Considering the Golden State’s abundance of thriving artistic communities and culturally diverse neighborhoods, the California Arts Council had plenty of possibilities for its 2017 statewide Cultural Districts designations. The program, which celebrates regions with unique artistic identities, rewarded 14 communities for their commitment to culture and the arts.
“Our goal with this program was to support a group of districts that met high but broad standards of coherence, vision, and purpose—ones that could set an example for districts that will follow as the program develops and grows,” says Donn K. Harris, California Arts Council Chair.
From north to south, here are the designated California Cultural Districts.
1. Eureka Cultural Arts District, Eureka
On California’s North Coast, redwoods surround this vibrant arts district where public art, local breweries, and chocolate makers converge. Every month, the downtown area hosts First Saturday Night Arts Alive!, which features more than 75 art-focused sites and businesses; other seasonal events include the Redwood Coast Music Festival, Taste of Main Street, summer concerts and more. Outside of this artsy town, surrounding Humboldt County is full of hiking trails, forests, beaches, and quaint fishing villages.
2. Redding Cultural District, Redding
The stunning Sundial Bridge sets the tone for Redding’s Cultural District, which blends the natural surroundings (trails, rivers, forest) with artistic activities such as microbrewing and theater. Explore the historic downtown to find nearly 70 public art sites—like the rotating sculpture exhibit outside City Hall—and more than 50 restaurants and bars, or find local- to international-level talent at the Cascade Theatre and Redding Civic Auditorium.
3. Grass Valley-Nevada City Cultural District, Grass Valley/Nevada City
This pair of Gold Country cities experienced a cultural revolution in the 1960s when a number of authors and musicians of the Beat Generation took residence here, and the collection of artistic residents remains strong. In Nevada City, the Nevada Theatre—the oldest theater in California—hosts more than 100 arts-related events per year, not to mention the area’s annual festivals, street fairs, and art walks.
4. Truckee Cultural District, Truckee
Thanks to such attractions as the Old Jail Museum and the Truckee Railroad Museum, this charming mountain town near Lake Tahoe already boasts a Historic District title, and it can now claim the Cultural District designation too. Visitors will find a flourishing artistic community, evident in its art galleries and exhibit spaces. A recent addition includes a 3,000-square-foot “makerspace,” the Truckee Roundhouse, where community residents and visitors can learn a variety of artistic skills.
5. Downtown San Rafael Arts District, San Rafael
Check out the events schedule in this Marin County community and you’ll see why it makes the list: Art walks and festivals (like the acclaimed Mill Valley Film Festival) and institutions such as the 11-acre Falkirk Cultural Center and the Arts Works Downtown, an arts center with four galleries, more than two dozen artists’ studios and even artist housing, have made downtown San Rafael a cultural hub with an energetic artistic community.
6. Rotten City-Emeryville Cultural Arts District, Emeryville
Cutting-edge art forms such as animation and digital mapping compositions have helped Emeryville develop its own unique cultural distinction and arts colony. Partners such as Pixar Animation Studios and Bullseye Glass continue to grow and incubate the arts on San Francisco Bay’s eastern shoreline.
7. The Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, San Francisco
This vibrant neighborhood in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District has celebrated Latino culture, arts, and activism since the 1940s. Today, Calle 24 boasts the largest collection of murals in San Francisco, and there’s no shortage of events and specialty businesses to keep the culture alive.
8. SOMA Pilipinas, Filipino Cultural Heritage District, San Francisco
This South of Market neighborhood in San Francisco is home to thousands of Filipino families, with multiple Filipino-American businesses (like Arkipelago bookstore and Bindlestiff Studio). Check out its exciting cultural events—like the Pistahan Parade and Festival, in August—that showcase the area’s performers, culinary arts, and supporting businesses.
9. The BLVD Cultural District, Lancaster
Since the late 1800s, The BLVD has been a hub for cultural events in the Antelope Valley, with concerts, farmers' markets, and holiday festivals taking over the streets of Lancaster. This High Desert district, east of Los Angeles, is home to a number of historic sites, including the Aerospace Walk of Honor and the Western Hotel Museum, and it also focuses on environmental initiatives.
10. Little Tokyo, Los Angeles
Museums, anime shops, poetry venues, and historic landmarks all add to the eclectic vibe of Little Tokyo, a special pocket of Downtown Los Angeles, where both traditional and contemporary artworks find a home. Take a Little Tokyo walking tour to explore the Frank Gehry–designed Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, sample the signature ramen at Men Oh Tokushima Ramen, and sip a cocktail while watching a burlesque show at The Edison.
There’s a small-town feel in the Los Angeles peninsula town of San Pedro, where the historic downtown has been hosting artist studios since 1944. You can see the artistic influence at Crafted, a permanent weekend market with handmade apparel and home decor, in the nontraditional spaces for art openings and classes, and at the First Thursday ArtWalk.
12. Oceanside Cultural District, San Diego
Because of its proximity to Camp Pendleton, Oceanside has historically been known as a military town. But not anymore: This coastal city in San Diego’s North County has put itself on the map with great food, quality craft beer, and an emerging arts scene. The California Surf Museum pays tribute to the local surf culture; historic venues like The Star Theatre and The Brooks Theatre bring the performing arts to the community; and annual cultural events feature local artists.
13. Balboa Park Cultural District, San Diego
Sprawling across an impressive 1,200 acres and featuring 17 museums, iconic architecture, and multiple performance venues, Balboa Park truly is San Diego’s cultural center. Along with its rich history, the park offers 65 miles of hiking trails, beautiful gardens, and a world-renowned zoo you may have heard of.
14. Barrio Logan Cultural District, San Diego
A grassroots coalition of artists, community leaders, and residents has kept this San Diego neighborhood true to its authentic Chicano culture. Check out Chicano Park, where 79 historic murals create a colorful backdrop for cultural events like Azteca dance and drumming groups. The area also features galleries, cafés, and breweries that showcase local art.