We all know LA is notorious for our car culture, but there are amazing alternatives. Riding the city’s metro lines with your kids gives you a chance to sit back and enjoy the ride, people watch and get to know our city. The Gold Line offers a tour of the diversity LA has to offer: from food, art, culture and playgrounds— this ride from East LA to Pasadena is a great adventure in and of itself.

waiting for the train

photo credit: LeTania Kirkland

The Gold Line runs from East L.A. to Pasadena with stops downtown including Little Tokyo, Union Station and Chinatown, each of which are worth a day trip all their own. For this adventure we suggest you skip downtown and enjoy the other stops that are unique to this line.

Photo: LeTania Kirkland

photo credit: LeTania Kirkland

Mariachis, Food & Books at Mariachi Plaza
If you’ve never been to Boyle Heights, this should be your first stop. Exit the train station and you and the kiddos will step right into the charm of this historic LA neighborhood. Walls in the plaza are painted with colorful murals and, yes, you will see Mariachi musicians in the plaza. Don’t expect a concert upon your arrival, the musician are there for hire, but there are impromptu sessions in addition to the annual Mariachi Festival. There is also a community farmers market every Friday & Sunday afternoon.

In the plaza is also Libros Schmibros, a lending library in the heart of the community. For $5, your family gets a membership to borrow three books every three weeks. Plus, you get to keep your first book as your own (your little readers might have a hard time deciding).

Mariachi Plaza also has tons of great and unique food. In the plaza is J & F Ice Cream shop where you can get ice cream and raspados along side a variety of tortas and fresh juices.  Walk along 1st Street and you’ll find Un Solo Sol Kitchen where you can have a casual Mexican lunch with the kids. Primera Taza (also on 1st St.) is another casual spot for coffee, sandwiches, salads and pastries. But if you want to get a touch fancier (and you’re willing to brave it with the kids) try La Serenata for classic Mexican food and Mariachi music that will blow the whole family away.

Photo: Self Help Graphics and Art Facebook Page

photo credit: Self Help Graphics and Art Facebook Page

Art and Pizza at Pico/Aliso
Pico/Aliso station is just outside of downtown. One of the crown jewels of the neighborhood is the Self Help Graphics and Art Center, a community resource founded in 1970 during the Chicano movement. The center provides arts training to young and upcoming  artists and hosts an array of cultural, musical and art events throughout the year. If your little ones love Dia De Los Muertos, this is the place to be in November.

After you’ve had your fill of culture, you can head over to Purgatory Pizza. Who can resist a pie named “Limbo” or “Dante’s Revenge”? And if the family can’t agree on toppings that day, you can eat by the slice (vegan options included).

heritage square

photo credit: LeTania Kirkland

LA History at Heritage Square
If you have a history buff in the family, the Heritage Square stop is a must. This little village is a collection of Victorian structures, saved from demolition and preserved to educate visitors about Los Angeles life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A docent (wearing proper period attire) leads visitors through each building and provides a good deal of history about each home, their owners and life during the era.  Make sure your littles know they can’t touch (not even a dividing rope) as the docents can be a bit sensitive. Check the museum’s website for events like Silent Movie Nights and Magic Shows.

Museum hours are Friday-Sunday 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and hourly tours begin at noon.

southwest Photo: LeTania Kirkland

photo credit: LeTania Kirkland

The Southwest Museum is An LA Treasure
You’ve likely spotted the palatial Southwest Museum from your car on the 110 freeway and wondered what it is. Now is your chance to find out. The museum is affiliated with the Autry National Center of the West and contains a wealth of American Indian arts and artifacts as well as pre-Hispanic, Latino and Southwest artifacts and collections. Plus, the native plant gardens and amazing view atop Museum Dr. make the trip even more worthwhile. You and the crew will gain a new appreciation for the beauty of the Arroyo Seco.

Good to know: The museum is only open Saturdays from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.

Afterwards, you can cross back through the train station and walk down the east stairs to Figueroa St. where you’ll find Sycamore Grove Park, a large park with two playgrounds, picnic tables, community exercise equipment and a mini amphitheater.

hp theaterPhoto: LeTania Kirkland

photo credit: LeTania Kirkland

Cheat Seats, Cool Cafes and People Watching at Highland Park
If you are old enough to remember the days of reasonable matinee prices, you’ll be happy to hear about Highland Theatres located on Figueroa St., just south of the station. No fancy seat selection or foods, but there are two screens and any showtime before 6 p.m. is $6. Plus, on Family Tuesdays and Wednesdays, shows are $5 all day.

After the movie, walk across the street to Antigua Bread where you can choose from Central American breakfast and lunch items like the Antigua Breakfast of eggs, queso fresco, black beans and plantains or get a snack of pastries and espresso. All this while looking out at the bustle of Figueroa St. for some perfect people watching. Just around the corner on Ave. 56 is Good Girl Dinette specializing in Vietnamese food with flair.

walking man Photo: LeTania Kirkland

photo credit: LeTania Kirkland

The Mission/South Pasadena Stop is for Food and Parks
The South Pasadena stop is a little village all to itself. Exit the station and  stand underneath the sculpture of the walking man that should inspire some silliness in the kids. There are two playground options. Orange Grove Park is a mere 5 minute walk west along Mission St. There is a play structure, a basketball court and a baseball field. If you’re up for a longer walk, head east to Garfield Park, a larger space with lots of grass, play structure, ample shade and picnic tables.

Once you’ve played and worked up an appetite, head back towards the station. Buster’s (on Mission St. across from the station)  is a casual option for sandwiches, salads, coffee and, of course, Fosselman’s ice cream. La Monarca Bakery is the spot if you’re craving tortas and pan dulce, made incredibly fresh and just right. Just next door is Mix n Munch, which  specializes in those all-time kid staples: cereal and mac & cheese.

norton simon revised

photo credit: LeTania Kirkland

Memorial Park is Your Art Stop
Exit the station turn right and make a quick hair pin loop and you will see the playground and amphitheater. There is lots of shade for a picnic adjacent to the play area that includes a play train and water table in addition to a more traditional play structure.

After the park, you might head over to the Armory Center (walk west on Holly St and turn right on Raymond Ave.) where everyone can soak in some art. The center also offers classes and summer camps for kids, so get some info. If it’s more art you crave, the Norton Simon Museum is a 5 minute walk away. Peruse the sculpture garden where the kids can get up close and personal with the works of Auguste Rodin. The museum has rotating exhibitions in addition to its extensive permanent collection and family art making activities on some weekends.

The USC Pacific Asia Museum is also tucked away on Los Robles Ave., east of the station. The ornate building is worth a peek  and the kid will love the dragon mural on the exterior wall. Step inside and bask in classic and contemporary Asian art.

Colorado Blvd. offers a whole host food from burgers and pizza to Pie Hole for a local treat.  Up the street is Vroman’s Bookstore (the largest and oldest indie book shop in Southern California), with one of the best children’s sections in town.  They also host amazing author meet and greets and story times.


photo credit: LeTania Kirkland

Tips for Riding the Rails
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.

Make sure to TAP! 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 to tuck away your wheels.

Where did your Gold Line adventure take you?  We’d love to know your favorite Metro stops!

—LeTania Kirkland