What to See and Do in San Pedro, California

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Things to Do in San Pedro

Aerial view of San Pedro, CA
Kayte Deioma

If you ever take a cruise from the Port of Los Angeles, you might be looking for things to do while "stuck" in San Pedro. Although the San Pedro neighborhood where the Los Angeles Cruise Terminal is located is a bit off the main tourist trail, there's still plenty to see and do.

Industrial fishing has been significantly reduced in recent years and many of the canneries have closed, but this is still a fishing town, and it has a bit of that fishing village air (as in style, not smell) about it. The residential areas closest to the waterfront are modest cottages with an East Coast feel.

Unlike most of the coast in Southern California, San Pedro has a scenic, craggy shoreline with steep cliffs. Pt. Fermin juts out to the south from the eastern end of the Palos Verdes Peninsula before the coast cuts north into the Port. Although the Pacific Ocean is to the south, most of the waterfront attractions in San Pedro face east into the harbor channel. From the hills in San Pedro, you can look across the harbor to Downtown Long Beach.

The primary attractions in San Pedro are related to three areas, the waterfront, and nautical attractions; the strategic military role played on water and land through the city's history and the related historic buildings; and the thriving arts community.

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Point Fermin Lighthouse Historic Site and Museum

An aerial view of Pt. Fermin Lighthouse in San Pedro, Los Angeles, CA
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The Point Fermin Light House was built in 1874. Its Stick Style Victorian architecture is apparent in its gabled roofs, horizontal siding, decorative cross beams, and hand-carved porch railings. A showpiece of its time, the original light in the dome was a 2100 candlepower light with a Fresnel lens. The dome was updated, replaced, and finally put out of use during WWII when coasts were kept dark to prevent enemy attacks. In 1974, the cupola was rebuilt back to original specifications, and the lighthouse was opened to the public as a museum. The Pt. Fermin Lighthouse is operated by the LA Department of Recreation and Parks. Donations are suggested for visiting.

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Korean Friendship Bell

The Korean Friendship Bell at Angels Gate Park in San Pedro
Ryan Stavely/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The Korean Bell of Friendship in San Pedro was a gift to Los Angeles from the people of the Republic of Korea for the USA's 200th birthday in 1976. Patterned after the Bronze Bell of King Songdok from 771 AD, the Friendship Bell honors US veterans of the Korean War. Suspended from a specially designed pagoda built by Korean craftsmen on a hill above Pt. Fermin Lighthouse in Angel's Gate Park, the 17-ton bell is 12 feet tall and 7 1/2 feet in diameter. The bell has no clapper inside. It is rung by striking it from the outside with a log that swings from cables. The bell is rung four times a year, on New Year's Eve, July 4th, Korean Independence Day (August 15) and during Constitution Week in September.

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Fort MacArthur Museum

Fort MacArthur Museum in San Pedro, Los Angeles, CA
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Fort MacArthur in San Pedro was a US Army post that guarded the Los Angeles Harbor from 1914 to 1974. The Fort MacArthur Museum is located in the historic Battery Osgood-Farley at Angeles Gate Park, formerly the Upper Reservation of Fort MacArthur. The Battery was constructed between 1914 and 1919 and housed two 14-inch disappearing guns named respectively Osgood and Farley. Exhibits in the museum trace the role of the Army in defending the coast from invasion from the World Wars to modern missile defenses.

From the 1920s through WWII, the Battery of big guns at Fort MacArthur grew, including 14-inch railway guns that could fire up to 27 miles. After 1945, most of the big guns were scrapped and in 1950 Fort MacArthur became part of the Nike surface to air defense system, administering over 18 missile launch sites in Southern California until 1974.

Originally organized into three campuses, the Upper, Middle and Lower Reservations, only the Middle Reservation is still in use by the US military. Transferred to the Air Force in 1982, it is still used as a housing and administrative facility for the Los Angeles Air Force Base.

