L.A. Metro's Gold Line is one long ride. Since the opening of the Foothill Extension in early March, the (mostly) above-ground light rail line hits a whopping 27 stops, and the train hasn't even hit its planned terminus. Another phase of the Foothill Extension will take the line all the way out to Montclair in San Bernardino County.
For now, though, the Gold Line runs from East Los Angeles to Azusa, dipping through downtown Los Angeles and running through the northeastern portion of the city before heading into South Pasadena and Pasadena, where it ends up running along the 210 deeper into the San Gabriel Valley. There is a lot to see and do when you're riding the Gold Line. Unlike the Purple Line, I wouldn't suggest making an attempt to hit all the stops in one day. Still, you can use this guide to help plan your weekend activities. Have fun.
1. When at Atlantic Boulevard, visit the Vincent Price Art Museum.
Vincent Price was an avid art collector and in 1957 he and wife Mary Grant donated pieces from their personal collection to East Los Angeles College for what became the Vincent Price Gallery. Over time, the collection swelled and the personal attention Price gave to both the gallery and ELAC students can be seen in a late-1980s interview with Huell Howser. Now renamed the Vincent Price Art Museum, the institution houses an ample permanent collection and frequent shows from student and professional artists alike.
When heading to VPAM, be wary of using your phone's map application. Mine nearly sent me to another side of the ELAC campus. You can get better directions from the museum's website. Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles College, 1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez, Monterey Park; (323) 265-8841, vincentpriceartmuseum.org.
2. When at East L.A. Civic Center, look for public art.
Los Angeles County has amassed a hefty collection of public art, ranging from a Japanese garden at a Gardena library to a Shepard Fairey mural at LAC + USC Medical Center to glass panels at an aquatic center in Castaic. East L.A. Civic Center is home to several pieces in the county collection, and you might spot the first one as soon as you exit the train.
"Dreams of Past, Present and Future" is a group mural painted on ceramic tiles. Artists José Antonio Aguirre, Eva Cristina Pérez and Alfredo Calderon served as teachers for a small group of then-student artists who made this piece back in 1996. It's not a massive mural, but it's large enough to catch your eye as you walk on Third Street, and the amount of detail in it will make you want to get up close to see scenes ancient and modern bleed into each other. East Los Angeles Civic Center, 4801 Third St., East L.A.
3. When at Maravilla, eat at King Taco.
You've spent your day walking and sitting in trains and now you're getting really hangry. But, wait! Is that a King Taco right next to the Maravilla stop on the Gold Line?
You start to think about how two carnitas tacos should cure your mean, growling stomach. However, you notice that every line at King Taco is long. Do you brave it? Of course you do.
After you quickly make your way through the line and start shoving tacos into your mouth, you look around and notice that, as crowded as this place is, everyone looks happy. The place is overflowing with families and friends. The young people here are still wearing their sports uniforms or dance recital makeup; they've clearly had big Saturdays and look ecstatic to be digging into their grub. Clearly, King Taco is doing something right. King Taco #2, 4504 E. Third St., East Los Angeles; (323) 264-4067, kingtaco.com.
4. When at Indiana, get a snow cone.
In case tacos aren't enough, head down to the Indiana Street stop and get a snow cone. You can't miss the spot; a mural boasting "Original Snow Cone" is visible from the platform. You can get bucketloads of sweet, syrupy crushed ice here. Seriously, they sell the goodies in buckets. Of course, if you're by yourself, you can get a small serving as well. That's what I did and the cup was still packed, nearly overflowing with tamarind-flavored slush.
Original Snow Cone and Funnel Cakes sells other treats too. Yes, funnel cakes are among the menu items. So are various other fried treats and tostilocos. Original Snow Cone and Funnel Cakes, 3557 E. Third St., Boyle Heights; (323) 269-0109.
5. When at Soto St., tour Evergreen Cemetery.
At Evergreen Cemetery, you won't find the high concentration of star-studded stones that you will at Hollywood Forever. And, unlike Forest Lawn or even nearby Calvary, it's not a particularly tidy resting place. In fact, it's a bit overrun with weeds. However, if you consider yourself a student of L.A. history, this is a good place to visit. Evergreen's permanent residents have been settling here since 1877 and they are an ethnically and socio-economically diverse group of late Angelenos. A trip here provides an enlightening look into the people who have made up Los Angeles since the late 19th century, but you have to get here early. The cemetery closes at 4:30 p.m. 204 N. Evergreen Ave., Boyle Heights.
6. When at Mariachi Plaza, listen for the music.
As the name implies, this Boyle Heights stop is the historic home of L.A.'s mariachi scene. Even today, you'll still see mariachi performers in the area and people will come here to hire musicians for various events.
