South Central Los Angeles
South Central is a large region of Los Angeles made up of the neighborhoods south of Downtown L.A. This is a relatively impoverished area of the city, infamous for gang violence and for being the epicenter of major race riots in the 1960s and 1990s. However, despite its negative reputation, it would be a mistake to overlook South Central; the crime rate has improved considerably and the area offers some wonderful cultural attractions for visitors. This is where you will find the campus of the University of Southern California, the museums and stadiums of Exposition Park, the famous Watts Towers, and significant centers of African-American culture.
|Los Angeles/South Central|
|Climate chart (explanation)|
South Central L.A. is characterized by a grid system of streets spread across a vast area. The major streets are wide enough to prevent too much traffic congestion, although they can make walking a challenge.
Metro operates public transit in L.A., and the bus system in South Central is well-developed, with frequent service on most major streets. Three rail lines also serve South Central: The Line, which runs north-south parallel to the 110 Freeway, operates between Downtown and Long Beach and offers easy metro access to the Watts Towers. The Line also connects the area to Downtown, serving Exposition Park and the USC campus before heading west along Exposition Blvd to Culver City and Santa Monica. The Line cuts east-west through the southernmost part of the area, running down the median of the 105 Freeway and connecting with the Blue Line at Willowbrook/Rosa Parks station. Additionally, the Line express bus line operates on a busway along the 110 Freeway, running through the area between Downtown and San Pedro; note that the Silver Line requires an extra fare in addition to the standard Metro fare.
- 1 Watts Towers of Simon Rodia, 1765 E 107th St (east of Graham Ave and the Metro Rail tracks; near and visible from the 103rd Street/Watts Towers station on the Metro Rail Blue Line), ☏ . Tours available Th-F 11AM-3PM, Sa 10:30AM-3PM, Su noon-3PM. A notable example of non-traditional vernacular architecture and naïve art, the Watts Towers are a series of 17 interconnected structures, two of which reach heights of over 99 feet (30 m). All of the structures were built using salvaged materials and embedded with found objects, such as glass, ceramic tiles, and seashells, often arranged in elaborate displays. Next to the towers is a small museum and a cultural center. Guided tours are available for a fee and at limited hours, but you can always view the towers from the outside for free. Guided tours $7 adults, $3 seniors/teens (13-17), free for children 12 and under.
- 2 Leimert Park. A famous center for Los Angeles' African-American culture, this neighborhood (just south of Crenshaw/Martin Luther King- accessible by bus) is a must-see if in the area, with shops, restaurants, art galleries, and performance venues catering to the city's African-American population. A quick sidetrip into nearby Baldwin Hills offers beautiful views of Downtown Los Angeles and a nice peek at lifestyles in the "Black Beverly Hills".
- 3 USC Fisher Museum of Art, 823 Exposition Blvd, ☏ .
Just south of the University of Southern California campus, in a square formed by Exposition Boulevard, Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, Vermont Avenue, and Figueroa Street, is this complex of stadiums, museums, and gardens (including a massive rose garden) that make up one of the primary attractions in the area.
- 4 Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 900 Exposition Blvd, ☏ . 9:30AM-5PM daily. A crown jewel of Los Angeles' museums and a national leader in exhibitions, education and research, this museum dates back to 1913 and was L.A.'s first cultural institution to open its doors to the public. It's the largest natural and historical museum in the Western United States, safeguarding more than 35 million spectacular, diverse specimens and artifacts. Exhibits on display include lots of dinosaur and ancient mammal skeletons, taxidermy figures, a gallery on the history of Los Angeles, a gem and mineral hall, interactive exhibits for children, and an outdoor nature garden. $12 adults, $9 teens (13-17)/college students/seniors (62+), $5 children (3-12), free for children under 3; special exhibitions require extra fee.
- 5 California Science Center, 700 Exposition Park Dr, ☏ . 10AM-5PM daily. A huge science museum with lots of interactive science exhibits and a rather impressive air and spacecraft collection. The museum's large exhibit galleries cover technology and biology, with highlights including a high wire bicycle, a surgery simulator, an aquarium with a kelp forest and a touch tank, and fighter jets and other aircraft on display. The highlight of the museum's spacecraft collection is the Space Shuttle Endeavour, one of only three remaining craft from the retired American space shuttle fleet (free timed reservations are required). The museum also holds an IMAX theater and travelling exhibitions. Best times to visit are weekdays after 1:30PM or weekends, since weekdays before 1:30PM are often busy with school groups. Permanent exhibition galleries free; separate fee for IMAX theater.
- 6 California African American Museum, 600 State Dr, ☏ . Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 11AM-5PM. It focuses on enrichment and education on the cultural heritage and history of African Americans with a focus on California and western United States. Free.
- 7 Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 3911 S Figueroa St, ☏ . Tours W-Su 10AM-4PM. A historic stadium that opened in 1923 and is the home of the USC Trojans football team. It served as home to the NFL's Los Angeles Rams at two different times—first from their arrival in L.A. in 1946 until 1979, after which they moved to Anaheim, and then from their 2016 return from St. Louis until their current SoFi Stadium in Inglewood opened in 2020. Over the Coliseum's history, it has hosted the opening ceremonies of the 1932 and 1984 Olympics, the Los Angeles Dodgers for their first few years in L.A., the UCLA Bruins football team before their move to the Rose Bowl, and many of L.A.'s other previous football franchises, as well as several other pro football teams and a number of soccer teams. It will also host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2028 Olympics alongside SoFi Stadium. The east side of the stadium holds the Olympic cauldron (which is still lit for special occasions) overlooking a "Court of Honor" outside the stadium with plaques commemorating memorial events in the history of the Coliseum. Self-guided tours $10/person.
