Highland Park: The Complete Guide to LA's Hip, Historic Neighborhood

Highland Park

Courtesy of Los Angeles Tourism

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Highland Park

Highland Park, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Highland Park, Los Angeles' first actual suburb, has a long history filled with art, agriculture, architecture, and an ethnically diverse mix of Angelenos. Today the rapidly gentrifying hipster haven has become a must-visit for foodies, historic home buffs, and tourists looking for the next capital of L.A. cool.

Where Is It

Highland Park is in the northeast corner of the city east of the LA River and sandwiched between downtown, Glassell Park, Eagle Rock, and Pasadena. It’s butted up against the curvy Arroyo Seco Parkway (better known as the 110—and the first freeway in the U.S.), which was built alongside a once seasonal creek and now a dammed flood channel. The main business thoroughfares are Figueroa Street and York Boulevard. You can take the Metro Gold Line to the Highland Park Station from downtown or Pasadena.

Quick History

Spain’s Gaspar de Portolá explored the Los Angeles River tributaries in 1770 and was responsible for naming the area the Arroyo Seco (dry canyon). What started as a region populated by native tribes, the San Gabriel Mission, and Mexican ranchos (giant land grants given out by the Mexican government before California became part of the U.S.) turned into a commuter community when, according to KCET, the train came through in 1885, the first interurban electric railway went in 1895, and the freeway was built. In the 1840s, towns started to form, although it was still mostly used for farming and sheepherding. By the early 1880s, the first housing tract was being marketed. The area was officially annexed into L.A. in 1895. It is the home of Occidental College.

The early 1900s saw a housing boom and an influx of writers, luminaries, Arts and Crafts designers, and artists (many who were members of the California Art Club, like Franz Bischoff, Alson Skinner Clark, William Judson, and Elmer Wachtel) set up shop. It was the headquarters of California’s plein air movement thanks to an abundance of great light. 

As cars became the norm and white flight to the adjacent valleys increased, the neighborhood’s demographics shifted again. Now Latino and Asian households became the norm. For a few decades, it was considered a rough but affordable area plagued by gangs. It maintained its artsy side as Latino muralists took up the bohemian banner in the ‘70s, and Chicano youth culture rose in the ‘90s, especially galvanized by Rage Against the Machine vocalist Zach de la Rocha who founded revolutionary public resource center Regeneración there. The statistics changed again in the early 2000s as Eastside enclaves like Silver Lake and Atwater Village became ground zero for hipster gentrification. Highland Park’s newfound popularity came out of the Great Recession. 

Its resurgence is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, newcomers drive up rates on everything from parking meters to houses while pricing out some longtime residents or businesses. On the other, historic Victorians and bungalows are being fixed up, the area is safer and cleaner, and new businesses open monthly.

Things To Do

It's easy to fill a day in Highland Park, whether you want an outdoor adventure, history lessons, or family fun.

Tour Historic Homes

A land boom, the Industrial Revolution, and advancements in transportation caused LA’s population to double in the 1880s. The Heritage Square Museum gathers eight architecturally significant buildings from the close of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th, including a Queen Anne mansion, church, train depot, and a corner drug store in one landscaped (era appropriately of course) plaza to explore everyday life during that settlement and development period. It's especially fun to visit when the village comes to life with costumed performers and hands-on exhibits.

The Lummis Home and Gardens, aka El Alisal, is open on weekends from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Charles Lummis, the founder of the Southwest Museum and an LA Times writer/editor built the two-story stone home by hand on a lot he purchased in 1897 over 13 years. He later used it to entertain artists and dignitaries like Will Rogers, John Muir, and Clarence Darrow. 

Strike Out at LA's Oldest Operating Bowling Alley

Initially established in 1927, L.A.’s oldest operating bowling alley, Highland Park Bowl, was restored to its former bow truss Spanish Revival glory in 2016. It features an arts & crafts mural from the ‘30s, original team pennants, vintage pinsetters turned into chandeliers, live music space, and eight lanes.

Highland Park Bowl
Courtesy of Wonho Frank Lee

Catch a Puppet Show

After more than 55 years downtown, the historic Bob Baker Marionette Theater moved its 3,000 puppets to a new home inside a 1923 vaudeville theater on York. 

See a Concert

Lodge Room is an intimate all-ages venue on the second floor of a converted 1922 Masonic Temple with intricate woodwork and retro-styled bars.

