SANTA MONICA AND MALIBU
Older children can go on the Ferris wheel and rollercoaster while little ones ride the antique carousel, which has 44 hand-carved and painted horses. They can also play the carnival games (they’re likely to win large stuffed animals). Do peek in on the small Aquarium on the lower level, which is open on weekends. Kids might be interested in the Trapeze School New York operating on the Pier, too.
Angels Attic has an extensive and charming collection of magnificent dollhouses and dolls for little girls, where they can spin tales about the families inhabiting each house and learn about their architecture and the era in which they were built. On some days you can treat the girls to afternoon tea after which they will hopefully emerge as the ladies they were meant to be.
Santa Monica Playhouse
Santa Monica Playhouse has been specializing in children’s plays for decades. A dedicated group of actors have been enchanting children ages 4 – 19 for several decades and they make the plays interactive so the distance between stage and audience disappears. They also have actors workshops for kids where they learn to be thespians in a safe and supportive environment. The squeals and laughter from kids confirm this choice.
Started in 1998, these shows rate well by Tripadvisor.Though a bit funky and old fashioned, young couples come here on dates to experience the very interactive shows and even the bartenders who are themselves magicians. You see almost every magic trick created and then I like to buy my kids magic sets so they can pursue this career.
WESTWOOD AND BRENTWOOD
Skirball Cultural Center
Don’t miss Noah’s Ark. Young children love the imaginative replica of an ark where they can climb ladders and fences, swing from ropes, locate treasures, wiggle through tunnels, hear stories and give expression to their inner pirates. The Skirball Museum itself, a Museum of Jewish culture, is welcoming to all cultures and religions.
It’s an immense and striking campus. It’s first four buildings opened in 1919 and are in Romanesque Revival architecture. Subsequent buildings were designed by some of L.A.’s most renowned architects. Take your kids to the tranquil and stately sculpture garden on the east campus, which features many Rodins or check out the Fowler Museum on the north campus, which is a superb ethnographic museum exploring the art, cultures, people and religions of the world. The gift shops are tantalizing, too.
Stan’s donuts have fueled UCLA students for several decades, and it’s often the first place we stop in the morning for breakfast. It simultaneously energizes the kids and proves that you’re serious about the quality of your tours.
The Bigg Chill Frozen Yogurt
Before leaving Westwood kids always want to try this frozen yogurt. The wide variety of flavors and toppings plus the creamy textures made it the No. 1 L.A. yogurt shop rated by a local newspaper survey a few years ago. My kids agree between purrs.
The Getty Center
It’s famous for its stunning architecture, modern gardens, efficient tram, and photography exhibits as well as for its European and Asian paintings, sculptures and furniture collections. During the summer there are music and dance group presentations where kids of all ages can step out to audition. The Family Room caters to children and offers games to guide them through the museum.
Brentwood Country Mart
They offer pony rides and a petting zoo on Sundays for tots. I like to take kids here for Sunday brunch or lunch on the patio where kid food is abundant and then take pictures of their bonding with pets and horses.
BEVERLY HILLS AND MID-CITY
Stop early on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills before the stores open for a peek at the stores. Kids can window-shop and gawk without prying eyes intimidating them.
The Museum of Tolerance
The Museum of Tolerance is a must stop for my teens. Reserve tickets ahead and also call to find out when Holocaust survivors will be speaking, which is usually every afternoon. There is a Holocaust section plus other exhibits that examine the roots of prejudice and how they develop in every culture, including our own. In bringing these to our attention the museum sets off remarkable discussions among kids and their parents and grandparents (myself included) that last long after their visits are over. It’s powerful and moving.
Petersen Automotive Museum
It chronicles the decades of auto manufacturing. There are autos from the earliest buggies and antique cars in pristine condition, everything up to present day cars, including some owned by the rich and famous. My teen boys are thrilled to see the very first autos and follow the development of design and engines through the decades. Finding Elvis’s car tops off the thrill. By the time we leave they have a good idea of what they want for a future car.
