Best Things to Do with Kids in Los Angeles

Our Top Picks to Keep Kids Happy in Los Angeles

In some ways, the Los Angeles area is a Mecca for children, especially if you include Anaheim, putting Disneyland, Disney's California Adventure and Mickey Mouse into the mix. For with just the Disney Resort and Universal Studios (the home of Harry Potter), L.A. has two of the world's biggest attractions for children (and their parents). Add in the numerous other museums, amusement parks and beachfront experiences found across the Southland and families with kids of all ages will discover plenty of fun to keep them occupied while visiting the City of Angels. Start at the beach with a trip to the Santa Monica Pier for some traditional carnival rides (especially good for children under eight years old) and then head for the hills, and beyond, where the massive rollercoasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain await the strong of stomach and the Griffith Observatory sparks imaginations to the stars and beyond. Universal Studios is also north of the city itself, while the always fun California Science Center and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles are right in the heart of Downtown L.A. There's plenty of choices for kids of all ages in Southern California, so many that finding time to do them all may be the biggest challenge your family has on a visit to our sunny shores.


California Science Center
Photo courtesy of California Science Center

One way or another, this museum of science and technology has been in operation since 1912, when it began as the State Exposition Building. It was remodeled in 1951 and rechristened the California Museum of Science and Industry, then it was finally completely revamped in 1998 and became the California Science Center. Admission is always free and the four permanent exhibitions are Creative World; Ecosystems; World of Life; and Air and Space, which has housed the Endeavour space shuttle since 2012. Many of the exhibits are hands-on, which means both children and adults really get the chance to understand the basic principles of science and technology.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: A fascinating introduction into the sciences for kids, and adults will love this hands-on museum as well.

Jenny's expert tip: You need a timed reservation to enter the IMAX Theater and special exhibits, so plan accordingly.

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Kidspace Museum
Photo courtesy of Visit Pasadena

Kidspace Children's Museum has been delighting kids 10 and under for more than 40 years with its fun mix of outdoor and indoor play. There's lots to see and do, as Kidspace allows children to get soaking wet (bring towels and extra clothes) in the Water Play area, to climb rocks and a big rope bridge in the Outdoor Climbing section and to learn about gardening and pollinators in the Harvest Corner. There's plenty of fun inside the Roberts Pavilion, where there's everything to discover, from all about fossils and rocks to building robotics and other inventions. There's even a giant Ant Hole adventure that lets kids feel just like an ant does, climbing through a tunnel colony and down a giant leaf! Don't miss the Physics Forest, where 12 interactive outdoor exhibits let children understand how the world actually works, all the while having a blast in the process.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Encouraging learning and fun while getting kids outside to play makes the Kidspace Children's Museum a perfect place to spend a day.

Jenny's expert tip: The museum is free on Free Family Nights, the first Tuesday of every month from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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Petersen Automotive Museum

The Petersen Automotive Museum anchors the eastern end of the famed "Miracle Mile," that length of Wilshire Boulevard that boasts numerous world-class museums. Located on the corner of Fairfax Avenue since 1994, the museum's collection encompasses over 300 vehicles of all types –" including one of the Batmobiles! Five galleries house changing exhibitions of the collection (but don't expect to see more than about 150 of the autos at any one time), while other galleries display automotive memorabilia. Don't miss the Discovery Center where kids can learn basic car fundamentals in the interactive hands-on learning center. There's a whole exhibition devoted to Hot Wheels toys, too, which is a bit like heaven for car-loving kids.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: With special workshops specifically aimed at car-loving kids of all ages, the Petersen Museum is a wonderful place for fun and learning.

Jenny's expert tip: Movie fans of all ages will find a cornucopia of favorite vehicles in the museum's Hollywood Gallery: Cars of Film and Television permanent exhibit.

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Griffith Park
Griffith Park
Photo courtesy of Jenny Peters

Situated on 4200-plus acres in the Santa Monica Mountains, Griffith Park is home to a number of museums and outdoor attractions. Inside the park you'll find the Los Angeles Zoo, the Autry National Center (a museum dedicated to the American West) and the Griffith Observatory, as well as the famous merry-go-round, the L.A. Equestrian Center, Travel Town Museum (all about transportation) and the venerable Greek Theatre outdoor performance space. Plus, there are plenty of hiking trails and bridle paths, miniature railroad rides and bike rentals, a swimming pool, tennis courts and golf courses. In other words, there's something for everyone in Griffith Park!

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: A ride on the merry-go-round (put in place in the park in 1926) is a true delight; it was Walt Disney's inspiration for creating Disneyland!

Jenny's expert tip: Plan to spend a whole day in this vast Los Angeles public park; actually, there is so much to see and do here you might just need two!

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Six Flags Magic Mountain
Photo courtesy of Six Flags Magic Mountain

Roller-coaster lovers know that Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia is one of the world's best amusement parks, boasting more hair-raising rides than any other on the planet. Fearless adventurers will find record-breaking rides like the Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom, the X2, Viper, Goliath and the Riddler's Revenge, the fastest stand-up coaster in the world. Plus, there are family and kids' rides, too, as well as nighttime shows featuring laser lights and live music; and the Looney Tunes characters can be found throughout the park. But anyone with motion sickness might prefer hitting Hurricane Harbor, the 22-acre water park that is right next door. It's much easier on the stomach.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Six Flags Magic Mountain is chockablock with many of the world's most death-defying roller-coaster rides. It's a legendary destination for coaster fanatics.

