Take a sip of a cool fruit smoothie, your feet buried in warm golden sand. As you watch your children make sand castles, thoughts of your afternoon plans sleepily buzz in your head. Old Hollywood? Ancient Rome? Natural history? It’s all possible when you visit Los Angeles with kids.
Yes, it is sprawling. But once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you will be driving, and driving a lot, you’ll find that Los Angeles has so much to offer families that it is well worth the trip. The key is to plan no more than one big activity a day. Play the rest of your day by ear, you know, in that laid-back California-style you perfected on the beach.
Activity 1: Get Thee to the Getty Villa
From the Biltmore Estate to Citizen Kane’s Xanadu, there’s something fascinating about the building follies of history’s eccentric industrialists. J. Paul Getty built the Getty Villa in the 1950s to house his vast collection of Roman, Greek, and Etruscan artifacts. The villa, a replica of the Villa of Papyri of Herculaneum, features extensive Roman gardens and breathtaking views of the ocean. For children, it is a great place to learn about daily life in a Roman villa.
There are free children’s tours and special hands-on children’s rooms, although older children (ages 8 and up) will enjoy the free regularly scheduled docent tours. Entrance to the museum is free but you will need to reserve timed-entry tickets online. Plan on staying for about two hours. Parking is $15 per car. Website: http://www.getty.edu/visit/villa/
Activity 2: Tour Warner Brothers Studio
The Warner Brothers Studio Tour is a great way to experience the magic of Hollywood and all that goes on behind the scenes of some of your favorite movies and TV shows. You’ll be able to step into some iconic sets, including Central Perk from Friends and the town square from Gilmore Girls, as well as whatever movie they are filming at the time. Kids will love the Harry Potter exhibit with loads of sets, props, and costumes, and even a sorting hat that will tell you which Hogwarts house you belong in. The Car Vault features the Batmobile and other classic movie cars. The three-hour tour is best for older children, ages 8 and up.
Tip: You are most likely to see filming in action–and maybe even spot a movie star strolling through the studio lot–if your tour is on a weekday. Weekend tours, however, give you greater access to some parts of the studio. Website: www.wbstudiotour.com
Activity 3: Make Your Way to the Original Muscle Beach
Muscle Beach was built in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) Project designed to encourage and increase people’s physical activity. It has become a symbol for the beginning of America’s preoccupation (obsession?) with physical fitness. Over the years, it’s been the site of many bodybuilding and acrobatic competitions.
Pssst! Don’t miss the map of our Los Angeles recommendations and pinnable at the end of this feature.
Today, you never know exactly what you’re going to see but expect to see very fit people doing cool acrobatic tricks, dudes walking on very long slack lines like they’re walking on air, and gymnasts flinging themselves from ring to ring like monkeys. They kids will love it and are welcome to try slack lining or flying through the rings.
It’s just a stone’s throw away from the Santa Monica Pier (an easy walk from your hotel) and a nice way to expend some energy before heading out for dinner. Website: www.musclebeach.net/new/santa-monica/
Activity 4: Go to the Griffith Observatory
A visit to the Griffith Observatory is a must on your trip to LA. After all, you can’t very well leave without a photo of the Hollywood sign and you can’t very well take it while driving on the freeway. Trust us. From your rooftop perch, you’ll get a good picture of the city’s vastness, from downtown to West Hollywood to the Pacific Ocean. It’s no wonder so many movie scenes were filmed here, from Rebel without a Cause to La La Land.
The Observatory’s exhibits should hold the kids’ attention as well. The excellent film, narrated by Leonard Nimoy himself, goes through the site’s history. You can explore exhibits on space exploration and astrology, and you’ll have a chance to see three classic scientific tools you may have only heard about: the Tesla Coil, camera obscura, and Foucault’s pendulum.
If you want to make a day of it, bring your hiking shoes, sunblock, and water, and hike the surrounding trails. There is also small onsite café.
Tip: Many people head up to the observatory for the romantic sunset. You and the kids don’t need that, so get there early instead to snag a parking spot. Website: www.griffithobservatory.org
1 Great Place to Stay: DoubleTree Santa Monica
When you’re looking for lodging in the sprawl that is Los Angeles, it can seem daunting. Do you stay near downtown, in Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills? If you’re traveling with kids, you can’t do better than staying in Santa Monica and enjoying that quintessential California scene: the beach, the sun, and the palm trees.
The DoubleTree Santa Monica offers large suites in a great location, just a few blocks from the Third Street Promenade and the beach. And if you can’t make it to the beach, you can take a dip in the outdoor pool. Their massive breakfast buffet includes made-to-order omelets. Their courtesy shuttle will take you anywhere you want to go in Santa Monica.
Tip: Park across the street at the public parking lot for a fraction of the price of the hotel’s valet parking.
1 Great Place to Eat: California-style burgers at Burger Lounge
The Burger Lounge is a small California chain that started in San Diego and has attracted a devoted fan base as it continues to expand up the coast. They are the ultimate fast-casual option, but with a healthy bend. Of course they have excellent burgers made of grass-fed beef, turkey, or vegetarian, but they also have a nice selection of salads. You’ll also find local craft beers and milk shakes. In short, the perfect vacation meal. They have several Los Angeles-area locations, including West Hollywood and Santa Monica. Website: www.burgerlounge.com