LA’s one hundred year old food hall, Grand Central Market, is filled with families having a great time sharing a variety of foods together, but some families look downright miserable trying to wrangle running little ones, navigating groups through the cramped passages, missing out on all the sights, sounds and smells that make the market a beautiful metaphor for LA. I first thought of writing about GCM for kids because children are strangely attracted to our sandwich board signs, they run to them, hide under them, touch them, etc. I should explain our signs are homemade by me, illustrations by our guide Jenna, and they all have some sort of bike part attached to them. Kids run to the sign, swing the handlebars, knock the flyer holder off, and parents scurry up behind with apologies. I don’t mind, the sign is doing what it was meant to do, attract attention; but I realized kids are attracted to it because it is the only thing that looks like a toy in all of the market. Grand Central Market is not designed to be kid friendly, but you can have a good time with your kids if you know what you’re doing.
First rule: do not expect to cruise the market with a stroller. The walkways are tight, packed with people, and there are stairs smack dab in the middle! There is a wheelchair elevator, close to the parking garage entrance, but it is slow and cumbersome. That’s not to say you can’t bring a stroller, you can, and here’s how. Enter from the Hill Street side, park it on the tree shaded patio, or arrive before noon, or after 2PM and get one of the tables inside. Snag your goal tender a beverage, and do tag-team style recon missions from your stroller base. Pro-tip, there is more seating on the Hill Street side, and the patio is great for large groups with its long communal style tables.
With family, I suggest establishing a base regardless of whether or not you have a stroller. Grand Central Market tends to have one of two effects on people, they’re either excited by the energy, or exhausted by it. Let your family members who want to relax and people watch, do so from a comfortable seat, while more adventurous types (i.e. teens) can perambulate the market, foraging goodies, that everyone can enjoy together back at your base.
Another possible base for families is the basement seating, while not so atmospheric, it can be a good spot for parents to corral rambunctious toddlers in an open space with good sight lines. Your kids can run, twirl, chase each other, and you might actually get to eat all of your vegan ramen in peace. The basement is accessible for strollers by taking the parking garage elevator down. Another pro-tip, the basement has a large discount sundry store, so if you need some duct tape for a quick stroller fix, a $2 toy, or forgot your baby wipes, head to the basement. It is also where the bathrooms are located, with changing table near the sink area of the ladies room.
Now for some of the eateries your kids might actually enjoy. PB&J serves up its namesake in a crustables style, crusts cut off, circular shaped sandwich. Its low counters and stools are perfect for kids. While it has some fancier versions, the “old school” is just what it sounds like. For little ones I suggest you ask them to go light on the PB&J, since their versions have oozing amounts of the sticky deliciousness that can be hard to handle for little ones. DTLA cheese will make a simpler version of their decadent grilled cheeses that is big enough for two, or you can always grab a side of mac-n-cheese at Horse Thief BBQ big enough for a meal. Olio pumps out pizza super fast, and is a good option for larger families. Sticky Rice also has a low counter with stool seating, and its chicken and rice is mild enough for younger palettes. For dessert there is of course McConnell’s Ice Cream, but beware the line is long and cramped at peak times, completely empty late afternoon weekdays. For something a little healthier Press Brothers Juicery has soft serve coconut milk, or Torres Produce and District market offer fresh fruit. Torres Produce also has homemade sugar skulls in October.
Grand Central Market is not just for filling our bellies, we go to immerse ourselves in the culture of food, and that can be hard, but not impossible, to impart to little ones in a space built for adults. There are several purveyors with particularly kid friendly kiosks, that is, things at eye level of someone three feet tall. La Huerta Candy has low display cases, full of fruits and nuts, at kid level, while the sugary stuff is displayed in a wall of brightly colored cases up above. Valerie bakery also has low display cases full of fancy cakes and treats for the eyes and stomach. Chili’s Secos and Valeria’s both have vibrant display cases of dry ingredients for international foods. Spices, beans, mole paste, etc. can be picked up and incorporated in home cooking later on to extend your Grand Central Market learning experience.
Of course there’s us, Handlebar Bike Tours, a fun, active way to learn about DTLA. We start and end all of our tours from Grand Central Market. Currently we limit tours to ages twelve and older, but hope to accommodate younger riders in the future as bicycle infrastructure improves. For families with older kids our Historic Core and More tour is a covert learning experience and the perfect downtown day when paired with lunch at the market. I’ve seen many a sulky teen show up with their parents for a tour, and return full of excitement, spouting L.A. facts and begging to ride Angel’s Flight. Sunday afternoon’s Pretty Gritty Arts District Tour is curated for budding artists and will have you back in time for dinner and Jazz night, with free live music at 7PM.
Grand Central Market is one of those quintessential LA experiences, and if you do it right, can be an enjoyable cultural destination to spend time with your family.