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.
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.
BACK AT THE BEACH
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.
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.
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
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;)
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.
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!!