We're Exploring LA County's 88 Cities. Here's Your Guide To Redondo Beach
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REDONDO BEACH: WHERE LOCALS RULE THE WAVES
You're probably familiar with the vibe of Redondo Beach, even if you haven't been there.
Most of America read about it and saw it on screen through the fictionalized, laidback students in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
About 63,000 people live in the city, one of the "surfurbias" of L.A. County where surf, sand and sun all shape its identity. It's only natural -- it's the birthplace of surfing in America (since Hawaii wasn't a state at the time, that is).
But aside from a brief period in its early history as the main shipping port for the county, Redondo Beach has always been a major tourist destination for people looking for that iconic, chill SoCal lifestyle.
Which is why a group of locals wanted to show us the history and spots of Redondo Beach that only they know about. But first, here's a brief history of the city.
THE SANDS OF REDONDO'S PAST
There are clues to the city's history all over the streets.
Many of the north-south roads have names like Helberta, Irena and Juanita to honor the female descendants of the Dominguez family, which first owned the land in 1784.
Then there are east-west streets like Diamond, Pearl and Garnet. They're named for the long-gone Moonstone Beach, a place where mounds of gemstones sometimes six feet deep once washed up on shore.
For most of its modern history, waterways drove Redondo Beach's culture.
It was once the main shipping port for the county, mostly of lumber, for a few decades at the turn of the 20th century. But because there wasn't a breakwater at the time, a series of storms battered the pier and coast. Engineers then proposed moving the port to San Pedro, which today is the largest and busiest port in America.
Tourism, however, was and still is a big business for the city, with a waterfront that once rivaled the Santa Monica Pier.
Tourists would carry off hordes of those gems from Moonstone Beach. Some stones were even crushed and used to make the city's streets and sidewalks.
The rich and famous could stay at the grand Hotel Redondo. When it opened in 1890, it had some of the most extravagant features at the time, like hot running water in rooms!
There was also a pier where visitors could ride the Lightning Racer roller coaster and the Looff Hippodrome Carousel.
Railroad magnate Henry Huntington invested heavily in the area. In 1907, he brought in a tourist attraction known as "the man who walked on water."
That "man" was native Hawaiian George Freeth, who Huntington saw while on vacation, and brought over to demonstrate surfing. Freeth was the first ever to surf in America and is often called the Father of Modern Surfing. There's also a statue dedicated to him at the Redondo Beach pier.
In 1909, Huntington also opened The Plunge, billed as the largest saltwater complex in the world, with three heated pools, Turkish baths and more than 1,000 dressing rooms.
Many of those attractions are gone now, though. By the 1950s, the gemstones had dried up at Moonstone Beach because of over-tourism and a new breakwater that shifted ocean currents that used to bring them ashore. Prohibition and declining tourism forced Hotel Redondo to close. Fierce storms in 1915 demolished the pier along with the rides. And a lack of customers sunk The Plunge.
But the Redondo Beach of today still has a lot for visitors and locals alike.
OUR GUIDES: TEACHER JORDANA BENONE AND SOME OF HER 2019 GRADUATES
Jordana Benone, "Ms. Benone" to her students at Redondo Union High School, explained that last year's class came across our 88 Cities series and they loved thinking about what they would show off in their city.
"We actually did an assignment about where they would bring people," Benone said.
It factored into a larger project called "R.U. LA?" ("R.U." as in a pun for Redondo Union), where she asks her students to reflect on the city's place in L.A. County.
"We have things in common with Alhambra and other parts of the county they might not know about," she said.
Thinking about their hometown's stereotypes helped to uncover some of the more human layers underneath, too. For example, Jaiden McGuiness-Cook moved to Redondo Beach a few years ago from the Antelope Valley.
"I was expecting a lot of sandals and shorts, and that's a lot of what I got!" he said. "But I wasn't expecting such a welcoming community. If you're not from here and you don't fit in, you make your own mark and the culture will shift around you to fit your own needs."
So her most recent class of seniors took on the challenge themselves and gave us a tour of the places in Redondo Beach that had the most emotional meaning for locals.
EXPLORING THE CITY
1. EL BURRITO JR
There may be several locations of El Burrito Jr across Southern California, but this one off the PCH is like the Cheers of Redondo Beach -- it's the place to run into the real people of the city, according to the students.
"This restaurant is basically like a second home," said Ryan Hughes. "It's just a stop everyone makes."
El Burrito Jr, or LBJ, has two buildings in one lot -- one for Mexican food, the other for burgers and breakfast. And it's pretty unassuming, with a cash only policy and outdoor seating.
