Downey is a city of about 110,000 residents that’s among the most centrally located of all Los Angeles County’s municipalities.
It’s relatively equidistant between downtown LA to the north, Long Beach to the South, and the Pacific Ocean and Inland Empire to the west and east, respectively.
It’s also relatively inexpensive and close to a number of the city’s key highways, making it a great place to stay while visiting the area and exploring all the attractions Southern California has to offer.
Below are 15 things to do in Downey, California, that warrant a closer look.
1. Columbia Memorial Space Center
Southern California’s universities, national laboratories, and private aerospace companies have always played significant roles in the exploration of space.
The Columbia Memorial Space Center is a city-owned attraction located on Columbia Way in Downey. It’s dedicated to preserving the city’s rich history, specifically as it relates to the shuttle program.
Parts of the Apollo spacecraft and Columbia Shuttle were designed and built in the city, the latter of which exploded during launch decades ago, killing its crew of seven.
The Columbia Memorial Space Center is a poignant, engaging, and educational attraction popular with young and old.
2. Downey Theater
Local theaters often get overlooked by harried travelers intent on hitting California’s more iconic attractions like beaches, show-biz attractions, and state and national parks.
The Downey Theater is located on Firestone Boulevard near the downtown area. It has been one of the city’s premier live entertainment venues since it was founded decades ago.
The theater’s staff produces a variety of year-round shows; they run the gamut from dramatic classics and funny kids’ plays to contemporary favorites and musicals.
Most of the performers, producers, and stagehands are local, so seeing a show or two while in town is a great way to support the community.
3. Downey International Food Festival
Though the weather can be downright brutal during the summer months, fall in Downey is often perfect for outdoor activities like fairs and festivals.
The Downey International Food Festival has been one of the city’s most anticipated annual events for nearly ten years. In addition to gobs of gourmet food provided by local chefs, restaurants, and food trucks, there’s lots of great beer and wine, tons of live entertainment, and family-friendly activities for those traveling with kids.
Though most visitors originally plan on staying just an hour or two, most hang around much longer, so consider clearing your schedule.
4. Maui Sushi & Teriyaki
Southern California features an incredibly diverse array of cultures and ethnicities. For those who enjoy trying international cuisines in authentic restaurants while on vacation, LA and Downey are great places to do just that.
Though eating raw fish with rice sounds unappealing to some, sushi’s mild yet vibrant flavors often win over even the most finicky diners who decide to throw caution to the wind and give it a try.
Maui Sushi & Teriyaki is located on Lakewood Boulevard in Downey and features a full menu of Japanese fare like sushi, sashimi, rolls, and soup.
Previous guests have commented that the restaurant served ample portions, and the staff was attentive.
5. Paramount Drive-In Theater
During the middle part of the 20th century, drive-in theaters were all the rage, but since the ‘80s, they’ve been going belly-up at an alarming rate. Sadly, now they’re few and far between.
Thankfully, the Paramount Drive-In in nearby Paramount is still open for business. It’s a popular evening entertainment option for local families and travelers interested in experiencing a fading slice of nostalgia before it’s gone forever.
Much as in decades past, visitors will watch a movie from the relative comfort of their cars, while having a variety of classic drive-in grub like burgers, fries, and cotton candy at their fingertips.
Paramount is just a five-minute drive southwest of Downey.
6. Rio Hondo Golf Club
For most of the year, Los Angeles County is a golfer’s paradise drawing players from all over the country who’d rather not spend the whole winter ensconced in ice and snow.
Rio Hondo Golf Club is a municipal golf course owned and operated by the city of Downey; it’s widely regarded as one of the area’s best-kept golf secrets.
From the blue tees, the 18-hole, par-71 course plays just shy of 6,400 yards. Though it can be challenging, it’s appropriate for players of most ages and skill levels.
The club features a number of qualified instructors and pre-round practice facilities.
7. Tropicana Bakery and Cuban Café
Though Southern Florida is more known for its Cuban population, some transplants from the island nation have made their way to Southern California over the years as well.
Tropicana Bakery and Cuban Café was initially opened in the ’90s by an American citizen of Cuban ancestry. The aim was to serve Cuban and Mexican food to working-class families in and around Downey.
The restaurant is located on Paramount Boulevard in the downtown area and is most well-known for its authentic Cuban coffee, sandwiches, and baked goods.
It features traditional music and décor and is an excellent choice for travelers looking to fill up without spending an arm and a leg.
