A trip to the City of Angels leaves no shortage of things to do. You could fill an entire week with activities listed on various tourist lists for the area. However, not everything on those lists is family-friendly. Typical destinations, like The Avenue of Stars or the Santa Monica Pier, are generally filled with busy car and foot traffic and kids end up much more restricted next to a parent than they’d prefer. This list offers five places around the LA area that take the “squirm factor” as well as a tightened budget into account. Here kids will be able to touch things, move around more freely, and use up some energy without breaking the bank. These activities can be scattered in with the more standard destinations for a nice break.
The Old Abandoned Los Angeles Zoo
If you enjoy the unique and original, you will love exploring what remains of the old LA Zoo. Tucked into a simple picnic area in Griffith Park, the old caves, staircases, and cages are open to walk through. You can spend a few minutes brushing the surface or over an hour climbing in, on, above, and around the enclosures to find more gems. Be prepared to feel a little sad about the small and bleak conditions those animals lived in. We can be relieved that they are no longer there. Parking is relatively close and free!
While you’re there: You will find a beautiful grassy picnic area, a playground, and carousel near the zoo. Further out, Griffith Park offers a variety of activities—most notably the Observatory on the other side of the park. We really like to picnic in Hollywood Lake Park where locals walk their dogs and tourist take advantage of an awesome view of the nearby Hollywood sign.
The Last Book Store
A bookstore might not seem like a priority, but this one is like no other store you’ve ever seen! It is the largest new and used bookstore in California and is a masterful blend of whimsy and function. Housed in an old bank, many sections are tucked into the vaults where cool doors and gears are still evident. The books themselves become part of the experience as they are arranged with little peekaboo windows, formed into rainbows, and even arched over into a tunnel you can walk through. Along with 3-D art all over the walls, upstairs you can stroll past gallery shops of artist displaying their creativity. Like almost any downtown location, you can look for metered street parking or chose a flat price lot.
While you’re there: The Grand Central Market is a fabulous food adventure that goes back to the beginning of the 1900s. It houses nearly forty vendors—mostly selling food—giving you something for everyone in the family. It is definitely popular so you probably want to avoid going during typical eating times. Also nearby is the short, but distinctive, Angels Flight Railway, a funicular that climbs up and down a neighboring hill for a small fare.
The Getty will certainly show up on any list of local LA attractions with most of the attention leaning toward the main Getty Center which houses art from a wide range of styles and times. Art museums, however, can be difficult for younger or more active kids. You might find that the Getty Villa is more your family’s speed. It shows art and artifacts exclusively from the ancient Greek and Roman era. While it also presents a more standard art display, the most impressive and accessible aspect is that it was built to emulate a traditional Roman villa. This means children can appreciate ancient culture and art by actually being in the middle of it. You can walk the promenades and stroll through the gardens. While the museum itself is free, you need to order timed arrival tickets beforehand. Keep in mind, there is a charge to park.
While you’re there: The Villa is located away from the city on the coast in Malibu. Travel south and you will hit Santa Monica. As I mentioned before, the pier can get very crowded but there’s always something fun and original happening on the beach boardwalk next to it.
California Science Center
A science center might be another attraction that feels like something you can just do at home but this one might make you reconsider. This particular center not only has several great hands-on areas like a tide pool and a giant ice wall, but you can see the space shuttle Endeavor up close and personal! There is something very inspiring about standing under this vehicle that’s been to space. The museum itself is free but there is a fee to park.
While you’re there: Right next door you can see the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum home of the 1984 Summer Olympics. You can spot the Olympic Rings as well as the torch located over the entrance arch. It is an interesting look into the past, but also the future, as LA is set to host the 2028 games.
LACMA Sculpture Garden
While located on Museum Row, you might not be tempted to check out the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for your active kids—and you’d be right about that. However, you might want to plan a stop to the open to the public sculpture gardens—more specifically the Urban Lights installation right outside the museum. There, over two hundred gas lamps from the ’20s and ’30s are grouped together to become a gorgeous sight and an intriguing walk. It’s like an urban forest and at night—it glows!
While you’re there: The sculpture garden almost flows into the grounds of the La Brea Tar Pits. Here you can take in the excavation process used to uncover specimens from the layers of tar from the past, spot many small puddles of tar, and see the giant pit out front complete with a sculpture of wooly mammoths.
LA can be busy, confusing, and time-consuming but wherever you go in the city, you’re bound to find adventure. Happy exploring!