San Pedro is a small community within the city of Los Angeles nestled at the tip of the Palos Verdes Peninsula between Rancho Palos Verdes and Terminal Island. This hidden gem is oft overlooked for the nearby, much larger Long Beach. San Pedro has a rich history all its own with much to offer visitors and residents alike. Multiple historic ships and buildings, an aquarium, museums, locally owned restaurants and breweries, art galleries, parks, and of course beaches are easily accessible. Because of it’s size it’s the perfect day trip from LA and everything I’m going to list can be reached by bike or even on foot if you were ambitious. For the most part San Pedro is a flat, easily navigable area.
1st stop – Breakfast
Starting early, why not grab on the most important meal of the day at one of San Pedro’s many breakfast spots? You’ll won’t be lacking in choices, but my personal favorite is the Omelette & Waffle Shop on Gaffey and 11th. (And not just for the adorable waffle and egg BFFs on their sign) Don’t be scared away by the line that will inevitably be outside, they are quick on the turn over – you won’t have to wait long. Other great choices are the Lighthouse Cafe on Pacific between 38th and 39th or Happy Diner on Centre St and 7th.
2nd stop – LA Waterfront
Now that you’re full of waffle-y goodness, you can begin your sightseeing at the waterfront. There is a large free parking lot at Ports of Call on Harbor Blvd and 6th Street, or there is metered parking on 6th and 7th between Pacific and Harbor. The meters are relatively cheap, about 50 cents an hour, or free on Sundays. Heading North (directions are weird here as the ocean is both South and West) toward the Vincent Thomas Bridge in the distance the LA Waterfront extends a little less than a mile along the water. The paved pedestrian walking path is lined with trees, benches, and free exercise equipment from the Los Angeles Maritime Museum down to the Fanfare Fountain and World Cruise Center.
The building housing The Los Angeles Maritime Museum was built by the WPA (Works Project Administration) in 1941 and originally served as the Municipal Ferry Terminal when people used to need to travel to Terminal Island from San Pedro before the Vincent Thomas Bridge was built. The museum opened in 1979 and focuses on life at sea. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 – 5 closed on holidays. Admission is $5 but they offer free admission if you check in on Yelp.
Continuing down the Waterfront you’ll come across the USS Iowa battleship. It’s probably one of the most well known ships that saw action during World War II as it was the one selected to take FDR across the Atlantic to meet with Churchill and Stalin. The Iowa was moved to San Pedro in 2012 for permanent display where she is now a floating museum. Adult tickets are $20 with discounts for kids and seniors but you can save a few bucks by buying them online. Depending on the time of year, you might catch one of the many special events the Iowa offers including Fleet Week in September when active duty Navy ships and sailors come to San Pedro and give tours.
All the way at the end of the walk is the Gateway Plaza featuring the Fanfare Fountains. Every thirty minutes visitors will be wowed by a fountain show set to music. During lunch and evening hours the show increases to every ten minutes. If you walk past the fountain to the entrance to the Cruise Center there’s a great photo opportunity in front of the Vincent Thomas Bridge. It’s beautiful both day and night.
3rd stop – Lunch + Beer
By now, if you’re like me, you’ve been starving for at least an hour. There are countless restaurants in San Pedro, many of them are locally owned and have been around for decades. You’d find delicious food any number of them. However, I recommend heading down to Warehouse No. 9 on Miner and 22nd Street and having lunch at Brouwerij West. Pronounced like ‘brewery’, West has been in San Pedro for just a year but it has taken hold of locals’ hearts quickly. I love it for many reasons, not least of which is its great beer. The 70-year-old warehouse stood abandoned until the brewery moved in and transformed it into a truly astonishing space. They are pet and children friendly and while they don’t have a kitchen, they always have a food truck parked out front. When you’ve finished your beer, take a gander at Crafted at the Port of LA, next door in Warehouse No. 10. Local artisans and collectors are set up inside like an indoor street fair on par with something you might see in downtown Los Angeles.
