Got Kids? TOP THINGS TO DO IN LA WITH KIDS!

Photo: @Ographr

Photo: @Ographr

Top things to do in Los Angeles WITH KIDS— the second part of my VISIT LOS ANGELES series. (See the first post on TOP FREE THINGS TO DO IN LA). The City of Angeles has gems for children that are worth carving out time whether you are a local and looking for fun things to do this summer or year round, or vacationing on the West Coast.

There are many lists out there, but these are my curated picks from the past few years running around LA with Huck and Hayden. Nothing is sponsored, by the way…I’m so often asked these questions, I just decided to jot it all down.

THE HUNTINGTON GARDENS

CHILDREN UNDER 4  ARE FREE.

If you follow me on stories, you see how often we are at “The Gardens.” I truly love the wide open spaces, the unbelievable selection of different gardens and cultures. It is an amazing experience for kids of all ages. My suggestions for first time visitors:

If you live in the area, buy a family membership for about $150 or so. It will pay for itself quickly and you can also bring a guest (there are rules to how many and adults verses kids, please check).

I recommend giving yourself some time if you are paying the day rate. There are several places to eat throughout the gardens, but you could also pack a picnic. If you want to see it all, I would give myself a good 3-4 hours, maybe more. Get a map- there is a lot to see! Make sure you don’t miss the Botanical Garden, the Children’s outdoor museum and the Japanese and Chinese Gardens, where you can also grab a bite to eat on site. The Art galleries are worth visiting, but may be more of an interest to you, not the kids. If your child likes water, there are fountains and streams in the children’s section. I make sure we have a swimsuit that dries easily or a change of clothes. You don’t have to, but the younger ones tend to get wet. We definitely use a stroller for Hayden, FYI. There are stroller and wheel-chair accessible ways throughout the entire garden.

THE SKIRBALL MUSEUM

The Noah’s Ark Exhibit is not to be missed. From my experience, it seems to interest children until the age of around 11 or 12. ADMISSION IS FREE for children under 2 always and FREE for everyone EVERY THURSDAY on a first come, first serve basis starting at 11:45. Huck had the best time here when he was 3, and now Hayden is taking after him. It’s incredibly inventive, educational and historical (even I enjoyed it!). Plenty of activities to keep your interest, keep them occupied (ropes to climb, lightning to “make,” etc), and don’t miss the Family Art Programs.

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Courtsey of Museum

Courtsey of Museum

MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

I have heard AMAZING things about this Natural History museum in Los Angeles, so I felt the need to include it. My usual rounds of the Natural Science and History Museum is in Houston with my parents and Hayden, so I added the text from the website. While writing this column, I’m making a separate list to take Huck and Hayden asap and I’ll update this with my thoughts!

Discover your world past and present. See dinosaurs in our new Dinosaur Hall, including the world’s only Tyrannosaurus rex growth series. Get the behind- the- scenes look at how scientists work on fossils at our Dino Lab. See 240 specimens, including skeletons from mastodons to whales, animal dioramas from North American and Africa, and more.Stroll through our extensive Nature Gardens, and discover true stories about plants and animals in our Nature Lab. See and touch more than 2,000 spectacular specimens displayed in our Gem and Mineral Hall, and enter into the vault to view diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and other exquisite gems. Our Butterfly and Spider Pavilions are open seasonally. Here you can wander through the changing ecosystem with over 30 species of fluttering butterflies all around you, or witness arachnids up close and personal. source: website.

Courtesy of Museum

Courtesy of Museum

Courtesy of instagram/museum

Courtesy of instagram/museum

BACK AT THE BEACH

I’ve talked about how Back at the Beach Cafe is one of my favorite spots in between Santa Monica beach and Malibu before (like in THIS POST HERE). I LOVE it.

PROS: Enjoy lunch while your toes feel the sand. Let the kids play on the playground on the beach right by the patio all in front of the ocean. If you aren’t responsible for any kiddos, btw, sit under the umbrella and enjoy a glass of wine. You are steps away from feeling the water on your feet! It's adjacent to the Anneberg Beach House, which is worth a visit, too.

CONS: Parking. On a good parking day, there’s inexpensive paid parking right in front… on a crowded summer weekend, it takes a long time to find parking and can take a while to get a spot at the restaurant outside on the patio. Indoor seating can be reserved for tables of 6 or more. You can also make reservations through the Anneberg for parking and a pool spot, which I would highly recommend if you want to make a day out of it.

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FISHERMAN’S VILLAGE

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Right here in LA county, there is a little slice of New England seaside in the Marina called Fisherman’s Village. It definitely has some instagram worthy photo-ops, but I would only make a trip to Marina Del Rey if I was 1) staying nearby or 2) going on a boat ride. The village is still in need of a bit of renovation, however, there’re restaurants and stores open that are charming.

