Peaceful Bell Gardens is conveniently located within a stone’s throw of glamorous central Los Angeles. Although it was incorporated into the city in the 1960s, it has a long history and was once an important Native American community.
To this day, Bell Gardens is extremely diverse, known for its Native American, Hispanic, and Japanese population. Despite its relative obscurity, this area has a rich history and a fascinating wealth of cultural heritage.
One of the few districts in LA with legal gambling, many come here for the casino, one of the largest in America.
If gambling isn’t your thing, you can explore the area’s great historic sites, and enjoy the local restaurants and nightlife instead.
Here are the 14 best things to do in and around Bell Gardens, California.
1. Explore the History of James George Bell House
This historic house, just east of Bell Gardens in neighboring Bell, was once owned by the wealthy local landowner who gave his name to the city. The house is a beautiful example of early 19th-century Victorian architecture and is set in leafy grounds.
The museum’s captivating displays take you back in time to when the Bell area was a deep ranching country. The family who lived here became extremely influential in the late 1900s and their personal history is detailed in the house’s wonderful collection of documents and antiques.
2. Gamble at the Bicycle Hotel and Casino
Known locally as “the Bike”, this massive casino is one of the biggest in California. The world poker championships are often hosted here, and televised poker events are commonplace. As a result, many top players can be found at the tables.
Just about every card game you can imagine is available here, from multiple forms of poker to blackjack and baccarat.
At over seven stories high, it’s great fun to visit this gamblers labyrinth, even if you don’t play. You’ll find multiple steak restaurants, fancy bars, a sun deck, and even a gym to keep you amused when you aren’t betting at the tables.
3. Explore the Downey History Center
The Downey History Center in neighboring Downey explores the wealth of agricultural, industrial, and Native American history in this region of LA.
This obscure suburban landscape has some surprising claims to fame. The Apollo Space program was started here, and the museum explores the history of Space exploration in some detail.
Learn about everything, from the Mexican-American War to the farming pioneers, and the mass migration of Irish to the region, in this great hidden gem.
4. Play Some Rounds at the Bell Gardens Golf Course
This unusual little golf course has an adjoining soccer pitch and lots of local wildlife at its beautiful pond. Part of a large park complex, this place bustles with activity on the weekend, and there’s something for everyone here.
The small golf course is well-maintained, but if you don’t care for golf, there are plenty of places to walk or jog, a playground for kids, and a clubhouse restaurant for dining with friends.
Your sporting activity is likely to be interrupted by passing ducks and geese but that’s all part of the park’s charm.
5. Make a Day Trip to Central LA
Bell Gardens is conveniently located less than 20 minutes from glitzy downtown LA. Replete with trendy cafes, hip new restaurants, superb shopping malls, and buzzing theme parks, there’s lots to do in the world’s capital of glamour.
Be sure to head into Hollywood to spot starlets and rock stars or trace the steps of the rich and famous at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
If you’re more high-culture than pop-culture, try the Getty Museum or the Broad Gallery, for some globally renowned exhibits.
Finally, catch a show at the Music Center Plaza or simply take a walking tour to get your fill of America’s ritziest metropolis.
6. Chow Down on Some Fusion Sushi at Tokyo Garden
The area around Bell Gardens got its name from the Japanese community who once lived here, where they set up many gardens as well as rice paddies. Most of the remnants of this cultural legacy are long gone, but there are several fantastic Japanese restaurants still scattered throughout the district.
Tokyo Gardens in Downey is the best of these. This is due to its ability to keep up with the times by creating an excellent modern fusion version of Japanese classics. In addition to a wide selection of Sakes and Asian beers, they have sports on offer here in their TV room, so you can kick back and relax while you drink.
Try their modern takes on red dragon rolls and poke bowls for a real treat.
7. Examine the Paintings at the MaCortes Gallery
This tiny local gallery in nearby Bell is dedicated to Hispanic artists and gives you a flavor of life in the neighborhood.
Local artists, poets, and writers often give talks here, for visitors who are artistically inclined, and much of the art focuses on contemporary topics and Latin American traditions. You can pick up some great original prints or handmade jewelry by the local artistic talent in the adjoining shop.
Watch out for popular events hosted here, such as music recitals, or come here for a quiet afternoon browse.
8. Admire the Woodworth House
This local landmark is one of the oldest houses in the neighborhood. Although it is no longer open to visitors, having fallen into disrepair, any tour of the Bell Gardens district must include a stop-off to examine the building and its grounds.
The Woodworths were famous businessmen in their day and earned a fortune in the 19th century from orange groves, cattle, and early gas lighting which they brought to Los Angeles.
Be sure to examine the collection of rusting antique tram cars sitting in the grounds of the lovely Victorian building.
9. Shoot Some Pool at El Picante
This great Mexican cantina doubles is a relaxed local meeting space that serves up some great margaritas.
Come here for tasty tacos, perfect chile rellenos, and spicy appetizers. Stay for a blow out meal or simply shoot some pool with friends over drinks and lite bites at the bar.
On the weekends the restaurant hosts popular local DJs and sports a fun party atmosphere.
Try the famous ice tea, a favorite among local patrons.
10. Ride the Go-Karts at Golf n’ Stuff Family Fun Center
Head east of Bell gardens to find this wacky local amusement park which offers minigolf, as well as many other entertaining distractions. Check out the arcade for pinball, the racetrack for go-karts, and the waterpark for bumper boats; a waterborne take on bumper cars which is sure to have you doubled up with laughter.
The fun, brightly colored set-pieces built for the mini-golf course here have a certain cartoonish charm, and kids and adults alike are bound to have lots of fun running around this brilliant theme park.
While you’re here you can soak up some film history too; parts of the original Karate Kid movie were filmed here in the 80s.
11. Watch a Film at the Studio Movie Grill
If you fancy taking a load off and watching a film, there are lots of local cinemas in the area, but Studio Movie Grill in Downey is by far the best one.
This luxury cinema has comfy reclining seats and top-notch screens which feature 3D-viewing options.
The cinema’s bar is as classy as any in town, and the adjoining grill restaurant serves up delicious burgers and other American classics. They also have a great selection of cocktails and beers. The chairs have call-buttons so you can have your food delivered straight to your seat if you feel so inclined.
Musical sing-alongs, old school film nights, and local film festivals are all on offer here if you come on the right days.
12. Try the Cake at Porto’s Bakery
This renowned local bakery in nearby Downey serves artisanal cakes, as well as pastry classics. Specializing in Cuban-style desserts, it’s the most interesting and innovative bakery for miles around. Watch out for the large line that’s always at the door.
If you get here early enough, pull up a chair and try one of their great coffees served with interesting treats such as guava strudel and crispy croissants.
If you’re here for lunch, try their cheese rolls and meat pies for a savory snack.
13. Shop at the Bell Gardens Marketplace
This enormous mall stretches over more than 170,000 square feet and has every sort of shopping you could possibly want in one place.
From upmarket boutiques to 99 cents stores, this massive mall caters to discerning shoppers, as well as bargain hunters.
There are many good restaurants in the building, but if you want to shop like a local, stop in at Alfredo’s for their famous super-nachos.