The 5 to the 10: No car? No problem — a student-friendly guide to Downtown LA

A smiling figure with a backpack is in front of a repeating "LA" pattern.
(Seohyeon Lee • The Student Life)

Los Angeles is a vast city of endless cultural and entertainment options limited only by your personal stamina — and whether or not you have a car. Decades of urban sprawl, suburbanization, highway expansion and neglect of public transport have made cars a necessity for life in LA, so much so that images of bumper-to-bumper traffic are conjured alongside the Hollywood sign and palm trees when one thinks about life in Southern California. 

As almost any other suburbanite could tell you, this sprawl has transformed cars from a mere means of transportation to a teenager’s first taste of freedom and autonomy. Growing up in the suburbs of LA, the day I got my driver’s license was an absolute revelation. It was as if the world opened up to me for the very first time when I got behind the wheel. 

Before that holy day, however, I became acquainted with the Metrolink and spent my weekends exploring the parts of LA less demanding of individual cars, the most accessible of which was downtown. So here’s a car-less 5C student’s guide to some of my favorite spots in the area. Please note that this guide barely even scratches the surface of one of the most historic districts in all of LA, but I hope it provides a starting point to getting acquainted with the City of Angels. 

Transportation and Union Station

First things first, you’ll need to download the Metrolink app. Here, you’ll find a user-friendly interface that has the schedules and tickets you’ll need. Once you select “buy tickets,” input “Claremont” as the origin station and “LA Union Station” as the destination; a round trip ticket at the student rate will cost $10.50. If you’re unfamiliar with public transport, fear not! Claremont to Union Station is a direct line, so all you have to do is get on the correct train at the Claremont station on College Avenue — just a block from Pomona College’s southern border — and in an hour you’ll be in the heart of LA. 

Once arriving at Union, take your time to appreciate the station itself. Constructed in 1939, Union is a Mission Revival and Art Deco style architectural prize known as “the last of the great train stations” by the station’s stewards. If transportation history is your thing, you can find a temporary pop-up installation called “Riding LA” inside the station. 

Olvera Street

Your definitive first stop is Olvera Street, a five-minute walk from the entrance of Union Station and commonly referred to as “the birthplace of Los Angeles.” Olvera boasts an open-air Mexican marketplace that recreates a romantic ‘Old Los Angeles’ with a block-long narrow, tree-shaded, brick-lined market with old structures, painted stalls, street vendors, cafes, restaurants and gift shops.” This iconic street is also home to the oldest home in LA, the Avila Adobe, which was constructed in 1818 — nearly 70 years before the founding of Pomona College. The surrounding city block is bountiful with cultural history, with the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, Chinese American Museum, Museum of Social Justice and Italian American Museum of Los Angeles within walking distance — and all with free admission.

Also within walking distance is Phillipe’s the Original, a historic diner engaged in a nearly century-long feud with Cole’s P.E. Buffet over competing claims about who invented the French dip sandwich.  

Grand Park, Performing Arts and Contemporary Art

Using LA’s towering City Hall building as your landmark, you’ll make the eight-minute walk to the lower end of Grand Park. Sandwiched between Spring Street and Grand Ave, Grand Park is a beautiful green space, home to two mini community libraries and a prominent gathering place for protests. 

If you walk to the upper end of the park toward Grand Ave, you’ll find a plethora of performance spaces and museums: namely, the infamous Walt Disney Concert Hall, Centre Theatre Group and Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The Centre Theatre Group operates a program called “FreePlay,” which offers free tickets for first preview performances at the Mark Taper Forum, Ahmanson and Kirk Douglas Theatre to people under 25 years old. 

Right next to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, you’ll find my favorite cheese-grater-looking building: The Broad. The Broad is an incredible contemporary art museum with free general admission and Warhol, Barbara Kruger, Roy Lichenstein, Takashi Murakami and Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibits on view. Across the street from The Broad is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA Grand), which also offers free general admission and a number of free, curator-led tours. 

Grand Central Market 

Last but certainly not least is my favorite spot: Grand Central Market. After a six-minute walk from MOCA — stopping at the iconic Angel’s Flight on the way — Grand Central is a vibrant indoor market with more than 40 food vendors. After opening its doors for the first time in 1917, Grand Central has become a “microcosm of the historic immigrant communities that have shaped Los Angeles and a mosaic of the creativity and vision of the people who call this city home,” according to the market’s website. Take in the dense, bustling market, and make sure to weigh all your options before choosing where to eat. 

From here you’re only a 20-minute walk — or a much shorter Lime or Bird Scooter ride — back to Union Station. Even though we didn’t even get into the Arts District, Little Tokyo or the Fashion or Flower Districts, Downtown is my favorite part of LA, and I hope it becomes yours.

Most importantly, do not miss your train back to campus!

Cassidy Bensko SC ’25 is TSL’s Southern California columnist from Santa Clarita, CA. They’re a certified tree hugger, goldfish enthusiast and lover of comedy.

Correction: A previous version of this article included misspellings of “Olvera.”

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