There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage following the tremor, which happened at around 11.40pm local time, about two miles outside of South El Monte, near Los Angeles.
However, authorities have warned residents to be prepared for potential aftershocks.
The Los Angeles Police Department asked members of the public to call 911 only for emergencies, but said it had not received reports of damage.
Initial reports suggest the tremor was about 11 miles deep. It was felt across the region and as far as San Diego, the US Geological Survey said. The agency revised its magnitude downward following preliminary reports.
The epicentre of Friday’s quake was near the location of the Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987, seismologist Dr Lucy Jones wrote on Twitter. That earthquake was much larger, with a magnitude of 5.9.
Yes. A M4.6 2 mi WSW of El Monte at 11:38. Almost the same location as the M5.9 Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987— Dr. Lucy Jones (@DrLucyJones) September 19, 2020
The Whittier Narrows earthquake killed eight people and caused more than $200m in damage.
The site of the 1987 quake remains seismically active. In 2014, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake hit the Puente Hills thrust fault, which runs from the San Gabriel Valley to central Los Angeles. The 2014 tremor left some 100 people temporarily displaced and caused damage to property and infrastructure.