Los Angeles Comes Out to Play - My Family Travels

Activities from the Hollywood Walk of Fame to the Los Angeles Zoo plus California's great weather makes LA a year-round travel hot spot.

With flair and attitude, Los Angeles, California provides the setting for families seeking the excitement of outdoor activities, the intrigue of world-class culture where you can explore the past or discover something new, or just plain, pure fun. The energy of L.A. will keep you busy from dawn ’til dusk. 

Shopping is a year-round indulgence where family members can find everything from the hippest fashions to handcrafted one-of-a-kind pieces.  Most well-known for shopping (and celebrity watching) are a three-block area in Beverly Hills called Rodeo Drive and Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. 

Los Angeles reinvents itself for every season, so there’s always something hip and happening. Here a few ideas to keep your family entertained in the city where dreams come true.

Come see where L.A. began at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Park. Here you’ll find restored historical buildings including Avila Adobe, the Old Plaza Church, the Old Plaza Firehouse and more. The park is also the home of a colorful Mexican marketplace, Olvera Street, with strolling Mariachi musicians and folkloric dancing. This shopping paradise of colorful stalls lined with piñatas has shops of candles, bright woven blankets, hand-crafted silver jewelry and handmade toys which double as folk art.

Families can enjoy wonderful times, good meals, and each other at The Getty Center ( 310/440-7300), the art complex set on a 110-acre hilltop ridge overlooking Westwood and Beverly Hills. Two silver trams ferry visitors from the parking lot on a three-quarter-mile trip to the excitement of discovering and studying art. Don’t know Monet from Titan?   There’s audio guides designed especially for families to make the art accessible.  Everyone will also enjoy exploring the innovative Family Room and its extensive art library and costume shop.  The tram ride and admission are free, however, there is a $15 charge for parking.  

Staples Center, a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment complex, is the dynamic home of the Los Angeles Clippers, Lakers, Kings, Sparks and Avengers sports teams, as well as one of the biggest concert venues in the entertainment world. The Staples Center also has theatrical productions. Be sure to arrive early to give yourself enough time to park (in one of their 20,000 parking spots) and to go through security.

Skirball Cultural Center (310/440-4500) just a mile north of the Getty Center, has a wide range of cultural programs and museum exhibitions for adults and children of all ages.  The Music Center (213/972-7211) in downtown L.A. is where theater lovers will find their groove at one of four venues. The elegant Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum, the Ahmanson Theater, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall (designed by architect Frank Gehry), showcase outstanding Broadway musicals, dramas, world music, and other arts productions.    Nokia Theatre (213/763-6031) across form the Staples Center is a new, smaller venue for music and theater.

Not every city has a destination library, but the Los Angeles Central Library presents the vibrant and colorful things the world has to offer on cool computers in awesome reading rooms. You can spot the restored 1925 landmark from a distance by the multicolored tile pyramid on its roof. Another landmark, Union Station, proves that half the fun is getting to the fun, particularly if you’re aboard the California Zephyr or the Coast Starlight. On the way you’ll pass beautiful scenic views. Architectural buffs will marvel at the palatial 1939 Spanish Colonial Revival depot that now serves Amtrak trains.  

City Hall, built in 1926, is a favorite of TV and movie directors. Old-timers will remember it as police headquarters in the “Dragnet” series. As you study the skyline, keep in mind that for many years, L.A. building codes prohibited construction of anything taller than City Hall.  Zimmer Children’s Museum ( 323/761-8989) is a place where everyone gets to have fun, and creativity soars. Children can dress up and play act in the theater section, pretend they are traveling in an actual Piper aircraft, or explore outer space with a geodesic dome. Seasonal workshops and family day art activities are offered. Children under the age of 2 and grandparents (when accompanied by grandchild) are free.

Legends of Hollywood

Family members can walk, stroll or be carried down the street where more than 2,000 Hollywood legends have been immortalized. At your feet, the terrazzo-and-brass-stars of the Hollywood Walk of Fame stretch along Hollywood Boulevard. Many stars have also left their signatures, hand- and foot-prints in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, creating the world’s largest autograph album. Marvel at the ancient styling of the Egyptian Theatre, the 1922 home to the very first Hollywood premiere (“Robin Hood” starring Douglas Fairbanks) and now fully renovated and restored to its original glamour.