Lodge Room
Courtesy of Lodge Room

Get a Forever Souvenir

See Baba Austin, iconic inker of rockers and porn stars, at Vintage Tattoo

Opt Outside

Find a peaceful spot for a picnic in Hermon Park or Ernest E. Debs Regional Park. The latter has a pond and hiking trails. Cruise down the 2-mile Arroyo Seco Bike Path, which sits in the streambed and passes under numerous bridges between ramps at York and the Montecito Heights Community Center/Avenue 43. Take horseback-riding lessons at San Pascual Stables. Parents can tire kids out on the nifty York Park playground.

Find Chicken Boy

To get a selfie with this bizarre 22-foot Highland Park character, you'll look up to the rooftops on Figueroa, cross the street, and angle the camera just right. Chicken Boy, a Muffler Man with a poultry head and bucket, started his life atop a chicken shack in downtown un the 1960s.

Cop Out

Housed in the restored 1925 station, the Los Angeles Police Museum tracks the influential and often controversial history of the LAPD from its origin in 1869. That’s 150 years of uniforms, cars, weapons, and of course, famous cases. 

Checker Hall
Courtesy of Checker Hall

Where to Eat

Options for feasting in HP are as diverse as its residents. Checker Hall meets all your Mediterranean needs (don’t skip the labneh or cauliflower app!) while Joy slings Taiwanese favorites like dan-dan noodles, sesame scallion bread, and milk tea. Parsnip serves a play on Romanian comfort food. Get Peruvian at Rosty, pizza at Triple Beam, Spanish at Otoño, breakfast burritos at HomeState, vegetarian at Kitchen Mouse, seasonal American at Hippo, comfort pub grub at Greyhound Bar & Grill, vegan German at Hinterhof, and dumplings at Mason’s. And given the district’s history, as you’d expect, there's no shortage of tasty authentic Mexican from food trucks and restaurants like El Huarache Azteca, Metro Balderas, or La Fuente. Get a sugar high at Mr. Holmes Bakeshop (home of the cruffin) or Donut Friend, which features a pastry filled with peanut butter, jam, and sriracha.

Good Housekeeping
Courtesy of Good Housekeeping

Where to Drink

Pouring one on is an ages-old Highland Park hobby, but there’s nothing tired about these watering holes. Sonny’s Hideaway is a dark but welcoming lounge serving pro-layered concoctions and classics alongside lasagna cups and flatbreads. They recently introduced Tiki Tuesdays and Homo Happy Hour on Thursdays. Music, highballs, and three-ingredient tipples make the people come together at Gold Line, a bar from DJ/producer Peanut Butter Wolf whose record label is upstairs. The Hermosillo, a former club with a reputation for trouble, now has a respectable inventory of 16 craft beers on tap and 30 wines by the glass. Behind Café Birdie, the brick-walled Good Housekeeping took its name from a fading ad on the exterior wall. The Offbeat is another dark spot with leather banquettes and stiff drinks, but they also have karaoke and free taco nights. Block Party, on the other hand, is a bright beer and wine garden with frozen Aperol spritzes and summer sangria, games, and bring your own food policy.

If you are looking for a caffeine fix instead, hit up Go Get Em Tiger (where you can also attend a cupping in English and Spanish), Civil Coffee (also serves excellent brunch), Tierra Mia Coffee (Latin-inspired), and Kindness & Mischief Coffee

Courtesy of Go Get Em Tiger 

Tropical Juice is a locally owned healthy alternative selling fresh-squeezed juices, ice-blended shakes, and Latin-flavored specialty sips like the Vampiro and Ixtapa.

Where to Shop

Everything old is new again at vintage shops like Stash on York (open during events or by appointment), bohemian Honeywood, Charlie Roquette (clothing and shoes), and Sunbeam Vintage (retro and new furniture and decor). The beat goes on at record stores like Gimme Gimme Records and Permanent Records. A few stores even sell both secondhand fashions and vinyl, including Avalon Vintage and The Bearded Beagle

Courtesy of Honeywood

Indie bookstores still exist. Owl Bureau is housed in the former Owl Drugs pharmacy and Book Show, a circus-themed spot offering new and used books, also throws craft nights and readings.

Pick up crystals, candles, and all things mystical at House of Intuition. Mi Vida carries art, clothing, accessories, and gifts that celebrate the Chicana lifestyle and queen Frida. Bulk herbs and fresh tea can be found at Wild Terra.

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Highland Park: The Complete Guide to LA's Hip, Historic Neighborhood