The Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles scores a spot on many visitors’ itineraries thanks to its biggest draw – Museum Row. The strip of top-notch museums along Wilshire Boulevard includes the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, the Petersen Automotive Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). In front of LACMA is the “Urban Light” installation of vintage street lamps, a frequently photographed icon of the Miracle Mile.
Of particular interest is the Academy Museum, which opened in 2021. While it’s a newcomer to Museum Row, the attraction occupies one of the oldest and most important landmarks of the Miracle Mile: the circa-1939 former May Company Building. It’s an emblem of the district’s early 20th century “Miracle” era and just one of many architectural curiosities that broaden the appeal of this intriguing LA neighborhood.
What is the Miracle Mile?
The Miracle Mile refers to both a mile(ish)-long stretch of Wilshire Boulevard lined with historic buildings and modern museums, and the wider neighborhood. It’s east of Beverly Hills, southwest of Hollywood, and about 8 miles west of downtown Los Angeles.
History of the Miracle Mile
Today’s Miracle Mile is known as much for its contemporary monuments as historic ones. The neighborhood’s whole character, though, originated in the vision of one man – A.W. Ross. In 1921, the developer purchased 18 acres of land comprising asphalt seeps, barley fields and a wide dirt road that would become Wilshire Boulevard. Where Ross foresaw a thriving retail district, detractors saw folly and scoffed that it would take a “miracle” to bring it to fruition.
A.W. Ross understood the coming ascendance of the personal automobile. It didn’t matter that the electric railway line didn’t reach his land, nor that it was several undeveloped miles from downtown Los Angeles. Ross embraced a novel approach to planning and construction with a focus on auto traffic, rather than foot traffic. Showy Art Deco architectural styles caught the eyes of those behind the wheel, while large parking lots offered practical solutions for LA’s emerging car-centric lifestyle. The Miracle Mile was a huge success and helped define Los Angeles as a city with multiple big business districts.
Time has not always been kind to the Miracle Mile. LA’s ceaseless sprawl and the rise of the shopping mall drew commercial investments elsewhere. Many of the Miracle Mile’s older buildings have disappeared while others are lovingly preserved. One well-known example is Johnie’s Coffee Shop, an awesomely retro Googie-style structure that’s closed for dining but leased for filming. Pan-Pacific Park can only pay homage to the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, a Streamline Moderne masterpiece from 1935 that was destroyed by a fire in the 1970s.
Today’s Miracle Mile
The Miracle Mile is no time capsule, though. Its historic buildings have been preserved in a way that gives them new life. Offices and museums occupy the last century’s department stores. And the biggest new developments have been trusted to award-winning architects, continuing the tradition of innovation that started with the very conception of the Miracle Mile.
La Brea Tar Pits and Museum
A visit to the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum leaves you with a mind-bendingly different perspective on the century-long history of the Miracle Mile. It also shifts your view of Los Angeles from an urban metropolis to a unique piece of Earth that somehow got stuck in primordial mode.
The pits of tar (technically bitumen) that punctuate the grassy parkland outside the museum casually bubble with stinky prehistoric gas. In a recreated scene of pachydermal terror, a life-sized mastodon family watches its patriarch sink to his death in the Lake Pit. This is a visitor’s introduction to the La Brea Tar Pits, the only active urban fossil dig site in the world.
Visit the museum to see fascinating displays of Ice Age bones preserved in asphalt for up to 100,000 years. Learn about the saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, cave bears, ground sloths and camels that once were the fauna of Los Angeles. More than 1 million fossils and counting have been excavated from the pits, and the ongoing work of resident archeologists is the key focus of the museum.
Read more about this Miracle Mile tourist attraction: Museum Monday: La Brea Tar Pits and Museum
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is the largest art museum in the western United States. Its permanent collection includes more than 150,000 objects, selections from which are on display throughout the museum’s Resnick Exhibition Pavilion and Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM). The new David Geffen Galleries are scheduled to open in late 2024.
Browse some of the greatest works in modern art on the top floor of BCAM, including pieces by Picasso, Rivera and Magritte. BCAM comprises a dozen galleries, so allow plenty of time to take it all in. Adjacent to the museum entrance is Chris Burden’s Urban Light (2008), the grid of 202 cast-iron street lamps illuminated from dusk to dawn. Don’t miss Burden’s other momentous installation, Metropolis II (2011) inside the museum.
Learn more about LACMA: Museum Monday: Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
The Academy Museum
The Academy Museum is devoted to the art of moviemaking. The core exhibition, Stories of Cinema, occupies three levels and multiple galleries. It explores the history, science and cultural impact of movies, drawing from a collection of some 13 million items including costumes, props, posters and screenplays. Rotating exhibits spotlight groundbreaking movies and movie makers. The museum also hosts major movie premieres and screenings. An immersive simulator, The Oscars Experience, is available as an add-on to general admission.
The Academy Museum is notable for its architecture as well as its exhibits. Its space includes the original anchor of the Miracle Mile, a May Company department store for more than five decades. The renowned architect Renzo Piano oversaw a full restoration of the façade with its eye-catching cylindrical tower of glass and gold mosaic tiles. Additions to the original building include a 130-foot sphere of glass on the rooftop. This terrace space houses two theaters and is open to museum visitors.
Petersen Automotive Museum
For auto aficionados, the Petersen Automotive Museum is the highlight of Museum Row. You can’t miss it – the building’s whimsical cherry red exterior is wrapped with massive, curvilinear stainless steel ribbons.
The museum is dedicated to automotive history and explores the global impact of the car through the lens of Los Angeles. Its collection includes rare cars, motorcycles and trucks from over 120 years of automotive history. See modern supercars, hot rods, American classics and famous movie cars such as the 1989 Batmobile and a 1981 Delorean from the Back to the Future trilogy.
Want to get behind the (virtual) wheel of a race car? Try out the state-of-the-art simulators at the museum’s Forza Motorsport Racing Experience.
Craft Contemporary has welcomed visitors to Museum Row since 1965. The self-described “casual, intimate, and welcoming” museum explores the potential of craft through wide-ranging, rotating exhibitions. See the works of established and emerging artists and designers from all over the world. Also check out Craft Contemporary’s calendar of hands-on workshops.
El Rey Theatre
One of the most impressive Art Deco landmarks of the Miracle Mile still standing is the El Rey Theatre. Built in 1936, the Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument was a movie house for more than 50 years before being converted to a live music venue. The El Rey Theatre is a standing room, all-ages venue that specializes in pop, rock, jazz and crossover acts. Just a few big names who have performed there include Bob Dylan, Pixies and Billie Eilish.
The Original Farmers Market
One of the top tourist attractions near the Miracle Mile is The Original Farmers Market. Some of its appeal lies in its long heritage – the market dates to the 1930s – but the open-air venue is also an unforgettable dining and shopping destination. More than 100 specialty stores are open seven days a week at the market, between them offering fresh groceries, coffee, seafood and treats like doughnuts and ice cream. There’s also sit-down dining, lively bars, and artisanal vendors offering home goods, clothing and gifts.
Also adjacent to the Miracle Mile is The Grove retail and entertainment complex. A major hub of Los Angeles, it features a large central park and dancing fountain plus a movie theater. A double-decker trolley runs through the complex and connects The Grove to the Original Farmers Market.