My boys are at the age now where we can take neighborhood walks without strollers. Hank, who’s 4, either runs at full velocity down the sidewalk or saunters at varying speeds, zigzagging this way and that as he checks out every flowery bush or squirrel-infested tree we pass.
“Hey, Henry, try one speed and in a straight line,” I told him on a recent walk.
“No,” he said. “I’m going to check out this dried-up worm on the sidewalk instead.” I never thought the stroller would be an easier conveyance, but in some ways, it is, especially if you are a hardworking parent and need to get back home from your journey to get work done.
Still, there are those mornings (usually on weekends) where the child in me comes out and I don’t mind the free-spirited child roaming the urban paradise we call L.A. Just one problem: L.A. is full of automobiles, and roaming kids and cars don’t really mix.
The good news is that L.A. is making strides catering to alternative-transportation millennials like myself who have grown accustomed to biking, walking, busing and even light railing around town. Los Angeles’ walkable neighborhoods will never be Amsterdam – or even Portland, for that matter – but at least, in certain areas, you regularly see throngs of people walking the boulevards. Millennial parents these days also focus more and more on the “walkability” of a neighborhood when they are shopping for housing.
Studio City has become a family walking paradise despite all the cars in the San Fernando Valley. The stretch of Ventura Boulevard between Tujunga and Coldwater Canyon avenues has family-friendly restaurants, toy stores and throngs of stroller- pushing parents. Hank had a blast checking out the model-train stores.
In Silver Lake, there’s a delightful stretch of Sunset Boulevard – from Micheltorena Street to Santa Monica Boulevard – that families flood to peruse. Dads sip on Americanos from Alfred Coffee, moms sip on cold brew from La Colombe and kids get messy with treats from Pazzo Gelato. Over in Highland Park, families as diverse as the city itself flock to the intersection of York Boulevard and Figueroa Street, where they can stop in at record stores, cafes and retro shops.
Oddly, high rent doesn’t always translate to “walkable.” Try walking down PCH in Malibu. Better yet, don’t. And while San Vicente Boulevard in Brentwood has some nice places to eat, it is not a great place to walk. It is sprawling and endless, with long stop lights and bitter, entitled drivers. Walking with kids through Old Pasadena has its challenges, too. Hank always complains of the heat and the lack of shade. “The blocks are too long,” he says.
When I was a child, I remember watching Mexican American families walking down Cesar Chavez Avenue in Boyle Heights, enjoying their time with each other. Today, families still gather along the street. On the weekends, especially, strollers descend, often carrying cups of agua fresca. Kids who’ve graduated from their strollers walk around with big cherry stains on their shirts, reminding me of my boys. When, a year ago, I took Hank to the area, he was confused. “Why are there so many people walking?” he asked.
Clearly, back then, he wasn’t used to the concept of getting out of the car and using his feet. These days, he is.
Isaac Parfrey is a writer, composer and L.A. native who enjoys roaming Southern California with his wife, Kate, and sons, Hank and Leo. Follow him on Twitter @IsaacParfrey.