Things to Do in LA with Kids
I get a lot of questions about what to do in LA with kids. That makes sense, given that we live less than two hours away. But we just don’t drive down very often. It’s a frustrating city, with a lot of traffic planning required, and in general we have everything we need in our small town. Except for an airport. And amazing restaurants. And extraordinary culture. Then being close to LA comes in handy!
If you haven’t visited before, be aware that LA is huge. And there’s no obvious place to stay, since there’s not a central, pedestrian-oriented, tourist-friendly downtown like practically everywhere else in the world. But there are definitely pockets of awesomeness, with a lot to do with kids.
As with everything on my website, I only write about what we’ve done, so this blog post will be a work in progress and I’ll add to it as we explore more. For now I’ll start with a few areas.
Typically we’re only in Downtown LA with kids when we’re going to an event at Staples Center, the Microsoft Theater or the LA Convention Center. We’ve come to like the area though, and usually spend the night. The JW Marriott is extremely convenient for all three venues, and there are a lot of good restaurants around. Our favorite place to eat dinner is Miro. The Original Pantry is good for breakfast, although be prepared for a wait, especially on the weekend.
One of the best things in LA is The Last Bookstore. While it’s Instagram-famous, there always seem to be as many people reading and purchasing books as simply photographing.
And you never know when you’ll wander straight onto a movie set! This was in Downtown LA.
Hollywood is iconic. And touristy. But go and be one of the tourists – it’s worth it! The Pantages Theatre consistently has world-class musicals, so check out what’s playing before you arrive. Otherwise you can just show up and explore. Walk some of Hollywood Blvd and the Walk of Fame. Check out the famous handprints and signatures at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Get lunch at a restaurant lined with head shots of famous patrons. Hike to the Hollywood Sign. Hop on the metro (yes, LA has a metro) and go one stop to Universal Studios. And be sure to visit LA Zoo and the Griffith Observatory, just a short drive away.
Loews Hollywood is our favorite hotel in all of LA, and it’s a great place to base if you want to stay one in one location and branch out every day to different parts of the city. And it’s literally part of the same building as the Dolby Theatre, where the Academy Awards are held. Plus there’s a rooftop pool!
The other perfect thing about Loews Hollywood? It’s only a 7-minute drive, straight down Highland, to our favorite restaurant in LA – Pizzeria Mozza. Make a reservation. You won’t regret it!
Hiking to the Hollywood Sign
There are a lot of different paths to the Hollywood Sign. We typically drive to the Innsdale Trailhead (it’s on Google Maps) and hike up and back. The hike starts on the Innsdale Trail and then transitions to Mulholland Highway and finally Mt Lee Drive. Despite the sound of that you’re generally not on roads with traffic. Parking is easy and the hike is fairly easy – a little under five miles round-trip.
There’s very little shade, so opt for cooler times of day (and year) if you can. Hiking 9:30-noon on a spring day generally works well, and on weekdays you won’t see many others on the trails.
Note: wherever you choose to park and hike, be respectful of the neighbors.
Between Hollywood and Santa Monica
The Getty Museum is a great place to stop for a few hours – for the art, the gardens and the views. And it’s free, other than parking.
Santa Monica is my favorite place in LA in the evenings. We love getting an early dinner downtown, anywhere between the 3rd Street Promenade and Ocean Avenue, and then crossing PCH and enjoying the beach as the sun sets. There are plenty of places to play and swing on the beach, plus the Santa Monica Pier has a ferris wheel and arcade amusements. It’s easy to spend a few hours at the pier and on the beach.
Because Santa Monica is so wonderful in the evenings, it can make sense to spend the night there. I’ve stayed at two hotels recently. Shutters on the Beach is iconic, and the location is excellent, just a short walk down the beach from the Pier. But it’s also expensive. And my daughter and I stayed at the Wyndham Santa Monica at the Pier at the start of our summer road trip and loved the location and the less-expensive pricing.
I went to college in Malibu, so I tend to gravitate back there – with or without kids. When we’re passing through with the kids we typically have lunch on the Malibu Pier at Malibu Farm or dinner at Tra di Noi in the Malibu Country Mart. We let the kids play on the pier or the nearby beach, or at the playground in the Country Mart. And there are fun dunes to run down near Point Mugu north of Malibu. Malibu’s not a full-day destination, but it’s a good stop if you’re driving up Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) from Santa Monica to points north – one of the world’s great drives!
So this might be pushing definition of LA a little but, depending on how you do the math, the Channel Islands are either the closest National Park to LA, or the second-closest. An hour north of Santa Monica on PCH is Oxnard, and from there you can take a ferry to one of the Channel Islands. Anacapa Island and Santa Cruz Island are the easiest one-day destinations. Anacapa has excellent (short) hikes, gorgeous scenery, and seabirds. Santa Cruz has hiking, swimming, kayaking and island foxes. And it’s one of the few national parks that you can visit for free – other than the Island Packers ferry ride.
Obviously LA has a lot more to offer – we just haven’t done a lot of it with the kids yet! Things on our short list:
- The LA County Museum of Art
- The California Science Center and Endeavor Space Shuttle
- If you do a day trip to Ojai, these are the best Ojai Restaurants
- And I want to find this spot! One of my all-time favorite LA kid photos:
What else should we have on our Los Angeles To Do list?