San Pedro? You’ve probably never heard of it unless you’ve booked a cruise from Los Angeles to Mexico, Hawaii, or the Pacific Northwest. And while the home of the Port of Los Angeles might not have the cachet of other more celebrated zip codes, it’s a convenient and good-value option if you plan to arrive early and spend a night or two a stone’s throw from your ship. Hotel rates start at about $150 per night (about a hundred less than the average nightly rate in L.A.). And—about 30 minutes from both LAX and Long Beach, away from the cities—you’ll avoid the Southern California’s notorious traffic jams and discover the charms of an authentic, unsung neighborhood with some surprisingly fun, affordable, and, yes, free things to do. Here are our favorite spots in San Pedro (PS: it’s pronounced San Pee-dro).
The Battleship Iowa Museum
Anchored adjacent to the cruise ship port, this WWII vessel is known as The Battleship of Presidents. Commissioned in 1943 and decommissioned in 1990, the USS Iowa transported President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill, across the Atlantic to Casablanca for the Tehran conference in November 1943. A special bathtub was installed for FDR and you can see it along with other memorabilia in the President’s quarters. Book online in advance; tickets are just $17.95 for adults (aged 12-61), $14.95 for seniors (aged 62+), and $9.95 for kids (aged 6-11).
If microbrews are your thing, head to this two-year-old San Pedro brewery, located on East 22nd Street, to sample more than a dozen locally made beers (prices start at $4 for 12 ounces). It’s open daily (check for hours) and there are picnic tables, food trucks (selling cheap eats such as hot dogs, pizza, and sausages), and free live entertainment on weekends.
Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles
Get in for free and shop local—as in regionally made handicrafts, artwork, jewelry, leather goods, and more—from some of Southern California’s best artisans. This market, conveniently located next to Brouwerij West, is open Friday through Sunday and the first Thursday of each month.
The Korean Bell of Friendship
This 1976 gift from the Republic of Korea (South Korea) to the people of Los Angeles to commemorate our nation’s centennial sits in a decorative pagoda overlooking the Pacific and Catalina Island. It’s in a park, so admission is free. And film buffs take note: Scenes from The Usual Suspects were filmed here (and at the Port of Los Angeles as well).
Point Fermin Park
Home to the historic Point Fermin Lighthouse (which dates to 1874), this 37-acre park overlooking the Pacific is frequented by monarch butterflies during the winter. It offers wonderful views of the Pacific coastline and is a great spot to get in some exercise before you board your ship and head to the lunch buffet. Admission to the park and guided tours of the lighthouse are free, but visitors are requested to make a small donation.
If you’re a fan of chorizo (spicy Spanish sausage), don’t miss this new San Pedro hot spot on South Alma Street, near West 23rd Street. It’s open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Thursday through Sunday, and the green chorizo tacos (two for $4) and red chorizo breakfast burritos ($9.95 each but easily shareable) are terrific.
San Pedro Fish Market
What does it take to be one of the most Instagrammed restaurants in the country? How about outdoor seating for more than 3,000 and customers who are willing to wait in line for this 62-year-old eatery’s famous Shrimp Tray: You pick your shrimp and mixed seafood by the pound and it will be cooked up spicy fajita style for you to enjoy with a side of garlic bread. Visit on a weekday if you can, and avoid peak lunch and dinner hours to cut down the wait time. If you don’t go overboard with lobster, crab, or other pricy seafood, a tray that serves four will cost about $50.
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
Located adjacent to Cabrillo Beach Coastal Park, with its swimmable beach and walking trails that lead out to tide pools, this kid-friendly, Frank Gehry-designed museum offers the largest collection of Southern California marine life in the world—all for a suggested donation of $5 for adults and $1 for kids.
Warner Grand Theater
Step back in time at this circa-1931 Art Deco movie palace (the only one of three built in LA by Warner Brothers Studios that still exists). Madonna posed for Herb Ritts in the men’s room for a photo in her infamous book Sex, and paranormal investigators claim the place is haunted. Admire the distinctive exterior for free, or if your timing’s right, enjoy a local community concert or stage production; tickets start at just $20.
San Pedro Farmers Market
Every Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., West 6th Street between Pacific Avenue and Mesa Street is a mosaic of fresh produce and flowers, local food vendors, and live music. This free market is on the small side, but it’s a fun spot to grab a cold beverage and snack and listen to local bands.