Spending a cool morning in Arcadia with peacocks, turtles, and Nemo

In our parenting column—Surviving Until Naptime—Neel Garlapati and Karin Mak offer advice to other young parents in Alhambra. They touch on all things kids-related in and around the SGV, from entertainment, to health, to education. This week, they share an itinerary for a trip to Arcadia.
 
Summertime in the San Gabriel Valley means that some mornings threaten triple digits well before 11:00am. On these days we like to venture to Arcadia, our northern SGV neighbor. The city features classic steakhouses and an old racetrack that’s down the street from Italian delis and ultra-modern Cantonese seafood houses. The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Gardens is one of the oldest institutions in the SGV—best known as Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin’s estate from the late 1800s. It has held universal appeal for all the groups that have made the SGV their home. The thrill of walking among strutting, screeching (sometimes threatening) peacocks is a signature of this place. 
A peacock at the arboretum
A family membership for the Arboretum runs $75 per year—which is one of the cheapest memberships in Southern California. With a membership families can enter the Arboretum grounds as early as 8:00am—perfect for when you want to get in some activity during the cool morning hours, before the sun starts blazing. This is where we begin our Arcadia morning. 
 
8:30am – Los Angeles County Arboretum
 
Getting to the Arboretum is easier by car, as there are only a few bus lines that serve this part of Arcadia, but if you live near Huntington or Main streets in Alhambra, you can take the bus. If you are bringing kids, we’d suggest hauling a stroller onto the bus because this itinerary will involve some walking to get from point to point.
 
You can almost always count on a slew of peacocks to welcome you to the Arboretum before you even park your car. They are camped out on the roof of the gift shop, hanging out in the trees near the entrance ramp, and generally strutting and preening for arriving visitors. You may be tempted to skip the Arboretum and just hang out in the parking lot until your kids get bored (or scared off by one of the more aggressive peacocks). Once the novelty wears off, head over to the Arboretum’s “Garden for All Seasons,” where you can see how a large rainwater collection system is used to grow fruits and vegetables. There are also a few very engaging chickens and turkeys in the back of the farm that our kids love to chat with.  

Hanging out with peacocks at the arboretum

From here, we like to head directly across the Arboretum towards Baldwin Lake. Be on the lookout for bunnies in the water conservation garden! You’ll walk across the beautiful Bauer Lawn and Fountains, studded with geese and other waterfowl. Your kids may be drawn to these birds, but I would steer clear as they are not the friendliest species and you may encounter more than your fair share of goose droppings. On the shore of Baldwin Lake you can see turtles, fish and ducks scrambling over each other in shallow water to get at whatever scraps visitors might leave (We would avoid feeding any animals. It might seem cute at first but once your kid is face-to-face with a hungry duck, she might think otherwise.) Swing by the waterfall and climb the steps to the top if you really need to wear your kids out. By this time it should be getting hot. Time to find some A/C. 
 
10:00am – Westfield Santa Anita
 
We live in Alhambra, a short walk from dozens of mom-and-pop restaurants, stores, community parks, local festivals and cultural events. For nearly a decade we never had reason to venture to the malls and chain restaurants more prevalent in the Eastern SGV, but having cranky toddlers in the dead heat of summer makes you appreciate the creature comforts that a mega-corporation can deliver.
 
Like most malls, the parking lots for the Westfield Santa Anita mall are baked in the sun. We usually head to the underground parking lot, and park near the Nordstrom. As you enter Nordstrom from the garage, you will see a children’s shoe section with a massive, vertical fishtank full of clownfish and blue tangs (i.e. Nemo and Dory). Let the kids try to figure out which of the dozens of fish are Nemo/Marlin/Dory while you get your bearings. We would suggest heading upstairs and outside to the new Promenade while it is still reasonably cool. Here you’ll find an excellent outdoor play area with a rope climbing structure, a dragon mound growing out of the ground and sail shades to keep the kids cool. Nearby is a fountain that empties into a very well-maintained turtle pond. Our kids love visiting in the mornings because you can catch the turtles sunning themselves on the rocks. Once the heat gets unbearable, head to the indoor play area, a no-shoes zone where kids can climb, jump and crawl around forest-themed obstacles, ringed by padded benches so parents can sit down and keep an eye on their kids. Be careful with smaller toddlers here, as they can easily get run over by the older kids.
 The play area at the Westfield Santa Anita mall
12:00pm – Lunch
 
After trouncing through the arboretum and the mall’s fountains and play areas your kids should be ready for lunch. Before you decide where to eat, head to one of the mall’s family restrooms where you can wash up, change diapers, and take a short break from the chaos. These are some of the nicest family restrooms we’ve seen – with a TV running nickelodeon, wall puzzles and clean and easily reachable changing pads and supplies. It sounds strange, but you may have a hard time pulling your kids out of the bathrooms. 

Looking for Nemo in a fishtank at the Westfield Santa Anita mall

As in most malls, Lunch options abound. You can hit one of the sit-down, chain restaurants, where corporate efficiency results in crayons, coloring placemats, and kid-sized drinks on our tables before we even sit down. Or you can head to the food court. Sometimes we will pack our own PBJ sandwiches and eat them in the food court before we exit through Nordstrom and pop past the Finding Nemo characters on our way out—enjoying the benefits (and air conditioning) of this modern shrine to consumerism without spending a dime. 

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