Thrill at the Hollywood and Highland Mall, a real head turner. As you head up the Grand Staircase, you’ll encounter a gigantic Egyptian themed archway flanked by two statues of 33-foot high elephants that frame the “Hollywood” sign. Everyone is sure to find their niche in the sprawling new complex with more than 70 shops and restaurants. The 3,650-seat Kodak Theatre, home to the annual Academy Awards, was designed after a 1920’s movie palace replete with stacked opera boxes. Universal Citywalk, a backlot style street, has entertainment choices ranging from challenging to child’s play, including a brand new IMAX-3D movie theater, a NASCAR Silicon virtual racing experience, and Jillian’s Hi-Life Lanes. This pedestrian-only mini city is free and located adjacent to the Universal Hollywood theme park, which is open only to ticket holders.

Taking extreme to new heights, family thrill seekers will love the new Ifly Hollywood (818/985-4359), L.A.’s first indoor skydiving wind tunnel.  The experience replicates skydiving by using two colossal electric fans to give guests of all ages an authentic and intense free fall sensation.  Certified skydiving instructions provide individualized training prior to each skydiving adventure, and guests don authentic gear.  Certificate of Completion follow each flight.  There is a fee for this attraction.

Half-Day Excursions

Beyond Hollywood, L.A.’s attractions include sites for exploration and discovery. The California Science Center is a world-class science-education facility highlighting interactive exhibits and educationally themed movies. Get ready for history and imagination to come alive at the Natural History Museum of L.A. County featuring artifacts and memorabilia from the past. Griffith Park comprises more than 4,000 acres of family fun. Facilities include 28 tennis courts, hiking trails, the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, Fern Dell Park, the merry-go-round, pony rides and train rides. The newly re-opened Griffith Observatory (213/473-0800) on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood, holds the largest astronomical image every created (aptly dubbed “the Big Picture”), a 3,040 square-foot porcelain enamel wall that captures 1.7 million galaxies, stars, and asteroids – all compiled from actual observation.  There’s a new display of planetary models scaled to the circular, and the 100-seat Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater, which represents the sun.  Contact the Observatory for timed-entry and shuttle reservations.

The Los Angeles Zoo is home to over 1500 exotic animals. The Campo Gorilla Reserve, the new habitat for six African lowland gorillas, closely resembles their native West African homeland.  Families share the African experience as they journey along a misty, forested pathway for close-up views.   Glassed viewing areas and planted moats are all that separates Zoo guests from the largest primate in the world.  Be sure not to over-look the Zoo’s beautiful Botanical Garden while visiting the animals.

The romance of the West is legendary at The Autry National Center where exhibits trace the rich history of the West.
Day or night, you can live it up in Marina del Rey, (310/305-9545) a giant playground and site of the largest manmade yacht harbor in North America. Bordered by Los Angeles on three sides, it boasts dockside restaurants, waterfront hotels, golden sands, shoreline parks and every boating, cruising and water sport imaginable. Points of interest include Fisherman’s Village, an old New England cobblestone waterfront, with fun shopping.  This is where the whole family can board Hornblower Cruises (310/301-6000) for a festive lunch, brunch or dinner cruise.  

Where to Stay

The Renaissance Hollywood Hotel (323/856-1200) $$-$$$ — There are 632 guest rooms and suites tucked into luxury hotel within the Hollywood and Highland Mall. Like the mall, home to the annual Academy Awards ceremony, the hotel has 1950’s decor and a movie set ambiance. Besides its location near many Hollywood landmarks, it also offers families a large outdoor pool (probably too chilly in winter to swim), free cribs and childcare service on request, for a fee and with advance reservations. Treat yourself to celebrity-pampering at Spa Luce, the hotels new spa.

The Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites (213/624-1000) $$-$$$ — Composed of striking, five-mirrored glass cylinders and an atrium lined with glass-walled elevators, this hotel’s family amenities include posh Heavenly Cribs designed just for the Westin chain, and an outdoor heated pool and jogging track. It is also L.A.’s famous movie landmark, in the midst of downtown’s glittering skyscrapers. Just picture the grand finales of Jackie Chan’s “Rush Hour,” Clint Eastwood’s “In the Line of Fire” and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “True Lies,” all of which were filmed here.

Getting There/Getting Around

All major airlines fly into the busy Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Families with time to spare will also want to see (if not dine at) the colorful Encounter Restaurant.  It is the huge white concrete spider in the middle of the airport complex, whose lively Walt Disney Imagineering Jetson-esque restaurant is as much fun for kids as its terrific gourmet food is for adults.

Visitors can now explore many of the area’s major attractions via public transportation due to the expansion of the Metro Rail.  Families pressed for time or interested in exploring nearby highlights should rent a car, which in this capital of ‘image’ might even be a Mercedes, T-bird convertible or Jaguar!

Photos by Mel Greenberg

For more information, maps and brochures about Los Angeles and the surrounding area, log onto the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau or call them at  323/467-6412.

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