In Downtown Los Angeles you can take in a panoramic view of the entire city from atop Los Angeles City Hall for free.
Los Angeles City Hall: A Deck With a View
You’ve probably seen pictures of the skyline of downtown Los Angeles. But since most of the tall buildings in Los Angeles are part of the skyline, it can be challenging to take in a view of the this sight with your own eyes.
Fortunately, one of the best places to take in a view of the Los Angeles skyline — as well as panoramic vistas of the entire sprawling city — is right in the heart of the L.A. itself. All you need to do is take a trip to Los Angeles City Hall Observation Deck, thoughtfully located on the 27th floor of Los Angeles City Hall.
Getting to the City Hall Observation Deck
To get to the Los Angeles City Hall Observation Deck, you need to enter through the Main Street entrance. You’ll undergo a routine security check before being shuffled to a bank of elevators. Take this elevator to the 22nd floor. Upon arrival you’ll need take another elevator to Floor 26, which opens onto a a room that showcases portraits of every mayor of Los Angeles going back to John G. Nichols, the city’s second mayor in 1852.
From the Gallery of Mayors, walk up a set of steps to the 27th floor to enter Tom Bradley Tower (after the city’s 38th mayor), and simply step out onto the narrow observation deck.
Los Angeles, founded in 1781 by Los 44 Pobladores, was initially just four square leagues. The city stretched one league (about 3.452 miles or 5.56 kilometers) in each direction from the central plaza roughly where El Pueblo de Los Angeles Monument is today. These four leagues were drawn at 45-degree angles to the cardinal directions. Standing atop the City Hall Observation Deck, you can see that this layout design has been followed as Los Angeles has grown and expanded past its initial borders.
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The first view of the city you’ll see upon walking onto the observation deck is facing the southeast.
This looks across Main Street, over the James K. Hahn City Hall East (named for the 40th mayor), the blandly named Federal Building, and Edward R. Roybal Federal Building (between which you’ll find the Molecule Man sculpture). Behind these stand the Metropolitan Detention Center and then the near-endless traffic along The 101, followed by the Metropolitan Water District Building, Union Station, and L.A. Metro Headquarters.
Traveling clockwise around the deck, you’ll be exposed to the view toward the southwest.
This gives you a great look at the LAPD Headquarters, the now-abandoned Los Angeles Times Building, and the mirror-visaged United States Courthouse, complete with the iconic skyline of Downtown Los Angeles in the distance.
Continuning clockwise around City Hall’s central tower, to the northeast you’ll get a glimpse of some of the city’s cultural and legal landmarks.
At the top left in the distance you can see The Broad, the Disney Concert Hall, the towering edifice of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power at the very terminus of Grand Park. Beyond that you can see the Hollywood Sign (on a clear day). On the right edge of Grand Park stands the Hall of Records, and, in the right foreground, the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center — a building familiar to many Angelenos who’ve served time on jury duty back when you had to show up every day for seven days.
The northeastern view may initially seem less interesting, at least with regard to tall buildings and landmarks, but there’s a lot of history to be seen in this direction.
Standing here, you’ll look out over the Spring Street Courthouse (where the Young Lincoln and Law Statues stand) and El Pueblo de Los Angeles Monument, where the native Tongva village of Yanga (or Yangna) stood before Spanish colonists arrived and built the pueblo in its place.
From this angle you can also see Elysian Park, Dodger Stadium, and the San Gabriel Mountain range in the distance (on a clear day).
And if you look straight down, you can see the Triforium standing in Fletcher Bowron Square (named for the city’s 35th mayor).
Lindbergh Beacon Plaque
Mounted on the southeastern wall along the Observation Deck, you’ll find a large bronze plaque memorializing the Lindbergh Beacon that is installed at the top of City’s Hall’s ziggurat.
The Lindbergh Beacon, named to honor the aeronautical achievements of Charles A. Lindbergh, was installed when the building was constructed in 1928. However, the Lindbergh Beacon, like Lindbergh himself, has not been without controversy over the years.
The beacon was first switched on in April 1928, during the building’s dedication ceremony, by none other than President Calvin Coolidge (remotely from the White House).
At first, the beacon was a rotating white light that flashed for a tenth of a second every ten seconds. This light almost immediately ran afoul of local air transport officials, who were of the belief that rotating white lights should only be used near airports and for planes delivering mail for the U.S. Postal Service.
In 1931, the U.S. Department of Commerce mandated that the rotating white light be replaced by a red light that pointed toward the nearest airport — which at the time was Grand Central Airport in Glendale.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl harbor in 1941, the beacon was switched off. It stayed unlit, except for a brief period in 1947, until 2001 when it was re-installed (thanks largely to Los Angeles documentarian Huell Howser) atop City Hall. It stayed lit for a few weeks, before going dark once again. The beacon is still functional today, though it’s only switched on for holidays and special occasions.
Los Angeles City Hall (including the Observation Deck and Lindbergh Beacon) was designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 150 on March 24, 1976.
The City Hall Observation Deck had been closed since the early days of the pandemic, but it reopened early in May 2022.
Los Angeles City Hall Observation Deck
- 200 N Spring St., 27th Floor, Los Angeles
- GPS Coordinates: 34.053700, -118.242795 [ Google Maps ]
- whta3words: ///clocks.milky.stick
- Open weekdays from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
- Metro Stop: Civic Center/Grand Park on the (B Line (Red)/D Line(Purple)
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