Eat Play LA

Metro Red Line to City Hall Farmers Market June 10, 2009

Last week West and I went on a Metro adventure. We parked at the Universal City Red Line station and took the subway to the Civic Center stop in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Our destination was the City Hall farmers market (Thursdays, 10am to 2pm), located just a few blocks east of the station on the south lawn of City Hall.

We spend a lot of time at farmers markets because it gives us the opportunity to visit different areas of Los Angeles and eat some really good food to boot. It’s also a relatively cheap outing to take with a kid (if you manage to resist the many temptations of delectable-smelling prepared foods and treats, that is). I was once again stalking vegan food vendor Daniel’s Choice because I was craving his spinach/faux-feta pie. I also found some really good deals on produce (huge head of red leaf lettuce for a buck, giant bunch of beets for two). Perhaps the best thing about this market is the location. With City Hall as a dramatic backdrop, grassy lawns and paths, and picnic tables set up underneath (at the time of our visit, blooming) jacaranda trees, it’s a great place to let kids run off some energy and then site down together for a nice lunch. Afterward, downtown Los Angeles is yours to explore, from the charming garden behind Disney Hall to the dramatic fountains of the Music Center, Civic Center Mall and the California Plaza Watercourt.


Sierra Madre Farmers Market

This afternoon West and I will head back to the Sierra Madre Wednesday afternoon farmers market (4 to 7pm). As markets go, it’s not the most impressive ¬†– it’s set up in an unshaded parking lot and the selection is far from staggering. But I go for a vegan vendor I like who doesn’t show up to many local markets¬†(Daniel’s Choice – don’t be deterred by the biblical nature of his site; the food is innovative and tasty), and because downtown Sierra Madre feels like such an escape from Hollywood. (The small foothill town refers to itself as “unspoiled,” which feels a little self-satisfied to me, but is nonetheless pretty accurate.)

After shopping, we walk one block east of the market to Memorial Park. I like the playground here because it’s kind of unique; instead of your typical slides, swings and playscapes, this one features play structures modeled on different modes of transport, e.g. rocket ship, fire truck, train, etc. There’s also a statue of a canyon and a Weeping Wall memorial fountain.


Americana at Brand June 4, 2009

West and I live in the Cahuenga Pass, so we often find ourselves heading toward Pasadena, Glendale, and other points in northeast Los Angeles (less traffic than heading into the city). For us, the Americana at Brand easily trumps the Grove in the Rick Caruso development grudge match (which I may have just invented in my own head). Americana is bigger and has a decent playground, plus they offer a lot of good dining deals for kids. And, of course, there’s the well loved trolley. They also have a semi-secret room behind the concierge lobby with chalkboards, building blocks and a TV playing kids movies like Ratatouille and Finding Nemo; this feels like air-conditioned heaven during the summer. Private nursing rooms, a bottle-warming station and dedicated family restroom are located in the same area – Caruso’s development team really though of everything.

Every Tuesday from 11am to 1pm, the mall hosts Kids Club. They set up a stage and canopy-shaded seating area on the spacious lawn and visitors can watch kids’ bands play for free. Earlier this week, we were lucky enough to catch Rhythm Child, a funky duo that hands out drums and shakers to the audience so everyone can join in the music-making. We picked up a coupon booklet at the Kids Club table set up nearby, which is loaded with pretty great discounts at Americana’s stores, restaurants and movie theater. After the performance, West played for a while on the playground, and then we had lunch together at Granville Cafe – it, like several other restaurants and food stands does a buy-one-adult-meal-get-a-kid’s-meal free offer on Tuesdays.¬†

The Grove holds its Kids Club at the same time on Thursday mornings with the same kids’ bands rotating through the schedule. It’s a little more cramped than the Americana performances, however, and – at least as of this writing – they don’t have as many good dining offers on Kids Club days.


Trails Cafe and Griffith Observatory June 3, 2009

A trip to Griffith Observatory doesn’t feel complete to me without a stop at Trails Cafe. In fact, the rustic snack shack on Fern Dell Dr. is a destination unto itself. The Eastside-hip staff serves up fresh, mostly vegetarian fare like avocado sandwiches, phyllo dough-wrapped veggie dogs (regular hot dogs are available as well), as well as homemade cookies, pies and pastries. With plenty of picnic benches and lots of open space for the kids to run around, as well as the Fern Dell walking trail a stone’s throw away, lunch spots don’t get much more idyllic (or kid-friendly) than Trails.

A stroll along the Fern Dell path is a great way to digest. The best way to reach it is to cross the street from Trails and head south until you see the entrance to the dell through the chain link fence (either on your right or on your left, depending on which path you took there). The path can feel almost magical with its babbling brook and thick canopy of leaves. And it’s enclosed, which is always nice when you’re with little ones (just make sure they don’t topple into the creek).

On other occasions, we get our food to go, drive the rest of the way up the hill, and then picnic on the lawn outside of the observatory. West enjoys climbing on the statue out front, and sometimes we wander a little ways up the trail to the north of the building, which is especially magical at sunset. If I’m feeling up for it, we might even check out the exhibits inside. The Planetarium show is super cool kids old enough to stay quiet for the duration of the show (if I recall correctly, it’s less than 45 minutes long). It’s also a romantic, unique and affordable option for date nights.


South Pasadena Farmers Market June 2, 2009

South Pasadena embodies the small-town charm that so many Los Angeles families crave. Every Thursday from 4pm to 8pm, the city hosts a farmers market at the intersection of Mission and Meridian. A decent selection of farm-fresh produce, prepared foods and cooked-on-the-spot meals makes this a great stop for both shopping and dining. Best of all, a grassy mini-park right next to the Metro Gold Line station provides the perfect picnicking spot. If your kid is into trains, he or she will be in heaven.

South Pasadena holds other kids attractions any day of the week, including the charming Dinosaur Farm toy store (a train table keeps kiddos occupied while you browse the selection of old school toys) and Amy’s Playground (the $6 to $8 admission fee includes special programs like music and arts & crafts on certain days of the week). Gus’s Barbecue is a pretty family-friendly restaurant, and the old-timey Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain across the street at the corner of Fair Oaks and Mission is a great place to grab ice cream for dessert.


Los Angeles is Our Playground

Filed under: Uncategorized — erinharris @ 3:28 pm

A couple of years ago, I left the daily grind to raise my son West. As the author of Walking LA and publisher of, I considered myself to be something of an authority on the city of Los Angeles before my son was born. But as other parents know, having a baby or small child in tow can change the landscape dramatically. Gone are the days of dining at hot new restaurants, catching a movie on a whim, leisurely shopping trips, long coffee dates with friends, quiet afternoons at art museums, and so on.

All of this “grown-up” entertainment has been replaced with kid-friendly recreational activities. The good news is that Los Angeles is a veritable gold mine when it comes to activities and attraction for families and children. I’m not talking exclusively about playgrounds, indoor play places and kids museums, although we visit our fair share of all of the above. Rather, I seek out activities and destinations that we can both enjoy. More often than not, our itineraries include a stop at a favorite casual restaurant, farmers market, gelato bar or bakery (hence the name Eat Play LA). The idea is to give the whole family a taste of all Los Angeles has to offer, both literally and figuratively.

I’ll use this blog to share some of my favorite routines and destinations with other families so that Mom (or Dad) doesn’t end up in a rut visiting the same playground or, worse yet, stuck at home with the kids day after day.