Raising Wilshire

A blog about parenting and car-lite living in Los Angeles

Category: How We Do It

Mommy & Wilshire’s Excellent Transit Oriented Adventures

At just under three years old, Wilshire Matute is a seasoned transit rider. Thank goodness. We live extremely close to multiple bus routes with frequent service, serving destinations I would rather not travel to by car, like my doctor’s offices, UCLA, and Downtown Santa Monica (only one of the best pedestrian environments in America.)

I wanted to put up a fun post about some of the places we take transit to. We live within walking distance to daycare, so most of our transit rides happen on weekends. Here’s a sampling of destinations within the past month.

Downtown Santa Monica

Prince (L) and Wilshire (R) met up at the Santa Monica Pier on a Sunday morning earlier this month.

We often take the Big Blue Bus into Downtown Santa Monica to go shopping, eat out, or meet up with friends.

West Los Angeles Farmers Market

Located near the Felicia Mahood Senior Center, the West LA Farmers Market operates on Sunday mornings and is served by about 20 vendors. They have the best tamales and crepes. Wilshire also really likes the art table there, which always has a great supply of markers, crayons, paints, and glitter.

Wilshire makes art at the West LA Farmers Market

Trader Joe’s in West LA

Wilshire on a Big Blue Bus route 5 bus

The service on the route is not the greatest, but the wait is okay when you wait for the bus at the stop with a direct view of the Bundy Expo station, and 4 trains go by.

Note: I usually bring my City Mini stroller with me on these solo trips to the grocery store. I can’t risk Wilshire demanding to be carried while I am also hauling home a week’s worth of groceries. It is not easy to bring a stroller onto a city bus. But Big Blue Bus has made it somewhat easier because they do not require families to fold their strollers until after they have boarded the bus, and the drivers are usually gracious enough to kneel the bus or deploy the wheelchair ramp so I can push my stroller and groceries on board. I have done this often enough to always bring sturdy bags with zip tops, so I never risk items falling out.

Crafts classes at Michaels

I discovered in late November that Michaels’, the nationwide arts and crafts hobby store, offers drop-in arts and crafts projects for kids on Saturday mornings for the modest price of just $2 for children ages 3-6 and $5 for children 6 and over.

To Grandmother’s House We Go

In our most ambitious trip ever, we took three types of trains – light rail, heavy rail, and commuter rail – from our home in Santa Monica to see my husband’s family. Wilshire stood the whole time.

Our family just before we boarded a Metrolink train to come home

For more pointers on taking transit with children, I suggest reading this piece by Carla Sauter, the Seattle Bus Chick.

The difference good transit geography makes for my car-lite family

My family waiting for a bus to go to a farmers market

Public transportation is an integral asset in the Matute Family Car-Lite Tool Kit. We live near several bus routes with frequent service, which also happen to serve major destinations in our area. Put another way, we ride buses a lot, and we can do this because out in our corner of Los Angeles, we’re blessed with good transit geography.

Broadly speaking, good transit geography is any geography in which good transit destinations are on a direct path between other good transit destinations. (Especially, destinations that are on the way).

Some good transit ‘destinations’ revolve around basic needs: affordable grocery stores, medical care, a bank, and a post office. In our situation, there’s a Trader Joe’s along the bus route between my husband’s job and our house. The route has very frequent service, so it’s actually not a big deal for him to pop in to grab some items on his way home.

In our world, good transit geography also includes living very close to bus stops. As noted by Child in the City, a European nonprofit which promotes and advocates for the rights and needs of children living in urban environments, transit service can be a make-or-break based on the location of the closest stop. They correctly point out: When you are pushing a stroller and carrying 3 bags, the extra block or crossing seems ten times further. TRUTH!

Another example of “good transit geography” is access to jobs. Ideally,  these would include jobs that you are personally qualified for and willing to take. Because you guys, the spatial mismatch between jobs and housing in major regions like LA is real. The barriers to closing the gap are innumerable.

GREAT transit geography hits the Housing/Transit/Education (HTE) nexus sweet spot: frequent transit service, affordable housing, and high quality early childhood centers and schools. This combination is exceedingly rare in most US cities, including Los Angeles.

“In many parts of the United States it is difficult for families, particularly low- or moderate- income families, to be able to afford a suitable home in a transit rich neighborhood with good schools. Neighborhoods with all three elements are exceedingly rare. As a result, people often have to sacrifice one of three elements to make their lives work – a home that is within their means, access to quality public transit or access to good schools. This calculation creates a push-pull on placemaking in American cities where we still do not sufficiently design or plan the city with the quality of life services, necessities, or amenities necessary for families to stay and thrive.” link, page 3

UC Berkeley Center for City + Schools’s “Connecting Housing + Transportation + Education to Expand Opportunity” report.

Santa Monica is wonderful and special in many ways. By living here, we zone to exceptional public schools. Wilshire will be able to take the bus to Samohi, a nationally ranked public high school served by 8 bus routes and the terminus for the Metro Expo line.

But a few words about how quickly things can turn on a dime, even for families the most determined to stay car-lite, and have made choices we hope would support that decision.

