of downtown's Arts District. The "Mona Lisa" on the shed at Rose Street and Traction Avenue, for instance, and the long wall of crazy critters along Garey Street between 2nd and 3rd streets. Much of the outdoor artwork was done at the invitation of property owners in this Bohemian, post-industrial 'hood. You also find many artists' lofts, a few galleries and eateries and the skinniest college ever (the Southern California Institute of Architecture, which occupies a former freight train depot at 3rd Street and Santa Fe Avenue). Hungry? Stop for salad at Café Metropol (923 E. 3rd St.), sushi at R23 (923 E. 2nd St.) or a gourmet hot dog at Wurstküche (800 E. 3rd St.)
11. Two words: roller derbyL.A. Derby Dolls (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
L.A. doesn't have an NFL team — yet. Till then, Angelenos have something almost as bruising, a banked-track, all-female roller derby league known as the L.A. Derby Dolls. Once, sometimes twice a month, about 2,000 people turn out at the rink on West Temple Street (near Alvarado Street) to watch these tough puppies in unstaged athletic competitions. What happened to all the shtick? Beginning in 2001, the sport's organizers contend, roller derby abandoned most of its canned-ham stunts in exchange for actual athletic competition in which one woman, known as the jammer, tries to whipsaw-fly-bounce-jounce-cuss her way through the opposing team, gaining a point for every player she passes. It is a decidedly unglamorous but endearing sport that packs the plywood bleachers with folks in search of something different on a Saturday night. The "bouts" are broken into four 15-minute quarters. Before the game, there are craft booths to browse and a live band to enjoy. At halftime, more music, pizza and Tecate beer. This is minimalist sports, a crazy roadhouse atmosphere with mostly 25- to 35-year-olds, but many spectators twice as old. It's sort of the anti-L.A. scene, the polar opposite of blingy Staples. "There's not one type of people here," says fan Joel Mandelkorn, who likes to bring out-of-town guests. "It's one of those things that, once you know about it, you're always telling people." Consider yourself told.
Staff writer Chris Erskine contributed his roller derby expertise to this report.