Located in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is one of L.A.’s greatest gems, and one that that you can enjoy for free without seeing a performance of the L.A. Philharmonic. In this post, we share photos from our visit this beautiful venue, and share thoughts on doing a tour of the WDCH.
First, a bit of background. Named after famous Angeleno Walt Disney, this was actually a gift to the city of Los Angeles by Lillian Disney, his widow. Her dream of adding a cultural landmark to the skyline of Los Angeles was not realized until following her passing, so Lillian and Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller carried on her mother’s vision to open the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003. The venue was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry (who has been influential in helping give Los Angeles an architectural face-lift), with acoustics by Yasuhisa Toyota.
Walt Disney Concert Hall offers free hour-long tours: guided tours on weekdays, and free self-guided audio tours narrated by John Lithgow. The audio tour covers a wealth of topics, including the Disney family, and especially Lillian Disney’s involvement on the project. This concert hall was built long after Walt’s death, but it is the best examples of his enduring legacy in Los Angeles.
I’m going to do this ‘review’ of the Walt Disney Concert Hall tours a bit differently. Rather than covering background and details about the experience first, and then offering a conclusion as to whether it’s worth your time, I’m going to offer the takeaway first.
After going through what I’d be covering in this post, I realized most of the ‘details’ are merely regurgitations of what I learned on the tour, I figured this would be apt. That way, you can avoid any “spoilers” of things you’d learn on the tour by clicking out after reading our verdict.
With that said, it’s a borderline (alternative) recommendation in the DTLA itinerary, and is tour not an absolute must-do.
It’s an enjoyable tour, particularly for enthusiasts of architecture, acoustical engineering, and those fascinated by Walt Disney’s legacy.
It’s fascinating, and the audio offered by John Lithgow is captivating. We didn’t have tremendous interest in acoustics or concert hall design, but found this engrossing, nonetheless.
And while we really enjoyed the tour, we are locals, and have the benefit of a surplus of time. If you’re visiting Los Angeles for only a few days, and only have a single day to allocate to DTLA, it’s a much closer call that should be dictated by the above-mentioned interests.
We doubt it’ll be the highlight of anyone’s Los Angeles itinerary, but it’s a fun–and free–experience that can flesh out a day in the city.
With our verdict rendered, let’s take a look at some random stuff we encountered during our tour of the Walt Disney Concert Hall…
Time for some random fun(?) facts about Walt Disney Concert Hall!
An extension of the building’s architecture, the pipe organ is a centerpiece detail of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Frank Gehry worked with organ builders Manuel Rosales and Caspar Von Glatter-Gotz to create the organ’s unconventional design.
It features an amalgamation of prominent wooden pipes–bucking conventional design, which hides the pipes–to visually-connect the organ with the auditorium’s walls and ceilings. The Douglas Fir wood in those walls and ceilings is actually a design motif throughout the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
On the second floor of Walt Disney Concert Hall, you’ll find the Ira Gershwin Gallery, which is a very small gallery with items on loan from the Library of Congress, with a rotating gallery.
Don’t get too excited, as I’m sure some folks in Beverly Hills have larger walk-in closets, but it’s nonetheless a neat, quick place to walk-through. (Photography is not allowed inside.)
Over the course of the tour, you’ll ascend many floors in the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Towards the end of the tour, you wind up on the roof-top Blue Ribbon Garden, which is nearly an acre in size, and somehow hidden within the exterior. (Tip: head up to this garden early and listen to previous headset items while sitting in the garden.)
Among the beautiful landscaping and flora, an artificial flower is the standout: “A Rose for Lilly.” This Frank Gehry-designed fountain pays tribute to the late Lillian Disney and her love for Delftware porcelain. This gorgeous fountain is shaped like a large rose and is covered with broken pieces of Delft porcelain to form a lavish mosaic. (There are some humorous and heart-warming anecdotes in the audio tour at this point, so be sure not to skip anything.)
The area around the Blue Ribbon Garden and Children’s Amphitheater often host private functions (set-up for a wedding was occurring during our visit), and it’s easy to see why, as this intimate space is so charming and serene that it’s hard to believe you’re atop a building in Downtown Los Angeles.
The outdoor Children’s Amphitheater hosts family-friendly performances, including the Music Center’s World City series. Other workshops for children are offered in the Blue Ribbon garden from time to time.
Higher up, you’ll find an observation platform overlooking Downtown Los Angeles. If you’ve been to viewing platforms in other cities, this might be underwhelming. That’s the Los Angeles skyline for ya!
That’s more or less the end of the tour; at that point, return your headset to the ground floor desk and retrieve your I.D., and continue your day in L.A.!
Overall, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is a fun place to visit, especially if (like us) you lack the refinement and sophistication to see a showing of the LA Phil. There’s a lot of cultural significance to the venue even today, and I suspect a century from now, historians will look back at the construction of the WDCH as a touchstone moment that sparked a renaissance in DTLA. While there are no shortage of compelling alternative things to do in this area of Los Angeles, we doubt anyone will regret taking this tour.
If you’re planning a trip, check out our Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles or our California category of posts. For even more things to do, The Best Things to Do in Los Angeles: 1001 Ideas is an exceptional resource, which is written by other locals. If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!
Have you done the free Walt Disney Concert Hall tour? If so, what did you think of experience? Did you do the guided tour, or the self-guided audio tour? Any additional tips to add that we didn’t cover? Would you do it again, or do you think it was a ‘one and done’? Was it worth your time? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!