It's easy to hate Metro's Orange Line. After all, the San Fernando Valley route is a bus. Sure, it rides on a designated road, but it's still smaller than a train. You think rush hour on the Red Line is packed? Try making the North Hollywood Orange Line transfer after work, when you can't squeeze through the door. You'll wait for another ride to arrive and still get stuck wedged between sweaty armpits. During the Valley summers, it's a kind of hell that might make you prefer sitting on the 101 at 6 p.m.
The Orange Line's biggest advantage is getting people out of the Valley. If you're heading downtown or to parts of Hollywood when the traffic is thick, this is a good option. Overall, the line is geared more toward work/school commutes than day-tripping or pub-crawling. Its journey hits two community colleges, multiple corporate/industrial areas and a Metrolink station. It also provides access to street buses that reach Cal State Northridge. Moreover, there are multiple parking lots along this line, allowing commuters to drive and ride to work.
There are two different paths you can take on the Orange Line. The buses stick to the same course until they reach the Canoga Avenue station. From there, one will veer south to its terminus at Warner Center. Another will head north, making a few more stops until it lands in Chatsworth, where you can catch a Metrolink or Amtrak train. As the buses twist through the southern section of the Valley and turn into its western end, you will get a good glimpse of 818 life. Below, we highlight some of what you can see and do at each stop.
1. In North Hollywood, visit Blastoff Comics.
The Orange Line's North Hollywood terminus will drop you off at Lankershim and Chandler. You can either transfer to the Red Line here or roam around NoHo, home of theaters, bars, restaurants and a lot of people who like actors. If you decide to wander, head to Blastoff Comics. This small, tidy shop carries a solid variety of comics as well as new and classic sci-fi titles and vintage pulp novels. The store goes all out for Free Comic Book Day. On May 7, it will host the second annual Blastoff ComicsFest at nearby Federal Bar with special guests, a beer garden and more. Blastoff Comics, 5118 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 980-2665, blastoffcomics.com.
2. At Laurel Canyon, shop at Tashkent Produce.
Despite its name, the produce selection here at Tashkent is small, but there's a lot of other stuff crammed inside the Russian market. Check out the assortment of snacks and sweets if you need a quick pick-me-up for your travels and explore the shelves filled with jams and other delights. Although the market is small, there is a deli counter tucked inside the space, so you can get prepared meals as well. When I stopped here on a Sunday, it was quite busy, but the line moved very quickly. Tashkent Produce, 5340 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 752-7222.
3. When at Valley College, check out the Freeway Lady.
Kent Twitchell's “Freeway Lady” is back. Long ago the mural, inspired by Twitchell's grandmother, stood tall near the 101. Nearly 20 years after the piece was painted over, the famed L.A. muralist modified and repainted the beloved piece at Valley College. If you want to see this stand-out piece of public art, walk through the school's parking lot located across from the Orange Line stop and head to the Student Services building. It's on the side facing Fulton Avenue. The official ribbon-cutting event for the mural is on April 14. Los Angeles Valley College Student Services Center; 5800 Fulton Ave., Valley Glen. lavc.edu/revitalizingvalley/Public-Art-at-LAVC.aspx.
4. When at Woodman Avenue, pick up some lahmajoun from Sweet 1 Bakery.
Sweet 1 Bakery is a tiny bakery counter attached to Kabob Factory in a small Oxnard Street strip mall adjacent to the Orange Line's Woodman stop. When you pop in here, make sure you get lahmajoun, “Armenian pizza” as it's advertised. These thin, meat-topped snacks are both inexpensive and filling. They're also delicious, soft and savory, reminding me more of the lahmajoun that my grandma made than the packaged variety you normally find at Armenian grocery stores. Sweet Bakery Grocery and Kabob Factory, 13670 Oxnard St., Van Nuys. (818) 781-1282.
5. When at Van Nuys, catch a bus to Ventura Boulevard.
The cruel irony of the Orange Line's Van Nuys Boulevard stop is that it drops you off in a sea of car lots. You are fairly close to the Van Nuys Courthouse, if that's your destination. Otherwise, this is a good spot to catch a bus and head to Ventura Boulevard. Once there, you can head over to stores such as Guitar Center, Iguana Vintage Clothing or the Sherman Oaks outpost of Earth 2 Comics. If you want to go on a longer walk, head toward Sepulveda and you'll find Sherman Oaks Galleria, now less of a mall and more a collection of restaurants and shops surrounding ArcLight Cinemas and Public School 818. Alternately, you can catch the Rapid 750, which will take you across Ventura Boulevard.