FYI- the Marina is very close to Venice and Santa Monica, as well as LAX. So, if planned properly, could be an easy stop to end the day and watch the boats sail into the sunset.

Image: Getty

Image: Getty

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SANTA MONICA PIER

You’ll most likely get some great photos here, but I describe my reticence in the first segment of these posts HERE. If you’re visiting the area in an off season, I say go! But it gets very crowded otherwise. Still a famous site to see and kids love festival type games and rides, so it’s a must have on this list.


ECHO LAKE PARK

Rent a pedal boat and have a picnic in the park that dates back to 1860! After the extensive renovation, pedal through the lake or walk the path lined with palm trees with the Los Angeles skyline as the back drop. Have a bite at Beacon while you’re there!

LA BREA TAR PITS

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Again, this made the list on the first segment, but it bears repeating here because kids love it. Right here in the HEART of LA, you get to experience the Ice Age. The LA BREA TAR PITS next to the L.A. County Museum of Art is the most significant source of prehistoric fossils ever excavated. These fossils have made their way into museums around the world, but the largest collection is here at the Page Museum. It's free to wander the park and look at the tar pits and outdoor exhibits. During the summer, you can watch the excavators at work

ANGELS FLIGHT RAILWAY

Remember Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams riding this Angles Flight railway in THE NOTEBOOK? Well, maintenance is now complete and it is open! If you have reason to go to Downtown LA, this is a MUST SEE or must ride! I must say I had forgotten about this historical landmark until Katherine Kelly Lang and B&B producer Casey Kasprzyk added it to their Bus Tour! It’ll be one of the best dollars you spend in LA! And totally instagram worthy;)

Image: instagram

Image: instagram

TRAVEL TOWN

When Hayden was barely a month old, we took our first family outing to Travel Town to do something fun for Huck. This is a great space for kids to explore old trains, learn about the rich 150 year-old heritage and roam around. ADMISSION IS FREE. Train rides are a nominal fee (around $3) and really fun for younger kids. Bring a picnic to have a snack at a picnic table. There are limited snacks available on site.

HOLLYWOOD STUDIO TOUR

If your kids are a bit older (at least 8), your family might consider a studio lot tour to see behind the scenes of where the magic happens. This site does a great job at breaking down all the tours in town, prices and age limits. If you are a fan of a show (like FRIENDS, for instance, you might get a kick out of sitting on the couch at “Central Perk!”), take that particular tour! I’ve been on all the lots and seen the tours drive by. Generally, they are all pretty informative and fun. If you keep your eyes peeled, there’s a great chance you’ll see stars of shows walking around. I hear Universal reenacts the plane crash from WAR OF THE WORLDS, has fire, etc—- plus you get to spend the rest of the day at the Universal park! Most people I talk to after they take a tour rave about it! The studios are located all over the city, so make sure you plan your day’s events around traffic and parking.

HOLLYWOOD BOWL

Scroll down on my post HERE where I give away a great secret for kids that love music. Many concerts at the bowl have FREE rehearsals during the day with easy (nearly VIP) parking and so fun for the kids to run around and get a “private” day concert.

If you’ve done any of these activities and have some tips, PLEASE LEAVE THEM IN THE COMMENTS. I want to continually update this post so it stays current. Looking foward to your thoughts and if you have anything to add.

Happy Summer with the kiddos!!

xoxo

AAJ

LOVE LANGUAGE WITH FAGE®

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This scene is sponsored by FAGE®, but it was a real moment documented at our home;)

Int. House-MOTHER’S DAY


MOTHER

Hayden, what is your favorite thing to do with Mommy?

HAYDEN

Um…what does that mean?

MOTHER

If you could do one thing with just mommy today, what would that be?

HAYDEN

Let me show you.

EXT. HOUSE- PORCH

Hayden takes his mother’s hand and leads her outside to the patio. Points to the outdoor couch.

HAYDEN (CONT’D)

Sit down right here. 

Mother sits.

HAYDEN (CONT’d

Let’s eat oatmeal right here. With yogurt. 

END SCENE

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Most weekdays, after his dad and brother leave, Hayden and I have our special moments. Sometimes eggs and toast, but more often than not, oatmeal. Even if we’re rushed, I grab an oatmeal packet (yes, I use instant often #busymom), boil water, cool if off with a large dollop of Greek yogurt and fruit. I think there’s lots of reasons he loves this. He gets to help me “make” it, even though it’s just combining a few ingredients. And I’ll have my coffee, he has milk. We cheers to the day, say our thanks and he talks. “Remember mommy? Remember yesterday when Hucky was here and….” 

If I grab my phone for something, he takes my face in his hands to let me know this is his time. I got that memo and honor that. Of course, we have moments all day everyday…books, learning our letters and walks and outdoor time and family time, etc. But I know he loves this breakfast time in the morning on the weekdays. It’s our love language. Sounds stereotypical that a boy’s love language is food…. starts early, I know! It may be more that toddlers like structure and habitual activities; Hayden is no exception. 

