The idea of a “subway to the sea” is like big parking spots at Trader Joe’s: a mere dream for tired and busy parents. But sometimes dreams really do come true. The Expo Line now runs from Downtown LA to Santa Monica and beach days just got a lot easier. Free your hands, open your eyes and see the seaside commute in a whole new light with our guide to exploring the stops along the new Expo Line with kids.
7th Street/Metro City Center
Exit the 7th Street Station toward the Flower St. exit and walk up the stairs (or take the elevator if you have a stroller) and your fist stop along the Expo Line will be the beautiful Central Library downtown. Once you’ve hit ground level, walk south and the Central Library is on 5th and Flower. The building was originally built in 1926 and after an arson attack in 1986 was reconstructed and reopened in 1993. The building alone with its stunning atrium, beautifully painted ceilings and vintage details is reason enough to go, but the Children’s Literature located on the 2nd floor will suck them in for hours. The children’s section hosts lots of free events like toddler story time, arts and crafts, live performances and family story events. Check their calendar for a full line up. Now check out some books to read on the train!
Before settling into seats, get those ya-yas out at the new playground at Pershing Square. Walk east on 5th street and when you hit Olive you’ll cross right into the square. Let them run wild in this nicely gated play areas as you plan your next move. If it’s nourishment you need, a walk over to Broadway and 3rd will get you to the Grand Central Market where there is a plethora of options from the classic Sarita’s Pupuseria, Wexler’s Deli, and of course, ice cream at McConnell’s.
Now that you’re full, it’s time to hop back on the train, but not for long…
photo: Danny Thompson via flickr
The most obvious highlight at this station is LA live—the glitzy entertainment center downtown—adjacent to the Staples Center and the LA Convention Center. While Lakers tickets are pricey (and they’re done for the season), there is still time to see the Sparks, LA’s WNBA team and lots of other great entertainment that is friendly for the younger crowd. Check the Staples Center calendar for details. LA Live boasts the Regal Theaters where you and the littles can take in a flick. During the summer be sure to check their Summer Movie Express where morning movies are $1. And check to see if the 4DX movie that’s currently showing is kid friendly: when it is, the moving, smelling, wet experience totally thrills kids. If you have a budding music aficionado on your hands you can pop into the Grammy Museum, too.
Expo Park/USC Station
Expo Park houses The Natural History Museum, California Science Center and the California African American Museum. You may not be able to hit every museum in one day, but you can certainly give it a try. The beauty of Exposition Park is its fantastic indoor and outdoor space. After spending some time in a museum, head outside and picnic on a bench, peruse the Rose Garden or just let your wild ones roam free in the grass. There is also a playground on the Northwest corner of the park. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum offers daily tours, if the family wants to take in a bit of sports and LA history for the day, and check out the temporary home of the new LA Rams.
There are plenty of food options just across the street for Exposition Park, but if you don’t mind a short walk, head east to the Mercado La Paloma, a casual and vibrant marketplace with food specialties from Mexico, Ethiopia, and the Yucatan to name a few. Even after 14 years, this place is still a bit of a secret, but once you eat here, it’ll become a part of your routine.
If you have a USC fan on your hands, you can walk through campus and take in the sights. The School of Cinematic Arts houses some interesting film memorabilia and it’s never too early to start them thinking about college.
You’ve already made that great leap out of your car, so take an active leg stretching break at the next stop. The Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook is just a stones throw away from the La Cienega Station. While you can walk there from the station there is also a shuttle available every 20 minutes on weekends and holidays that will take you up to the top for stunning views of the city. There are hiking trails as well as a visitors center where kids can learn about native plants, animals and the history of exploitation and future preservation of this precious spot.
The shuttle from the station will also take you to the Kenneth Hahn State Park. This beautiful park is tucked away and seems to be a secret to far too many Angelenos. Your little explorers will get swept away with the playgrounds, hiking trails, ducks and even a waterfall.
After that kind of activity everyone will deserve a treat and what better way than the LA classic See’s Candies? The La Cienega location is home of the company’s headquarters and factory where you can create a custom box of these nostalgic confections. Just walk south on La Cienega from the station. You can’t miss the large black and white sign calling your names. It’s a great treat to snack on as you hop back on the train.
If it’s time for a pick-me-up, be sure to stop by Blue Bottle Coffee on Washington Blvd. where you can grab a perfectly sweetened New Orleans chicory iced coffee and the kids can nosh on peanut butter and honey toast. Just east of the station on Venice Blvd. is Lakeshore Learning where you can take advantage of their free craft Saturdays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. or stock up on crafts and games for the summer.
