Archive for the ‘Playgrounds’ Category

Discovering peaceful nooks in quarantined Los Angeles

April 17, 2020


I was happier than many Angelenos when self-quarantine measures took effect last month.  I love exploring the city and all its resources, but traffic has been so consistently bad and trails overrun with hikers in recent years that I found myself sticking closer to home. After most people started working from home, though, freeways and sidewalks seemed to empty overnight. I immediately started a list: Echo Mountain in Altadena, Aliso and Woods Canyons in Orange County, the Venice Canals, Langer’s for pastrami. I got out my hiking boots. I reveled in the plummeting gas prices and deserted freeways. This was my dream Los Angeles, the city I had found so accessible and multi-faceted when I moved here twenty years ago.

Then they closed all the parks and hiking trails. They roped off beaches and promenades. Even the old forgotten basketball nets behind our local Little League field were covered in caution tape. There was the feeling that, if you weren’t going to the grocery store or hospital, you might be pulled over and cited. I put my list away and reacquainted myself with my home surroundings. My family and I baked, watched movies and gave the dog lots of belly rubs. I cleaned the oven.

Until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to break out.

One day after schoolwork was done, I told the kids to get in the car and started driving north. Oh My Burger, a Gardena eatery we had always wanted to try, was offering a Pandemic Special — cheeseburger, barbecue wings and garlic alfredo fries for $14.

L.A. comfort food at its finest.

I studied the map on my phone and saw that Oh My Burger wasn’t far away from the Forum, the famed arena where the Lakers and Kings used to play. Local residents like to use its perimeter as a four-mile exercise loop, and I had always wanted to check it out. We parked on Kareem Court and joined the handful of brisk walkers and scooter riders from a safe distance. We had a front-row view of the nearby construction of the new football stadium, a hive of construction activity in an otherwise eerily quiet city.

The Forum is across the street from Inglewood Park Cemetery, an unusually large expanse of greenery where Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, and Betty Grable were laid to rest. We drove through slowly and it felt like a normal day there, with gardeners tending to the grounds and a handful of families placing flowers or wreaths on the graves.


By the time we picked up our Pandemic Specials at Oh My Burger, complete with deep-fried Oreo puffs for dessert, I felt almost normal and had fallen in love with Los Angeles all over again.

A few days later, we tried again.

This time, we ordered lunch from Honey Dress, a new-ish fried chicken place in Torrance, and explored another area nearby before picking it up. My phone map showed that Los Arboles Park wasn’t far away. We could walk the dog while we waited for our food.


Turns out, Arboles Park boasts a sweeping hat-trick view that takes in ocean, city and mountains, capturing Los Angeles as I had never seen before. It also has one of those vintage rocketship slides that have been phased out to make way for safer (read: boring) plastic playgrounds that now dominate parks the world over. I regret that I hadn’t learned about this park earlier in my mom life, when the kids would have gotten real play mileage out of that rocketship.

We went home feeling human once again — and we had incredibly good Korean-style fried chicken to boot. Another euphoric L.A. moment. There’s nowhere else like it.

Our next trip was on Good Friday. We decided fried fish would be an appropriate supper, and H. Salt popped up on a search of local fish places. Turns out, it was near a county park with a big pond teeming with geese and ducks. I had driven past Alondra Park many times, but had no idea it was so expansive. It borders a (closed) golf course, and there is so much open space that a gymnastics team could take over one area without violating social distancing rules. I found myself stopping often to breathe deeply and revel in the old trees and rippling water.

The fish place was the kind of unassuming strip-mall joint that exists all over L.A. Inside, three masked, gloved and hair-netted people were working hard filling bags with hush puppies and fried hunks of catfish, shrimp and zucchini. A handwritten sign warned customers that they wouldn’t be served if they weren’t wearing a mask. The bill came to $49 and it pretty much covered dinner for four people (maybe three-and-a-half) twice over. Who says L.A. is only for the rich and glamorous?

It’s easy to be envious of the people who have escaped the city to second homes in Palm Springs or Mammoth or the wilds of Utah. But there isn’t any place that I would rather be right now than Los Angeles. The quarantine has reminded me that the city still has  plenty of peaceful places waiting to be discovered. And fresh air to boot, while it lasts.

Sunday in Santa Monica: Crepes, Spices, and a Giant Whale

May 27, 2013


I have always been a little intimidated by Santa Monica. Getting there from just about anywhere in the city can shave years off one’s life — and finding a reasonable parking space within a mile of the ocean is often impossible. But on a recent Sunday, the kids and I were up early with a completely unscheduled day ahead of us, so I faced my fears and headed west with a few vague destinations in mind. The 10 freeway was nearly deserted before 10 AM, and we had our pick of parking places (street parking is free on Sunday). The next thing we knew, we were riding the sleek escalators of Santa Monica Place up to the food court and standing in front of a play area dominated by a 46-foot-tall humpback whale. This being Santa Monica, it was a whale made out of sustainably harvested deck wood perched over an “ocean floor” made of recycled rubber, and the kids couldn’t have been more enchanted. They played for an hour, then when it started getting too crowded for comfort, we picked up some crepes and smoothies and headed out to the food court deck and its impossibly scenic setting.


