On a bright sunny day earlier this summer, we boarded a southbound train at Chinatown Station to explore the East LA extension.
Chinatown Station's green pagoda-shaped roof catches the eye as it rises high above North Spring Street. When you're up on the platform, you can see across a landscape of warehouses and small factories, the County jail, the Los Angeles River, and the green lawns of Los Angeles State Historic Park, which used to be an industrial trainyard. If you turn the other way, you can see the skyscrapers of downtown LA and the landmark tower of City Hall.
Let's board! The train remains elevated high over the streets until it comes down to earth in the trainyards behind Union Station. The platform for the Gold Line is out among the other train platforms a fair trek from the beautiful station building itself. To connect to the Red and Purple Lines, disembark here and walk through underground passages.
Here from the platform, you can look across to the Amtrak and to Metroliner platforms.
As the train continues south, it rises again, and then curves over the 101 freeway -
You can watch the traffic and feel smug that you're not down there amid the brake-lights. The train curves around past the bail-bondsmens' offices and the buildings of the Civic Center, close by City Hall, and then curves again across from the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA and the Japanese American National Museum.
We're in Little Tokyo, also pegged Los Angeles' Art District. You can get off here and visit the museums, stop off for sushi or izakaya. But we're continuing on.
The train takes a sharp curve here, following East First Street, running past some newly built residential lofts and the beautiful Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, set among the low roofs of warehouses. We're on the East First Street Bridge over the Los Angeles River.
The bridge, with its classic arches, was built in 1929. The City is widening it now with the arches carefully removed and stored alongside the construction to be returned to their rightful places. From the train, you can see the broad concrete channel of the river, a cinematic view.
Once we cross the river, we're in Boyle Heights, in a little neighborhood wedged between the river and trainyards and the 101 freeway. This neighborhood was once known as The Flats Village - one of the poorest neighborhoods in LA. In 1942 a public housing project called Aliso Village was built. Fifty years later, the projects were shabby and dangerous places, and the site of gang activity and crime. In 2000 the city demolished them, and replaced them with yet another development.
As the train runs along First, it passes several brightly muraled buildings, including Purgatory Pizza.
Or this wonderful clown mural on a Mexican party-rental store.
The train ducks underground for the next two stops at Mariachi Plaza and at Soto Station. We'll get off and explore someday, but not this time.
It emerges just beyond Evergreen Cemetery and runs past the El Mercado complex before turning south on Indiana Street and a station right by brand new Ramona Opportunity High School. From here, it jogs down to East Third Street. The houses are a mix of bungalows, old Victorian cottages, and post-War block houses, all very modest and some a little shabby.
Businesses like auto repair shops, tamale stores, and beauty salons are often painted with quirky, colorful hand-lettered signs.
We duck under the Pomona Freeway, and run along the north side of Calvary Cemetery; then crossing Eastern, suddenly there's a cemetery on the other side of the train. This is the small Serbian Cemetery.
The gravestones are marked with the characteristic cross of the Eastern Orthodox church. It's a reminder of how diverse the population of East Los Angeles has always been - the Yugoslavian immigrant community here dates from the 1920s.
Another freeway crossing - this time going over the 710 - to the Maravilla Station.
From the station you can see the East Third Street branch of King Taco. This venerable restaurant chain began in the '40s and there are branches all over town. This one has a main building AND a taco truck. The neon sign is a classic.
The next stop is the East LA Civic Center, large modern institutional buildings with colorful tile murals, but the feel is a little bit sterile and bland after the quirky folk-style of Boyle Heights. There's a brand new library, a park with a pretty pond, and the street is a broad divided avenue.
One more stop to the end of the line at Atlantic Avenue.
The Gold Line's route through Little Tokyo and East LA makes it the perfect vehicle for some adventurous dining, and Metro's blog has helpfully published a Foodie's guide to the line. We've visited a few of these in this blog, but there are plenty more worth discovery. Here are some links to places I've already visited:
El Mercado - just a short walk north from Indiana Station.
Breed Street at Cesar Chavez - site of the Breed Street vendors and the La Sirena taco truck. It's just a short walk from the Mariachi Plaza Station.
Little Tokyo - where you'll find a variety of restaurants, shops and museums to explore just blocks from the Little Tokyo Station.
Chinatown - explore LA's Chinatown walking north and west from Union Station, or from Chinatown Station walking south and west. You'll also be able to explore LA's Olvera Square from Union Station.
There are a lot more adventures on the northern side of the line, too. We'll try and explore some of these another time.
If your city has a light rail line and you haven't explored it yet - give it a try. Make an adventure out of it!