I moved to Los Angeles a few days after my eighteenth birthday eager to explore this star-studded city where everything felt new and exciting. More than 15 years later, I’ve settled into L.A. as a local but still feel like a tourist at times (in a good way!)— there’s always something new to discover in the City of Angels!
As a mom of two, I’ve been rediscovering L.A. with a newfound appreciation for experiences the whole family can enjoy together. While Hollywood and theme parks probably come to mind for most visitors, I am excited to share my tried-and-true L.A. favorites centered around the way my family loves to spend a day: exploring interesting places and having great food.
Fun Museums, Gardens, and Parks For Families
The Getty Center is an extraordinary place both inside and out— beautiful contemporary architecture, uniquely designed gardens, a world-class art collection, and picturesque views that span from the city to the ocean on a clear day.
My kids love the fun ride up the hill in the automated tram and exploring the colorful plants and intriguing maze-like design of the Central Garden. Older kids can appreciate seeing renowned masterpieces up close like Van Gogh’s Irises and paintings from Monet, Rembrandt, and Cézanne.
The grassy hill at the top of the garden is a lovely place to picnic and let the kids run around. Throughout the grounds, there are numerous fountains, courtyards, and terraces with seatings where little ones can enjoy a snack while parents take in the lovely surroundings. The Family Room by the East Pavilion also has hands-on art and learning activities for younger children.
While the LACMA houses a vast art collection, most of our visits here with kids are actually spent wandering the grounds outside. The one exception is for Metropolis II in the Broad Contemporary Art Museum building, an intricately designed kinetic city sculpture with hundreds of cars and trains zooming around a labyrinth of streets and tracks— it’s definitely a must-see for little ones!
Outside the entrance of the museum, the large street lamp art installation Urban Light is fun for the whole family to explore. My daughter also loves to run up and down the walkway underneath the gigantic boulder sculpture Levitated Mass.
Directly next to LACMA are the La Brea Tar Pits where kids can learn about fascinating ice age history and fossil excavation. Large mammoth statues around a lake of bubbling tar sits at the front of Hancock park where there are walking paths for little ones to wander, active fossil excavation sites to view, and statues of ice age animals.
If your family loves museums, there is plenty more to see right across the street! You can check out famous movie props, costumes, and set pieces at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and for your car-loving children head over to the Petersen Automotive Museum to see one of the largest automotive collections in the world.
Griffith park has something for everyone— playgrounds, hiking trails, grassy picnic areas, and attractions like the L.A. Zoo, horseback riding, the Greek Theatre, and the Autry Museum of the American West.
The iconic Griffith Observatory is perched at the top of the mountain where you can get incredible sweeping views of the city. Inside the observatory, there are a multitude of kid-friendly astronomy exhibits to explore.
Train-loving little ones will enjoy climbing inside the collection of passenger cars and train engines at the Travel Town Museum. Kids will also love the historic Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round located next to Shane’s Inspiration, an inclusive playground designed to be accessible to children with special needs. If you have older kids who love to hike, there is a trail to the famous Hollywood sign.
For toddlers and young children, I highly recommend that Noah’s Ark exhibit at the Skirball for the perfect half-day outing! This immersive experience walks little ones through the story of Noah’s Ark in an interactive, imaginative way that grownups will appreciate too!
I was especially impressed with all of the artfully handcrafted animals made from everyday objects— truly upcycling at its best! The entire exhibit is like a giant work of art that the kids can pick up, play with, and climb! After exploring the ark, the kids are directed to an interactive story time by the staff and then you’re free to wander the garden, do a craft on the patio, or excavate replicas of ancient artifacts at the Archeology Dig exhibit.
Big museums can often be a bit much for young kids, so as a parent I really love that Noah’s Ark strikes the perfect balance of keeping children entertained while also moving things along so that all the fun can be wrapped up in that magic two hour window when little ones are at their best. It’s a win-win for everyone!
Best Places to Eat With Kids
So many of the things I love about Los Angeles are exemplified by the food: it’s diverse, vibrant, and creative. As a multicultural city home to a large immigrant population, cuisines from all over the world contribute to a wonderfully dynamic and inventive culinary scene.
With so many delicious options, family-friendly dining in L.A. definitely doesn’t have to be boring or fast food!
If you’re looking for the quintessential Californian chain that has perfected elevating casual dining, then Mendocino Farms is it!
Their menu offers a variety of sandwiches, salads, and bowls that feature globally inspired flavors with farm-fresh ingredients. It’s great food to take to-go for a picnic or outing— just order ahead for pick up on their website and you’ll be all set with a delicious meal to enjoy while soaking in the sunshine at the park or beach!
A few of my favorites are the “Not So Fried” chicken sandwich, Thai mango salad, and chimichurri steak & shishito bowl. There is also a great selection of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options.
We love Din Tai Fung! This Taiwanese restaurant renowned worldwide for its delicious soup dumplings (xiao long bao) has an upscale feel but is also very kid-friendly. Some locations have enough room for you to keep a stroller table-side but if not, you’ll often see an entire fleet of strollers parked in a designated area at the entrance of the restaurant— it’s that popular with families.
