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Founded by Quakers in the late 1800s, Whittier was home to president Richard Nixon, food writer M.F.K. Fisher, and Pixar impresario John Lasseter. These days the heart of the city is along Greenleaf Avenue in Uptown, a picturesque quarter-mile stretch of specialty shops, historic buildings, and pocket parks that lure residents out of their vintage homes. Only 12 miles southeast of downtown and offering 1,200 acres of oak forest, Whittier is L.A.’s own greenbelt.
1. Pour Le Bain
Violet powder and rosebud salves aren’t just for wives with beehives. Sweet scents draw you into this bathtime wonderland, which is stocked with French soaps, Italian toothbrushes, and all manner of loofahs. » 6721 Greenleaf Ave., 562-464-3636.
2. The Wishing Well
Filled with shiny pedal cars, art supplies, and glittery hats, the old-fashioned toy shop even has a stage where kids can put on a show. Adults will appreciate the art deco terrazzo floor, while the whole family will enjoy retro sodas like Moxie and Lemmy. » 6723 Greenleaf Ave., 562-464-9474.
3. Bizarra Capital
Dip your chip into the region’s finest bowl of guac at the flagship restaurant of Ricardo Diaz, East L.A.’s own celebrity chef. The menu features modern Mexican small plates, including grilled octopus, mole-smothered french fries, and one-of-a-kind huitlacoche quesadillas. » 12706 Philadelphia St., 562-945-2426 .
4. Village Sweets
The confectioner is famous for its freshly made fudge, and you can sample flavors like tamarind-mango or cotija cheese with apple until you pop. Don’t forget to scoop up some wax-wrapped taffies from the barrel standing in the window. » 6743 Greenleaf Ave., 562-698-9293 .
5. Magia Mexicana
Painted toucans, sunflowers, and other Mexican folk art images bring hand-hewn home furnishings to life. There are traditional equi-pal patio sets to dress up your casita, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, the shop’s artisans create custom designs. » 7043 Greenleaf Ave., 562-693-9600.
6. Spitfire Interiors
Pin-striped bureaus, coffin-shaped purses, and sideshow art fight for space with two dozen varieties of hair pomade at this Goth and rockabilly boutique. » 12907 Philadelphia St., 562-945-8970.
7. Fenix 5-4
Don’t let the glowing resin lamps and black-light dolls at this juice shop distract you from freshly squeezed concoctions like the Pineapple Express or the Hot Bunny, a jolt of carrot and ginger juice. » 6754 Greenleaf Ave., 562-693-9780.
8. Vinatero Wine Shop
The venue functions as a tasting room and de facto bar, where dapper co-owner Ernie Ceja oversees an impressive selection of craft beers and French, Spanish, Italian, and California varietals. Can’t decide? Try a tasting flight of six pours for $10. » 6531 Greenleaf Ave., 562-464-9463.
9. Lovell’s Records
This local institution has been selling music since before long-playing records existed, and it still carries ancient albums along with CDs, posters, and such collectibles as portable record players. » 6719 Greenleaf Ave., 562-696-7616 .
10. Half-Off Books
A tome on A-frame architecture teeters next to a stack of best-sellers that’s a few feet from racks of comic books. The bright and spacious shop boasts plenty of seating and a community piano. » 6708 Greenleaf Ave., 562-286-6708 .
Why I Love It Here
We opened the shop in 1956, and I moved to Whittier in ’67. I live in the historical area a few blocks from Uptown. It has lots of character, and I can walk anywhere. Uptown is on the upswing again. For breakfast I like Jack’s coffee shop, which has been there forever, or Mimo’s, where they have tables out in the parkway, with old codgers talking. When I first moved here, you would see the Quakers in their carriages. One guy showed up at my shop very disturbed that we were making tiki gods; I explained it was just for entertainment. You still feel like you’re in a small town, but the Quakers don’t tie up their horses anymore. » Le Roy Schmaltz, co-owner, Oceanic Arts
Photographs 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9 by Damon Casarez. Illustration by Andy Friedman. All other photographs courtesy facebook.com.