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Your Ultimate Guide To The Los Angeles River This Season

Kayaking in the L.A. River (Photo by William Preston Bowling, courtesy of FOLAR)
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Outdoorsy folk: get amped for this year's L.A. River recreation season! It kicks off on Memorial Day and runs through to Labor Day. Over the last few years, we've been blessed with the chance to explore the L.A. River and see it in a different light—as a beautiful landmark full of wildlife and nature. It's so much more than just a slab of concrete.

There are two different recreational zones: the Elysian Valley and the Sepulveda Basin in the San Fernando Valley. There are opportunities to go on guided kayak tours through parts of the L.A. River that have dirt bottoms and are surrounded by nature. There are also fishing and paddling competitions, cafes, educational workshops and outdoor concerts.

Here are some activities at the L.A. River to keep you busy all recreational season-long:

Paddle the L.A. River

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Paddle the L.A. River takes folks on guided kayak tours through the L.A. River in the Sepulveda Basin. You'll get to paddle through the part of the river that has a dirt bottom, surrounded by trees and wildlife. A $50 ticket (plus fees) will get you a 90-minute tour through a 1.5-mile stretch of the river. The ticket price includes a kayak, helmet, floatation device and instructions for first-timers. Plus, you'll learn about the history and politics of the L.A. River. The program's run by the L.A. Conservation Corps, an organization that connects at-risk youth with outdoor experiences, including helping out with conservation projects. You'll be doing some good when you go on a kayaking trip with Paddle the L.A. River because proceeds go towards giving young people education and job-skills training.

The program runs from June 5 to Sept. 27 on Fridays through Sundays. For more information, visit their website here.

L.A. River Kayak Safari

For a different kayaking experience, L.A. River Kayak Safari (LARKS) takes folks on tours through the Northeast—from Elysian Park to Frogtown. It's not just a kayaking trip—you'll also take a 15-minute bike ride with the group to get started. Then you'll kayak along the L.A. River on a 2.5-mile route, going through ponds and rapids, and checking out wildlife like egrets and fish. You'll also see urban life as you paddle through. This one's a 3.5 to 4-hour trip, so it's a much longer adventure. A $75 ticket will get you all the equipment you'll need, including a bike and a kayak, as well as a guide who will fill you in on wildlife and history of the L.A. River.

The program goes from May 26 to Sept. 30. It runs mostly every day, twice a day, but check their website here for the schedule and more details.

Self-Guided Kayak Tours

There are designated areas where the public can bring their own kayaks as well as non-motorized and steerable boats out to the L.A. River. They can use the recreational zones for free and without any permit. The Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority (MRCA),—the organization that preserves, maintains and manages the L.A. River recreational zones—has a website with details on where to access the river in the Elysian Valley and Sepulveda Basin.

If you need to rent a kayak, L.A. River Kayaks offers rentals in both recreational zones. You can find them at the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve in the San Fernando Valley and at Marsh Park in the Elysian Valley on the weekends from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., starting next week and going on through to Labor Day. If you're feeling a little nervous about trekking on your own, you can also hire their experienced river guides to lead you. Prices vary, so check out their website here for details and info on how to reserve a kayak. And if you get a kayak, you're helping out the L.A. River because half of the ticket price goes towards the MRCA.


The Frog Spot at night (Photo via Facebook)
The Frog Spot

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There's a special pop-up visitors center along the L.A. River in Elysian Park that's only open during the recreation season, and it's returning for its second year. It's equal parts a cafe, an educational center and a spot for live music. It comes by way of nonprofit group, Friends of the L.A. River (FOLAR). Feel free to take a break there to rest and rejuvenate after a long bicycle ride, get some free water, play some bocce ball and use their free WiFi under their shady covering above their tables and chairs. There are docents there, too, who can tell you more about the L.A. River.

