Even though we live here, as soon as someone says they are coming for a visit we freeze – what are we going to do with them!? Since moving to LA, I have become very aware of the image people have of Los Angeles – obscene traffic, out of control botoxed people, gang violence and ugly strip malls. Yes, we have all of that, but we also have so much more. I will admit that it took me a while to get over my NorCal leanings and really see LA for all it’s amazingness. But now that I do, my goal with visitors is to also show them the real LA, not just reinforcing their impressions from the TV and film industry.
After a few years of showing visitors around, we have come up with a great list of what we do with most visitors depending on how long they are in town and what their specific interests are. All of the following ideas take into account that either you or your visitors have children who will also need to be entertained during sight seeing!
Venice Canals & Beach
I’m always surprised to not see this on many people’s lists of things to do in Los Angeles. The beautiful and delicate feel of the Venice Canals are always a surprise to visitors when I take them there. It’s such a unique place that you don’t feel you are in Los Angeles at all. As a bonus for children, there is a small playground (at 2401 Dell Ave) with ducks that is great bribe material or just a fun surprise for the little guests in the group.
After a wander around the canals, head over to the beach for some sand play and to check out the touristy shops which is a must on many out of town visitor’s to do list in LA. If you happen to go during the winter, don’t forget the sled for some awesome sand sledding.
End your time in Venice with a stroll on Abbott-Kinney and a meal at the up market Gjelina for possible celebrity spotting or for something chill and quick at the Los Angeles famous Lemonade.
Out of towners won’t let you live it down if you don’t give them at least a glimpse of Hollywood. Take a stroll down the bustling tourist area on Hollywood Blvd to check out the TLC Chinese Theater where the Academy Awards are held each year, the stars on the sidewalk and maybe even an ice cream at El Capitan. you may not think it, but kids love checking out the stars on Hollywood Blvd ad well as seeing the abundance of dressed up characters posing for photos (for money!). If the kids need some run around time, let them have fun on the piano stair case or frolicking in the fountain at the outdoor mall near California Pizza Kitchen. Don’t forget to make a quick stop in Muji – the best Japanese shop ever!
One of our favorite destinations in Los Angeles is downtown. Many visitors think only of Skid Row when you mention downtown. Yes, that is still there, and growing by the day, but what is also growing is a beautiful dining and entertainment scene. We could spend several days downtown, but on a limited schedule it’s worth a short visit at the least.
Some of our favorite places to hit up while downtown include the Grand Central Market for a meal or light snack before heading to the awesomely quirky Last Bookstore. If your visitors are in town during a hot spell (which could be at any time of year!), head to Grand Park to cool off in the beautifully family friendly fountain suitable for all ages or head downhill a bit further for the quirky mole hole playground (located down the hill from the fountain and metro station). If you have art lovers in the bunch, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the new Broad museum are a must. Don’t forget a photo op at the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. Saving the best for last, head to Broadway for a meal at the newly refurbished Clifton’s Cafeteria for some food to meet everyone’s needs and old time fun with taxidermy for company!
There are an abundance of beach options for visitors to Los Angeles, with most heading to the pier in Santa Monica. Granted that is a fun day out, but for the quintessential feel of Southern California with beautiful cliffs and a scenic drive, head to Malibu. Here you can explore tide pools and caves during low tide or just relax on some uber sandy beaches before heading to Neptune’s Net for a delicious fish meal overlooking the coast. It’s a long drive, but the scenery is worth it.
California Science Center
This is not something usually on the tourist radar since those of us with kids have access to the California Science Center often, however we have found it to be a big hit with our visitors through the years. Adults and kids alike will be awed by the chance to see the Endeavor up close. We take it for granted that we have seen an actual space shuttle drive through our streets. Add in picking up a truck with your muscles, 3D movie experiences and tons of cool exhibits and your guests and kids will be happy for the day. Pack a lunch and eat outside at the Rose garden where the kids can run off some steam. The museum is free, but parking is $10 (cash only).
Watts Towers is a great off the beaten track destination to take visitors to in Los Angeles. Getting off the beaten path in South LA is an eye opener for visitors to see how diverse this city truly is. And what a quirky fun exhibit to check out at the same time! Kids will be mesmerized by the ingenuity of just one man. Check opening times as tours are not always provided, even though you can see the structures without a tour.
Disneyland & California Adventure
This is sort of a given isn’t it? Not many people can make it to LA without spending at least one day at Disneyland or California Adventure. We are season pass holders, so go quite often and know the ins/outs and secrets to help entertain our guests to the maximum. If you haven’t been before, make sure to read our tips on planning a trip to a Disney park. For visitors who have mobility problems, rent a wheelchair. This will also help get you in to busy rides much quicker! For more on what to do and see during your visit, check out our ride guide for both Disneyland and California Adventure.
This is in our backyard and is a must do for all of our visitors. Griffith Observatory is a great place to see LA from above to really get a sense of the massiveness of this grand city. You can also take a hike to check out the Hollywood sign if your visitors can manage. Otherwise enjoy the view, cool off inside with some awesome exhibits and snap your photo with the Hollywood sign in the distance.
We are big hikers, so if our visitors can handle it, we always get them out on a trail. Our favorite family friendly, shady trail is Monrovia Falls. This is a great hike that can be shortened or lengthened depending on our visitors abilities. It’s not close, so does take some time to get to. If we can’t make it out to Monrovia, our back up hike is the Bat Cave near Bronson Park which guests enjoy or Fern Dell on the way up to Griffith Observatory.
The Getty &/or LACMA
I’m doing a double here, because we have two favorite art museums we like to take visitors to – The Getty and the LACMA. The Getty as a museum can get a little boring for kids inside, but outside there is a whole world to explore. If you have visitors really into art, this is a great bet – let them explore inside while the kids play havoc on the grassy fields outside. The views are fantastic and every one will enjoy riding the train up the hill.
If you need to stay closer to town, the LACMA is a great day out. Kids will love playing in the spaghetti string exhibit, doing art in the Boone Children’s Gallery and pretending to hold up a massive rock in your photos! While you are here, don’t forget to check out the La Brea Tar Pits and picnic on the grass!
On the way to or from the airport, a visit to LA is not complete without a stop at the famous Randy’s Donuts. This is a must on our family’s tour of LA. Stop in, try a sugar raise donut for mouth watering goodness. Go ahead and buy a few so your guests will have something to munch on their flight home. If you are lucky, Randy will come out and take a photo with you.
Do you have other must do activities when you have visitors in town? If so, please comment below to share with all of our readers! Don’t forget to check out the monthly free days at local museums and gardens to help plan visitor outings as well.
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