If travelers associate Los Angeles with anything besides Hollywood, it’s traffic. We Angelenos make small talk about it like other people do about the weather — taking communal joy in complaint, trading tips and war stories, recusing ourselves from trips past “our” side of any of the freeways that scissor through the city. One of Los Angeles’s most eagerly awaited mass transit projects — the Expo Line light rail system, the second and final portion of which opened in May 2016 — hasn’t made much of a dent in the traffic , even as it smashes ridership projections. But it offers visitors an excellent opportunity to gape at the worst traffic in the world and conveniently reach some of the city treasures that lie along the 15-mile route between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica.
Visitors to Los Angeles may be most drawn to the beach at the Expo Line’s end, home to the famed Santa Monica Pier, or to the complex of museums near the Expo Park/USC station. But the 17 other stops provide access to little-touristed historic neighborhoods in South L.A., mash-up taquerias and the weirdest, most wondrous museum in the city, most within a 10-minute walk from a listed station. Starting downtown and heading west, here are some stations with opportunities to experience the food, shopping, history and culture of Los Angeles on your way to or from the surf, sun and sand.
1. ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries
909 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles
The ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives are the largest repository of LGBT materials in the world. Although the archives are officially part of the University of Southern California library system, they are open to the public. The archives accept walk-ins, but by August, the staff will institute an appointment system for individuals seeking access to thousands of books, paintings, posters, and audiovisual recordings.
2. Mercado La Paloma
3655 S. Grand Ave., No. C6, Los Angeles
3655 S. Grand Ave., No. C9, Los Angeles
Mercado La Paloma is a community-revitalization project full of shops and restaurants just around the corner from the museums of Exposition Park, which are probably already on visitors’ radar (those being the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, California Science Center, California African American Museum, and the upcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art). Housed in a former garment factory, the space includes two Yucatan-style eateries, Chichen Itza and Holbox, by chef and owner Gilberto Cetina Jr. and is a perfect place to stop before or after a long day of museum-going and a visit to the Exposition Park rose garden. Chichen Itza’s crowning glory is its cochinita pibil — a heap of pork marinated in sour orange juice and spices including ground annatto seeds, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked low and slow. Holbox is a seafood counter that features enormous blood clams and snappingly fresh ceviches. Commandeer a large table and order recklessly from both restaurants; it will be both too much and just enough.
3. West Adams-area
On West Adams Boulevard between S. Harvard Boulevard and Ninth Avenue, Los Angeles
Much of the Expo Line runs through vibrant and relatively untouristed South L.A. communities, including West Adams — one of the city’s oldest and most interesting neighborhoods, the precise boundaries of which are subject to debate. Established around the turn of the 20th century, the West Adams area was developed with wide boulevards and elevated lots, and wealthy white families built sumptuous houses there. When the Depression hit, some of these families began selling to African Americans, despite the neighborhood’s restrictive racial covenants. Other whites then sued to remove the new residents, who included Hattie McDaniel, best known for her Oscar-winning turn in “Gone with the Wind.” The actress and outspoken activist led hundreds of supporters into L.A. Superior Court, where Judge Thurmond Clarke threw out the case and helped pave the way for the Fair Housing Act. You can see her home at 2203 South Harvard Blvd., a short bus ride and walk from the station.
Most of the neighborhood’s notable buildings are on or just off West Adams Boulevard, including the immense former office of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, which was founded to insure African Americans. If you start here and walk west, you can enjoy the elegant homes that come into view — Dutch Colonials and Italian Gothics, Craftsman bungalows, Georgian revivals and, one block north of West Adams, at 2501 Arlington Ave., the manse that served as the family funeral home in “Six Feet Under.”
The magnificent Italian Renaissance/Beaux-Arts mansion at 3500 W. Adams Blvd., is now the Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens. The outdoor, travertine marble labyrinth is the same design as the one at Chartres Cathedral in France; the gardens feature a lily pond, 16 water fountains and several nooks for quiet contemplation and meditation. The mansion itself has been beautifully restored. Docents offer free tours of both the mansion and the grounds. Reservations are free, and required for entry. Visit peacelabyrinth.org/hours-admissions.