From this Saturday on through Labor Day, the Frog Spot will be open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. They have some activities planned for opening day on May 23, like an 11 a.m. nature walk and a chance to visit the L.A. River Rover, a mobile visitor and education center, from noon to 5 p.m. Then they'll really get the party started with their first of many free and weekly Saturday concert series starting at 5 p.m. They'll have three live bands perform until 8 p.m. And while you're there, you can buy beer, wine and snacks (with vegan options) from their concession stand.

They're still nailing down their activities schedule, but you can keep up with what they have in store by checking out their website, Facebook and Twitter pages. The event heads are planning free yoga classes, speakers, art classes, kids' workshops, nature walks and bike rides, educational classes, and documentary screenings in the coming months.

The Frog Spot is located at 2825 Benedict St., Elysian Valley.


Fishing in the L.A. River (Photo by William Preston Bowling, courtesy of FOLAR)
Audubon's L.A. River Bird Walks

The Audubon will be offering free guided bird walk tours along the L.A. River from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on May 23, June 27 and July 25. All you have to do is show up at the newer part of Marsh Park in Elysian Valley when the tours start. For more information, you can visit their website or contact them at (323) 221-2255.

Off Tha' Hook

FOLAR is bringing back their their annual Off Tha' Hook fishing derby on Sept. 5. For the second year in a row, folks will actually get to fish in the L.A. River for free that day, meaning that you won't need a special license to partake in the activities. It's a catch-and-release program, and there will be a fishing contest for the experts ($50 registration fee), and free lessons for the youth on how to fish (including free loner rods). For more information about the event, visit their website here.


Taste of the Eastside (Photo via Facebook)
L.A. River Boat Race

If you have that competitive spirit, you might want to consider getting a ticket to the second annual L.A. River Boat Race. This year, the L.A. River Expeditions is hosting the event on Aug. 8 from noon to 6 p.m. (If it rains that day, they'll hold it on Aug. 15 instead.) Folks will get to compete using kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards in the Glendale Narrows in the Elysian Valley. There will be different competitions based on skill levels and age groups. The cool part is that you have the opportunity to win some prizes, too, if you can prove you're the best at paddling.

Last year, the event sold out quickly, so make sure you get your tickets when they become available, which will be June 8 if all goes according to plan. They suggest donation prices from $40 to $65 depending on whether you bring your own equipment or use theirs. For more information, visit their website here.

Also, L.A. River Expeditions takes people on kayaking tours in both the Sepulveda Basin and Elysian Park. Visit their website for more information.

Taste of the Eastside

Not too far from the river is Cypress Park's Los Angeles River Center & Gardens. On May 31, the venue will be home to the 5th annual Taste of the Eastside food festival. Restaurants and food vendors like Silver Lake newcomers Knuckle & Claw to mainstays like L & E Oyster and G&B Coffee. Tickets, which range from $50 to $100 (depending on general or VIP admission), will each get you into the festival with unlimited food samples. They'll also be hosting their first beer garden at the event his year with the likes of Angel City Brewery and Golden Road Brewing serving up some cold ones. KCRW DJs will be spinning at the event, so you'll stay nice and entertained.

For more info, visit Taste of the Eastside's website here.


Spoke Bicycle Cafe (Photo courtesy of Spoke Bicycle Cafe)
Spoke Bicycle Cafe

Along the L.A. River and by a bike path, there's a sweet bike repair shop that doubles as a cafe called Spoke Bicycle Cafe. It's a good stop for bike enthusiasts to fix there bikes or take a rest while on a ride. They serve espresso drinks, cold drinks and snacks. In addition, they feature local goods from vendors including Coolhaus, Buena Vida Kombucha, Cake Monkey, Happy Cow Kitchen and Sugahmama.

During the weekends, Spoke Bicycle Cafe hosts some fun activities including yoga classes, art openings, movie nights, craft nights and bicycle workshops. Check their website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages for updates on events.

The cafe is open Thursdays through Sundays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. They're located at 3050 N Coolidge Ave., Elysian Valley, (323) 684-1130.