There are essential museums and off-the-beaten-path museums in Los Angeles, but they aren't all conducive to children. (For example, we're pretty sure your 4-year-old won't understand or get anything out of the Museum of Broken Relationships!) But have no fear, little Angelenos; there are museums all around the city just for you. So the next time you're specifically looking for a kids museum, whether it's for an educational experience or something to do on a rainy day, here are the best ones around L.A.
Best kids museum options in Los Angeles
Discovery Cube Los Angeles features both permanent and traveling exhibitions, from a simulated helicopter tour of California's natural resources to a grocery store scavenger hunt. Kids will not only have fun, but also learn through the museum's various exhibits. Inside the Planatary Research Station, kids can view an animated globe of earth to learn about weather patterns and earthquakes. They can learn about hockey, take an Inspector Training Course and take a virtual trek through the Hansen Dam Recreation Area, withstanding 70 mph Santa Ana winds, or climb a rock wall. There's so much fun to be had here, kids won't want to go home!
Housed for two decades in a school gym, this popular interactive children's museum moved to a new site in 2004 after an $18-million funding drive. There's a wide variety of exhibits and entertainment, from the Kaleidoscope entrance to the educational gardens and the Splash Dance water feature in the central courtyard, which is the perfect way to cool down on a baking Valley afternoon. Also outside is the Arroyo Adventure, where kids can learn about the effects of erosion and create clay and mud art pieces.
This socially minded Jewish institution focuses on interactive exhibits, classes and field trips that are all designed to help youngsters "play their way to a better world." Every Wednesday until 10am, the museum is for VIBs only (that's Very Important Babies under two years old). On other days, kids of all ages can explore the museum, including its theater, where kids can dress up; the Discovery Airport; Construction Zone and other areas. The museum also holds arts and crafts and music classes for children and other events, so be sure to take a look at its calendar.
The undisputed standout here is also the museum's most recent acquisition: Endeavour, the final ship to be built in NASA's space shuttle program. Elsewhere in the museum, permanent exhibit galleries—World of Life, Creative World, and the SKETCH Foundation Gallery featuring air and space exhibits—explore life sciences, human innovation and powered flight, albeit with a decidedly '90s flair. The Ecosystems wing tackles science with a hands-on look at Earth's biomes, from polar extremes to life in our own backyard. The many touch-friendly exhibits cater almost exclusively to kids.
The northwest corner of Griffith Park is the destination for train enthusiasts and curious kids. Travel Town is a "railroad petting zoo" full of historic rail stock, like an 1880 Southern Pacific locomotive and an 1881 Union Pacific caboose 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.
Dedicated as much to education as entertainment, this spectacular 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 and the low-key but fascinating Whales: Voices of the Sea. 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.
Though many of the exhibits here aren't children-focused, there is one feature that makes it worth bringing your kids: Noah's Ark, a wonderful kid-oriented exhibit that explores cultural differences through a retelling of the old animals-two-by-two tale. Folk art-esque animals hang from the ceilings and peer out from a mock-ark. Hands-on interaction is encouraged as part of the most enjoyable family-friendly exhibit in the L.A. region. The museum also holds various family-friendly events throughout the year.
Back in 1875, a group of amateur paleontologists discovered animal remains in the pits at Rancho La Brea, which bubbled with asphalt from a petroleum lake under what is now Hancock Park. Some 130 years later, the pros are still at work here, having dragged more than 3.5 million fossils from the mire. Many of these specimens are now on display in this delightfully old fashioned museum. Reserve a spot on the Excavator Tour (free with museum admission), which includes stops at the Fossil Lab, the Lake Pit, the Observation Pit and Project 23, where you can see archaeologists at work. Inside, check out the multimedia experience Ice Age Encounter, and the simple, instructive displays of items found in the pits.
If your kid loves cars, then head to the Petersen Automotive Museum, where there are about 150 cars on display. The museum's narrative begins in the third floor gallery with a bit of automotive history; you'll find sections dedicated to Southern California road culture and Hollywood cars, from the Tim Burton era Batmobile to Walter White's Pontiac Aztek. Head down a level and you'll learn about the industrial design process from start to finish. The ground floor shows off the artistry of cars, with a showroom dedicated to sumptuously swooping vintage vehicles. You'll also find Forza 6 driving simulation stations and a Cars-inspired discovery center on the second floor, complete with an augmented reality experience that your kids are sure to enjoy.
The main attraction here for children is that they can pan for gold! But even if you don't come on a day where panning is taking place (Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-3pm and the second Tuesday of every month from 10am to noon), your kids will enjoy learning about real-life cowboys. Nestled into the northeast corner of Griffith Park, the museum explores the history of the American West. You might just expect a kitschy exploration of the life and works of famous singing cowboy Gene Autry, but the museum presents a much more engaging exploration of the West, outlining its history and detailing the myths that came to surround it.