Located just a few kilometers east of downtown LA, East Los Angeles is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.
Though it can be a tad on the gritty side for some mainstream travelers, it’s full of artistic, cultural, and historical attractions that tend to highlight its Hispanic roots.
There’s really no better place in the city to enjoy authentic Mexican food, traditional music, and vibrant street art. Plus, East LA’s abundant parks and live entertainment venues feature year-round performances that draw big crowds.
Below are 15 things to do in and around East Los Angeles that shouldn’t be passed up when in the area.
1. El Tepeyac Café
Restaurants don’t typically deserve the top spot on lists like this one, but when it comes to Mexican food in East Los Angeles, there’s one clear standout.
Since the mid-‘50s, El Tepeyac Café has been one of the city’s culinary icons, which is an impressive feat considering the abundance of competition in the area.
El Tepeyac is most well-known for its traditional Mexican fare, including made-from-scratch burritos, enchiladas, tacos, and menudo. They come in such hefty portion sizes that you’ll probably need to take some home with you.
It’s located in a rather unassuming location in the Boyle Heights section of East Los Angeles on North Evergreen Avenue.
2. The Chicano Resource Center (CRC)
Mexican-Americans make up more than 90% of the population of East Los Angeles, which is evident in nearly every aspect of the community.
The Chicano Resource Center was established in 1976 to preserve and promote the area’s rich culture.
The CRC is equal parts library, museum, and historic attraction. For those of Mexican descent, it’s a valuable community resource.
In addition to vibrant local art and historical memorabilia, the center features printed and audio-visual material, personal advocates, and outreach programs aimed at addressing many of the important issues facing Chicanos.
It’s located on East 3rd Street in East Los Angeles.
3. El Mercado
East LA is dotted with colorful indoor-outdoor mercados that function as social gathering points in addition to their roles as places of commerce.
Unlike its big-box American supermarket counterparts, El Mercado often feature live mariachi bands and other entertainment like singers and street performers.
For those who’ve never been, it makes for a truly unique cultural experience that’s worth checking out.
In addition to offering fresh meat and produce, El Mercado’s vendors sell everything from traditional prepared food items and clothes to candy, toys, and housewares.
Consider stopping by at lunch or dinner time for fantastic street food.
It’s located on East 1st Street in East Los Angeles.
4. Whittier Boulevard
Especially in the evening on the weekends, East LA’s Whittier Boulevard attracts throngs of classic car enthusiasts and their tricked-out rides.
The whole area takes on a carnival-like atmosphere that’s as quintessentially East LA as you’re likely to experience anywhere.
The cars tend to be older model low-riders restored to near-original condition, but with the addition of amazing custom paint jobs, high-powered stereos, plush interiors, and those cool suspensions that rise and fall at the driver’s command.
Expect lots of loud music, big crowds, and tons of tasty, reasonably-priced street food all along Whittier Boulevard.
5. Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has been one of Southern California’s premier art attractions since it opened in the mid-‘60s.
Located on the famous Wilshire Boulevard just a few kilometers west of East LA, it features an expansive collection of art from around the world.
In addition to its permanent exhibits, the museum hosts a number of temporary ones throughout the year. It’s located on 20 scenic acres of land near other popular area attractions like the La Brea Tar Pits.
Other amenities include interactive exhibits, outdoor seating areas, and several on-site restaurants.
6. Citadel Outlets
Located in the City of Commerce just a few kilometers southeast of East LA off the Santa Ana Freeway, Citadel Outlets is one of the area’s premier destinations for travelers interested in partaking in a bit of retail therapy.
The outlets are hard to miss because they feature impressive architecture built to resemble a Mediterranean castle.
Ironically, the building was originally the home of a tire manufacturing company in the ‘20s; it wasn’t until the ‘90s that it was transformed into an upscale retail space.
The Citadel is spread over nearly 160,000 square feet, has tons of shops, and has lots of dining options.
7. Mariachi Plaza
Though the heat can be downright oppressive in the summer, for much of the year, the weather in LA is perfect for outdoor activities.
Many of the city’s mercados and plazas feature both indoor and outdoor spaces, and Boyle Heights’ Mariachi Plaza is no exception.
On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, it springs to life with vendors, live entertainment, and an all-around fun atmosphere that resembles a festival or state fair.
Whether you’re looking for cheap kid’s clothes, homemade ice cream, or authentic Mexican street food, you’ll find it here.
Mariachi Plaza is located between East 1st Street and Boyle Avenue within East Los Angeles city limits.
