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Get Out Of Town - Or Just Explore It

Montrose

January 10, 2008|Mindy Farabee

It began life as a rancho in 1784, as part of the first private land grant in the soon-to-be state of California. In 1913, it officially became Montrose, a modest foothills enclave with deep German roots and a hideaway setting against the Verdugo and San Gabriel Mountains and the San Rafael Hills. Since the 1930s, merchants along its main business district -- Honolulu Avenue, pictured at right -- have banded together to fend off developers from their sweet, small-town Midwestern-style streetscape, where locals likewise remain anachronistically friendly and open. Spending the day here is a stroll through simple pleasures -- meandering beneath leafy tree canopies, chatting on a park bench and admiring the long views extending toward downtown L.A. and beyond.

Morning

WHERE TO SHOW YOUR MUG

Feel free to show up early. Residents are often out promenading before breakfast, and City Hall Coffee Shop (2327 Honolulu Ave., [818] 248-4905) starts pouring hot mugs of joe at the crack of dawn. Founded in 1961, it was named for the days when local bigwigs congregated in these vinyl booths to discuss official "city" business. The coffee shop, pictured below, is still a sociable community hub, as evidenced by the more than 100 regulars who keep personal mugs on pegs against the back wall.

IT'S ALL ON THE OPEN MARKET

Properly fueled, let the shopping begin. Sundays find the weekly farmers-market-meets-swap-meet Harvest Market at the west end of Honolulu Avenue, hawking everything from Taschen texts on alchemy to secondhand skillets to cabbage and organic jam. Plus, pony rides for the kids and fedora-wearing ensemble the Martini Kings are often on hand to jazz up the atmosphere.

Afternoon

GOOD EATS, HEAVY AND LIGHT

For a robust lunch, locals mob the homey, Americana-style Black Cow (2219 Honolulu Ave., [818] 957-5282). Just want to take a breather? Nosh on a Nutella croissant and mango milk tea while surfing your laptop on the free WiFi at Java Brew Coffee House (2418 Honolulu Ave., [818] 248-1769). Its breezy sunken patio is a good place to pull out that Taschen.

SHOPPING BECOMES ECLECTIC

Honolulu Wood and Things (2275 Honolulu Ave., [818] 248-4337) provides a good entree into the area's particular commercial sensibility. (Here's where you learn that you've been needing a hand-carved elephant-headed door stopper.) For crowd-pleasing vintage, customers traipse up from as far as San Diego to rifle through the eclectic piles of retro wares (house, dish and apparel) in Pattyes Closet (2422 Honolulu Ave., [818] 957-5713), pictured below.

THE DUDE WOULD BE PROUD

Those looking for a little "exercise" might get lucky at Montrose Bowl (2334 Honolulu, [818] 249-3895). Owner Bob Burger has been known to let walk-ins toss the ball around a bit between 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. -- otherwise it's all private parties at this eight-lane, 1936 Art Deco time warp largely untouched since the '50s.

Evening

SURF AND TURF

Hungry again? Blue Fish (2261 Honolulu Ave, [818] 248-9700) serves well-stuffed rolls and other sushi favorites, a lighter yin to the savory yang of Zeke's Smokehouse (2209 Honolulu, [818] 957-7045), known citywide for brisket.

A FRIENDLY WATERING HOLE

Truth be told, you needn't wait until dark to imbibe at Avignone's (2321 Honolulu Ave., [818] 249-5471) -- because, truthfully, it's always night in here -- but it's a good down-to-earth, neighborhood note to go out on, especially if they've got the fireplace going.

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-- Mindy.Farabee@latimes.com

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