4. Harold and Belle’s Restaurant
2920 W. Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles
This fine Creole restaurant, about a 15-minute walk from the station, is now in its third generation of family ownership. The menu features po’ boys, jambalaya and étouffée, all served in enormous portions.
5. Museum of Jurassic Technology
9341 Venice Blvd., Culver City
Anyone writing about this museum faces a conundrum, as it’s better experienced than explained. Akin to a cabinet of curiosities, the museum is filled with oddities of un/real provenance — a horn said to have grown from the back of a woman’s head, a treatise on fungus-infected ants, portraits of dogs sent on Soviet space missions. It’s a meta-museum of sorts, but one presented without a lick of irony. Instead, it seems to celebrate our mad, fumbling attempts to make meaning of mystery. At some point, almost guaranteed, you’ll hear another museum-goer say in a stage whisper, “What is this place?” Wend your way to the rooftop garden to ponder the same over free tea and cookies.
6. Kogi Taqueria
3500 Overland Ave., No. 100, Los Angeles
Kogi has spawned a gourmet food-truck revolution and a thousand copycats, but there is only one original. The Korean taco — succulent short ribs and accompaniments tucked into a corn tortilla — is delicious way to celebrate the commingling of key L.A. cultures.
7. The Apple Pan
10801 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
Time changes all things, but not the Apple Pan. Open since 1947, this 26-seat diner is a marvel of consistency. Stand awkwardly around the wall with the other hopefuls waiting for a seat. Order one of two burgers. (There are other meal offerings on the menu, but why bother?) If you order fries, your server will mete out a dose of ketchup onto a paper plate; soda comes in a can, accompanied by a paper cone of ice in a metal holder. Why are things done this way? Because. Once you tuck into that burger — perfect char, floating on a tender bun and a raft of crisp iceberg, fully sauced and dressed — or an immense wedge of pie, all questions will cease.
8. Giant Robot Store
2015 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles
9. GR2 Gallery
2062 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles
Nestled in the midst of Sawtelle Japantown, the Giant Robot Store and GR2 Gallery are flanked by ramen shops, Japanese bars, grocery stores, and shaved-ice and boba parlors — all-day entertainment. Formerly a print magazine dedicated to Asian and Asian American pop culture and art, Giant Robot now publishes online and runs a gallery and a store chockablock with quirky clothing, art and housewares. The gallery has featured numerous solo and group exhibitions, but may be most famous for its annual “Post-it Show.” Artists create tiny works on single Post-It Notes, all of which are priced the same ($25 last year), regardless of whether the creator is an upstart or a well-established figure such as “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening.
10. Tsujita LA Artisan Noodles
2057 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles
If you want to avoid the heaving crowds outside, make an off-hours visit and head for this original outlet over the annex across the street. Most of the masses are waiting for a bowl of tsukemen — thick, toothy noodles served with a dipping sauce so concentrated that it’s just shy of gravy. Tsujita’s chefs simmer pork broth for 60 hours before adding bonito for brine and smokiness. The result is so full of gelatin and fat that it wrinkles on top. Order the tsukemen with a perfect, jammy egg, savor the shivery pork bits and bamboo shoots lurking in the sauce, and dip and slurp halfway through your noodles. Just when you think you might drown in this fatty sea of pork, squeeze the provided lime over your noodles as instructed. The acid cuts through the richness. Your server will dilute the sauce with a lighter broth for you to enjoy once the noodles are gone. By the end, you may feel like you’re congealing from the inside out, but it’s worth it.
2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica
Open since 1994, this complex of fine-art galleries is perched right next to the station. Of particular interest: the Copro Gallery, for all your fancy goth needs; Latin American Masters, for an expansive space dedicated to the work of modern and contemporary Latin-American artists; and the Lois Lambert Gallery & Gallery of Functional Art, for whimsical gifts and serious art — and vice versa.
17th Street/Santa Monica College
12. Highways Performance Space
18th St. Arts Center
1651 18th St., Santa Monica
A cozy space dedicated to experimental artists of diverse backgrounds, Highways has hosted dance, theater, and multimedia performances since 1989. August events include “New Shoes 18,” featuring work by emerging artists, and “Inner Working/Outer Working,” a multimedia collection of dance and aerial pieces.
Thrupkaew is a writer based in Los Angeles.
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