Los Angeles has so many great attractions for kids – even if Disneyland is not on your itinerary. During my recent trip to L.A. with my mom and son, we had only two days in the city. Due to centrally located accommodation and easy transportation, we were able to maximize our time and fit in these fun family activities.
#1: Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier was my favorite spot in Los Angeles. It may be because I’m a Midwesterner, but I try to find a way to make it to a beach anytime I travel near the ocean or sea. In Santa Monica, the Pier adds a great deal of excitement to the otherwise typical Pacific beach. The original pier opened in the early 20th century, and the amusement park followed a few years later. The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium – Heal the Bay was just closing when we arrived, but we would have loved to check it out. Pacific Park, the amusement park, features the world’s first and only solar paneled ferris wheel and eleven other rides, including a roller coaster. In a city known for Disneyland, it is notable that Pacific Park is the only admission-free amusement park in the city. Pacific Park is free to enter, but you do pay for ride tickets. I particularly loved how the bright colors of Pacific Park popped against the ocean and sky. There is also a Carousel located in the Looff Hippodrome adjacent to the Pier that we somehow missed entirely.
On our stroll down the pier, we passed musicians, artists, magicians, souvenir shops, carnival games and various food stalls. My son was particularly intrigued by a magician doing tricks for a crowd and a painter who was painting the pier on a piece of slate. The Santa Monica Pier was our last stop before our red-eye flight, and my son was itching to choose a memento of our trip to bring home with him. I was proud that he picked a framed painting made by the local artisan painting on the Pier instead of some cheap trinket.
As the sun began to set, we headed off the Pier and onto the beach. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of sand between your toes and standing at the water’s edge while listening to the waves ebb and flow. We really savored those moments as we waded into the Pacific. I do wish I lived closer to a coast.
After sunset, we washed and dried our feet and decided to eat dinner before heading back downtown. We thoroughly enjoyed our last meal of the trip at Del Frisco’s Grille, located right across from the Pier’s entrance. We dined in their enclosed patio during Game 3 of the World Series. We are Clevelanders who watched the Indians’ epic season and hoped that we would be rooting for our team during the championship series. So, we were somewhat invested despite our team’s early playoff departure. When Los Angeles won the National League championship, I thought this trip would inspire my son to root for LA, but he chose to support the Astros instead. He did learn the important lesson while watching the Astros win two World Series games during our trip that if you are watching a sporting event in public and not supporting the home team, it’s polite to cheer quietly. He had a great time watching the game on the flat screen television while eating his hand-shaved prime steak sandwich.
#2: The Getty Center
Like going to beaches, visiting art museums and getting the best view around are both generally high on my list when traveling. The Getty Center is definitely a can’t miss in my book because it offers a fantastic art collection and an amazing view. As added bonuses, a funicular transports visitors between the parking area and the museum, and there is no admission fee. The Getty Center is a campus of the J. Paul Getty Museum located in Brentwood and funded by the J. Paul Getty Trust, the world’s wealthiest art institution.
We took an Uber to the museum and were dropped off at the rideshare drop off conveniently located next to the security line and funicular entrance. We received a museum guide and daily schedule while waiting for the next car to take us up the hill to the museum. I discovered that the daily impressionist tour was scheduled to begin in 15 minutes. We were a bit tight on time and planned to head to the impressionist galleries anyway, so the tour was definitely a treat. The docent was informative and interesting as she directed us through the impressionist galleries, and the tour culminated with Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises, one of the Getty’s most notable paintings.
The Getty Center was designed by Richard Meier and completed in 1997. It is known for its modern architecture and use of travertine and stunning outdoor gardens where the plants double as sculptures. The Central Gardens, designed by Robert Irwin, contain over 500 plant varieties that visitors enjoy while strolling on a tree-lined walkway. As you weave your way to the central pond, you pass a stream bubbling alongside the path. Irwin’s statement, “Always changing, never twice the same” is carved into the floor to remind visitors of the evolving art.
The beautiful cactus garden was placed on the edge of the ridge with sunlight all day long.
My son enjoyed the impressionist tour (particularly the Monet and Van Gogh paintings), the gardens and the view. He also found the phone charging station, which were located back by the restrooms near the main lobby, particularly fascinating. The Phone Charger worked like a hotel room safe. You connect your phone to the proper charger inside the box, close the door and enter a four digit code to lock the door. At anytime, you can access your phone by entering your code. It is obviously a genius invention, and we can’t wait until they are more common. The Getty Center really has thought of everything to impress its visitors.
There is no Metro stop near the museum, so travel to or from the Getty during rush hour can be challenging, and the Uber timing estimates can be very inaccurate. It took our driver about an hour to drive to the pick up point initially estimated to be nine minutes away and then another hour to travel downtown, so we ended up downtown an hour later than Uber’s original estimate.
