CicLAvia: Heart of LA (2017)

CicLAvia returned to Downtown LA for its October edition. At first I was a little unenthused about returning to Downtown LA, but then I learned that this year’s Heart of LA route had a new hub, Echo Park, which I was excited to explore.

It turned out to be a solo event for me, but I was totally okay with that. Going alone allows me to do whatever I please, whenever I please, without complaints, which is a situation I rarely encounter. And, there are actually a lot of other solo riders at these events. It’s a great opportunity to connect with new people. You feel like you’re part of a greater community. Everyone is there for the same reason – to take advantage of the open streets and explore the city from a different vantage point.

Being able to take Metro Rail’s Expo Line to Downtown LA made this an easy event for me to attend. What was tricky this time was that a football game was happening at the Coliseum that afternoon as well, and the train car got really packed with passengers. Having a bike onboard was awkward and difficult. But once all the football fans got off at USC, the cyclists could relax for the rest of the ride.

At the end of the line, I surfaced from the Metro station and made my way to Broadway Hub where I joined the route. This area has the feel of a typical downtown city with buildings side-by-side along the street, but riding gives you a chance to look more closely at the buildings. There are some interesting architectural details and public art along the way.

Once I got to the main intersection of the route and headed out towards Echo Park Hub, that downtown feel quickly subsided. About 1 1/2 miles later I was at Echo Park Lake. I was so surprised and fascinated by this area. It is such a big and serene green space so close to Downtown LA.

I parked my bike and began to walk along a path that circles the lake. It was very peaceful despite all the CicLAvia participants and the regular folks who were there just enjoying the park. At first glance, I saw the fountain in the middle of the lake and the paddle boats and boat house at the edge of the lake. But exploring more closely, I noticed water lily beds throughout the lake, lotus plants at one end of the lake, and a lush wetlands habitat full of wildlife. Looking even more closely, I saw fish, turtles, and a variety of birds.

There was even a cute looking cafe in the boat house, Beacon. It boasts “a chef-driven menu with good-for-you ingredients.” I’ve put it on my list of outdoor restaurants to bring my parents to the next time they’re in town. And I’ll also have to come back at the right time to catch the lotus flowers in bloom. Apparently, this year’s bloom in June was pretty spectacular.

After exploring the park and enjoying lunch from Cousins Maine Lobster food truck, it was time to move on. Next up was Chinatown, but not until I had ridden through 2nd Street Tunnel again. This turned out to be a fun “attraction” for all ages. Adults let their inner child loose while riding through, and there was lots of howling, hollering, and whistling.

I have been to Chinatown before but not by bike, so this stretch I did more to just have done than anything. It was a relatively quick visit.

Finally, I made my way out to Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights on the east side of the Los Angeles River. This was a new destination for me as well. To get there, we rode through the Arts District with its many wall murals and over the 4th Street Bridge.

After checking out Mariachi Plaza, enjoying some live music, and supporting the local farmer’s market, it was time to make my way back to Broadway Hub and the Metro station to head back home.

It was a full day of pedaling with lots of new sights and sounds along the way – 16 miles and 6 hours total – but one I’ll be eager to repeat next time around. I do believe this is becoming my favorite CicLAvia route. There is so much variety in where to go and what to see, and the riders are spread out on the three spokes so there’s a little more breathing room when riding. There will be no hesitation about returning to Downtown LA next time CicLAvia happens there.

CicLAvia: Heart of LA (2015)

Last month I completed another successful and fulfilling CicLAvia experience. It was my fourth one, and each one has always been such a different and unique experience. I’ve gone through various iterations of family joining me: 6-year-old Doobie the first time in 2013, me alone the second time in 2014, the whole family the third time earlier this year, but it was just 11-year-old Sonny and me for this experience.
MacArthur Park SpheresOn October 18, 2015, CicLAvia celebrated its 5th anniversary with CicLAvia: Heart of LA, a route in Downtown LA. I studied up on the route so I wouldn’t miss anything of interest and had a great plan for the day. I had never planned and prepared so much for a CicLAvia experience as I did for this one, but it was such a new area for me to explore. Now that it’s over, I learned it was certainly helpful to have a general overview of how I hoped to proceed that day, but that an overly detailed plan was not necessary nor feasible and it’s just best to go with the flow.

CicLAvia Heart of LA mapOther than we didn’t get out as early as I would have liked since Sonny had been at a sleepover, all started well as we rode our bikes to the Metro Rail and took it to the end of the line downtown. We first headed out to MacArthur Park as planned and saw the The Spheres as I had wanted. They didn’t disappoint, but it was kind of an odd experience walking through the park—there was the energy and excitement of all the CicLAvia participants, but at the same time homeless people were going about their business as if nothing special was happening.

MacArthur Park More SpheresOur first stop at MacArthur Park was also where I realized all my plans would not work out as planned, in particular the geocaching ones. There were four geocaches in this area that I had wanted to search for. I quickly dropped two of them since they were on the opposite side of the park. We made half-hearted, unsuccessful attempts to find the other two; there were just too many “muggles” around to search without drawing too much attention to us. Sadly, I figured that would probably be the case for all, if not most, of the geocaches I had picked out along the route.

MacArthur Park HubBefore moving on, we checked out the many food trucks at MacArthur Park Hub. Sonny gave The Pudding Truck a try. The butterscotch pudding with brownie bites hit the spot before hitting the road again.

