Take a walk along York or Figueroa and you can't go a block without running into a trendy gastropub or an art gallery. But there are far more things to do in Highland Park that predate the Northeast L.A. 'hood's distinction as one of the city's hippest. Explore both aspects of the area, from a steampunk-esque bowling alley to off-the-beaten-path museums and a landmark house tour, with these things to do in Highland Park.
Things to do in Highland Park
Escape from the gridlock on the 110 at this hillside santuary for wildlife and quiet-seeking humans alike. The Audubon Center sits within the larger 282-acre Ernest E. Debs Regional Park, where it hosts night hikes, nature walks and opportunities to spot more than 140 species of birds.
Cruise up Figueroa and eventually you'll come across this 22-foot-tall burly man perched on a rooftop, giant yellow bucket in hand. Oh yeah, and he has the head of an anthropomorphized chicken—wattles, comb, beak and all. Welcome to Highland Park Chicken Boy—affectionately known as "the Statue of Liberty of Los Angeles"—started his life atop a Downtown fried chicken shack in the '60s. Like many other Muffler Men at the time, this outdoor ad was fabricated by International Fiberglass in Venice and then chicken-ified by its owner. Chicken Boy was dismantled in 1984 and sent into storage, until art director Amy Inouye revived him atop her Highland Park design studio in 2007.
Donut Friend is all about thinking outside of the box. Take, for example, their Srirachosin: a behemoth donut stuffed with peanut butter, strawberry jam, bacon and a few drops of sriracha hot sauce. Or perhaps, for a donut with a little more class, the Jets to Basil: a traditional donut filled with goat cheese, jam and a balsamic reduction. You can customize your own donuts as well, but with options like Coconut of Conformity on the menu, why not venture outside of your comfort zone for a bit?
Get lost in aisles stocked with more than 550 varieties of craft beer and vintage soda—including Coca-Cola that’s truly made in Mexico (not just bottled there) with cane sugar (not high-fructose corn syrup)—from old-fashioned cream sodas to ginger beer made with real ginger oil. Just browsing the bins of hard-to-find vintage candy in nostalgic wrapping evokes delicious childhood memories (sans stomach aches and sticky fingers).
It may not be Jamestown, but LA’s own living history museum chronicles the development of the region from 1850, when California achieved statehood, to 1950. Situated on the border of Highland Park, this collection of five homes, a barn, a train depot and a former church—all built before 1900—form a miniature community where tour guides in period costumes detail day-to-day life. The museum’s many on-theme events are a highlight.
Formerly a cherished music venue called Mr. T's Bowl, the 1933 Group took over the space in 2015 after the previous owner passed away, and began an extensive renovation process that would ultimately transform the space into a gorgeous, steampunk-esque bowling alley and bar. The details here are meticulous, from chandeliers made out of repurposed pinsetters to old bowling banners that line the alley's eight lanes. Bowlers can wait out their turn on leather Chesterfield sofas and order from a menu boasting Neapolitan-style pizzas, craft cocktails and a rotating selection of local beers.
For one of the best deals in town, catch the $5 showings of new film releases on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and $7 bargain matinees, daily before 6pm. Just don’t expect an art-house audience—especially in the G-rated flicks, the kids are known to get a bit rowdy.
Go behind the badge at the city's oldest surviving police station, built in 1925, where you can check out everything from Charles Manson’s booking photo to an array of vintage cop cars. True crime fans will appreciate the exhibition detailing the 1997 North Hollywood Bank of America holdup, with the original vehicles and disguises used by the perpetrators. If you’re thinking of committing a holdup, try scaring yourself straight by taking a mug shot and sitting in one of the jail cells. More interested in pretending to be part of the LAPD? The museum allows visitors to climb aboard a police helicopter or CHP motorcycle and imagine themselves as part of the action.
Where would we be without those energetic civic boosters that built Los Angeles? The over-achieving Charles Fletcher Lummis founded the Southwest Museum, was an editor at the Los Angeles Times, and still managed to design this house (the name of which means “the Sycamore” in Spanish) on the banks of the Arroyo Seco. Its exterior is made almost entirely from river rock and the interior is heavily influenced by Pueblo Indian dwellings. Fans of today’s DIY movement will appreciate the rustic Craftsman charm of this home, which is furnished with hand-crafted wood pieces; it’s interesting to see how closely this house mirrors modern-day bohemian design.
When San Francisco's popular bakery hit Highland Park, the pastries couldn't stay on the shelves. Though the team bakes throughout the day, the goods still have trouble staying stocked—especially the famed cruffin. What is a cruffin, you ask? Think of it as a croissant in muffin form, flaky and soft and filled with creme or jam. You'll want to snag a couple of those, but also the savory danishes, the cookies and the churro croissants. Pair with a coffee and you'll be on a sugar high for the rest of the day.
Founded in 1907 by legendary activist Charles F. Lummis, the Southwest Museum of the American Indian now lives on as the Autry's satellite Mt. Washington campus. The Spanish castle atop the hill was constructed a few years later and continues to house ceramics and other artifacts that constitute the second largest collection of Native American objects in the United States. The 1994 Northridge earthquake jeopardized the structural integrity of the building, and so in the face of potential multi-million dolar renovations, much of the collection will eventually be moved to an off-site facility in Burbank, which is currently under construction. In other words: visit this national treasure while it's still an operational museum.
Though York Boulevard's rent-raising gentrification can be a hot-button issue, few can argue with this colorful park. The park—really a playground—sits on a third of an acre that was once a gas station, hence the "self serve" Highland Park sign at the entrance. After a $3 million renovation, the space now boasts the coolest kid-friendly space in Northeast L.A. thanks to its snake slide and tree stump-themed playground.