If your trip happens to land on one of the last two Sundays of the month, be sure to visit the Muller House, just above Brouwerij and Crafted on Beacon Street. Take a free tour of the beautiful 1899 home of shipbuilder William Muller (free but suggested donation $3) and learn a little about early San Pedro History.
4th stop – Cabrillo Beach
Your trip to San Pedro cannot be complete without a stop at Cabrillo Beach. Did you know San Pedro has the only sandy beach on the peninsula? And that it’s two sided – one side calm harbor waters and the other side is the Pacific Ocean? There are volleyball nets, bonfire pits, and picnic tables making it a great place to relax or get your game face on. There’s also plenty to explore on the beach especially at low tide. There are tide pools and bunkers left from World War II. The original bathhouse built in the 1930s is also there, a neat testament to the beach going days of old. If you’re with kids or just want to get more hands on with sea life, you can check out the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in the same place.
5th Stop – Point Fermin and Angles Gate Park
The final stop on your San Pedro tour is my favorite place in the city. There is a lot to see here and if you time it right you can end your day with an amazing sunset.
The Korean Bell of Friendship was a gift given to the city of Los Angeles in 1976 by the Republic of Korea celebrating the United States bicentennial and thanking the veterans of the Korean War for their service. Its belfry is so intricately painted, it’s perfect for those instagrammable photo ops. Aside from it’s photogenic qualities, it has one of the best views in the city – overlooking Catalina Island. It sits at the top of a small hill above Point Fermin in Angels Gate Park with no buildings anywhere near by, making it one of the windiest places in the city. When you visit you’ll no doubt see people flying kites. Some people stay up here all day having picnics or other celebrations, and I’ve seen kites attached to their chairs while they relax.
Below the bell in Point Fermin Park is the Point Fermin Light. It was the original light house for San Pedro before they built Angels Gate out on the jetty in the harbor. The next closest light house is the Point Vicente Light in Rancho Palos Verdes. The lighthouse was built in 1874 in the Victorian “stick style” architecture. The house is somewhat unique because the tower holding the light is also made of wood, rather than concrete or brick. Volunteers give free tours of the house Tuesday thru Sunday at 1, 2, and 3 pm. Each of the rooms in the house are styled in the different time periods of the many Lighthouse Keepers over the course of it’s history. You’ll climb the tower and have a beautiful 360 degree view of Point Fermin and beyond.
Bonus Stop – Sunken City
I debated mentioning this place because it’s technically off limits. But it’s just too cool to not be included so I will post the following disclaimer:
Visiting Sunken City is technically trespassing and you will have to squeeze through a gate to get to it. If you are uncomfortable with the possibility of getting ticketed or arrested stick with the other places I’ve mentioned in this post.
Sunken City has an ominous sounding name but it’s aptly named. It’s what’s left of sidewalks and a few buildings after a landslide. The city rightly fenced it off, but that doesn’t keep people out of the area. In fact, it’s such a popular hang out spot that there is a group of volunteers who clean up the mess left by people once a month. The large chunks of broken sidewalk, as well as almost every surface of rock or tree is covered in graffiti, and changes all the time as people paint over each other’s work.
How to get there: At the end of South Carolina Street follow the fence behind the houses until you find the opening between the bars. When you get through the fence you’ll be on the bluff, but follow the well worn path on the left down the side of the cliff to explore the ruins. Be extremely careful when climbing on the side of the cliff as there are no barriers to protect you from falling off the side. Wear appropriate shoes in case you step on broken glass or something else equally dangerous. And most importantly – I’ve listed Sunken City near the end of my itinerary, but if you’ve been following it in order you’ll probably get here as the sun is setting if not after. It should go without saying but please do not attempt to visit Sunken City in the dark.
I moved to San Pedro a year and a half ago and fell in love right away. It’s citizens are fiercely loyal to it, and for good reason. It is such a great city with tons to offer – history, nature, and family friendly activities. Plus, its streets are laid out in a grid pattern with numbered streets running east to west and named streets running north and south making it really easy to navigate.
I hope this guide inspires you to not only see what is great in your own hometown but to explore places off the beaten path that might not show up in a guide book.
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