Editor’s note: With the opening of the Expo Line’s extension to Santa Monica, locals have a new way to explore neighboring areas. The Daily Press will publish a weekly travelogue about what to eat, see and do near each of the stations along the Expo Line, continuing this week at the Pico stop.
There’s something quintessentially Southern Californian about driving to Staples Center for a Lakers game, getting stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic and ponying up $20 for parking before even entering the arena.
But with the extension of the Expo Line to Santa Monica, those annoyances are optional. Indeed, fans from the Westside can now cheer on their favorite professional basketball team in person without having to jump through all of those, um, hoops.
It’s as simple as taking the light-rail system to the Pico station, which is on Flower Street between Pico Boulevard and 12th Street, conveniently located near Staples Center as well as several other event venues, hotels and the various attractions of L.A. Live.
It’s an admittedly glossy and glitzy entertainment hub, but its construction — which took place between 2007 and 2009 — gave Los Angeles a designated space for concerts, dinners, drinks and more. The complex now features the 7,100-seat Microsoft Theater and the smaller Club Nokia as well as the Grammy Museum, an ESPN broadcast center and a movie theater.
Let’s be honest: It’s probably going to be a pricier-than-average night out on the town by the time you’ve factored in tickets, merchandise and food. But once you’ve come to terms with that fact, you’re in position to have a good time.
Consider Yard House, a sports bar chain with an L.A. Live outpost: You could be picky and complain about its noise and imperfect service, or you could just enjoy its onion ring tower and extensive tap list. Or try a meal at nearby Tom’s Urban, which offers intriguing menu items like vindaloo chicken tacos alongside 40-ounce (not a typo) beers. Sublime!
The entertainment theme of the area continues further east, where The Mayan, Belasco Theater and Ace Hotel provide an assortment of nightlife options. But they’re all merely planets in orbit around Staples Center, which hosts basketball and hockey games as well as live music and other performances.
Since it opened more than 15 years ago, the arena has served as a home to seminal moments in L.A. sports lore.
It’s where Kobe Bryant’s alley-oop lob to Shaquille O’Neal capped the team’s miraculous comeback against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, a landmark sequence in the Lakers’ run towards their first NBA championship since 1988.
It’s where Bryant tallied an eye-popping 81 points on Jan. 22, 2006, putting him behind only legendary center Wilt Chamberlain on the list of the most prolific single-game scorers.
And it’s where the Lakers exorcised their demons from 2008 by defeating the rival Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.
(It has been brought to my attention that a basketball team known as the Los Angeles Clippers also plays at Staples Center. Interesting. Maybe someone stole their championship banners?)
Staples Center also hosts statues that stand as tributes to legendary Lakers players like Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Kings greats Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille and boxer Oscar de la Hoya. And of course there’s one of Chick Hearn, the longtime Lakers play-by-play broadcaster who died in 2002.
The nearby Metro station features a plaque honoring Hearn, who is credited with coining “slam dunk” and numerous other widely used basketball terms. It’s fitting, too, considering taking the Expo Line to Staples Center is a slam dunk.
The Expo Line now has 19 stations covering 15.2 miles between Downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica. A regular one-way fare is $1.75 and includes two hours of free transfers for riders using a TAP card. A daily pass good for unlimited rides on Metro is $7 and monthly passes are $100. Visit taptogo.net for more information.