The great American melting pot still simmers briskly, I think while awaiting my lunchtime order at Mission 261 restaurant in San Gabriel. Here, in a century-old space whose architecture echoes that of San Gabriel Mission Archangel (just down the street), Asian pop tunes play, Chinese screens line stucco walls, and I'm the only person of European heritage in sight.
The restaurant ― two years old and considered one of the best Chinese eateries in greater Los Angeles ― is a sign of an increasingly vital San Gabriel. In the city's seven-block Historic San Gabriel Mission District, Hispanic roots run deep: The mission was founded in 1771. But a steady stream of immigrants from Vietnam, Taiwan, and Hong Kong are now adding their own distinctive accents ―and food ― to the mix.
San Gabriel Mission Archangel. What: Take a self-guided tour of the church, museum, and grounds. "forget your cares and troubles as you re-live the early days of the western world," suggests a sign in the patio. You know what? So tranquil is this place that your cares may actually fade away. When: 9-4:30 daily. How much: $5, $3 ages 6-17. WHERE: 427 S. Junipero Serra Dr.; www.sangabrielmission.org or 626/457-3048.
Dim sum at Mission 261. What: In a mission revival setting, savor the most creative Chinese dumplings in town; some are imaginatively shaped like bees or butterflies. You'd be hard-pressed to find better versions this side of Hong Kong, least of all in such a beautiful space. When: Dim sum and dinner daily. How much: $$. Where: 261 S. Mission Dr.; 626/588-1666.
The San Gabriel Civic Auditorium. What: Built in 1927, the theater blends Spanish, Mexican, and Native American influences, and offers a culturally diverse range of performances, from Chinese opera to mariachi music to local high school musicals. When: Tours by appointment; visit the website for a performance schedule. How much: Tours free, performance tickets from $15. Where: 320 S. Mission Dr.; www.sgcivic.org or 626/308-2865 ext. 226.
Open-air artists. What: Inspired by the surroundings, amateur and professional artists set up their easels in the historic district. Approach politely and most won't mind if you watch. When: Any nice day. Where: In Plaza Park, at the corner of Mission Rd. and S. Mission Dr.
Contact the City of San Gabriel Chamber of Commerce ( www.sangabrielcity.com or 626/308-2800).