San Gabriel Valley

From Academic Kids

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View of the western San Gabriel Valley looking towards the Downtown Los Angeles skyline, from Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.

The San Gabriel Valley is one of the principal valleys of southern California. It lies to the east of the city of Los Angeles, to the north of the Puente Hills, to the south of the San Gabriel Mountains, and to the west of the Inland Empire. It derives its name from the San Gabriel River that flows southward through the western portion of the valley. At one time predominantly agricultural, the San Gabriel Valley is today almost entirely developed (largely in suburban form, but with certain areas beginning to urbanize) and is an integral part of the Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area.


Cities and Communities

The incorporated cities and unincorporated neighborhoods of the San Gabriel Valley include:

Many people consider the communities of Glendale and La Crescenta-Montrose to be part of the San Gabriel Valley, although they are part of the San Fernando Valley and the Crescenta Valley, respectively. San Dimas and La Verne are adjacent to the San Gabriel Valley, but are properly considered part of the Pomona Valley.

Brief San Gabriel Valley timeline

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The majority of people residing in the San Gabriel Valley are Hispanics and Asian-Americans. The white population is smaller due to a mass exodus that occurred during much of the 1980s and 1990s; i.e., "white flight." Many whites have resettled in southern Orange County (e.g., Dana Point, Mission Viejo, and San Juan Capistrano), San Diego County, and in other regions of the United States. The remaining white population in the San Gabriel Valley resides primarily in the communities of Pasadena, Glendora, Sierra Madre, Charter Oak, and in the northern part of Covina (the southern part is increasingly Hispanic). The African-American population in the San Gabriel Valley is relatively low, particularly when compared to that of more central Los Angeles neighborhoods such as Inglewood.

Hispanics, mainly Mexican-Americans or Chicanos, are especially dominant in Azusa, Baldwin Park, City of Industry, El Monte, La Puente, Montebello, Rosemead, South El Monte, and West Covina. In the predominantly Asian-American city of Monterey Park, Hispanics are concentrated in the southwestern part of the city near East Los Angeles and the Belvedere district of Los Angeles. The southwestern portion was formerly East Los Angeles before annexation by Monterey Park years ago.

The San Gabriel Valley has the largest concentration of Chinese-American communities in Southern California. Taiwanese-Americans are the most dominant subgroup. Communities with a high percentage of Asian Americans include Alhambra, Arcadia, Diamond Bar, Hacienda Heights, Monterey Park, Rosemead, Rowland Heights, San Gabriel, San Marino, Temple City, and Walnut. According to a 2004 report by the Asian-Pacific American Legal Center, the cities of Walnut, San Gabriel, San Marino, Rosemead and Monterey Park contain an Asian-American majority.

Other Asian-American groups include smaller pockets of Filipino-Americans, many of whom reside in West Covina and Walnut, and Vietnamese-Americans in San Gabriel, Rosemead, and El Monte. Many Vietnamese-Americans have blended in with the general Chinese-American population. Smaller pockets of Korean-Americans live in Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, and Diamond Bar. The Indian-American population is small compared to the other groups, but there are sizable concentrations in Arcadia, Rowland Heights, San Dimas, Walnut, and Diamond Bar.

Many parts of the San Gabriel Valley are working-class areas although, like many other regions, some cities in the valley have middle-class and wealthy neighborhoods as well. Predominantly working-class communities include Azusa, El Monte and La Puente. Middle-class communities include Alhambra, Pasadena, and West Covina. Wealthier communities include Bradbury, Diamond Bar and San Marino.

Local area

The San Gabriel Valley is home to the annual Tournament of Roses Parade, which is broadcast live on television on New Year's Day from Pasadena. After the parade, the Rose Bowl game between two competing rival college football teams is also live from Pasadena.

As the oldest incorporated city in the valley, the city of Pasadena serves somewhat of a cultural center for the San Gabriel Valley. Several art-house film and play theatres are located in Pasadena, including the renowned Pasadena Playhouse. In addition, the local National Public Radio station KPCC 89.3 FM broadcasts from Pasadena City College.