There's a lot of music at Mariachi Plaza. I heard it loudly reverberating one Saturday afternoon as I took the escalator up from this subterranean Gold Line stop. It was Mexika New Year (the new year for the Aztec calendar) and a ska band was just starting its set. This is a nightlife hub, too, as Eastside Luv and M Bar are both very close to the station. On May 19, Noches de Serenata will launch as what is proposed to be a monthly music and art event. And, of course, there is the annual Mariachi Festival (the next isn't until November, unfortunately).
7. Take the Pico-Aliso exit for Self-Help Graphics events.
Since the early 1970s, Self-Help Graphics has fused art and community involvement with a mix of projects. The group is well known for its annual Day of the Dead events, which include a series of craft workshops leading up to the day of remembrance. It hosts multiple arts education events, including programs geared toward youth.
The group uses its studio near Pico-Aliso station to train artists and show new works. It offers workshops with fun twists, such as "Prints and the Revolution" coming up in April, where attendees will get "self help" in printing their T-shirts. They also host gallery shows. Self-Help Graphics, 1300 E. First St., Boyle Heights; (323) 881-6444, selfhelpgraphics.com.
8. In Little Tokyo, pick up books by Japanese authors at Kinokuniya.
The Los Angeles outpost of Japanese bookstore chain Kinokuniya is tucked inside a Little Tokyo mini-mall above Marukai. Its location isn't obvious, but once you step inside you'll want to seek it out on every trip to the neighborhood. Manga takes up a good chunk of real estate inside the store, with the selection split between comics written in Japanese and titles that have been translated into English. There's also an ample selection of anime-related art books, stationery and small toys. There's also a small but solid collection of non-Japanese comics, including indie titles like Dragon's Breath by Mari Naomi. The literature section heaves with Japanese titles translated into English and boasts a healthy selection of poetry as well. Kinokuniya Los Angeles, Weller Court, 123 Astronaut E. S. Onizuka St., Little Tokyo; (213) 687-4480, kinokuniya.com.
9. Near Union Station? Venture into Little Jewel of New Orleans for snacks and more.
Don't expect your stop at Little Jewel of New Orleans to be quick; it's easy to lose track of time here. The market/deli is packed with shelves of hot sauce and assorted odds and ends to embark on a Louisiana-style cooking adventure at home. You might feel a little overwhelmed when you open up the refrigerators packed with varieties of soda that you won't find at your average L.A. convenience store. Swamp Pop is the way to go. The sweet, liquid treat is made with Louisiana sugarcane and comes in a variety of flavors, including Praline Cream Soda and Jean Lafitte Ginger Ale. The latter is named for a pirate and has a cool, cucumber-ginger taste. For a snack, you can scour the market for chips and sweets or grab beignets and coffee. If you're looking for a full meal, check out the expansive po' boy menu and daily specials. Be forewarned, there are lots of impulse-buy temptations here. On my last trip, I was sucked into the rack of vintage pulp novels and couldn't leave Little Jewel without one. Little Jewel of New Orleans, 207 Ord St., Chinatown; (213) 620-0461, littlejewl.la.
10. In Chinatown, shop for gifts at Fong's.
Fong's is a Chinatown institution that dates back to 1952. Two years ago, though, the gift shop nearly succumbed to rising rents on Chung King Road. Fortunately, as reported in L.A. Weekly, Fong's found a new home in the Best Western Plaza. The store is tiny, but it's packed with an eclectic selection of goods that is impeccably organized. There's also an ample array of miniatures here, including some lovely pieces of dollhouse furniture. The glass cases are filled with statement jewelry pieces and there is also a small selection of books in the front of the shop. Fong's, Best Western Plaza, Dragon Gate Inn, 818 N. Hill St., Suite B, Chinatown; (213) 626-5904, fongsla.com.
11. When in Cypress Park, head to Footsie's.
If you want to chill out with your friend, hear some DJs and feel little pressure to get out on the dance floor, then Footsie's might be a good bar for you. The calendar boasts an eclectic lineup with DJs who specialize in everything from soul to metal. (Disclosure: I once guest-DJed a goth night here.) It's also the home of Discostan, the popular party that plays a mix of international beats.
Typically, if you're going to Footsie's, I would tell you to make sure you stop by El Atacor #11, which is a few doors down from the bar. Its potato tacos are a delicious way to carb up when you've been drinking. However, the restaurant has recently been closed for a remodel, so keep your eyes peeled. If El Atacor is back to its usual late-night hours, get yourself a bite. 2640 N. Figueroa, Cypress Park; (323) 221-6900, facebook.com/footsies.
