L.A.'s new light-rail line leads to exceptional dining and shopping
The Metro Gold Line doesn't do loops. Nor does it climb 15stories or plunge backward in reverse free falls. If you're lookingfor a ride that reaches zero gravity, then this light-rail systemthat runs 14 miles from downtown Los Angeles through the SanGabriel Valley to Pasadena may not be the thrill ride for you.
Instead, the Gold Line, newest of greater Los Angeles' masstransit options, is all about getting a rush out of rush hour― and the so-quaint-as-to-be-revolutionary prospect that inSouthern California, you can get there from here without a car. A ride on the GoldLine is a sentimental journey: The sight of the line's electricallypowered light-rail trains coursing through some of Los Angeles'oldest neighborhoods recalls the days when Southern California hadthe world's largest interurban rail system. But it's also a glimpseinto the region's transit future.
From Union Station, the Gold Line traverses the Arroyo Seco asit heads out to Pasadena (and perhaps, in the future, Montclair),linking 13 neighborhoods on its route. Along the way, it capturesSouthern California's history and diversity, from Los Angeles'historic Olvera Street and Chinatown to the small-town appeal ofSouth Pasadena's Mission Street to the cultural centers near theMemorial Park stop in Pasadena.
And, for shoppers, the Gold Line offers an additional benefit.It transports you to some of greater Los Angeles' best, mostvaried, most visitor-friendly shopping venues.
TIGER-SHOPPING IN CHINATOWN
The Gold Line pulls out of Union Station, then snakes along anelevated section of track, with views toward Elysian Park to thenorth and the heart of downtown to the south. The train makes a bigsweep over Alameda Street, then eases into the Chinatown Station.There, a graceful, Chinese-style green-and-red awning echoes theroof lines of the historic district. Each Gold Line stationreflects its nearby neighborhoods, from the Craftsman styling atthe Highland Park stop to the Los Angeles River themes at theLincoln Heights/Cypress Park Station.
Walk a block west on College Street, and you'll reach the heartof Chinatown. Spicy fragrances drift from restaurants as a couple,each carrying several enormous stuffed animals, stops passersby,asking a question not typically heard on Los Angeles city streets:"Do you want to buy a tiger?"
A couple blocks up, just off Broadway, locals sit in Chinatown'sCentral Plaza. A painted sign on a restaurant across Hill Streetboasts "jackie chan's rush hour a best movie was shot here." Theplaza itself looks like a movie set, which is not altogethersurprising: It was built from scratch in the 1930s to be the heartof the new Chinatown, after the community was displaced by UnionStation's construction.
The preservation of the city's 150-year-old Chinese historyrecently received a major boost with the opening of the Chinese American Museum in El Pueblo deLos Angeles Historical Monument. Almost 20 years in the making, themuseum, with its huge collection of artifacts, is located in thehistoric redbrick Garnier Building, which dates to 1890 and isconsidered the last surviving building from the original Chinatown.One of the museum's major exhibits features a re-creation of SunWing Wo Store, a general store and community gathering place oncehoused in the Garnier Building.
Part of Chinatown's charm is this mix of authenticity andartifice ― tourist joints, ginseng shops, old-time socialclubs, Peking ducks suspended in restaurant windows, crabs andcatfish on display in burbling tanks ― making it bothfamiliar and foreign for visitors.
BACK TO THE FUTURE IN SOUTHPASADENA
Hop back on the train, and in minutes you can be in anotherworld. One of the best stops is Mission Street in South Pasadena,where a two-block-long shopping stretch is both hip and hometown inits appeal. In this National Register Historic Business District,the brick buildings are sensible and sturdy and the businesses highon style and vision.
The names alone give a sense of the street's individuality. Youcan check out Japanese antiques at Yoko, sample the natural lotionsand soaps at Kaeli's Essential Oil Body Care, look at contemporaryart at the Tah Gallery, and browse for jewelry and women's apparelat Chi-Chi La-La. Then top it all off with ice cream or an espressoat Buster's Ice Cream & Coffee Stop.
Eventually, however, you'll be tempted to get back on the trainand check out another Gold Line stop just a few minutes away, suchas the Del Mar or Memorial Park Stations in the heart of Pasadena.And the ride itself is part of the appeal, with passengers of allages and ethnicities and a changing soundtrack of languages;everyone getting along as they go along, looking out the window andtaking in the city from a perspective that they might never havehad before. For many of us, that's thrill enough.