It's a place where the people of Redondo Beach have gone to eat for generations, and where they welcome outsiders to the community, too.
"When I came to the South Bay to work, [my boyfriend] was like, 'Oh, I'll go to LBJ and grab a burrito," said Benone. "Everybody knows it!"
2. BEACH PARKING LOT
The locals call it BPL (they sure love their acronyms), and it overlooks the shore with grand views of the Pacific.
"That's where you go to make up and break up and make big decisions," said Benone, who admits her first visit there was with us.
It's a local hangout for both the kids and old-timers of Redondo Beach.
"Everyone's just here sitting in their cars. It's like super chill," explains Hannah Tallman. "You just watch the sunset go down."
During our tour, Tallman and Kiana Wing sat in a truck bed staring out into the water while music thumped on a soundsystem.
And the kids of Redondo Beach say that growing up and going to places like this helps to explain that slow-talking surfer stereotype.
"With surfing, you have to have a lot of patience because you can only choose certain waves to go on," said Ryan Hughes. "It's kind of made me a more laid back person that knows when to act and when not to act."
"The kids at Redondo are a lot more patient. They're thoughtful, they're slower paced," adds Benone. "Something about living near the ocean, it slows them down."
3. REDONDO BEACH PIER
The pier is a tourist destination that's a throwback to how piers used to look in the '60s and '70s.
It juts out into the water in a horseshoe shape, with small food stands, gift shops, a fresh seafood shop, a local brewery and more.
"For as long as I can remember, we've have school trips go out here, we've had projects to come here to the different restaurants," Kiana Wing said.
It's also a place where lines of locals like Taylor Felipe lean over the railing to fish.
"I just cast a bunch of spinners and go fishing on the pier," he said. "I'm not really supposed to show you my spots because my mom showed me those spots."
The pier in Santa Monica may be more lavish or updated, but to Redondo locals it's also crowded and more expensive. The pier in their own town is charming because it's more relaxed.
"Most of the people here live around here," said Kiana Wing. "Since it's not as new as the other ones, there's not as much gentrification."
The future of the pier is in limbo, however. In 2016, the city finalized a plan to renovate it, which some tenants say was badly needed. But that plan began to sink because of a variety of reasons; a strong public opposition rose up, the project dealt with a troubled process when filing an environmental report, and voters in 2017 passed a ballot measure to hobble the city's and developer's ability to build the envisioned complex.
So for now, the pier will remain the way it is -- a place where locals can come to stroll, shop, eat and fish.
4. REDONDO FUN FACTORY
Think of the Fun Factory as Chuck E. Cheese meets Coney Island.
There are newer video games like Pac-Man Battle Royale. Classic carnival games like hurling baseballs towards toy clowns. Plus an indoor tilt-a-whirl that lasts TWO FULL MINUTES (author's note: riding that as an adult hurts).
It sits under the pier, and the ceiling is strewn with classic signs from businesses long-gone from Redondo Beach, too.
"They have things from the old pier here that you don't see around at the rest of the pier," explains Ryan Hughes.
Although the future of this business is in question, too. It was originally going to close after Labor Day because it would've been displaced by the impending renovations. But since the waterfront project is in question, the business's site now announces in big, capital letters:
"WE WILL BE HERE UNTIL THE CITY KICKS US OUT"
That's good news for our tour guides.
"It would really suck because all the future generations of kids around here, I feel like they need to know that this was here," said Hannah Tallman. "A lot of the identity of Redondo Beach is right here."
MORE TO LOVE ABOUT REDONDO BEACH
- Bust of George Freeth at the Redondo Beach Pier - A bronze bust of America's first surfer George Freeth is located at the pier. The original was stolen in 2008 and never recovered. "My friend's mom rebuilt that," said Taylor Dalmau. "They had the original molds of the statue but they had an X in it, so she had to fix the molds to remake it again."
- Tony's on the Pier, 210 Fisherman's Wharf - This old school bar/restaurant is better known as Old Tony's. Grab a drink on the top floor bar that has 360° views of the pier and order a Mai Tai, which comes with a souvenir glass that you get to keep.
- Redondo Beach Historic Library - This is a favorite wedding venue for locals. It first opened to the public in 1895. By the 1990s, however, the city began to move operations out of the building because of earthquake concerns.
- Seaside Lagoon - This man-made saltwater lagoon is where families can come to play in the water and cool off.
- Morrell House at the Redondo Beach Historical Museum - part Craftsman, part Queen Anne, this classic home was built at the turn of the century and is now a living history museum preserved by the local historical society.
Editor's note: A version of this story was also on the radio. Listen to it on KPCC's Take Two.
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