If you follow my stories, you’ve seen Hayden begging me for yogurt in the morning. It’s pretty funny how excited he gets over yogurt. Specifically FAGE® Greek cause that’s what we keep stocked. And that is actually an understatement… he and Huck beg for it for lunch and dinner, too. FAGE® is so creamy and rich in taste, it’s often dessert for our family. I appreciate FAGE® is Non-GMO Project Verified and all natural, no added sweeteners, no preservatives. All of FAGE®’s products are verified through the Non-GMO project, which offers the highest level of transparency about GMOs. I know exactly what -and what isn’t- going into my little boys’ bodies, and my body!

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I incorporate yogurt in so many dishes. Substituting yogurt in a recipe can lower the fat substantially. From simple things like oatmeal (pictured here), to taco dinners, baked potato (my personal favorite), lasagna and obviously desserts (angel food cake - or biscuits- with FAGE® yogurt and strawberries. Name something better in life!). Scroll down for the recipes. Substituting Greek yogurt in many recipes lowers the sugar and raises the protein (and LOVE) for your family. You can use FAGE® plain to replace butter, sour cream, oil, shortening or milk! I keep FAGE® plain fat free yogurt in our fridge, as well as the 30% less sugar split cups. I also brought a bunch to the boys’ birthday party last weekend. I liked the option to have this for dessert for people that didn’t want to eat cake, but I did NOT expect them to all be eaten. Every single split cup was gone! 

So… if you’re a regular here on the blog, you’ve heard me talk about FAGE®- have you tried it yet? What recipes do you substitute in Greek yogurt? Would LOVE to hear.

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Also, another fun summer idea I learned from FAGE®—- add yogurt to an icing dispenser. Squeeze the yogurt into the opening of raspberries, then let them freeze in the freezer to make frozen yogurt pockets!

See below for other recipes!

light yogurt lasagna
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Beautifully BLENDED

Since I met Joel and started sharing some of our family life with y’all, many of you have commented about being a part of blended families OR potentially being a part of one in the future. After being asked the same questions over and over, I thought it’d be easiest to answer in a blog post! I am not a professional by any means; I’m only commenting from personal experience. And maybe I learned a thing or two from Jerry McGuire. Ha! #sorrynotsorry Or from my big beautifully blended family on The Bold and the Beautiful (now that is BLENDED). Wink, wink. 

Disneyland Day

Disneyland Day

Before I dig in, the term “blended family” has never sat well with me. I have images of a blender slicing things. Can we come up with a better term? PLEASE?

The question I get asked the most: What would I tell someone who is interested in seriously dating an individual with children.

I wouldn’t tell them anything, but I would ask them a few questions. Blended families are beautiful blessings when you you are ready for that responsibility. Again, I’ve learned from trial and error. I’m just trying to be the best wife, mom and step-mom I can, but miss the mark sometimes.

1) Do you enjoy long talks about poop, math quizzes or soccer goals? 

In other words: are you ready to be a mature, parental figure that puts the kids first (because they did not ask for this)? You will not be newly weds in the traditional sense. You don’t get that alone time in the beginning like two single people getting married. You are an instafamily. And an instaparent of sorts. Ready for that? (I wrote about the instant changes that occur in my column for PEOPLE here.)

2) Are you ready to make comprises, keep your promises and plan ahead?

Kids take planning. There are no “ let’s jump on a plane to Mexico for the weekend” (unless it’s not their weekend with the kids, but single parents are tired! Their spontaneity may have wained considerably). Also, if you make a date with a single parent on their custodial time, KEEP IT. Don’t flake. They may have moved mountains to get a babysitter. 

3) How serious are you about this individual? 

If the relationship is ready for a serious commitment, it’s may be time to involve the children. Children need stability, though, so if you’re one foot in— do not meet the kids.

4) Do you understand the “package deal?”

The most important thing to remember is they are a package together. The chid/children were there before you and will always be the priority. It’s extremely important to make time for each other, but it’s harder. You have to be flexible.

The other thing to remember is that part of the package is the ex-spouse/partner. If they are still in the picture, they will be a part of your life, good or bad. I am learning for most blended families, it’s an adjustment that takes time. And if you think the ex-partner will not affect your life in some fashion, that’s not true (at least not in my experience or most people I know). So, try and keep that relationship with the ex as positive as possible with open communication. When both parties cannot agree about what is best for their child, the law and lawyers get involved. Lemme tell you, this is not fun, but it IS expensive and often unfair. (I could write another blog post about this).

5) Do you like to DANCE?

