Los Angeles With Kids - It's More Than Just Theme Parks

  • 01 of 10

    What to Do With Your Kids in Los Angeles

    Three children sitting on back of estate car taking photographs
    ••• Kids Taking Pictures on Vacation. Image Source / Getty Images

    More Than Just Disneyland

    Disneyland and the other LA area theme parks often get top billing when people make lists of things to do in the Los Angeles area. But there's more to do when visiting Los Angeles with kids than just speeding through Space Mountain and picking up hitchhiking ghosts at Haunted Mansion.

    Savvy travelers like you know how to stay out of line at Disneyland, "doing" Disneyland and California Adventure in two days. With a Ridemax touring plan, you dodge crowds as a custom schedule leads to each ride when lines are shortest. With time left over, you can explore the iconic Southern California sights.

    If you're theme park obsessed, use these resources to plan a visit:

    • Universal Studios Hollywood: Better for kids who like fast, exciting rides - and who are tall enough to get onto them.
    • Six Flags Magic Mountain: From a distance, this "iron park" looks like a pile of twisted spaghetti, it has so may roller coasters. Lines can be long and there's...MORE little to do if you don't like that kind of ride.
    • Knotts Berry Farm: Close to Disneyland, it has more real roller coasters than its neighbor, and a nice mix of rides and entertainment for all ages. It's less expensive than Disneyland if your budget is tight.
    Continue to 2 of 10 below.
  • 02 of 10

    Hollywood with Kids

    Take the Kids to the Movies in Hollywood
    ••• Take the Kids to the Movies in Hollywood. ©2014 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Hollywood - and by that I mean the section of Hollywood Boulevard a few blocks on either side of Highland Avenue - is a fun place to take the kids. It's super-touristy, has lots of souvenir shops and lots of excited energy. You'll find all the things you can do there in this guide to Hollywood Boulevard.

    Read the guide to Hollywood at Highland to find out how to get there and where to park at a reasonable price.

    If your kids like movies and watching the Academy Awards, you can tour the Dolby Theatre where they are held.

    Along Hollywood Boulevard, you can join all the other star-struck tourists scanning the bronze-and-pink star plaques on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for favorite stars' names and pose for pics with Batman, Wonder Woman, and other film character look-alikes hanging out along the boulevard.

    In the Chinese Theater courtyard, even indifferent kids end up sticking their feet in someone's shoe prints or grabbing friends to point out a favorite film idol's...MORE signature. 

    Kids may also like some of the touristy attractions, like Ripley's Believe It or Not, Guinness World Records museum or Madame Tussaud's wax museum.

    Best Thing to Do: Go to the Movies

    Normally, I wouldn't tell you to take the kids to the movies while on vacation, but the El Capitan Theatre is a don't-miss destination. It's a classic, gorgeous movie palace built in 1926. Because it's owned by Disney, the films are always family-friendly and they sometimes do sing-along versions of classic Disney films.

    But that's just the beginning. Inside, you'll see a live stage show before the movie and get a chance to gawk around at the gorgeous surroundings. Then a real, velvet, swishy curtain goes up before the show starts.

    For all of its old-fashioned look, the movie experience is purely modern, with a Dolby ATMOS sound system featuring over 100 speakers, super-bright digital projection, and ultra-realistic digital 3D.

    This place has been kid-tested by four youngsters ages 9 to 17 and they all loved it. 9-year-old Mia says: "This is what going to the movies was like back when movie theaters were cool." Her 18-year-old brother Porter liked it so much that he thinks it would make a great date spot.

    After the film ends, head upstairs to the Hall of Fame, which features movie premieres held at the theater, from Citizen Kane to Marvel's Avengers. They also display props and costumes from more recent films.

    Then check out the Ghirardelli soda fountain and chocolate shop next door. To keep the sugar rush under control, share one of their oversized desserts among 4 people. 

    Continue to 3 of 10 below.
  • 03 of 10

    Farmers Market and The Grove

    The Gumbo Pot at the Farmers Market
    ••• The Gumbo Pot at the Farmers Market. Kent Kanouse/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

    How do an old LA standby and a new shopping/dining/entertainment complex get along? Quite well, it's the Farmers Market and The Grove.

    Los Angeles Farmers Market and The Grove blend tradition with modern shopping-center-cum-nouveau-downtown at Third and Fairfax.

    If you have picky eaters, shoppers with you, this is a great place to go.

    Trendy restaurants and shops face the central park area of The Grove, where a water fountain dances to musical medleys. But when you're hungry, head for the Farmers Market.

