Long a neglected part of our city's landscape, the Los Angeles River once defined life in the area. Before there was a California, or even a United States, the Gabrieleño Indians had a community of over 45 villages dotting the San Fernando Valley and present day Glendale, and the River was their foundation, providing water and a diverse selection of food. In 1769, Spain's Gaspar de Portola "discovered" the river during his explorations, dubbing it El Río de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Ángeles de Porciúncula. Later it was shortened to reflect the name of the city growing around it -- the waterway that once defined the region now becoming its subordinate.

Although the river was fairly dry for most of the year, winter rains often brought with them dramatic and unpredictable flash floods well into the 1930s. After a devastating flood in 1938, Angelenos began to demand flood control measures, resulting in the Army Corps of Engineers' work over the next 30 years to essentially turn the river into a man-made storm drain.

Now, work on the Los Angeles River has moved from flood control to conservation, as advocacy groups and individuals take on the task of preserving and restoring the river and its wildlife. The Los Angeles River itself is increasingly the site of artistic, social, and educational activity, once becoming a lifeline linking a growing and diverse population.


Chapter 1 Headwaters to the Sepulveda Basin
Hundreds of years ago the Gabrieliños lived and worked on the banks of the L.A. River, whose basin was green and lush, dotted with strands of willow and oak that stretched all the way to the Pacific.
Chapter 2 Los Feliz
As the river winds past Griffith Park towards Los Feliz, it transforms from a concrete channel into an waterway rich with wildlife and vegetation, where possibilities for recreational opportunities have made it a focus of community leaders and river advocates alike.
Chapter 3 Elysian Valley
In Elysian Valley one can enjoy some of the most scenic and natural views the Los Angeles River, along with historic bridges, bikeways, hiking paths, an abundance of small parks, public art installations, as well as a large state park.
Chapter 4 Yangna
Hundreds of years ago the Los Angeles River sat at the center of daily life for our first ancestors, the Tongva Indians. Yangna, sitting just a few miles from the river near Spring Street, was the largest Tongva village, and a center for commerce, governance and religious ceremonies.
Chapter 5 Downtown
Twenty-seven bridges span the entirety of the Los Angeles River, many of which are located downtown. Built between 1909-1938, they represent a significant time period for Los Angeles, when a population explosion and the automobile redefined the young city.
Chapter 6 From Compton Creek to Long Beach
The 8.5-mile Compton Creek was once used as a kind of dumping ground; recently a coalition of local politicians and area residents have claimed the creek back as their own.


Youth Voices is a digital literacy and civic engagement program that invites youth to explore their neighborhood and become active participants in all aspects of their community. Take a look at some of their work and the Youth Voices curriculum. READ MORE arrow

Field Guides

Be a tourist in your own backyard, explore the places and histories that make up our unique neighborhoods.