Take a family field trip to the SFV neighborhood to find classic diner food, sophisticated sweets, gelato, playgrounds and trains.
by Erin Mahoney Harris
Toluca Lake is nestled between Studio City, North Hollywood and Burbank, offering convenient access to the nearby television and movie studios while maintaining a relatively quiet vibe. Distinctive restaurants and shops, classic architecture and close proximity to many of the San Fernando Valley’s best family attractions make it a great place to raise – or visit with – kids.
It doesn’t get more American classic than Toluca Lake’s landmark Bob’s Big Boy (4211 Riverside Dr.; 818-843-9334; www.bobs.net), the oldest remaining Bob’s in the U.S. Built in 1949, the restaurant boasts distinctive retro coffee shop architecture with an asymmetrical shape, curving picture windows and dramatic neon signage. The burger-and-fries-dominated menu is a kid magnet. Make sure to order a milkshake or vanilla Coke and take a picture with the giant namesake statue out front.
If you’re interested in a more modern and refined dining experience, travel a few blocks West to Sweetsalt Food Shop (10218 Riverside Dr.; 818-509-7790; www.sweetsaltfood.com). The menu features healthy and sophisticated salads and sandwiches to please adult palates, as well as kid-friendly offerings such as grilled cheese – not to mention cookies, cakes and other seductively sugary treats.
While Gelato Bar (4342 ½ Tujunga Ave.; 818-487-1717; www.gelatobar-la.com) isn’t technically located in Toluca Lake, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump away in Tujunga Village, and well worth the short trip. The extensive array of flavors changes daily, but you can always count on delicious classics such as chocolate and vanilla, as well as light and fruity sorbets. Enjoy a scoop or two in the colorful, bistro-style shop and then take the kids out to burn off the sugar high.
Around the corner from Gelato Bar, Woodbridge Park (11240 Moorpark St.; 818-769-4415), one of the Valley’s most pleasant playgrounds, is surrounded by leafy trees, wide lawns and meandering jogging paths. Separate areas for young tots and older kids ensure age-appropriate play for all ages, while shaded benches make it a pleasant place to picnic or sit back and enjoy the sight of your kids at play.
The northern entrance to L.A.’s biggest playground, Griffith Park, is just a couple of miles from downtown Toluca Lake. And while Valley families are likely to head to the Travel Town Railroad Museum, they’ll find more thrills just next door at L.A. Live Steamers (5202 Zoo Dr.; 323-662-8030; www.lals.org). The nonprofit attraction run by train enthusiasts is open from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays and offers rides atop 1/8th scale model trains. They run faster than you’d expect, traveling on elaborate tracks across shady meadows, through Old West towns and tunnels, and over steel and truss bridges. The unique experience will plaster a grin across any kid’s (or grown-up’s) face, all for a suggested $3 donation.
Erin Mahoney Harris is a mom of two and L.A. Parent columnist.