A Walker in L.A.: Reading the Signs

Forget billboards—it’s the city’s smallest street ads that lead to real discovery

When you walk, you start noticing that L.A. has an awful lot of signs. There are the ubiquitous generic vinyl signs, stacked like primary-color totem poles in the parking lot of every strip mall. There are the sign “dancers” who parade across the sidewalk flipping cardboard arrows pointing towards the nearest condo development. And there are what I like to call the endangered signs: Hand-painted ones. Although they’ve been eradicated in most parts of the city in favor of steel and plastic, there are still plenty of places you can find hand-painted signs in the wild. I did this recently in South L.A., where I could walk forever down the colorful streets near historic Central Avenue admiring the letterforms and illustrations for everything from piñatas to mariscos, like this one I spotted on Maple. If vinyl signs were made for cars zooming by at top speed, hand-painted signs can only be appreciated by someone moving at a pedestrian’s pace.

Alissa Walker is a writer, a gelato eater, and a walker in L.A. She shares an experience from her adventures around town at CityThink each Wednesday. Follow her daily on Instagram at @awalkerinLA, on Twitter, or at her blog, and use the hashtag #betteroffped to share your own photographs of walking in L.A.