8. Dia de los Muertos Art Festival
The Day of the Dead—or Dia de los Muertos—is an annual event in Mexican culture whereby the living honor their deceased friends and relatives with a variety of rituals and symbols that may seem eerie and macabre to the uninitiated.
Despite its name, however, the much-loved event is actually a celebration of life. It includes lots of amazing and colorful art, great food, fun activities, and live entertainment.
The city has been hosting its Dia de los Muertos Art Festival for eight years. It’s planned and managed by the local government and other civic organizations and takes place outside in downtown Downey.
9. 3rd Street Coffee
For more than two decades, Downey’s 3rd Street Coffee has been drawing in new and repeat customers with their great food and selection of hot and cold handcrafted drinks.
More than just another shop with coffee and baked goods, 3rd Street is known for its hearty fare, including mouthwatering chicken breast Panini sandwiches that often sell out before the lunch rush is over.
In addition to classics like cappuccino, fraps, and mocha drinks, they also offer Thai and boba teas as well as juices and smoothies.
As its name implies, 3rd Street Coffee is located on 3rd Street in downtown Downey.
10. Disneyland California Adventure Park
Though it’s technically in Anaheim, Disneyland California Adventure Park is conveniently located just 25 minutes southeast of Downey just off Interstate 5.
It’s one of Southern California’s premier vacation destinations. For many families traveling with little ones, it’s where they spend the majority of their time.
The traffic around Downey and LA can be notoriously congested, and with so much to see and do onsite, there’s really no need wasting valuable time stuck on a busy freeway.
The park is spread over more than 70 acres and includes dozens of rides, shopping, dining, and live entertainment options for visitors of all ages.
11. Rodeo Drive
Few areas of the country have a higher concentration of wealth than Southern California.
From movie stars and media moguls to sports stars and tech entrepreneurs, it’s largely a playground for the rich and famous.
Rodeo Drive may be one of Los Angeles’ most well-known shopping areas. Though much of what you’ll find in its swanky boutique shops is out of reach for average middle-class families, it’s still an iconic California attraction worth checking out.
Rodeo Drive is located about 20-minutes northwest of Downey between Wilshire Boulevard and California Route 2, just south of Beverly Hills.
Bring your camera, because you may see an A-list celeb or two.
12. The Getty Center
The Getty family name is synonymous with wealth and power; for much of his life, John Paul Getty was the richest man in America.
The Getty Center was established with funds from the philanthropic wing of the family trust. It features one of the country’s most impressive collections of priceless art, including works by masters like Van Gogh and Cézanne.
The center’s collection also includes contemporary works in a variety of media, like photography and sculpture. Its hilltop location affords visitors unobstructed views of LA’s skyline and other key attractions on clear days.
Depending on traffic, the trip northwest from Downey should take about 30 minutes.
13. Venice Beach
Despite its urban hustle and bustle and desert habitat, LA has some of the country’s most beautiful beaches; many are just a short drive west for those visiting Downey.
From Santa Monica and Hermosa to Venice Beach, there’s really no excuse for beach lovers not to spend at least one day in the sun and surf when in Southern California.
Venice Beach has always been known for its quirky, artsy and eccentric vibes. It’s home to tons of cool surf shops, eateries, and galleries that are fun to explore in the afternoon after a day in the ocean.
There’s no better place for people-watchers than Venice’s boardwalk, and it’s all just 25 minutes west of Downey.
14. Honda Center
Located on East Katella Avenue in Anaheim, just 25 kilometers southeast of Downey, the Honda Center is one of the Los Angeles area’s premier sports and live entertainment venues.
Over the years, it has hosted numerous basketball tournaments, NHL hockey games, circuses, ice skating shows, and concerts featuring big-name performers.
Tickets to popular events tend to go quickly, so it’s a good idea to check their website to see what’s on the calendar of events for when you’ll be visiting.
The center is near a number of popular restaurants and bars, so catching a show is a great beginning or end to a night on the town.
15. La Brea Tar Pits
For millennia before it became surrounded by urban sprawl, careless animals of all shapes and sizes fell into the tar pits in La Brea while trying to take a drink of the water that often settled over the tarry pools.
Though the days of prehistoric beasts and saber-toothed cats are long gone, their remains can still be seen at the La Brea Tar Pits. Many of them are more than a million years old.
The facility also includes a museum full of fascinating artifacts and skeletal remains. They’re located in Los Angeles proper, about 20 kilometers east of downtown Downey.