Best kids activities in L.A.
Walk around the leafy grounds of this suburban Sylmar sanctuary to see everything from monkeys to foxes—and school trips and birthday parties. For hands-on photo ops, request a close encounter with a porcupine, a Siberian lynx, a two-toed sloth or an impossibly adorable fennec fox. Make sure to say hi to Zeus, the starry-eyed blind owl in the gift shop.
Nothing says childhood entertainment quite like a puppet show, and the longest-running marionette theater company in the nation delivers, big-time. Tykes truly delight in watching the marionettes come to life in the darkened theater space—and afterwards being treated to free ice cream and a backstage tour.
This San Pedro rehabilitation center scoops up distressed marine mammals along the coast between Long Beach and Malibu in hopes of reintroducing them to the ocean. Though these stories can be sad—sudden blindness, a shark bite—the mood stays light thanks to a cordial crew of volunteers and a comical chorus of sea lion barks. Viewing is restricted to a sidewalk outside the fences—close enough to see the sweet faces of belly-flopping baby elephant seals.
This kitschy Glendale rink (it’s been open since 1950) holds a variety of events and classes: Saturday mornings, for example, are for children only, while Sunday evenings offer a family night. Moonlight has rollerskates for hire, but not blades or inline skates. Regular roller skater? Buy a pair for you or your child at the rink’s “pro shop.”
The L.A. Zoo’s greatest asset is its location, a lush oasis tucked into the hills of Griffith Park. It’s a pretty popular place, but the zoo’s size—133 acres, plus a huge parking lot—means that it rarely feels crowded. Kids will love to see the elephants and repitles, as well as to take a ride on the beautifully painted Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel.
As the first universally accessible playground in the Western U.S. and the largest in the nation, this popular playground is a gem. Kids can make like astronauts inside a spaceship, man the controls in an airplane cockpit, access their inner pirates and safely land on the soft, rubberized surface beneath the many slides, swings, monkey bars, zip lines and much, much more.
Dedicated as much to education as entertainment, this aquarium more than justifies the drive down to Long Beach. Inevitably, the shark lagoon and its touchable habitat is the most popular exhibit. Other highlights include the adorable sea otter habitat as well as a low-key exhibition about whales. Much of the rest of the aquarium is divided geographically: loveable sea lions in the Southern California section, all kinds of garish fish in the tropical Pacific area and a variety of exotic creatures in the Gulf of California exhibit.
This popular interactive children’s museum holds a wide variety of exhibits and entertainment, including the kaleidoscope entrance, educational gardens and the “splash dance” water feature in the central courtyard, the perfect way to cool down on a baking valley afternoon. Pasadena’s young ’uns are lucky to have it on their doorsteps.
The northwest corner of Griffith Park is the destination for train enthusiasts and curious kids. Travel Town, open all week, is a railroad petting zoo full of historic rail stock that also does a good job explaining how the railroads helped build Southern California. Lovers of things that go choo-choo should be sure to visit the park on a Sunday, when the neighboring Los Angeles Live Steamers section is open for railheads. Kids clamor to come here again and again to ride a miniature train around more than a mile of track.
Permanent exhibit galleries at this kid-friendly Exposition Park museum explore life sciences, human innovation and powered flight. But the real attraction here is the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which was very pubicly paraded through L.A. to reach its temporary home at the Samuel Oschin Pavilion—a permanent structure slated to display the ship upright is in the works. While the rest of the museum is free, Endeavour requires $3 time tickets on weekends, a bargain to come face to face with one of this country’s most iconic engineering marvels.