Our next stop was the tiny Santa Monica Pier aquarium, which was also packed (Sunday afternoon at the beach was now in full swing). But Theo got to see some nurse sharks in an open tank and make a shark puppet out of a paper bag, so he was happy. We spent our last hour shopping at Penzeys Spices, where the clerk hung Jack’s I LOVE Santa Monica drawing in the window, and eating ice cream in the courtyard of the Santa Monica Library, which is also impossibly scenic and surprisingly quiet despite the presence of children.

I don’t know if we’ll go back again soon (too many other destinations on the bucket list), but the kids still talk about our spontaneous trip to Santa Monica and playing in the belly of the giant whale.

Stumbling upon Atlantis in San Gabriel

August 25, 2012

Giant sea serpents. Pink whales. Dragons and lighthouses and pirate ships. Just about everyone who walks into this whimsical park gasps with a delight usually reserved for Disneyland. Master concrete artist Benjamin Dominguez created the park, known as La Laguna de San Gabriel, at the city’s behest in 1965. There have been a few outrageous attempts to raze it, but a non-profit group stepped in, and now it is perhaps the only playground in the state listed on the Register of Historic Places. After a year and a half of renovations, it has finally reopened to the public. The boys and I checked it out this week and it still inspires the same wide-eyed wonder, though the metal rocket ship and other sweet retro playground structures are gone.

Theo, a huge dinosaur fan, cried when we left and asks almost daily when we are going back to “Monster Park.” Soon, mi hijo, soon.

A couple of tips: Go early or later in the day, as there is very little shade. Since it’s a hefty drive from just about anywhere in L.A., turn your visit into a day trip, or at least consider having breakfast or lunch out. The park is near the San Gabriel Mission and many well-regarded eateries, including the Golden Deli Vietnamese restaurant and Twohey’s, an old-school breakfast-all-day diner. Also, GO NOW because there seems to be a Phase 2 construction in the works, and that means this fabulous place could be off limits again.

This Tuesday, Aug. 28, is the official Grand Re-opening. There will be food trucks, bocce games, music, and all those wondrous sea creatures on hand to help celebrate.

The Toy Playground

April 15, 2008

We discovered a great new playground today. It’s on the grounds of the Buena Vista Branch Library in Burbank. Its best assets are that it’s completely enclosed and it’s full of big plastic toys (trucks, buckets, shovels) donated by parents who are probably sick of tripping over them in their own yards. Besides the toys, there’s a toddler-friendly jungle gym, slides, etc., all surrounded by sand. Jack and his pals turned a toy truck upside down, pretended it was an oven, and proceeded to fill it with cake ingredients like “baking soda” and “chocolate”. The downsides: it’s on the small side (though in a way that makes it feel like you’re at a big birthday party where you don’t anyone well), and there is no shade in the sitting areas on the perimeter.

Another reason to come here: the library hosts a better-than-average preschool storybook time on Tuesdays. They run a bubblemaking machine for the kids before starting, then sing songs in between the storytelling to keep them engaged. For Jack, the best part is the short animated film they show at the end, which is followed by a crafts project. Maybe some day he’ll be excited by arts and crafts, but right now he’s showing my (low) level of talent and interest in that area!

Sierre Madre (backtracking)

March 30, 2008

Sierre Madre is a small town east of Pasadena with a pretty walkable main street. Last week, we headed over there, figuring it would be a low-key activity that wouldn’t require much brain power (yes, we’re still struggling through the twin bed transition).

We parked on the main street for free, then I picked up some coffee at Beantown and we walked a couple of blocks to Memorial Park off Hermosa Avenue. There’s a playground there that’s ideal for the 2-5 age group — no swings or slides, but a big sandbox and lots of little vehicles (rockets, tractors, train) to climb in and around. Best of all, it’s shaded by huge old orange and magnolia trees.

A couple of other highlights: There’s a kids’ store with an nice Thomas the Train setup near the corner of Baldwin and Sierra Madre Avenues.  If Jack had his way, we would have spent the rest of the day there. A few blocks’ north of the main street is a small citrus farm and canning factory called E. Waldo Ward. Much of the farm is gone, but there’s a tiny gift shop that sells things like pickled kumquats and orange marmalade.

The town itself has plenty of independent restaurants, none of which I’m dying to try. But it would be easy to spend half a day here shopping, eating, and soaking up the mountain views.


Easter eggs

March 18, 2008


Jack is even more excited about Easter than he was about Christmas. I think it’s in part due to his getting a copy of “Horton Hatches the Egg” for his birthday. Awesome book, by the way, at least for any parent who has labored through the headache-inducing sentences of Little Toot and Thomas the Train. When I brought out a box of Easter decorations, he gathered up all the eggs and started opening them, yelling “They’re hatchin’! They’re hatchin’!” We went to an egg hunt Monday at Loma Alta Park and he had a blast. I was afraid he’d snatch all the eggs and leave none for the smaller kids, but there were more than enough to go around.

Playing in Griffith Park

February 28, 2008


See-saws, bulldozers, dinosaur slides, and infinite amounts of sand. Shane’s Playground is one of the best outdoor play spaces in L.A. It was packed (despite the Wed. noon time) with yoga moms, nannies, tatooed dads, and ebullient children. After playing with the toddler-size bulldozer/digger for what seemed like hours, Jack used my empty coffee cup to make birthday cupcakes out of sand. No surprise there, since he knows his own birthday is in 4 days.

Later in the day, he told the cashier at Costco his birthday was in March. When asked how old he was going to be, he replied: “three and a half.”