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Four Hours: Exploring the history of space, ice sports and more in Paramount and Downey

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Faith Linenberger, 5, tries on a space suit at the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey.
(Ana Venegas / For The Times)

When you say you are going to spend the afternoon in Paramount, you might have to correct your friends from thinking you are doing a tour of Paramount Pictures studios.

The city is nestled between Compton and Bellflower, with the rap-famous street Rosecrans Avenue running through the northern half while Alondra Boulevard (see rapper-singer Buddy’s “Harlan and Alondra” album) cuts through the south.

Paramount is a fairly quiet city and a respite from the overstimulation of DTLA or Hollywood. (While nearby Compton has been immortalized in part for its ties with pop culture icons N.W.A, the Williams sisters and Ava DuVernay, Paramount finds itself in the history books for a different reason: as the site where the first Zamboni was created and rests to this day.) On this tour, we also include the Columbia Memorial Space Center in nearby Downey to give you a full four-hour experience.

Take some time to slow down, soak in some Americana and remind yourself that the sky’s the limit.

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11 a.m. Find parking on Columbia Way and walk to the Columbia Memorial Space Center at 12400 Columbia Way, tucked into a residential area and across the street from a 24 Hour Fitness. Despite its unassuming exterior, this small museum is a cosmic trove of goodness. It’s only $5 and is well worth the stroll through two floors of exhibits and displays. It’s not exactly a state-of-the-art venue, but the charm is its simplicity. Visitors are greeted by an interactive bottle rocket display and two large artifacts, a Rocketdyne J-2 engine and an Apollo command module that are like works of art.

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Aaron Pineda, 10, of Downey, launches a rocket at a display at the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey.
(Ana Venegas / For The Times)

The museum is on the former campus where these mind-blowing machines were made in the race to put the first man on the moon. Downey was once known as the “cradle of the cosmic age” because of its role in nurturing pioneering technology for space exploration. Visitors can explore a day in the life of a worker as well as learn the stories behind the scenes of the Apollo missions, from the tragedy of Apollo 1 to the success of Apollo 11. Watch columbiaspacescience.org for special events celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s launch, which succeeded in putting the first man on the moon. (The Apollo capsule will be decorated with holiday lights Dec. 5 through Jan. 2.)

There are several interactive activities for kids, or kids at heart, and there’s a wall of sticky notes asking visitors what “Apollo” means to them. The answers include the Greek god, memories of a person who was suffering with chicken pox when Apollo 11 landed, and sentiments of inspiration that the sky’s the limit. Note: The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays.

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Noon Drive to Paramount Plaza: Go south along Columbia Way as it turns into Clark Avenue, turn right on Somerset Boulevard, then left on Downey Avenue to pass Progress Park, where there’s a farmers market every Friday. Or follow Clark all the way to Alondra Boulevard to take in all the businesses that keep the community running.

12:15 p.m. Arrive at Horchateria Rio Luna at 15729 Downey Ave., a little gem hidden in the back corner of Paramount Plaza. The horchata is perfectly sweet, and the churros are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, just as they should be. Try them with guava drizzle for an extra treat. The seasonal menu is also fun. Order the pumpkin horchata frappe if you like pumpkin spice lattes. The conchas are sugary and satisfying. As you sit back and enjoy the lively Latin music, admire work from local artists, along with tributes to Frida Kahlo, reflections on Mexican heritage and explorations of the supernatural. Flip through a free copy of the Paramount Pulse Beat to get a glimpse of local happenings in English and Spanish.

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Bring a sweater for Paramount Iceland.
(Ana Venegas / For The Times)

1 p.m. Drive or walk to nearby Paramount Iceland at 8041 Jackson St. Grab your sweater, head inside, and purchase a skate session and rent some skates. Skate around for a bit and rest on the bleachers when you need a break or just want to sit and chat. The first Zamboni sits unassumingly in the back left corner with a few informational placards. Its wooden structure has a quaint appeal, but, back in 1949, it was the leading technology for ice sports.

Frank Zamboni’s machine cut ice resurfacing time from over an hour to just about 10 minutes. The cherry red Zamboni Model C11 is also showcased. This one was built on top of a Jeep and served the University of Denver for 30 years. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the latest and greatest Zamboni 560ac at work on the ice in between sessions. Browse the other placards throughout the facility to educate yourself on figure skating history. Note: Public session hours vary by day, so check before making your way over.

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Jae Chung owns Maya Teriyaki House in Paramount, where the bento teriyaki is a favorite.
(Ana Venegas / For The Times)

2:15 p.m. Did you work up an appetite? Good. Walk north on California Avenue and turn left onto Monroe Street. It looks like the street cuts off, but have faith and walk between the buildings to find Maya Teriyaki House at 16212 Paramount Blvd. Wrap up your afternoon at this hole in the wall. Get the bento box, which comes with chicken, rice, salad, miso soup and a few pieces of California roll. It’s enough food for another meal, or two, or three, all for $11.99. It’s a Japanese restaurant that plays a local Latin music radio station. Maya isn’t exactly known for its cheerful service, but the teriyaki is tasty and it’s a nice spot to unwind after your active afternoon.


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