    The Farmers Market maintains a strong connection to its past. It's always full of tourists and Hollywood locals who still buy meats and produce here. The air fills with mouth-watering smells from Cajun-flavored Gumbo Pot and the market's international food stalls. Everyone can order what they want and then gather around a table, sitting in those classic green-painted folding chairs to share your meal. Two wine/beer bars provide "adult" beverages if anyone want to partake.

    Continue to 4 of 10 below.
  • 04 of 10

    Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive

    Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills
    ••• Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. ©2010 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Rodeo Drive draws more up-market clientele and is better for fashion-conscious pre-teens and teenagers than for little ones.

    It's pronounced roh-DAY-oh (there are no cowboys here). The streets aren't paved with gold, but the shoppers who frequent this three-block haven of haute couture must have plenty of the precious metal, judging from the Lamborghinis, Rolls Royces and Bentleys parked curbside. Despite its high-falutin' reputation, tourists outnumber shoppers, so don't be embarrassed to join the window-shopping and jaw-dropping.

    Even this grown-up kid can't resist the Cupcake ATM at Sprinkles bakery just off Rodeo drive. It's continuously stocked freshly baked cupcakes, cookies and even cupcakes for your dog. And how much fun is it to see that cute little box appear with a cupcake inside?

    If you and the kids want to do a movie star homes tour, skip the boring, expensive and often-inaccurate ones on Hollywood Boulevard and hop on the Beverly Hills Trolley instead....MORE Discreet tour guides won't say who lives here now, but they do dish up tidbits about former residents.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Great Museums for Kids

    Space Shuttle Endeavour at California Science Center
    ••• Space Shuttle Endeavour at California Science Center. ©2012 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    La Brea Tar Pits

    Hang around Los Angeles long enough and you may wonder if the place is cracking up. At the La Brea Tar Pits, it is. Rock fissures have channeled sticky tar to the surface here for more than 30,000 years, trapping uncounted giant sloths, woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats in its gummy grasp.

    The George Page Museum displays the most interesting finds. Kids like the What It's Like to be Trapped in Tar exhibit, and when a docent is on duty, they can hunt for fossils, too.

    Skirball Center

    At the Skirball Cultural Center, you can take the kids to Noah's Ark. The floor to ceiling replica of the Ark is packed things for the kids to do: play, build, climb, explore or make music and do crafts projects.

    LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

    LACMA is possibly LA's most kid-friendly museum. They offer Family Days and a free admission NextGen program for kids. But that's just for starters.

    Kids can get mesmerized by Chris Burden's Metropolis II, an intense...MORE kinetic sculpture, modeled after a fast paced, modern city. Band by Richard Serra invites hide-and-go-seek, and it's also a great place to teach "look but don't touch" museum manners. Throw in a ride in a really big elevator, a romp in a sculpture made of rubber tubing and a stop at the cafe for a pastry and you've got a perfect day.

    Kidspace Children's Museum, Pasadena

    The kids can play in the garden, play in the water, learn a little science in the physics forest or stretch their creativity in the Imagination Workshop. It's designed for children ages 1 to 10. Details are at the Kidspace Museum website.

    Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

    The name sounds stuffy, but don't get hung up on that. This is the place to go if your kids are hooked on dinosaur, with more than 300 real fossils and 20 complete dinosaurs and ancient sea creatures. They also have pavilions full of spiders and butterflies - and whole host of other exhibits. Get hours and more information at their website.

    California Science Center

    Next door to the Natural History Museum is the California Science Center. This place was a lot of fun before the space shuttle Endeavor arrived.

    Continue to 6 of 10 below.
  • 06 of 10

    Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach

    Aquarium of the Pacific
    ••• Blue Whale Model at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Alejandro C/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

    The Aquarium of the Pacific is located on the Long Beach waterfront and I'm really impressed with how it's always improving the visitor experience.

    Not only is it one of the country's largest indoor aquariums, but it offers a wide variety of experiences, tons of ways to enjoy the sea creatures, lots of touching pools.

    For older children, they also have some great animal encounters which include sea otters, seal and sea lions or sharks - or you can feed a bat ray.

    Continue to 7 of 10 below.
  • 07 of 10

    Santa Monica

    View of Santa Monica Beach from the Pier
    ••• Checking out Santa Monica Beach from the Pier. ©2015 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    If a driver's brakes failed approaching the end of legendary Route 66 , they might have sailed right past the carousel and onto Santa Monica Pier. It's as far west in Los Angeles as you can get.

