by Brooke Grasso
photography by Nadira Fatah
I have never been on the Gold Line, but with its future expansion to La Verne, I figured it was time to try it, and to check out the unique food, shopping destinations and cultural hot spots featured along the electric rail’s daily route. Traveling on the Gold Line is a social event, so grab a few friends and get ready for an adventure.
From Azusa to Los Angeles, 27 stops are connected by an above ground light rail that zooms past traffic and, every seven minutes, and pierces into the hearts of booming cities. With air-conditioned cars, clean blue seats and northern windows that face a gorgeous mountain view, the Gold Line is not only a form of transportation, but, in some ways, a Disneyland-like ride experience in itself. For those who master it, the Gold Line is a viable option for a Friday night out, and the best part is, you do not have to worry about blood pressure raising traffic or having enough change to feed the parking meter. The closest current Gold Line station at Azusa Pacific University is your ticket to anywhere, but weekday parking fills up quickly with passengers looking to bypass infamous 8 a.m. traffic, so make sure to use a ride sharing service, or you will find yourself driving to the Arcadia station to park like I did.
Here are the top destinations for your next adventure:
Arcadia for shopping and horse racing
The Arcadia station is not so much an entertainment destination as a second parking option when APU’s structure is full. The Arcadia stop is equipped to meet the overflow of people from Azusa with abundant free parking. In season, the Santa Anita Race Track can be reached for horse wagering via shuttle buses. Several great Huntington Drive restaurants are within walking distance, and the Westfield Santa Anita Mall is, with comfortable walking shoes, about a 30-minute walk for the ultimate shopping experience. A bonus for recreational enthusiasts: The Goldline parking is adjacent to REI Arcadia, the hub for outdoor activity gear.
Lake Street for trendy dining
This is the big stop. Lake Street is “the place” if you are looking for thriving nightlife or Instagram-worthy restaurants. With one step off the train, you find yourself in the middle of the 57 freeway. So go up the stairs that bring you out of the hustle and bustle onto the more peaceful Lake Street. A turn to the left brings entertainment and trendy food. A scenic 10-minute walk leads to restaurants that I had only seen before on social media. Included are “Lemonade” and “Nothing Bundt Cakes,” where I bought a delicious white chocolate raspberry bundt. This downtown Pasadena location hosts unique storefronts, colorful outdoor patios and small hidden shops. Big name stores sit next to mom and pop boutiques; red telephone booths and even an origami store provide a visual journey matched with a unique shopping experience.
Irwindale for Santa Fe Dam recreation
This is the perfect stop for “outdoorsy” train riders. The Santa Fe Dam recreation area is the place for hiking, fishing or boating. Keep an eye out for events held at this county park including the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. Throughout April, escape this century and surround yourself with beer, bratwurst and bountiful costumes. The Gold Line is not only convenient but also the safest form of transportation after you drink all of those steins: “here ye’ here ye’.”
Highland Park and Heritage Square for history
This is one of those stops where, after browsing through dated Yelp reviews, it read like a good idea to get off the train. But abandoned buildings and 15-year-old skateboarders greeted me. Unfortunately, by the time you notice this stop is not what you thought it was, the doors have closed, and the other passengers are watching in confusion as to why you stepped off where you did. Luckily, in just seven minutes, you can step back on to the next comforting train for better adventures. For the more adventuresome: Bring your bike on the train (for free) to visit restored homes in the Heritage Park Museum for a flashback into Victorian-era art and culture. At just a mile away from the stop—a short bike ride or 20 minute walk—will bring you to historical hot spots.
China Town for cultural adventure
Red, yellow and green traditional Chinese structures make for an immediate cultural brand right out of the Gold Line. A flowing rock fountain guided me under brand new apartments, spitting me out onto a busy street full of food vendors, street markets and even truck beds full of massive red grapes. Locals walk up, cash in hand, pick a bundle of grapes from the hundreds available and move on to find other fresh fruit and vegetables along the street. Homeboy Industries, a bakery that employs and works to rehabilitate former gang members, is visible right from the Gold Line platform. There, you find the delicious banana nut muffins, danishes and other baked goods featured at the University of La Verne’s Barbara’s Place, coming directly from the source. You can visit and support their cause in their hometown by grabbing one of their muffins at 130 W. Bruno St.
Union Station/Olvera Street for cultural immersion
The hustle and bustle of classic Union Station makes for perfect people-watching and admiration of art. But if the commotion of Los Angeles travel is not your thing, a cultural day trip destination is just across the street. Olvera Street is home to authentic Mexican food restaurants, vendors with unique products and live bands playing in the plaza. Brick buildings on both street sides put vendors in a canyon of culture. Here, spanning the street, you will find individually owned booths with sugar skulls, graphic t-shirts, sandals, real leather products and pink sugar cookies. At street end is Cielito Lindo, a famous taquito spot, opened in 1934, that provides a constant air freshener of taco scent through the immediate area. I have never seen this spot without a wait line. Families sit outside enjoying their fresh taquitos covered in green sauce. It is that good.
Little Tokyo for food adventure
Finally, I arrive at my favorite stop. When I exited the train, my first instinct was to get back on because of current construction blocking the view. But with a short walk around the corner, I was surprised to find Little Tokyo embellished with hanging red lanterns, tearooms, sushi spots and dozens of families enjoying the serene getaway from busy LA streets. Passersby tempted me with the food in their hands. Options ranged from steam buns and macaroons to Pho and ice cream. Do not leave without trying something new. My Little Tokyo food adventure of the day was the trendy dessert spot, “HoneyMee.” The creamy vanilla ice cream with a big chunk of honeycomb dripping on top will make you satisfy your sweet tooth. And, of course, if you are also craving a taste of the famous American Museum of Modern Art, your destination is right across the street from the Gold Line platform. Do not knock this stop off of your list based on your window view of the backside of the building housing the Museum of Contemporary Art. A party awaits you on the front side.
Indiana and its Snow Cone Factory
If Indiana is on the way to your destination, hop off for a refreshing snack at the Snow Cone Factory. Even at 21, I get excited for a snow cone. The small white building boasts bright blue eaves and colorful paintings of the most popular desserts. A quick look at their Yelp page will get your sweet tooth aching for the deep fried Oreos covered in chocolate sauce, huge snow cones topped with ice cream, funnel cakes slathered in fruit and whipped cream and/or chili cheese Fritos. The Snow Cone Factory is visible and a very short walk from the train platform, so go ahead and indulge that sweet tooth or chili-cheese craving.
Know before you go
Have a plan. Knowing where I wanted to go made my first time train experience much easier. Having said that, if you are more of the spontaneous type, plan to hop off wherever looks the most visually appealing to you. But beware; you have about seven seconds once the train stops to choose whether or not to jump off. And if you’re off, those seven seconds cost you seven more minutes until the next train picks you up.