Old Town Pasadena, which has been restored and rejuvenated, remains highly popular. Old Town has an active nightlife, a shopping mall, chic boutiques, outdoor cafés, nightclubs, comedy clubs, and fancy restaurants. It is also pedestrian friendly. The area is envied by many other communities which hope to emulate its successes through commercial redevelopment and reviving their own downtown areas or "Main Streets". For example, the city of Azusa has attempted to encourage redevelopment of its once-dilapidated downtown section by using a Route 66 theme. Covina has had moderate success with its nostalgic Downtown Covina, with emphasis placed on a small-town America atmosphere and mom-and-pop merchants rather than big-box retail chains.

The Caltech is located in the San Gabriel Valley. Caltech is famed for its Richter scale, which measures the magnitude of earthquakes of California. Caltech seismologists also conduct research on earthquakes in the field. The university is also responsible for the well-known Jet Propulsion Laboratory (located in nearby La Cañada Flintridge), which designs and engineers many of NASA's spacecraft.

The city of Baldwin Park is the birthplace of the popular hamburger fast food chain In-N-Out Burger. Its first location opened in the city in 1948.

Hacienda Heights is home to Hsi Lai Temple, the largest Buddhist monastery and temple in the Western Hemisphere.


Most cities have their own local mayor, city council, police and fire departments. Unincorporated areas such as Rowland Heights are governed by the distant Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and thus, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department have police jurisdiction in these areas.

In 2003, voters in the unincorporated community of Hacienda Heights defeated a proposal to incorporate as a city. It remains an unincorporated district governed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors rather than by a locally-elected mayor and city council.


Like much of the Los Angeles region, the San Gabriel Valley enjoys a warm, sunny, and desert-like climate year-round. Rain is sporadic but when it occurs, it usually ends within a day or two, with some exceptions. Snow never occurs in the Valley but can viewed on distant mountains to the northeast such as Mount Baldy (a popular ski resort).

The view of the San Gabriel Mountains is often obscured by smog. However, the smog tends to be cleared after heavy rains or winds thus improving the view.

Urban Development

The cities of Covina and Pasadena were formerly the sites of the citrus industry. In addition, the dairy and cattle industries used to flourish in Montebello. Nowadays, the San Gabriel Valley has lost much of its rustic flavor with automobile traffic and housing developments occurring at a rapid pace. Many equestrian trails in the San Gabriel Valley - specifically, in Covina and Walnut - have largely disappeared or fallen into disuse. The only remaining rural countryside-like areas include the area between eastern West Covina and Cal Poly Pomona and in Walnut and Diamond Bar, although they are encroached upon by heavy urban expansion.

Asian-American communities

The Japanese-Americans were the first Asians to settle in the San Gabriel Valley, such as in Monterey Park. Many primarily English-speaking Japanese-Americans, mostly Sansei, did not have much of an affinity for the newly-arrived Chinese-speaking Taiwanese immigrants. Nowadays, many Japanese-Americans have assimilated with the general population and their population numbers have greatly declined in the San Gabriel Valley.

Given the San Gabriel Valley's burgeoning population of Asian-Americans (specifically Chinese-Americans), several business districts were developed to serve their needs. Hence, there are four major de facto "Chinatowns" in the Valley. This trend began in the city of Monterey Park during the late 1970s when many affluent Chinese professionals, mostly from Taiwan (formally the Republic of China), began settling in the area. At the time, Monterey Park was marketed by realtors in Taiwan as the "Chinese Beverly Hills" - because of its many green rolling hills - to encourage and entice future investors. (It should be noted that the Downtown L.A. Chinatown, with predominantly blue-collar Cantonese Chinese-speaking residents, was considered unattractive to investors then and now.) Other Mandarin Chinese-speaking immigrants of the middle and working classes from Taiwan and Mainland China later followed. Settlement in the city picked up the pace in the 1980s and in turn replaced white-owned businesses whose owners either resettled elsewhere or passed away. Soon, Chinese shopping centers—with supermarkets serving as anchors—were developed.

The city was also the site of xenophobia, as Chinese businesses were replacing others and Chinese-language materials began filling the local public library. Initially, many Chinese restauranteurs and business owners at the time used primarily Chinese script and not English or Romanized names on their business signs. This changed in 1986, however, as the predominantly white members of the city council of Monterey Park enacted an ordinance forcibly requiring the Chinese businesses to translate their business signs and describe the nature of their businesses in English as well. Nowadays, as a reflection of changing demographics, several elected Chinese Americans and Hispanics now sit on the city council.

