In the minds of some parents, the idea of dragging your child around downtown Los Angeles might be equated to the pleasantries of having the stomach flu, taking a bath in hot tar, or walking a mile on a bed of nails. Thoughts of tired little legs, the need to find a potty at any given moment, and the possibility of not making it in time is enough to make a normally adventurous parent cringe.
But wait- it’s not so bad! Although downtown Los Angeles may seem like an unwelcoming place for kids, there are actually a lot of fun things to do and see whether you and the kids are up for a couple of relaxing hours of seeing the sites, or a full day of exploration and discovery. The vibrant, kid-friendly metropolis of downtown LA offers endless opportunities for big smiles, all in a relatively close area, and with plenty of bathrooms.
There’s nowhere like Union Station to put a smile on train-loving little ones. The huge station is beautifully restored to “just like the olden days” and there is plenty of room for curious kids to run around inside, cushy chairs to take a break on, and plenty of little places to grab a snack. Outside, there are inviting garden courtyards and fountains to sit and savor the day and from the south side of the station you can watch trains from all over arrive and leave. Another great thing about Union Station is that it is located within walking distance to all kinds of fun places to visit and see.
800 N. Alameda Street
Los Angeles, Ca
Almost directly across the street is Philippe’s, home of the French dip sandwich where smiling nice ladies in starch uniforms will fill your kiddies lunch tray with delectable French dips and fun yummy foods like rice pudding and cream pie. There is plenty of seating at long communal tables or old style wood booths and lots of cool pictures of the way things used to be in Los Angeles.
1001 N. Alameda Street
Los Angeles, Ca
Just across the street from Union Station is colorful and historic Olvera Street. It’s a short walk even little legs won’t mind and it’s an exciting place to explore. Wander through the outdoor marketplace filled with stands selling Mexican souvenirs like maracas, ponchos, embroidered clothing and big sombreros, and ceramic animals. There are also several great Mexican restaurants to stop and enjoy a churro (tastes like a donut) or horchata (a sweet creamy drink most kids love!). Once you and the kids have had your fill of good stuff to eat and tried on a few sombreros, take a walk through the village and give the kids a peek at what life was like back in the 1840’s by touring The Avila Adobe, the oldest house in Los Angeles or check out the Firehouse Museum, which houses old-fashioned firefighting equipment.
A couple of blocks east of Olvera Street is Chinatown. This is a great place to just wander around with your little one and let the sites and smells guide you. There are so many little colorful Chinese trinket shops and restaurants in the approximately four block area, there will be something in every store front to catch your youngster’s eye but if you are looking for a scrumptious meal check out Yang Chow or Plum Tree Inn, both on Broadway. Plum Tree Inn offers bowls of steaming yummy brown rice and a huge assortment of Chinese dishes your kid will love. Right next -door is the Phoenix Bakery, well- known all over L.A. for their delectable strawberry and whip cream cakes!
969 North Broadway
Los Angeles, Ca
Several blocks south of Union Station is the historic area of Los Angeles known as Little Tokyo. It’s a bit of a walk even for adults and too much for little legs to take! If that is your destination, it’s best to drive, or hop of the city bus in front of Union Station for a short ride down Alameda Street to First Street, where the neighborhood of Little Tokyo begins. The neighborhood is filled with noodle shops where the kids can slurp yummy warm bowls of noodles and small shops where they can browse among Hello Kitty, Japanese anime and other cool kitsch. Check this out for other tips on visiting Little Tokyo.
Grand Central Market
The Grand Central Market located on Hill Street is a vibrant, noisy open market that is filled with everything from dried good and spices to fresh fish. It is easily navigated with a stroller and the place offers all kinds of great things to eat- you will easily find something for even the pickiest eaters. There is a giant tortilla making machine, and rows upon rows of fresh fruits and vegetables. Hold onto your little one’s hand tight if you happen to go during the busy times, which tend to be during weekday lunchtimes and weekends, when the market is filled with downtown locals as well as other adventurous families with kids.
317 South Broadway
Los Angeles, Ca
After your yummy lunch, cross Hill Street and walk over to Angels Flight, known as “the shortest railway in the world!” For just 50 cents each, you and the kids can ride what is known as “the shortest railway in the world!” The one hundred year old railcar will transport you and your young ones back in time to the early 1900’s when passengers were faired up and down the steep incline known as Bunker Hill. Angels Flight was closed early January 2012 for repairs, but promises to open early February. Check their website before you go.
351 South Hill Street
Los Angeles, Ca
Parking: If you choose to drive, parking is no problem at any of the locations, but expect to pay around $8-$10 for flat rate parking. Union Station, Philippe’s, Olvera Street, Chinatown and Little Tokyo all offer close-by hourly and flat rate parking. The Grand Central Market offers free one hour validated parking for customers.
Insider Tip: Go in the morning, crowds tend to pick up around lunchtime. Choose your destination before you go and don’t try to see everything. Dedicate an entire afternoon or morning to one of these places. Each one has oodles to offer in terms of fun and entertainment and you don’t want to wear yourself or your kiddo out.
What to Wear: A light jacket is the usual southern California wear for our sometimes chilly February weather. A backpack with water and sunscreen- and you’ll be set to go!
— Rebecca Koppenhaver