10 Tricks to Surviving LA Freeways With Kids

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You thought you had road rage issues from commuting in LA before kids, but nothing compares with being a parent in traffic with kids past their nap time as the squabbles begin in the back seat. Instead of using the “don’t make me pull this car over” threat (empty, because you can’t even pull over on the 10 at rush hour), here are tips from savvy LA parents that will make your drive a little less stressful and a lot more fun.

405 Freeway LAX Plane Spotting - Croppedphoto credit: Steve Damron via Creative Commons

  1. Mixmaster Mom: Summon your inner DJ and create a playlist for your drive. Put on the kids’ favorite tunes (yes, even ones you hate) and reserve the playlist for times just like this. Or, if it’s nap time, cue the lullaby playlist. Older kids might enjoy an LA specific theme to make them appreciate their hometown with tunes like Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty, California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and the Papas, Walking in LA by Missing Persons, I Love LA by Randy Newman or La Cienega Just Smiled by Ryan Adams.
  1. Landmark Love: Make up games to play about the landmarks you pass on a regular trek. Kids don’t know “we’ll be there in thirty minutes” but they know they’re halfway home when they see the spaceship crashing into Fry’s Electronics on the 5 at Hollywood Way. Other fun landmarks to acknowledge: shout out the moment you smell the yeasty fragrance of the Budweiser factory at the 405/Roscoe Blvd. exit, guess how many planes you will see flying over the freeway as you crawl past LAX on the 405 or 105. If you drive by the skyscrapers on the 101 or 110, see how many people you can see in the buildings and guess what kind of work they do, and try to spot police cars doing training at their track west of the 5 near the 405/5 split.

Los Angeles Freeway Traffic Newhall Pass

photo credit: Jeff Turner via Creative Commons

  1. I Spy: Usually you prefer that your kids don’t gawk at strangers, but there is no better people watching than on L.A. freeways—in particular the 10 when every car becomes a fish bowl during rush hour traffic. I Spy the Shaving Man Rapping to Will Smith. I Spy the Lady in Curlers Applying Mascara While Eating a Breakfast Burrito. I Spy a Lady That Looks Just Like Taylor Swift; wait is that really Taylor Swift? L.A. freeways are a place to see and be seen.

110 Freeway Carpool Lane

photo credit: Mike via Creative Commons

  1. Catch Carpool Crime: Deputize the kids!  Put them on the lookout for anyone breaking the 2 or more person in the carpool lane law. There are over 531 miles of car pool lanes on freeways all over Los Angeles, so plenty of opportunity to catch the perpetrators.
  1. Follow the Map: Kids have loved maps since their Dora days. If you still have your old Thomas Guide, pull that out, or load Google Maps or Waze on your phone. Kids love to zoom in and follow where they are going. Have them come up with their traffic reporter radio names and be your personal navigator/traffic reporter.  They’ll love figuring out Sigalert as much as you’ll love being forewarned about an upcoming accident.
  1. Car Treasure: Have a stash of just-for-the-car items for kids to play with or read while you’re driving. You could even create suspense and anticipation by waiting until a particular exit, say Wilshire, before you break out the stash. Some ideas to include: activity books, board books, maze balls, special stuffed animal, teething ring, action figures. Avoid anything that’s too hard or heavy that if you had to stop suddenly might fly through the car and injure someone.
  1. Spontaneous Story: You probably don’t feel like making up a story after a long day at work to keep kids entertained while you’re commuting, so don’t. Start with a sentence then pass it to the next person in the car to continue, the story, and so on. Even toddlers love to get in on this, and they always take a story in a new and unusual direction (usually involving dinosaurs). Use things you see along the way to help you tell it. Start a story about a man working out inside the 24 Hour Fitness wearing a purple hat you spied at the 405/101 interchange, for example.

Starbucks Drive Through

photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker via Creative Commons

  1.  Latte Lane: The kids are finally asleep but you need coffee to stay awake for the rest of the journey. There are a few brilliantly placed coffee shops with drive-thru’s near freeway exits. Some Starbuck’s locations: Highland and Santa Monica near the 101, Riverside and Tujunga off the 170, San Fernando and Walnut (near Burbank Blvd) off the 5, Nordhoff and Sepulveda near the 405. Use the handy drive-thru store locator tool on Starbucks.com to find the location most convenient for your commute.

Facetime kids

photo credit: Clintus via Ceative Commons

  1. Pass the Buck: Sometimes you just…can’t. So let someone else! Call up your best actor friend or the kids’ grandparents on FaceTime and ask them to help you get through that last half hour. They can chat, sing, and entertain your kids for a while. Then promise you’ll return the favor.
  1. Resort to the Classics: Channel your own family road trip games and enjoy a couple of rounds of ABCs of (insert theme), license plate state finding, word association (you say a word and the kids have to say another word that relates and starts with the last letter of the word you said) or truth or dare. Dare them to do something silly that they might be seen doing in the car, like pretending to pick their noses or yell “Hello Los Angeles, I love you!” out the window. We promise we’ll shout back.

What are your tips and tricks for dealing with our car culture city?  What makes terrible traffic better for your little ones?  We’d love to hear your ideas in the comment section!

—written by Shannon Guyton with special tips from fellow road warriors Ing Lee and Robin Barnett