Community Voices
Open image in lightbox
A cruise ship parked in the Port of Los Angeles. Click to enlarge. (photo: John Mattera Photography)

Right before the world shut down due to the pandemic, I spent a season working at the cruise ship terminal in San Pedro, checking in passengers. I met people of all ages from around the world who were excited to start their vacations. There were those who cruised all the time, honeymooners, families who saved up for years to cruise together, solo travelers, and even a few who were sadly terminally ill on their last trip.

I learned from many passengers that few spent time in San Pedro. Some came straight from the airport, and others enjoyed Los Angeles-based attractions like Hollywood or Universal Studios. One big issue is the lack of hotels in San Pedro. There are now only two large hotels in town. On a ship with up to 5,000 passengers, only an average of 50 rooms are booked in San Pedro. In addition, San Pedro just lost the Best Western on Gaffey Street, as it is becoming a shelter for homeless veterans. 

I spent many days in the cruise terminal, a large sparse room with chairs and a check-in counter. Sometimes passengers waited for long periods in the terminal, especially when there were delays. They only had vending machines for food and drinks. No merchandise is sold there. While there have been efforts over the years to encourage visitors to spend time and money in San Pedro, there was little evidence of that at the cruise ship terminal, except for the trolley bus that stopped out front.

Scott and Katherine Gray noticed the lack of services for visiting cruising tourists and opened the San Pedro Visitor Center 12 years ago. The Visitor Center welcomes all people to San Pedro and provides recommendations for restaurants, attractions, local merchants, and churches. Many different people frequent the center, including those considering moving to San Pedro, locals who wander in, and passengers from cruise ships. Since there are no options for vendors at the cruise ship terminal, the Grays set up their center as close as they could get in Downtown San Pedro. The Port of Los Angeles has hired Ports America to manage the cruise terminal. With year-round cruises starting in San Pedro, there will be 220 cruise calls expected this year with 750,000 passengers. 

“This is the community’s visitor center. It is for everybody to get updated information about San Pedro and leave information to share, like special events,” states Katherine Gray, president of the San Pedro Visitor Center.

Businesses geared toward tourists, like restaurants, points of interest, and real estate agents, can buy a membership to advertise at the Visitor Center and on their website. Unlike the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, whose members include all types of businesses, the Visitor Center is focused on tourism and people interested in moving to San Pedro. 

Many cruise ship passengers walk to The Visitor Center. Tourists are often looking for recommendations for places to eat, things to do, or a store. Katherine, who has traveled extensively, keeps up on world news to better communicate with visitors from around the world who visit San Pedro.

The Visitor Center also has a touchless screen monitor that provides resources to people at their location. They will soon have a monitor in their window with a QR code that can be activated through the window serving visitors 24/7, even when closed.

With so many air travel disruptions, people arrive at their destinations earlier to ensure time to get to their ship. Now is an excellent opportunity to promote San Pedro to the ships’ passengers and staff. The cruise terminal could add banners and information about area attractions, just like many airports. spt

The San Pedro Visitor Center welcomes volunteers and is located at 479 W. 6th Street, Suite 101, across from the Warner Grand. For more information, visit or call (310) 729-9828.

photo of san pedro today author Jennifer Marquez

Jennifer Marquez

Jennifer Marquez can be reached at  and @jenntmqz on Twitter and Instagram.