Hollywood is so slick and so quick that it’s easy to forget that Los Angeles, California, is a great travel destination for families. Families come in all shapes and sizes, but imagine this is a family with two parents and a couple of grammar school age kids.
First, do yourself a favor and pick up a rental car if you’re flying into one of LA’s airports. It’s possible to get around via mass transit, but LA is so spread out and is such a car-centric culture, that having your own wheels will make getting around a lot easier.
If a family does decide to kick back and do nothing for a day, Santa Monica’s shopping, farmer’s market, expansive beach, and Santa Monica Pier provide a perfect mix of leisure and action. The pier offers all-day fun at its arcade, restaurants, aquarium and Pacific Park amusement park. The 1922 Looff Hippodrome Carousel is designated a National Historic Landmark. Check for evening concerts, especially in the summer.
Los Angeles harbors a prehistoric tar pit in the center of the city. The Rancho La Brea Tar Pits is one of the world’s most famous fossil sites. Visitors can learn about LA as it was between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age. The piece de resistance is the slightly cheesy, life-size replicas of extinct mammals such as saber toothed cats and mammoths. The museum’s parking lot is located at the corner of Curson Ave and 6th St, directly behind the museum (enter from the western side of Curson Ave).
For lunch, head over to Pink’s, a Hollywood institution. They’ve been serving up hotdogs for 70 years at the same location. Pink’s made their name on their chili dog recipe. There’s a small parking lot but good luck finding a space.
Mexican culture is a vital part of LA. Olvera Street is a little piece of historic Mexican culture – not much more than a couple blocks. The cobbled street is lined with souvenir sellers and small restaurants. If you’re lucky, your visit will coincide with one of the festivals and special events held in the expansive gazebo. Olvera Street is located right next to Union Station in Downtown LA, which is worth a quick visit itself, to see the 1940’s-era waiting room, a popular site for scenes in Hollywood movies.
In the afternoon, head over to Universal CityWalk Hollywood, a three-block promenade with lots of activities and entertainment, including indoor skydiving, plus over 30 eateries to choose from for dinner. There are plenty of paid parking options, including valet.
Day Two will concentrate on the Griffith Park area. In the morning, hit the LA Zoo, located at Griffith Park at the intersection of the 5 and 134 freeways. The LA Zoo is home to more than 1,100 mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. Check out the Chimpanzees of Mahale Mountains, which is lauded by super-star primatologist Jane Goodall as one of the finest zoo habitats in the world. Parking is free.
In the afternoon, either drive or hike up the trail to The Griffith Observatory, which combines scientific exhibits with some of the finest views of LA.
Kids love empowerment, and a dinner at The Counter lets them choose a mind-boggling 312,120 different burger combos. On arrival, you’re handed a clipboard with a list of ingredients that you can use to make your own customized burger. Sure, you’ll find onions and pickles, but you’ll also find horseradish cheddar cheese, dried cranberries and tzatziki sauce.
Most kids are freshest in the morning, which is a great time to visit California Science Center, the largest science center on the west coast. There are lots of interactive activities, including a “High Wire Bicycle”, that allows the rider to be secured in a harness as they zip across a high wire on a bike. There’s also an IMAX theater, where science related films play daily.
The Farmer’s Market in West Hollywood is a wonderful place for lunch, with a collection of more than a hundred stalls and eateries, many of them al fresco. For desert, stroll over to Bennett’s Ice Cream, where they’ve been scooping at the Farmer’s Market for 67 years. You’ll find it easy to follow their advice on a sign behind the counter: “Life is short – lick fast!”
An afternoon on Hollywood Boulevard offers a look at the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Madame Tussaud’s House of Wax, Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which has more than 2,400 five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars laid out over 1.7 miles of sidewalk.
If the group still has energy to spare, take the two-hour Paramount cart tour where you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at movie and television facilities. You’ll also get a walk-through of soundstages, as long as there’s no filming in progress.
If the kids are adventurous eaters, head over to Thai Town’s Thailand Plaza for dinner, where there are a number of restaurants, as well as bakeries and shops selling Thai goods. Don’t hesitate to ask the server to dial down the spice levels.