15 Free Things to Do in East Los Angeles, CA

East Los Angeles
Kelvin Cheng / shutterstock.com

East Los Angeles is a neighborhood that acts as the epicenter of its namesake region in Los Angeles, California.

The neighborhood is known for its Latino heritage, which was rooted in the Hispanic diaspora during the early 20th century.

It’s only a few miles from Downtown Los Angeles, making this neighborhood a fantastic addition to your itinerary, especially if you’re on the hunt for some free things to do.

From various Latino festivities to their sprawling community parks, there’s a lot to unpack in East Los Angeles.

To get you started, here are the 15 free things to do in East Los Angeles, California.

Take Photos of the Golden Gate Theater

Exterior of Golden Gate Theater
Los Angeles, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Golden Gate Theater is one of the architectural landmarks of East Los Angeles, found along Whittier Boulevard.

It’s a 1927 structure with a California Churrigueresque design and was once a cultural hub because it’s home to various art performances.

Today, Golden Gate Theatre has been repurposed as a CVS drugstore, but you can still marvel at its design and architecture as there are little-to-no changes in its facade apart from the drugstore’s logo.

There’s not much to see inside the drugstore as most of it has been renovated to fit a commercial layout, but there are still ornate remnants on the ceilings if you look closely.

Though repurposed, Golden Gate Theater remains one of the best free things you can do in East Los Angeles, perfect for a quick snapshot.

Drive along Whittier Boulevard

Whittier Boulevard serves as one of the most iconic areas in East Los Angeles, especially for the Latino community.

This historic 14-mile boulevard is where protests happened back in the 20th century to push for the civil rights of the Mexicans who migrated here.

Because of its rich political history, Whittier Boulevard now serves as a cultural hub for Latino culture and is famously used for Hollywood movie locations.

Driving across the boulevard will lead you to some of the most interesting areas in Los Angeles, as its establishments, districts, and architecture perfectly blend to create a unique Spanish boulevard aesthetic.

Side street parking is available, so you can visit any time for urban exploration.

Take a photo of the iconic Whittier Boulevard arch before you drive further in.

See the Murals at Ruben Salazar Park

One of the several attractions along Whittier Boulevard is Ruben Salazar Park, known for its vibrant murals.

The park features murals that depict the life and culture of the Latino community.

Named after Ruben Salazar, this park also features a plaque for the award-winning journalist who immigrated to the United States from Juarez, Mexico.

Beyond the towering murals, there are plenty of sports amenities here, such as basketball and tennis courts, making it a popular place for children and teenagers.

There is also a playground and a swimming pool if you’re visiting during the hotter days of East Los Angeles, all free to use.

Take a Breather at Belvedere Park Lake

Like most of Los Angeles, East Los Angeles can be quite taxing if you spend too much time in the busy districts of this bustling city.

Belvedere Park Lake is one of the best places to just kick back and relax, offering scenic lakeside views with plenty of activities to do.

While it’s sandwiched between the busy Pomona Freeway and East 3rd Street, the park is surprisingly peaceful because of its vast greenery.

There’s a nice paved path here if you want to stroll or jog, but fishing is the ultimate relaxation activity to do at Belvedere Park Lake.

A great place to visit during the early morning or late afternoon, this free place is a must-visit during your stay in East Los Angeles.

Read Books and See the Local Artworks at Chicano Resource Center

Within Belvedere Park Lake is the Chicano Resource Center, another icon of East Los Angeles.

Chicano Resource Center is a popular place to learn about East Los Angeles and the historic diaspora of the Latino community in the early 20th century.

The free resource center is like a public library dedicated to the history, culture, and politics centered on the Latino community and their migration to Los Angeles.

It’s a haven if you’re the type who loves to read books and learn about all sorts of historical nuggets of information.

Boasting over 20,000 books, journals, articles, and even art collections, Chicano Resource Center is a must-visit.

Experience the East Los Angeles Mexican Independence Day Festival

Person wearing a Mexican attire at East Los Angeles Mexican Independence Day Festival
Music4mix / Shutterstock.com

There are various annual and year-round festivities held in East Los Angeles, thanks to its Latino heritage.

Happening since 1946 is the East Los Angeles Mexican Independence Day Festival, one of the most anticipated events in September.

This is a grandiose festival that acts both as a celebration of the vibrant local community and a tourist hotspot.

Parade at East Los Angeles Mexican Independence Day Festival
Music4mix / Shutterstock.com

The festival is best known for its parades, boasting all sorts of colorful cultural Mexican attire, music, and dances.

While the parade typically happens in the major parks and boulevards of East Los Angeles, the route may change yearly.

Hence, stay tuned to their website for all the details of the East Los Angeles Mexican Independence Day Festival.

Participant at East Los Angeles Mexican Independence Day Festival's parade
Music4mix / Shutterstock.com

Enjoy Various Activities at Belvedere Community Park

Belvedere Community Park is one of the biggest parks in East Los Angeles, boasting various mini-parks within its vicinity.

Not to be confused with Belvedere Park Lake, this community park is across the former, along 1st Street and East Cesar E. Chavez Avenue.

Various activities are available here for free, such as checking out the community garden, trying out the skatepark, and playing sports like tennis and baseball.

Belvedere Community Park is also home to a swimming pool that’s one of the best free pools in Los Angeles.

Brimming with all sorts of recreational activities that don’t require a single penny, Belvedere Community Park is a no-brainer if you want an itinerary full of free things to do.

Have a Blast at City Terrace Park

City Terrace Park is one of the most visited attractions in East Los Angeles, known for its large playgrounds and splash park.

