About Highland Park, Los Angeles
Highland Park is a 3.42 square mile district to the north east of Los Angeles, adjacent to the Arroyo Seco Parkway. It’s a very densely inhabited neighborhood with an ethnically diverse population including a Latinx majority, mostly of Mexican descent. It was one of Los Angeles’ first outlying neighborhoods, then the town of Highland Park was annexed within the expanding city of L.A. in 1895.
A popular area with fashionable musicians, artists and actors, Highland Park has been home to, amongst others, Beck, Skrillex, Billie Eilish, Diane Keaton, and Zack de la Rocha. It retains its historic yet hip character and is sought-after for its Victorian and Craftsman homes, many of which have been saved from demolition by renovation enthusiasts.
Highland Park’s racially diverse heritage makes it a mecca for foodies. Unsurprisingly, Mexican cuisine is particularly strong, but you can also find Peruvian, Chinese, Texan, and classic burgers joints too.
Here are some of the top places to visit and activities to try in this thriving neighborhood.
Highland Park Bowl
Opening in 1927, Highland Park Bowl is Los Angeles’ oldest bowling alley. Opening during prohibition, the Bowl offered a clever way to get around the alcohol restrictions. A doctor’s office and pharmacy were situated upstairs in the building. Bowlers could obtain a prescription for a “medicinal” tipple to consume covertly at the downstairs lanes.
The alley’s historic interior was recently revealed by a refurbishment which also unearthed and posters and memorabilia from the facility’s earliest days, now prominently displayed. Featuring eight lanes, this is certainly one of the classiest places to score double strikes.
Los Angeles Police Museum
On the flipside of the law enforcement coin from prohibition-evasion, explore the turbulent history of the LAPD, one of America’s first police departments. The LAPD was instituted in 1869 with just six officers under the city marshal, its purpose to combat some of the lawlessness of the recently incorporated city.
Situated on York Boulevard in the 1925 Highland Park Police Station, the museum features exhibitions of uniforms and vehicles, explorations of key divisions including the K-9 bomb squad, and insights into the LAPD’s sometimes controversial past. The station itself has been ravaged by vandals, arson attacks and floods over its almost 100-year history.
Arroyo Seco Regional Library
The Arroyo Seco branch of the LA Public Library holds a large lending and reference collection as well as hosting author talks, events and local book groups. You can access a collection of over six million books from any of the LA Public Library branches and have it ready for collection from Arroyo Seco. If you’re a budding author, several writers’ groups regularly meet at the library.
Situated in a Mission-style building in the historic Garvanza district (see below), the library is a lively community hub, founded in 1911 with a $210,000 grant from noted philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
Recent events have included a series of young adult events for Latinx teens and a discussion series based around stories by famous science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. They also host events as part of the annual LA Litcrawl, a pop-up literary festival.
Highland Park Recreation Center
If you’d prefer to exercise your body rather than your mind, head to the Highland Park Recreation Center. Situated northwest of Arroyo Seco Park and just off the freeway, it’s a great place to work out, take in some fresh air and vitamin D and generally unwind. There’s a six-lane, 25-yard pool, an elevated running track, baseball field, basketball courts and a 5,850 square foot gym with state-of-the-art equipment and audiovisual technology.
Classes are available in everything from outdoor spin sessions to yoga and aquatics. You can hire a personal trainer or join a group fitness session. As well as memberships, there are daily rates for non-members, so you can drag along that reluctant friend with a promise of a burrito after your workout.
If you’d rather get your exercise in the great outdoors, Highland Park offers several options. Garvanza Park is a compact space which includes outdoor gym equipment, a baseball diamond, skatepark and children’s play area.
Arroyo Seco Park and Hermon Park
The Arroyo Seco Park is part of a massive $1 billion regeneration effort along the Arroyo River, creating an enhanced 11-mile green corridor by removing much of the unnecessary concrete channeling of the stream (which joins the greater LA River at Glendale Junction). This project of the US Army Corps of Engineers should enrich an already scenic area, improving the flow of the stream and rejuvenating some of the natural ecosystem that existed here before the flood barriers were built.
The Highland Park section features a bike trail; you can cycle, walk, or run southwest to the Eugene Debs Regional Park or northeast to South Pasadena Nature Park. Arroyo Seco also contains Hermon Park, a shaded preserve with eleven tennis courts and plentiful parking, also accessible from the bike path.
Art and Architecture
Highland Park Independent Film Festival
In a city of moviemakers like Los Angeles, it should come as no surprise that Highland Park boasts its own annual film festival. The Festival is relatively young, inaugurated in 2014, and runs over a long weekend in October. HPIFF presents several awards and was initiated to bring a bit of Hollywood glitz to northeast LA, with a focus on local filmmakers.
The Festival also holds community screenings and hosts a mentorship program. Screenings usually center on the historic Highland Theatre, an auditorial situated off the Figueroa Corridor of the historic route 66.
Nearby, at 5558 North Figueroa, you can look up and see the famous Chicken Boy statue, a peculiar local landmark recognized in 2010 with a presentation order by then California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A Historical Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ), the Garvanza District is bordered by Highland Park and Pasadena. A town in its own right in the 1880s, it was annexed to LA in 1899. Served by the Pasadena and Los Angeles Electric Railway as early as 1896 and by Henry Huntington’s Los Angeles Railway in 1902, the town quickly blossomed.
Garvanza was one of the birthplaces of the Arts and Crafts movement in southern California. It became something of a bohemian enclave, where artists of the California plein air school made their homes.
The area’s artistic pedigree is maintained at the 1897-founded Judson Studios, where America’s oldest stained-glass company is still a family business (current owner is David Judson, great-great grandson of the founder, William Lees Hudson). The studio’s beautiful glasswork is world-renowned and their craftsman-inspired studio, built in 1900, is now a historic monument and well worth a visit.
Craftsman homes dominate Garvanza. The town’s preserved status has meant that many impressive examples remain, including the whitewashed timber-sided buildings on N Avenue 64. The Dr Williams Residence at number 200, recently restored, may date back to the 1880s. A walk around the neighborhood is highly recommended for Victorian home-spotters.
The Lummis House
Also known as El Alisal, this is a rare example of a stone-built craftsman style home, created by eccentric journalist and librarian Charles Fletcher Lummis, who took thirteen years to craft himself a castle-themed residence from stones retrieved from the river. The Lummis home is situated just south of Highland Park in Montecito Heights.
Latinx Street Art and Culture
There has been a move in recent years to restore and celebrate the street art of Latinx residents of Highland Park, including the many Chicano art murals, some of which were painted over by redevelopers.
One collective, based at the Avenue 50 Studio, is helping restore the colorful Mexico-Tenochtitlan mural at 6037 N. Figueroa Street and Avenue 61. Avenue 50 Studios also hosts the Arroyo Artists Collective as well as organizing workshops and providing rehearsal space for musicians.
Hispanic Heritage Month takes place between mid-September and mid-October and Highland Park will no doubt contribute its fair share of celebratory events, exhibits and street food.
Highland Park is a nexus of chic boutiques and independent stores. One of the liveliest strips is Figueroa Street, on which you can find everything from skate shops to musical instruments and vintage clothing.
A high concentration of chain stores and bargain outlets spills into York Boulevard to the southeast, becoming more interesting to the northwest, where secondhand furniture stores, tattoo parlors and tarot-readers rub shoulders with hair salons and restaurants.