Best things to do for families visiting the City of Stars
There’s probably as many things to do in the Los Angeles area as there are sunny days, so narrowing a list to just ten is nearly impossible. I doubled up a few that you can do in the same day; others are off the beaten path and may not be on everyone’s radar.
Disneyland & Disney California Adventure (1313 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim) is, of course, the most popular amusement park in the area, especially for those with smaller kids. Get there early to avoid crowds (or at least the most ridiculous crowds) and take advantage of the FastPass. A FastPass tells you what time to return to a particular ride; when you do, you’ll have very little wait. You can only save one spot at a time, so choose wisely. If Disneyland is your main reason for visiting L.A., take your time and stay on or near the resort. Cost: Varies; depends on date of visit and how many days you want to explore the park.
Universal Studios Hollywood (100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City) offers rides, 3-D movies, characters, and behind-the-scenes movie magic. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the newest attraction. There’s also a Minion-inspired Super Silly Fun Land. It’s good family fun, if you have a wide variety of children’s ages, or you just love the movies. For the older crowd, Universal CityWalk, located right next to Universal Studios, offers live music, 19-screen theater with IMAX, and more than 30 places to eat. Cost: Youth (3-9) $89-105; Adult $95-115. To read our KidTripster Teen's take on Universal, click here.
Six Flags Magic Mountain (26101 Magic Mountain Pkwy., Valencia) boasts that it’s bigger, faster, and louder with the most roller coasters and thrill rides in the Los Angeles. While there are plenty of rides for younger kids, it’s the bigger kids who will get the biggest thrill out of this park. Cost: Youth (Under 48” tall) $54.99; Adult $79.99.
Knott’s Berry Farm (8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park) is a mix between Disneyland and Magic Mountain. This amusement park has some serious roller coasters. A Wild West stunt show and playground called Camp Snoopy are geared toward the little ones. The park’s smartphone app shows the quickest route between attractions and current wait times. Prices are a little cheaper here than at other parks. Cost: Youth (3-11) $43; Adult $72. To read our full review of Knott's Berry Farm and tips for visiting Buena Park, click here.
4730 Crystal Springs Dr.
Home to the Los Angeles Zoo, Griffith Observatory, and hiking paths, Griffith Park can take you on all sorts of adventures.
The Los Angeles Zoo is a sprawling 133-acre zoo on a hill, so bring the stroller if you have any doubts about your young ones. My 3-year old got tuckered out, and after I became a sweaty mess carrying him around, only an enormous bag of kettle corn gave us the strength to get out. For an extra fee, there’s a shuttle that you can ride to different parts of the park. Cost: Youth (2-12) $15; Adult $20.
The Griffith Observatory provides views and lots of them: views of the stars above at the planetarium and exhibits, views of Los Angeles, and views of the famous Hollywood sign. Cost: Free.
KidTripster Tip: The planetarium does charge a fee, and kids (under 5) are only allowed at the first show of the day and must sit on a grown-up’s lap, so plan accordingly. Cost: Youth (5-12) $3; Youth (13-18) $5; Adults $7.
For those looking for even better view of the Hollywood sign, check out Lake Hollywood Park(3160 N. Canyon Dr.). Getting a good view of the sign can be tricky; neighbors in the area have become irritated by tourists parking and looking for pictures. But Lake Hollywood Park gives you a nice open space and a great view of the sign.
Photo courtesy: Jamie Phan
3/Natural History Museum & California Science Center
Dinosaurs and space ships in the same day?! Both museums are located in Exposition Park, next to the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. The Natural History Museum gives kids a look at the history of animals with real-life displays and animals skeletons. Don’t miss the photo op in front of the T-Rex and Triceratops’ bones. The California Science Center is more interactive and home to the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Cost: Natural History Museum Youth $5; Adult $12; California Science Center: Free.
4/Los Angeles Country Art Museum
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Rotating exhibits at the Los Angeles Country Art Museum make for an enjoyable experience, but families should check out the Boone Children’s Gallery. There kids can paint, read books, and simply hang out. There’s also plenty of outdoor space and exhibits for kids to expend some energy. Cost: Youth (0-17) Free; Adults $15.
KidTripster Tip: The Arts for NexGen program offers free membership for kids under 17, and they get one adult admission free every time they visit. You can sign up at the museum or by mail.
After your visit, swing over to the La Brea Tar Pits just down the street. See what ice age fossils scientists are excavating from the famous site. Cost: Youth (3-12) $5; Student (13-17) $9; Adult $12.
5/Zimmer's Children's Museum
6505 Wilshire Blvd., #100
Zimmer’s Children's Museum offers two floors of adventure. From a theater with dress-up clothes to an real airplane to the Blue Bagel Café to water toys, kids can explore the world at their own level and their own pace. Recommended for kids (8 and under), there’s also a special bounce room and water table for wee little ones (2 and under). Cost: Youth (1-17) $7; Adults $7.
6/Santa Monica Pier
200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica
On the Santa Monica Pier, you’ll find a ferris wheel, carousel, roller coaster, aquarium, fishing, food, and the beach all basking in the California sunshine. The pier can quickly take up a whole day. Pacific Park on the pier is home to the rides and carnival games, while the aquarium is located underneath the pier. There’s also walking tours, bike rentals, and celebrity bus tours. Cost: Free
7/Noah's Ark at Skirball Cultural Center
2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.
Tucked into a Jewish cultural center, Noah’s Ark provides an unique play and exploration area for kids. This floor-to-ceiling wooden ark is filled with artistic animals and activities. Kids can build the ark, help animals onto the ark, climb around it themselves, and even clean up the fake poop from the animals! There’s also arts, crafts, and music. The museum can sell out, so I‘d recommend advanced tickets which will give you a specific entry time. Cost: Youth (2-12) $7; Adult $12; free to all on Thursdays.
Just down the road, or should I say up the hill, is the Getty Center, known for its architecture, art, gardens, and view overlooking Los Angeles. There’s a lot to take in, but the giant hallways, views, natural light, gardens, and water features are enough to keep littler ones entertained during your visit. Cost: Free; Parking $15.
Photo courtesy: Timothy Norris
8/The Last Bookstore
453 S. Spring St.
The Last Bookstore is California’s largest used and new book and record store. A dying breed, it seems more like a museum with winding shelves and unique displays of books and vinyl. Despite the address, the entrance is on 5th Street. Street parking can be tricky, but there are pay lots around. Cost: Free.
Photo courtesy: James Martinez
9/Petersen Automotive Museum
6060 Wilshire Blvd.
The Petersen Automotive Museum is a gear head’s dream. There are over 100 cars on display and more in the basement “vault.” Some Hollywood cars are also in the collection, including the Batmobile from Batman Returns, a 1964 Aston Martin DB5 from James Bond’s Skyfall, and for the kids, Lightning McQueen from Disney’s Cars. Speaking of Lightning McQueen, The Cars Mechanical Institute lets kids (or any visitor) use interactive stations to learn how cars work, and paint and personalize virtual cars. Cost: Youth (3-12) $7; Youth (13-17) $12; Adult $15.
10/Leo Carrillo State Park
35000 Pacific Coast Hwy.
About 28 miles northwest of Santa Monica, Leo Carrillo State Park has 1-1/2-miles of beach for swimming, surfing, and fishing. Kids can explore tidepools, coastal caves, and reefs. It’s a bit of a drive from Los Angeles, but the views are scenic, and it’s a chance to get away from the busy L.A. beaches. Cost: Lot Parking $12.