3-HOUR TOUR : Mix of Carmel and Main St. : Montrose offers quaint shops, bookstores, bowling alley and bakery.


"Where's Montrose? " asked my friend Bill.

Montrose isn't in any one place, really. It's tucked between the Verdugo Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains and the San Rafael Hills. Part of it is in Glendale, but the rest is an unincorporated area southwest of La Canada Flintridge. And it shares a chamber of commerce with Verdugo City.

Bill and I were headed there for a Friday night poetry reading at The Reader's Edge Bookstore. We drove across Verdugo Boulevard, and then, as that street became Honolulu Avenue, we were transported out of Southern California.

Perhaps I was so enchanted because it was one of those rare, cool evenings after a smog-cleansing rainstorm. The shopping district along tree-lined Honolulu Avenue reminded me vaguely of Carmel. During the day, it is a more functional, small-town Main Street: beauty parlors, accountants' offices, tailors and banks share the stretch of road with gift shops, restaurants and bookstores.

The shopping district covers half a mile of Honolulu Avenue, bordered on the west by Orangedale Avenue and the east by Montrose Avenue. So far, shops don't cater to an after-dinner crowd, closing between 5 and 7 p.m.

To sample the shopping, start by parking in one of the lots between Honolulu and Florencita avenues that offer free three-hour parking.

10:30 a.m.: Check out the blown glass, carved wood and jewelry at Village Artisans, then stroll through Country Classics, if only for the neat cricket sounds playing over the stereo. If you're into Midwestern style, the store sells lovely items--large and small--such as pine armoires and quilts.

Village Artisans, 2315 Honolulu Ave., (818) 957-3228. Country Classics, 2317 Honolulu Ave., (818) 957-5156.

10:45 a.m.: Stop by the Montrose Village Newsstand and pick up your periodical of choice. It also carries out-of-town Sunday papers--foreign and domestic--and the trades.

2321 1/2 Honolulu Ave. (818) 541-1141.

10:55 a.m.: If the heat isn't oppressive yet, pick up a muffin or doughnut at the Montrose Home Bakery and read on a bench under a jacaranda tree. Or a few doors down, settle in at the City Hall Coffee Shop for a late breakfast or a cup of coffee. (No frothed milk contraptions here.) The "Happy Days" decor includes counter stools, orange vinyl booths and pennants on the wall. (Make sure you get to City Hall before it closes at 3 p.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. on weekends.)

Montrose Home Bakery, 2325 1/2 Honolulu Ave., (818) 249-4925; City Hall Coffee Shop, 2327 Honolulu Ave., (818) 248-4905.

11:40 a.m.: The Reader's Edge Bookstore reminds you what bookstores were like before warehouse-size chains. The selection is not overwhelming--and I mean that in the best sense. The co-owner said there were 31,562 books in the shop, and you get the feeling that she could walk straight to any one of them. There are plenty of best-sellers, at discounts rivaling any chain. There's also a "recycled" section for used books.

2329 1/2 Honolulu Ave., (818) 249-5546.

12:10 p.m.: Cross Wickham Way and tour The Kitchen Nook, home to all those items that you never realized you were lacking: aluminum nails for baked potatoes, a tomato wedger, and, of course, a marble rolling pin.

2409 Honolulu Ave., (818) 248-0564 .

12:25 p.m.: Tchotchkes galore! There are treasures of kitsch at The Gift Corner--a Lou Gehrig beer stein, Snow White's seven dwarfs in cast pewter, a "limited-edition" Elvis wristwatch and plenty of decorative collector's plates.

2423 Honolulu Ave., (818) 957-3115.

12:45 p.m.: Cross Honolulu Avenue near Orangedale Avenue, and start back up the other side. Make sure to drop by Montrose Bowl, with eight lanes the smallest bowling alley in Los Angeles. Since this is supposed to be a three-hour tour, bowl on your own time.

2334 Honolulu Ave., (818) 249-3895.

1 p.m.: Not to hype the bookstores, but Once Upon a Time deserves a look-see, too. It carries primarily children's books, from the classics of Dr. Seuss to the beautifully illustrated "The Farm Book," which would fit on anyone's coffee table. There are also cards and gift items.

2284 Honolulu Ave., (818) 248-9668.

1:15 p.m.: Spend your last 15 minutes (though you might have to stay longer) in Uncle Tom's Toys. Five aisles are packed floor-to-ceiling with the things your parents refused to buy you: plastic swords, cap guns, Barbie condos and Chinese yo-yos. I found a life-enriching item for $3.99: a magnetic alphabet with--get this--extra vowels. To celebrate I went home and spelled MONTROSE on my refrigerator.

2281 Honolulu Ave. , (818) 249-2178.

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