The Neon Cruise is a unique tour of Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) and Hollywood, and should definitely be on your list of things to do in Los Angeles. The tour is organized by the Museum of Neon Art (MONA) and is a wonderful way to see the city as a visitor or a local. In this video, we share our highlights and some tips to keep in mind when taking the tour.
Proceeds from this tour (and visits to the museum) contribute to preserving the historic signs in and around Los Angeles, and is a great way to support both the city and the arts!
The Museum of Neon Art is non-profit art museum that opened in 1981. Its mission is to create awareness for neon sign preservation and restoration in Los Angeles. Its original location was in Downtown LA, but it now resides in Glendale, just north of the city.
The museum has been running its Neon Cruise since 1985. It’s basically a tour of LA on top of a double-decker bus and is really marketed for locals, or Angelinos as we like to call them. To be honest, I was skeptical of the tour, but I absolutely loved it. There were so many things that I learned, and I felt like I saw Los Angeles from a completely different perspective.
Things to do in Los Angeles: Tour Highlights
1. The Neon signs
There were so many cool neon signs to see, many of which I have seen over the years but not appreciated.
We started the tour looping around Downtown Los Angeles, passing through the Fashion district. This area is very up and coming, and is quickly modernizing with many new developments popping up each year. Although, you don’t have to look very far to find the architectural history and landmarks that still exist within the area.
The New Rosslyn Hotel, which isn’t so new anymore since it opened its doors back in 1914, was one of the first signs we approached. This hotel is also known as the “Million Dollar Hotel”, after its construction price, and was one of the most luxurious hotels of its day.
As the sun slowly set, the neon signs became brighter and the tour made its way to Hollywood. I personally knew very little about the art and craftsmanship of a neon sign, so the tour really gave me a much stronger appreciation for them.
We passed through the dueling gold dragons of Chinatown as we approached our first stop on the tour. We were interested to hear that the current location is actually known as “new Chinatown”. During the early 1930s, LA’s first Chinatown was forced to relocate from its original location to make way for Union Station.
It’s now a popular spot for tourists and locals; offering a range of restaurants, bars, and shops. There’s even an impressive statue of Bruce Lee, as well as lots of street art and museums along the district.
3. Los Angeles History
The tour was jam-packed with the rich history of LA. One of the things that stuck out to me as that the 2nd street tunnel is lined with glossy white-glazed tiles and has been featured in many famous movies such as Blade Runner, The Terminator, and Kill Bill. We’ve driven through this tunnel many times and have never noticed the detail in the tiles!
Another interesting fact was that the Hollywood sign used to be lit up with thousands of light bulbs, which would flash to give more attention to the sign. Again, I never knew these things, even though I see these landmarks all the time.
The second stop was Koreatown, where the bus dropped us off at Chapman Market. This was the location of the city’s first drive-in grocery store. It’s now a marketplace with various restaurants and even a nightclub. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve spent most of my life in LA, and never even knew this area existed! I’m definitely going to go back for dinner.
5. Los Angeles Theatre district
As we headed back through Downtown, we passed through the LA Theater district which has the highest concentration of theaters in the world. The district includes 12 movie theatres, all built between 1910 and 1931. The Museum of Neon Art restored the Los Angeles and Palace Theatre signs, and they were glowing brightly as our tour came to an end.
So, as you can tell, I absolutely loved this tour. It’s a unique experience, and perfect for the LA local. The tour is $55 per person, which may sound a little pricey. However, it’s completely worth the money and is top on our recommended list of things to do in Los Angeles. The three-and-a-half-hour tour is jam-packed with incredible sights, awesome neon signs, and really interesting facts about LA.
If you’re interested in taking the Neon Cruise, here are some of our top tips:
1. Reserve your booking in advance
The cruise usually meets at 7pm in Downtown LA and returns to the same location around 10.30pm. The organizers sent us an informative email a couple of weeks before, which told us everything we needed to know about the tour. Tour dates run from May through September, and they also run special holiday cruises in December which look like a lot of fun.
2. Arrive early and allow extra time for parking
While there are lots of parking available, you want to make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to find parking in the area. Downtown parking lots can range in price, so I definitely recommend exploring the area for the best deal. We cut it a little short and probably paid more than we needed to.
Also, if you’re near a metro station, you can always take the red or purple line to Pershing Square.
3. Bring a jacket
Even in the summer months, LA can get a little cold in the evening, especially being at the top of a double-decker bus. We recommend you bring a light jacket to make sure you’re comfortable throughout the tour.
4. Bring your camera
There are so many great photo opportunities along the way, be sure to pack your camera so you can capture some of the amazing shots!
5. Grab dinner before or after in Downtown LA
The drop off point was just a few blocks away from Pershing Square, there are a ton of restaurants and bars to get dinner and drinks before or after the tour. Our personal favorite is Bar Ama, which serves delicious Mexican plates.
Have you taken the Neon Cruise? If so, please share your experience below!