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A Cool Mom’s Guide to What to Do With Kids When Visiting Los Angeles

Fodor's logo Fodor's 6/24/2022 Marah Eakin
© Provided by Fodor's

Ask any good traveler, and they’ll tell you that the best part of traveling is getting absorbed into a city’s culture. It’s one thing to go to Los Angeles, stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel, hit up all the museums, and zip to the top of the Ferris wheel at Santa Monica Pier. It’s another to spend a lazy afternoon lounging in Highland Park before grabbing some currywurst at a neighborhood spot in Downtown.

That’s part of what can make traveling with kids so frustrating. There are dozens of hip travel guides for adults online, but few account for what restaurants, attractions, and experiences would actually be good for family travel. To be sure, there’s some overlap—everyone can enjoy the Broad Museum—but what restaurants have high chairs and don’t mind noisy toddlers? What parks have picturesque playgrounds for a little afternoon run-around? And, most importantly, where can you get the best ice cream?

While Hollywood is a paradise for moviegoers and those who want to see and be seen, it’s also full of excellent places to kick back and relax with kids—and no, we’re not just talking about Disneyland. Here’s our guide to the best kid-friendly places in Los Angeles.

Related: The Best Things to Do in Los Angeles

Where to Eat

While all parents dream of being able to take their kids anywhere, from an oyster bar to a sushi spot, we all know that’s not always the case. Luckily, L.A. is full of amazing casual dining options. Here are some of the most kiddo-friendly.

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Canter’s Deli

An L.A. institution for almost 100 years, Canter’s is one of those classic Jewish delis. Its menu is massive, seating prodigious, and bakery counter delectable. Kids and parents alike will find much to like here, and the staff is happy to cater to little ones. In fact, highchair-bound little ones often get the “bagel on a string” treatment, giving them a tethered snack to nosh on while everyone else is perusing the menu.

Birdie G’s

A modern supper club in Santa Monica, Birdie G does not only have great options for adults but also for kids. Their 12-and-under menu contains Matzo pizzas, potato-crusted chicken fingers, and “the healthy yucky green salad.” Cruise on over to the Santa Monica pier and ride on the classic carousel.

Lindo Oaxaca

You can’t come to Los Angeles and not have Mexican food. Lindo Oaxaca is a great spot not far from Row DTLA that’s family-friendly and delicious. Pick up some tacos, quesadillas, or mole for a song, and don’t forget the handmade tortillas.

Colorado Donuts

For whatever reason, Los Angeles is a donut town. There are hundreds of mom-and-pop shops all over town, all serving a good slate of sweet basics. Colorado Donuts in Eagle Rock takes things to the next level, delivering everything from sprinkled old fashioneds to Ube-glazed cake donuts. Their Elmo and Cookie Monster donuts are kiddo kryptonite, too. There’s no room to eat inside right now, but the donuts are great on the go. And, hey, you only live once, so why not try everything?

Malibu Seafood

If you’ve come to L.A., you might as well see the Pacific Ocean, and a great way to do that is to take a drive up the PCH. From Santa Monica, take Highway 1 North up the coast toward Malibu, where you’ll find wildly expensive houses and great seafood spots. Broad Street Oyster Company is a favorite for lobster rolls, but if you’re looking to roll up your sleeves and dig into some fried clams and French fries, you can’t go wrong with Malibu Seafood. The restaurant is set literally on the PCH, so you can perch outside at a picnic table and watch the waves roll in, and the cars go by as you eat. Hop back in the car after, and it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to some great trails or beaches. We like Zuma for sand time, but if you’re looking to poke around in some tide pools, hit up Leo Carillo State Park just a little farther up the coast.

Connie And Ted’s

Want to have a nice dinner out somewhere that you won’t feel like a total outsider if you bring along a kid? Try Connie And Ted’s in West Hollywood, where you’ll always find tons of families with kids dining in the earlier evening hours on weekends. While there’s no kids’ menu, if your little one’s a slightly adventurous eater, they’ll find something to chow down on at this seafood spot.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream

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Sometimes, it helps to know where you can take a kid for ice cream. Jeni’s is a mind-blowingly good Columbus, Ohio-based ice cream chain that’s expanded to select cities across the country. There are five different locations in Los Angeles at present, each offering everything from classic vanilla cones to delectable and different seasonal flavors. You can’t go wrong with the salty caramel, gooey butter cake, dark chocolate, brambleberry crisp, or brown butter almond brittle flavors.

