Neel Garlapati and Karin Mak are two Midwesterners who fell in love with the San Gabriel Valley. “Once you’ve lived down the street from some of the best Chinese food in North America, and a few miles from the best, most diverse Mexican food outside of Mexico City—there’s no going back,” said Garlapati. The married couple bought a house in Alhambra in 2009, “right around the time when it looked like the sky was falling.” They had their first kid in 2010 and another in 2013. In their new column—Surviving Until Naptime—the couple offers advice to other young parents in Alhambra. They’ll cover all things kids-related in and around the SGV, from entertainment, to health, to education. This week, the couple talks about planning an eventful morning in Downtown, and taking advantage of the bus lines that run from Alhambra.
A Morning in Downtown
Raising two kids in Alhambra, without the benefit of grandparents down the street or across town, has forced us to expend every ounce of our creativity, energy and will for one simple purpose: every weekend, our kids wake us up at 6 AM and we need to figure out how to survive until naptime. Ideally, we can find something engaging, educational and exciting for the kids so that, by the time nap time comes, they hit the bed like a sack of potatoes and give us a couple glorious hours to rest, check email, watch TV, or just pass out from exhaustion, which happens from time to time when you have small kids.
The wonderful thing about Alhambra is that our location is a stone's throw from some excellent parks, along with dozens of cultural, athletic and educational activities in the SGV, Pasadena and Downtown LA. Not only are we close, but we are connected. From almost anywhere in Alhambra, you are a short walk from a bus line that will take you through East LA, past Union Station, through the heart of downtown LA, all the way to Staples Center (Huntington, Main, Valley and Garvey all have dedicated lines). Pro Tip: Kids love buses, plus they are air-conditioned!
Over the years, we have created a series of “morning itineraries,” designed to keep the kids entertained and engaged until naptime. We figure if we can get through each morning then the rest of the day post-nap is manageable. We generally start our days around 6:00 AM, maybe 6:30 if the kids are feeling generous. We’ll hang out for a bit, Skype with the grandparents, eat breakfast and then begin the adventure for the day. Here’s one of our morning itineraries, especially fun on these balmy, strangely humid summer mornings:
9:00 am – Grand Park
We begin our journey at Grand Park, downtown LA’s beautiful new park. If our kids get up early (always) and we get a particularly early start to the day (rarely) we’ll hop on the 70 bus line, down Garvey, past Union Station, and stop right outside the Stanley Mosk Downtown LA County Courthouse just around the corner from Grand Park. On groggier mornings we might hop in the car, drive 10 minutes to Union Station, park there and catch the red line for one stop to the Civic Center Station.
Grand Park stretches from The Music Center all the way to City Hall on Spring Street. There is a neat new playground on the City Hall side of the park with lots of climbing and jumping opportunities for tykes. Once they work up a sweat, take them to the opposite side of the park (which is a nice walk up some shallow steps and across a few streets) to the magnificent splash pad which, even as an adult, beckons you to join your little ones, take off your shoes and kick up some water. There is a Starbucks, restrooms and a scattering of pink tables and chairs to relax and/or hang wet clothes on.
10:45am – Grand Central Market
From Grand Park, you can take a quick detour over to Grand Central Market, just a short bus ride or a 10-15 minute walk away, and check out the impressive recent developments in this bustling, historic, airy market spanning Hill Street and Broadway. If your kids are like ours, you won’t stand a chance in the line for the delicious-looking Eggslut on a weekend morning. Instead, hop into one of the less trafficked stalls like La Huerta, where you can pick up a quick snack for the family. They have brilliantly stocked most of the healthier snacks (like dried fruit and nuts) at the kids’ eye level while the sugary treats are up high, so your kid may actually ask for some fiber-rich dried apricots instead of gummy bears.
11:30am – The Last Bookstore
From Grand Central Market you are less than two blocks away from The Last Bookstore, which is billed as California’s largest used and new book and record store. They have a great children’s book section, with lots of cheap classics, but it is also a wonderful place to explore; there are tunnels made out of books, shelves upon shelves of monochromatic one-dollar volumes, and sections tucked into the vaults of what was once an abandoned bank. They also have a large 99-cent record selection, along with a small selection of children’s music for vinyl hounds. For adults, The Last Bookstore is a funky, creative and nostalgic reminder of what media was like before the days of touchscreens. For our kids, it must be like a museum. The last time we were in the music section I heard a seven-year old asking her mother: “What are these?” She wasn’t referring to the vinyls. She was asking about the CDs.
12:15pm – Lunch
After The Last Bookstore you can make off with your purchases and cap off the adventure with lunch at the Nickel Diner if you want to treat your family to some of those famed desserts, or Guisados if your kids can handle a little chile. From there you can either board any one of the dozens of buses that will take you back to your car parked at Union Station, or walk three blocks to Pershing Square where all of the SGV-bound buses will stop. By the time you get home, nap time will (if you are lucky) be a piece of cake, or a sack of potatoes.