La Brea Tar Pits and the Page Museum
Kids love seeing how sabertoothed cats and mastodons contended with L.A. during the last Ice Age, 10,000 – 40,000 years ago, before Hollywood moved in. They can witness a paleontologist’s research lab and watch the painstaking work of assembling and identifying bones and see pictorial displays of the history of these massive and now extinct animals.
LA County Museum of Art
A treasure trove of paintings, sculpture, installations and photographs. Go on their Web site to see when talks are scheduled, information about special exhibitions, and for info on programs for children (which are usually held on weekends). My kids are stunned by the Pavilion for Japanese Art and by the modern art wing. And don’t forget the marvelous gift shop! Girls love it.
There are many delightful counters at which to order lunch from around the world and don’t forget to check out Bennett’s Ice Cream.
Park at the Hollywood & Highland Center where you can dine, shop and take photos with the Hollywood sign as the backdrop.
Home to the Academy Awards and now Cirque du Soleil, which will enchant young and old. Kids are awed by the gold statuary and accents and sumptuous seating which imitate the elegance of a European opera house. Daily tours are offered so check Web site. If you can see a show or ceremony here, the kids will be over the moon. They also like the vast confectionary stand in the lobby.
Wax Museum Hollywood
The kids will love recognizing favorite movie and TV actors and how accurately they’re portrayed. It offers a rich array of personalities from every decade since film began. We spend more time than planned simply because they want to run back to check on yet another star. Afterwards, try the nearby Snow White Cafe for lunch and the Disney Soda Fountain for ice cream and soda seductions.
It’s a must for kids of all ages. If your grandkids visit rarely, spring for the too-expensive tickets that let you bypass the lines. They can go on every ride and see every show in one very full day, and you can bring a book and sit down outside the rides to relax while they spin, shriek, toss and glide. My favorite break is to go over to CityWalk, have hot dogs at Pink’s and then attend a movie so we can sit down for a few hours mid-day. Then it’s back to the fun with renewed energy. Your charges will fall into a deep sleep on the way home.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Go for a docent tour of the building. You won’t be able to see the auditorium itself but the building is an architectural wonder. If possible get tickets for a concert. Your grandkids probably never heard acoustics like this and the magnificent hall and splendid artistry of the musicians will leave them dazzled.
The Central Library
It’s a gorgeous building my grandkids love to take the escalator to the top where they can look down on the “new” addition with its colorful and fanciful chandeliers. Tell them the story of the 1986 fire, which was the worst fire in LA history at that time. It destroyed 20% of the books, about 400,000, and took more than 350 firefighters 7 ½ hours to overcome. When Arco led the effort to rebuild and replace the library they sent their employees to help. Thousands of citizens showed up to page through every book left, brushing, dusting, and assessing. Books that were soaked with the water that doused the fire had been frozen, so volunteers leafed through each page, meticulously vacuuming out the slivered ice, then softly drying them. The books were restored and a glorious new wing was added to this early 20th C. masterpiece. You can also stop for lunch at Café Pinot in the garden.
Millennium Biltmore Hotel
The architecture of the awe-inspiring Biltmore is a blend of Spanish and Italian Renaissance with Beaux Arts touches and was conceived as homage to the Castilian heritage of some of LA’s earliest families. Spend time both upstairs and downstairs, including having a drink or a meal at Smeraldi’s Restaurant or afternoon tea in the old downstairs lobby. The first Academy Awards were given here and eight Oscar ceremonies were held here including the 50th Anniversary Oscar Ceremony presided over by Bob Hope. Don’t miss the photo gallery across from the gift shop on the main floor, which shows photos from these events. My grandchildren particularly enjoy the photo of Shirley Temple presenting Walt Disney with the Oscar plus seven miniature Oscars for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
A few blocks away is this beloved “last of the great train stations.” It is now the hub of a vast Amtrak and commuter train system throughout Southern California and beyond. Walk kids through the vast station to notice the original commodious leather chairs in the waiting room, the inlaid, hand painted ceilings, the tiles and terrazzo throughout. Step into the enclosed garden patios through the north and south doors. All of these celebrate the unique architecture that merged Spanish Colonial Revival, Mission Revival and Streamline Moderne into this striking and now historic building often used in 20th century movies.
