The South Bay is known mostly for its sunny beaches, but drive down Torrance Boulevard underneath the Irving Gill-designed Pacific Electric Railway — El Prado Bridge, then head south and you will be transported into the nostalgia of Old Town Torrance, where the parking is free. Yes, all the parking in the historic downtown district is free. And there’s plenty of it, but there’s also a maximum of two hours. So you may have to move your car halfway into your outing, but you’re guaranteed to find another spot. Start out on Post Avenue just south of Torrance Boulevard.
If you are visiting on a Sunday afternoon, head for the Torrance Historical Society & Museum at 1345 Post Ave. where you will find vintage photographs and newspaper clippings that tell the story of early Torrance and World War II veteran Louis Zamperini: He grew up in Torrance, where he ran track at Torrance High School, and would later compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. During the war, his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean, where he survived 47 days on a raft; he then was held as a prisoner of war for more than two years. His life would later be turned into “Unbroken,” an Oscar-nominated film directed by Angelina Jolie. The museum hosts some of his belongings, including his Team USA Olympic uniform, a Purple Heart certificate for his war efforts and a wallet he had in his back pocket as he floated in the ocean. The free museum is open 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.
Make your way to My Doll’s House at 1218 El Prado Ave., No. 136 for something small: a store dedicated to everything you need to decorate a dollhouse — tiny beds, dressers, couches and more. Some of the miniature set models have been included in movies and commercials, most notably a lighthouse that was part of the opening scene of the 2002 thriller “The Ring.”
2:35 p.m. “You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.” That is the opening line to N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton.” But walk down Cabrillo Avenue, and you may just miss a boarded-up building with blacked-out windows whose walls witnessed the recording of the album that would help define the West Coast rap scene in the late ’80s. The building still serves as a recording studio but is usually locked, though you can pose for a picture outside the studio’s door at 1327 Cabrillo Ave.
3:00 p.m. Time for some offbeat shopping. Head over to Sartori Jewelry & Loan at 1319 Sartori Ave., where you can find diamond rings, earrings, watches, guitars, electronics — and designer clothing brands. Continue on to dig through piles of vinyl records or take a selfie in a vintage dresser mirror at Street Faire Antiques at 1317 Sartori Ave. This antique shop has an entire section dedicated to mermaids. It also hosts a large flea market on the fourth Sunday of every month, providing an even larger collection of rare finds.
Here’s another rarity, a tattoo shop with a classic horror theme. Black Raven Tattoo at 1313 Sartori Ave., decorated with blood-red walls, slick black sofas and skulls, is an interesting visit even if you’re not looking to get a tattoo. But if you are there for some fresh ink, an option is a Get What You Get Tattoo: Pay $80, put a quarter into a machine, and whatever image it spits out is your tattoo.
Need a place to sit down and think over a tattoo idea? Grab a table at Red Car Brewery at 1266 Sartori Ave. for a wood-fired pizza and freshly brewed beer. Enjoy your meal as you catch a game on one of the televisions. Not sure what beer to get? Feel free to ask for samples. Its most popular offering is the South Bay IPA. While you are unwinding, note that you are sitting in a historic building that was the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co. from 1928 to 1953. Check out the plaque outside.
Have room for dessert? Even if you don’t, you can take it to go. Family-owned Torrance Bakery at 1341 El Prado Ave. will satisfy your craving. It’s famous for its chocolate chews, which have a crisp outer layer and moist chocolate crumble inside. End your adventure strolling through quaint El Prado Park, which runs from Cravens Avenue to just past Manuel.