6. When at Sepulveda Station, go for a bike ride.
The Sepulveda Station is right next to L.A. Fitness, a gym chain that's pretty good about situating its outposts near Metro stops. If, however, you would rather get your exercise outdoors, hit the Orange Line Bike Path. The path actually starts in North Hollywood, where it runs off to the side of the busway, but, since it is quite long, you might just want to ride for a shorter stretch of the route. The path isn't heavily crowded, although you will see a good amount of bike shorts–and-helmet–wearing riders here on Sunday afternoons.
7. At Woodley, visit the local park.
One thing the Orange Line does well is provide easy access to major recreation areas, which is largely the result of its route along the Sepulveda Basin. Here, you're steps away from Woodley Park, which was hosting a large Sizdah Bedar Festival on the day I walked around the area. The Woodley exit also provides access to the Japanese Gardens and Woodley Golf Course. If you decide to head to the park for a last-minute picnic, you can pick up food at Vallarta Supermarket, which is also near this Orange Line station.
8. Continue your park adventure via the Balboa station.
Like Woodley, the Balboa station offers quick access to nature. Your exit is next to Anthony C. Beilenson Park, which locals previously knew as Balboa Park. This sizable park is home to Lake Balboa and offers a lot of amenities, such as pedal boat and bike rentals along with fishing opportunities. 6300 Balboa Blvd., Van Nuys. laparks.org/Dos/aquatic/balboa/index.htm.
9. When at Reseda Boulevard, go to Paladino's.
Paladino's is a Valley staple. While its calendar boasts everything from karaoke to Latin music nights, I always associate the place with tribute bands. For years, this has been a destination to check out hard-rockin' tributes like The Iron Maidens. While the love for metal is strong, you can catch homages to other genres here, too, like Musehead, a salute to both Muse and Radiohead.
As with all late-night spots, remember to keep track of time when you come here by Metro. The Orange Line does not run 24 hours. Prepare to find another way to get home if you miss the last departure. Paladino's 6101 Reseda Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 342-1563, paladinosclub.com.
10. When at Tampa, shop for a ukulele.
At first glance, it seems like there's nothing to see near the Tampa station. You will exit on a main street that is quite residential, filled with small houses painted shades of blue, white or brown with rose gardens pushing through fences to hang over the sidewalk. Keep walking north. Eventually, you'll hit the Tampa Victory Shopping Center and still think that there's nothing to do here, save for grocery shopping or hitting up the local Ross.
Once you start exploring, though, you'll find Kaye's Music Scene tucked into a corner of the shopping center, next to a bakery. This 47-year-old store sells everything from keyboards to guitars, but its specialty is ukuleles. The small instrument appears here in many different forms and at various price points. Kaye's Music Scene, 19369 Victory Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 881-5566, kaysmusicscene.com.
11. When at Winnetka, visit Pierce College.
The second of two community college–centric stops on the Orange Line route, Winnetka is your designated Pierce College exit. Pierce is home to the monthly Topanga Vintage Market, where vendors bring in everything from aging magazines to antique furniture. You might want to take the Metro here if you are certain that you will only be shopping for a few small items. Beyond that, the school's aquatic center is open for lap swimming during certain weekday hours, and swimming lessons are available. The Equine Center here hosts a variety of public events, such as a Carriage Driving show coming up on April 16 and 17. If you want to learn how to ride a horse, you can sign up for lessons through the school's extension program. Pierce College, 6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. (818) 719-6404, piercecollege.edu.
12. When at De Soto, fill your hockey needs.
Discount Hockey Superstore is, perhaps, an unexpected find for an often scorching-hot corner of the San Fernando Valley. Yet this shop, located near the De Soto Orange Line station between the agricultural end of Pierce College and the corporate parks of Woodland Hills, is jam-packed with skates, jerseys and lots of other hockey paraphernalia. The selection goes beyond necessities for the ice; there's a wide assortment of odds and ends for hockey fans, particularly if your heart belongs to the Kings. Signs will advertise discounted merchandise, although that doesn't necessarily make this a budget-friendly store. Some of those Kings jerseys are still high-priced items here. Discount Hockey Superstore, 6465 De Soto Ave., Woodland Hills. (818) 735-0699; discounthockey.com.
13. When at Canoga, eat at Topz.
The Canoga Avenue exit of the Orange Line lets you off next to a very ordinary, suburban shopping center where you can hit up standard stores like BevMo! Inside this shopping center, you'll find the last remaining Topz.
