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The People’s Tour: Lincoln Heights


My friends chasing geese at Lincoln Park.


Fifteen years ago, my Chinese-Vietnamese family moved to Lincoln Heights, a neighborhood four miles east of Downtown Los Angeles. I learned how to ride my bike and borrowed possibly a thousand books from the Lincoln Heights branch of Los Angeles Public Library. I found my passion in environmental justice in outdoor recreation and food sovereignty from growing up here. Whenever I return during college breaks, the glow from the freeways and downtown skyline are nostalgic sights.


Lincoln Heights is not on any tourism brochure or map. Tourists usually visit the neighboring Chinatown for the historical and cultural wealth. My family often goes to Chinatown for Asian groceries and dining out, because it is a Metro train stop away. When I was in high school, I volunteered for Wapow, a bilingual newspaper for the people and for the people of Chinatown.


Tourists often flock to the west side of Downtown, because there are more hotels, airports, and attractions curated for tourists. The Hollywood scene and beaches (like Santa Monica Pier) are on the west side. Laura Pulido, Laura R. Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng wrote The People’s Guide to Los Angeles to give communities not in the tourist brochures the space to be part of the tourism narrative.


Nobody recommends visiting Lincoln Heights because there is a high crime rate and walking after dark is dangerous. Sirens and helicopter whirling are too normalized. A few months ago, someone keyed all the cars parked on the street where my parents live. At least, that is what the news prefers to frame Lincoln Heights. Lincoln Heights is more than this.


I created this People’s Tour to specifically Lincoln Heights because the newspapers and media and tourist sites do not talk about our community with enough celebration we deserve. According to Susan Guyette in her book, Sustainable Cultural Tourism, “Small-scale tourism offers a community the opportunity to tell a valuable story to the public, educating with messages significant to the community. These messages are relevant to the survival of the community in terms of garnering assistance for protection of life and livelihood.” Sharing my experience in Lincoln Heights adds a different perspective that is not covered by the media, which is essential for understanding the complexity of our community and improving the reputation of our neighborhood.


Writing a tour guide for Lincoln Heights puts us truly on the Los Angeles map. According to Pezzullo in Toxic Tourism, “Communicating a sense of presence…offers a means for marginalized communities to challenge feelings of alienation from the land and each other.” We are part of Los Angeles county and we deserve to be visited and supported by the growing tourism industry. Writing this validates our experiences, our businesses, and the place we call home.


Lincoln Heights was once called East Los Angeles, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The indigneous Tongva people were the first inhabitants of this land, living along the Los Angeles River.



f this train many years ago. I remember walking down Ave 26, wondering if the train tracks, half buried in cement as if the landscapers could not afford to properly pave the road, were part of the train track my mom rode on. During the pandemic, the train tracks were finally removed.


More than 70% of the residents today are Latino and a quarter of the residents are Asian immigrants. Because of these demographics, most of the establishments are Spanish-speaker friendly with Spanish names and menus. Some of the elementary schools in the area also teach Spanish as a second language to young students. Walking down Broadway, the main street bustling with businesses and bus stops, Lincoln Heights has a lot of character that reflects this diverse community.


Lincoln Heights also has many Title One schools, meaning a majority of households that fall under the low income threshold, which is less than $36,000. Additionally less than 6% of residents have a four-year degree. Therefore, there are numerous organizations that offer early action, career services, and community service opportunities to the youth like Para Los Ninos, TELECU, and Lincoln Heights Tutorial Program. Throughout my high school, I was raised in these programs, learning how to navigate college and job applications with their aid.

You can support this community by donating directly to these non-profit organizations, these Title One schools, or visit these Recreational Centers down below, where a lot of these programs use these recreational greenspace to hold events. Recently, lots of these Centers have renovated their parks to be more family friendly with more jungle gyms and picnicking areas.


1772 N. Spring St. - Recently renovated, numerous young families gather here for the soccer fields, basketball courts, and a colorful jungle gym. You can park on a strip or in the neighborhood. Overlooking the Los Angeles River, this space is used as a stunning picnic area. Across the street, one of the two public pools in Lincoln Heights opens only in summer. Across the bridge by this park is Chinatown.


I used to come to this park for basketball and volleyball tournaments held by Lincoln Heights Tutorial Program. The park is often preoccupied by groups of youth. The jungle gym had faded and graffiti everywhere. The baseball fields were yellowed and kicked up a lot of dust.


Thanks to the recent renovations, I see the community come back to life. I feel the children are more motivated to play and exercise when the recreational greenspace is welcoming and maintained.


3501 Valley Blvd - This is the biggest park in Lincoln Heights with a recreation center, public pool, senior center, several jungle gyms, and ball fields. Residents have abandoned their Red-Eared Slider turtles into the lake, which have overpopulated the space. The lake is a popular migration spot for geese and ducks, but from low maintenance, the park has been desolated with bird feces and gopher holes.


