Are you planning to visit Los Angeles? If so, check out our favorite things to do in Los Angeles with kids. After living here for 7+ years exploring every nook and cranny with our son, we know all the best things to do in LA with kids big or small!
Since moving here, I have become very aware of the image people have of Los Angeles – obscene traffic, out of control botoxed wanna-be celebrities, gang violence and ugly strip malls. Yep, 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 reinforce their impressions from the TV and film industry.
After years escorting visitors around, this is our list of the most epic things to do in Los Angeles for kids offering a broad sampling of everything this vast city has to offer.
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Map of Things to Do in Los Angeles with Kids
Los Angeles is a MASSIVE city. One of the biggest mistakes visitors make is underestimating the traffic and time it takes to move around the city. In order to help you plan your stay in the city a bit more efficiently, I have broken down all the things to do in LA with kids by area: Westside, Hollywood, Downtown and Other areas. If you stay on one side of town, know that it will take you quite a bit of time especially during peak traffic times (7-10 a.m. and 3-7 p.m.) to go even 5 miles.
Without further ado, our list of things to do in Los Angeles with kids or without.
Things To Do in LA with Kids on the Westside
The westside of Los Angeles is the quintessential image that most visitors have of Los Angeles. This is where all of the beaches are, where the rich and famous live and where you will find yourself stuck in hours of gridlock traffic if you aren’t careful! No but really, the Westside of Los Angeles has to many amazing things to do with kids that we find ourselves over there quite often.
Santa Monica Pier
One of the most recognizable things in Los Angeles is actually in Santa Monica – the Santa Monica Pier! For families visiting the area, this is a must visit stop. Santa Monica is a perfect place to start or end a Los Angeles vacation. If you aren’t planning a visit to Disneyland, then this your opportunity to ride a few rides, experience a carnival like atmosphere with games and even funnel cake! Don’t forget to check out the indoor carousel. The Pier is also a great place to buy have lunch if you are spending the day at the beach.
For families that want to stay away from the pier’s carnival atmosphere, head to Annenberg Beach House just a bit further up the beach where you can park close to the beach, let the kids play on a playground, have access to relatively clean restrooms and enjoy a more local beach vibe.
Venice Canals & Beach
I’m always surprised that the Venice Canals are not on many people’s lists of things to do in Los Angeles with kids. The beautiful and delicate feel of the Venice Canals are always a surprise to visitors that we take. It’s such a unique place that you don’t feel like 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 Muscle Beach and the touristy shops which is a must on many out of town visitors to do list in LA. If you happen to go during the winter, buy a 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 grab something quick at the Los Angeles famous Lemonade.
Ride Bikes at the Beach
Another great activity for families of all ages is to ride bikes at the beach. We have done this in Long Beach as well as in Santa Monica. If you have new riders, we definitely recommend heading to Long Beach as it is much calmer, but you can also always hire the quad bike to explore between Santa Monica and Venice Beach.
For families with smaller kids who need to escape the busyness of the bike path, try riding the bikes north towards Malibu. The path tends to be less busy this direction than going south to Venice. However, note that once you get past Annenberg Beach House there are not a ton of options for food or drinks.
Explore Malibu Tide Pools & Beaches
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 a more mellow beach retreat with beautiful cliffs and a scenic drive, head to Malibu. Here you can explore tide pools and caves during low tide at Malibu State Park or just relax on some uber sandy beaches at Zuma Beach 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.
The Getty Museum
One of our favorite places to take visitors is The Getty Museum. However, I will note that it can be a a touch boring for children, but adults usually love it. The positive for children is the beautiful grounds and getting to take the train up the hill from the parking structure.
My best recommendation is if you have grade school kids and older who love art, make a visit. Otherwise give it a miss unless you have plenty of time in Los Angeles and want to just check everything out. The Getty often has special events on which can be great for smaller kids. Check their schedule before you head out.
Cayton Children’s Museum (New!)
Our favorite Westside children’s museum is no more, but a wonderful replacement has popped up to fill the gap. The Cayton Children’s Museum in Santa Monica. This is a great place to head indoors if it’s raining or too hot outside. We would recommend this children’s museum for kids under 10.
