Discover African American Culture in Los Angeles


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.

Watts Coffee House

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. NOTE: An extensive restoration project by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art began in 2017 and currently 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.

African American Fire Fighters Museum, LA

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.

Watts Labor Community Action Committee

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. 

Tuskegee Airman's Medal at Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum

Tuskegee 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. 

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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.

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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.

Exterior of the GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE

GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE

 |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE



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. Explore the GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE.

Barack Obama at the Rancho Cienega Sports Complex

Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama greets supporters at a rally at the Rancho Cienega Sports Complex in Los Angeles | Photo: Barack Obama, Flickr

Obama Boulevard



Some of L.A.'s most-traveled boulevards are named for presidents, such as Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Lincoln. President Barack Obama was added to this illustrious list in June 2017, when the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved the motion to rename 3.5 miles of Rodeo Road in South L.A. as Obama Boulevard. This became official in August 2018. Council President Herb J. Wesson Jr. introduced then-Sen. Obama at his first Los Angeles presidential campaign rally, which took place at Rancho Cienega Sports Complex on Rodeo Road in February 2007.

The City of Los Angeles officially unveiled Obama Boulevard on May 4, 2019 with the Obama Boulevard Naming Ceremony & Street Festival at the intersection of Obama Boulevard and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, creating one of the most significant African American points of interest in the country. The ceremony also established a "Presidential Row” - Washington Boulevard, Adams Boulevard, Jefferson Boulevard and Obama Boulevard.

Dishes at Harold & Belle’s

Photo: Harold & Belle’s

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.

Vision Theater Leimert Park

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.

 

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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 in Baldwin Hills

Museum of African American Art in Baldwin Hills | Photo: Facebook

Museum of African American Art



The Museum of African American Art (MAAA) is a hidden gem 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.

The Underground Museum in Arlington Heights

Photo: The Underground Museum, Facebook

The Underground Museum



When The Underground Museum opened in 2012, it was the realization of the dream of the late artist Noah Davis to bring world-class art to Arlington Heights. Davis was a rising star in the art world who established a relationship with MOCA to exhibit works from the permanent collection. Although The Underground Museum focuses on contemporary African American art, a message at the museum's entrance notes, "This is a black space, but all are welcome."

Catch One

Catch One



Located on the border of Koreatown in the Arlington Heights neighborhood, Catch One is one of L.A.'s top nightclubs, featuring a wide-ranging lineup of electronic, hip hop, indie dance, metal and rock. Catch One was originally known as Jewel’s Catch One. Opened in 1973, Jewel’s was the first exclusively gay and lesbian disco for African Americans in the country. During the club's 40-year heyday, owner Jewel-Thais Williams welcomed everyone from Rick James and Madonna to the "Queen of Disco," Sylvester. To honor her contributions to the LGBT community, Thais-Williams was named the Grand Marshall of the 2016 LA PRIDE Parade & Festival in West Hollywood.

Alta Adams

Photo: Alta Adams

Alta Adams



Located in LA’s 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 that Corbin grew up eating with a vibrant aesthetic and produce-driven approach.

LAX: TBIT & Theme Building



Tom Bradley was the first and only African American Mayor of Los Angeles. His 20 years in office was the longest tenure of any mayor in the city's history. Bradley attended UCLA on an athletic scholarship and graduated from Southwestern Law School. Named for our 38th mayor, Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at LAX has 18 gates, including nine on the north concourse and nine on the south concourse. There are also nine satellite gates for international flights located on the west side of 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 LAX. Williams was part of the team that designed the Googie-style landmark, which was built in 1961. The observation deck is no longer open to the public. Read more about architect Paul R. Williams and his LA buildings.

Petersen Automotive Museum

Petersen Automotive Museum

 |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Petersen Automotive Museum



Located along Museum Row at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax, the spectacular 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 former Vice President of Global Design at General Motors from 2003 to 2016. Encompassing more than 300,000 square feet, the museum’s exhibits feature hundreds of rare and classic cars, trucks and motorcycles.

Chris Burden "Urban Light" (2008) at LACMA

Chris Burden "Urban Light" (2008) at LACMA | Photo: Discover Los Angeles

LACMA



The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is the largest art museum in the western United States, with a collection that includes more than 142,000 objects that span 6,000 years of history - dating from antiquity to the present, encompassing the geographic world and nearly the entire history of art.

LACMA is in the midst of the Building LACMA campaign, the centerpiece of which is the creation of a new home for LACMA’s permanent collection. While the original permanent collection galleries are closed, art from the museum’s collection will continue to be on view in BCAM and the Resnick Pavilion. Urban Light and Levitated Mass will continue to be open to visitors. For more info, visit the Building LACMA website.

Fowler Museum, UCLA

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.

Battleship Iowa

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.

Santa Monica Beach

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.

MOLAA exterior

Courtesy of MOLAA

Museum of Latin American Art



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.