The exchanges going back and forth with the two families, figuring out schedules and holidays and vacations— it’s not always easy, patience, sacrifice and compromise go a long way. Consider if you are ready for that juggle.  If you notice, Huck isn’t always able to be with us. We share him. So, when we want to do family activities, I coordinate around many factors. To be honest, it’s a really pain in the bum sometimes. I just wrote out a series of examples, then deleted it because this isn’t about my laundry list, it’s about YOU. 

6) Do you like being second fiddle? 

I am a stepmom and a mom. I don’t like the there is a distinction, but I can appreciate it. The only part of our family that technically makes us “blended” is Huck. And Huck already has a mother. I will never take that place in his life, but I can be a “bonus mom,” another parental figure in his life. And occasionally, my husband’s focus is on handling situations with his first son and ex-wife.

7) Can you rule without an iron fist?

With my son and stepson at the happiest place on Earth. We coordinate family weekends based on our time with Huck.

With my son and stepson at the happiest place on Earth. We coordinate family weekends based on our time with Huck.

Someone once told me that rules without relationship cause rebellion. In my situation, I met Huck when he was 2. His father did the majority of disciplining. Over time, we developed our own relationship. One that is familial and maternal and rewarding. Now, we have rules and structure, but I had to earn that over time.

If you or someone you love is considering making life decisions that involve children, these are points to consider from my personal experience. (Not sure how this turned into a PSA! ha!) They are basic concepts, just a sounding board to get a conversation flowing. Because you’ll be doing a LOT OF COMMUNICATING. 

It’s almost impossible to comprehend all of this when you are dating, but if you’ve met someone and started falling for them (and the child), it can be your fairytale. You’ll have the opportunity to love and affect another little human positively. I promise the little munchkin (or big munchkin) will be a blessing in your life and just might make YOU a better person. But the greatest thing to remember is there is no “right way,” there is only the right way for you. Be smart, listen to your gut instincts, follow your heart and remember the power of FORGIVENESS.

I’ve appreciated reading your notes about being from blended families. What I treasure most are hearing your thoughts about being a stepmother yourselves, or remembering moments from your own step parents. I wanted to open that discussion up here, too. I LOVE LEARNING FROM YOU.. So, feel free to share your beautiful blended stories. 

xoxo

AAJ

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM US TO YOU!

Oh our little family! We stayed home today in LA to have a quiet holiday together. Feeling very grateful for our life today. And see our Oscar making it in the shot. I think he was so overwhelmed with the chaos, he stayed back!

And LIFE it has been! Hayden woke up wanting mommy to rock him at 3:30am. I couldn’t go back to sleep after that! Finally fall asleep right before he wakes up at 7am, so I nudge Joel to attack the day! His beautiful way of handling that was to match Hayden’s scream with his own scream! EYE ROLL. Needless to say, we were all up early. LOL. To all you parents out there, I feel ya!

Huck left to go be with his mom, but we will have him at Christmas. It’s not easy to share those you love, but it’s necessary. Hayden counts down the days till he gets to see his brother again. Anyone else out there with blended families doing the same thing today? My hope is that it’s peaceful and loving for both families.

I’m also feeling so grateful for all of you. When I wrote out my gratitude list, you all are on it! It’s been lovely to connect with you here on the blog and share ideas. Thanks for hanging in there with me and being so supportive of the projects I’ve been a part of this year. I try to get back to each of you and all the emails that come through this site one way or another- either through other blog posts or on instastories, etc. It takes a while sometimes, so I appreciate the patience. And really do like all the comments. What unexpected things are on your gratitude list?

I know some of you have had health troubles, some of you have been affected by natural disasters or the fires…. you are in my thoughts. Praying today is a good day surrounded by loved ones.

XOXO


If you’re anything like me, after I clean up later and am snuggling on the couch (do you watch anything specific on Thanksgiving? I have a feeling I’ll turn on one of my dearest Lacey’s Hallmark movies!), I’m sure I’ll be surfing the internet for pre-Black Friday sales and start attacking that Christmas list.

The boys’ pants are from JCrew - and the WHOLE SITE is 40% off right now. And a limited edition JCrew coat at Nordstrom’s is on sale…. it sold out and is now back in stock in three colors. (I just got it and am obsessed with the gorgeous blue color. I’ll be posting about it soon, but in case it sells out quickly, take a peek.) It may be predictable, but I get the bulk of Joel’s gifts from JCrew, so mind as well do it now while it’s on sale!

And my sweater in this photo comes in array of different colors. It’s under $50. I’m just a sucker lately for pink. It makes me feel more awake on days when the baby wants to read books at 3:30am!

But how sweet does he look in this dog sweater in the photo. By the way, Janie and Jack has the cutest kids’ clothes. Take 30% off of everything right now! (I know I still refer to him as the ‘baby’ even though he’s a full on toddler. I could go back and retype that, but I’m not! He’s still my baby for a bit longer… and forever in my heart.)