Better-known Long Beach has the flash
Long Beach, Calif., is known for its convention center, sleek hotels and extensive aquarium. (iStock)Long Beach and San Pedro are adjacent areas in Southern California often defined by cargo vessels, leisure cruises and maritime attractions. Long Beach, with its own airport and convention center, has always been the flashier of the two. Its harborfront boasts sleek hotels, national restaurant chains and a modern aquarium. Lively pocket neighborhoods offer vintage clothing stores, authentic Cambodian eateries, LGBTQ-friendly bars and the only legal off-leash dog beach in Los Angeles County. The Queen Mary, the 1930s-era British ocean liner turned floating hotel, cuts a formidable figure across the bay.
Alas, the Queen Mary has been closed since 2020 as the city addresses concerns that it has fallen into critical disrepair. It began a $5 million refurbishment in February to address immediate issues, but studies indicate that the vessel may require nearly $300 million in renovations and upgrades to keep it afloat, leaving Long Beach without one of its major attractions.
Just over the Vincent Thomas Bridge, neighboring San Pedro is quietly emerging as a destination in its own right. The former commercial fishing village is home to one of the West Coast’s largest cruise hubs and anchors the southern end of one of the best coastal drives in California, the 14-mile Palos Verdes Scenic Drive. Its modest cottages and close-up views of the industrial Port of Los Angeles might seem jarring at first next to the mansions and cliffside views of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, but San Pedro is filled with eclectic eateries and affordable, under-the-radar destinations that are worth a closer look.
Although hip spots such as Crafted, an indoor artisan marketplace and brewery, have joined stalwart attractions such as the Point Fermin Lighthouse, locals will tell you that San Pedro’s independent, blue-collar spirit isn’t going anywhere. This is where the poet and novelist Charles Bukowski lived and wrote, where Upton Sinclair rallied longshoremen to strike for their rights in 1923, and where the 1980s punk rock group the Minutemen honed their distinctive sound.
To get a sense of the area’s seafaring history, stop by the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, housed in the 1940s-era ferry terminal that San Pedro workers once passed through to get to jobs at the tuna canneries and shipyards of Terminal Island. Nearby is the partially finished waterfront promenade, which, once complete, promises to be a pedestrian-friendly gathering place with open views of the main channel of the Los Angeles harbor. Along it are the USS Iowa, a retired World War II battleship that is open for tours, and the casual, chaotic covered patio of the San Pedro Fish Market, where you can feast on a tray of grilled shrimpand watch ships drift in and out of Los Angeles Harbor. Whale-watching cruises launch nearby.
The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium is much smaller than Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific, but its sea-life exhibits and aquatic nursery are thoughtful, and the price is right (suggested donation $7). The Marine Mammal Care Center is another kid-friendly destination; on weekends, visitors can view injured seals and sea lions and learn about their rehabilitation.
For more history, climb to higher ground to reach Fort MacArthur, a U.S. Army fortress that guarded the Los Angeles port area from 1914 through the early 1970s. Highlights include a large collection of operable military vehicles and wartime radio equipment. In nearby Angels Gate Park, the 17-ton Korean Friendship Bell, a gift from South Korea for the U.S. bicentennial, sits beneath a pavilion amid a wide lawn with arguably the best picnicking and kite-flying opportunities in L.A. The sweeping view, which takes in the busy port, Catalina Island and the rugged coastline, is uniquely San Pedro.
Location: San Pedro is located between the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Long Beach, about 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.
Randall is a writer based in Los Angeles. Her website is authorlaurarandall.com.