San Pedro represents one of the smartest decisions of city planning and politics in the history of Los Angeles. It’s home to the port of Los Angeles and responsible for the Harbor Gateway. To get there, take the 110 freeway until it ends. Once there, you will find the seaside city so many forget about.
Friday afternoon began with a lunch craving. We took a drive down the 5 to Pico Rivera for Raisin Caine’s and aguas frescas at Aguas Tijuana’s Juice Bar (I opted for the refreshing cucumber and tajin flavor). But it was while in the drive-thru lane at Caine’s that I began thinking of Kiddo moving into her college dorm room the following week. This could be the last weekday with my two daughters in a while. What better way to guarantee an entire afternoon of bonding than by braving Friday afternoon traffic to go to the southernmost part of Los Angeles? With satisfied tummies and refreshing drinks in the cup holders, we were on the 605 moving at tens of miles per hour.
Because the trip began in Pico Rivera, we initially jumped onto the 605 freeway. In Bellflower, we switched to the 91 and drove west to the 110 in Gardena. The 110, or Interstate 110 for non-Angelenos, was built into the ground and most urban scenery is lost as you travel in it. There are walls on both sides and the only things to look at most of the time are the other cars miserably inching toward their destination much like you.
The freeway ends at Gaffey Street. Gaffey takes you through all of San Pedro all the way to the beach. As soon as the freeway ends, you are transported to a Los Angeles that has become difficult to find. Unlike the core of Los Angeles, gentrification seems only a word found in today’s Los Angeles Times. The shape of the city may be the reason.
The Los Angeles city map resembles some sort of animal perched on a tree branch, whose tail hangs straight down simply accepting gravity. San Pedro is that bushy tip of the tail. Gentrification in Los Angeles is mostly occurring closest to the city center. The center of the city is where the affluent transplants want to be—without any regard for those they displace—but San Pedro is the farthest one could be from the center of Los Angeles while still residing within its boundaries.
Some changes have occurred, of course, but for the most part it still resembles the Los Angeles I remember. Independent restaurants of various kinds seemingly outnumber chains. There are lots of taquerias, paleterias like La Michoacana on 9th Street, and barber shops. There are car repair shops including a vintage import car shop with rare Aston Martins and genuine European Minis. You get a sense of the diversity that makes the core of Los Angeles so desirable at the same time as many strive to erase it.
The Bell & Lighthouse
The goal of our trip was to show the kids the Korean Friendship Bell at Angel’s Gate Park. After what felt like hours in traffic, we made it. It was a clear and windy afternoon. You could easily spot Catalina Island from the top of the park. There was a small film crew preparing for a video shoot scheduled to take place later. At the basketball court, a young man and his sister were practicing with the beach in the background. And on the grass, couples sat watching the beach.
The girls and I walked along the grass admiring the view of the beach. We continued along the edge all the way to the tip of the park, which overlooks the Point Fermin Lighthouse. The lighthouse by itself is another structure in San Pedro worth visiting. The Victorian style lighthouse first lit up on December 15, 1874 and operated until 1925. Today, you are likely to see artists all around it recreating its beauty.
The Korean Friendship Bell sits roughly in the center of the park. Many Angelenos not living in San Pedro go years without even knowing it exists. The bell was a 1976 gift from South Korea. It stands to “celebrate the bicentennial of U.S. independence, honor veterans of the Korean War, and consolidate traditional friendship between the two countries.” It is a symbol of friendship and acceptance between nations and cultures. It is the idealistic view of Los Angeles as the gathering of cultures it has always been.
Once back in the car, there was only one right way to exit the city: the bridges. The most famous bridges in Los Angeles are the beautiful, art deco, downtown viaducts. The port of Los Angeles, however, is home to some impressive bridges oft forgotten. Right out of San Pedro, you can catch the Vincent Thomas Bridge. The forest green, classic suspension bridge connects San Pedro to Terminal Island. Once through the bridge, you find yourself on a few lanes of freeway traveling over the concrete island. Before long, the road ahead climbs into another bridge. The new Long Beach International Gateway replaced the old Gerald Desmond Bridge. The old bridge remains in place with the new bridge running alongside it for now. The new impressive cable-stayed bridge rises higher than the original. The only time you notice the old Desmond Bridge while driving is when the arch reaches just above the side wall.
Once through the two bridges, you are absorbed by the 710 along with big rigs leaving the ports and other cars leaving Long Beach. Before too long, you’re in the middle of Los Angeles gridlock again. The Pacific Ocean is behind you and the bridges invisible. San Pedro again becomes a happy memory of a destination often so far away despite it being part of the city we call home.