Ever dream of enjoying a postcard perfect urban park outing in the heart of L.A. with the brood? Well, now you can!  Echo Park Lake still has the feel of late nineteenth century leisure, when ladies strolled in full skirts and men were sure to bring their top hats when stepping out in public. But the recent re-do takes that vibe and mixes it up with a dose of contemporary, diverse, and vibrant Los Angeles life to create one super special (and unique) place.  From lotus blossoms to pedal boats, playgrounds to tasty snacks, this 150 year old park has it all.  ($45 million still buys a little something in LA!)  So spend the day at Echo Park Lake – your kids, and your memories, will thank you for it.

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Pedal the Boats
The lake dominates the park, and the pedal boats will dominate your kids brains until you rent one, so this is clearly your first stop. Get gentle exercise and work on your family’s team-building skills while riding the pedal boats on the freshly refilled lake.  Some daredevils might want to get as close as possible to the geyser mist…if you prefer to stay (mostly) dry, just glide and enjoy the sunshine, along with the view of Downtown L.A. shimmering in the distance. And even though your kids might not care about the difference, remember, it’s pedal, not paddle, boats we’re riding here. (Cost: $5 kids, $10 adults per hour. Ten-dollar two-seater boat rentals for Echo Park residents on Wednesdays. No babies allowed.) Canoe and gondola rides are available, too.  Our tip: try to nab the blingy red sparkly two-seater.  Everything is better with sparkles.

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Walk the Paths
Next, take a civilized stroll (read: chase your kids) around the revitalized iconic lotus flowers on the park’s decomposed granite paths surrounded by native plants. The historic wooden bridge is closed to the public, but the modern design of the span at the north side of the lake provides a lovely juxtaposition of the old and the new.

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Grab a Bite
High quality food in L.A. public parks can be hard to find, so don’t miss the offerings at Square One’s outpost at the Boathouse. Everyone will find something that suits his or her tastes, whether it’s just a nibble, or a heartier meal of farm-to-table dishes from this favorite East Hollywood daytime eatery. The tot set is likely to go for organic hot dogs on whole wheat buns (add local Brassica and Brine sauerkraut for a buck extra), a patty melt, and potato-stuffed taquitos served with fresh guac and salsa for $4. There’s also housemade potato chips and jars of soft cookies, as well as lemonade for the kids, and thankfully, Intelligentsia coffee for the adults. Should anyone scream for ice cream, plenty of park vendors pushing carts full of frozen treats can help with that.

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Learn About the Environment
The staunch dedication of local leaders and community members who treasure this resource meant that the lake’s signature lotuses would deflintely come back. And flourish they have. (The next Lotus Festival should be even more awesome than year’s past.) This rehabilitated body of water boasts approximately 400 new lotus plants, and the project ensured that the animals which had come to call Echo Park home over the course of many decades would thrive. Stop to read the signage about how the park functions as a wetland habitat, and the various animal species that are part of this ecosystem. Chances are you’ll have some close encounters with the various ducks and birds that go about their daily routines in plain sight of park goers.

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Hit the Playground
If all these activities haven’t been enough and the kiddos still need to get more ya-yas out, head to the new playground at the northern end of the park for spinning, sliding and climbing. Lastly, don’t forget to create your own postcard moment by having the kids pose for a photo with the sleek “Lady of the Lake” Art Deco figure by sculptor Ada May Sharpless. (Read more about the fascinating history of the statue here.)

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Parking and Potties:
On busy weekend days, nabbing a (free) parking space on the street might require circling the perimeter of the park a bit. (There’s not a parking lot.) But someone is always bound to leave! Two public restroom facilities are located on the premises.
Learn More Online:
Echo Park at City of L.A. Dept. of Recreation and Parks: laparks.org
Echo Park Lake Rehabilitation Project: echoparklake.org
Echo Park Historical Society: ephsnews.blogspot.com

-Jessica Ritz

What’s your favorite neighborhood park in the city?  Let us know in the comments below.

Photos by Jessica Ritz