A mere 25 miles south of Los Angeles is the best gritty, unspoiled town the masses have yet to discover.

The picturesque seaside community of San Pedro is nestled at the end of the Harbor Freeway, about 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, but for how infrequently it is visited by tourists, or even residents of the city, it might as well be in another state.

It is not clear why locals prefer the crowds on Malibu and Santa Monica's beaches and in the shops of Beverly Hills and the hipster enclaves of Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Echo Park. But that is all the more reason to take a trip down to under-appreciated San Pedro.

Located between the coastal cities of Ranchos Palos Verdes and Long Beach, the town is, among other things, the birthplace of influential 1980s punk rockers the Minutemen, one of America's most important working ports, and a demographically diverse blue-collar mix of Latino, Croatian and Italian immigrants. Another colourful resident is the wild peacock, found walking around San Pedro's residential areas alerting neighbours to its presence with eerie cries and exuberant plumage.

The city’s main public beach is Cabrillo, but there are hidden inlets to explore for snorkelling and scuba diving. Christmas Tree Cove is one of these hidden spots, a beautiful rocky beach just south of Lunada Bay that requires a steep hike down to the water. Even during the height of summer, a cool breeze and misty fog often roll in over the pristine oceanside cliffs, offering a respite from the smothering desert heat that blankets the city farther inland.

Downtown San Pedro, often used as a filming location for movies and TV shows, has had its ups and downs as the US economy has stumbled. In spite of, or perhaps because of this, a thriving arts community has taken hold near the historic Warner Grand Theater. Every first Thursday of the month, artists host an Artwalk and Open Studios evening on 6th and 7th Streets, during which visitors can pop in to check out their work.

Los Angeles is known for its vintage clothing stores and thrift shops, and San Pedro has several worth checking out. Threads of Time (446 W 6th St, 310-833-0568) has hard-to-find vintage apparel, while Cheap Vintage Inc has a huge inventory of bargain clothing and some notably racy mannequins in its window display. If you are looking for antiques, Best of Times (415 W 6th St, 310-514-3750) is a cavernous mall divided into sections for individual vendors to hawk their wares.

If all this shopping makes you thirsty, stop by the British pub-themed Whale & Ale in the downtown area for a pint of Boddingtons and perhaps some fish and chips. However, if you are feeling adventurous and looking for a more authentic bar-hopping experience, San Pedro has some of the grittiest and most colourful dives in all of Los Angeles. The longshoremen vibe, stale beer smell, and sparse décor of a joint like Harold's Place (1908 S Pacific Ave, 310-832-5503) might seem intimidating at first, but a shot of Jameson and a Budweiser will soon take care of that. The Indian Room (952 S Pacific Ave, 310-514-3511) is another classic watering hole, complete with a friendly bartender who seems to have no problem keeping pace with her customers even if it means she might spill a cocktail every now and then or miss a glass with the soda sprayer. Godmothers offers some nightlife competition with live music throughout the week and a vintage nautical theme.

After a night of drinking, you might feel a tinge of shame or regret, but you will most certainly be hungry. And San Pedro is full of casual, off-the-radar spots that reflect its diverse population. A good morning pick-me-up are the homemade croissants at Joseph's Bakery (1027 South Meyler St, 310-833-1921), which are more like sweet rolls with a thin layer of chocolate or vanilla frosting and crystallized sugar. Get there early, though, as they run out quickly. For lunch, you cannot go wrong with one of Busy Bee Market's (2413 South Walker Ave, 310-832-8660) sandwiches, especially the barbecue chicken hero with provolone, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and pepperoncinis on the side. This sandwich, covered in more of a marinara than a traditional barbecue sauce, is one you will think about long after eating. Do not be scared off by the 1970s time capsule feeling of this bare-bones market, the food is spectacular. Just a block away from a beautiful stretch of Point Ferman Park sits The Corner Store, a great spot to grab a sandwich and one of their many exotic sodas and take a walk along the coastal cliffs.

One of the highest points in San Pedro is the Korean Bell of Friendship and Bell Pavilion, a present given to Los Angeles from Korea in 1976. Looking eastward, you can see massive container ships being pulled by tugboats into the busy harbour, full of cars, toilet paper, stereos and many other products imported from abroad. To the south stretches the shimmering Pacific Ocean. On a clear day, one can see all the way to Catalina Island, and perhaps even a whale or two spouting in the distance. The dichotomy of nature and industry is part of San Pedro's character, and something the residents seem to embrace.

The Ports O' Call Marketplace, adjacent to the harbour, was once a bustling sector of restaurants and stores. Nowadays it has a sort of run-down and grimy feeling to it, but it is worth a visit if you're in the mood for some fresh seafood. Restaurants like Fish Cove (1142 Nagoya Way, no phone) have outdoor seating where you can have a beer and a plate of fajita-style shrimp and garlic bread, an interesting fusion of Mexican and Italian cuisines.

Nearby, Fiesta Cruises offers a 45-minute tour of the harbour. The boat takes you alongside the massive cranes used for lifting containers off of ships, past the Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution where you can see inmates exercising in the yard, and among frolicking seals hoping for some scraps from the fishing boats. Every September, Ports O' Call hosts the Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival, a carnival-like atmosphere of live music, games, beer, and, you guessed it, lobster.

Over the past few years, there has been talk of revitalizing the San Pedro waterfront and downtown area, spurred in no small part by the fact that several cruise lines dock in the harbour. Thus far, these plans have not been implemented and members of the community have conflicting opinions about it. “The character of this city is very original,” said lifetime resident Anthony Kursar. “It is one of the few areas of Los Angeles that has not changed much in 50 years. A lot of people like that, including myself, and take pride in it. We don't want to become a generic town.” Visitors to Los Angeles would be remiss to skip a visit to this unique, historical, and decidedly non-generic neighbourhood.