12. Tour the Victorian houses at Heritage Square.
Described as a "living history museum," Heritage Square is a collection of restored buildings culled from various L.A. neighborhoods and arranged to form a tiny neighborhood that gives visitors insight into the past. If you're into Victorian-era art and culture, this is a must-visit spot. Heritage Square hosts occasional exhibitions and has a variety of annual events, ranging from fashion shows to movie screenings. (Make sure you check out the Halloween and Mourning Tours in the fall — they're fascinating.) Heritage Square also is available for private event rentals. Thinking about a steampunk wedding? This is your spot. Heritage Square, 3800 Homer St., Lincoln Heights; (323) 225-2700, heritagesquare.org.
13. Take a stroll through the Southwest Museum.
The Southwest Museum, the Autry's Mount Washington campus, has its own designated stop on the Metro Gold Line. Just be sure to make sure you take the exit next to the Museum Drive street sign. If you don't, you'll end up walking in a circle until you reach the small, beautiful institution.
Walking to the museum has an advantage in that you can easily enter through the long, cavernous pedestrian entrance. Exhibitions focus on Native American art and artifacts, such as the current exhibition "Four Centuries of Pueblo Pottery." The free museum is open on Saturdays and is a lovely way to spend a weekend afternoon. Take some time to explore the grounds, as there are art installations outside as well. Southwest Museum, 234 Museum Drive, Mount Washington; (323) 221-2164, theautry.org/mt-washington.
14. In Highland Park, look for underground and local music at Mount Analog.
If your taste in music is too weird to be satisfied by your standard L.A. record store, head to Mount Analog. The Highland Park store is stocked with techno, industrial, experimental and other styles of music that can be hard to find, even in the midst of the city's record-store revival. Local artists get a lot of love here, so it's a good place to keep up on what's going on in the underground. 5906½ N. Figueroa, Highland Park; (323) 474-6649, climbmountanalog.com.
15. Search for hard-to-find DVDs at Vidéothèque.
The Gold Line's South Pasadena stop will let you off in a nook that can only be described as charming. This walkable, family-friendly destination looks more like a big-screen small town than your average L.A. suburb. There are multiple antique shops, a used bookstore, a cool toy shop and even a restaurant that specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches and cereal. For pop-culture junkies, though, there's another reason to go here. Vidéothèque is a DVD shop that focuses on independent and international media. The selection is vast and neatly organized by genre, country, director and/or actor. There's a lot to sift through here, whether you're into Hong Kong action films or British television shows, and DVDs might be available for rent or purchase. There's also a nice collection of vinyl. Vidéothèque, 1020 Mission St., South Pasadena; (626) 403-6621, videotheque.com.
16. Start your pub crawl at Del Mar.
If pub crawling is your thing, then take the Gold Line to Del Mar Station. If you pull up the location in Google Maps and search "nearby," you'll notice that there are a lot of places to imbibe in this neighborhood. In fact, you have to walk mere steps from the train to hit your first destination, Stone Company Store. If you're a Stone Brewing superfan, that might be your only stop. If not, there are other options to check out. Stone Company Shop, 220 S. Raymond Ave., Suite 103, Pasadena; (626) 440-7243, stonebrewing.com/shop/pasadena.
17. Heading to the Pasadena Convention Center? Exit Memorial Park.
Not too long before the holidays start, Pasadena Convention Center overflows with art and toys. DesignerCon has settled into the midsized gathering space pretty well, bringing in artists from around the world to showcase paintings, books and lots of customized toys. It's a standout show, the kind of convention where you will probably need more than one day to see it all. But it's not the only worthwhile event here.
Pasadena Convention Center's 2016 calendar is dotted with fun, public events. Like a good fright? MonsterPalooza is set to take place here in April, and ScareLA returns to the venue in August. Another convention making a return appearance here is Pacific Media Expo, a pan-Asian pop culture event that brings together movies, music, fashion and even martial arts. But it's not just fan conventions that draw the crowds here. Try to check out pet-care trade show Groom Expo West (the next one is in February 2017). It's worth it just for the dog grooming competitions. Pasadena Convention Center, 300 E. Green St., Pasadena; (626) 793-2122, pasadenacenter.visitpasadena.com.
18. Use the Lake stop to get to Vroman's Bookstore.
It's still hard to accept that bookstores and newsstands are no longer fairly ordinary, neighborhood things, but we can take comfort in knowing that Vroman's Bookstore, which dates back to 1894, still exists.
There's so much to read inside Vroman's that it can be overwhelming. I suggest starting with the shelves of employee recommendations; they work in a bookstore, so they probably have good taste. Or you could look at Vroman's calendar for ideas. It has multiple in-store book clubs, whose members are reading everything from Camus to Chandler to Shakespeare. Vroman's Bookstore/Vroman's Newsstand, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 449-5310, vromansbookstore.com.
19. Head to Pasadena City College via Allen and grab some coffee while you're in the neighborhood.
Pasadena City College, home of a famed, monthly flea market, is the major attraction closest to the Allen Street station. However, the community college is more than a half-mile away from the Gold Line stop, so you might want to take into consideration how much you may buy at said flea market before you ride the train into town. There are other occasional public events as well, including art exhibitions, concerts and plays. Check PCC's site for a full calendar. Pasadena City College, 1570 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 585-7123, pasadena.edu.