- 8 BMO Stadium, 3939 S Figueroa St, ☏ . A stadium that opened in April 2018 as Banc of California Stadium and was renamed as BMO Stadium in 2023. It has hosted the Major League Soccer side Los Angeles FC since that team began play in 2018, and became the home of Angel City FC in the National Women's Soccer League in 2022. It will also be one of several soccer venues for the 2028 Olympics.
- 9 Exposition Park Rose Garden. Daily 9AM-sunset, closed Jan 1-March 15.
- 1 Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, 4100 S La Cienega Blvd, ☏ . Daily 6AM-sunset. A state park atop the Baldwin Hills, with marvelous views overlooking much of the Los Angeles Basin and some challenging hiking trails. Other amenities include sports fields, a fishing lake, picnic areas, a Japanese garden, and a visitor center. A shuttle connects the park with the La Cienga/Jefferson Metro Expo Line station on weekends and holidays. $6 per vehicle.
- 2 Shrine Auditorium, 665 W Jefferson Blvd, ☏ . A huge venue that once served as host to a number of awards shows. Located on Jefferson Blvd and Figueroa Street across the street from the University of Southern California, famous for its red bricks and nightlife. Closed to visitors.
- University of Southern California hosts many musical and theatrical performances throughout the year that are free or cheap. USC football games are one option. Tickets can be purchased on campus at the Ticket Office next to Tommy Trojan, but can sometimes be hard to come by.
- Go to a Baptist (or AME) African-American Church for a peek into local spiritual culture.
- Go to a Leimert Park coffee shop at night for some spoken word or freestyle rap.
- 1 Kopeikin Gallery, 2766 S La Cienega Blvd, ☏ . Photography gallery with rotating exhibits.
- The Shops at USC Village, 3215 S Hoover St.
- 1 Ono Hawaiian BBQ, 3010 S Figueroa St (two blocks north of USC), ☏ . Daily 10AM-Midnight. Hawaiian bbq with your favorites like musubi and chicken katsu and macaroni salad.
Lots of cheap bars abound. For a peek into Greek university student life head to the 2-9 a few blocks west of Figueroa (just north of USC) or the 9-0 right on Figueroa (USC students' favorite dive).
- 1 La Barca, 2414 S Vermont Ave, ☏ . Another favorite hangout of USC students, locals, and law enforcement officers alike. Although it is actually a restaurant, La Barca is famous for its "two dollar Tuesdays", when you can get strong and delicious margaritas and piña coladas for under three dollars. Expect a long line for seating on Tuesdays.
- 1 The Vagabond Inn USC Hotel, 3101 S Figueroa St, ☏ , toll-free: , fax: . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: noon. $85+.
- USC Hotel, 3540 S Figueroa St, toll-free: , [email protected]. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon.
- 2 Regal Inn, 5966 S Broadway. Free parking is provided on site. $95.
- 1 Vermont Square Branch Library, 1201 W 48th St, ☏ . M 10AM-8PM, Tu noon-8PM, W 10AM-8PM, Th noon-8PM, F 9:30AM-5:30PM, Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM. A Carnegie library built in 1913. Public computers, WiFi, and wireless printing.
- 2 Exposition Park - Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Regional Library, 3900 S Western Ave, ☏ . Public computers, WiFi, wireless printing, scanner, electric vehicle charging station.
South Central has long had a reputation for violence. It was the scene of the 1992 L.A. riots and is known for producing the Bloods, Crips, and other notorious gangs. Although its reputation has preceded itself over the past couple of decades, it's no longer quite as dangerous or violent as some might suggest — though it's still not really a destination for the average tourist. While muggings still occur, most happen at night on smaller streets. Stay in groups of at least three if you must be on foot.
The cities and neighborhoods that border South Central include the following:
- Downtown LA - Located northeast of South Central, downtown Los Angeles has been revitalized, and is now home to the impressive architecture of Disney Concert Hall, sporting and concert events at Staples Center, and a variety of dining and lodging options.
- Wilshire District - Located to the north of South Central, the Wilshire district is home to Koreatown, as well as attractions that include the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Peterson Auto Museum, and the world-famous La Brae Tar Pits.
- Culver City - South Central's western neighbor is a city that features an ever-increasing array of impressive dining options and is home to Sony motion picture studios.
- Inglewood - Located southwest of South Central, Inglewood is a tough neighborhood but attracts some visitors to sites such as the landmark Randy's Donuts.
- Hawthorne - Bordering South Central to the southwest, Hawthorne is home to several aerospace companies including SpaceX, and is an option for those needing lodging near Los Angeles International Airport.
- Gardena - Gardena is a residential community that borders South Central to the southwest.
- Carson - South Central's southern neighbor is the home to the LA Galaxy soccer team, which plays at Dignity Health Sports Park. The NFL's Los Angeles Chargers are also playing at that stadium until they move into the Rams' new Inglewood stadium in 2020.
- Compton - A rough neighborhood located to the south of South Central, Compton has been the home of numerous hip-hop and rap musicians, as well as tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.
- Lynwood - The city of Lynwood is South Central's southeastern neighbor.
- Gateway Cities - The Gateway Cities of South Gate and Huntington Park border South Central to the east.
|Routes through South Central|
|El Segundo ← Hawthorne ←||W E||→ Lynwood → Norwalk|
|Pasadena ← Downtown L.A. ←||N S||→ Carson → San Pedro|
|END ← Downtown L.A. ←||N S||→ Compton → Long Beach|
|Santa Monica ← Culver City ←||W E||→ Downtown L.A. → END|
|El Segundo ← Hawthorne ←||W E||→ Lynwood → Norwalk|
|El Monte ← Downtown L.A. ←||N S||→ Gardena → San Pedro|