#3: La Brea Tar Pits & George C. Page Museum
On the day we flew to LA, my son was attended a field trip to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History specifically focusing on mastodons and mammoths. While we were discussing options for things to do on our trip, he literally lit up when he heard about the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum. So, after our brief stop in Hollywood, we jumped into an Uber and headed to La Brea. I called my husband from the car and asked him to sign us up for a family membership to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History as ours had expired a few months earlier. Members of museums participating in the ASTC Travel Passport Program receive reciprocal entry to member science centers and museums all over the country, including the La Brea Tar Pits. The email confirmation came before we made it to La Brea and was all we needed to gain free entry to the George C. Page Museum.
The LaBrea Tar Pits are shallow pools of oil that coagulated into asphalt and trapped Ice Age animals. The Tar Pits are registered as a National Natural Landmark, and over 3.5 million fossils have been found on the site, with excavation continuing year round at Project 23 and seasonally at Pit 91.
We bought tickets to Titans of the Ice Age, the 25-minute 3D movie showing in the Museum’s theater. The movie showed how Ice Age animals would get stuck and then preserved in the tar pits. The computer-generated imagery and 3D effects really bring the animals to life and interestingly convey the history of Ice Age animals.
My son was fascinated by the Fossil Lab where you can watch paleontologists working on specimens collected from Project 23. With 10 minutes to spare before our showing of the movie began, he headed back to the Fossil Lab to watch. One of the Museum’s very helpful docents identified the paleontologist with the mask as the head curator.
After viewing the completed fossils, watching the movie and observing the Fossil Lab, my son had an opportunity to try separating fossils himself. With all these great hands on opportunities, it’s not surprising that the stop at the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum was his favorite of our trip.
After visiting the Museum and Site 23, we headed up Wilshire Boulevard and had a quick lunch at Johnnie’s New York Pizzeria, right next to the SAG-AFRA building (no celebrity sightings). We did not have time for a leisurely lunch and were thrilled that we were able to get indoor table service of pizza slices (generally permitted only as take out during peak times) because the restaurant was not busy. The pizza was very tasty.
We made a quick stop at the Hollywood and Highland entertainment complex. The big excitement of this stop was that setup for the Latin American Music Awards occurring that evening at the Dolby Theatre, was ongoing. Before kids, I used to regularly watch movies in the theaters when they were released and was a huge movie award show fan. Now that my movie watching occurs through DVDs or Netflix months after the award show season is over, I don’t watch much of the awards shows but do try to catch at least a few minutes of the coverage of the celebrity arrivals in front of the Dolby Theatre. So, it was a treat to see how it’s done – albeit with a purple carpet.
My mom and I had fun walking down Hollywood Boulevard and looking at all the stars. The motion picture camera, a radio microphone, a television set, a record or a theatrical mask symbols identify the celebrity’s genre. My son repeated about 20 times, “Do you know who these people are?” and generally made me feel old.
We planned to stop at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (now known as the TCL Chinese Theatres) to see the concrete blocks with celebrities’ signatures, handprints and footprints of popular celebrities. However, the area in front of the Theatre was completely blocked off due to a movie premiere. It was definitely a busy Thursday in Hollywood.
So, we headed over to the Hollywood and Highland Center to get a view of the Hollywood Sign in the Hollywood Hills.
After taking a few obligatory pictures of the iconic Hollywood Sign, we saw a gelato vending machine. So, I made this little guy’s day by giving this novel concept a try on his behalf.
Before heading off for our next stop, we took a quick peak in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! The entry fee was a bit steep, and we had other museums we wanted to see more, so we did not make it beyond the lobby. However, the lobby provided a few minutes of fun entertainment and even a fortune reading by Zoltar.
#5: Walt Disney Concert Hall
The Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra, is arguably the world’s most unique concert hall. It was designed by Frank Gehry, an architect known for his use of corrugated steel and unexpected lines. Disney Hall opened in 2002, about one year after Gehry’s Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School of Management, which also utilized steel was completed. I have been a fan since I saw a Gehry exhibit at the Guggenheim in 2001.
My son plays the violin and often goes to Cleveland Orchestra performances in Severance Hall, a very different building just down the street from Gehry’s Weatherhead School of Management. The Disney Hall offers guided and self-guided tours, and we opted for the self-guided tour due to time constraints. We particularly enjoyed the spectacular gardens and many unique views of the building.
I’ve heard that some larger conferences offer kids’ activities for older kids and hope this is a trend that catches on. Being away from family is hard for working parents who need to travel for their jobs, and I was very lucky that my mom and son could join me on this trip. They really had a fantastic days in Los Angeles and joining them on a few of their adventures made the trip so much more enjoyable for me, too.
For information about accommodation and transportation options in Los Angeles, check out Los Angeles With Kids: Tinseltown Logistics.
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