Some of our go-to dishes are the pork xiao long bao, seaweed & beancurd in vinegar dressing, and Shanghai rice cakes.
Koreatown for Korean BBQ
No culinary experience in LA would be complete without a trip to Koreatown (K-town for the locals) for a KBBQ feast! Various cuts of marinated meats are grilled at the table and enjoyed family-style with a variety of side dishes (banchan), dipping sauces, and wrap options.
While KBBQ may not be a great option for babies and toddlers because of the hot grill and smoke, kids that are school-age and older will appreciate the hands-on, interactive experience of cooking food at the table and the array of flavor and texture combinations.
If it’s your first time having KBBQ, I recommend Eight Korean BBQ which specializes in a meal set with eight flavors of scrumptious pork belly. If you’ve got a big appetite, Hae Jang Chon is a great option for all you can eat KBBQ and lots of different cuts of meat.
Yes this is a mall, but you’re definitely getting more than run-of-the-mill “mall food” here. At Westfield Century City you will find a variety of restaurants, specialty food shops, and cafes— some that are destinations in and of itself—conveniently co-located in a modern mall with a lovely indoor-outdoor ambience that is so very L.A.
Eataly, the famed Italian-themed marketplace, offers freshly-made pasta, pizza, and gelato. For parents in need of a pick-me-up, head to Blue Bottle Coffee. There’s also Ramen Nagi for a rich bowl of a ramen that is so comforting on chillier days, Mochinut for a mochi donut, Din Tai Fung for world-famous soup dumplings (mentioned earlier), and 85C Bakery Cafe for pastries and milk tea— I could go on.
The mall itself is also filled with family-friendly amenities like outdoor space for kids, spacious walkways for strollers, clean bathrooms, and even a posh family lounge with a play area, diaper changing stations, and private nursing rooms.
Sweets and Treats to Enjoy With Kids
Indulging in a sweet treat together is a surefire way to make a day feel extra special with kids! These are some of my favorite spots for a delicious dessert in L.A. that your family won’t want to miss:
SomiSomi specialized in a Korean dessert called Ah-Boong that is as cute as it is tasty! Imagine a fish-shaped waffle cone (taiyaki) with the perfect texture— crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside— with a choice of creamy filling (like red bean, custard, or nutella) topped off with delicious soft serve ice cream in flavors like ube, matcha, and milk tea. YUM!
Artisanal Ice Cream
There is an abundance of artisanal ice cream shops in L.A. so it’s a good bet that wherever you end up during the day, you’ll never be too far from a delicious cold treat.
In keeping with the creative energy of the city, ice cream shops in L.A. are always whipping up fun and interesting flavor combinations. A few of my local favorites are Scoops for unique flavors like brown bread and pistachio fig, Wanderlust Creamery for globally inspired flavors like sticky rice and mango, passionfruit cacao, and ube malted crunch, and Saffron and Rose for refreshing Persian ice cream in fruit and floral flavors with a rich, “stretchy” texture.
Tips for Enjoying the Beach With Kids
Sand, surf, and palm trees are quintessential L.A. While it’s true that the beaches here are lovely to visit year-round, there is a definite busy season and overcrowding can take away from a fun, relaxing beach day. During the summer months, plan to arrive early (if your kids are early risers, take full advantage of that!) to avoid parking woes and long treks looking for an open spot with all of your beach gear and children in tow.
The best beach to take your kids to will depend on the type of experience your family is looking for. Venice Beach and Santa Monica Beach draw large crowds and are more like a beach-playground; both have plenty to do beyond the beach itself and there are many dining options just steps away.
If you don’t mind driving further up the coast, Zuma Beach and Leo Carrillo Beach in Malibu are great for families looking for long stretches of sand and water with more space to spread out— just be sure to bring your own food. Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey is another popular spot for young children with family-friendly features like a covered picnic area, playground, showers, and restrooms. It’s located in a marina away from the waves, so little ones can wade safely in calm waters but you won’t get as much of the natural ocean scenery and ambience.
Tips for Getting Around Los Angeles
The first thing you need to know about getting around L.A. is that you will need to drive. The second thing you need to know is that there will be traffic, because everyone else will be driving too. Anticipate travel time between destinations to vary significantly depending on time of day (unfortunately the notorious rush hour traffic can start as early as 3 pm and last well past 7 pm, especially on the 10 and 405 freeways).
I highly recommend sticking to just one area of L.A. each day. Avoid, for example, planning a day at the beach followed by dinner downtown— trust me, after a few absolutely harrowing experiences of being stuck in traffic with an inconsolable toddler screaming from the backseat for over an hour, I’ve definitely learned my lesson.
Lastly, expect to pay for parking at most places (try looking for a public city lot marked with a capital “P” inside a blue circle— these tend to be much cheaper than valet or private lots) and be sure to read signs carefully when parking on the street.
There are so many things to do and see in L.A. that even after living here for nearly half my life, I know I’ve only scratched the surface of all there is to experience in this lively, diverse, and culturally rich city. That’s the beauty of L.A.— there’s something for everyone.