Running from Koreatown to Palos Verdes, Crenshaw Boulevard spans 23 miles of L.A. County turf. It is a diverse drive — urban and suburban, residential and industrial — taking you through the southern end of the city and the South Bay until you finally land at a bluff overlooking the coast.
Google Maps estimates that it will take just under an hour to travel Crenshaw without traffic, but if you're driving from start to finish, you should anticipate traffic. From Exposition Boulevard down through South L.A., Crenshaw is in the throes of heavy construction. The end result will be a new Metro Line intended to take locals down the boulevard, into Inglewood and closer to the airport. At the moment, though, it's a headache. If you're heading to Leimert Park, the western edge of which is Crenshaw Boulevard, take an alternate route.
Even without Metro construction, this can be a fairly congested street. You might speed through the Inglewood stretch of Crenshaw, which is heavily residential, but you'll slow down again in Torrance, where this is a major thoroughfare lined with shopping centers.
1. Fuel up on caffeine and get some work done at Prism Coffee.
If you're looking for a good place to be productive, Prism Coffee is a good stop. Located on the edge of Arlington Heights near Koreatown, the coffeehouse is situated inside a mini mall. That said, parking probably won't be a problem. It's a quiet space — there were only a couple of other people inside when I stopped by on a recent weekday afternoon — and the design is conducive to setting up your laptop for a bit of work time. Prism Coffee, 1032 Crenshaw Blvd., Arlington Heights. (213) 700-8110, instagram.com/prism.coffee.
2. Tour the exhibits at the Museum of African American Art.
If you aren't looking for the Museum of African American Art, you might miss it. It's tucked into the third floor of Macy's at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza behind a bed display. Once you find it, though, you'll be delighted by what's inside. The 40-year-old museum is home to a collection of works from Palmer Hayden and includes his series of paintings telling the story of John Henry. The museum also hosts exhibitions, most recently "The Creative World of Synthia Saint James," and is open Thursday through Sunday. The Museum of African American Art, 4005 Crenshaw Blvd. (inside Macy's), Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw. (323) 294-7071, maaala.org.
3. Grab a bite to eat.
Your food options are plentiful on Crenshaw Boulevard, from Southern to Korean cuisine. Just keep driving until you see something that makes your stomach growl. That's how I ended up at Mar's Caribbean Garden in Gardena. The restaurant serves up Belizean cuisine and terrific ambiance thanks to the Caribbean-centric music choices. If you're looking for a retro L.A. feel, head to the Brolly Hut in Inglewood. The burger-and-burrito joint is shaped like an umbrella and keeps the theme going inside, where even the light fixtures look as if they could protect you from the rain. Down in Torrance, my go-to spot is CoCo Ichibanya, part of a chain of Japanese curry restaurants. It's on the Sepulveda side of a shopping center at the Crenshaw intersection. Mar's Caribbean Garden, 14008 Crenshaw Blvd., Gardena. (310) 323-5000, marscaribbean.com. Brolly Hut, 11205 Crenshaw Blvd., Inglewood. (310) 674-2344, brollyhut.com. CoCo Ichibanya, 2455 Sepulveda Blvd., Suite C, Torrance. (310) 294-5315, ichibanyausa.com.
4. Stock up on reading material at Geoffrey's Comics.
Talk to your comic book–reading South Bay pals and Geoffrey's is likely to be name-dropped. This Gardena shop, mentioned on our comic book store list, has been around since 1978 and continues to draw new generations of readers. The love for superheroes extends to the decor of the store, and the collection includes both classic and contemporary tales. Stop by when you need to stock up on issues. The store also buys vintage comics. Geoffrey's Comics, 15900 Crenshaw Blvd., Suite B, Gardena. (310) 538-3198, geoffreyscomics.com.
5. Check out community programs at El Camino College.
Like other learning institutions, El Camino College offers programs that benefit more than just current students. The South Bay school's amenities include a gym and a library that are available for public use. Plus, it has a planetarium that hosts monthly gatherings, an art gallery and an anthropology museum. Art shows coincide with the school year, so the next exhibition, "Thread," won't be opening until late August. This summer, it's offering a Kid's College with classes in everything from guitar to game design. El Camino College, 16007 Crenshaw Blvd., Torrance. (310) 532-3760, elcamino.edu.
6. Dig for vinyl at Record Recycler.
Record Recycler is not the kind of store where you swing by to pick up one record; budget your time and money accordingly. This small Torrance shop is crammed with vinyl that you didn't know you needed in your collection. Be prepared to spend serious time sifting through the crates as you build a stack of records that you know you will sadly have to whittle down to a manageable size before you hit the cash register. The prices here are quite reasonable as well, which makes those final cuts all the more difficult. In the end, though, there's a good chance that you'll come home with some killer new-to-you tunes. I did on my last trip. Record Recycler, 17312 Crenshaw Blvd., Torrance. (310) 704-2320, recordrecycler.com.
7. Go toy shopping at Pop Monster.
This small store, previously mentioned on our list of toy shops, is made for superfans. Whether your jam is Sailor Moon or The Simpsons, you'll likely find some item here that you just have to have right now. Toys make up the most significant portion of the stock at Pop Monster and range from blind-box items to larger collectible pieces. Along with the healthy presence of designer toys, the store stocks some prints and art books. You'll also find Tokidoki apparel here. Pop Monster, 24416 Crenshaw Blvd., #3, Torrance. (310) 325-8686, instagram.com/popmonsterstore.
8. Roll a strike at Palos Verdes Bowl.
Palos Verdes Bowl retains a retro Southern California vibe without the layer of grime that seems to go hand in hand with bowling alleys. Maybe that's why it seems so popular; even on a weekday afternoon, the lanes were bustling. As is typical, the bowling alley is also home to a diner and bar. The watering hole, called the Cove, hosts live music on select nights. As of this writing, PVB's website is down and its Facebook page is in dire need of an update, so call for schedules and more information. Palos Verdes Bowl, 24600 Crenshaw Blvd., Torrance. (310) 326-5120.
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9. Smell the flowers at South Coast Botanic Garden.
Feeling stressed out? A trip to South Coast Botanic Garden might fix that. This serene spot is filled with a wide variety of flora that changes with the seasons. The garden was once a landfill, but you wouldn't guess that now considering how much life sprouts from the grounds. Take some time to wander on your own to check out highlights such as the lush, tranquil Japanese garden and the desert-friendly succulents. South Coast Botanic Garden is open most days and hosts frequent activities. Check the calendar for a schedule of events. South Coast Botanic Garden, 26300 Crenshaw Blvd., Palos Verdes Peninsula. (310) 544-1948, southcoastbotanicgarden.org.
10. Gaze at the ocean from Del Cerro Park or hike in the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve.
Crenshaw Boulevard ends in Rancho Palos Verdes next to Del Cerro Park. As one might expect for as upscale a park as this, the view is fantastic and the parking for nonlocals sucks. In fact, last year there was some drama surrounding changes in the parking situation for Del Cerro Park, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve. Still, if you can find a spot for your car, this is a great spot to gaze at the coast. If you're the hiking type, you can certainly do that here as well. Del Cerro Park, 2 Park Place, Rancho Palos Verdes. (310) 544-5260, rpvca.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/Del-Cerro-Park-3.