When you're in the area, Jameson Brown Coffee Brewer is a good place to grab coffee or tea and chill. It's only a couple of blocks from the Allen station and is open every day except Sunday. It offers the standard coffee-house drinks as well as a few more unusual concoctions, like the Snowball (white chocolate and coconut) and the Vienna Latte (honey and cinnamon). Jameson Brown Coffee Roasters, 260 N. Allen Ave., Pasadena; (626) 395-7587, jamesonbrown.com.
20. Exit Sierra Madre Villa to thrift your club clothes.
If you're up for a walk, exit the Sierra Madre Villa station and head toward the old, less chic end of Colorado Boulevard. It's at least a mile-long trek, but this is a far more interesting stretch of the street than the Old Town section and it's where you'll find Poo-Bah's Records, a model train shop and other independently minded stores.
Make sure you stop by MeowMeowz when you're here. The underground-centric rock store and secondhand clothing shop sells T-shirts, posters and music that lean toward goth and punk sensibilities. The bountiful clothing section is the best part of this small store. It's packed with pointy-toed and platform shoes, plaid pants, velvet skirts and everything else you would need to dress up for a night at the spookiest parties in town. MeowMeowz, 2423 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 798-6969, facebook.com/meowmeowzpasadena.
21. When in Arcadia, head to the race track.
One of the benefits of the Gold Line extension is that people have easier access to Santa Anita Park. On race days, there is a free shuttle that will cart you and your Metro-riding buddies to the track for free. In addition, there's also the Arcadia Transit Shuttle, which will run free of charge through June 15, giving daily lifts from the Gold Line to the park as well as L.A. County Arboretum and Santa Anita Mall.
22. When in Monrovia, head to Old Town.
Monrovia's Old Town is worth a day trip. The pleasant, small-town stretch of Myrtle Avenue is home to Resistor Records, a small shop that had some good sale prices and fun dollar-bin finds on the day I shopped here. There's also Puff Monkey Pop Culture Shop, which sells lots of adorable items from companies like Tokidoki and Loungefly, as well as blind box toys and anime and Star Wars gear, and Comic Cellar. Old Town is about a mile away from the train station; while it's a straight shot of a walk, there's very little shade. Make sure you bring water, sunscreen and a hat. Alternatively, you can head here on a Friday or Saturday evening, when shuttles run from the Monrovia station to Old Town from 5 to 10 p.m.
23. Take the kids to learn about science at City of Hope.
The Gold Line's Duarte exit is your stop for City of Hope, whose commitment to medical research extends to encouraging a love of the STEM subjects in children. The facility is open for school field trips and has programs designed for students in the second, fifth and eighth grades. It also hosts Saturday Science Days with activities designed for both elementary and middle school children, as well as a Community Science Festival. Science Summer Camp is another of the facility's educational programs. Meanwhile, the Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Student Academy is a research program for college and high school students. Check out City of Hope's website for more information on its educational programs. City of Hope, 1500 E. Duarte Road, Duarte; (626) 256-HOPE, cityofhope.org.
24. In Irwindale, you'll want to catch a bus.
The Irwindale stop will get you sort-of close to a few destinations. The two that interest us the most are Santa Fe Dam Recreation Center, home of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and Sriracha maker Huy Fong Foods, which hosts tours and even has a Chile Grinding Open House. The problem is that neither of these spots is within walking distance of the Irwindale station.
Where I normally try to pick spots that are within a mile of the Metro station, this is an exception. If Ren Faire and Sriracha are on the top of your things-to-do list, visit the Foothill Transit site and look for the best routes from the Gold Line.
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25. In Downtown Azusa, drink at a church-themed bar.
Congregation Ale House is religious about its church-themed bars. Inside the downtown Azusa establishment, the jukebox plays "hymns" and the tip jars look like collection boxes. This small chain might be onto something. It was quite spiritually satisfying to sip on a brew called Hell or High Watermelon while listening to The Pixies. In addition to Azusa, there are locations in Pasadena and Long Beach. Congregation Ale House, 619 N. Azusa Ave., Azusa; (626) 403-2337.
26. Exit APU/Citrus College to get to the Haugh Performing Arts Center.
The Gold Line is bookended by learning institutions, and the final stop on the northbound end of the trek will leave you near Azusa Pacific University and Citrus College. The latter is home to the Haugh Performing Arts Center, which has a calendar packed with student-made entertainment, but it also hosts occasional professional performances, like a concert this spring from Mariachi Los Camperos. Haugh Performing Arts Center, Citrus College, 1000 W. Foothill Blvd., Glendora; (626) 963-9411, haughpac.com.