The Upper and Lower Reservations were both deeded to the City of Los Angeles. The Lower Reservation was dredged to form the Cabrillo Marina. The Upper Reservation became Angels Gate Park. Its barracks now house the Angels Gate Cultural Center, the Center for Marine Studies, the Marine Mammal Care Center, a seasonal Hostelling International LA youth hostel, and the Fort MacArthur Museum.

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Angels Gate Cultural Center

Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro, CA
Angels Gate Cultural Center

Angels Gate Art is a re-purposed military barracks that is now home to a village of artist studios and public galleries. The complex is located at Angels Gate Park near the Fort MacArthur Museum, high on a hill overlooking the Korean Friendship Bell and Pt. Fermin Lighthouse. Galleries are open regularly and studio open-house events are organized a couple times a year. Admission is free.

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Cabrillo Beach

Cabrillo Beach, San Pedro, Los Angeles, CA
Photo © 2016 Kayte Deioma, licensed to About.com

Cabrillo Beach is a mile-long stretch of sand and rocks split into sections by craggy cliff formations and a long breakwall. The small cove to the right of the break wall is especially popular with windsurfers. It's a great place to explore the tide pools any time, but the high tide can cut off the western strip of the beach below the cliffs from the main beach. During grunion season, from March through July, the silverfish come up onto the beach to spawn at the new and full moon.

Cabrillo is one of only two beaches in Los Angeles County that have fire pits.

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Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro
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The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium is operated by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks in a Frank Gehry-designed complex near Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. The Aquarium showcases Southern California sea life in hands-on family-friendly exhibits including a crawl-under aquarium and a Mud Walkthrough tunnel. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged. During grunion season, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium hosts several evenings of educational presentations followed by a visit to the beach to watch the grunion run.

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Ports O' Call Village Marketplace

Ports O' Call Village, San Pedro, CA
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Ports O' Call Village in San Pedro is modeled after an East Coast fishing village with lanes winding through restaurants, shops, and fish markets. Although the vacancy rate in the village is unfortunately high, there is still plenty to do and good food to be found. Ports O' Call Village is located along the main channel of the Port of Los Angeles so you can watch the ships, including major cruise lines, traveling in and out. Harbor tours and whale watching excursions depart from Ports O' Call.

The entrance to Ports O' Call is marked by a statue modeled after the Gorton's Fisherman.

Parking at Ports O' Call is free. From Ports O' Call, you can take the Waterfront Red Car Trolley to the Maritime Museum or Los Angeles Cruise Terminal.

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Waterfront Red Car Trolley Line

The Waterfront Red Car Line Trolley serves harbor-side attractions in San Pedro
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The Waterfront Red Car Line is an antique trolley car that serves the attractions along the San Pedro waterfront in Los Angeles. There are four stops at the LA Cruise Terminal, 6th Street Downtown, Ports O' Call and 22nd Street Marina.

Red Car 1058 is an original restored 1907 Red Car from the Pacific Electric line. Trolleys 500 and 501 are reproductions of cars that ran in the 1920s.

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Los Angeles Maritime Museum

Los Angeles Maritime Museum in San Pedro
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The Los Angeles Maritime Museum is located in the Municipal Ferry Terminal building on the San Pedro waterfront at the foot of 6th Street. It shares the same extended free parking lot along Harbor Blvd with Ports O' Call Village. From 1941 to 1963, a ferry ran passengers from this building across to Terminal Island to work at canneries, shipyards and military bases.

Exhibits inside the Maritime Museum include San Pedro's cannery history, the life, and work of commercial divers, art created by sailors at sea and photos and artifacts from the USS Los Angeles.

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Fire Station 112: Fireboat #2 & the Ralph J. Scott

The state-of-the-art Fireboat #2 at Fire Station 112 in San Pedro
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The Ralph J. Scott is a 1925 fireboat that is a national historic landmark. It was retired in 2003 and replaced by the high tech Fireboat #2. Both vessels can be seen at San Pedro's Fire Station 112, located on the waterfront between Ports O' Call Village and the Los Angeles Cruise Terminal.

