If you've never taken a family trip to Los Angeles, what are you waiting for?! We've got the beach, the mountains, the sun, and all the Sprinkles cupcakes you could want. Lots of families come to the Los Angeles area for the big attractions, like Disneyland, Universal Studios, or Legoland (all within a resonable driving distance of L.A.). I want you and your kids to experience some of the smaller attractions our city has to offer, so I've put together this destination guide. Read on to see what fun awaits you!
- Noah's Ark at the Skirball Cultural Center: Inside an 8,000 square foot gallery, you'll find a floor to ceiling replica of the Ark, filled to the brim with activities for kids. They can play, build, climb, explore, and even make music and crafts.
- Zimmer Children's Museum: Aimed at children ages 0 - 8, the Zimmer has lots of interactive exhibits including a water tank, a real airplane kids can sit inside, and an entire street of shops and businesses for children to man. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for kids.
- LACMA (L.A. County Museum of Art) & the La Brea Tar Pits: LACMA has a whole host of programs for kids and families. Sundays the museum hosts programs aimed at families, and in the Boone Children's Gallery kids can look at books, paint, and chat with staff. Right next door you'll find the La Brea Tar Pits, where the Page Museum displays ice age fossils and a working paleontology lab. Kids can watch scientists at work preparing fossils that were discovered on site.
- Natural History Museum and California Science Center: The L.A. County Natural History Museum has a new dinosaur hall that doesn't fail to impress. Learn more about Los Angeles history or visit the spider or butterfly pavilions. Next door you'll find the California Science Center, which now houses the space shuttle Endeavor as well as a host of science exhibits kids can explore.
- iFly at Universal CityWalk: Want to try your hand at skydiving without the airplane? iFly is an indoor skydiving experience that's open to everyone over the age of 3. After donning your gear and getting a safety briefing, you'll step into a massive vertical wind tunnel with an instructor and actually fly. We took our 5 and 8-year-old boys a few years ago, and it was one of the most fun experiences we've ever had.
- Travel Town, Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, and L.A. Zoo: Griffith Park is located on 4200 acres and is home to a huge number of attractions. Travel Town is a train museum located in the complex; you can climb aboard lots of old trains and take a ride on the miniature train that tours you around the yard. The Merry-Go-Round was built in 1926 and has 68 horses for you to ride. The L.A. Zoo has relatively new exhibits featuring Asian elephants and gorillas. If you are eager for more in this area, you can check out the Griffith Observatory (with a planetarium, public telescopes, and astronomy exhibits) or the Autry museum of the American West.
- Santa Monica Pier (pictured at top): The Santa Monica pier is home to a host of great activities with kids. Ride the historic carousel or the attractions at Pacific Park, an amusement park located right on the pier. Play midway games, eat ocean-front, visit the small aquarium, or rent bikes for a ride along the beach.
- Huntington Library & Botanical Gardens: While the Huntington Library and Art Collections provide interesting exhibits, chances are your kids will prefer exploring the vast gardens. There are myriad different gardens, like the Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, Jungle Garden and Shakespeare Garden, but you won't want to miss the interactive Children's Garden (pictured above). Play in houses made of plants, build with magnetic sand, or experience the vibrations in the sonic pool.
- Lake Balboa Park: If you're in the San Fernando Valley, Lake Balboa has lots to explore. You can rent bikes (or even surreys!) and ride along the extensive bike path, bring a remote control boat for the water, or even go fishing. The facility has barbecue pits and picnic sites and several children's play areas. Just across the street you'll find the Japanese Garden, a 6 1/2 acre authentic Japanese garden for strolling.
- Kidspace Children's Museum: Just east in Pasadena, Kidspace has an abundance of interactive exhibits that introduce kids to concepts like gravitational acceleration, earthquakes, erosion, centripetal force, kinetic energy and ecology. Outside kids can ride traditional trikes or a rickshaw or two-person trike along the track, or climb on a number of play structures.
