San Pedro has a strong, tight-knit business community and a like-minded art scene. This creates the perfect atmosphere for First Thursday, the community art walk that takes place on the first Thursday of each month. Throughout the historic Downtown arts area, galleries open their doors to the public with exhibitions and educational events, restaurants and businesses offer First Thursday specials and live entertainment, and residents fill the street, mingling with neighbors. Any business owner along 6th and 7th Streets will mention the Art Walk within a few minutes’ conversation, it’s that big of a deal.
Built in the early 20th century for San Pedro fish merchant Aleck Carresi to reflect the style of his native Naples, this commercial arcade is an architectural landmark in Old Downtown. The building was famously converted from a two-story to a three-story structure by raising the Carresi family’s duplex flats and building the business spaces beneath it. Restored in 1986 to its original aesthetic, the Arcade Building stands out as a piece of retro European flair amid the record and sneaker shops of West 6th with its sharp Italian tile, wrought iron fixtures and bright skylit courtyard. It houses a variety of local businesses such as Ms. Alexander women’s clothing boutique (another local business gem) and Philippine Expressions bookshop and art gallery.
Often overshadowed by the nearby Aquarium of the Pacific, this mid-size aquarium located next to Cabrillo Beach Coastal Park makes up for a lack of huge, cutting-edge tanks with a strong commitment to education. Parents rave about its accessibility for small children - both in size and content - and the enthusiastic and helpful docents. All of the marine life in the aquarium is from Southern California, and their research training program trains lay-people to monitor the health of the coastlines. To add to this feel-good atmosphere, admission is donation-based with a suggested $5 for adults and $1 for children.
For a local eatery as treasured as this, The Corner Store is still surprisingly untouched by its notoriety. The building has stood as a market and deli since 1947, but it was in 2006 that owner and unofficial “mayor” of San Pedro, Peggy Lindquist and her husband Bruce took charge. Since then, the store has become a destination for pastries and conversation, along with a drink from its famous collection of dozens of craft sodas. The stretch of West 37th street where this unassuming storefront stands has a suburban feel - one imagines a quaint store within, not a speciality market and deli serving up top-notch sandwiches along with wine, San Pedro merchandise, and the “best coffee in town” according to multiple sources.
Proprietor Dirk Vandenberg fixes guitars and amps. He has a collection of gorgeous vintage instruments as well as vinyl you may not know even existed. But he can also tell you about the L.A. punk scene in the 1980s, because he was right in the middle of it, fixing guitars and contributing to albums. More than an independent guitar shop - though that is something special in the era of big box retail - Guitar Safari has a history and an atmosphere that stays with you. Vandenberg has had a guitar shop in San Pedro off and on for over 20 years, and its current iteration on West 6th Street is a great example of that unique San Pedran friendly quirk. Make sure to call before showing up, as the hours tend to vary.
In a neighborhood with its fair share of vintage stores, House 1002 stands out. The space itself used to house a supermarket (the building dates back to the 1920s) and has been lovingly restored, revealing exposed beams and brick and garden space for sculpture and lawn art. Founded by a group of local artists and designers, the place can also offer new, custom pieces created with the expertise of the artisan owners. Lovers of all things retro, quirky, antique or artsy will find something to love here.
JDC Records opened on West 6th Street in Old Downtown in December 2016, but it is part of a legacy that goes back nearly four decades. Owner Jim Callon has been distributing music in Southern California since 1979. His current location houses hundreds of vinyl records (LP, 12", 10", 7"), CDs and cassette tapes in just about every genre imaginable. Approach him behind the boards at the back of the store and he will help cherry-pick music according to your taste with the efficiency of the multi-decade industry pro that he is. The space is clean, immaculately organized and houses what are no doubt mind-blowing speakers. It has the feel of a museum library crossed with a jazz club.
The southernmost point in Los Angeles, this quiet public park comprises the bluffs overlooking Point Fermin beach, hiking trails, a playground, picnic areas and a historic lighthouse with donation-only tours each week. Residents love the relative quiet and family friendly atmosphere. A small amphitheater hosts Shakespeare plays each summer. For history and architecture buffs, the Point Fermin Lighthouse is one of three identical lighthouses remaining in the country built in 1874 in the early Victorian Stick style, as opposed to the more prolific Queen Anne style of later years. The lighthouse went out of operation in 1941, but in the past two decades has been restored faithfully to the original design, through which volunteer tour guides lead visitors three times a day. For a slice of maritime history and a soothing breeze, this is the place.
Another beneficiary of architectural preservation, this Art Deco movie palace was built as one of three lavish theaters by Warner Brothers in the 1930s, along with similar structures in Beverly Hills and Huntington Beach. The Warner Grand Theatre is the only one that still stands. Purchased by the L.A. Department of Cultural Affairs in 1996, the historic theater has since served as a community performance space and event venue, hosting film series, graduations, plays and concerts. Still undergoing a continual restoration to bring it back to its original glory, the space is a wonderful example of preservation in progress. The adjacent Grand Annex serves the community as a small venue for intimate shows and events.
There are many great public beaches and wildlife preserves in San Pedro, but White Point/Royal Palms Beach stands out for a number of reasons. Its seclusion under the cliffs near White Point Park cuts down on overcrowding, and the views of the ocean and Catalina Island are breathtaking. Parents love the fenced playground, and people of all ages love the tide pools that serve as basins of ocean life at low tide. Picking your way carefully around the rock formations, you might sense you are being watched. This is due to the colony of cats that lives among the rocks. Garnering White Point the nickname of “cat beach” or “kitty beach” to many locals, the resident felines are fed by area animal lovers and lend an additional sense of magic to an already awe-inspiring place.