I have many distant memories where my dad took us to this park. My sisters and I bought raspados, elote, chicharrones drizzled with lime and Valentina from the street vendors. I loved vanilla flavored shaved ice with condensed milk. I remember going to the pool when we were young, but then the recreation center with the pool was under construction for a long time. I remember playing Pokemon Go afterschool with my friends here.


If I had more time, I also want to include:

Lincoln Heights Recreation Center: Recently renovated. Lots of kids flock there. My friend lost her shoe in the sand.


Elysian Park: Towards Chinatown and overlooks the Dodger Stadium. Lots of jungle gyms and greenspace for picnicking and playing. Nice view of the LA Downtown skyline.


A view of Downtown Los Angeles at Elysian Park.


Los Angeles State Historic Park: Very new. Used to be a cornfield. There is a fruit program where a bunch of trees are planted and anyone can harvest. The gates open at sunrise and close at sunset. A lot of residents can be seen running here. This park helps significantly increase the recreational greenspace to the community in Chinatown.


Food Experiences

One of my favorite parts about Lincoln Heights is the amazing food in the neighborhood. You can support these locally owned businesses for amazing food experiences.


2800 N Broadway Wed, 3pm—7pm - This little market is in a street blocked off during this time of day. I remember when they first opened when I was in high school. Less than ten vendors. One sold colorful popcorn. Another sold sushi burritos.


If you have EBT, they do market matches, giving up to twenty dollars for groceries for every twenty dollars of groceries purchased!


3175 Artesian St - Located in an alley on Ave 26, this taco stand is infamous for being affordable, fast, and delicious. The taco has been closed down numerous times, but the locals flock back every time they reopen. They only open after dark. You can find numerous people, sitting in open trunks of their cars, fingers greasy with salsa in the corners of their mouths. During the pandemic, they became an infamous night market that made it to the LA Times.


3224 N Broadway - Although there is a large Asian population in Lincoln Heights, this temple market is the only place that sells Asian groceries. There are no local Asian grocery stores in Lincoln Heights. My Chinese-Vietnamese family drives to Asian supermarkets in the 626 Area, Chinatown, or Little Tokyo to purchase groceries.


This market opens on the streets in front of the temple on specific calendar days. Vendors sell delicious Vendors here are elderly women who sell a variety of Vietnamese comfort foods like red bean soup and sticky rice cake coated with mung bean powder. They also sell a small collection of homegrown fruits and vegetables.


If I had more time, I want to also include:

Carnitas Michoacan: they are a Mexican restaurant that is open 24 hours and where I have returned to many times for their massive sharable portions of papas nachos. Because the indoor/outdoor dining area is self service and windowless, there are often a lot of local birds around trying to sneak in crumbs.


Little Rodeo’s: they are a Mexican grill restaurant and serve the best buttery guac. Hotspot after sports games from LHS, across the street.


Raspados Nayarit: Lots of fun Mexican snacks and shaved ice.


The Heights Deli and Bottle Shop: The best truffle fries. They also have a nice selection of deli meats and liquor.


Rico Tejuino Los Reyes: The best Mexican-style ice cream. Always such a long line during the summer. Park behind in CVS.


Taqueria La Naranja: An affordable and fast Mexican cuisine place. Very popular with the locals.


B24: A cute cafe with a loft. Very modern and American. My friends come here to study sometimes in high school.


Champion donuts: Lots of donut variety. Also sell boba.


Notable Historical Landmarks

Lincoln Heights Jail

421 N Ave 19 - This jail was built in 1927 with $5 million dollars to accommodate 625 prisoners, expanded in the 1950s to accommodate 2800 prisoners, and closed in 1965. The Lincoln Heights Makers District was proposed in 2017 to replace the Jail, but paused during 2020 from environmental cleaning up.


One of the greatest environmental victories here is closing the Lincoln Heights Jail that at the peak held 2800 prisoners, such as Al Capone who stayed temporarily. The Lincoln Heights Makers’ District is currently planned to replace the Jail but has halted for environmental clean up.


Fun Facts

  • Seven movies were filmed in Lincoln Heights: Police (1916), Take a Chance (1918), Detained (1924), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Blood in Blood Out (1993), Changeling (2008).

  • Cesar Chavez stayed in Lincoln Heights during the “No on 22” campaign in November 1972.


References

Guyette, Susan. 2013. Sustainable Cultural Tourism.

Pezzullo, Phaedra Carmen. 2009. Toxic Tourism.

Pulido, Laura, Laura R. Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng. 2012. A People's Guide to Los Angeles.












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