The 99-foot Ralph J. Scott sits on a cradle behind the fire station. State of the art for its time, it has six four stage pumps that can produce 10,200 gallons of water per minute. On the water, ready for action under the clay-colored concrete shelter, Fireboat #2 is the world's most powerful and technologically advanced fire boat for marine firefighting.

Fire Station 112 has exhibits on both boats as well as the history of marine firefighting in LA on the outside of the west side of the station.

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USS Iowa Battleship Museum

USS Iowa in San Pedro, Los Angeles, CA
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The USS Iowa was commissioned in 1940 by the US Navy and served as a battleship for 50 years before being retired in 1990. In addition to her many battle missions from WWII to the Persian Gulf, the ship transported President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan, and President George H.W. Bush - more presidents than any other ship.

The ship is now a floating museum on the LA Waterfront operated by the Pacific Battleship Center. It is located at Berth 87 next to Fire Station 112.

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Los Angeles Cruise Terminal

A cruise ship docked at the Los Angeles Cruise Terminal, also known as the World Cruise Center
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The Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro is home to the Los Angeles Cruise Terminal also known as World Cruise Center. It is operated by Pacific Cruise Ship Terminals. Between 800,000 and a million passengers embark each year on cruises to Mexico, Hawaii, northbound up the West Coast, and beyond. Offerings range from quickie weekend cruises to Ensenada to multi-week repositioning cruises. Eleven major cruise lines originate or stop at the World Cruise Center.

The terminal which hosted the original Love Boat TV series from 1977 to 1986 was modernized and expanded in 2010-11 to accommodate the most modern mega ships. The terminal can handle processing of three cruise ships at once.

You'll probably only be visiting the Los Angeles Cruise Terminal itself if you're taking a cruise, but you can watch the ships come and go from the nearby Cruise Ship Promenade or from Ports O' Call Village, or enjoy the musical Fanfare Fountains out front. The Waterfront Red Car Trolley has a stop at the Terminal.

If you are coming or going from the Los Angeles Cruise Terminal and have a few extra hours, most of San Pedro's attractions are nearby along the waterfront and can be reached via the Red Car (if it's running).

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The Fanfare Fountains

The Fanfare Fountains at the Los Angeles Cruise Terminal in San Pedro
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The Fanfare Fountains are two 100 by 250-foot pools next to the Los Angeles Cruise Terminal with 40 programmable water jets and 18 streams that shoot up to 100 feet in the air. The water and light shows are choreographed to 22 different songs throughout the day. At noon and 8 pm, the fountains play every 10 minutes for an hour. Otherwise, they play every half hour from 10 am to 9 pm. Free one-hour parking is available at the LA Cruise Ship Promenade lot on Swinford Street off of Harbor Blvd (just past the Catalina Express gate). You can also reach the Fanfare Fountains from the Waterfront Red Car Line Friday through Sunday.

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Cruise Ship Promenade

The Cruise Ship Promenade across from the Los Angeles Cruise Terminal in San Pedro, CA
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The Cruise Ship Promenade is a pleasant boardwalk across from the Los Angeles Cruise Terminal where you can pull up a deck chair to watch the ships coming and going. You also have a view from across the channel to the Fanfare Fountains. The Cruise Ship Promenade is strewn with public art, from ceramic tile benches to the Telltales Wind Ensemble sculptures that move and create melodic sounds in the wind.

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SS Lane Victory

SS Lane Victory Ship Museum in Los Angeles
Photo © 2016 Kayte Deioma, licensed to About.com

The SS Lane Victory is a WWII merchant cargo ship built in 1945 that continued service through the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as running commercial operations between wars. A national historic landmark, it is owned and operated by the United States Merchant Marine Veterans of World War II. The ship is open to the public as a museum and memorial to Merchant Marine sailors and Navy Armed Guardsmen who have served. The SS Lane Victory is completely staffed and crewed by volunteers. The cargo holds of the ship now contain museum exhibits on the tools and technology used by sailors in the 1940s as well as historical documents and photos that tell the story of life as a mariner. Visitors can also tour the engine room, shaft's alley, midship's house, ​wheelhouse, gun deck, and more.

