Even as a child, I was grateful to live in Los Angeles. Somehow my inner humanist understood that the diversity of cultures, arts, neighbourhoods, interests, and even landscapes was making for a wonderful acclimatisation to the world.
I’d ride the ponies in Griffith Park before hiking up one of the many mountain trails behind it and eventually settling down for a picnic at the drum circle, which drew musicians and listeners from all over the city every Sunday. I made sandcastles on the beaches in between lively boogie-boarding adventures. And of course, who could deny the magic of being able to access Disneyland in just 40 minutes? All of these things and more made LA a wonderful place to be as a child.
But perhaps the most poignant of my childhood days were spent in Echo Park — an experience so magical that I frequently recreate it as an adult. Today, I invite you to do the same! Whether you’re looking for things to do in Los Angeles with kids, or just looking to embrace your own inner youth, here’s how to step out for a day as a child of LA, the “Eastside” way!
Bob Baker Marionette Theater
If you live in LA, you’ve probably driven down Glendale Boulevard a thousand times and never noticed the little white building tucked away at 1st Street just before downtown. But this building has been a source of endless inspiration in countless LA childhoods. Founded in 1963 by Bob Baker and Alton Wood, this magical enclave is the oldest children’s theatre company in Los Angeles, and is a formally designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. The team hosts different themed shows depending on the time of year, but no matter which show you see, it’s guaranteed to inspire. Inside, the scene is reminiscent of old carnival sets — red velvet walls, tinsel hanging from the ceiling, and a thick curtain concealing the hundreds of marionettes waiting to perform for excited children. Chairs are available, but it’s much more fun to sit on the ground where the puppets will approach you, serenade you, pat your head, and even flirt with you (if you’re lucky!).
Many of the puppets have been in use for several decades, and their performances will remind you of a time when children’s entertainment was a touch edgier than today, making for an added amusement for adult guests. Some dance excitedly, some ice skate past you, some tell sad stories of woe that leave you feeling ever so slightly uncomfortable (and pondering the author of these tales) — that is, until the lights go dark and a chorus line of can-can dancers in neon scarves pick the pace back up again! If you’re looking for a unique experience that will engage your adult wonder, senses, admiration, and humour while also resurrecting your inner child, you can’t beat Bob Baker Marionettes!
And the best part? All guests are invited to the backstage parlour after the show for complimentary ice cream cups. You know the kind they passed out with school lunches in the ’80s? The kind you ate with a flat little wooden spoon? If that’s not memories in a cup, I don’t know what is!
Echo Park Lake
Just a mile north of Bob Baker Marionette Theater, you’ll find the beautiful Echo Park Recreation Center. Located in the heart of East Los Angeles, the park hosts a beautiful lake with fishing, bike trails, picnic areas, and, best of all, pedal boats! For just $10 per adult, you can rent a tandem boat and pedal your way around the gorgeous lake, surrounded by fountain mist and lotus flowers. After working up an appetite out on the water, you can pop into Square One at the boathouse and grab a kid-classic grilled cheese (though they do have such sophisticated choices as squash blossom breakfast burritos, vegetarian clubs, and Intelligentsia coffee). Or just pack up a peanut-butter-and-jelly picnic to enjoy on the grass lakeside on a blanket in the sun. Whatever you chose, it is sure to be the carefree and charming experience that teases out the kid in you.
The Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round
A quick four-mile jaunt from Echo Park to the neighbourhood of Los Feliz, you’ll find the beautiful Griffith Park. You may be too big to ride the real ponies, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still find a little pony magic as an adult in this beautiful urban haven! Built in 1926 and brought to Griffith Park in 1937, the Griffith Park merry-go-round has been delighting children and adults for generations. Complete with 68 horses, ornate seating chaises, and an organ that plays over 1,500 waltzes, a ride on this bejewelled antique will not only take you back to your childhood, but your grandmother’s too! Grab some cotton candy while you wait in line, and scope out which horse you want before rushing for it when the carousel stops to let you on.
Perhaps the best part about discovering your inner child in LA is that in addition to experiencing the simple charm and enchantment of younger days, there are new and beautiful details to each of these adventures that you could only experience with adult eyes. Ever noticed all the mythological symbolism etched into the horses and painted in the scenes on the carousel walls? How about the beautiful Victorian architecture that frames Echo Park? So put on those enhanced lenses, pack a sack lunch, and get out there and explore!