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.