- Carney's: You may have heard of Pink's, the famous Los Angeles hot dog stand. Just as good and perhaps more fun for kids is Carney's. Both locations (one on the Sunset Strip and one in the San Fernando Valley) are housed in old Pacific Railroad passenger train cars. So grab a hot dog or hamburger and climb aboard!
- In-N-Out Burger: If you haven't heard of In-N-Out, then you don't know what you are missing. The famous burger joint hasn't changed much since its opening in 1948, and many, many people proclaim it the best burger around. Feel like a local by ordering from the "secret" menu that isn't displayed anywhere but accepted at any location. I'll take my burger Animal Style and mustard grilled. Vegetarian? No worries, just ask for a grilled cheese.
- Bob's Big Boy: Located in Burbank, this eaterie is the oldest Bob's in the country. It was built in 1949 and still maintains its 1950's California coffee shop style. Don't miss the Decadent Hot Fudge Cake or a classic 1950's Coke.
- Neptune's Net: If you're spending the day at the beach in Malibu, you'll have a great meal at Neptune's Net. Look for the Fish and Chips for kids and their famous New England Clam Chowder.
- The Proud Bird: For the kids, this restaurant near LAX is an event in itself. It's located close enough to the airport that tables look out on the tarmac, where planes are constantly arriving and departing. Kids can even don headphones and listen to the control tower. The large lot also houses several antique planes for kids to explore. While the food won't be anything to write home about, it's good quality and your kids will have a blast.
- Take a Bao: For something more than burgers, try Take a Bao, with a free-standing restaurant in Studio City and a smaller location in the Century City mall. The restaurant mixes Asian cuisine with French techniques and American tastes for something unique, if not authentic. Their kids' menu has a variety of choices, but the regular menu will likely also offer many dishes your kids will love.
- Sprinkles Cupcakes: The self-proclaimed "world's first cupcake bakery" now has locations all over the country, but this Beverly Hills outpost was the flagship. Enjoy flavors like Chocolate Marshmallow, Peanut Butter Chip, Red Velvet, or Lemon Coconut, along with the best traditional flavors I've ever tasted. Also of note is what I expect is the world's first cupcake ATM. No joke.
- Scoops: A unique ice cream shop with several locations around the city. Here you won't find any traditional vanilla or chocolate; instead, expect, Brown Brown Bread, Pear White Wine, Caramel Oreo, Maple Sake Toffee, or Peanut Butterfingers. Plenty for both kids and adults to enjoy.
- MILK: All your desires can be fulfilled here, with both an ice cream parlor and bake shop. Sundaes, malts, milkshakes, cookies, puddings and cakes are all delicious, but don't miss the Ooey Gooey Double Chocolate Cookies.
- Farmer's Daughter: A boutique hotel situated right across from the L.A. Farmer's Market and within walking distance of Museum Row.
- The Magic Castle Hotel: Located in the hustle of Hollywood and next to the Magic Castle, an invite-only magic club. Staying at the hotel gets you in without an invite, but kids are only allowed to brunch on Sundays. Even without a visit to the actual castle, the apartment-style suites have full kitchens and lots of room for families to spread out.
- Loews Santa Monica: If you want to be by the beach, this hotel is a great fit. The hotel has a lending library of games, childproofing kits, and provides activity books for kids upon arrival.
- Beverly Garland: This hotel in North Hollywood is close to Universal Studios and CityWalk, and features Kid Suites for families.
If you have favorite family destinations in Los Angeles, please share them in the comments!
(Images: 1. Flickr user Irina Patrascu, licensed for use under Creative Commons; 2. Flickr user Noah Scalin, licensed for use under Creative Commons; 3. iFly; 4. Flickr user pollyalida licensed for use under Creative Commons; 5. Jim Maurer, licensed for use under Creative Commons; 6. Christopher Elliott, licensed for use under Creative Commons; 7. Farmer's Daughter)