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Exploring Los Cerritos’ Cultural History

The Dolphin Fountain in front of Cerritos City Hall. Photo courtesy Alley Union, CC0 Creative Commons


When I travel abroad, people usually ask me where I’m from, to which I reply, I’m from Los Angeles. The first thing they say is what is Hollywood like? They don’t realize that LA is a sprawling city of almost 5,000 square miles and home to nearly 4 million people. Our particular area of Los Cerritos is pivotal to the development of Los Angeles, virtually the geographic center of the Los Angeles Basin. If ever a tourist wanted to ask about us, it would be a lot easier if we could show them this summary of fun facts about its rich cultural history.

King Carlos III

At one time, the entire area was owned by one lone Spanish soldier, José Manuel Nieto. As the story goes, when Spanish explorers arrived here as part of their mission to explore the New World in the 16th century, they settled here calling it home. After some time, a soldier named Jose Manuel Nieto, who was part of the Gaspar de Portolà expedition of 1769, received 300,000 acres by the then-Charles III of Spain in the 18th century as a gift. The area included Cerritos, Long Beach and other surrounding areas. The 300,000 acres was later divided five ways among his heirs.

From Cerritos to the World of Sports

Troy Aikman descended from the Los Cerritos area. A pro football Hall of Famer quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, he grew up there until the age of 12 and attended Cerritos Elementary before his family moved to Oklahoma.

He went on to play 12 consecutive seasons as quarterback with the Cowboys and led the team to three Super Bowl victories. In 2013, he was honored as the Cerritos Hometown Hero.

Don’t Worry Be Happy

One of the great musical icons of the 20th century, Grammy Award-winning artist Bobby McFerrin was behind such hits as “Don’t Worry Be Happy” attended Cerritos College for a time. There he received his formative education in music under the guidance of soundtrack composer Dave Grusin before later dropping out.

In recent times, he’s experienced a career resurgence, bringing back his mainly isolated choral vocal techniques. His music is a focal point in the Palme d’Or-winning film from 2017, “The Square.”



Bobby McFerrin attended Cerritos College. Photo courtesy Steve Jurvetson, 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)


On Set in Cerritos

Most people don’t know it, but Los Cerritos has been the setting of some of Hollywood’s top film and TV productions. From “American Pie” to “Horrible Bosses” to the hit TV show “Dexter.”

But the one that stands out is the 1992 groundbreaking comedy “Wayne’s World.” This comedy, featuring a then-unknown Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, was set in parts of Los Cerritos. For example, in one of its most famous scenes, the parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody” was filmed in Covina’s Old Town.

Playing Cards in Los Cerritos

Not many people know this, but Los Cerritos is home to one of the top card-carrying casinos in all of California: Gardens Casino, based out of Hawaiian Gardens.

It’s very popular for only offering card games like blackjack and poker. Formerly housed under a large tent at almost 60,000 square feet, in 2016, it underwent a renovation for $90 million and expanded to 200,000 ft.

Its general manager, Ron Sarabi, is striving to make it the best place to play cards in LA, and he’s doing a good job; Time Out has voted it as one of the best places to enjoy poker and blackjack in Los Angeles.

That said, if you’re far from the Gardens Casino or want more than card games, there are plenty of other online avenues you could try, including ones with special offers to get you started.

Powering America from Cerritos

Los Angeles is by far the most energy-conscious city in the nation; it has the highest rate of installed solar-powered units of any town in America. But little do people know, Cerritos played a significant part in that. In 1978, Cerritos built the nation’s first solar-heated City Hall complex with 1,408 square feet of solar collection panels on the roof. Today, it provides up to 95 percent of the hot water for the City Hall.

Apart from its rich cultural history, what makes Cerritos so enjoyable is that today it is home to many diverse ethnicities, including Asian Indian, Chinese and Korean communities. There is also an abundance of world-class performing arts centers and recreational parks.

Though there are many towns and cities across the Los Angeles — 88 to be precise — Los Cerritos is one that represents the best of what the area has to offer. If any tourists ever come through Hollywood, I will always tell them to stop by and visit Cerritos; they won’t regret it.


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