8. Union Station
Though it has been around for more than eight decades, in recent years, downtown LA’s Union Station has become a symbol of the city’s budding renaissance.
The historic station is the major public transportation hub into and out of the city, and it’s the largest of its kind on the entire West Coast.
Union Station features impressive mission-style architecture that makes it one of the city’s most stunning landmarks. The interior is characterized by vaulted ceilings and inlaid tile floors more akin to a palace than a municipal transportation center.
The station is located on North Alameda Street just a few blocks west of East LA.
9. San Antonio Winery
Though its climate isn’t particularly conducive to growing grapes like its northern California counterparts, the East LA area is home to one of the area’s most historic wineries.
The San Antonio Winery was founded more than 100 years ago and is still run by members of the same family.
The winery operates vineyards in Monterey and the Napa Valley. Their unique wines run the gamut from sparkling refreshing whites to dark reds with loads of flavor.
San Antonio features a popular on-site restaurant that specializes in traditional American and Italian fare. Throughout the year, they host a variety of special events.
They’re located on Lamar Street in LA, just ten minutes west of East LA.
10. Walt Disney Concert Hall
Though it’s located in a section of the downtown area formerly maligned for its unimpressive architecture and limited recreation options, the Walt Disney Concert Hall has helped change all that.
It’s one of the most stunning and architecturally unique buildings in the area. For music and live performance lovers, it’s a historic attraction that’s worth a look.
The hall hosts a variety of year-round performances, including those by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
If you’d rather not sit through a long performance, a docent-led tour may be the way to go.
It’s located on South Grand Avenue, about five kilometers northwest of East LA.
11. The Getty Center
Located just north of Santa Monica in LA proper, the Getty Center is widely regarded as one of the state’s most renowned humanmade structures.
It just so happens to contain a world-class collection of priceless art, too, which makes it a worthwhile attraction for art aficionados and lovers of West Coast culture.
The center’s collection covers a wide spectrum of historical and contemporary art created by artists from all over the globe. On clear Southern California days, it’s possible to see the nearby mountains in Santa Monica and LA’s singular skyline.
Depending on traffic, the drive from East LA will take about 40 minutes, or you can catch public transportation from Union Station.
12. TCL Chinese Theatre and Hollywood Walk of Fame
Though the two cities couldn’t be more different if they existed on separate planets, the distance between East LA and Hollywood is only about 20 kilometers.
The TCL Chinese Theatre and Hollywood Walk of Fame are two of the city’s entertainment icons. They’re must-visit attractions for those looking to experience its showbiz past.
The theater opened more than 90 years ago and still offers a variety of year-round shows and performances, as well as regularly scheduled guided tours.
The Walk of Fame is a public space that’s open 24-7. They’re both located just a 20-minute drive northwest of East LA.
13. Eaton Canyon Nature Center
When heading north from Los Angeles, it doesn’t take long before the urban sprawl gives way to relatively undisturbed tracts of high desert wilderness and stunning mountains.
The Eaton Canyon Nature Center is located on North Altadena Drive in Pasadena and features nearly 200 acres of varied environments and a large interpretive center.
The San Gabriel Mountains straddle the nature center and offer tons of exploration opportunities in its streams and canyons. There are also a number of multi-use trails popular with bikers, hikers, and horseback riders.
The drive north from East Los Angeles shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes if you’re not traveling during rush hour.
14. Santa Monica
Southern California is home to some of the country’s most alluring beach towns, and Santa Monica is one of the most legendary.
Santa Monica is about 35 kilometers west of East LA. Its pier and beach draw visitors from all over the country—many of who come to gaze at the amazing scenery and eclectic mix of people who congregate in the area.
It’s not uncommon to see movie stars dining at local restaurants, but along the pier, you’ll also see shredded muscle men, homeless panhandlers, and a sampling of almost everything in between.
Street performers and carnival-style games are prevalent, as are restaurants and bars that run the gamut from cheap and seedy to uber-exclusive and prohibitively expensive.
15. Sunset Boulevard
Few places encompass the spirit of Los Angeles more completely than Sunset Boulevard.
For those with limited time, it’s one of those must-visit attractions that should be taken advantage of, and it’s only a few kilometers west of East Los Angeles.
Sunset Boulevard runs between LA, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood and has been featured in several movies over the years.
If you’re traveling with a family, it’s probably best to visit during daylight hours, because it’s a popular nightlife spot with a bit of a seedy reputation.
The boulevard can get congested with tourists during peak times, so consider a morning visit if you’d like to avoid the crowds.