Jenny's expert tip: Grab a FLASH Pass and you'll go to the front of all the lines; with a Platinum FLASH Pass, you can even stay on your favorite coaster and ride twice.

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Natural History Museum of Los Angeles
Photo courtesy of the Natural History Museum of L.A. County

Dinosaurs, insects, African mammals, cool rocks and more - what kid wouldn't be entranced? The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles has some great exhibits. In Dinosaur Hall, you can visit one of the ten most completed Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons in the world. Another exhibit popular with families is the Insect Zoo, which serves to educate visitors about the many different types of insect species in the world - with many live ones on display, some which kids can even touch. The whole family can also learn about gems and minerals, endangered species and California's history while visiting the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The giant dinosaur skeletons here will entrance your kids; then go on to learn about many other species and much more at this brilliant museum.

Jenny's expert tip: Special Exhibits are often going on - check before you visit to find out what will be on display when you're there as you may want to schedule in more time to visit the museum.

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Griffith Observatory
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If you believe, like Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, in the transformative power of observation, then the Griffith Observatory is the L.A. museum for you and your children. Located in the park that also bears that philanthropist's name, the observatory was recently renovated completely (it originally opened in 1935), but it still offers free public telescope viewing on every clear night in the city. Look up into the universe with the historic Zeiss telescope, the famed coelostat (solar telescope) or the portable telescopes on the lawn and a whole new perspective opens up in the sky. Be sure to visit the Samuel Oschin Planetarium for one of the in-depth shows, but note that there is an admission fee for those. Everything else, including parking, is free at the Griffith Observatory.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Fascinating shows about the universe combine with a chance to take a hike in the hills, giving budding astronomers a perfect day in the park.

Jenny's expert tip: Be sure to be in line for one of the outdoor telescopes well before 9:30 p.m. or you may not get a glimpse of the stars up close.

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Santa Monica Pier
Photo courtesy of Santa Monica Travel and Tourism

The Santa Monica Pier is the most iconic spot in Santa Monica, the place that first comes to most people's minds when they think of this famous beach city. It's a long, wide pier that is packed with fun things to do. A roller coaster, Ferris wheel and other rides await, colorfully curling against the skyline and providing a lit-up atmosphere at night. Carnival-style games also line the pier, along with carnival foods and other eateries. There are plenty of souvenir shops, too, at this great family spot. And be sure to bring bathing suits, towels and sand toys as well, since the beach and ocean beckon right below the famous pier. Spend the whole day here and we guarantee that your kids will sleep like babies by the time you arrive back home.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Ever wanted to pretend you're part of a circus? You're in luck. There's a trapeze school on the Santa Monica Pier.

Jenny's expert tip: Across the street from the pier is a popular part of Santa Monica for strolling, shopping and grabbing something to eat.

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Universal Studios
Photo courtesy of Universal Studios

Universal Studios is the real thing, a working movie studio that also happens to have a theme park attached to it. Which means visitors get the chance to go right onto the lot to see where some of their favorite movies and television shows are made. Think the "Psycho" house, the "Desperate Housewives" neighborhood, the "Back to the Future" town square and much more. Take the Studio Tour for unique insights into how Hollywood really works. Stay for the rest of the rides there too, including the Fast and Furious: Supercharged, Transformers The Ride 3D, The Simpsons Ride and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. Be sure to allow lots of time to see everything The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has to offer and to try the newest offering, Jurassic World: The Ride, designed for dinosaur lovers of all ages.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Universal Studios Hollywood is a unique, unbeatable combination of a working film studio, exciting movie-based theme park and CityWalk, a shopping, theater and restaurant extravaganza.

Jenny's expert tip: Book the VIP Experience and you'll have a personal behind-the-scenes studio tour guide and front-of-the-line access to all the theme park's rides. Breakfast, lunch and valet parking are also included.

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Disneyland is Walt Disney's original vision for "the happiest place on earth," and more than 65 years later it remains just that. Begin with a walk down Main Street and end with the fireworks-filled parade and laser light shows that happen every evening. In between, take in all the big rides including the Millennium Falcon, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Indiana Jones, and the Haunted House; and make sure to meet Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and all their friends. Don't miss Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and spend another day next door at Disney's California Adventure Park, where Pixar characters rule and and The Avengers Campus brings Marvel heroes to life. The Force is with the Mouse at the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge section of Disneyland, too. For a behind-the-scenes look at both the parks, book an Adventures by Disney trip for lots of insider experiences. Note that the famous Matterhorn Bobsleds ride is closed for refurbishment.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The most famous theme park in the world, Disneyland Resort has been making L.A. locals and visitors alike very happy since it opened in 1955.

Jenny's expert tip: Be sure to download the Disneyland App to your phone, as you'll need it to sign up for the virtual queue (line) that gives you access to the Web Slingers Spider-Man ride.

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Meet Jenny Peters

Jenny Peters – aka Jet Set Jen – is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, editor and party columnist specializing in travel, entertainment, film, food, wine, fashion and the other good...  More About Jenny