Raising Wilshire

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

Category: Santa Monica (Page 1 of 2)

Six Handy Tips for Attending Outdoor Concerts with Toddlers

With the return of Jazz on the Lawn, Santa Monica’s annual summer concert series, I wanted to share our pointers for a successful outing.

  1. Free: Because there is no guilt in bailing if the concert was free.
  2. Bring the stroller that has a tray. This is the only way I can compel Wilshire to eat. Otherwise there’s too much going on.
  3. Finger Foods are Picnic-Friendly Foods! Think: Crudites with peanut butter and/or hummus; cheese; crackers; cold cuts, including salami or smoked salmon; diced fruit. Not: Rice, pasta, takeout from the Ralphs hot food bar (we’ve done it, it doesn’t end well).
  4. Bring Friends and Neighbors – or better yet, bring grandparents! Outdoor concerts like Jazz on the Lawn are all-ages, and therefore suitable for the grandparents! And I appreciate having the extra set of hands to follow kids around.
  5. Bring a Blanket: This functions as an anchor for food and drinks.
  6. Bug Spray: Not required for Santa Monica, but in many parts of the US, these outdoor concerts are during sunset, which is when bugs become abundant.

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.

Oh The Places You’ll (Need To) Go

This is a part of an on-going series on How We’re Making Car-Lite Work in Santa Monica

On our way back from the dry cleaner; I draped our nearly cleaned clothes over Wilshire’s stroller.

When I first reflected on how we have gotten by as a one-car family for so long, I originally thought I would be writing about Wilshire’s bike seat, or the wagon we bought off  Amazon to haul around boxes and groceries. Or, perhaps, I’d talk about how found high-quality childcare close by.

But I think it’s important to start with something very, very basic:

We live in close proximity to the goods and services which we cannot substitute through online shopping.

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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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Why I took Will to the ER on a bike, and not by car

This is the second in a series about How We’re Making Car-Lite Work

Juan and I both had on our light up vests coincidentally.

Yesterday, I had to take Wilshire to the emergency room for stitches. The kid tripped and hit his eyebrow on a door at his daycare while racing to get to the potty. (We’d trained him the weekend before, so he was still a novice.) Wilshire’s battle scar was a superficial cut about a half-inch long right over his eyebrow that necessitated four stitches.

As many readers know, we only own one car. This means that we have all sorts of unwritten contingency plans on how we’d cope when we need to get somewhere quickly without a car. The situation gets thornier when there is a sick child, an unplanned doctor’s visit, and the parent who has to retrieve the child “green commuted” to work. It has been much easier to remain a one-car family in our area thanks to Lyft, Uber, bikeshare, and (most recently) dockless scooter-share. But as I’d covered in a prior blog post, those three options do not work when you have to transport another human or a lot of stuff.

In this particular situation, I wound up deciding to use my bicycle to transport my son to the ER. Here’s why:

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Buying Children’s Books in Santa Monica

This is a part of the “SaMo Parenting Guide”, an ongoing series where I talk about where I buy stuff for Wilshire.

I know that we lost our Barnes & Noble earlier this year.

But don’t fret. There are still several bookstores in within Santa Monica city limits that you can visit to pick out books for the young children in your lives. I have several favorites.

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The 4 Best Non-Obvious Places For Children’s Toys in Santa Monica

Wilshire Matute plays with his BBB toy on his 1st birthday party.

This is part of an ongoing series where I talk about where I buy stuff for Wilshire in Santa Monica.

They say that play is the work of children – and my child takes his play just as seriously as anyone else. I want to facilitate that play through tools (toys) that allow my son to stretch his creativity, develop his cognitive skills and vocabulary, and bring him joy and laughter. We have gotten Wilshire some of his toys online (namely his train set), but I have had some good times searching for things that might resonate with him in Santa Monica, especially in some not-so-obvious places. They include:

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A primer to buying baby and toddler clothes on a budget (Santa Monica edition)

I’m going to let you in on a secret: Most of my kid’s clothes are secondhand. Some are hand-me-downs. The rest are from yard sales and clothing swaps in Santa Monica. Time is of the essence when doing stuff like this (clothing procurement). Let me save you time with these pointers.

Buying Secondhand

From the Mt. Olive sale in 2016.

