Best Things to Do in San Pedro: Local’s Guide to the LA Harbor Area
Image by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Located on the outer edges of LA’s south coast is San Pedro, where you’ll find the Port of Los Angeles, a major international port that takes in 20% of all cargo coming into the country. The seaside community is also home to the only suspension bridge in the Greater LA area, the largest maritime museum in the state, and a thriving fishing industry that’s long attracted European immigrants—San Pedro is still home to the largest Italian community in Southern California, as well as significant Croatian and Norwegian populations, all of whom have made their mark on the neighborhood’s culinary scene.
But if you mention any of these mainstream spots to third-generation San Pedro local Paul Bobadilla, he will not hesitate to give you a hard time: “I can tell right away that you’re a tourist,” he says.
Bobadilla is the founder of Trinity CBC, a coffee roaster and pop-up cafe with a badass custom lowrider espresso machine, and he’s also a third-generation dock worker with deep ties to the San Pedro Longshore and Warehouse Union. That is to say, his roots in the Harbor Area run deep, and he is fiercely proud of his hometown.
He will tell you about the Harbor Area’s unique identity—blue collar, diverse, independent, and protective of home turf with a bit of ‘locals-only’ energy—and he will tell you about threats to that identity in the form of corporate-funded development on city-owned land, big projects going up that are designed by, and for, people from other parts of town.
He will also tell you that the Harbor Area is cool as hell, with a strong cultural backbone of coastal cruising, park cookouts, and soul music. There are so many ways to enjoy the area’s culture, climate, and food scene while staying truly local, supporting businesses that have been in the community for decades, as well as newer family-run spots that make San Pedro what it is. With Bobadilla’s gregarious, opinionated, perfectly Pedro attitude leading the way, here is a local’s guide to the best things to do in the Harbor Area:
Get your morning coffee fix
Bobadilla is not shy about the coffee situation in San Pedro: “I calculated it, and I think 98.9% of all coffee shops in Pedro sell coffee that’s available at Smart & Final,” he says. That makes Trinity CBC unique, a true specialty coffee roaster with ethical sourcing, crafting blends, and also selling single-origin beans through subscriptions and for pick-up, in addition to selling hot coffee and espresso drinks at pop-ups around town. His blends all have inspired names like “Suavecito” and “Anything For Selenas,” and he collaborates with local artists on releases like the recent “Brown and Beautiful” blend with painter Miranda Villanueva. You can also get Trinity CBC’s bottled cold brew across LA, in flavors like Cafe de Olla, Horchata, and seasonal specialties like Pumpkin Spice.
Order a breakfast burrito (or two)
According to Bobadilla, “No breakfast speaks more to Southern California and Harbor Area vibes than coffee and a breakfast burrito.”
His favorite places are typically casual, quick, and classic. El Taco is a stand that’s part of a small long-running chain, with a couple locations around Southeast LA and Orange County. It’s a roadside spot, you order at one window and pick up at another, and their breakfast burrito is simple, elemental, not fancy but expertly composed. For Bobadilla, it’s a particularly poignant combination: “When I was a kid, my dad used to make me breakfast burritos. The breakfast burritos at El Taco are exactly how I remember first having them as a boy. And the husband and wife team who run the drive-thru still call me ‘mijo.’”
Happy Deli is another quick and casual breakfast burrito option, but their end product is different—it’s not fancy, but it’s a little more composed than El Taco’s, with rosemary-flecked breakfast potatoes, pico de gallo, and both bacon and sausage inside. It may not hit the same notes of nostalgia, but it’ll still lift your mood like hydraulics on a Caprice.
Get your fingers dusty at a record store
With your stomach fortified, head over to Steady Beat, the physical outpost for the record label of the same name. The label is focused on beachy West Coast sounds, with vintage-style reggae and ska, cumbia, and Chicano-influenced soul artists, and the storefront reflects those good vibes. The crates are stocked with used vinyl ripe for the sifting, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more fun collection in town. They also host regular events like open DJ nights on the shop’s turntables, and Friday night vinyl sessions. While you’re there, you might as well pop next door to The Donut for the Harbor Area’s best cinnamon twists and glazed donuts.
Hunt for craft beer whales
One of Bobadilla’s key recommendations is to get some cold beers and enjoy them outside in the crisp, breezy coastal air, and though lots of people would settle for whatever is most convenient, he’s a craft beer fan who’s willing to drive a bit. Craft beer hasn’t totally exploded in San Pedro the way it has in nearby neighborhoods like Torrance and Long Beach, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find—Hillside Liquor, an understated bottle shop on a fast-moving stretch of Western, is his go-to spot for local cans of craft beer. He’s also stumbled onto the occasional whale there, the Moby Dick-inspired term for a beer hunter’s dream, a rare bottle from a coveted brewery.
Pick up some sandwiches
Once you’ve got your cold cans of craft-brewed barley soda, the lunch choice is easy—Busy Bee Market, a pillar of the neighborhood for decades. Busy Bee’s sandwiches are absolutely massive, loaded with cold cuts or stacked with pastrami or sausage from their steam trays then doused with house-made tomato sauce. They’re most famous for the Belly Buster, a titanic two-meat combo, but Bobadilla goes for the meatball or the barbecue chicken, which comes with huge pieces of actual chicken instead of industrial shredded bits or pre-cooked nuggets. Busy Bee is a local institution, with a special place in Bobadilla’s heart: “My dad would pick me up from Pedro High School, we’d cruise over to Busy Bee, get some sandwiches, go down to the coast and eat and just bullshit. My father’s been eating Belly Busters since the mid-’80s.”
Head down to the coast: White Point, Royal Palms, Paseo Del Mar, Point Fermin Park, or Cabrillo Beach
The harbor dominates the San Pedro skyline and its place in LA’s imagination, but Pedro is a fully seaside neighborhood, with rocky beaches, dramatic views, and cliffside grassy spaces on three sides. There are tidepools, plenty of picnic tables, trails to hike, and a few decent breaks for surfing—if you don’t mind a challenge from some of the more protective regulars in the water. One of Bobadilla’s favorite things to do is head down to the coast to relax in the breeze, maybe with a beverage or two from Hillside Liquor and probably some sandwiches from Busy Bee. If you look in the trash, you will notice he is not alone—sandwich wrappers with Busy Bee’s iconic logo fill every bin.
Chilling along the coast is also where you may encounter another essential piece of Harbor Area culture—classic cars. The region is home to some of the best and longest-running car clubs around like Legends and Viejitos, with unofficial cookouts and meetups at coastal parks. There are lowriders of all shapes and eras, 1940s classics, muscle cars, and everything in between parked along the coast in front of the setting sun. There are occasional official events at parks around the Harbor Area, and some unofficial cruises after-hours too.
Unwind with a local beer
There may not be dozens of craft breweries in San Pedro, but it’s a lucky thing that the biggest and most popular of them makes great beer. Brouwerij West inhabits a massive WWII-era warehouse near the port, a cavernous space for their tanks and fermenters, with plenty of seating and a massive TV screen inside, and room out front for tables, food trucks, and musical acts like their regular Beats & Brews DJ series. The vibe may be a little more Long Beach than pure Pedro, but the energy is always good. What’s more, brewer and founder Brian Mercer is a San Pedro local, and he’s settled down in his hometown to brew a wide range of styles, like crisp pilsners, punchy IPAs, and fruited Belgian-style beers. They’ve also got plenty of cans to take home, and they do fun projects like hard seltzer, and a dedicated beer slushie machine.
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