15 Best Things to Do in El Monte (CA)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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For those who’ve never visited Southern California, the city of El Monte would be a great place to hang your hat while experiencing all the area has to offer.

It’s just 20 kilometers east of downtown Los Angeles, and just minutes from some of the state’s largest highways, including Interstates 10 and 605, and California Route 60.

That means easy access to tons of attractions, and though traffic can be notoriously congested, there are plenty of public transportation options as well.

El Monte is often referred to as the last city on the famed Santa Fe Trail. It offers a wide variety of historical, cultural, and recreational activities for visitors of all stripes.

1. Whittier Narrows Nature Center

Whittier Narrows Nature CenterSource: Kit Leong / shutterstock
Whittier Narrows Nature Center

Though it’s relatively close to the hustle and bustle of downtown LA, there are places to escape the urban sprawl within El Monte city limits. The Whittier Narrows Nature Center is one of the most popular.

Located on South Durfee Road, it comprises nearly 400 acres of relatively untouched natural areas that offer visitors a variety of outdoor recreation options.

The center opens early and closes late, which means it’s a great place to catch an iconic California sunrise or sunset.

Guests can choose to explore the center and park trails on their own, or sign up for one of the regularly scheduled guide-led excursions.

2. Santa Fe Trail

From the mid to late-19th century, the Santa Fe Trail was one of the most well-used migration routes for the hordes of easterners and Midwesterners who made their way west in search of better lives.

The trail officially stretched from Missouri to Southern California, and parts of it are now preserved and open to the public in El Monte.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s a great place to learn about the state’s fascinating pioneer-era history while enjoying the great outdoors and distancing yourself from the crowds.

The easiest trail access point is off Santa Anita Avenue in El Monte.

3. American Military Museum

American Military MuseumSource: Jose Gil / shutterstock
American Military Museum

From coastal naval bases and immense shipyards to 19th-century forts and modern logistics hubs, California’s military history runs deep.

The American Military Museum is conveniently located on Rosemead Boulevard in El Monte. It offers lovers of military history a unique, engaging, and entertaining way to spend a few quality hours.

The museum’s permanent exhibits include historic military memorabilia like uniforms, old photographs and weapons, and first-hand accounts of those who served in a variety of roles in times of both peace and war.

Guided tours are available, but most guests choose to show themselves around at their own pace.

4. Whittier Narrows Golf Course

GolfSource: Kati Finell / shutterstock

Located in El Monte between Interstate 10 and California Route 60 on Rosemead Boulevard, Whittier Narrows Golf Course is spread across nearly 300 acres and offers three distinct 9-hole course

Whittier Narrows is considered good value by local players and visitors alike. It winds through a variety of natural habitats, including desert scrub, mountains, and lush treed areas.

Previous players have noted that the scenery was impressive, that there were just enough sand and water hazards to make things interesting, and that the greens and fairways were well-maintained.

Tee times can be booked up to one week in advance.

5. Tierra Mia Coffee

CoffeeSource: Africa Studio / shutterstock

LA County is positively brimming with coffee shops of nearly every description. But for coffee lovers who’d rather support a local business than one with thousands of chain stores all over the country, El Monte’s Tierra Mia Coffee is a popular choice.

Described as cozy, welcoming, and comfortable, it features both indoor and outdoor seating.

There’s a drive-thru window for those on the go, but despite efficient service, the line is often long.

Their menu includes all the hot and cold coffee drinks you’d expect, snacks, baked goods, and non-coffee beverages like juices and smoothies.

6. UAA Los Angeles Helicopter Tours

UAA Los Angeles Helicopter ToursSource: TierneyMJ / shutterstock
UAA Los Angeles Helicopter Tours

Unlike most of its big-city counterparts in other parts of the country, Los Angeles is spread over a much larger area, making it perfect for helicopter tours.

UAA Los Angeles Helicopter Tours’ base is on Santa Anita Avenue in El Monte. They offer visitors one of the most unique tour options in all of Southern California.

Most guests are surprised at how much ground (air) can be covered in such a short time. UAA helicopter tours often end up being one of the most memorable and exhilarating activities of guests’ vacations.

Their copters can accommodate up to four guests, and tours generally last between 30 minutes and an hour.

7. Mountain View Park

Picnic in the ParkSource: M.Volkova / shutterstock
Picnic In The Park

At just ten acres, El Monte’s Mountain View Park isn’t the area’s largest, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in amenities.

The park’s entrance is located on Elliot Avenue. Though the indoor community center is generally where most of the action takes place, there are a number of trails, shaded seating areas, and a playground.

The community center hosts a variety of annual programs and features an auditorium that’s a popular community event venue.

The park’s outdoor areas generally get only mild foot traffic, so it’s an excellent option for those looking for some alone time with Mother Nature.

8. La Historia Society Museum

El Monte, CaliforniaSource: SevenMaps / shutterstock
El Monte, California

These days, it’s common for the histories of small cities to get lost in the endless shuffle toward progress and modernization.

La Historia Society Museum on Tyler Avenue in El Monte was established by a group of concerned local citizens who didn’t want to see this happen to their beloved city’s past.

