February is the month for Valentines, hearts, flowers and dates with the one you love. We’ll trust you moms and dads to plan your own grown-up outings (or evenings in) – but why should you have all the fun? Here are 15 family dates you can enjoy with the kids.
Bring on the Brunch
For a cozy way to start the day, head to Home (www.homerestaurantla.com), with locations in Silverlake and Los Feliz. “When you come to Home, we want you to feel at home,” says General Manager Edwin Del Rosal, the dad who runs the family-friendly restaurant. Among their most popular brunch dishes is The All American, with three pancakes, two eggs and bacon or sausage. A smaller version with silver-dollar pancakes is available for kids. Also popular are the Chilaquiles and the Huevos Benedictos – an eggs benedict with corn sopes, black-bean spread, queso fresco and green salsa. If you’re coming on the weekend, come before 10 a.m. “Especially at the Silverlake location, it doesn’t go below an hour wait,” says Del Rosal.
If you want to bring the dog along – or if the kids are hounding you because you have no dog – visit The Fat Dog (www.thefatdogla.com). Among the abundant brunch options are chicken-fried chicken (with biscuit and sausage gravy), short rib hash and breakfast pizza with smoked salmon. Kids will like the strawberry mascarpone pancakes and the biscuits and jam. Two kids could have a good time splitting the restaurant’s namesake dish, a 14-inch grilled hot dog with all the trimmings. The main attraction for kids, however, will be the patio (more spacious at the North Hollywood than the West Hollywood location), where well-socialized dogs and well-socialized children can meet before or after the meal.
A unique brunch option is Maple at Descanso Gardens (patinagroup.com/maple-restaurant), on the grounds of the lovely botanical garden in La Cañada-Flintridge. This is upscale dining made more accessible for kids because of the proximity of the great outdoors. Signature dishes include Fried Chicken N’ Beignets, a twist on fried chicken and waffles. Or try the Winter Panzanella Salad with maple roasted sweet potato, baby kale and sourdough bread.
The kids menu has familiar options, including waffles, scrambled eggs and chicken tenders. Park the family near one of the many windows or on the cozy patio and let the kids gaze and graze while you sip champagne or a Maple Moscow Mule. Then take everyone for a nice, long stroll or a ride on the little train.
If it has been awhile since the grownups in your family have had a real conversation, stop by the Mid-City oasis that is Snooknuk (www.snooknuk.com) and reconnect. You’ll feel like you’re outdoors in this cozy space with a life-size tree and lush landscape murals. The kids (toddlers to about age 5) can enjoy the playground, music classes, drum circles or even a Friday night disco while you sip gourmet coffee from Caffe Luxxe and have a chat. “You can sit and have a conversation because your kids are engaged in other things,” says owner Cheri Jacobs, mom of three. The coffee and grub in the café is so good that Jacobs says parents sometimes stop in without their kids. Grab a $7 day play pass or become a member.
Another spot where the kids (ages 8 months to 8 years) can play while you connect is Pamper & Play (www.pamperplay.com) in West L.A. Four-hour Saturday parents’ time-out sessions are offered in the morning, afternoon or evening, depending on the week. Owner Carole Cablk says sessions are earlier than most date-night programs because kids are early risers even if they stay up late. At Pamper & Play, “the parents can go out for a date night or a date morning and everybody can still be in bed by 8 p.m.,” she says. Parents who prefer to stay nearby can take advantage of the cozy parent lounge (with free coffee and Wi-Fi) during supervised play hours that include themed activities. Four-hour playtime blocks cost $44 for ages 2 and younger, $36 for ages 3 and up.
For old-school fun and the latest in house-roasted multiethnic coffees, visit the Café de Leche Altadena location at 2477 N. Lake Ave. This location has been open two years and is a bit of a secret, as the address isn’t even on the website (www.cafedeleche.net). Even more secret is the delightful patio out back that lets families (and dogs) enjoy the outdoors. “It’s part of the culture of Altadena,” says co-owner Matt Schodorf, who opened the original Highland Park location nine years ago with his wife, Anya. “It’s private but very open.” Sip your horchata con espresso (available with milk or hemp, almond or oat alternatives) while the kids play ring toss on the large wooden deck. They can drink steamers or hibiscus lemonade, and tweens will like the low-caff chai-chata.
You can find the great outdoors in the middle of Westwood at the Mathias Botanical Garden (www.botgard.ucla.edu) on the UCLA campus. “We think of ourselves as a little urban oasis,” says Visitor Services Coordinator Jules Cooch. As you walk the stroller-friendly paths through the 7½-acre garden you’ll encounter butterflies, humming birds, a stream with koi and turtles, rainbow eucalyptus trees and plants from around the world. “This garden is not like a lot of parks. It’s more like a forested jungle,” Cooch says. Unlike the jungle, h
owever, the garden has plenty of picnic tables. “Bring a lunch and don’t hit that hungry nap zone,” advises Cooch. But if you do, Westwood Village is nearby. Admission to the gardens is free, so you can afford an extra coffee after your stroll.