Grand Central Market

A food hall containing 40 different delicious stalls, Grand Central Market is a great place to either share a meal or just explore different cuisines and cultures. Teach your kids the value of a smorgasbord by cobbling together a lunch from a currywurst from Berlin, a mountain of Texas BBQ, some Thai comfort food, a Golden Road beer, and a nice slice of pie.

Where to Go

The El Capitan Theatre

An old Hollywood movie palace taken over and renovated by Disney, the El Capitan is a great place to see a movie. The theater’s single screen is always playing something released by the Mouse, whether it’s a Marvel movie or Mulan. There are special events like pajama party screenings, and there are plenty of booster seats for little ones who might need some help seeing over the person in front of them. Come early, and you might catch the live organist who plays classic Disney songs on weekends. He’s enchanting, as is the pre-movie light and sound show that’s definitely been imbued with a little Disney magic.

Bob Baker Marionette Theater

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A post shared by Ian Byers-Gamber (@bamblerdander)

A true L.A. institution, the Bob Baker Marionette Theater has been delighting mini-Angelenos since the early ‘60s. They do delightfully retro puppet shows year rounds, and there’s even an ice cream “surprise” after. The Halloween and Christmas shows are especially popular and beloved, but you really can’t go wrong with anything on their calendar.

Kidspace Children’s Museum

A non-profit museum nestled just next to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Kidspace is a true hidden gem. The 3.5-acre campus is broken into all different types of play areas for kids, and some activities and displays change a few times a year. Kidspace is a great way to spend an afternoon, but don’t forget to bring a change of clothes and maybe some water shoes: One of the exhibits is a creek that kids can climb and play in, and no matter how hard parents might try, there’s no way they won’t get wet. (And that’s okay!)

California Science Center and the La Brea Tar Pits

Every good city guide has to contain a couple of really solid museums, and this list is no exception. While L.A. has a number of institutions that kids might enjoy, including the grounds of the Getty and the Autry Museum of the American West, there are two museums that are sure to be home runs: The California Science Center and the La Brea Tar Pits. Located in Exposition Park, the California Science Center is home to the Space Shuttle Endeavor, a massive kelp forest full of sharks, eels, anemones, and all sorts of other cool, kid-friendly exhibits. On the other hand, the Tar Pits pretty much focus on just one thing: The Ice Age animals that fell victim to the sticky swamps still gurgling away right in central L.A. The museum isn’t massive, but there are grounds to explore and run through as well, which can be nice.

LAPL Central Library

For a movie town, Los Angeles has a surprisingly robust library system. (Actually, two systems: L.A. City and L.A. County, are both great.) The crown jewel of the L.A. City system is the Los Angeles Central Library, which sits in the heart of Downtown and contains over 2.8 million books spread over eight floors. Visitors will find rotating art exhibits, a really great gift shop, and even a puppet theater. It’s a great place to while away a few hours with a little one, especially considering the children’s collection holds a staggering 250,000 different books.

Where To Play

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Shane’s Inspiration Playground

L.A.’s first inclusive and accessible playground, Shane’s Inspiration, is situated inside Griffith Park, the city’s massive public green space. The brightly-colored playground has all sorts of different structures to play on and nooks to hide in, and fun attractions like a silly see-saw and a family-sized glider.

City Terrace Park

A great park tucked away just southeast of Downtown, City Terrace Park is a true neighborhood hang. The well-organized space has a retro-covered basketball court, a big swimming pool, a gym, and three different playground areas, all aimed at different ages. There’s a splash pad area for when it gets hot, so make sure to bring your swimsuit.

Vincent Lugo Park

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A post shared by LivinginCalifornia (@livingincalifornia.blog)

A retro anomaly set in the near suburb of San Gabriel, Vincent Lugo Park looks like a normal old park when you pull up. Take the path around a few corners, though, and you’ll end up in a special section of the park called La Laguna de San Gabriel, which is pure magic. In this historic park, visitors will find 14 different massive concrete attractions, all built in 1965 and designed by Mexican artist Benjamin Dominguez. They’re amazing to look at and great for pictures, and kids will love climbing all over the massive slides and statues.

Reese’s Retreat a.k.a. The Pirate Park

An inclusive, pirate-themed playground far from Kidspace in Pasadena, Reese’s Retreat features a cannonball climber, fish you can ride, and an enormous ship’s sail. There are plenty of planks to walk and bows to climb, so grab your parrot and hop aboard.

