by Erica Garza
As the mother of a toddler, I’m always looking for ways to break up our routine of watching Sofia the First (again), arguing about vegetables and hitting the same few parks within a 5-mile radius. Luckily, family activities in Los Angeles are not hard to find. In fact, as a native Angeleno, I’ve been collecting them since the early ‘80s, and some of my favorites still stand today.
I can’t tell you the joy (and sense of déjà vu) I experience regularly watching my daughter ride the train in Griffith Park or touch slippery eels at the Long Beach Aquarium. But my list of kid-friendly activities in LA doesn’t only contain the classics. In a city that’s always growing and evolving, it would be silly to overlook the new hotspots popping up across the city in droves. If you’re looking for things to do in Los Angeles with family, check out my go-to list below.
Wander the Huntington Gardens
Hidden in the affluent neighborhood of San Marino, The Huntington is home to posh galleries, an elegant teahouse, a Japanese Garden complete with bonsai trees, a Desert Garden with rows of cacti, and a Chinese Garden with a lotus pond. But what my kid loves most is the Children’s Garden, where she can splash in water fountains, hang out in a fog grotto and meander through covered tunnels. Nearby, a greenhouse offers interactive exhibits, including a steamy rainforest and a winding ramp that leads to a mesmerizing fish tank.
Out in the gardens, don’t be surprised to see wildlife like roaming geese, rabbits, squirrels and koi fish. Keep in mind that the gardens are closed on Tuesdays for maintenance, and don’t miss “Free Day” every first Thursday of the month.
Ride a Train in Griffith Park
One of my favorite memories as a kid was riding a train around the Southern Railroad in Griffith Park. It’s no surprise that my daughter’s face lights up at the sound of “All aboard!” every time we visit. The railroad is a classic, operating since the late 1940s, though the current ride was built in the 1960s.
Although the crowds are typically minimal during the week, the holiday season brings long lines with their annual display of lights and decorations. After your ride is over, head over to the nearby stables for a pony ride.
Grab a Meal at Giggles N’ Hugs
Though there are several child-friendly restaurants dotting the city, Giggles N’ Hugs is my favorite, with locations in Glendale and Topanga. The restaurant, which serves breakfast all day and healthy sandwiches and entrees, boasts a bright 2,000-square-foot play space complete with a bubble pit, slides, climbing area, and arcade games. There are scheduled bubble parties, games and limbo too. And did I mention they serve beer and wine? I love to sit back, sip and watch my daughter have fun tiring herself out.
Learn Physics at Kidspace Children’s Museum
The Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena is one of those places I wish existed when I was a curious, daydreaming kid. Though the institution has technically been around since 1979, it wasn’t until 2005 that it moved out of its school district location to its current address near the Rose Bowl, spanning 2.2 acres and including two three-story climbing towers, 14 seasonal gardens and 10 exploration and discovery stations.
My daughter’s favorite spot is the physics forest, home to 12 hands-on exhibits like a bottle rocket, tennis ball launcher, pulleys, and a giant fan, all designed to inspire curiosity about physics with an interactive approach. There’s so much to touch and see here that there’s never a reason to get bored.
Touch Eels at Aquarium of the Pacific
I’m pretty sure sea otters are the cutest animals to ever play in water. My daughter seems to agree as she can watch them frolic for a good half-hour or longer before moving on to touch slippery eels and wave at penguins at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.
The aquarium's mission is to instill a sense of wonder and respect for the Pacific Ocean, its inhabitants and its ecosystems. There are countless creatures to see, touch, feed and learn about as the aquarium is home to more than 11,000 animals in over 50 exhibits. There’s also an outdoor play area complete with a ship, various snack bars, and scheduled puppet shows.
See Art Together at Hauser & Wirth
This fascinating 116,000-square-foot complex in the Arts District is one of six Hauser & Wirth art centers located around the world devoted to contemporary art. Your family will love browsing the indoor and outdoor spaces filled with art, but kids will really love gawking at the 12 rare-breed chickens and meandering the gardens outside.
Build Sandcastles at Mother’s Beach
If you’re having trouble deciding which beach to hit with the kids, consider Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey, especially if your kids are small like mine. Technically known as Marina Beach, locals have renamed it “Mother’s Beach” because of its roped off swimming and wading area and calm waters. Lifeguards watch over the beach here and waves can’t sneak in.
Forgot to pack a lunch? There’s a ton of good restaurants within walking distance and a convenient parking lot nearby saves you the headache of trying to find a spot.
See a Show at El Capitan Theatre
This iconic Hollywood gem opened in 1926 and often surprises movie-going guests with Disney cast members, live singing and confetti showers. Parents of younger kids will also love El Capitan’s “Tiny Tot Tuesdays,” which feature dimmed lights (instead of completely off) and reduced sound levels—perfect for even the youngest fans.
Take a Beachfront Bike Ride
Whether you’re feeling Long Beach, Manhattan Beach or Santa Monica, there are plenty of opportunities to take your little one on an oceanfront bike ride whether you own a bike or not. Beachfront bike rentals are available at nearly every beach you visit, ranging from family-friendly surreys—which come in doubles and triples—to tandem bikes to beach cruisers outfitted with kids trailers. And if the whining starts up, there’s always a beachside snack bar to take a timeout.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. She holds a master’s degree in writing from Columbia University. Her work has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, The Telegraph, and VICE.
Link to the "Biking in LA" post (Batch 2)