Four Hours: Tour the San Pedro waterfront before its big makeover
If you drive to the southernmost edge of Los Angeles, you’ll reach a waterfront in San Pedro. It’s a blue-collar neighborhood and home to the Port of L.A., a busy gateway for international trade. For more than 50 years, the main draw for fishermen, sailors, longshore workers and tourists was Ports O’ Call Village, which is in the midst of a major makeover.
The seaside promenade opened in the ’60s with restaurants and shops in New England-style buildings connected by a red brick walkway. They were bulldozed in 2018 to make room for a redevelopment project, the San Pedro Public Market. The revamped market is expected to open in the spring with glass and metal architecture resembling shipping containers. The only original tenant inside the new food hall will be the San Pedro Fish Market.
Despite some demolition, the port still offers a taste of the old and a bit of the new — and it will give you an excuse to return to see all the improvements once it reopens. Weekends here are 48-hour vacations made for wandering, overeating and soaking up sun. Go with an empty belly.
11 a.m. Start at the San Pedro Fish Market on 1190 Nagoya Way for a late brunch at a serious seafood joint seating nearly 3,000. The restaurant, opened in 1956 and located next to the construction of what once was Ports O’ Call Village, is overwhelmingly bustling with people even before lunchtime. The later you arrive, the bigger the crowd.
When you step inside the food hall, you’re hit with the port’s distinct smell — seafood. There are three ways to order. The first line you’ll see is for the seafood counter, where you can pick out fresh fish to be cooked according to your liking.
If, like me, the World Famous Shrimp Tray is what you have a hankering for and you’re visiting on a weekend, you can bypass the main counter’s long line. Walk straight toward the back and make a left. When you’ve reached the crab tanks, you’ve also reached a stand where the tray can be ordered. One is enough to feed two people. The third way to order is through the Fast Food Counter across the room from the crab tanks. This menu includes fish and chips, clam chowder, ceviche and calamari.
After you order, take your tray and find a table indoors or on the deck. You can order drinks through any of the three counters, but the shack in the middle of the deck will have the most variety: soda, beer, micheladas, margaritas, piña coladas and more. Plus, you’ll have views of passing fleets.
The market is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week year-round, closing early on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Free parking available.
Noon From the outdoor deck, walk to the L.A. Waterfront Cruises ticket booth on 1150 Nagoya Way to take a two-hour whale watching and dolphin tour narrated by an educator from the Aquarium of the Pacific. Some of the animals you might see year-round are humpback whales, fin whales, dolphins and sea lions. Gray whales are seen from winter to spring, and blue whales are seen summer to fall.
Fishing and shipping are how most made or make a living in San Pedro. Chicken of the Sea built a cannery near the harbor, closing it in the early 2000s because the catch was too small. Now longshore workers are facing possible changes since the shipping industry is pushing for automation.
From the double-decker boat, you’ll get an up-close view of cranes, cargo ships and big rigs. Most significant, you’ll sail by grim and historical landmarks such as the federal correctional institution (which temporarily held Charles Manson, Timothy Leary and Al Capone).
On man-made Terminal Island there is a memorial commemorating Furusato, a onetime fishing village there destroyed when President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order incarcerating Japanese Americans in camps during WWII.
There are many boat operators to choose from. The L.A. Waterfront Cruises that we tried offers tours at noon and 3 p.m. Tickets for adults are $35, children 3 to 11 are $30, and children under 3 are free. There is a $10 discount for tickets purchased online at 2seewhales.com.
2 p.m. When back on land, take the San Pedro trolley from the restaurant to Crafted on 112 E. 22nd St. The free ride is a four-wheeler making loops every 30 minutes around the seaside. It’s not the original Pacific Electric Red Car running on tracks (which made its last stop in 2015), but it takes you where you need to go.
Crafted, one of the newer additions to the harbor area, is a marketplace for local handmade items such as apparel, ceramics, jewelry and stationery. It’s housed in Warehouse No. 10, built by the Navy during World War II. If you’re at a loss for what to buy as a gift, Crafted is the perfect place to peruse. Take a stroll down the aisles and wander into the stalls of about 45 shops. Whimsical Charm is a solid stop for baby shower gifts. Monthly events like pottery making, succulent arrangement or how to marble a pumpkin for spooky season are posted on Crafted’s online calendar.
The trolley runs weekends from noon to 6 p.m. and first Thursdays of the month. Look at the trolley map and the GPS locator to find the pickup and drop-off stops. Crafted is open Fridays and Saturdays noon to 8 p.m., Sundays noon to 6 p.m. and first Thursdays of the month.
3 p.m. Hop on the trolley again to head back to the restaurant parking lot. Then drive to Amalfitano Bakery at 29111 S. Western Ave. Yes, the bakery is technically in a Rancho Palos Verdes corner strip mall. But it’s old-school San Pedro. It was on Pacific Avenue under the name Ramona Bakery until 2008. Owner Anthony Amalfitano Jr. got his start delivering cakes to Navy ships stationed in the harbor, became a baker and eventually bought the store with his family in the ’70s.
In the display case you’ll find Italian and American delicacies: cannolis, tiramisu, honey balls, banana cream pie and angel food cake. Half of a wall is covered with photos of the family and the bakery over the years. No matter the changes or redevelopment, there is still some kind of old San Pedro charm to be found, even when it’s boiled down to a photo or the taste of an old family recipe.
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