    The pier is one of the few surviving amusement parks built on a pier, Pacific Park. It's not a big, fancy theme park like LA's more famous attractions, but it has a gorgeous carousel, beautiful Ferris wheel and a roller coaster, along with some tamer rides that the younger kids might enjoy.

    Locals and tourists crowd the pier on hot summer nights, so thick that their voices all but drown out the sound of the surf. The rest of the year, there seems to be enough room for everyone.

    You can also rent a bicycle on the waterfront and pedal south to Venice Beach, which is about 3 miles away.

    On the clifftop above the beach, you'll find street performers to watch and a real curiosity: The Camera Obscura. It's one of the earliest optical inventions and a fun way to "spy" on...MORE passersby.

    If the kids still have energy after all that, head across the street from the pier to Tongva Park, where there's a fun playground.

    Continue to 8 of 10 below.
  • 08 of 10

    Griffith Park

    View from the Griffith Observatory
    ••• View from the Griffith Observatory. John Vincent/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    It sprawls over 4,107 acres of natural terrain covered with California oak trees, wild sage and manzanita, It's also the USA's largest municipal park. And it has lots of gun things for the kids to see and do. These are a few highlights:

    You'll find a lot more information about Griffith Park - and what you can do there in the Griffith Park Visitor Guide.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Los Angeles With Teenagers

    Making Sidewalk Art at Venice Beach
    ••• Making Sidewalk Art at Venice Beach. ©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Those oh-so-grown-up-feeling teens and tweens might also like these ideas, which are not the best choices for younger kids:

    • Take a Studio Tour: If the kids are curious about how movies are really made, you won't find out on the Universal Studios Backlot tour. Try one of these instead.
    • Peterson Automotive Museum: If your teenager is car-obsessed, this place has a fantastic collection, which includes some movie vehicles. Details at their website.
    • Fashion District and Santee Alley: If any of your teens are shoppers, this place is where you should go. It's much more fun than a boring outlet mall and you can get some great deals. Find out how to get the most out of your visit.
    • Venice Beach: It's weird and wacky and my teenage niece loved it. Find out what's there and see if you'd like it, too.
    • Melrose Avenue: This shopping street is lined with fun boutiques and interesting shops. And it's definitely big enough that you could shop until you drop. Get an overview.
    Continue to 10 of 10 below.
  • 10 of 10

    More Great Places to Go in Los Angeles with Kids

    Huntington Gardens
    ••• Huntington Gardens. princesskoko/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    But wait! There's More... A couple of things that didn't fit into any of the lists above:

    Huntington Library and Gardens: A public garden may not be the first thing that comes to mind for children, but this place in Pasadena is a great place to take the stroller set. They have such a fun-looking Kids Garden that it makes me wish I was five again, just so I could play there.

    If you have a little one who enjoys the idea of afternoon tea, they serve a nice one in the cafe.

    Bob Baker Marionette Theater: Their puppets-on-strings are darling. Everyone seems to love the experience, especially when they come into the audience and sit on your lap or tap your knee.

    Runnin' with the Grunion: Lovers like to take moonlight strolls along the beach in LA, but they aren't the only ones who think a full moon at the beach romantic.

    In spring and summer, at high tide and just after a full moon, banana-sized, silver-colored grunion fish rush ashore for a "quickie," spawning just 30...MORE seconds before they return oceanward.

    Children under 16 years old and California fishing license-holders can scramble to grab the critters before they head back to sea. With the only allowed fishing gear being your hands, it's almost as much fun as Disneyland.

    Doing It All For Less

    Depending on how many of these activities you and your family want to enjoy, you could save some money when you go to LA with the kids by getting the multi-attraction discount Go Los Angeles Card. Use this handy guide to find out all you need to know about it.

    If your trip is heavy on theme parks, check out the Southern California CityPASS. too.

    More Things to Do in LA

    There's a lot more to do in Los Angeles than just these few things, even though they are the most popular. You may also want to take a look at some less well-known LA attractions that are really fun to visit.attractions that are really fun to visit.

    To keep your spending in check, just use the Guide to Things to Do for Free in Los Angeles.

    It might rain in the winter. Here's what to do in LA when it's raining. And if it's summertime when you visit, you'll definitely want to know What to Do on a Los Angeles Summer Night. Or that matter, find out what you can do at night in LA anytime.

    Things Not to Do in LA

    There are some tourist traps you may want to avoid in LA, but you also don't want to get arrested, surf at the wrong beach, sound like a doofus or freak out over weird driving. You can learn how to avoid them all in this guide to What Not to Do in Los Angeles.