Nobody Drives in LA — Reimagining Garden Grove

Nobody Drives in LA

With bicycles, buses, ferries, planes, rideshares, sidewalks, subways, taxis, and trains at Angelenos’ disposal, why would any sane person choose car-dependency? Nobody Drives in LA celebrates sense and sensibility in transportation.


On October 12, Garden Grove will host Re:Imagine Garden Grove – A Downtown Open Streets Event, and for a few hours a few blocks of that city’s streets will be closed to motorized vehicles and opened to pedestrians, pets, cyclists, skaters, &c. Similar open streets events have now taken place in cities throughout every permanently-inhabited continent, but this will be the first in Orange County.

The roughly 3-mile loop will be the centerpiece of Re:Imagine Garden Grove

On 18 August, members of the press were treated to a preview of the event. After a brief Q & A with members of Garden Grove’s city council and Community Arts Resources‘ president and co-founder Aaron Paley, we boarded one of The OC Trolley Company‘s trolley buses and toured the event’s route. For those of us who were interested, Paley led a short walking tour of Historic Main Street.

It’s unsurprising to me that such a forward-looking event would take place in Garden Grove. It doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of Santa Ana, the concentrated architectural charms of Orange, the high culture and consumerism of Costa Mesa, nor the natural beauty of Orange County’s canyon and coastal communities. Garden Grove is, however, transforming from a homogenous post-war suburb into a progressive, semi-urban and highly diverse community. It also has a reputation, like most of Orange County, for car-dependency, but Re:Imagine Garden Grove is a valiant attempt to change that.

Having walked around Garden Grove fairly extensively, it only feels truly pedestrian-friendly along a single block of the two-block-long Historic Main Street, which naturally is the centerpiece of Re:Imagine Garden Grove’s event. There are many other great areas of Garden Grove, but they often feel decidedly fragmented. Several of the city’s events, like the Korean Festival and Tết, feel as culturally specific as their two associated enclaves — Little Seoul (officially the Korean Business District) and Little Saigon. I’ve never felt unwelcome in any of my explorations of the city, but there is an air of self-segregation that hangs over many neighborhoods.

The roughly five kilometer loop will be the centerpiece of Re:Imagine Garden Grove

Back on July 2, 1950, service on the Pacific Electric Railway‘s Santa Ana Line was discontinued, and thus most passenger rail service in Orange County ceased (there was at least Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway‘s San Diegan — since succeeded by Amtrak‘s Pacific Surfliner). Several smaller transit agencies provided bus service until the larger Orange County Transit District was established in 1971. In 1990 Metrolink launched the Orange County Commuter, which then only offered a single, weekday roundtrip and most motorists’ relationships with the auto more resembled indentured servitude than the freedom promised by their advertising. Besides smog, heart disease, and lung disease, car-centric suburbs turned over about a quarter of their communities to freeways, parking lots, and streets.

One of the biggest bonuses of Los Angeles‘ similar (if much larger) CicLAvia events (which are also organized by Community Arts Resources) is their ability to bring Angelenos into communities in which they’ve never previously found themselves, thus helping them them to better understand the totality of their home. My favorite of those events was the fifth one, which connected the Westlake, Boyle Heights, Chinatown, and Exposition Park. The roughly three-mile long loop of Re:Imagine Garden Grove will only connect a small industrial area, the town’s civic center, and a quiet residential neighborhood, but will hopefully both attract visitors from far beyond and serve as a showcase for what could be done again, on a larger scale, in more communities. This isn’t meant to suggest that there aren’t attractions within the area set aside for this first open streets event. Despite its size, there are several neighborhood attractions worth checking out and organizers have managed to cram in a host of events for the day.

In any event of this sort, food is one of the main draws. Sadly, I’ve only ever eaten at Louie’s on Main which, though only established in 1953, is the oldest bar in the city. Across Main Street are Azteca Mexican Restaurant — known for its massive collection of Elvis paraphernalia — and quaint Zlaket’s Market, established in 1927. Nearby is a much larger Vietnamese market, Dalat, which carries many products not stocked at non-Asian chains. Other neighborhood eateries include Doug’s Downtown Grill, the Globe (a Belgian gastropub), Henry’s Bar & Grill, King’s Donuts, Maisano’s Bakery, 7 Seas Sports Bar And Grill, and Value Pizza. On top of all that, there will be food trucks and a multi-cultural cook-off featuring Orange County chefs.

Inside Zlaket's Market | Photo: Eric Brightwell
Inside Zlaket’s Market
Gem Theater | Photo: Eric Brightwell
Gem Theater

I always have my eye out for architecture, and there are several standout mid-century churches — First Baptist Church of Garden Grove, Garden Grove United Methodist Church, St. Olaf Lutheran Church, and Saint Columban Church — and tucked around the corner, the tiki-style Kona Gardens Apartments. The Garden Grove Regional Library is quite nice, not just for its architecture or the the pleasant Community Center Park.

Other neighborhood attractions in the area include the Charity Shop, The Colony of Performing Arts, Garden Grove Historical Society’s Stanley Ranch Museum & Historical Village, and The Gem Theater. Other temporary attractions include live music, performances of Chinese and Vietnamese dance, a pop-up skate park, artisanal booths, ping pong, chess, a rock climbing wall and lessons in dance, martial arts, and fitness — and a beer garden.

Spanning the old Pacific Electric right-of-way will be a large public art installation created by Non Designs, and the right-of-way itself, which carried passengers from Santa Ana to Watts from 1905 until 1950, will be redeveloped as a short bikeway intended to suggest a better use for the long abandoned transit corridor which, if turned into a bike path, would connect those along the Santa Ana and San Gabriel rivers.

Further in the future the Santa Ana Branch right-of-way will likely see the restoration of passenger rail, but in the meantime if you’d like to take public transit to the event the area is served by OCTA bus lines 37 and 56. Nearby rail stations Anaheim Station, Orange Station, and Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center are all served by OCTA, Metrolink’s Inland Empire-Orange County and Orange County lines, and Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner.

If all goes according to plan, Re:Imagine Garden Grove – A Downtown Open Streets Event will not just be five hours of fun for thousands of people, but inspire people to re-imagine the way in which we use community space, embrace a healthier lifestyle, and interact with our neighbors wherever we might live.


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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