Discover African American Culture in Los Angeles

California African American Museum, courtesy of CAAM


Los Angeles is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. Beginning with L.A.'s founding in 1781, African American culture and community has grown and flourished, greatly influencing not only the city of Los Angeles, but making a tremendous impact on the rest of the country and around the world. It’s no coincidence that the two years President Barack Obama spent at L.A.’s Occidental College (1979-1981) played a major role in determining his future in politics.

Black History Month, which takes place every February, is a special time of year here in L.A. Celebrated by various cultural institutions throughout the city, the month-long celebration includes unique art and book events, festivals, food and music. Yet, you can explore L.A.’s African American heritage throughout the year. We have included a quick list of spots not to miss encompassing South LA, Downtown, the Beach Cities and the Westside.

Courtesy Watts Coffee House Facebook

Watts Coffee House



Start your day with a relaxing cup of java at the Watts Coffee House, a unique coffee shop located a short walk from the 103rd Street / Watts Towers Station of the Metro Rail Blue Line. Born from the ashes of the Watts riots of 1965, the coffee house now serves as a community hub and performance center for locals who enjoy delicious soul food surrounded by walls that are covered in African American-themed movie posters, jazz album covers, and other items from South L.A.’s rich cultural history.

WATTS TOWERS



The world-famous Watts Towers are located half a mile from the Watts Coffee House. The towers were built by Sabato (aka "Sam" or "Simon") Rodia in his spare time over a period of 33 years, from 1921 to 1954. Rodia - an Italian immigrant and a Watts resident - built the towers by himself, using only hand tools and window washer's equipment. The monumental sculpture was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1990, and has become point of pride for the community, hosting events such as the annual Day of the Drum Festival and the Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival. (Please note: An extensive three-year restoration project by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art began in 2017 and suspends public tours within the site (tours outside of the fenced towers and sculptures are still available).The Watts Towers Arts Center provides diverse cultural enrichment programming through tours, lectures, exhibitions of local African American and international artists, and studio workshops for both teachers and students. The Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center presents programs to young area residents by expanding existing music classes offered through the Department of Cultural Affairs. Read More about the Watts Towers.

Courtesy African American Fire Fighters Museum, LA 

African American Firefighter Museum



The African American Firefighter Museum (AAFM) collects, conserves and shares the heritage of pioneering African Americans in the fire service. Opened in 1997, the AAFM is housed in the former Fire Station 30 in South LA. The museum was originally dedicated to acknowledge the first 100 years of service by L.A.’s African American firefighters. The AAFFM currently exists as the first and only museum of its kind in the country. The first floor contains vintage fire equipment, stories and pictures of pioneering African American firefighters. The second-floor gallery features pictures, artifacts and other memorabilia of African American firefighters, Captains, Chief Officers and historic women fire service professionals from around the country.

Courtesy of Watts Labor Community Action Committee

WLCAC



The Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for South Central Los Angeles residents. In addition to community development and social services, the WLCAC features cultural programming such as the Cecil Fergerson Gallery, the monumental Mother of Humanity sculpture, photography, murals, and the Civil Rights Tour, a remarkable, three-part immersive experience. 

Tuskeegee Airman's Medal at Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum  Photo Shannon Cottrell

TOMORROW’S AERONAUTICAL MUSEUM



Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum (TAM) is a living classroom that brings aviation history to life and empowers the dreams of underprivileged youth to literally take flight. Located in South Los Angeles, TAM features interactive exhibits that explore racial diversity in the evolution of modern flight, Tuskegee Airmen Learning Center, Sky Lab computer center, and operating and static display aircraft. Read more about founder Robin Petgrave. 

CAAM



Located in historic Exposition Park in Downtown LA, the renowned California African American Museum (CAAM) is housed in a 44,000 square-foot facility that opened to the public during the 1984 Olympic Games. The museum’s collection ranges from traditional African art to artifacts from the estate of L.A.’s first and only African American mayor, Tom Bradley.

Timeline at Biddy Mason Memorial Park | Photo by Daniel Djang

BIDDY MASON PARK



Located near the historic Grand Central Market in Downtown, Biddy Mason Park is dedicated to Bridget “Biddy” Mason, a former slave who became a noted philanthropist and a founding member of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. Mason won her freedom in 1856 and settled in Los Angeles to work as a midwife. Ten years later she bought a house, where she operated an orphanage and eventually founded the city’s First A.M.E. Church on land she had purchased and then donated to the church. The park features a timeline that traces Mason's remarkable life.

Grammy Museum, LA Live

 |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

GRAMMY MUSEUM



The Grammy Museum celebrates the history and power of music in an interactive museum located in the spectacular L.A. LIVE entertainment complex. The museum features four floors of permanent and traveling exhibitions, the 200-seat Clive Davis Theater, and a rooftop terrace for special programs and events. Look for exhibits highlighting the life and achievements of Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winners such as Ray Charles and Sam Cooke.

Courtesy Harold and Belles

HAROLD & BELLE’S



Named the 2013 Best Creole in L.A. by Los Angeles Magazine, Harold & Belle’s has been serving the distinctive flavors and Southern hospitality of New Orleans since 1969. Three generations of Legaux ownership can be experienced in the home-cooked family recipes and the warm and inviting atmosphere.