Olvera Street & El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Park
Just across the street from Union Station is this historic district where LA began in 1781. Our L.A. was started by 11 families and some soldiers at that time on higher ground a short distance away where flooding by the LA River relocated them to Olvera St. The earliest house there, Avila Adobe, is open to the public amid many colorful vendors displaying the art and culture of Mexico. Kids love to shop for piñatas, vests, purses, huaraches and masks while grabbing some churros. Not to be missed is the Blessing of the Animals procession on the Saturday before Easter each year. Children bring their animals to join the parade and receive the blessings of the city’s religious leaders and the exclamations of the crowds. The Old Plaza Church is the oldest church in L.A. and still functions as a parish.
El Pueblo Park is opposite the vendors of Olvera Street and offers a variety of shows of bands, singers and dancers, both Indian and Mexican. Kids are welcome to join in the dancing. I like to take them to Casa La Golondrina for lunch where they can sing along with a live mariachi band and practice their salsa steps.
Across the street from Grand Central Market is this funicular rail system started in 1901. Kids (and a few adults) are always apprehensive since their lives seem to hang “on a thread” as they slowly make their way up or down. Don’t be surprised if little ones climb into your lap. AF has a remarkable safety record save for one fatal accident in 2001, which closed the site for 9 years of upgrading and safety reforms. It takes you up to Bunker Hill where you land at California Plaza. There you can shop, attend free evening performances at one of the two outdoor theaters in summer, or go to the Museum of Contemporary Art or The Colburn School of the Performing Arts.
This charming Japanese neighborhood has attractive shops and authentic restaurants where kids always find intriguing gifts and mementos. My kids like the restaurants where fried shrimp is a must and the girls enjoy trying on kimonos, the boys kung fu outfits.
Engine Co. No. 28
This is the place to take kids to dinner downtown after a full day. It’s a flawlessly restored firehouse dating from 1912 and serves firehouse food perfected by local firemen. You’ll find the old favorites for your crew plus some surprisingly new and delicious dishes.
Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
This national treasure has 120 acres of specialty gardens with rare plants. If you go in the spring you and the kids will be transported to other worlds and times. The library will knock out your kids with one of the earliest copies of the Magna Carta, Ben Franklin’s autobiography, a copy of early Chaucer, a Guttenberg Bible, and more.
The Norton Simon Museum
It’s worth a stop for the kids to see the beautiful outdoor sculpture garden, the impressive Asian art collection, the enticing museum store, and for your little ballerinas to study the extensive Degas collection.
Old Town Pasadena
After walking through museums and shops go to Ten Thousand Villages, a remarkable fair trade store with hand-made gifts from 38 developing countries around the world that are modestly priced. Most of the staff are dedicated volunteers. You and your kids will find a story with every item and learn about some of the most amazing people in our world.
The Rose The Cottage
Renowned for their sumptuous teas with three seatings each day that will take your kids back to the enjoyment of an 18th century highlight.
SAN GABRIEL VALLEY
His Lai Temple
This is the largest Buddhist Temple in North America. From Taipei, it includes all 8 schools of Chinese Buddhism. The magnificent gold structure stands on a hillside that also incorporates a large Buddhist monastery and you can see saffron-robed monks and nuns walking about the campus. Children are captivated by this serene and beautiful place of worship. Make sure that they dress modestly with arms and legs covered and voices modulated. My kids are awed at the sight of the faithful, reverently offering gifts of fruits and flowers to lay at the feet of the Buddhas. We light incense offerings to accompany our prayers for heartfelt causes.
