When I was a little girl my mother would take my brother and me downtown on the Wilshire bus to see Santa Claus. There was no Santa Claus (that I knew of) in Beverly Hills and there were no really big department stores.
Beverly Drive was the street with most of the shops and Rodeo Drive was just a side street. And though they bid valiantly for the seasonal dollar with their holiday decorations, for me, they couldn't compete with the excitement of going "downtown."
In those days, streetcars still clanged their way along the main streets of Los Angeles, which were crowded with Christmas shoppers. And Santa Claus (the only one in my mind) was waiting at the old May Co. at 8th and Broadway.
Shoppers Lured Away
Today, regional malls often make a trip downtown unnecessary. Many Southlanders haven't been in the metropolitan area in years--other than to pass through on a freeway.
Meanwhile, a large area of downtown Los Angeles has blossomed into a wondrous and, yes, even exciting city again.
If you're adventurous, there is a convenient way to see the best of it, and the holiday season is a great time to do it.
Because parking can sometimes be difficult and always expensive, the easiest way to begin your downtown adventure is to take the rapid transit into the Civic Center along 1st Street and hop the DASH minibus system that circles around the Central City.
DASH stands for Downtown Area Short Hop and is a joint project of the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation Commission and the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency.
Bring the kids to visit Santa Claus and also introduce them to some of the many cultural, historic and ethnic areas to be found in Los Angeles.
You can make the whole downtown loop (without getting off the bus) for 25 cents. Or, you pay 25 cents each time you board. The route covers the metropolitan area from colorfully decorated Chinatown and Olvera Street on the north, through Little Tokyo, the Civic Center, down the Flower Street business corridor, to the shopping meccas of 7th Street, through the Jewelry and Garment districts to 12th Street on the south--an area about two miles long and half a mile wide.
The DASH has long been a favorite escape method for the many day workers along its route who use it to get "out" for lunch or run shopping sorties or errands. Word has spread, however, and out-of-town business people, conventioneers and tourists staying in the many hotels on or near its route (Westin Bonaventure, Los Angeles Hilton, Hyatt Regency, New Otani, Sheraton Grande and Biltmore) also have discovered its advantages.
In addition to the reasonable fare, service is frequent and pleasant on the DASH. Though the noontime crunch, especially during the holidays, puts a strain on courtesy, for the most part passengers are friendly, exchanging greetings with the driver, chatting with one another--even apologizing when they step on someone's toes. Young folks have even been seen getting up to let an older person have a seat.
Courtesy seems to be part of driver training too. On a recent trip, a woman shopper struggled aboard with an armful of packages, mumbled her stop to the driver and sat down with a sigh of relief, only to be told by him that she was going the long way around to reach her hotel. He pulled over at the next stop and pointed out the pickup corner for a bus going the other way. He then radioed the oncoming bus and described the woman: "Green plaid jacket and a black skirt. She's already paid."
An unusual occurrence?
"No," according to the driver, "we do it pretty often, especially for tourists. They frequently lose their bearings."
A Ticket to Shopper's Utopia
If Christmas shopping is on your agenda, a ride on the DASH can be a ticket to Utopia. Practically anything can be found along the bus route, either in small specialty shops or major department stores, which include Robinson's, Broadway, May Co. and Bullock's. The latter three anchor large, gaily decorated malls with women's fashion boutiques, men's stores, candy, card, book, sporting goods, record and video shops as well as fast-food or sit-down restaurants, all within a three-block area along 7th Street. At this time of the year, all are emblazoned with Christmas decorations and sounds of seasonal music enliven the ambiance of the area.
Though you can begin your tour at any stop, it would be difficult, especially with children, to explore everything in one day. If it's a first visit, I suggest taking the bus the entire route and then returning to investigate one or two places at your leisure. Let's start from the top (north).
Straddling Broadway, north of City Hall, are the exotic shops and restaurants of Chinatown. A pleasant place to holiday shop or improve your technique with chopsticks. If the scenes look familiar, it's probably because they often are used for film and TV productions that need a Chinese setting.