Theme Building | Photo crédit : howard-f, Flickr

THEME BUILDING - LAX



Paul R. Williams designed numerous Los Angeles landmarks, from public buildings and churches to homes for celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Williams was born in Downtown LA, studied architecture at USC, and became the first certified African American architect west of the Mississippi. Perhaps his most recognizable work is the iconic Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Williams was part of the team that designed the Googie-style landmark, which was built in 1961. Though the building’s Encounter Restaurant is now closed, the observation deck is still open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Admission to the observation deck is free. Read more about architect Paul R. Williams and where you can find his buildings in LA.

Battleship Iowa

 |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

BATTLESHIP IOWA



Known as the “World’s Greatest Naval Ship,” Battleship IOWA is a floating museum offering daily tours of the ship’s history through World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War. Also known as the “Battleship of Presidents,” the IOWA has hosted three Presidents: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. The ship is also where Samuel Lee Gravely Jr., a pioneer in the United States Navy, began his career. During his distinguished career, Gravely accomplished a number of firsts for African Americans - the first African American in the Navy to serve aboard a fighting ship as an officer, the first to command a Navy ship, the first fleet commander, and the first to become a flag officer. Learn more about Battleship Iowa here.

Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles

 |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

CRAFTED



For a one-of-a-kind L.A. souvenir, check out one of the many artisan vendors found at Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles. Crafted is housed in World War II-era waterfront warehouses that have been transformed into a year-round, large-scale craft marketplace. Artists, designers, and artisanal food makers bring their talents here to provide visitors with a variety of unique handcrafted goods.

Courtesy of MOLAA

MOLAA



Located in the East Village Arts District of Long Beach, the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) houses a collection of over 1,000 artworks, including artists of African descent in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.

Vision Theater, Leimert Park  Instagram by @dmoore2mg

LEIMERT PARK



Begin your day with a coffee or go big with a hearty plate of soul food at one of the many restaurants in Leimert Park, an arts and cultural hub that filmmaker John Singleton referred to as the “Black Greenwich Village.” Leimert Park features Art Deco buildings that house Afrocentric art galleries, shops, restaurants, theaters, nightclubs, and cultural centers. The village is home to the historic Vision Theatre, a performing arts center that has served the community since 1931. Also located in Leimert Park is the Kaos Network, a multimedia and training arts center best known for "Project Blowed," a hip hop and rap open mic night that gave birth to rappers and rap groups such as Aceyalone, Medusa, and Jurassic Five. The popular Leimert Park Art Walk is a free, self-guided visual and performance art experience that takes place on the last Sunday of every month. Learn more about Leimert Park here.

 

Eso Won Books | Photo by Daniel Djang

ESO WON BOOKS



Eso Won Books is an independent bookstore located in the heart of Leimert Park Village. Meaning “water over rocks,” Eso Won “provides fluid, safe, stirring opportunities that flow to a reservoir of knowledge for all people to experience.” In addition to its wide selection of books, Eso Won hosts author events that have previously featured Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee and many more.

Museum of African American Art, Baldwin Hills  Photo courtesy Facebook

MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN ART



The Museum of African American Art (MAAA) is located on the third floor of Macy's at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The nonprofit museum’s unique art space exhibits the work of world-renowned artists as well as emerging local artists, while ensuring that its art experiences are free and accessible to the public. MAAA is also the home of the renowned Palmer Hayden Collection - 40 oil paintings by the acclaimed Harlem Renaissance artist, including the 12 paintings known as The Ballad of John Henry.

"Urban Light" at LACMA

LACMA



Centrally located between the beach and Downtown, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is a seven-building complex with a world-class art collection of more than 100,000 objects. It take much longer than a single day at LACMA in order to experience everything the museum has to offer. Set aside a half day to tour the Ahmanson building and its impressive collection of art from the Pacific, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Ancient World.

Petersen Auto Museum

 |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

PETERSEN AUTOMOTIVE MUSEUM



Also located on along Museum Row, at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard at Fairfax, the newly revamped Petersen Automotive Museum is dedicated to the exploration and presentation of the automobile and its impact on American life and culture, using Los Angeles as the prime example. For generations, African Americans have made important contributions to the industry, ranging from Richard Spikes (inventor of the automatic gear shift) to Edward T. Welburn, the Vice President of Global Design at General Motors since 2005. Encompassing more than 300,000 square feet, the museum’s exhibits and lifelike dioramas feature more than 150 rare and classic cars, trucks and motorcycles.

Courtesy of Fowler Museum, UCLA

Fowler Museum



Located on the campus of UCLA in Westwood, the Fowler Museum explores global arts and cultures with an emphasis on works from Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas - past and present. The museum’s Arts of Africa and the African Diaspora is one of the largest and finest in the United States, and one of the top twenty African collections worldwide. This collection offers a superb representation of the arts of many African nations, including objects from Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa.

Santa Monica Beach

 |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

SANTA MONICA BEACH



In the 1920s, there was only one beach in Southern California that minorities could use without being harassed. The strip of Santa Monica Beach known as the Inkwell was located off Ocean Front Walk, near the historic Casa Del Mar hotel. In 2007, the City of Santa Monica unveiled a plaque at the beach in memory of Nicolas Gabaldon, the first documented surfer of African American and Latino descent. This landmark beach is still popular with African Americans in the L.A. area to this day. For a quintessential L.A. experience, watch a sunset at Santa Monica Beach.

Courtesy Alta Adams

Alta Adams



Located in Los Angeles’ historic West Adams neighborhood, Alta Adams serves comforting food and great cocktails that bring people together in community.

Alta Adams’ unique culinary vision is led by chef Keith Corbin, an LA native. The menu fuses Southern flavors and soul food dishes Corbin grew up eating with a vibrant aesthetic and produce-driven approach.