The vessel is kept in ship shape so that it can still sail out every summer for several "Victory at Sea" reenactment excursions where the ship mock-battles with fighter planes off the coast of Catalina Island. Plan ahead if you want to participate, as these all-day events only take place once a month July through September.

The ship was moved in 2014 from the end of the Cruise Ship Promenade across from the Los Angeles Cruise Terminal to the new Cabrillo Way Marina at the end of Miner Street (Harbor Blvd becomes Miner St). You can visit the SS Lane Victory for a small fee. Free parking is available in front of the ship.

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The Port of Los Angeles

Aerial View of the Port of Los Angeles
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The Port of Los Angeles is located in the San Pedro neighborhood of Los Angeles, about 20 miles from Downtown LA. Calling itself "America's Port," the Port of Los Angeles moves more containers than any other port in the country, although the Port of Long Beach next door moves more tonnage (and New Orleans, Houston, and NY/NJ move more raw materials).

The Port of Los Angeles covers 7,500 acres along 43 miles of waterfront if you count all the ins and outs of its multiple channels. Although administratively separate, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach combined rank just below Singapore and China for the number of container goods moved, although the ratio of imports to exports is reversed.

The Port is south-facing bordering on the community of Wilmington to the north. The residential area of San Pedro is to the west and the Port of Long Beach is to the east. The Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institute sits on a man-made island between the two ports.

You can drive around the Ports, but make sure you have a good map or GPS system, since the roads through the islands and peninsulas of the ports dead end and go every which way. Another option is to take a Harbor Tour by boat. The tours don't go very deep into the Port but you get a good impression of the giant cranes and cargo ships. The Harbor Tours of the Port of Los Angeles depart from Ports O' Call Village.

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Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles

Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles
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Crafted is a marketplace of handmade goods that takes place every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Warehouse #10 at the Port of Los Angeles. Vendors include makers of clothing, jewelry, home decor, bath and beauty products, toys and games, art and photography, and artisanal foods.

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Harbor Tours, Whale Watching, and Sports Fishing

Los Angeles Harbor Tour
Photo © 2006 Kayte Deioma, licensed to About.com

From Ports O' Call Village and the marina next door, you can choose from a variety of boating options with different themes. Harbor Tours focus on the Port of Los Angeles with its giant cranes and container ships. Whale Watching and Sea Life Tours are seasonal. They travel farther out in search of migrating whales and other sea mammals like dolphins and sea lions. There is often some overlap since you may view sea life on a Harbor Tour or hear a little about the Port on your way to Whale watching, but their focus is different.

Sport fishing excursions also depart from near Ports O' Call. There may be scheduled trips or charters available.

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White Point Beach, Nature Preserve. and Education Center

White Point Beach in San Pedro
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On the west side of San Pedro sits a little-known combo of beautiful rocky beach and trail-rich bluffs at White Point Beach and White Point Nature Preserve. The beach is one of the few places on the Palos Verde Peninsula where you can park close to the water since most of the coastline there is a cliff. The rocky beach is great for exploring the tide pools.

At the Nature Preserve, on the opposite side of Paseo del Mar, there are miles of trails on the 102 acres of restored coastal sage scrub habitat. The preserve is part of the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks and they operate a Nature Center in an old Cold War assembly building, which holds various interpretive exhibits and is now surrounded by native plant demonstration gardens.

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San Pedro Arts District and First Thursday Art Walk

San Pedro Arts District First Thursday Art Walk
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Since the late 1990s, artists and art galleries have taken up residence along 7th and 6th streets in San Pedro and in the Mesa Lofts aka Bank Lofts at 7th and Mesa. The galleries can be visited during regular business hours, which vary by establishment.

On the first Thursday of the month over 40 galleries and studios host public receptions and additional vendor booths, gourmet food trucks appear in the street for the First Thursday Art Walk. Live music can be heard from many venues. An official tour starts at 6:30 from the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce (390 W. 7th Street) and takes a different route highlighting three or four venues each month, but you can explore just as well on your own.

While touring the Downtown Arts District, stop by the opulently restored Art Deco Warner Grand Theater at 478 E. 6th Street.