Things To Do in Los Angeles with Kids in Hollywood
Everyone who arrives to Los Angeles expects to make a visit to Hollywood. It might not quite be what you are expecting as I find that people have visions of Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills in mind as what Hollywood looks like. Rather it is here that you will find a few old school studios, entertainment and of course the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame.
While not the most beautiful or characteristic part of Los Angeles, out of towners won’t be happy if they don’t get at least a glimpse of Hollywood. Take a stroll down the bustling tourist area on Hollywood Blvd to check out the Hollywood Walk of Fame stars on the sidewalk and maybe even get an ice cream at El Capitan.
You may not think it, but kids love checking out the stars on Hollywood Blvd as 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 staircase 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 and the only one in Los Angeles.
TLC Chinese Theater
For fans of TV and movies, you must make a stop at the most famous theater on the Hollywood Strip – the TLC Chinese Theater. This is the place where the Academy Awards are held each year, and as such you probably have all seen it on TV for many years of your life. While there isn’t much to do here, it is cool to see it in person, check out the handprints out front and soak up the atmosphere.
El Capitan Theater (for smaller kids)
Also located on the Hollywood Strip is the El Capitan Theater. This is one of the best old theaters in Los Angeles and worth a visit if they are playing a film you haven’t seen. Select shows will start off with a live organ being played on stage that then drops down when the show is about to begin. My son LOVED this as a youngster and would only see the newest movies here. To find out more about the shows on offer check out their website and to find out more about our experiences there, go here.
One of the best views of Los Angeles is located at Griffith Park & Observatory. It is from this vantage point that you can really get a sense of the scale of this grand city. The Observatory itself is free and great for a quick visit to learn more about the planets with a few hands on activities. But the great draw for many is the planetarium here. The first show of the day is the only one that small kids are allowed to go to, so check the daily schedule for your visit.
While at the Observatory, you can also take a hike in the surrounding Griffith Park. If you want to work your way up to the park, start your visit at the Trails Cafe and hike up to the Observatory after some time at the playground.
Don’t forget to snap your photo with the Hollywood sign!
If you want more outdoor fun, there are a ton of great hikes to do in Griffith Park as well as one of the city’s best playgrounds (Shane’s Inspiration), horseback riding and even the LA Zoo.
Hike to the Hollywood Sign
One of the best things to do in Los Angeles with kids is get up close and personal with the most famous site in town – the Hollywood sign! This sign can be seen from all over the city if you know where to look, so for many kids it’s really cool to be able to get right up behind it.
There are several options to reach the back of the Hollywood sign. The most scenic route is hiking from Bronson Canyon Park. This is about 6 miles to the front of the sign and another mile to get to the back of the sign.
The shortest most direct route is not really a hike at all since you are on the roads, so even though it would be the quickest, we don’t recommend that one. Instead, we recommend the one that starts at Lake Hollywood Park. It is a steep climb, but if you take it slow, you can manage. The Outdoor website has all the details you would need to do this hike including where to park! At least you will be greeted with beautiful LA views and be able to tell all your friends you hiked to the Hollywood sign!
Horseback Riding in Griffith Park
The best way to explore Los Angeles’s enormous urban park is on horseback! There are several options for riding horses in Griffith Park, from a small pony ride available for all ages, a guided trail ride or you can even rent your own horse and explore on your own!
We highly recommend booking a guided trail ride especially with kids. You can do a variety of tours throughout the park, but we love the sunset ride with Sunset Ranch. Other places to check out include: Griffith Park Horse Rental, Diamond Bar Stables and Rocken P Stables.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Another favorite for visitors coming to Los Angeles is Universal Studios Hollywood. While not as large and grand as the one in Orlando, the Universal Studios in Hollywood is a great thing to do in Los Angeles with kids. Ideally, we recommend not visiting with kids who are shorter than 40 inches as many of the rides require this as a minimum height. That said, if you have a multiple children of different ages, there is something for everyone here. Find out all you need to know for your first visit and of course read more about what to expect in Harry Potter World.
If your budget allows for it, we highly recommend getting a skip the line ticket which will allow you to easily ride every ride in the park.
