It’s true that Los Angeles does have a bounty of great theme parks – Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain come to mind – but what about the other days of being in Los Angeles with kids? Thankfully, the city has a host of non-mouse activities to entertain a younger crowd. Kick back and breath a sigh of savings with these top five kid-friendly activities to do in Los Angeles, all without busting out a credit card.
Built in 1965 by artist Benjamin Dominguez (1894-1974), this historic playground is now delighting its third generation of children. A vast expanse of sand, La Laguna’s visitors are greeted by cheerfully sculpted concrete sea creatures. There’s nothing even remotely scary about the creatures though – they have the wavy frames and cheerful faces of sea monkeys and shine in vivid purples, yellows and greens against the sand. There’s a snail slide, bright red dolphins, a starfish for climbing and an octopus curling its eight arms into positions perfect for climbing and crawling. Perhaps the most beloved of La Laguna is the long sea serpent slide atop a sculpted concrete mountain and lighthouse. This park, frequently named one of the coolest children’s playgrounds of all time, is nested inside the Vincent Lugo Park in San Gabriel, approximately 11 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
For literally tens of thousands of centuries, the La Brea tar pits have seeped heavy oil fractions to the surface of the earth to become asphalt upon evaporation. The tar pits still bubble today and provide a real-life account of geology to the amazement of children and adults. However, it’s worth noting that much of the tar pit’s activity consisted of trapping and sinking animals, famously depicted in the mammoth family fiberglass sculpture that’s enacted its sad scene (spoiler alert: mama mammoth is overtaken by the tar) since 1968. While this effectively illustrates a point for older children, it’s potentially a little heavy-handed for younger ones. For $5 per child and $12 per adult, the Page Museum, on the tar pit grounds, provides greater learning and context for scientific minds. The tar pits are free daily during sunlit hours.
Rife with aquatic life and sea caves, Leo Carillo State Beach offers fascination for all ages. A gentle rolling tide provides a non-threatening introduction to the ocean for babies and the soft sand is perfect for little fingers and toes. While the water does tend on the cold side (it’s best to plan a trip for high noon or pack a 3/4 wetsuit, depending on the season), it’s shallow and gentle in many places, providing wonderful opportunities for supervised swimming and playtime. Exploration around Leo Carillo’s tide pools finds starfish, sea anemones and crabs scuttling across the rocks. Sea gulls, pelicans and the occasional dolphin turn up at Leo Carillo State Beach. Keep in mind that it is one of Los Angeles’ few dog friendly parks and while the animals are asked to stay on leashes, it’s a park best suited for kids already comfortable around animals.
If you’re looking for the balance between kid-time and grown-up-time, Santa Monica is the ultimate LA peacekeeper with options to keep everyone happy and entertained. (Walking along the pier to soak up the sights is free of any admission, but be advised the rides charge between $3-$5 per person.) There is a go-between below the pier connecting either side of the dock and long stretches of sandy beaches on both sides. On the south end of the dock, there’s a free playground area and scout-style workout area. The workout area is intended for all ages of children and adults and includes monkey bars, parallel bars, rope climbs and hanging rings. The adult crowd tends to have a great attitude about kids joining in the fun, although it’s important to remind youngsters to take part and wait their turn. The wave crests along the Santa Monica beach are generally mellow and very conducive to younger swimmers and boogie boarders.
For the older, media-savvy child, the Paley Center is a unique Los Angeles offering: a museum dedicated to mass media (i.e.: television, film, video games, etc) that doesn’t completely rely on memorabilia chintz but isn’t too stuffily academic. The Paley Center rotates visual and multimedia exhibits frequently but it’s the panels and events that really make the Paley shine. Showrunners, actors, writers and critics converge on the Paley Center to speak candidly and the media-focused panels are a media nerd’s dream come true. Guided tours are available upon request for free at the front desk and will cover the museum’s current programs as well as its cultural artifacts. Because of its constantly changing nature, it’s best to call ahead to inquire about what is happening and what will be on display at the Paley Center before visiting.