A Drive Through Whittier Boulevard

Over the last year, I found myself driving Whittier boulevard from Whittier College to our home in Echo Park several times. My oldest daughter just finished her second year at Whittier College. She was at the dorms and we’d meet up to go for a bite and sometimes we’d bring her home to chill with the family. 

Like any Los Angeles road trip, it turned into an exploration adventure every time. It also reinforced the bond with my daughters and with Los Angeles. With school out for the summer, the three of us went for one more drive on Whittier. This time we drove from its start in Orange County all the way to its end in Boyle Heights at the Sixth Street Viaduct.

We Begin in La Habra

Whittier Boulevard begins in Orange County, at the corner of Whittier and Harbor Boulevard in La Habra. Whittier Avenue starts at Puente Street about one mile east but we head west and spot El Cholo Spanish Cafe. 

El Cholo in La Habra (photo by KG)

El Cholo is a Los Angeles staple. I’ve been to the original on Western, between Pico and Olympic, which opened in 1923. This location in La Habra opened in 1962. If not in the mood for a sit-down spot, Mr. Albert Mexican Food is a small shack across the street from El Cholo. 


Knowing we had something special in store for lunch, we opted for a doughnut breakfast at Jax Donuts. You can’t top a nice doughnut and coffee, or in the case of my 6-year-old, doughnut and chocolate milk. 

The L.A. Meekly Podcast recently did an episode dedicated to doughnuts in Los Angeles and how much they are a part of L.A. culture. They break down the Yum Yum vs. Winchell’s rivalry as well as the story behind the iconic pink doughnut box. 


You leave La Habra quickly and enter the boulevard’s matching city, Whittier. Now in Los Angeles, you spot Frisco’s Carhop, a modern spot with old-school servers on roller skates. The spot’s 50s vibe represents the two sides of Whittier. You can find plenty of trendy spots but Whittier also prides itself on the small-town feel. 

Dan’s Garage in Whittier

Whittier is one of those spots where you’re highly likely to see vintage cars either fully restored or in the restoration process. One example we spotted is at Dan’s Garage, where you might spot a beautiful 50s-era Corvette and a 1941 Ford pickup.

Whittier Greenway Trail

At the intersection of Whittier, Santa Fe Springs, and Washington, you’ll see a park with metal art pieces high above the trees. It’s part of the Whittier Greenway Trail, a biking and walking park spanning nearly five miles. The trail runs from Mills Avenue in South Whittier all the way to Pioneer Boulevard at the 605, Whittier’s northwestern edge. 

Whittier Boulevard Motels

One thing that grabs your attention when driving through Whittier, Pico Rivera, and Montebello, is the number of motels along your route. When you realize that before freeways, Whittier Boulevard was part of the original Highway 101, the motels start to make sense. 

Lunch and dessert in East L.A.

Highway 101, or El Camino Real, was the main path when traveling up or down the coast of California. People needed places to stop and rest as they traveled through the highway. The book Highway 101 by Stephen Provost goes deep into the history of motels along the California highway. 

In the early 1920s, people parked their cars in small lots, pitched a tent, and spent the night before continuing their trip in the morning. Then came the motor courts: small cabins with a place for a car next to each one and often built in a U shape around a courtyard. 

In 1926, the Los Angeles Times reported, “The motel plan eliminates a long walk through dark streets in a strange town between a garage and a hotel. The motorist’s car is where he is, ready for the road for an early morning start.” 

East L.A. Always Hits the Spot

Cross Garfield and enter East Los for great markets, shops, restaurants, and your pick of food trucks and street vendors. Whether you’re in the mood for birria tacos, mariscos, or anything else in between, chances are you’ll find it here. 

The Whittier Boulevard Arch (Photo by KG)

For this trip, we stopped for cocteles at El Bigoton truck and churros at the Don Abel truck just past Gerhart Avenue. El coctel Maleficio had me sweating with each spoonful of shrimp, octopus, and abalone swimming in a dark red sauce. After that kick, the sweet, warm churros were a delicious treat. The bag came with ten, so we were able to take some home and enjoy them into the evening. 

Bellies full, we’re back on the road. We drive past the old Golden Gate Theater, which is now a CVS, the famous Whittier Boulevard Arch, and the Calvary Cemetery. As Whittier Boulevard begins to get squeezed by the 5 and 60 freeways, you know you’re in Boyle Heights. 

Boyle Heights is True Los Angeles Grit

It’s difficult to enjoy everything Boyle Heights has to offer without thinking about what Los Angeles has done – and continues to do – to the community. The biggest visual proof has to be the freeways. They cannot be avoided here, they are a part of the landscape. The freeways re-shaped the neighborhood, carved it, separated it. 

Welcome to Hollenbeck Park (Photo by KG)

If you’re looking to grasp the extent to which the freeways changed Boyle Heights, all you have to do is visit Hollenbeck Park. The greenspace runs across St. Louis Street from the Boyle Avenue and Hollenbeck Drive intersection to 4th Street. At its southernmost edge, the park’s lake is beneath the overpass and in complete darkness – even on the brightest days.

And yet, despite the partial darkness along with noise and smog pollution, Hollenbeck offers a green escape. We accept the freeways as part of life in L.A. and enjoy the park. You will always find people resting, kids playing, and paleteros to help you beat a hot day. 

Boyle Avenue is our way home. We turn off Whittier onto Boyle and take that to Cesar Chavez, crossing the bridge into downtown and La Placita Olvera. As it turns out, this was also the path of the original Highway 101. 

Hollenbeck beneath the freeway

The Sixth Street Viaduct

When I first sat down to prepare this post, I had a different closing in mind but it feels more appropriate to end here instead. As I write this, the new Sixth Street Viaduct is hours from opening. While I do look forward to its opening, I also fear it will create spaces not meant for the Angelenos who have called this home for decades. 

In exploring Los Angeles, I’ve walked beneath, over, and around our beautiful bridges. Green spaces were mostly eradicated in Boyle Heights and along the Los Angeles River. Now as gentrification continues to infect the city past the Arts District and into Boyle Heights, green is coming back.

I urge everyone who’s lived in Los Angeles for years to make yourself seen on the new bridge when it opens. Do not allow it to become something only others enjoy. It is a part of Los Angeles, as are we. Embrace it and walk it proudly knowing that you belong in this city.

Mike Muir by Robert Vargas with the skyline and one of many tower cranes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s