Warner Brothers Studio Tour
The Warner Brothers Studio Tour is another great way to immerse yourself into the filmmaking world of Los Angeles. This is your chance to see one of the oldest and most popular studios in LA. Fans will enjoy getting to check out the real sets for some of TVs hottest shows like the Big Bang Theory, Friends and more. Kids must be at least 8 years old to join on a tour. Tickets are a bit pricey, but for television fan’s it’s worth it. Get your tickets here.
Things To Do in Downtown Los Angeles with Kids
Explore Downtown LA
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 you 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 for a meal at the newly refurbished Clifton’s Cafeteria (currently only open for dinner on weekends).
Some of our favorite places to eat downtown include: Guisados for delicious tacos, Bottega Louie for a sit down meal and macrons for dessert and of course Grand Central Market for the latest in LA’s hip dining scene with something for everyone in your family.
Grammy Museum at L.A. LIVE
For music fans, this is a fun interactive museum that will delight young and old visitors. Kids will get a kick out of the band area where they can play to their heart’s content on drums sets, guitars and more. With listening booths, artifacts of former Grammy winners and more, this is a great museum to experience while in town.
Graffiti Art Walking Tour in the Arts District
You can’t visit Los Angeles for long without noticing the amazing amount of beautiful graffiti art throughout the city. Murals adorn walls from Venice to Downtown and everywhere in between. Gone are the days when graffiti art had a bad name. Now artists are paid thousands to paint sides of buildings to beautify the city. In the Art District downtown you can take a tour of some of the most famous murals in the city with current and former graffiti artists. Here you will learn the history of the craft and where it is going now. Super fun outing for the entire family. If you book in advance you can book a family tour with a fun scavenger hunt to keep the littles busy.
➢ Can’t make it downtown? Check out this fun Melrose Instagram Mural Art Tour!
OUE Skyspace LA (Glass Slide)
A new addition to the downtown scene is the Skyspace observation deck and glass side that goes down the side of a high rise building. I am still too scared to do it, by the kids love it. A bit expensive for what it is, the novelty of it is what makes it worth doing. Not to mention the photo opportunities! Buy your tickets HERE.
One of the silliest entertainment options in downtown Los Angeles also happens to be one of the top things to do in Los Angeles with kids – the shortest train ride ever! Angel’s Flight has been one of my son’s favorite downtown activities for as long as he can remember. Located just opposite the Grand Central Market means it’s tough to get out of doing if you are in the area!
Angels Flight has been an LA landmark since 1901. Despite being closed for the past few years, it is now open again and operating as usual. This funicular railway has two cars running in opposite directions. The fun will only set you back a few bucks and is worth the laugh alone!
Things To Do in Other Areas of Los Angeles with Kids
The items listed below don’t fit nicely into the other areas listed above, so we have grouped them together. I will always let you know which area this is closest to so you can map out your stay more efficiently.
Spot a Celebrity
One thing all visitors want to do while in Los Angeles is spot a movie star. While this is often just due to chance, there are a few places you can visit to help increase your chances of seeing a star in their normal day to day life. One of our favorite places to spot celebrities is at Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, their fabulous outdoor garden is where you are sure to spot someone famous! Reservations are recommended for lunch and required for dinner. Another option for a more casual encounter is Cafe Gratitude. This is another hot spot for local LA celebs. Another great place to spot a celebrity is on one of LA’s most famous hiking trails, Runyon Canyon.
California Science Center
The California Science Center is located just a bit outside of downtown in a district with several other museums and next door to the University of Southern California. Unfortunately for many visitors, this is not something usually on the tourist radar but everyone we have taken to the California Science Center has loved it. Of course those of us who live here frequent it often and adore it.
Adults and kids alike will be awed by the chance to see the Space Shuttle Endeavor up close. We take it for granted that we have seen an actual space shuttle drive through our streets, but for many this is a once in a lifetime visit.
For a museum that offers free entry apart from the special exhibits or 3D movies on offer, this is a day in LA that can’t be beat. The museum is free, however parking is $15 (cash only). It is worth it even for half a day, but trust me your kids will love it and want to stay all day!
LACMA & La Brea Tar Pits
Located in Mid-City, which is in between both the Westside and the Eastside, the LACMA and La Brea Tar Pits are a double whammy hit for families looking for things to do in Los Angeles with kids. Kids will love visiting the Boone Children’s Gallery for hands on art and holding up the massive rock in your photos.