Pudding TruckOn the way towards Grand Park Hub, I had planned to stop by Clifton’s Brookdale Cafeteria, The Last Bookstore, and the Globe Lobby of the LA Times building to see their unique interiors, but they were all on the wrong side of the street and the flow of the bike traffic just carried us along past them. Same was the case for a couple of geocaches along the way as well. There was still the chance we might be able to check them out on the way back.

DowntownLABefore we knew it, we had reached Grand Park Hub. We continued on towards Little Tokyo, which was my next planned stop. On the outskirts of Little Tokyo, however, was a puzzle geocache I had prepared for and wanted to try if at all possible.

For this geocache, I had been given an old photo of City Hall from the 1950’s and had to figure out the spot from which the photo had been taken. The container would be in an “obvious spot” just a few feet from that location. If I had solved the puzzle correctly, ground zero was right along the route, too tempting to let pass by.

City Hall 1950s

Luckily, the spot was on our side of the street and it wasn’t busy. We were able to locate and make the grab easily😀. Interesting to see the differences and similarities in the area between then and now!

City Hall 2015We parked our bikes when we got to the historic district of Little Tokyo. It wasn’t an official hub, but it was very busy with people exploring the area. We took a little stroll in Japanese Village Plaza and felt like we were in Japan. We enjoyed a drumming demonstration outside the Japanese American National Museum. We even ventured a little beyond the crowds to the Go For Broke Memorial which commemorates Japanese Americans who served in the United States Military during World War II (where we also had a some time to ourselves and were able to search for a traditional geocache😀).

Little TokyoTime was quickly passing and Sonny was beginning to get a little impatient about all the time he’d already spent out on the streets with me. We got back on our bikes and pedaled through the Arts District, over 4th Street Bridge, and on towards Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights.

Art DistrictWe enjoyed lunch from a food truck at Hollenbeck Park. What struck me right away was how green the park was! These days, with the drought and cutbacks in watering, so much grass is usually brown, but not here for some reason.

Hollenbeck ParkRiding 4th Street Bridge was my favorite stretch of the day. There was something about riding on this historic bridge built in 1931—with its Gothic Revival details, over all the railroad tracks and cemented LA River underneath, with the openness and views of the mountains and city around us—that awed me. It was a popular place for cyclists to get off their bikes and admire their surroundings. And I loved that we got to ride it twice, once in each direction coming back and forth from Hollenbeck Park.

4th Str Bridge to Hollenbeck Park 6th Str Bridge4th Str Bridge to DTLAAfter lunch we pretty much peddled straight back to the downtown Metro stop to go back home. Sonny passed up a stop at a frozen yogurt place because he was eager to get home, but he did humor me with a quick stop right along the route near City Hall to take a picture of a sign post listing all the sister cities of Los Angeles. This was part of the requirement for a virtual geocache that I wanted to log (the other half was posting a picture from a visit to one of LA’s sister cities, which in our case was Athens, Greece😀).

Sister Cities GeocacheHe also agreed to stop at The Last Bookstore to get a glimpse of that. I enticed him with the promise of a book. We browsed the downstairs, in particular the vinyl records section (a cultural history lesson for Sonny!) and the children’s and young adults’ book sections, before we headed upstairs and walked through the labyrinth. It was a short but sweet visit, and we learned it’s worth another visit if we’re in the area.

The Last BookstoreAt the end of the day, we had cycled 13 ½ miles and been out from about 10am to 4pm. We had explored a great part of Downtown that until now had been unknown and unfamiliar to us. I can’t say I now know it like my own neighborhood, but I am certainly more interested and open to going back and revisiting and exploring some more. Downtown LA is no longer a big, unknown area to me. Now when I drive along the freeway past the high rises and surrounding areas, I’ll have a new understanding and appreciation for the area. I’m always looking for new activities to do with my family when they visit. Now I can put some places in Downtown LA on our list.

For those interested in participating in a future CicLAvia, there are two events coming up in the next few months. The first one is CicLAvia: The Valley on March 6, 2016, and the next one is CicLAvia: Southeast Cities on May 15, 2016. Are you tempted to mark either of those on your calendar? I hope to be able to do the Southeast Cities one.

Los Angeles River Ride

Los Angeles River Ride logoThis past weekend, our family did something totally new for us.  We participated in The 12th Annual Los Angeles River Ride presented by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.  I have become increasingly interested in the LA River.  It used to be that I associated the term “Los Angeles River” with an image of a practically empty river bed with wide concrete banks.  You often see that image in movies that take place in Los Angeles.  Lately, though, I’ve learned more about its history and followed attempts to revitalize and restore interest in it.  What better way to gain a better appreciation of the LA River than to do a bike ride along part of it!

Unfortunately, I didn’t actually get a chance to ride along it.  While Sonny and Daddy participated in the 15-Mile Family Ride, I stayed back at the start with Doobie who was too young to ride it.  Kids had to be 7 years old in order to participate in the family ride.  The Family Ride started at the Autry National Center in Griffith Park, crossed the freeway and then continued south on a bike path along the LA River until they arrived in the Elysian Park area (near Dodger Stadium) where they turned around after some refreshments.

Riding along bike path on Family Ride

Sonny on the bike path along the LA River

For the 6 year olds and under, there was a special course in a parking lot at the Autry Center.  Here they practiced their riding techniques.  Parents were not allowed on the course.  It was perfect for Doobie.  He had to do a series of tight turns around cones, stop at a designated spot, start again, ride along a narrow path and turn along this narrow path, stop and start again, and then ride a figure eight.  It was all about having control and riding safely, just the right challenge for him, and he eagerly did it several times. Continue reading