Mt. Olive Lutheran Preschool fall rummage sale

Every fall, the preschool at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church hosts an epic rummage sale in their auditorium.  The doors open at 8am. Come armed with an IKEA bag or two so you can carry your finds. This is how I managed to stock up on enough clothes to get through the year. The Mt. Olive sale is the best place to score toys, clothes, shoes, kitchen knick knacks, and more.

Note, there is a separate multi-family yard sale in the spring (typically late April) at Mt. Olive. I have not been able to attend either.

Mt. Olive Lutheran Preschool is served by Big Blue Bus Route 8.

Santa Monica’s City Wide Yard Sale

Creative from the 2017 citywide yard sale

Every September, the City of Santa Monica’s Resource Recovery and Recycling  division (known internally at the City as R3)  organizes a city-wide yard sale. The City helps households people publicize sales through their website, email marketing lists, and ads in the local newspaper. They also make an interactive map available that allows you to hone in on locations selling things you might be interested in, such as kid stuff.

Hanging out at a yard sale on an early Saturday morning.

What’s so great about this is the incredible number of participants in our 8.8 square miles. You’re likely to find at least half a dozen sales to visit within walking distance.

The 2018 sale will be on September 15th. You’ve been given advanced notice!

Transportation: If you cannot get to the sale on foot, then it’s not really worth going to.

Who doesn’t like free?

This hot pink jacket belonged to another Santa Monica toddler before I found it at a clothing swap last fall.

Periodically, the Santa Monica Mom’s Club will host a clothing swap at a park in Santa Monica. You bring toys, baby doodads, and clothing your children have outgrown in a bag. They lay out tarps where you can sort your clothes by size. You then fill your bag with clothes in the next size up. That’s how I managed to find some play clothes for Will, plus this really terrific hot pink fleece jacket.

If you are a stay-at-home or part-time employed mom, you can join the chapter’s Facebook group. For the rest of us, follow me on Twitter!

Buying New

I try to find as much clothing as possible for my son secondhand because of cost and environmental considerations. I’m also a fan of buying my son clothes in person because more often than not, I’ve made mistakes with sizing when buying online – and it’s way more of a hassle, for me, to return something than to go where I can buy the clothing in person.

Gymboree in Santa Monica Place

The local shopping mall in Santa Monica is populated mostly by high-end stores, but there are two destinations for children. One is the Disney Store (I refuse to go inside). The other is Gymboree. Gymboree filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and closed hundreds of stores, but the one in Santa Monica Place still marches on.

My Yelp review is more on-point:
Read Sirinya M.‘s review of Gymboree on Yelp

Gymboree is served by Big Blue Bus routes 1, 2, 3, R3, 5, 7, R7, 9, R10, and 18.

TJ Maxx and Marshalls

Both carry items like toys, toddler’s kitchenware (think: Nuby and Phillips Avent bottles; Munchkin sippy cups; pacifiers; kid-sized plates and dishes, bibs), and lots of books. The prices are always a few dollars off what you would pay on Amazon. As is the case with all off-price retail, the fun in shopping at these places is the element of surprise in bargain hunting. But don’t be surprised if you go there looking for something very specific, and it’s not there.

TJ Maxx on Arizona Ave. at 4th Street: Served by all Big Blue Bus routes coming into downtown Santa Monica; Metro 704 and 720; Metro Expo Line.

Marshalls on Olympic Blvd. at Sawtelle Ave.: Big Blue Bus Routes 5 (Olympic Blvd.) and 17 (Sawtelle Ave.)

The Gap


Not cheap – but also, totally worth the money for items that will get heavy use, like coats and play clothes. There is one within walking distance of my house, on Wilshire Blvd. and 20th Street.

The Gap on Wilshire at 20th St is served by Big Blue Bus Routes 2, 41, and 42.

Honorable Mentions

Costco. They carry Carter’s and Little Me, brands that are both well-regarded by Baby Bargains. I picked up a set of pajamas for Wilshire last weekend for about $10.

Carter’s. Their clothes are well-made and withstand the wear-and-tear of an active toddler. The closest Carter’s to Santa Monica is on Sepulveda Blvd. in Culver City. There is also a Carter’s now open inside Crenshaw Plaza, which is about a 10 minute walk from the Crenshaw Expo station.



Why I’m Staying in Santa Monica

Repost from Santa Monica Next (published in January 2014)

In 2009, I moved to Santa Monica for the same reasons a lot of people my age do: jobs; the beach; the weather; the walkability.

