Sometimes you just have to unplug the kids – get them away from the television, the video games, and the toys that make those endless screeching sounds. That’s hard to do in Los Angeles, where green space feels scarce and temptations of technology are plentiful. But children should experience nature beyond a blue hedgehog named Sonic and see some birds aren’t quite so angry.  Well luckily, the green spaces in LA are actually everywhere, and one of our favorite tucked away little gems is Debs Park.

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Minutes (Yet Worlds) Away
Ten minutes north of downtown Los Angeles, off the Arroyo Seco Parkway, Debs Park includes nearly 300 acres of wilderness and hiking trails, making it the fourth largest park in Los Angeles. On any given day, visitors might see hawks, snakes (the harmless variety), butterflies, maybe even a falcon or a cottontail rabbit.The park is free, quiet and secluded from the noise and bustle of the city.

Bathrooms, Binoculars & Backpacks, Oh My!
First stop is the Audubon Center, an eco-friendly facility with nature-based activities, clean bathrooms, and a lending library with field guides, binoculars, strollers, art supplies, even backpacks (all free). Be sure to check out the center’s two mascots: Rex, a California kingsnake, and Fluffy, a Pacific gopher snake.

Moms and tots alike will enjoy the children’s woodland, a three-quarter acre natural playground with rocks, trees, a playhouse, benches and a footbridge. Kids will love it because they can climb wherever they want, splash in the water, or dig in the dirt. Moms will love it because it’s fully enclosed (no escaping). A reflection pool full of lily pads provides a peaceful parent respite while the kids explore.
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And the Benefits Just Keep Coming
Your insurance policy toward a quiet evening is the Hummingbird Trail, a kid-friendly loop just off the children’s woodland. The trail is narrow in spots but easy on little legs. Look for phoebes, flycatchers and hummingbirds, as well as an abandoned Beetle (Volkswagon, not insect) in the woods. For a stroller-friendly stride, check out the Scrub Jay Trail, a former fire road turned walking path through native, fragrant coastal sage.  This trail is easy, yet tuckers toddlers out, so they crash as soon as those little cheeks hit the pillow.  Halleluiah and Amen to easy bedtime!

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It’s a Feel Good/Do Good Kind of Place
For a quick lesson on recycling, circle back to the Audubon Center, which was built in 2003 largely of reused materials – including metal from melted-down handguns. Fun fact: the Audubon Center was the first building in Los Angeles to be fully powered by solar energy.

If you’re looking for something for the kids to do over summer vacation, ask about the Audubon Center’s day camps, which provide structured activities based on the natural and social history of the area. The center also hosts a summer film series, nature walks for families, and arts and crafts programs – all free (and bilingual). See the center’s website for details.

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If the kiddos still have energy to burn (where do they get it, anyway?), check out nearby Sycamore Grove Park (at 4702 N. Figueroa St.). The park has two playgrounds, outdoor exercise equipment, benches, picnic tables and restrooms.

Know Before You Go:

  • Pack sunscreen, bug spray, water, snacks and a camera. If you forgot something, you might find it at the neighborhood bodega near the park.
  • Watch for dogs on the trails. Most are on leashes, but some are not.
  • If you park at the Audubon Center, be sure to get back to your car before the center closes. Otherwise, park on Griffin Avenue.

Audubon Center at Debs Park
4700 N. Griffin Ave.,
Los Angeles
Phone: (323) 221-2255
Online: ca.audubon.org/audubon-center-debs-park
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Where does your family like to unplug? Tell us in the comments section below.

-Wendy Fontaine

Images courtesy of Wendy Fontaine