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- 1This is my very favorite place to take the kids. Every weekend, I would say, and it's always different. Pick a trail from one of the hundreds in the hills. Park by the tennis courts and head up the hill. Park in Bronson and hike up to see the old quarry (known as the "Bat Cave") where they filmed the iconic shot of Batman's car entering or leaving his lair. Go around to the valley side and you can put the kid on a pony for 2 bucks or ride the little cheeseball train for another 2. Have a picnic at any of the zillion areas, complete with playgrounds. Best of all, it'e free and your kids get to be outside.
Santa Anita ParkThis is one of my favorite places to take the kids, but its not an every-weekend kind of thing. The ponies don't run here year-round, they switch off with Hollywood Park - which is a slum, and gross, and not somewhere to take your kids. This is a beautiful, old-school race track and they have a fantastic infield - which is exactly where you should go with your kids. Pick a weekend they are running a big event race like the Breeders Cup. It's great for adults too (Gambling! Beer tents!) and you can camp out on the grass right by the fence and watch the horses race literally feet away. There's a huge playground for the kids to play on between races - or for when they lose interest in horses running. And during these events there are tons of food tents and live music. It's a really great time.
California Science CenterSure, their Ecosytsems exhibit is great fun for the offspring, but what CSC really has is the Space Shuttle! A whole space shuttle parked next to it! Hard to beat that, really. This place is technically free, tho they do ask for donations. It is a terrific way to spend a good chunk of the day with the kids, and I have yet to meet a kid that doesn't love it. There's also an Air and Space Gallery in another building nearby (the one with the giant jet fighter bolted to the roof) that is full of dated, hilarious exhibits... but also a fun (empty) space for them to run around in and look at ACTUAL modules from a couple of the moon missions which are cool as hell.
- 4This is one of the most Los Angeles things you can do with your kids in this city. The views are spectacular and the observatory itself is both free and neat. If you want to spend money on the planetarium show, you can, but otherwise, wander around in exhibits both old and new. A fun way to make an afternoon of it is to park at the bottom of the hill and walk up one of the many trails, getting a great view the whole way. Once you are done inside and feel ambitious, keep climbing up to the top of Mt Hollwood that looms over the place. Its not a long hike and you get a 360 view of the entire Metropolitan area, including the Valley side, too.
The Old ZooOne of the hidden gems of LA. This was the original zoo for LA... closed back in the late 60s, and you will see why if you visit this now-picnic-are. The old animal exhibits still stand in all their gulag-style glory and trying to imagine any animal surviving in those enclosures is pretty terrible. But its good for something now, it's disney-land-turned-evil vibe is fun as hell for the kids to crawl around in. Get in the rusty cages, crawl around on the floors of dark, glass-littered passages, attempt not to fall down and climb around on the fake rockfaces. If any of that sounds bad to you, you don't have boys.
- 6This is one of those places that most parents in LA have memberships to... just because its a go-to spot to take the kids to on those weekend when you can't think of anything else to do. Get there at opening, park right next to the door, walk through past the Gorillas, Oranguatans, Elephants and hit the park. Kids have 45 minutes or so to play before the Bird Show at 11:30, which is a lot of fun. Then walk back through past the Chimps and Giraffes, have some lunch, and walk out of there just as the rest of Los Angeles is started to pack inside and its getting too hot to have fun.
- 7Again, FREE! Also, kids love trains. hell, adults kind of love trains, too. They let you go in and out of some of these vintage trains... some are open to the public some of the times and not others. The kids have a great time staring at the model train set in the museum itself and then follow up with a ride on the train that circles the park for 2 bucks. You can probably only spend about an hour there, but... did I mention that it's free?
- 8Weekends are great. Make sure your kids get to do the Dinosaur Encounters. That alone is worth the small fee you pay to get inside. They have two enormous puppets that are operated by a frankly fantastic puppeteer inside... the movements of both the Trex and the Triceratops are really great, and make sure you are filming your kid the first time one of those things walks out onto the floor. Because they look very real, and your kids will FREAK. OUT. You will want to make sure you get that on tape.
- 10Shoot for Family Sundays.... otherwise don't bother. LACMA is not the most child-friendly place on earth, that's for sure. But they do have child/family targeted activities on Sundays that are good for killing a couple hours and letting your kids pound out their agressions on a wad of clay or carefully construct daggers and machine guns out of papier mache (can you tell I have boys?). The LACMA police will tell your kids they can't climb on the lamppost exhibit, or walk on the grass, or breathe too loud or move too quickly (luckily what kid would want to do these things anyway?) But on those Sundays, if you go through certain exhibits, sometimes they will have carts set up in certain areas, and your kids can cluster around whatever it is and have pencils and paper passed out to them so they can draw whatever it is. Which is a great way to get a kid to see a piece of art differently. Don't let LACMA kid you tho, they aren't family-friendly. They are the people who built a full-scale fire truck in their open plaza, and then forbade children to climb on it. That's like wrapping a present, putting your kid's name on it, setting it in front of them and then telling them they can never touch it, much less open it.
- 11This place is pricey, but I'm not going to say they don't have some great exhibits. Especially outside in the back where your kids can pet the sharks and rays or feed the Lorikeets nectar. Once you've taken out that second mortgage on your house to pay for your family's entry, and your kids burn through the fish in, like, an hour... you can walk along the marina front, check out the Queen Mary parked in the distance and ride the ferris wheel across the street.
Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic GardenAdults are 8 bucks, kids, 3... kids under 5 are free. This is a nice way to spend part of a nice day. Hope you like the peaceful sound of peacocks, because there are a lot of those shrieky things wandering around. Of course, kids love peacocks... so there's that. Saturdays, if you get there in time, your kids can participate in the Arboretum Adventures... only 25 kids at a time, so try to get there early. They also have classes and events, just keep an eye on their site.
Petersen Automotive MuseumNot free. Adults are 10 bucks, kids are 3...under 5 is free. If you have boys, this place is a must, though. They have some fantastic cars in there, and lots of great things for kids to mess around with like the Hot Wheels area. Another great thing about this place is proximity to other museums... like the La Brea Tar Pits (Page Museum) and LACMA.
- 15Seasonal, yeah. But during the summer months, it's a great way to spend a weekend afternoon. Buy some cheap seats.. come late and leave early (unless you're big time baseball fans, but this is LA, who are we kidding?). Parking is expensive, and those concessions will KILL you.. but its a fun thing to do a couple of times a year.