It’s now 2014, and my husband and I still live here, for the aforementioned reasons and more. We have the resources to leave, but we are committed to staying. We’re optimistic about the future of Santa Monica. We’ve made lifelong friends here, with whom we can share the happenings of our lives and of this city. It’s something I’ve looked for, quite possibly, all my life.

We’re also committed to staying because I think Santa Monica is going to be a great place for us to raise a family. You know how some people say they want to do better by their kids? Providing any future kids of mine with the best education I can is so important to me. And so is providing my (future) kids with mobility independence. I think that both are feasible by living in Santa Monica. Because of the city’s walkability, bike infrastructure and transit grid, I’m optimistic that any kids of mine will be able to get from school to third places like the Boys & Girls Club or the YMCA or back home on their own. Before anyone says that I’m already intending to be a reckless parent, my husband and I came of age in the suburbs. He was given keys to a car when he turned 16. I walked the Last Mile home because it was faster than waiting for a bus on 60 minute headways. I felt really badly about being so dependent on my parents for my transportation needs as a teenager.

Talk about civic pride: I am very proud to call myself a Santa Monican, and perhaps a tree hugger too. For Halloween, I dressed as Morty, the city’s beloved Moreton Bay Fig Tree.

Nonetheless, I think I will always feel some unease about living and committing to staying here. My husband calls it Westside Guilt. My experience living here, in Santa Monica, is in such stark contrast to where and how I grew up, further east in the Wilshire Center section of LA and later in the Valley, where my parents bought a house when I turned 14.

The greater Los Angeles metropolitan area is one of the most diverse, poorest, and segregated in the country. The neighborhood I grew up in was poor and predominantly minority immigrants; our retail was all neighborhood-serving and it was looted and/or burned during the 1992 Riots. I got to ride my bike on the street but as long as I came in before dark because of gang activity.

There is considerable wealth and privilege today here in Santa Monica and on the Westside in general.

In contrast, my parents now live in an inner-ring suburban neighborhood adjacent to a light industrial zone with vast income inequalities. They made sacrifices that I would have tried to stop had I known better (which is kind of nuts given that I was a kid at the time). I’m convinced that the doubling (Dad) or quadrupling (Mom) of their commutes has taken years off their lives.

I’m also a person of color living in a city that is mostly white, and there’s a certain discomfort that I’m not sure if I’ll ever shake off. I worry (sometimes a lot) that my choices – to live here, in an apartment, in a community that is so much more homogeneous ethnically and socioeconomically than where I grew up, and certainly not with my parents (I’m the oldest girl) – could be misconstrued as a rejection of my parents and their choices.

At Palisades Park the day after Christmas in 2013.

But as I see it, I have choices now. I live in the region in which I was raised. So I could go back to Wilshire Center, or to the Valley. But it’s unlikely we will do so if we still have jobs on the Westside. We’re willing to live compactly in order to stay here. And we’re happy here. The train is coming, which I think that will actually go a long way to addressing a lot of the isolation and disconnect I felt from my professional circle in downtown. We are talking a lot about how we want to shape the future of our city through the updates of our zoning ordinance, the creation of specific plans for our downtown and the Memorial Park Expo Station, the completion of studies and plans to improve Safe Routes to School and the development a pedestrian action plan.

And I see Santa Monica coming into its own as a multimodal city; every day, I see something new that’s been implemented as part of the bike action plan. We are building more housing, which I believe is critical, and I see civic leaders reaching across generational lines to welcome newcomers and millennials. It’s so reassuring to be part of a community where I have met people who share my optimism about Santa Monica’s future and who also walk, bike, and ride the bus. And no one here bats an eye at the idea of bringing your own bag to the store, not the way that I get stared at differently when I go to my Asian grocery stores.

Right now, I’m committed to staying because I finally feel like I have found somewhere that I think I can belong.

The Journey Begins

Wilshire / Sirinya on Big Blue Bus

Together on the bus

Welcome to my new blog. I’ve decided to call it Raising Wilshire.

My hope is to start first with writing about my experience as a working mother raising a family in an urban setting, and to go from there. I am also  looking forward to writing about topics like child care (why it’s so hard to find and expensive), school choice, and raising a son to be kind, respectful of women, and emphatic.

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