Outside of LACMA you will find the famous light exhibit which will occupy your time for a while I am sure if you are a photo taker at all.
On the other side of the building is the amazing La Brea Tar Pits, with actual tar pits. Kids will be amazed seeing the tar pits with recreation of animals stuck inside. If you want to find out more about this and the animals that once called this area home, you can pay to visit the La Brea Tar Pits Museum.
Tip: Sign your kids up for the NextGen program which allows them free entry with 1 adult! Ask at any ticket window for more information.
Petersen Automotive Museum
I am not a huge fan of staying indoors when there is so much to do an explore outside, but for kids or adults who are car fans, this is a must visit while in town. The Petersen Automotive Museum has been recently refurbished and exhibits an amazing collection of cool cars. From checking out The Cars car, a ford original, the Popemobile, as well as tons of race cars, this is a car lover’s dream come true. Located in Mid-City, you could easily add this on to your day visiting the LACMA /La Brea Tar Pits or stop in on your way to or from the beach.
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 do on our family’s tour of the best things to do in Los Angeles with kids. Stop in, try a sugar raise donut for mouth watering goodness. Go ahead and buy a few so you will have something to munch on your flight home. If you are lucky, Randy will come out and take a photo with you. TIP: If you go to the California Science Center you can see a photo of the Space Shuttle Endeavor driving past Randy’s Donuts on it’s arrival to Los Angeles.
Not many visitors make it to the Kidspace Museum in Pasadena, but if you happen to be staying on the eastside of town and want a fun interactive day out with the kiddos this is the place to go. This indoor/outdoor science museum offers a variety of hands on activities that will delight kids of all ages, including many of the adults!
Bob Baker’s Marionettes Puppet Show
This definitely doesn’t find its way on most people’s to do lists in Los Angeles, but it is a classic Los Angeles theater that will either delight young kids or spook them! The Bob Baker Marionettes have recently moved from their downtown los Angeles location to the east side of town in Highland Park.
Watts Towers is far off the beaten track mostly because it is located in what many think is a dodgy area. Yes, this area can be scary for many, but it’s also quite interesting to others to step into South LA that is often depicted in rap songs or on TV. Watts Towers is a quirky fun exhibit to check out if you are into cool art. 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.
Can you really visit Southern California without going to Disneyland? Some do, but most don’t! It’s technically Orange County, but we won’t get too picky here. 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 more on what to do and see during your visit, check out our ride guide for both Disneyland and California Adventure. And for never fear we have also written a guide on how to maximize your one day at Disneyland and California Adventure if you that is all the time you have allotted.
Getting Around Los Angeles with Kids
Getting around Los Angeles without a car is tough but doable. This city was built for cars and even though Los Angeles is trying to catch up to modern times and install more public transportation, it lags far behind most major cities in this regard. Thus, our recommendation is if you can manage it, rent a car. If not, consider staying in an area with most of the things you want to do.
Rent A Car
As I mentioned above, my number one recommendation if to rent a car in Los Angeles to provide maximum flexibility to get around and explore as you please. The city can be overwhelming for new drivers, but if you have driven in any big city, you will manage just fine. The most important thing to pay attention to is which lane you need to be in as lanes often exit off the highway or turn only signs only at the end of the lane.
Tips on Driving in Los Angeles:
- When turning left, typically 2-3 cars will run the light as it turns red. If you don’t, you will most likely get honked at. Yes, we know it is illegal, but since many of our lights do not have turn signals, we have made this an unspoken rule.
- Stay off of Fairfax regardless of what your GPS says! It is always packed with traffic.
- Parking: Pay CLOSE attention to parking signs. We are notorious for our parking rules. Know which days are street cleaning, know if there is a permit required, know how many hours you can park there. Read ALL the signs.
- Don’t rely on the 1st route that your GPS gives you – test all the other routes as well. If your GPS takes you 4 miles out of the way to save 3 minutes, understand that anything can happen on those 4 miles making your trip MUCH longer than planned.
- Traffic is terrible at all hours of the day in Los Angeles. We do have worst times in the morning and evening, but expect traffic at any time of day.
- Understand that to go 3 miles can take 30 minutes or more in some areas of the city.