We are fortunate to live within walking distance or a short bus ride from high-quality daycare and preschool programs. But unlike with the local elementary school, there’s no guarantee that you will get in. That’s the situation we’re in with the preschool closest to our house. It’s great! But the entry point is the toddler room – and I passed on enrolling Wilshire due to cost and the difficulty of commuting there on public transportation or with a bike. So, we’ve applied to another preschool not quite on the radar of people we know from college. It’s not fancy. It’s not NAEYC-accredited. But it’s along the way to my husband’s job, and on the bus route with frequent service. (See the theme?) And we feel very good about this school. But what if neither of these programs pan out? Well, there is a plan C. It’s in our price range. But it’s not along the way. We’ll discuss how we’ll manage that in another blog post if it comes to it, because I am honestly not sure.

Ironic and interesting right? Santa Monica has some of the priciest market-rate housing around. A family looking to move here for the schools needs to clear at least $100,000 a year to afford the rent on a barebones 2-bedroom rental apartment. (The county household median is just $61,000.) Moving to Santa Monica is not for the faint of heart. We are incredibly lucky, and privileged, to be here in this place where we can also live very comfortably without driving a car. Very lucky indeed.

Check out my primer (“Wilshire and Mommy’s Excellent Transit Oriented Adventures”) for pointers on some of my favorite places to take Wilshire on public transportation.

Jazz on the Lawn is the perfect way for SaMo families to end weekends in August

THIS is the way to do the concert: Blanket, wagon, folding side table, wicker suitcase for all your outdoor picnicking needs. 

Every Sunday evening in August, the City of Santa Monica holds a free jazz concert in Gandara Park. It’s free, it’s chill, and it works exceptionally well for multi-generational families.

Lets’ start with the obvious: I am a major fan of Jazz on the Lawn, this concert series organized by the City of Santa Monica  each Sunday in the month of August. The concert series started 13 years ago at the behest of a councilmember who was looking to activate Stewart Street Park, a park that used to be a dump. I started going four years ago, when I moved within walking distance of Stewart Street Park (now Gandara Park). I now plan my August weekends around these, and schedule my out-of-neighborhood excursions so I will be home in time for the concert.

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5 Pointers for Camping with a Toddler

Wilshire likes to be outdoors. It should come as no surprise that he likes camping. His parents like camping too.

I didn’t start out as a camper. As a child, my family ‘vacationed’ in Las Vegas up to 6 times a year. Las Vegas is not far from Los Angeles, and has functioned as a getaway destination for Angelenos for nearly a century. My dad is a compulsive gambling addict, so my relationship with Las Vegas is a sad one. I’m relieved that I can carve a different path with my family.

Kid and I go camping
Holding his hiking poles.

Most recently, we took Wilshire camping around his second birthday. We stayed Leo Carrillo State Park, which is just outside of Malibu city limits and about 25 miles away from our house. Leo Carrillo is in this little valley just east of the water. As it is a California State Park, the campground was very nice. Not all the campsites are created ‘equal’. We liked #26 because it was near restrooms and the on-site convenience store – but not near Mulholland Highway, which traverses just north of the campground.

This was our third time camping outdoors with our son, and I think we’re getting the hang of making camping fun and stress-free. The kid sleeps through the night when he’s in our tent. My mother wondered how we managed to make camping work because it was an experience she never had, so I realized there may be value to sharing the top 5 things I do to make camping safe, fun, and enjoyable with my toddler. Hopefully this helps you too.

1. Bring a travel crib. 
We bring a Graco Pack ‘N’ Play with us. Not only does our son sleep in it, it’s a safe place for him to play and chill while we are completing necessary tasks such as pitching our tent and cooking. We have had a lot of luck putting both our son and another child in said pack ‘n’ play. Don’t they look cute here?

2. Bring a high chair. 
We own this snap-on high chair from Chicco. Our son is still not quite big enough to sit at the picnic table comfortably. This snap-on chair allows him to be on par with the rest of us. I no longer worry about him sliding down off the bench and hitting his chin or head.

3. Reserve a campsite in advance. 
Through Reserve California, you can book a campsite up to six months in advance. There is a $7.99 registration fee and a $7.99 cancellation fee. I suggest setting up a reminder to book a site as soon as the 6 month window opens.

4. Set up dedicated camping bins if you have the space for storage.
We now have these nifty bins which contain all of our dedicated camping supplies, plus a table for holding our camping stove. These bins, plus a cooler, are now stored in a location which makes it quick and easy to load our car. It used to take me hours to prepare for our prior trips because everything was scattered across our house. Now we’ve gotten organized, it takes only an hour to pack everything – food, high chair, and diapers included. Less time packing, more time relaxing.

I will have to blog more about our camping set-up another time.

5. Stay more than one night.
In our first two trips, we only spent one night outdoors. It was exhausting and disappointing to spend so much time setting up only to have to dismantle the campsite less than 24 hours later. Last weekend, we spent two nights outdoors and it was glorious.

I have a tickler in my calendar now to book another campsite later this weekend for summer. I love being able to anticipate these sorts of events. Do you like to go camping with your kids? Tell us what kind of things you do to make camping more fun and accessible!

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