If further explorations are in order, the Culver City Station is a quick bus ride from downtown Culver City. Head eastbound on the Culver City Bus on Washington Blvd. and hop off at City Hall. You’ll find yourself in the middle of a slew of restaurant choices. From polished diner choices at S&W Country Diner to fresh options at Tender Greens. If you’re downtown on a Saturday evening, stop by Picnic LA and select a family picnic (that you don’t have to pack!) and walk to City Hall for their free summer concert series. Check their schedule for details. And weekends in August you can walk to Media Park for the Actor’s Gang free Shakespeare in the park show for kids (think Star Wars meets the Tempest or super heroes doing Twelfth Night).
The West LA Station appears to just be more LA sprawl, but definitely take the time to jump off the train and explore. After exiting the station on Exposition Blvd. head west to Sawtelle and make a right. A five minute walk will bring you to Sawtelle Japantown where you will find yourself in the middle of Japanese and pan-Asian food favorites and great shops. Be sure to stop by the Giant Robot Store (home of the original Uglydolls) and Gallery. Giant Robot was an original “punk-minded” zine that featured Asian American art and culture. Now you can head into the store to check out collectibles, toys and clothes from around the world and work from noted artists.
After that walking treat yourself at Blockheads Shavery where you and your little can dive into a huge cup of their original shaved ice cream with amazing toppings from mochi to fruity pebbles. For further ideas for exploring Japantown, check out our neighborhood guide.
photo: dvcronan via flickr
First stop: cross the street to Bergamot Station. This site was an actual railroad station until 1953 and now houses an array of art galleries with rotating exhibits for young art aficionados to explore. Art galleries can seem intimidating with kids, but the small size of the spaces makes for manageable visits for even the smallest viewers.
If you need to get their legs moving and are hungry for some of the best eats in town, a 20 minute walk north to Wilshire will get you to Milo and Olive, a Santa Monica must featuring amazing baked goods, breakfast, lunch and dinner (in the form of woodfired pizza) that will please every palate across the family spectrum.
photo: LeTania Kirkland
17th St./Santa Monica College
If you want to get your loves moving some more, stop at the Santa Monica College station, cross the street and walk into Memorial Park. This park is complete with baseball fields, playground and the favorite Cove Skate Park. If you have mini-skaters ages 6 & up, they can have a ball at this skating heaven. Little guys will be content just watching the cool big kids doing ollies.
If you need nourishment before or after the park, walk over to the Santa Monica Co-op on Broadway (where anyone can shop) and stop by their fresh deli for picnic perfection. For a less healthy treat, DK’s Donuts is north on Santa Monica Blvd. and well worth the trip for the double decker O-Nut, their take on the famed croissant and donut combo.
Downtown Santa Monica
You did it! You took the train all the way to the beach. Of course, the obvious option is to get off the train with your mini-ice chest in tow and walk west to the water. The station leads right to the Santa Monica Pier that hovers just over the Pacific and a favorite sandy beach playground. Spend a day in the sand or break it up with games and rides at Pacific Park.
Should you venture from the beach, there’s plenty more to do. Santa Monica Place is chock full of great shopping, food and an indoor play space. Just outside is the 3rd Street Promenade with more shopping, food, impromptu street entertainment and an incredible farmers market on Wednesday & Saturday mornings. Heading away from the water is also a wonderful option, with Tongva Park situated a block away on Colorado between Ocean Blvd and Main. This 6.5 acre beauty is complete with amazing gardens, hiking, splash pads and modern architecture and play structures that will give them the space and energy to run wild.
Tips for Little Rail Riders
If you think you are going to ride the metro or the bus again in the future, it makes sense to buy a TAP card for a $1 and add fare as needed. Plus the TAP card can be used for discounts at museums and other establishments in the city. These can be purchased at any automated kiosk outside of every station. One way trips are $1.75 and include free transfers for up to 2 hours to complete a one way trip.
Look for the silver pedestals with a white circle labeled TAP and do just that. (Put the kids in charge of this; they love it.) The screen will tell you if your card was read and how much fare you have left.
There is ample room for strollers on the metro. Look for the signs that indicate strollers, wheelchairs and bikes. There will be a section without seats where you can tuck your wheels.
Hallelujah! Downtown to the beach in 45 minutes, even in rush hour. What’s your favorite stop and activities along the new Expo route?