A dynamic city with outdoorsy, cultural and culinary attractions galore, Los Angeles has much to offer. But it’s also overwhelming to navigate, especially for a family visiting for the first time — the L.A. County region spans some 4,084 square miles! No wonder many families with kids, and visitors in general, tend to head toward the water for a coastal base that’s still within easy proximity of restaurants, museums and hiking trails.
Ask any Angeleno and they will likely steer families toward Santa Monica, a beachfront city within L.A. that’s laid-back and pedestrian-friendly. Santa Monica boasts a fantastic farmers’ market, held twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays; an amusement park along its historic pier; an atmospheric open-air mall known as the Promenade; and several parks. And it’s no coincidence that some of the city’s most popular and family-friendly properties are in this area, including the Fairmont Miramar & Bungalows, Casa del Mar, Shutters on the Beach and Shore Hotel.
Farther down the coast yet still within L.A., Terranea is also an ideal perch for families. The 582-room resort, set on the dramatic cliffs of Rancho Palos Verdes, offers onsite activities such as archery and ocean kayaking. The Palos Verdes area, in fact, boasts some of the best hiking trails and tide pools in all of Los Angeles. And not too far away is the city of Long Beach with its café-lined 2nd Street and harborside Aquarium of the Pacific.
Choosing between these two areas and variety of properties is not easy, so below are some comparison notes to help.
Atop Santa Monica’s bluffs and facing the water, the location of the 297-room Fairmont Miramar is hard to beat. Step outside and you’re in downtown Santa Monica and within a short stroll of the pier, which features an amusement park with rides and carnival games; a historic carousel; and even a small aquarium operated by nonprofit Heal the Bay. Families with young children who would rather not get their kids in and out of the car multiple times will especially appreciate the walkability of the area and feeling like they’re part of the neighborhood.
The hotel’s 31 individual bungalows as well as connecting rooms in the main building are well-configured for families. Swathed in blues and grays and overlooking the property’s lush gardens, the bungalows are a nod to SoCal’s indoor-outdoor lifestyle. Thoughtful touches such as kid-size robes, stuffed animals, and milk and cookies welcome children to the hotel. The property pool is heated year-round, but is particularly lively during the summer months when family movie nights are held poolside.
Also reason enough to stay at the Fairmont Miramar: the standout restaurant, Fig, where the delicious menu more than reflects the property’s longstanding commitment to supporting local farmers, ranchers and fisheries.
Right on the sand along Santa Monica Beach, the 129-room Casa del Mar dates back to 1926 and was designed to be a private beach house. With a warm Mediterranean aesthetic, sprawling rooms and direct beach access, the property is a longtime favorite of families. Guests can see the nearby Santa Monica pier, and its solar-powered Ferris wheel, lit up at night from the property.
Families may want to opt for the ocean view suite rooms with beautiful marble baths, which can be configured into a multi-bedroom space (up to four bedrooms) — great if you’re traveling with grandparents or extended family.
The hotel team can arrange everything from bikes to boogie boards to beach picnics. And during the summer, the property also partners with local kids’ camps for day or weeklong sessions where kids can dance, swim, build sandcastles and more. Dine on the outdoor patio of the hotel restaurant, Terrazza, or head to Santa Monica’s Main Street, with restaurants such as Stella Barra Pizzeria and Urth Caffe a 10-minute walk away.
Also along the beach, with a clapboard exterior design reminiscent of Cape Cod, is the 198-room Shutters on the Beach, a sister property to Casa del Mar. The hotel first opened in 1993, but was refreshed in 2005 by famed interior designer Michael S. Smith, who decorated the White House for the Obamas. The hotel remains one of L.A.’s hottest addresses and attracts a mix of business and leisure travelers.
Rooms are bright with four-poster beds, hardwood floors and plenty of ocean-themed art objects. The property’s art collection also includes pieces by David Hockney and Roy Lichtenstein.
The beautiful pool overlooking the ocean is an especial favorite of families. And just like its neighbor, the Shutters on the Beach team can set up beach chairs, yoga in the sand, boogie boards and more.
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In the heart of it all along Santa Monica’s Ocean Ave., the 164-room Shore Hotel opened in 2011. With a great location and welcoming vibe, the property can be a great fit for families, especially if you’re traveling with older ones and want to be out and about in Santa Monica and greater L.A.
Borrow one of the property’s bikes and ride along the 22-mile beach bike path. The popular Los Liones hiking trail in the Santa Monica Mountains is also not too far. Come back just in time to hit the hotel pool, which is compact but very inviting.
With LEED Gold certification, the Shore Hotel is also notable for its sustainable practices, which include a solar-power heated swimming pool, low-flow shower heads, drought-resistant plants, LED lighting throughout the property and furnishings made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood.
When hunger hits, head to Blue Plate Taco right next door. Or walk a little farther to Huckleberry, a lunch spot with fantastic salads, sandwiches and more.
Set on 102 acres along the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Terranea feels both miles away from and within reach of greater Los Angeles. That’s likely why it remains a beloved favorite of locals too. Here, you can be within a short drive of the city yet still see the stars — in fact, families can ask for stargazing kits upon arrival.
While the resort offers a variety of accommodations, casitas and villas are equipped with kitchen and dining spaces, which is very helpful for families to prepare a quick breakfast or snacks. If possible, book a lower-level casita or villa so you can access the grounds and the walking trail that stretches along the cliffs right outside your door.
Under normal circumstances, the property runs a fantastic kids’ club, which hopefully will return in the future. In the interim, kids can participate in outdoor art classes, where they might work on mosaic tile projects and plein air painting.
Experiences also extend to activities such as archery, falconry, horseback riding, golf, ocean kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Some of these activities take place and launch from Terranea’s own private cove. It’s especially worth seeing the area’s dramatic rocks and tidepools from the water on an ocean kayak, with a guide who can point out wildlife and even pick up sea urchins to show you at a stop along the way.
As for dining, the property has innumerable options. Among them: bashi, a pan-Asian eatery that serves delicious sushi rolls, fried rice and noodles, wok-fried green beans and shishito peppers, and more.
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