LEIMERT PARK/CRENSHAW

Leimert Park has been a hub for artists and performers for decades, probably most famously called “the black Greenwich Village” by a local filmmaker (and etched in our minds after cameos in the film “Love & Basketball”!!) The small neighborhood borders Baldwin Hills, Exposition Park and West Adams, and is part of South Los Angeles. Degnan Boulevard, outlining the village, is home to art galleries, cafes, bookshops, and some of the best Caribbean food in town.

Although many locals hold an ardent wish for more businesses with more regular and consistent hours, it’s long been seen as an epicenter for the African-American community in Los Angeles, most notably for its rich arts scene (jazz, poetry, performance pieces). It was built in the 1920s as one of the first “planned communities” in California, and designed primarily for middle class families. After WWII, it was where many Japanese families settled (still seen in the Japanese architecture in much of the neighborhood). In the 1950s, a multitude of African American families began moving in, and it became one of the largest middle-class black neighborhoods in the U.S.

Leimert Park is full of those Spanish-Colonial style homes and quintessential California bungalows on purple jacaranda-lined streets, making for some picture-perfect LA scenes. African-Americans still make up almost 80% of the population and it’s remained the historic heart of the black community, unlike other historically black neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Today, change is creeping in with the expansion of the Metro system (that will include a Crenshaw/LAX stop slated for 2019), the growth of the Crenshaw/Baldwin Hills Mall and the restoration of the historic Vision Theater, just across from the park itself.

Stop 1: Tak's Coffeeshop

Tak’s Coffeeshop may not be more than a few decades old, but it’s a remnant of the Japanese entrepreneurs in the area (it opened after the iconic Holiday Bowl complex closed in early 2000s). They serve fresh biscuits, fried chicken and the famous loco moco. We saddled up to the counter, ordered two coffees and the pancake sandwich (bacon, eggs over easy) and took in the “Stay in School” posters lining the walls and the old men wearing Lakers hats. It’s got a classic diner vibe and booths full of folks who seem like they’ve been regulars for years.

(3870 Crenshaw Boulevard, Los Angeles)

Stop 2: Eso Won Books

This “independent black (people) owned bookstore” is a real gem in the neighborhood: they offer a wide range of African-American books, comics, coloring books and more. Before the shop made Degnan Boulevard its home, it was located for over a decade in Inglewood and has hosted readings from everyone from Barack Obama to Spike Lee, BB King, and Maya Angelou. We picked up the latest Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie essay, as well as a kids’ Nelson Mandela coloring book (the children’s section is amazing!)

(4327 Degnan Boulevard, Los Angeles)

Stop 3: Sika

Sika is a boutique and gallery named for its owner, who is considered a “master jeweler” and the BEST nose piercer in the city! (no gun, no needle, and he makes the nose rings by hand). This is also the spot for incense, African baskets, artwork, and homemade shea butter. We left with some fantastically colorful earrings and a wish list a mile long.

(4330 Degnan Boulevard, Los Angeles)

Stop 4: Ackee Bamboo Jamaican Cuisine

We spent over 3 years working for a nonprofit organization in Leimert Park, and Ackee Bamboo was our most beloved regular lunch spot — it is BY FAR our favorite Jamaican restaurant in Los Angeles! We shared a plate of curry chicken and jerk chicken (both come with cabbage, rice and peas, festival bread, and plantains). The chicken just falls off the bone and has a great kick of  flavor, and the perfectly fluffy festival bread is truly addictive. We polished off every last bite, and washed our meal down with a sweet glass of ginger lemonade.

Insider’s Tip: closed on Mondays!

(4305 Degnan Boulevard, Los Angeles)

Stop 5: Africa by the Yard

Every city needs more places like Africa by the Yard. This shop offers beautifully-made, unique pieces — much more than just a fabric shop (although there are some gorgeous fabrics from all over the continent!), Africa by the Yard also sells North African leather bags and purses, handmade argan oil, and chess sets made from rare juniper wood.

(4319 Degnan Boulevard, Los Angeles)

Stop 6: Southern Girl Desserts

We got three words for ya: sweet potato cupcake. Yep, this southern-inspired dessert company offers up a plethora of cupcakes, but this is their best-seller and it’s over-the-top delicious! We paired ours with a carton of almond milk and a chocolate & pecan cookie, and settled into to enjoy the sweetness. The shop was featured on the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” and you can see why they secured a first place finish.

Insider’s Tip: the shop is located inside the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw mall. Beyond cupcakes and cookies, they sell cobblers, cakes, and pies. Oh, and make sure you visit here on your all-out-food-cheat day!

(3650 W Marin Luther King Boulevard, Los Angeles)

The Details:

We took the Expo Line from Culver City to the Expo/Crenshaw stop, and walked from there. Bustling Degnan Boulevard is a little over a half-mile from the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall, but there’s also several buses that run along Crenshaw Boulevard.

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