Sometimes, it seems that the places closest to us are the biggest unknowns. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the majority of my life, and yet it is only now as a writer that I am beginning to see many of the sights here in my hometown.

Over the past year, I have explored ancient Mediterranean art at the Getty Villa, fascinated myself at LA’s Central Library, marveled at the Watts Towers, and so much more! For the first time, I feel as if I am truly getting to know the depths of this incredible city.

So this weekend, armed with a free night at the brand new Intercontinental in downtown LA thanks to my IHG credit card, I decided to see two other places I have wanted to check out for a while, but never made the short trip to actually see. And, while I took two days to visit (along with some relaxation at the gorgeous hotel), they are right across the street from each other, making this a perfect day downtown for any local or visitor!

Completed in 2003, Walt Disney Hall is an iconic masterpiece in wood and steel by renowned architect Frank Gehry. The winter home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (they spend summer at the Hollywood Bowl), Disney Hall is the fourth theatre in the Music Center, downtown’s performing arts complex originally envisioned by philanthropist Dorothy Chandler.

The theatre offers a free audio tour most days when nothing else is happening, and the lobby area is always accessible during daytime hours anyway. Part of Lillian Disney’s vision was a venue open to the public, integrating into the fabric of downtown. With her 50 million dollar gift launching the project, Lillian was involved in most aspects of the design. The other part of her vision was, ironically, a little brick church covered in vines.

It doesn’t really resemble a brick church with vines, does it?

The audio tour takes about 60 minutes, and features interviews with Gehry and other members of the design team explaining their decisions. For instance, the wood paneling inside both the main auditorium and BP Hall (a practice and reception venue) is Douglas fir, a choice Gehry explains as being the closest to the wood of the string instruments.

The inside of the main auditorium features Douglas fir.

The outside of Walt Disney Hall is easily seen to not be Lillian Disney’s vision of a brick covered church with vines. It is composed of more than 6,000 steel panels covering a building that takes odd angles, with curves and shapes flowing together. One portion sits at a 17 degree angle, and the design team explains how it was constructed since it doesn’t support itself without the roof. The outside also features gardens and a children’s amphitheater, again included in the tour.

Gehry’s design is all angles and curves, like this sloped wall seen from the gardens.

From the balcony level of Walt Disney Hall you’ll be able to see a white honeycomb-esque cube across Grand Avenue and, although the audio tour points out other sites but not this one since it is too new, you’ll recognize it as the Broad Museum. Opened in 2015, it houses the private collection of billionaires Eli and Edythe Broad (rhymes with road), and they privately funded the $140 million endeavor.

The outside of the Broad Museum.

Admission is free, which is one of the best selling points for an art museum! (Caveat: special exhibitions are an additional admission.) However, you can still reserve a ticket ahead of time, which will come with a timed entry, or you can choose to wait in line. For the best experience, reserve a 10am entry (when the museum opens), as you’ll immediately go to a secondary line for an iPad signup for Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room. This is, for most people, the highlight of the Broad, and although there is a miniature version in the permanent collection upstairs, it pales in comparison to the immersive one down here.

Upon signing up, you’ll receive an approximate wait time, and a text when it is your turn. You’ll then receive only 45 seconds inside for your party so they can keep the line moving. So make sure to have your cameras ready before entering, and split your party into twos if you can.

Inside the Infinity Mirrored Room.

Now I’m not a huge fan of modern art. Much of it I simply don’t get. The collection here, however, is really quite good, with some impressive sculpture, interesting paintings, and nice rooms dedicated to Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. All in all, a visit should take about 90 minutes, assuming you get into the Infinity Room within that period.

My favorite sculpture at the Broad. Smooth, clean, colorful.

It’s nice being able to play tourist in my hometown, and nicer still that there are so many sites worthy of that tourist experience. Downtown LA, especially, has become such a focal point of culture in Los Angeles over the last couple of decades, with these two buildings being at or near the top. Don’t miss them!

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