Also, many of the public, private, and parochial schools in Monterey Park and adjacent cities like Alhambra now contain a majority of Chinese-American - namely American-born Chinese - students. In order to immerse - or at least acquaint - the American-born Chinese in the Chinese language, culture, and arts, Chinese language classes are often held on the weekends at these schools and other facilities. A number of such academies have cropped up in the San Gabriel Valley.

Monterey Park, dubbed "New Chinatown" and "Little Taipei" (after the capital city of Taiwan or the ROC) by some people in the community, is widely regarded as the premier suburban Chinese-American community by the Chinese-speaking community and some social scientists alike. Ironically, just as Monterey Park became first suburban community to attain an Asian-American majority in the early 1990s, many well-to-do Chinese-Americans have moved out of Monterey Park and vicinity and into upscale San Gabriel Valley neighborhoods such as Hacienda Heights, Diamond Bar, Rowland Heights and further south and east to the distant suburbs of Irvine, Chino Hills and Corona. Thus, this led to a formation of newer Chinese American communities in the Valley and beyond. Like its Los Angeles Chinatown counterpart, Monterey Park now contains a Cantonese Chinese-speaking majority. Interestingly, Diamond Bar is a sister city of Sanhsai, Taiwan.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, other Chinese-American communities followed suit of Monterey Park and many businesses and modern, impressive shopping centers were then developed throughout the San Gabriel Valley (although the business districts are not as well-concentrated as Monterey Park). For instance, in Alhambra, an old 1950s-era carhop diner was purchased and converted into a Chinese seafood restaurant in the late 1980s (it has changed hands several times). In San Gabriel, a Chinese hypermarket and strip mall replaced a shuttered Target store. In the 1990s, a Rowland Heights bowling alley was demolished and was replaced by an indoor shopping center containing several Chinese restaurants and chic boutiques.

The large Chinese-American supermarket chain 99 Ranch Market - based in Buena Park, California - operates several locations in these Chinese-American communities. Battling for market share are its chief competitors of the smaller, albeit growing, chains of San Gabriel Valley-based Hong Kong Supermarket and Shun Fat Supermarket (the flagship stores of both chains are located in Monterey Park). These three supermarket chains often operate within the vicinity of each other.

Numerous Chinese - mainly Taiwanese and some Cantonese - and Vietnamese-American businesses line the streets of:

  • Monterey Park - Atlantic Boulevard, Garfield Avenue, Garvey Avenue
  • San Gabriel - Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel Boulevard, Las Tunas Drive
  • Alhambra - Valley Boulevard (usually closed off for the annual Chinese New Year street festival)
  • Rowland Heights - Colima Road, Nogales Avenue

Rosemead's smaller assortment of Vietnamese and Chinese business districts extends slightly from Monterey Park eastward on Garvey Avenue and San Gabriel eastward on Valley Boulevard. There are also smaller pockets of Chinese-American businesses that are scattered in many San Gabriel Valley cities. Although Chinese-Americans also live in other cities of the San Gabriel Valley (sometimes with a significantly lower population of Chinese Americans), these aforementioned suburban Chinatown-like areas tend to serve as a central hub.

In Rowland Heights, a handful of Korean-American strip malls coexist with Chinese-American businesses (mainly on Nogales Avenue).

Another ethnic enclave is the Filipino-American business district of Little Manila, which consists of a few strip malls and two supermarkets (including the Filipino chain Seafood City). It is located on Azusa Avenue and Amar Road in West Covina.

Institutions of higher learning

Local sites of interest

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Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, largest Buddhist temple and monastery in the Western hemisphere.

Foothill Transit and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority provide bus transit services throughout the valley. The main Metro bus terminal is located in El Monte. In addition, the Metro-operated Metrolink commuter train runs westward to Downtown Los Angeles and eastward to San Bernardino through the valley.

