Urban Photo Trip to the L.A. River
Photo Taken with a Fuji x100
06
SEPTEMBER, 2017
Southern California
Day Trip
Walk

If you live in or have traveled to Southern California, you’ve probably driven over and perhaps even seen the L.A. River out your window briefly in passing.

And you may not know it, but you’ve probably seen it as a featured location in any number of TV shows and movies. The drag race scene in Grease? The motorcycle and semi-truck chase in Terminator 2? Both filmed down in the L.A. River. It’s an iconic, mostly concrete swath that cuts through the Eastern edge of downtown as it heads out towards San Pedro and the Port of Los Angeles. In downtown LA, several bridges crisscross it, taking you from the Arts District over to Boyle Heights and beyond.

The historic 6th Street Bridge - Let's Photo Trip L.A. River
The historic 6th Street Bridge
Photo taken with a Fuji x100
We were downtown one weekend, headed out towards Watts Towers in the afternoon, and looking for interesting places to shoot pictures. Despite roaming around the surrounding Arts District, we just weren’t finding anything that caught our eye.

We knew that the 6th Street Bridge was going to be demolished to make way for a new and safer crossing. The bridge, probably one of the grandest and most picturesque structures to cross the river, was built in 1932 and was a fixture of the LA landscape and itself had appeared in countless tv, film and video projects. Since we were in the neighborhood, we parked and took a stroll up and over the bridge just so that we could say that we’d done it.

built in 1932, it was a fixture of the LA landscape and itself had appeared in countless tv, film and video projects

As we got back to the downtown side, we snooped around to see if there was any way for us to get down underneath the bridge. We never expected to go down to the banks of the L.A. River, but going underneath the span offers a whole new perspective. Lo and behold, there was a wide open causeway on Santa Fe Street that let you walk right down to the banks of the river itself. Graffiti covered the walls and trash lined the sides of this narrow descent, making this short walk feel more than a little creepy.

But when we got down – oh, man – it was the coolest thing ever. Here’s this view that you’ve seen in countless films, and you’re in it! Oddly enough (for Los Angeles), there was a trickle of water flowing down the river. We were there in January, and with that winter’s rains came runoff headed out to the ocean. To our left, the steep banks of concrete sloped down, with the river leading to a straight shot Eastward. All we saw were bridges in the distance along with a beautiful blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds. Add to it a shopping cart here and there, and some kids riding their bikes through the water and the scene was pretty surreal.

The 6th Street Bridge is in the LAX flight pattern - Let's Photo Trip L.A. River
The 6th Street Bridge is in the LAX flight pattern
Photo taken with a Fuji X100
Looking towards East L.A. - Let's Photo Trip L.A. River
Looking towards East L.A.
Photo taken with an iPhone 6
Steve hanging tough in the L.A. River - Let's Photo Trip L.A. River
Steve hanging tough in the LA River
Photo taken with a Fuji x100
A cloud stuck in the power lines - Let's Photo Trip L.A. River
A cloud stuck in the power lines
Photo taken with a Fuji x100
Playground are where you make them - Let's Photo Trip L.A. River
Playgrounds are where you make them
Photo taken with a Fuji x100
Gabe shooting up and down the river - Let's Photo Trip L.A. River
Gabe shooting up and down the river
Photo taken with an
iPhone 6
But to the right, looking West, something unique. A classic car club show with maybe ten vintage cars and their owners just hanging out in the riverbed. It was truly the last thing we expected to see. There were girls dressed like Betty Page posing with the cars, and somebody in the group had a drone flying over to capture it all.

Above all of this loomed the 6th Street Bridge. We’d walked across it, and now we were right underneath it. While the views from atop the bridge were fantastic, they were even more so from underneath.

Within a few months of our visit, the city demolished the bridge. Designs for the new bridge, to be completed in a few years, incorporate some of the themes from the original.

Flash forward a year or so, and we wanted to head back to the L.A. River to see if we could check it out at a different time of day. We got back to 6th Street, and indeed, the entire bridge is gone. The access point to the riverbed itself remains there at Santa Fe Street, but it’s gated and locked. Determined to try and find a way down, we drove around and checked out the other bridges that cross the river. We parked at the 4th Street bridge and went up and over. Down below us was empty except for one person walking along the concrete banks while water from the day’s flash rains flowed through. In the day’s fading light, we took some more photos and headed back to the car.

The sun sets along the L.A. River - Looking down from the 4th Street Bridge - Let's Photo Trip L.A. River
The sun sets along the L.A. River – Looking down from the 4th Street Bridge
Photo taken with a Fuji X100F
Downtown L.A. as seen from the 4th Street Bridge. - Let's Photo Trip L.A. River
Downtown L.A. as seen from the 4th Street Bridge
Photo taken with a Fuji x100F
Gothic revival lighting along the 4th Street Bridge - Let's Photo Trip L.A. River
Gothic revival lighting along the 4th Street Bridge
Photo taken with a Fuji x100F
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We headed over to the bridge at 1st Street, but still no access down. We drove over to the other nearby bridge at Cesar Chavez, but still no luck. Once home, we scoured the internet to see if and how people are getting into the river. Photos still show people down there – fashion shoots, auto shows – but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not these are current or old photos. We weren’t able to find anything that gave us clear direction as to how to enter safely and legally. In fact, one post we read stated that it was illegal to be down in the riverbed, due to the safety concerns of potential flash flooding.

On this second visit, we did see one person walking there, and we saw a downed fence at the far end of a railyard, but we can’t condone or suggest that you do the same to get into the river. Once the new bridge is complete, it’s likely that access through that Santa Fe tunnel will remain open, due to the popularity of filming and other projects that take place there. On our first trip there, we certainly lucked out to be both on top of and underneath the famed 6th Street Bridge.

We would never have found this spot if we had played it safe. Live a little – go down a wrong street, take a turn where you normally wouldn’t. Even in the middle of an urban core such as downtown Los Angeles, there are great things to photograph! Don’t limit yourself to parks and landscapes for beautiful images. Head into the city and open yourself up to a whole new adventure!

2 Comments

  1. Holly

    Keep taking these trips. I love your perspective on places you visit👏🏻😎

    Reply
    • Steve Wilson

      Thanks so much Holly! Keep following along – we’ve got so many more photo trips stacked up to share with everyone!!

      Reply

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