When most people think of Los Angeles, they don’t think of sidewalks crammed with people elbowing little old ladies out of the way as they rush to their meditation class. They think of freeways crammed with cars cutting off little old ladies as they rush to their meditation class. So you may be surprised to learn that L.A. is a pedestrian-friendly city. Or at least a pedestrian-cordial city. You just have to know where to go—and how to get there via automobile.
Welcome to the pedestrian-friendly city guide: Los Angeles. Here you’ll discover which neighborhoods are great for walking, what to do as you’re walking, and how to respond to the yahoos who will undoubtedly ask if you need a ride because they assume that a car-jacking is the only reason you’re on foot.
The Miracle Mile is the 1.5-mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard between Fairfax and Highland Avenues, which is also called Mid-Wilshire and Museum Row. The word “miracle” comes from the fact that Whimsic Alley, a Harry Potter-themed store, is located here. Okay, that’s not why. This is why:
In 1921 this area was nothing but fields dotted with unharnessed tar pits and Wilshire Boulevard was just a dirt road leading to nowhere. A real estate developer named A.W. Ross bought 18 acres of land here with visions of retail heaven, but like most visionaries he was called delusional and his dream was called “Ross’ Bean Patch.” Soon enough, Los Angeles’ population grew, automobiles became plentiful, and the city’s hub spread west from downtown. In 1929 when Desmond’s Department Store opened a fourth branch on Wilshire and Dunsmuir, Ross’ vision finally manifested. A friend remarked to him that this really was a miracle mile, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, this neighborhood feels very much like a small town nestled within a larger metropolis. The Miracle Mile is filled with a mixture of business and residential buildings, which means that people who live in the area can walk down to Wilshire Boulevard to get their caffeine fix at one of the 182 Starbucks coffee shops, do their banking, take a whiff of the now-harnessed tar pits, stare perplexedly at the art in the many museums, see a live show at the El Rey, or go for dinner at whichever restaurants’ cuisine piques your palate. Out-of-work actors who live here can meander over to the SAG/AFTRA building to see if their health insurance is still valid, and if it’s not they can jump in the fountain right outside to drown their sorrows. Just south of Wilshire on Masselin Avenue is Wilshire Green Park, a small, out-of-the-way park with garden pavilion, foot-bridge, pond, and turtles who keep trying to escape.
Not so long ago, if you found yourself in downtown L.A. after 6 p.m. you could expect to be mugged, or at least very, very lonely. It was a business-only district that became a ghost town after hours (as Michael Mann illustrates wonderfully in his movie Collateral). Since the erection of Disney Hall, Staples Center, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, artists’ lofts, and other residential buildings, it’s become a thriving central district again with plenty of nightlife to keep the LAPD headquarters busy.
Taking the self-guided walking tour of downtown is a great way to get to know this historic part of the city. Officially it starts at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel on Olive Street, but since you’ll be your own docent, you can begin anywhere you want. A good starting point is the Central Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, a beautiful building with over 6 million books (making it the largest public library in the world) that survived not one but two arson fires. On the sidewalk outside the main entrance on W. 5th Avenue is a pillar with photos and a write-up of the landmark’s history. When you’re ready to move on, just follow the “treasure map” instructions which point you in the direction of the next stop, where you’ll find another pillar with that historic site’s info and pictures.
A newer sightseeing excursion is the 500 Days of Summer walking tour (based on the 2009 Marc Webb movie), which also gives you an insider’s view of Los Angeles. Don’t forget to have a seat on “Tom’s Bench” in Angel’s Knoll park where the love of his life, Summer, rejects him. If you’re thinking of a good way to break up with your beau, this might be a good place. It’s picturesque and a Metro station is conveniently located for your rapid escape.
One more—just to prove that L.A. is indeed a pedestrian-friendly town. On the second Thursday of every month there is The Downtown Art Walk which is comprised of art galleries and other exhibition spaces. You can check out many new and local artists, eat at the various food trucks, and get publicly drunk at the beer garden without fear of arrest.
And what guide would be complete without a mention of Hollywood Boulevard? This foot-friendly street is the heart of Hollywood where you can get felt up by Spider Man, hold Darth Vader’s light saber, and get your picture taken with the surprisingly photogenic Freddy Kruger. Look down when you walk so you can see whose Hollywood star you are treading upon, or look up at the Hollywood & Highland retail complex which holds two distinctions: home to the Academy Awards ceremony and winner of the Ugliest Building in Los Angeles contest.
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