Once inside the complex make your first stop the Information room where you get a find audio guide that is helpful plus some literature. Elevators are at the south end. At the end of your tour you will be served tea and cookies. There is also a good cafeteria that serves a vegetarian lunch daily.
Fosselman’s Ice Cream
Nearby in Alhambra this superb parlor is 91-years-old and a must stop for kids. They have every flavor imaginable and then some, plus kids can experience nostalgic treats from their grandparents’ generation – Ice Cream Sodas, Root Beer Floats, Banana Splits and “penny“ candy.
SAN FERNANDO VALLEY
Young children – ages 2 – 10 adore climbing on board, exploring old train cars, and riding the train that circles the area while pretending that they are travelers from an earlier era. Both admittance and parking are free. This is particularly attractive to Thomas the Train fans and it helps children to understand why train travel was so popular and efficient in an earlier age—and why it could be again. Check the Web site to find docent tours.
It is a spectacular sight at night and one your kids will long remember. Parking can be devilish so go early but plan to stay after dark for the full effect.
It’s one of the most striking auto museums in the world and definitely worth the drive. In addition to classic and model cars that are perfection, they have musical instruments, music boxes, antique dolls and more. Make a reservation to see the Nethercutt Collection, a guided tour.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour
This tour shows the sound stages that have been used for movies in the past and some that are currently used for TV shows. Harry Potter fans will pay close attention to the home studio that made him a mega-star.
Long Beach Aquarium
Check out the beautiful displays of many species of fish along with ocean games for kids and a cafeteria that features, of course, seafood. Several shows allow families to sit down as well provide interesting scientific information. Outdoors kids can interact with some species and glide through the shops.
Kids can go through the staterooms, ballrooms and shops of the WWII British troop ship. There’s even a ghost tour to introduce those hearty spirits who have hung around the ship and tell their stories. A Russian submarine is docked next door and Kids can go onboard to view the bunks and the staterooms, then peer through the telescopes just as Russian sailors did. At the gift shop next door they can purchase Russian military hats and jackets and memorabilia, even a recording of The Internationale, which makes them feel like little Communists for a brief time.
*Tickets for the Long Beach Aquarium and the Queen Mary can be purchased together, but both must be visited on the same day, so rev up your health routines as soon as you click purchase!
The Museum of Latin American Art
It’s a gem devoted to exhibiting the richness and dynamism of Latino artists. My teenaged grandkids find this museum intriguing. You can go for one of the summer evening lectures at which paintings are projected onto an outdoor multistory white wall.
Three islands and the canals that wind through them were built in the 1920s and then rebuilt after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. You can rent lovely gondolas with gondoliers and drift through this picturesque scene, observing some of the quaint and idyllic homes along the way. Check the website for the beautiful Christmas Boat Parade about a week before Christmas when lighted boats make their majestic sail through the canals.
No matter which neighborhood we explore, at the end of touring days my kids love to curl up in my family room with a good comedy film, popcorn, and soon, pleasant dreams.
Photographs courtesy (in order): panpark.com, angelsattic.com, santamonicaplayhouse.com, Magicopolis.com, gusto.com, ucla.edu, vinceeats.com, larestaurantdaily.com, getty.edu, seeing-stars.com, wikimedia.com, la.curbed.com, Petersen.org, filamnation.com flicker.com, yesterland.com, kodaktheatre.com, nyweamet.com, photography-edu.com, hauteliving.com, lapl.org, millenniumhotels.com, destination-southern-california.com, igougo.com, theotherdisneys.com, jrafanan.files.wordpress.com, lafire.com, takesunset.com, blogspot.com, photobucket.com, rosetreecottage.com, sacred-destinations.com, readysetgrowla.com, traveltown.org, kathika.com, nethercuttcollection.org, vipstudiotour.warnerbros.com, latimesblog.latimes.com, watchusseek.com, artscentral.com, brucebrealty.com