Topz used to pop up here and there at shopping centers throughout the L.A. area. Now, only the one here in Woodland Hills remains. It's one of the fast food joints I genuinely liked, with “aero” sweet potato fries that are baked, lean sandwiches and a good assortment of salads. It also has a fun soda fountain with flavored syrups that you can add to your drink. Topz Restaurant, 6500 Canoga Ave., Canoga Park; 818-348-1550; topzburger.com.
14. When at Warner Center, hit up the malls.
If you're looking for the Valley that's steeped in mall culture, Warner Center is your stop. Sure, there are other places here, like hotels and big buildings affiliated with insurance companies. Mostly, though, there are malls boasting the Westfield brand. The Warner Center stop is next to the Westfield Promenade, where you can catch IMAX showings at the AMC Promenade 16. Walk further and you'll find the hyperreal Village Stores at Westfield Topanga before settling in at Westfield Topanga.
15. When at Sherman Way, get a completo and then do some shopping.
A completo is not your ordinary hot dog. It is big and loaded with stuff, primarily avocado and mayonnaise. At Chilenazo, located in a small shopping center by the Sherman Way Orange Line stop, it's served with a heaping helping of fries. Moreover, they served fresh bread before the completo arrived. It was so much food that I couldn't finish it. Yet it was delicious.
Walk off lunch by taking a stroll down Sherman Way. This section of the major Valley thoroughfare is one of the more interesting areas you'll hit on your journey. There are several antique shops in the area mixed with lots of other fun finds, like a rubber stamp store. Chilenazo, 7283 Canoga Ave., Canoga Park. (818) 887-0269, chilenazo.net.
16. Use the Roscoe stop to get your last-minute costumes all year long.
At Roscoe, the Orange Line lets you off the bus across the street from a strip mall that has an adult novelties store, a “full nude” club and a bar called the Wet Spot. The site sticks out against a warehouse-heavy stretch of Canoga Avenue. Maybe it will intrigue you. Maybe it will make you cringe. I'm not here to judge.
But, as I mentioned, the stops surrounding this station are primarily warehouses and, while they are occasionally warehouses that sell stuff, it's often big, home-improvement items that you won't want to carry back on a bus. However, there is one warehouse that specializes in something you can take home via public transportation. Phantom Halloween is open year-round and is packed with everything from kids' Bible character costumes to sexy gangster outfits. It's more than a Halloween shop; you can pick up tutus and funny-looking sunglasses for your next trip to Electric Daisy Carnival, too. It also sells goth essentials, like striped tights and spooky jewelry. The best part is that its open Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., making it a good spot for when you really procrastinated on getting something together for a themed party. Phantom Halloween, 8443 Canoga Ave., Canoga Park. (818) 772-9356, phantomhalloween.com.
17. When at Nordhoff, bring your bike.
The Nordhoff station isn't a hotbed of weekend activity. Outside of a small mini-mall near the station, the neighborhood is primarily filled with corporate offices and warehouses. If you want to do anything here, you probably should bring your bike. There's a bike-path map next to the train that shows you where you can ride if you want a designated route. Here, you can make the final stretch of the 18-mile Orange Line Bike Path. Once you hit the end of the road, you can continue your ride via the Brown's Creek Bicycle Path.
18. In Chatsworth, catch the train and head out of town.
There's a “Welcome to Chatsworth” mural visible upon your exit from our final Orange Line stop on this list. It's big and bright and filled with images of covered wagons, horses and a TV set. There's a strange dichotomy in Chatsworth in that the Old West vibe is strong here, but it's largely the Old West as filmed at Spahn Ranch and Iverson Movie Location Ranch. Of course, the history of the West is much deeper than that, and you can find some remnants at this station. The Orange Line lets you off at the Old Chatsworth Depot. On site is a very small museum that points to pieces of the area's history, including that of the Chumash Native Americans who lived here. The museum also spotlights a much later local influence with displays on the neighborhood's connection to aerospace, via Rocketdyne and Boeing.
For those in the western end of the Valley, the Chatsworth station is a way to make a train escape. Metrolink's Ventura County Line stops here, although that's a commuter-minded train that runs on weekdays with hours that are only convenient if you're working a regular day job. Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner, which runs from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, also makes stops here, and that's a much better option for a weekend getaway. Chatsworth Orange Line Station, 21501 Lassen St., Chatsworth.