Los Angeles State Historic Park

You won’t find a playground at L.A. State Historic Park, but that doesn’t mean there’s not tons to do. The 32-acre green space sits adjacent to Chinatown and is full of public art, native plants, and a nice path perfect for little scooters. Its big green fields are great for picnics, and there are often events here celebrating the area’s indigenous history. (It’s less than a mile from the last recorded location of a large Tongva village.)

Where To Shop

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Merci Milo

A Highland Park boutique that recently expanded up to Portland, Oregon, Merci Milo is just about the cutest toy store ever. Amazingly curated and staged, the shop—which sits in what seems like a garage in a pretty residential area—is full of bespoke baby rattles, small-batch wooden toys, and dolls made of the softest organic materials. There are beautiful books to read, thoughtful gift items, and even baskets of shockingly edible-looking stuffed bread. Grab a souvenir here, and though it won’t say “L.A.,” it will last a lifetime.

Miracle Mile Toys & Gifts

A longtime favorite of L.A. residents, Miracle Mile Toys & Gifts is pretty much what it sounds like. Located on La Brea Avenue, the store is staffed by knowledgeable and charming salespeople and full of charming playthings.

The Reckless Unicorn

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Another local favorite, Reckless Unicorn sits in a particularly hip part of the Los Feliz neighborhood. The show specializes in cool stuff for cool kids, like Bowie t’s and kid-sized guitars, but there’s something there for every price point and age group.

Eggy

Located in Beverly Grove, Eggy specializes in cute, unique kid’s clothes. Though their finds aren’t necessarily cheap, they’re well-made and come from small makers, meaning you know you’re getting quality. Eggy can easily help you make your kids the best-dressed tots in town if you’ve got a little coin to drop.

Children’s Book World

A favorite of savvy parents since it opened in 1986, Children’s Book World is a true West L.A. gem. The store stocks a massive range of books for kids of all ages and has won a number of awards for its commitment to children’s literacy. There’s something for everyone here — or maybe dozens of somethings, if you’ve got bottomless pockets.

Where To Stay

The Magic Castle Hotel

True magic heads know about L.A.’s legendary members-only magic club, the Magic Castle. They also know it’s hard to get in the door unless you know someone who already belongs. There’s a loophole, though: Anyone who books a room at the Castle’s adjacent hotel automatically gets into the exclusive haunt. Families who are interested will want to make sure to book a room over the weekends since kids are only allowed in during Saturday and Sunday brunch. There are plenty of other pint-sized perks, though, including free ice cream every day at 2:30, a free snack bar, a complimentary in-room kid-sized bathrobe and a free slice of cake on your birthday, and a red “popsicle hotline” situated poolside, for when hunger really takes over. Parents will appreciate other perks, like the full kitchens in every room and the free laundry services.

Beverly Wilshire Hotel

Looking to house your kid in the lap of luxury? Consider the Beverly Wilshire, which is a Four Seasons hotel. Kids have access to their own miniature robe, a kid-friendly room service menu, and even kid-friendly spa treatments. Guestrooms can be childproofed in advance, and guests can request cribs and high chairs. Bigger kids can stay in an adjoining room for a reduced rate as part of the hotel’s Family Time package, including a daily breakfast credit and a complimentary bottle of champagne for the surely weary adults.

The Peninsula Beverly Hills

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Another luxurious spot, the Peninsula offers a special Camp Peninsula package that gives little travelers their own in-room tent, as well as a life-sized in-room teddy bear. There are also plenty of available outdoor-themed games, and parents can even take advantage of up to four hours of babysitting as part of the package. Now that’s a vacation.

Omni Los Angeles at California Plaza

A centrally located Downtown hotel, the Omni has all the standard amenities you’d expect from a nicer establishment. They go the extra mile with kids, though, and have created the Junior Chefs program. Centered around the idea that eating healthy can be fun, Junior Chefs gives kids a fun lunch bag packed with treats at check-in, a tailored dining menu, and a postcard that they can color and turn into the front desk to donate a meal to Feeding America.

The Langham Huntington

A Pasadena landmark for decades, the Langham Huntington sits on a massive and lush piece of property that’s perfect for poolside hangs and games of bocce. For just $30, parents can sign their tots up for the Langham Huntington Kids Program, which gives them free dinner at the Terrace restaurant, a Langham chocolate bar, a coloring book and crayons, and a passport that they get stamped around the resort in an effort to earn a free special gift. There’s a kids library on-site and a special Chocolate Afternoon Tea on Sundays with delicious sweets and an enormous chocolate fountain that kids are sure to enjoy.

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