If peacocks are your wildlife of choice, you’ll find plenty at the Los Angeles County Arboretum (www.arboretum.org) in Arcadia. This 127-acre botanical garden is home to a flock of more than 200 peafowl. It is also home to Baldwin Lake which, thanks to last winter’s rains, is full. “Children are extremely fond of the lake,” says Chris Orosz, the Arboretum’s school and youth programs manager. Wood ducks, mallard ducks, Canada geese and American coots can be spotted there. “And of course, there are a lot of turtles,” Orosz adds. He advises checking the website before you visit to connect with story times, family programs and special events such as the upcoming Peacock Day on March 24.
For a luxury beach experience, head to Terranea Resort (www.terranea.com) in Rancho Palos Verdes, where you need not be a guest to take advantage of some fun activities.
A daily 45-minute nature walk begins at 10 a.m. and showcases the native plants on the resort property and their importance to the local wildlife – free of charge. Naturalist-led two-hour tide pool walks the last three weekends in February ($50 adults, $30 ages 4-12) give families a close-up look at sea life, plus plenty of photo ops. A special Valentine’s Day hike (2-4 p.m., $25 per person) stops at several nature-viewing spots. End your adventure with a meal at one of the resort’s eight restaurants.
Share a Sweet Treat
Indulge your taste for nostalgia and your sweet tooth with a visit to Sloan’s Ice Cream (www.sloansicecream.com) at The Village at Westfield Topanga or the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.
The pink walls, honeycomb-tiled floor, wild chandeliers and cases stacked with candy and toys will make you feel like a kid again. “It has some throwback elements to old ice cream parlors,” says Director of Franchising David Wild. The ice cream flavors are colorful, too. “Circus” is blue cotton candy ice cream loaded with gummy bears, while “Birthday” boasts big chunks of buttercream-frosted chocolate and yellow birthday cake. Dive into a huge “Tracy’s Kitchen Sink” sundae or the simpler pleasure of a scoop of natural strawberry or pistachio.
If pie is your family’s style, The Pie Hole (www.thepieholela.com) has several SoCal locations where you can indulge – including Pasadena, the Arts district, Hollywood and Long Beach. Popular sweet flavors include Mom’s Apple Crumble, Earl Grey Tea and Mexican Chocolate.
“The kids should stay away from the Mexican Chocolate, though, because it has espresso in the whipped cream,” says co-founder Sean Brennan, who scrapes the cream off before giving his 3-year-old daughter her slice. There are also seasonal flavors, and the PIEfait, a treat where pie is layered with ice cream in a parfait glass. “That’s way more fun than pie a la mode,” Brennan says. The family-owned shop also sells savory pies, including kid-pleasing Mac ‘n Cheese Pot Pie.
For something a little different, check out B Sweet Dessert Bar (www.mybsweet.com) in the Sawtelle neighborhood. Owner Barb Batiste says that one day she decided to use leftover banana chocolate chip cake to make hot bread pudding. The result was so delicious, she tried it with other types of cake. “We have over 50 flavors now,” she says. Also popular with kids is The Halo ice cream sandwich – cold ice cream heat-sealed inside a hot glazed doughnut. The place does get busy, especially on weekends, but Batiste says not to be afraid of the line. “Our lines are out the door, but we get people through fairly quickly,” she promises. Once you’re inside, the space is sweet and cozy, and even features a little play kitchen for the kids.
Have a ‘Fancy’ Date
Nothing says “date” like dinner and a show, and the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood has the sultan of family-friendly musicals – “Aladdin” – playing through the end of March. Tickets start at $49, but that buys two-and-a-half hours of magical fun (including a 15-minute intermission) for ages 6 and up. There are many dining options in this part of town, and it’s best to make reservations (and let your server know you have theater tickets) so you aren’t late to the show. The Pie Hole has opened a location directly across from the theater, or try the healthy fare at Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop just up the street. The $8.50 kids’ combo will bring the evening back into family-budget range.
Another option is “Pirates of Penzance,” through Feb. 18 at the Pasadena Playhouse (www.pasadenaplayhouse.org). This wacky interpretation of the Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera includes sappy pirates and dewy-eyed damsels in a set that resembles a zany tiki bar. Tickets start at $34, and this show is also recommended for ages 6 and up. For dinner there’s a Lemonade not far away on Lake Avenue if you want something predictable. Walking distance (and it’s a pleasant walk) is Settebello Pizzeria (www.settebello.net), which has delicious wood-fired pizzas and does a nice panna cotta for dessert. If you park at the Playhouse and walk to dinner, stop at Monopole Wine on El Molino Avenue for a nice bottle at a reasonable price. Bring your receipt to Settebello and there’s no corkage fee.
For a dose of musical culture and architecture in one, take in a performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall (www.musiccenter.org). Enjoy one of the morning Toyota Symphonies for Youth concerts by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, designed especially for ages 5-11. These performances give families the chance to meet the musicians, experience an “instrument petting zoo” and learn about concert music. Tickets are $22-$26. The next performance, at 11 a.m. Feb. 24, is of Esa Pekka-Salonen’s “Wing on Wing,” which he composed to celebrate the construction of the hall. After the concert, you can take a free guided or self-guided tour of the stunning structure. Have a “fancy” lunch or early dinner at nearby Bottega Louie, where the small plates double as a tasty and eclectic kids’ menu.
Mix and match these ideas as you like – or strike out in a completely different direction. Do things you love.
Christina Elston is Editor of L.A. Parent