The museum is now run by a local non-profit organization. It includes a number of interesting and educational exhibits created to preserve and promote the city’s unique history and culture.

In addition to their permanent exhibits, the museum frequently hosts temporary ones and special events like fundraisers and art shows.

9. El Rancho Restaurant

Enchiladas, Mexican FoodSource: Paul Cowan / shutterstock
Enchiladas, Mexican Food

Though it may not win any awards for outward appearance, previous diners who’ve stopped by El Rancho Restaurant tend to agree that it’s head and shoulders above the competition.

As you’ve probably already determined from its name, El Rancho’s claims to fame are its authentic Mexican dishes made with old family recipes.

Perennial favorites include pozole, tacos, enchiladas, and beef tripe soup, to name just a few. Though the inside dining area is on the small side, there’s also a covered outdoor patio.

El Rancho is located on Garvey Avenue in El Monte, and they always serve homemade tortillas and fresh salsa.

10. Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area

Santa Fe Dam Recreation AreaSource: Kit Leong / shutterstock
Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area

The San Gabriel Mountains to the north and east of El Monte are some of the area’s most stunning natural attractions.

The Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area is set amidst the mountain’s foothills just off Santa Fe Dam Road in Irwindale, 15 kilometers northeast of El Monte.

The recreation area is easily reachable from Interstate 605. It offers tons of wide-open spaces, varied natural environments, and plentiful activity options that make it a must-visit attraction for outdoor-minded travelers.

The dam is part of Southern California’s flood control system. Popular on-site activities include biking, hiking, fishing, bird watching, picnicking, and swimming.

11. Santa Anita Race Track

Santa Anita Race ParkSource: R_Franco / shutterstock
Santa Anita Race Park

California has always been big horse racing country, and Santa Anita Race Track in nearby Arcadia is one of the region’s most historic tracks.

Scenically located amidst the majestic San Gabriel Mountains, it hosts several annual high-profile racing events, including the Santa Anita Handicap and Breeders’ Cup.

The facility is located on Huntington Drive in Arcadia, about 15 minutes north of El Monte. It features a number of bars and restaurants and both indoor and outdoor seating.

Even for those who’d rather not place any bets, horse racing is an exciting spectacle definitely worth checking out when in the area.

12. Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden

Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic GardenSource: Nagel Photography / shutterstock
Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden

With such an abundance of year-round sun, it’s no wonder that Southern California is home to so many public gardens and arboretums.

Spread across more than 120 idyllic acres on North Baldwin Avenue in Arcadia, the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden is one of the area’s most beautiful attractions.

The park’s distinct cultivated areas feature hundreds of species of native and exotic plants, flowers, and trees – all nestled against the south side of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The gardens were originally established in the mid-‘40s and are conveniently located just ten kilometers north of El Monte off Interstate 210.

13. Hurst Ranch

West CovinaSource: Albert Campbell / shutterstock
West Covina

In the late 1800s, a pioneering family arrived in California after a long journey from Ohio, after which they promptly purchased a 50-acre tract of land that would bear their name.

Now, more than a century later, the Hurst Ranch is smaller than it was once. But it’s a fascinating remnant of California history located in West Covina, about a dozen kilometers east of El Monte.

The ranch’s staff offer tours centered on ranching and history. The facility hosts some special events throughout the year, such as the Harvest Festival in the fall, which includes pumpkin picking, carving, and a petting zoo.

14. University of Southern California Pacific Asia Museum

USC Pacific Asia MuseumSource: Angel DiBilio / shutterstock
USC Pacific Asia Museum

Since it was founded nearly five decades ago, the University of Southern California Pacific Asia Museum has been one of the west coast’s premier ethnic attractions. It’s solely dedicated to preserving the abundant Asian and Pacific Rim cultures that have influenced California over the years.

The museum’s permanent collection includes more than 10,000 individual historical and contemporary objects, including art, textiles, housewares, and decorative items.

The facility also offers a number of events throughout the year that are listed on their website, so take a few moments to check it out before making a special trip.

The museum is located on North Los Robles Avenue in Pasadena, about 20 kilometers northwest of El Monte.

15. Norton Simon Museum

Norton Simon MuseumSource: Kit Leong / shutterstock
Norton Simon Museum

The Norton Simon Museum is home to one of the Golden State’s most impressive private collections of art. It includes more than 10,000 objects collected by a wealthy industrialist named Norton Simon beginning in the early 20th century.

Though only a small portion of the items are exhibited at any one time, the museum also regularly hosts temporary exhibits from other private collections, as well as those on loan from public museums.

The grounds include an outdoor sculpture garden, and the staff offer a variety of programs, workshops, and a popular lecture series.

The museum is located on West Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, about 20 minutes northeast of El Monte.

15 Best Things to Do in El Monte (CA):

  • Whittier Narrows Nature Center
  • Santa Fe Trail
  • American Military Museum
  • Whittier Narrows Golf Course
  • Tierra Mia Coffee
  • UAA Los Angeles Helicopter Tours
  • Mountain View Park
  • La Historia Society Museum
  • El Rancho Restaurant
  • Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area
  • Santa Anita Race Track
  • Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden
  • Hurst Ranch
  • University of Southern California Pacific Asia Museum
  • Norton Simon Museum