Family-friendly and laid-back, Los Angeles boasts beachy weather, cultural gems aplenty and great eats. Admittedly, though, the sprawling metropolis of four million can be tough to wrap your head around (read: cranky voices from the backseat asking, Are we there yet?). Plan smart and explore one section of the city at a time so adults and kids alike can enjoy the outdoorsy, cultural and culinary riches and spend less time on the freeways.
Compared to other U.S. cities like New York, San Francisco or Chicago, L.A. has few must-do sights, which helps to take some pressure off. Families can pick and choose activities based on interests and ages to create a diverse 72-hour itinerary that could easily be stretched to a week or even two if you add in some of the nearby theme parks.
Regardless of age, most visitors to La La Land look forward to some restorative beach time — that combination of sunshine, sand in your toes and water never grows old! And with 75 miles of coastline stretching from Malibu down to Long Beach, there’s a fair share of beaches to choose from.
Malibu’s Zuma Beach and Leo Carrillo State Beach (pictured above) feel especially dramatic with rock formations, but Santa Monica and Venice beaches remain the most popular. With its carnival-like atmosphere and small amusement park, the Santa Monica Pier is a favorite of families. The historic carousel along the pier, which allows riders to catch glimpses of the boardwalk and shoreline, is especially fun. Older kids may like renting bikes and cruising along the beach paths as well.
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While L.A. is generally a car city, the Santa Monica and Venice communities feature some of its more stroll-worthy streets. Amble along Santa Monica’s Main Street and stop at local favorite Urth Caffe for coffee, sandwiches, salads and more. Voted the coolest block in America by GQ, Abbot Kinney in Venice is a mix of high-end design boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants, as well as Blue Star Donuts and Salt & Straw (two Portland imports wholly embraced by Angelenos nonetheless).
There’s so much more to L.A. than the beach: The city is home to a whopping 108 cultural institutions, gardens and a zoo. With older ones and teens, consider joining the superb hour-long architecture tour at the Getty Center to learn more about Richard Meier’s travertine-wrapped marvel. Meanwhile, Noah’s Ark at the Skirball, an interactive and brilliant menagerie of animals made from recycled materials, is perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. (Be sure to purchase timed tickets for Noah’s Ark in advance.)
Skip touristy and overrated Hollywood Boulevard and head to the Griffith Observatory, from which you can get a great view of the iconic Hollywood sign and peer up at celestial bodies through the Hubbell telescope. Families with younger children may just want to make a day of picnicking and playing in Griffith Park.
Long derelict but now on the rise, downtown L.A. is also home to many cultural attractions. Kids will giggle at the sight of Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog (Blue) at the Broad Museum, an ambitious contemporary art museum opened in 2015. Or grab tickets to the Toyota Symphonies For Youth, held on weekend mornings throughout the year, at the futuristic-looking Disney Concert Hall. Similarly, the LA Opera runs great family programming too, including Saturday Mornings at the Opera, a wonderful introduction with abbreviated, kid-friendly productions for 3- to 9-year-olds.
Take those little ones out to a ballgame at Dodger Stadium, where kids 14 and under can also run the bases after Sunday home games. Beware that day games during the summer can be quite hot, so buy seats in the shade in sections under overhangs.
Alternatively, make a day of stopping to smell the flowers at the gorgeous Huntington Botanical Gardens, spread across 120 acres near Pasadena. Start at the children’s garden, where there are topiary animals, plenty of pebbles and water play, and an adorable child-size trellis house with vines crawling up the exterior. If the kids still have steam afterward, hit the Japanese garden and watch the koi fish.
Two of our favorite L.A. eats are close-ish (this is L.A., after all!) to Dodger Stadium and the Huntington. If your day allows for lunch or dinner at family-run Pine & Crane, it’s well worth it. There’s usually a line out the door at this casual Silverlake joint for potstickers, scallion pancakes, dan dan noodles and mapo tofu. Follow with soft-serve at cult favorite Magpie.
Dozens of hotels across L.A. offer suite configurations (some even have kitchenettes), but Santa Monica’s walkability and family-friendly vibe makes it a great home base to explore the city. The Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows and Casa del Mar are two favorites.
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