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Arcadia

November 15, 2007|Pauline O'Connor

In Greek mythology, Arcadia is a remote and bucolic forest where nymphs and centaurs frolic. Its local incarnation, a bedroom community nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains east of Pasadena and south of Sierra Madre, while admittedly more prosaic, is blessed with enchanting elements of its own. A day's excursion here can approximate a trip in a time machine. And in few other burgs are you as likely to come across the spectacle of a flock of wild peacocks -- the city's mascot -- strutting their stuff. It's a magical sight indeed.

LIVE OUT YOUR FANTASY

Showboating peacocks are a common sight in the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden (301 N. Baldwin Ave., [626] 821-3222). Once the estate of E.J. "Lucky" Baldwin, the colorful tycoon who incorporated Arcadia in 1903, this 127-acre garden now draws more than 315,000 visitors annually. After the peafowl, below -- descendants of a pair Baldwin brought from India in the late 1800s -- the star attraction is the Queen Anne Cottage, familiar to millions as the home of the wish-granting Mr. Rourke on the TV show "Fantasy Island." The cottage is open to public tours twice a year; your next chance to point out of its tower window and yell "De plane!" falls on Dec. 9. Stop by Claro's Italian Market (19 1/2 E. Huntington Drive, [626] 446-0275) beforehand to pick up picnic provisions.

Yesteryear

A GATEWAY TO THE FOREST

For a real blast from the past, take Santa Anita Avenue north into the San Gabriel Mountains to Chantry Flat. This pastoral setting at Arcadia's northern tip is home to Adams' General Store and Packstation ([626] 447-7356), www.adamspack station.com). Thought to be the last operation of its kind, Adams' Packstation delivers supplies via mule or donkey to the residents of Big Santa Anita Canyon. It also serves as an entry hub to the Angeles National Forest, offering Forest Service passes and supplies to hikers and campers. Once a month, during the full moon, the station hosts a weekend barbecue, concert and moonlight hike.

Yesterday

PLAY THE PONIES

Adjacent to the Arboretum is Santa Anita Park (285 W. Huntington Drive, [626] 574-7223), above. Racing season at this Art Deco palace, designed by Hoover Dam architect Gordon Kaufmann, kicks off on Dec. 26. Such legendary horses as Seabiscuit have churned the dirt here, and the best seats are in its elegant Turf Club, which enforces a strict dress code.

OLD-SCHOOL DERBY DAYS

If you forget to wear dress shoes, you can pick up a pair at the nearby Westfield Santa Anita mall (400 S. Baldwin Ave., [626] 445-6255), or opt for the more democratic environs of the Derby (233 E. Huntington Drive, [626] 447-2430). Decked out with vintage racing memorabilia, red leather booths and a long wooden bar, this landmark steakhouse has been a popular post-race hangout since the 1930s. Along with the signature dish -- filet mignon wrapped in bacon -- waitresses cheerfully serve up tales of their encounters with the ghost of the Derby's former owner, famed jockey George Woolf, who died when thrown from a horse in 1946.

Today

SELLING LIKE HOT . . . DUMPLINGS

In recent years, Arcadia's Asian population has swelled to about 65%, giving rise to scores of noodle houses and dumpling shops, including the wildly popular Din Tai Fung, below, (1108 S. Baldwin Ave., [626] 574-7068). People jonesing for the restaurant's addictive dumplings (specifically, the pork xiao long bao) start lining up for dinner at 4:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the doors open; luckily, the aisles of imported candy and toys in the neighboring Life Plaza gift shop ([626] 447-8816) provide diversion.

JOHN PHILIP SOUSA, WHERE ARE YOU?

Arcadia's image as a tightly knit small town endures thanks to events such as its annual Festival of Bands, in which 50 Southern California high school marching bands parade along the city's main thoroughfare and compete in percussion and precision events. This year's festival, its 54th, happens Saturday morning. (www.arcadiamusic .org/festivalofbands/2007-2008).

-- Pauline.OConnor@latimes.com

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