LA may be known largely for its red carpets, velvet ropes and a lot of other activities that go deep into the night, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the City is a fantastic place to explore with the family.
From its miles of wide, sandy beaches to sun-kissed baseball games at Dodger Stadium to its dozens of museums, LA lets a parent give the kids a one-of-a-kind adventure that’s long on excitement and short on the typical.
There are parks, and Then There Are Parks
Make no mistake: Griffith Park is big. How big? It’s the biggest urban park in the U.S. and almost five times the size of New York’s Central Park. But that’s no reason to be intimidated, as the park provides a ton of activities for the family. Griffith Observatory will wow adults with its stunning architecture while providing a fantastic place for kids to explore with its interactive space displays and its views of the City below, as well as its “Centered in the Universe” show inside its planetarium. The Travel Town Museum lets kids explore, touch and climb over trains from all eras, while Ferndell’s creeks and greenery lets the family truly enjoy a nature walk in the heart of the city. The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens has more than 1,200 rare and endangered species, while the Autry National Center provides a fascinating way to teach the kids about the American West and Native American culture. Finally, Griffith Park has more than 50 miles of hiking trails, many of which are stroller-friendly. And when you’re done with that hike, Shane’s Inspiration — the first universally accessible playground in the Western U.S. — fills two acres with slides, paths, bouncing areas, chutes and other areas where the kids can have a blast while their folks can take a breather.
Not to be outdone in the “park” department is Exposition Park south of Downtown. Packed within its 160 acres are institutions ranging from the Natural History Museum, which celebrates its centennial in 2013, to the California Science Center to the California African American Museum. And most are within a touchdown sprint of the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and its eternal Olympic torch. The California Science Center, which spans more than 400,000 square feet, is free of admission, while tots under 5 years old get in for free at the Natural History Museum and the California African American Museum. And once a day of museum hopping is done, the family can relax by exploring the seven-acre Rose Garden, which includes more than 16,000 roses and lets everyone savor the day.
Feeling Outright Beachy
Like LA’s diverse group of individual communities, the area’s beaches provide a bunch of variations on the coastal experience, all engrossing for the kids and adults alike. The City of LA alone provides a wide range of ways to spend the day on the coast. San Pedro’s Cabrillo Coastal Park gives families a chance to soak up a full marine-life education by way of the beach’s tidepools and saltmarsh, in addition to its Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, which also includes a touch tank and interpretive exhibits. Looking for the classic, surf-and-sand volleyball, Beach Boys type of day? Will Rogers State Beach has that in spades. And then there’s Venice’s Ocean Front Walk, a world unto itself complete with body builders, chainsaw jugglers, hippies, peddlers, surfers, pickup basketball players and everything else under the LA sun.
One If By Land, Two-By-Two If By Sea
Griffith Park’s Travel Town takes care of the trains, but what about a place for the little ones to check out automobiles and one big boat? No worries; LA’s got that covered. The Petersen Automotive Museum on LA’s Miracle Mile has more than 150 rare and classic cars, motorcycles and trucks covering four floors and more than 300,000 square feet of space. Recent exhibits include sections dedicated to Italian-car design and scooters, in addition to the Museum’s permanent exhibits of cars that were featured in TV shows and movies, and alternative-fueled vehicles. Meanwhile, in the San Fernando Valley, Sylmar’s Nethercutt Museum has more than 130 antique, vintage and classic cars, all for the admission price of absolutely nothing.
As for boats, the Skirball Cultural Center in West LA features an exhibit on one really big one: Noah’s Ark. The 8,000-square-foot “Ark,” which took 5 years to build, is fully interactive, complete with “animals” (life-sized puppets and such), storms, music and other stuff, providing doses of fun in Biblical proportions.
Little Tokyo may be part of Downtown, but it’s a quieter section with a slower pace, making it a great place to explore LA’s long Japanese-American history with the kids. The Japanese American National Museum combines exhibits detailing cultural history for the adults with exhibitions on things like origami and mask-making that can be appreciated by the younger set. Nearby, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center features the James Irvine Japanese Garden, where families can escape the bustle and enjoy blooming trees and a 170-foot-long stream. Finally, the district has dozens of noodle houses and sushi joints where the family can sample familiar and not-so-familiar variations of Japanese cuisine.
And no cultural visit to LA is complete without experiencing the area’s ultimate homage to the Mexican culture that gave birth to the City: Olvera Street. That venue, located in the northern section of Downtown, features dozens of open-air vendors selling leather goods, artwork and myriad other authentic items. Nearby, El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument commemorates the founding of the city in 1781 with an outdoor plaza that often features live music and other performances. Also, families can explore La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, which opened in 2011 and includes a 2.2-acre campus that features exhibits, educational programs, a public garden and two historic buildings.
Something to Cheer About
With its Dodger Dogs cooking, the San Gabriel Mountains in the background and Vin Scully as a soundtrack, Dodger Stadium has provided the classic baseball experience with a Southern California twist since 1962. The games run from April to October, and there are usually about a dozen afternoon games sprinkled in the 81-game home season, making the excursion to Chavez Ravine an extra magnificent one.
But if you happen to be in town when the Dodgers are either away or only playing night games, no fear. UCLA, USC and Loyola Marymount provide top-notch college-baseball experiences, all within the city limits. That means more day games, closer seating to the field and ticket prices that can drop to $2 a pop on some days.
... and Finally…..an answer to the eternal question: Is the word spelled Fairy or Faery? Parents can ponder that riddle while letting their kids experience the Faery/Fairy Hunts that actors put on every week at locations such as Griffith Park’s Fern Dell and West LA’s Crestwood Park. The hour-long adventure — best for kids ranging from 2 to 10 years old — provides an experience full of humor, music, environmental education and adventure. The hunts happen one weekend morning every week and let you turn a make-believe experience into a reality for your kids.