Dionne Warwick called Los Angeles a great big freeway, while John Lennon called the city a big parking lot. Daily gridlock remains the norm in this sprawling behemoth, an ever-improving public transit system means exploring the city with just a TAP card is actually easier than you may think.

A light rail train sits at the Little Tokyo/Arts District station on the Gold Line. A line of pedestrians walks away from it on the right.
Passengers disembark from The LA Metro's Gold Line train at the Little Tokyo/Arts District station. © Barry Winiker / Getty Images

While the Metro Red Line connects the booming downtown (DTLA) to Hollywood and Universal Studios, and the Blue Line shoots west to the surf and sunsets of Santa Monica, for less-trodden treasures hop aboard the Metro Gold Line, a light rail connecting DTLA to everything from world-class art to some of the city’s coolest enclaves. Curious? Here’s our guide to a day on the Gold Line.

A semicircular bridge is reflected in a pool of green water, surrounded by weeping willows and bright green bushes.
The Huntington's Japanese Botanical Garden bridge. © Kirk Wester / Shutterstock

Morning masterpieces

Your morning begins at the Huntington, former country estate of railroad tycoon Henry Huntington and his wife, Arabella. The couple amassed an extraordinary cache of cultural assets, from a Gutenberg Bible and a manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, to an enviable collection of European and American art spanning centuries. Works include Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy, widely considered his masterpiece, as well as homegrown highlights such as Edward Hopper’s soothing The Long Leg.

Even more calming is the estate’s 120-acre themed botanical gardens. To make the most of your day, aim to arrive at the Huntington at 10am as you’ll need (at least) three good hours here. Cheat sheet: if you’re coming from DTLA, catch bus 78 or 79, either of which will drop you off closest to the grounds (one mile).

From the Huntington, the Gold Line’s Allen station lies 1.4 miles north on S Allen Ave. If you don’t feel like walking the entire way, stroll 0.7 miles to the intersection of Allen Ave and Del Mar Blvd and catch a northbound 10 bus to the station. Buses run roughly every 15 to 20 minutes Monday to Saturday. Sundays are less convenient, requiring a one-mile walk to the intersection of Allen Ave and Colorado Blvd for a northbound 686 or 687 bus, which run only every 30 minutes. From Allen station, travel six stops to Highland Park.

People walk in and out of a cute cafe, with people sitting outside at sidewalk tables.
People flock to Kitchen Mouse for generous, mood-lifting vegan and vegetarian dishes. © Jennifer Daking / Kitchen Mouse

Afternoon cool

Those who like comparatives have dubbed Highland Park ‘the new Silver Lake’ after another trendy LA district. With a Latino-meets-hipster motif, Highland Park is packed with in-the-know eateries and bars, as well as a string of stores selling everything from obscure vinyl to artisanal crafts.

From the Highland Park station, it’s only one block to N Figueroa St, one of the neighborhood’s two main eating and shopping strips. It’s here you’ll find super-cute Kitchen Mouse, a bohemian-spirited café serving fantastic vegetarian and vegan food to a laid back crew of indie fashion bloggers, musicians and screenwriters, yoga moms and the odd middle manager.

Once fed, dive into Sunbeam Vintage for eclectic midcentury furniture and homewares. You might score a tiki candlestick or Georges Briard ashtray. Close by, Mount Analog peppers its collection of new and used records with intriguing art, books and graphic tees.

Shoppers browse through a rustic shop, with handmade goods all around
Mindfulnest is stocked with pop art and handmade games, leather bracelets and earrings. © Amanda Vernon / Mindfulnest

Highland Park’s other must-see thoroughfare is York Blvd, a 15-minute walk north along N Ave 59 (which joins N Ave 57). Here, retro Galco’s Old World Grocery stocks around 700 small-batch and heritage sodas, as well as nostalgia-inducing American candy. A few blocks further west lies concept store Mindfulnest, which champions the work of American artisans, designers and artists.

Features - mattersofspace-ebf75c581959
Both an interior-design firm and store, Matters of Space sells its own mid-century-inspired furniture and a sharply curated collection of homewares and accessories. © Lily King Photography / Matters of Space

Across the street, homegrown and international designers are on display at the sharply curated Matters of Space, which also stocks its own midcentury-inspired furniture.

If you need a sugar hit, make a pit stop at Donut Friend, where limited-edition varieties include the Hot Rosewater Music, made with a lemon rosewater glaze and roasted pistachios. The musical connection isn’t coincidental: Donut Friend’s founder is rocker Mark Trombino, whose production credits include albums for Blink 182 and Jimmy Eat World.

If you don’t feel like walking back to N Figueroa St, hop on the 83 bus and, if it’s after 5 pm, rehydrate with a well-crafted cocktail at Highland Park Bowl, a jaw-dropping, steampunk-inspired bar and bowling alley (note the pinsetter chandeliers). If you can pull yourself away from what is LA’s oldest bowling alley, hop back on the Metro Gold Line and continue six stops to Little Tokyo/Arts District station.

Locavore dining & retro electro

Depending on how much time you spend in Highland Park (and whether you stop by Highland Park Bowl for a drink), you might just make it to prolific modern art gallery Hauser & Wirth. Just A 0.4-mile walk from Little Tokyo/Arts District station, the gallery sits on one of the most interesting streets in the thriving, post-industrial Arts District. If it’s not too late, drop into Detroit concept store Shinola, famed for its American-made watches and leather goods.

Tucked away behind Hauser & Wirth is slinky bistro Manuela, one of the city’s current dining hotspots. A reverence for local produce and tradition shine through in the menu’s predilection for in-house smoking, preserving, fermenting and pickling. Add to this a knack for creativity and the result is smashing dishes like elk loin wrapped in house-cured bacon and served with fermented radicchio, or cornmeal-fried squid spiked with a fermented jalapeño tartar sauce.

A blue and purple graffiti painting, with what appears to be an eye looking out at the viewer, decorates the outside of warehouse bar EightyTwo.
EightyTwo is named for 1982, the height of the 'Arcade Age.' © Scott Davids / EightyTwo

While it’s tempting enough to linger at Manuela over a few post-dinner cocktails, continue on to EightyTwo, a bar in a converted warehouse where craft beers mix with retro arcade games, pinball machines and DJ-spun tunes. A rotating selection of food trucks parks out front, offering a cheaper option to Manuela if your budget is tight.

Whatever your choice, wrap up your day on the Gold Line with a final toast … to a greener, cleaner, ever-more-smashing City of Angels.

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