I've been going to San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants a lot lately, because that's where the best food is, but since I live on the west side it's been a lot of wasted driving time and awful hard on my car. So this morning, seeing that I had a huge amount of random paperwork I had to read, I resolved to figure out how to get there on the bus. I'm going to share what I've learned, figuring that other people may want an efficient way to get out to where the chow is. First I'll tell you about the buses you need, then where to find maps and schedules, and then the story of my actual journey this morning.
The only reason why taking the bus to the San Gabriel Valley isn't a ridiculous idea is the 720 "Rapid" express bus that runs the full length of Wilshire Blvd from Santa Monica to way out east in the valley. Since most of the recommended Chinese restaurants are a few miles from Wilshire, the basic formula is to take the 720 and connect to a local. (The 720 is to be distinguished from the 20, which is the local along Wilshire, which is not to be recommended for long distances.)
Once you get off the 720, you'll use one of three local buses: the 70, 76, or 260. The 70 goes from downtown (get off at the 720 stop at 6th and Main) through East LA to Garvey. That gets you within walking distance of Hua's Garden (310 N Garfield), China Islamic (7727 Garvey), and Chung King (206 S Garfield).
The 76 goes from downtown (get off at the 720 stop at 6th and Main) and runs along Valley Blvd. That lets you go to Hawaii Supermarket (120 E Valley), Best Szechuan (534 E Valley), Lu Gi (539 W Valley), Tung Lai Shun (140 W Valley), Jin Jiang (301 W Valley), JZY Cafe (1039 E Valley).
And the 260 goes from south-central, connects with the 720 at the intersection of Wilshire and Atlantic, and runs north on Atlantic. That gets you near Ocean Star (145 N Atlantic) and a bunch of other Chinese supermarkets, Deerfield Garden, etc etc, near the intersection of Atlantic and Garvey. The 70 will get you to that same intersection.
The place where you get information about such things is the MTA's remarkably useful Web site, whose URL I've attached. Mouse "Metro Transit" and select "Timetables" for the specific bus lines I've mentioned, or select "Trip Planner" to get a specific itinerary. The trip planner is amazing, actually, though some aspects of its interface need work.
Okay, so here's my experience. I decided that I wanted to get dim sum at Ocean Star, and that I wanted to get there early and beat the rush. I got out my pile of paperwork and the maps and schedules that I had printed from the MTA Web site, and I walked out the door of my place at 8:15am, intending to take the 720 to the 260 and arrive at Ocean Star at 10am and do a lot of reading along the way. I did actually get there at 10am, and I did actually do a lot of reading, though it was more complicated than I planned.
I arrived at the bus stop, and there were a bunch of people there, more than I would expect on a Saturday morning. The bus arrives and I get on, and the bus is packed. I get the next-to-last seat. More people get on. Soon the driver explains: the previous bus had broken down and it's not usually this crowded, honest. The pattern soon became clear: at every stop along the way, a bunch of angry people had been waiting for a half-hour, and they tried to crowd onto our bus. It got real crowded, people started yelling, people got turned away by the driver, yada yada.
When we were approaching downtown, I felt the need of Plan B. I had a seven-minute connection to the 260, and the 260 only ran every 40 minutes. I had wanted to avoid changing buses downtown in the early morning, in order to avoid mingling with the downtown denizens imbibing their breakfasts. Well, that's how it turned out, standing on the corner of Spring and 5th with the howling homeless people. It wasn't at all dangerous, but it wasn't appetizing either.
The 70 bus turned out to be a mixed bag. The first half of the route passes through the less scenic parts of East LA: auto repair places, construction sites, freeways. The second half, though, is much better. It runs along City Terrace, which has a nice stretch of Mexican markets, a county library, etc. Best of all, it has a cool Serbian Orthodox Church on a hillside just a stop or two short of the Atlantic Ave intersection with Ocean Star.
I still had plenty of paperwork when I got done at Ocean Star, so I took the 70 back downtown. That way I could stop at the Grand Central Market for an hour to do some more paperwork before I caught the 720 back out. I walked over to the central library to work there, too. They've got a 720 bus stop right outside. But I was burned out by that time, and the library is pretty busy on Saturdays.
So that's my story of taking the bus to the Chinese restaurants in San Gabriel Valley. I'm actually pretty positive about the bus system on the whole. My one trip this morning is just random bad luck, but it's a reminder of why people often decide to drive despite the massive hassle and expense. At least there's the option.