Technically part of Los Angeles but nearly 25 miles from downtown, highly-diverse San Pedro began life as a fishing village that attracted scores of Croatian and Italian immigrants to its docks. Things have changed, somewhat—it is now defined mostly by its extreme proximity to the busiest port in the United States—but Pedro (to fit in, make sure to pronounce it incorrectly, like PEE-dro) is a delightful throwback to a much earlier era, one where a working stiff with an okay job can still afford ocean-adjacent real estate. (For the moment.)
On a short list of places in Southern California that face both east and out to sea—San Pedro wakes up to some of the most memorable sunrises in the west. From the oft-Instagrammed Sunken City—site of a significant landslide at Point Fermin that took out an entire coastal neighborhood—to the windswept coastal trails and remote coves just west of town and over to the lackluster Ports O’Call development on the harbor, an aging tourist trap famous for its cheap seafood restaurants, San Pedro has this magnificent off-the-grid quality, best appreciated after experiencing parts of Southern California that are anything but. Come eat chicken and potatoes at Slavko’s, stop by the old-fashioned Italian delis that’ll serve you up an East Coast-worthy sub or try the “Dago Red” blend at the old-school Marabella Vineyard, a long-running urban winery—nothing here in San Pedro is very much at all like the Los Angeles you were expecting. To which fans quietly murmur, thank goodness.
How long all this will last is no longer clear. The Ports O’Call area has now been targeted for renewal, as part of a $100 million waterfront redevelopment project—expect to see results beginning around 2020. Meanwhile, efforts to turn the struggling downtown into something worth visiting are starting to bear fruit after years of stops and starts, with sparkling new condos and lofts bringing in younger, more affluent residents. This means new restaurants, microbreweries, a year-round weekend craft fair on the waterfront, new Silver Line express bus service to downtown Los Angeles, bigger crowds for the First Thursday art walk and (of course!) rising rents. Headed to Los Angeles? Make time for one of its best hidden gems—one that’s not going to stay hidden for much longer. Here are the five things you should do first:
Visit LA’s most retro beach (complete with aquarium!)
The one in nearby Long Beach gets all the attention, but the delightfully classic Cabrillo Marine Aquarium on Cabrillo Beach is an essential stop for the San Pedro visitor, either before or after a walk along the strand, a favorite of families in the surrounding area. Check out the Aquatic Nursery, where scientists study regional marine life (and how to keep it alive). Fun fact: The 21,000 square-foot building was designed by Frank Gehry, back when he was just a guy who built buildings in and around Los Angeles.
Taste the Belgian-style beers at one of LA’s newest microbreweries.
Producing and bottling in the region for some time now, Brouwerij West recently found its permanent home right in San Pedro—a shiny new tap room and ample courtyard area welcomes tasters from Wednesday through Sunday, with a promise that there will typically be at least one food truck on premises, sometimes more.
Shop different at Crafted.
Occupying a vast space of its own next to the brewery—this complex was, during the Second World War, storage space for the Navy—the year-round marketplace features over 100 local makers of everything from stationery to backyard tiki bar decorations; it’s open every week from Friday-Sunday. Want to be a maker yourself? Classes are offered on weekends.
Do a deep dive into San Pedro’s old-school food scene
Recent years have not been so kind to the neighborhood’s line-up of classic dining options, but it’s here, if you know where to look—stop in at Burattino’s and sample San Pedro’s unique (and getting harder to find) Croatian-style, brick oven pizza, or hit up the San Pedro Fish Market for their famous shrimp tray, piles of peel-and-eat shrimp, served up with all the trimmings. Missing the Italian subs from back east? Pop into the Busy Bee Market, tucked into a breezy residential area off of 25th Street, for a meatball sandwich dripping with marinara, or whatever else catches your eye. Bring cash.
Head up the hill to see the Friendship Bell (and the old lighthouse, too).
One of the neighborhood’s best vantage points, high above the Pacific near Point Fermin, is home to this gift from South Korea, now a popular spot for selfies and staring out to Catalina Island. Once you get the lay of the land, it’s actually possible for serious hikers to get up here from the coastline, mostly via lightly-traveled trails separated from the road—it’s certainly an effort worth making, if you’ve got the energy (and the sunscreen and water, depending on the time of year).
Booking a trip?
If you’re looking for the lowest airfares to Los Angeles or Long Beach, start your search at CheapFlights, or compare multiple sites at once with BookingBuddy. Don’t forget that bundling your flight and hotel together can save you a lot of money; give it a try at either Orbitz or Expedia—both are great places to start a simple airfare search, too. If you’re just after the best Los Angeles Vegas hotel deals, start your search at Hotels.com or Priceline, where you can save up to 60 percent on any given night by taking advantage of their Express Deals feature. (This simple tool has probably saved us—no joke—thousands of dollars over the years.) Don’t forget, you can also cross-reference a ton of hotel user reviews with the best rates available from more than 200 web sites at TripAdvisor. If you need a rental car, begin your search by swinging wide to get a sense of the market—a site like Booking Buddy lets you check pretty much every site worth knowing in just a couple of clicks.