As a native Angeleno, when I found out I was pregnant with my half-Australian daughter, I imagined all the iconic things we’d do together all over my city when she arrived. My husband had aspirations to move us down under, but I had too many plans I needed to see through before I even entertained his idea.
I pictured myself taking her to Santa Monica Pier for a ride on the Ferris Wheel, after which we’d build sandcastles on the beach before heading to the Bob Baker Marionette Theater for a performance, all on one day. We’d get annual passes to Disneyland and proudly show off with a Disney-themed license plate or, at the very least, a Mickey bumper sticker. We’d ride the train in Griffith Park a few times a week. We’d touch slippery stingrays at the Long Beach Aquarium on weekends.
While all of these things are possible and can make LA a great place for kids, what I didn’t realize in all of my pre-baby planning was just how ambitious (and unrealistic) some of these plans were. I hadn’t considered traffic, cost, crowds, and my exhaustion as a new parent. To bring myself back down to reality, I had to realign my expectations, weigh the pros and cons, and decide if remaining an Angeleno was a long-term goal.
Whether you’re thinking of moving to LA with kids in tow or you’re an LA resident with kids on the horizon, you may appreciate what I’ve learned parenting in the City of Angels (and traffic jams). Here are my pros and cons of living in LA as a mom. Spoiler alert: the good outweighs the bad.
Pro: Theme Parks Galore
Say what you want about long lines and overpriced entry fees. Theme parks make me happy. And when you live in LA, you’re in close proximity to some top-shelf options like Universal Studios (home to the incredible Wizarding World of Harry Potter), Knotts Berry Farm, Six Flags, water parks like Raging Waters, not to mention Disneyland, the mother of all theme parks. While it’s true that some rides are off-limits to younger children, theme parks are also home to parades, fireworks and other spectacles that will grab even your infant’s attention. Although annual passes can be pricey up front, they are worth it considering a one-day entry fee. Just be sure to pack snacks, as a few churros might leave you broke.
Remember my fantasy of trekking to the Santa Monica Pier to ride on the Ferris Wheel and build sandcastles on the beach before seeing a performance at the marionette theatre in one afternoon? That was before I realized how important naps are. Oh, and did I mention that I live on the northeast side of LA? As a native Angeleno, of course, I’m familiar with how terrible traffic is. Though I had no intention of driving in rush hour, when you have a small child (especially a temperamental one like mine), it’s easy to get caught on the road at the worst times of day according to your child’s nap schedule, mood shift or some other unexpected reason. Nowadays, I avoid freeways when I can, take them only when I’m confident there will be no delays, and choose one activity instead of three or more.
Pro: Perfect Weather (Most of the Time)
A great thing about living in Southern California is that most days are sunny and warm, meaning you can head to one of the city’s many parks, playgrounds, hiking trails, or beaches any time of year. Your kids will love exploring the outdoors and you’ll love how much money you’ll save letting them.
Con: Cost of Living
Speaking of money, Los Angeles was the eighth most expensive city in the country in 2018. Typical monthly rent is $2,050, while infant care in a childcare center runs an average of $14,309 per year or $10,303 for preschool, more expensive than other cities in California.
Pro: Healthy Food Everywhere
With names like Café Gratitude, Sage Plant Bistro, Flower Child and Sun Café Organic, some of LA’s hottest restaurants are appealing not only to health-conscious eaters but picky children, too. Many of these kid-friendly restaurants offer casual atmospheres, small portions for little ones and outdoor areas to run around. For an even more thrilling experience for kids, try my personal favorite, Giggles N’ Hugs, which offers an impressive indoor playground and serves beer and wine for frazzled parents. You’ll find locations in Glendale and Canoga Park.
Pro: Museums Abound
From interactive exhibits to stunning play areas, LA’s children’s museums are fun for kids young and old. Zimmer’s Children’s Museum on Wilshire’s Museum Row boasts rotating art exhibits and hands-on activities, while Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena lets kids examine bugs and insects and explore physics. An LA staple is the Natural History Museum, as is LACMA where kids can play “I Spy” in the Impressionism rooms. There’s no chance you won’t raise a cultured kid with opportunities like these, many of them low-cost or FREE.
Pro: Your Kids Will Learn Diversity First-Hand
My favorite thing about LA—and it’s not hard to find—is the city’s vast multiculturalism. Los Angeles is one of America’s most ethnically diverse urban areas with must-see epicenters of culture like Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights and the neighborhoods of Chinatown, Koreatown and Little Ethiopia. Leimert Park is known as the center of LA’s African-American arts scene, while Little Tokyo is the site of the annual Nisei Week festival. I love knowing that my child has the opportunity to learn about many cultures first-hand and discover the beauty in our differences. It’s an experience no book or film could ever rival.
Though I’m still not sure if my family will stay in LA forever or move to my husband’s native Australia, this is where we are right now, and it’s not a bad place to be.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. She holds a master’s degree in writing from Columbia University. Her work has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, The Telegraph, and VICE.