I am not sure what this city did before Uber and Lyft showed up, but they are an essential part of the landscape now. If you plan to go car free during your visit, make sure you have downloaded both apps to use while in town. Rates are reasonable and cars can be summoned to most areas of the city within a few minutes at all hours of the day. If you have small children, consider bringing a portable car seat like the miFold or BubbleBum. As these are private cars, children below 8 or 4’9″ tall must have a carseat.
The public transportation in Los Angeles is not comparable to London or New York, but it is definitely better than some areas of the US. That said, it is difficult to rely totally on it unless you have unlimited time in the city. My husband didn’t drive for our first 7 years in the city, so we became very well acquainted with its slowness!
In order to use the public transport efficiently, you will need to purchase a TAP card. This is a reusable fare card that can be used to ride the Metro and buses. To see where the Metro goes, use the Metro’s itinerary planner to map your routes.
Honestly, this is my least favorite recommendation for families visiting Los Angeles unless you are on a super budget and only need to get to a few places near where you are staying.
Where to Stay in Los Angeles with Kids
This is the number one questions visitors struggle with while planning a visit to Los Angeles with kids. Where do we stay? Honestly, the best answer is stay where ever you want and plan to drive – a lot. The next best answer is to break up your visit with a couple of different stays in two or three different areas – near Disneyland if you are going, the beach and either downtown or Hollywood.
There are a ton of places to stay in all areas of Los Angeles, so this is in no way an exhaustive list, just a sampling of what’s available. You can use this list more as a guide to help you figure out the places that are available in the different areas.
Airbnb is also a great option for LA, although the city is clamping down on them, so they may not be as easy to come by in the future.
- Wyndham Santa Monica at the Pier – Perfect location to just walk across the street to the beach and Santa Monica Pier. Great for the part of your visit when you don’t want/need a rental car.
- DoubleTree Suites by Hilton – Always a fan of Doubletree and their chocolate chip cookies. Not on the beach, but close enough.
- Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel – Right at the beach, outdoor pool, super family friendly chain hotel.
Hollywood & the Eastside
- Hilton Los Angeles Universal City – This is a great option if your plan is to go to Universal Studios. It is also close to Hollywood and is centrally located near several highways making it a hop skip and a jump to downtown or even to the beaches.
- Beverly Hills Hotel – Not quite in Hollywood or the Eastside, this famed (and pricey) hotel is for those who want to glam up their stay and hob nob with the celebrities. Family friendly even!
- The W Hotel Hollywood – In an area of town with the most for visitors, there aren’t a ton of great hotel options. We love the W hotel because it’s convenient to the metro if you plan to use public transport and in walking distance to many of Hollywood’s best sights.
- The Langham Huntington Pasadena – If you plan to be on the eastside more and want a little luxury, we highly recommend the Langham. This family friendly property is set in a high end neighborhood near the fantastic Lacy Park.
- The Ace Hotel – Downtown is still a bit seedy in some areas, so choose your hotel wisely The Ace is a hotel chain that offers a hip artsy vibe. This hotel has amazing sunset views and a wonderful rooftop pool. I’ve only visited this one, but highly recommend the Palm Springs Ace as well.
- Sheraton Grand in the heart downtown just near 7th & Fig which is a growing area of shops, restaurants and entertainment options.
- Intercontinental – is another great option in a safe walkable part of Downtown Los Angeles.
- Kimpton Hotel Wilshire – This is a beautiful hotel located near Beverly Hills, close to the Grove and mid-city. I am a fan of Kimpton hotels so I alway seek them out wherever we go.
- Four Seasons Beverly Hills – This is for all of you who want a super splurge and to feel like a celebrity. This is THE place celebrities stay while in town and is also the one featured in my favorite movie, Pretty Woman! The negatives – not conveniently located for anything except Rodeo Drive
None of those fit your requirements? Check out what’s available on Booking.com below.
Is Los Angeles just one stop on your California itinerary? If so, check out all of our other posts to help plan your trip.
Other Popular Places to Visit in California with kids
And, if you are heading further south while in Southern California, make sure to check out the top 40 things to do in San Diego to prepare for your trip!
Do you have other must do activities in Los Angeles with kids? 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 your outings as well.
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