Both kids and dogs will enjoy City Terrace Park because of its vast vicinity, sprawling with other amenities like baseball fields and picnic areas.

There’s also a large, shaded basketball court with bleachers, making it one of the best places in East Los Angeles to play the sport.

Like Salazar Park, City Terrace Park also has some murals that depict Latino culture.

A busy park that’s great for immersion and all sorts of fun, City Terrace Park is conveniently accessible along North Hazard Avenue.

Watch Various Films during the Hispanic Heritage Month

Los Angeles County also has another month-long celebration during the same period as the East Los Angeles Mexican Independence Day Festival—the Hispanic Heritage Month.

Hispanic Heritage Month features free film viewing of various iconic Latino movies that, chances are, you haven’t seen before.

Happening throughout East Los Angeles’ city parks, this free activity even features free meals sponsored by the county.

This is also the best chance to interact with the locals and join in the revelry during this special month for the city.

Hispanic Heritage Month typically happens from September 15 to October 15 and is held in famous parks like Belvedere and City Terrace Park.

Visit the Home of Peace Memorial Park and Mortuary

East Los Angeles is also known to have large areas of land dedicated to gravesites.

One of the most popular ones that are home to several gravesites of public figures is the Home of Peace Memorial Park and Mortuary.

Located along Whittier Boulevard, this place is known to have been the resting site of the famous American actor and comedian Jerome “Curly” Howard.

Another movie star that rests in the Home of Peace Memorial Park and Mortuary is Carla Laemmle.

Other prominent figures like philanthropist Jack Skirball and the world-famous Warner Brothers are also here.

Beyond these gravesites, Home of Peace Memorial Park and Mortuary is also beautiful architecture-wise, featuring large stone sculptures and the intricate stone Mausoleum Chapel that has ornate stained-glass ceilings.

Take Photos of El Pino

El Pino is a movie landmark in East Los Angeles, known as an icon of the 1993 epic crime drama "Blood In Blood Out."

El Pino is a unique pine tree because of its appearance and height, towering well above the other trees and nearby houses.

Many locals and tourists take photos of El Pino, especially because it’s regarded as the symbol of East Los Angeles in the movie.

Most of the movie was shot in East Los Angeles, so El Pino is just the starting point, as there are many others that you can find along Whittier Boulevard.

If you’re a big fan of "Blood In Blood Out," this iconic tree can be found in quiet North Indiana and Folsom Streets.

Other Things to Do Nearby

See the Dodger Stadium

Exterior of the Dodger Stadium
Vitaly Loz / Shutterstock.com

Los Angeles is one of the most prominent sports cities in America, and you can drive by Dodger Stadium as it’s just a 12-minute drive from the neighborhood.

Dodger Stadium is an architectural wonder that deserves a spot in your photo gallery.

You don’t have to spend a single dime if you just want to see its beautiful facade and vicinity, which is best enjoyed during the less busy days when there are no games.

Field of the Dodger Stadium
Frank Romeo / Shutterstock.com

The place is also beautiful at night, with neon lights illuminating its massive vicinity.

One of the oldest baseball arenas in the world, Dodger Stadium is a must-see attraction in Los Angeles.

Baseball game at the Dodger Stadium
Conor P. Fitzgerald / Shutterstock.com

Watch Live Performances at El Mercadito

While El Mercadito is part of East Los Angeles as a region, it’s actually outside the namesake neighborhood, as it’s located in Boyle Heights, which is just a five-minute drive from Belvedere Community Park.

El Mercadito is easily one of the most prominent places representing the Hispanic roots of East Los Angeles.

While it may seem like a shopping center at first, El Mercadito is home to various live entertainment that you can enjoy all day without having to spend a single penny.

One of the best places to experience the rich Latino heritage of East Los Angeles, El Mercadito is a must-see destination.

Explore Mariachi Plaza

An old hotel at Mariachi Plaza
Bruce Boehner, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you want a less cramped space compared to the dense indoor walkways of El Mercadito, Mariachi Plaza is another great destination in Boyle Heights that’s just a 10-minute drive away.

Another East Los Angeles icon, Mariachi Plaza, is a spacious open plaza home to various year-round festivities and events centered on Latin culture.

If you’re lucky, you can even spot vintage cars here that were famous in East Los Angeles during the post-World War II era.

There’s also some great architecture to see here, spearheaded by the beautiful stone gazebo that’s the centerpiece of Mariachi Plaza.

One of the best family-oriented free things to do near East Los Angeles, Mariachi Plaza is a worthwhile stop on your trip.

Explore Los Angeles State Historic Park

Aerial view of Los Angeles State Historic Park
Marcus E Jones / Shutterstock.com

Another nearby must-see free attraction is the massive Los Angeles State Historic Park, a 10-minute drive from East Los Angeles.

It’s a huge green space that has interesting areas for you to explore.

Los Angeles State Historic Park is perfect for biking, jogging, and picnics.

The grounds of Los Angeles State Historic Park
Laurie Avocado, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Free outdoor events are held here sometimes, so check their website during the date of your visit.

It's also one of the best open spaces in Los Angeles, where you can enjoy beautiful nighttime views of the city sky.

Lupines at Los Angeles State Historic Park
Laurie Avocado, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Final Thoughts

East Los Angeles is one of the best places to experience the rich Hispanic heritage of California.

Exploring this dense neighborhood is almost like entering a city in Mexico itself, and most of the cultural attractions here are free!

From its sprawling community parks to its annual festivities, East Los Angeles is a perfect addition if you’re planning to visit Los Angeles for several days.

With these free things to do in East Los Angeles, California, you’re sure to have a fun but affordable experience in this awesome neighborhood.

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