When Angelenos plan a day outdoors, we usually think of a trip to the beach or hike in the mountains. In fact the last thing we might imagine is heading down to the river since LA doesn’t have a real river, right? Wrong!  The LA River is slowly but surely emerging from its reputation of a dry, concrete culvert, renowned only for the big car race at the end of Grease. But if you’re not a T-Bird, Scorpion or Pink Lady with greased lightin’ ready to burn up the quarter mile, what else is there to do on the LA River? Plenty.

bike LA River

Bike It
Sure there are some kid-less hipsters you know who do multi-mile bike trips on weekends while you’re schlepping back and forth between ballet and soccer. But I’ve got kids on training wheels, you say.  Come on down to the river, we say.

There are plenty of family-friendly routes that are just perfect for post-Saturday morning activities.  Check out the Sepulveda Basin bike loops, which meander near the river and run through Lake Balboa Park and Woodley Avenue Park, home to beautiful Japanese Gardens ($3 entrance fee). On the east side, the Glendale Narrows bike path near Atwater Village leaves the freeway behind and offers an exceptionally green ride with plenty of shade, diverse wildlife and several parks and spots along the shore where your little bikers can rest their legs and watch the gentle whitewater bubble on by . Check online for a complete list of trails.

kids at LA River

Bird It
With over 200 species of birds calling the river’s 52-miles home, there’s a lot to squawk about. Tip-toe over to Duck Park in Elysian Valley to spy on majestic Blue Herons, eagles, and yes, ducks.  Bette Davis Park and the Glendale Narrows, both near Atwater Village, are also popular spots for our flying friends who enjoy hanging out on the tall sycamore and oak trees. Or head north to the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area in the Valley where you can loiter on lookouts around the man-made lake. The Basin is also home to the super kiddo-friendly Lake Balboa . With playgrounds, grassy fields and fishing ops, you can chill and watch a bird take flight while your own little chickadees  spread their wings and fly around –  kiddo-style.

Great blue heron river louis rishoff

Pocket Park It (at the Narrows)
The Glendale Narrows is a ten mile stretch of river between Griffith Park and the Elysian Valley that is perfect for a family stroll or bike ride. Along the way, take a break for a picnic at one of the multiple  little pocket parks  that have sprung up  along the Narrows.  Picnic tables, drinking fountains, a yoga garden, a serpentine river rock,  the landmark Great Heron gates, and a life-sized metal mountain lion are just some of the things you’ll find as you park-hop through the Narrows.  (Scavenger hunt, anyone?) Our favorite park at the Narrows is Marsh Park which features a wild-life themed play area, expansive green lawn and  – get ready all you parents with teens and tweeners – a way-cool skate park just adjacent on Marsh St (kids too small to skate love to watch the big kids, too).

Marsh Park serpent

Catch It
Fishing may not exactly leap to mind when you cruise down the I-5 along the cement section of the LA River. But grab a pole and bucket and think again!  The most popular fishing hole in these parts is Lake Balboa which is seasonally stocked with rainbow trout, large mouth bass – and weekend crowds.  Want something a little further off the beaten path? Check out the shores along Glendale Narrows where carp, tilapia and catfish are just some of the fish your tots can trawl for along the natural sandy bottom. Note that fishing is only an officially sanctioned activity at the Narrows in the summer, and people over 16 will need a license (available at most sporting good stores).

fishing on the LA River

Explore It
Kiddos will have a blast exploring the nature next to the LA River at the Mommy, Me and the River nature program for children at Marsh Park. This hands-on program will introduce your little one to a different topic related to nature and the river each week, such as how animals move, the 5 senses, and shapes in nature through books, charades, songs and short walks. Marsh Park also hosts monthly campfires where your little night owls can roast marshmallows and sing songs ‘round the fire. Check the website for details.


Want more ideas? Check online for up to date information on bike riding events, paddling the river, the annual volunteer clean-up days and more.

The LA River: thelariver.com
Friends of the LA River: folar.org
FOLAR on Facebook: facebook.com/LosAngelesRiver
What are your favorite spots along the river? Share them here.
-Jennifer Wolfe
Photos by: Analise Dubner, Jennifer Wolfe and the Mountains, Recreation & Conservation Authority press kit