Los Angeles and public transportation seem to be diametrically opposed, but the City of Angels does have a well-placed system of buses accessible from numerous reaches of this large metropolis. Yet, the use of public transportation here, unlike many other major cities is unfortunately rooted in classism; people of a certain social strata do not take the bus. This bias seems frivolous, as the buses are clean, cheap and fairly easy to access and navigate.
The Red Line Metro Rapid 720 bus is an easy ride traversing the city from Santa Monica to East LA mostly along Wilshire Blvd. This rapid bus is an excellent option as it travels a straight line through numerous tourist sites; the beaches and shopping in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills’ manicured streets, Museum Row on Miracle Mile to check out LACMA, The La Brea Tar Pits, Craft and Folk Art Museum, and Peterson Automotive Museum, Koreatown for delicious eats and hip bars, and Downtown for a plethora of galleries, restaurants and nighttime activities.
This particular journey started in Beverly Hills at Wilshire and La Cienaga and headed east. For new riders without a bus card, rides are $1.50 each, and be sure to have exact change. There are people from all walks of life, teenage kids, a homeless man or two, men in business suits and large Hispanic families, but absolutely nothing to cause alarm or caution; as with travel in any major city, simply be aware of your surroundings. Realistically this isn’t the same as a ride in a well-manicured Uber car, but the ease of transit and price make the bus a viable option for tourists and locals alike. Stickers explain that you are being filmed by security cameras among plenty of brightly colored, clean seats. Besides one homeless man throwing his candy bar wrapping on the floor and out the window, the bus is well kept. To get to 6th & Hope in Downtown takes about 20- 25 minutes with 9 quick stops in between.
Brunch at The Pantry is only a short walk; this diner is iconic since it is ancient by LA standards (est. 1924), just be wary of long lines. The limited menu includes 50 cent coffee and huge portions of eggs, pancakes, toast and breakfast meats; $17 for 2 people is quite a deal. The patrons here are undoubtedly louder and more colorful than anyone encountered on the bus. Next, a stop at the LA Public library to marvel at the architecture and view hidden Los Angeles treasures in the Annenberg Gallery. Following, is a trip to MOCA (The Museum of Contemporary Art). General tickets are $12 and student tickets are $7 and the eatery Lemonade has a small store downstairs in the courtyard selling delicious lunch dishes and thirst-quenching lemonade concoctions.
The highlight of the day is a stroll through The Grand Central Market. This hidden gem on Broadway opened in 1917 and features numerous vendors, from the new and hip Eggslut outpost to candy stores, fishmongers, fruit and vegetable stalls and a handful to shops selling Thai, Chinese, and Mexican cuisine. Following is a quick look into the magnificent Bradbury Building, which is the oldest commercial building in the central city. The intricate interior design including caged elevators, marble staircases and flourished handrails are certainly reminiscent of another time.
For a respite after taking in the colorful sights and sounds of the downtown sidewalks, the Spring Street Bar is a good bet. Downtown is experiencing a renaissance of new hotels, galleries, bars and restaurants and for better or worse, there is a very perceptible difference upon leaving an older, mostly minority area and moving into an “uplifted” gentrified one. A final yet necessary stop in this area of the city is The Last Bookstore, a mecca for cheap new and used books and records; it is filled with comfy chairs and plenty of nooks to waste the day away.
Hopping back on the bus at the 5th & Main stop is easy, albeit there are a few more homeless folks getting on here, as it is just a block north of Skid Row. Disembarking at the Vermont & Wilshire stop is the entry point to Koreatown. The HMS Bounty is a fun and quirky dive bar here with refreshingly cheap drinks. Continue on a short walk to The Chapman Plaza for a large variety of Korean BBQ restaurants; the perfect place to begin a food adventure in this part of the city. Just a few of blocks west is the Wilshire & Normandie bus stop and the end of this journey.
The public bus system in Los Angeles is not solely relegated for the homeless, car-less and your housekeeper; it is a well comprised network that can painlessly transport anyone through large portions of the city. There are so many fun, quirky, and enlightening things to experience and public transportation is one more way to access it all.