Several cities provide their own in-city transportation shuttles. Cities known to provide such service are:

  • Duarte (
  • Monterey Park
  • West Covina

The San Gabriel Valley is served by several major freeways:

I-710 ends abruptly (or begins, depending on one's perspective) at the western border of Alhambra, near California State University, Los Angeles. A very small noncontiguous and mostly unsigned spur of I-710 starts at California Boulevard in Pasadena and ends at the junction of I-210 and CA-134. Since the late 1960s, the plan to connect the two portions of I-710 has generated a long, controversial, and contentious debate (as well as prolonged litigation). Many residents in South Pasadena fear losing their homes and businesses to clear the way for construction. The MTA, an ardent proponent of the extension, has recently proposed the idea of constructing an underground tunnel to complete the so-called "710 gap." Because the entire valley suffers from severe traffic congestion, the I-710 completion plan is a major issue in the politics of all valley cities, and political candidates at all levels of government routinely assert positions on the issue.

The western freeway segment of CA-210 (formerly designated CA-30 and still signed as such in some places in San Bernardino County) was added to the Foothill Freeway in 2002.

California State Route 39 leads north into the San Gabriel Mountains to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area [1] ( The portion connecting the recreation area to the Angeles Crest Highway (California State Route 2) has been closed to the public since the early 1970s due to massive damage and rockslides.

Area codes

Most of the San Gabriel Valley lies within the 626 area code. Montebello and portions of its valley neighbors are in the 323 area code. Some of northwestern Pasadena is also serviced by the 818 area code. San Dimas, Diamond Bar, Walnut and portions of some of their valley neighbors are in the 909 area code.

Local media originating in the Valley


The local daily English-language newspapers are the San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Pasadena Star-News, printed in West Covina and Pasadena, respectively.

Indeed, several large newspaper publishing companies serve the large Chinese-speaking readership in the Los Angeles area and the San Gabriel Valley is the media powerhouse for local Chinese-Americans. The national daily Chinese-language newspapers Chinese Daily News (Los Angeles edition of the World Journal newspaper) and International Daily News are both printed in Monterey Park. The Los Angeles edition of the Hong Kong-based Sing Tao is printed in Alhambra and the newspaper is specifically tailored to the Cantonese-speaking readership. The youngest international Chinese-language newspaper company The Epoch Times (大纪元) is based in New York City and has its Los Angeles office in San Gabriel. These newspapers are circulated and distributed throughout Chinese-American communities in the San Gabriel Valley, Chinatown, San Diego, and in Las Vegas, Nevada (where the latter two cities generally receive the Los Angeles editions due to a relatively lower population density of Chinese-speaking Americans).

Radio stations

The local NPR member station is 89.3 KPCC-FM (, which originates from Pasadena City College. 90.1 KSAK-FM ( is aired from Mt. San Antonio College and has limited reception since it can only be heard in Walnut. Several ethnic radio stations in Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese are broadcasted from Pasadena.

Filming locations

Several blockbuster Hollywood films have been filmed on location in the San Gabriel Valley. Pasadena served as the gloomy background of a fictional Illinois town of Haddonfield in John Carpenter's 1978 horror flick Halloween. In Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future trilogy of time travel adventure movies (1985, 1989, 1990), Michael J. Fox's character traveled back in time on the huge parking lot of the Puente Hills Mall in the City of Industry that served as the location of the fictitious Twin Pines Mall, the Gamble House in Pasadena provided the exterior of Christopher Lloyd's character's 1950s mansion, and El Monte served as a dilapidated future neighborhood. Forrest Gump (1994), starring Tom Hanks, was partially filmed at East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park. The downtown portion of Myrtle Avenue in Monrovia has been used in many movies and television commercials. This private residence ( on Royal Oaks Drive in Bradbury has also been used in several movies and at least one television commercial.


Wal-Martization of the San Gabriel Valley

In total, there are five Wal-Mart stores in Baldwin Park, Covina, Duarte, Glendora, and City of Industry. The location in Glendora was the first to open in the San Gabriel Valley. On January 22, 2004, the West Covina city council rejected (by a vote of 3-2) a proposal for the development of a Wal-Mart store in the city. In May 2004, a new Wal-Mart opened in Baldwin Park, not far from its border with West Covina.

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