HomeArticlesRoad trip: Despite the traffic, Los Angeles offers overlooked family fun

Road trip: Despite the traffic, Los Angeles offers overlooked family fun

Griffith Observatory with downtown Los Angeles in the background.

It’s easy to dismiss L.A. with nightmarish traffic and overpriced hotels as a family-friendly vacation spot. Yet, it’s an easy drive for Phoenix families with plenty worth exploring. In addition to popular attractions like Universal Studios or Dodger Stadium, here are gems worth the drive for summer or any long weekend.

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. This former immense private estate 12 miles from downtown L.A. offers an astonishing backdrop for a family photo, and cultural fun for all ages. Don’t miss: the Japanese Garden, the Gutenberg Bible and lunch in the Chinese Garden’s dumpling and noodle house. $13-$29. 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, California. 626-405-2100 or huntington.org

The Getty. Just taking the tram from the parking garage up to The Getty Center feels like an adventure. The doors open to a towering Richard Meier-designed modern structure and expansive city views. Admission here is free (parking is $15), and there are free tours of the architecture, gardens and art highlights — including Vincent Van Gogh’s “Irises.” North Sepulveda Boulevard at Getty Center Drive. getty.edu

Griffith Observatory. Located at the top of Griffith Park, this is the best place in L.A. to see the (celestial) stars. Admission is free to the observatory and stellar exhibits; planetarium shows are $3-$7 for ages 5 and up. Just walking here at dusk is a treat, or grab cafeteria fare at the Café at the End of the Universe. Tip: Traffic is stop-and-go, and parking can be tricky, so leave two hours prior to sunset if you want to catch this scene from the observatory’s rooftop. 2800 E. Observatory Road, Los Angeles. 213-473-0800 or griffithobservatory.org

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is an art museum located on Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile vicinity of Los Angeles. LACMA is on Museum Row, adjacent to the La Brea Tar Pits.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art boasts this iconic “Urban Light” installation by Chris Burden outside its main entrance. iStock.

LACMA. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is right next to La Brea Tar Pits and a mile from The Grove outdoor shopping mall both worthy stops. There’s a free youth membership program here (Arts for NexGen LACMA) for ages 17 and younger who can bring an adult guest for free admission (regularly $25). All ages can paint in the Boone Children’s Gallery, or simply wander the buildings and grounds of the largest art museum in the western United States and take a photo at the “Urban Light” lamp posts near the main entrance. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. 323 857-6010 or lacma.org

California Science Center. General admission is free to this museum in Exposition Park, next to the Natural History Museum Los Angeles County and the University of Southern California. Highlights include seeing the Space Shuttle Endeavor and other prominent aircraft and spacecraft, an aquarium/ecosystems display and movies in the seven-story IMAX theater. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles. 323-724-3623 or californiasciencecenter.org

El Capitan Theatre. The Walt Disney Company and Pacific Theatres undertook a two-year, museum-quality restoration of this gem, recreating its 1926 look and feel. Reopened in 1991, movie premieres are held here, and the public can see family films (Disney releases) with the added bonus of looking at movie costumes and memorabilia up close. On Tiny Tot Tuesday, sound levels are lowered and lights are dimmed for the first show of the day. You can also take theater tours, listen to the Wurlitzer pipe organ before shows, and grab hot chocolate or ice cream in the attached Ghiradelli store and gift shop. It’s right across from the TCL Chinese Theatre, and you can take pix with sidewalk stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 6838 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. elcapitantheatre.com

Hollywood Bowl. This outdoor amphitheater in the Hollywood Hills is a legendary venue for live concerts and events, from jazz, rock and pop stars to fireworks shows with the L.A. Phil to the music of John Williams sometimes while a movie is screened. Catch a morning orchestra rehearsal or explore the (free) Hollywood Bowl Museum when it’s easier to park. The main season  is June-September, but you can catch shows starting in late April or early May to October. 2301 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles. 323-850-2000 or hollywoodbowl.com

Kidspace Children’s Museum, not far from Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Stadium, boasts 3.5 acres of indoor and outdoor space and more than 40 hands-on exhibits, plus programs and events aimed at children ages 10 and younger. This year, the museum celebrates its 40th birthday with a July 13-14 bash featuring party games, party-hat making, a performance and a birthday treat in the Stone Hollow Amphitheater. General admission is $14; free for babies under 1. 480 N. Arroyo Blvd. in Brookside Park, Pasadena. kidspacemuseum.org

Magic Castle Hotel. Word has gotten out about this Hollywood hotel one of few in L.A. where kids are welcome, and there are no sky-high parking and resort fees. Rooms are not fancy, nor cheap, but they are spacious. The “magic” includes customer service that’s truly rare, plus free breakfast, snacks and soft-serve ice cream and entertainment. At a red phone near the 24-hour heated pool, anyone can request “emergency popsicles.” 7025 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. 323-851-0800 or magiccastlehotel.com

Residence Inn Downtown Burbank. Burbank is a great place for families to stay while exploring all Los Angeles has to offer. Everything from Hollywood attractions to movie studio tours are an easy drive from here — on surface streets, so you don’t have to worry about navigating stop-and-go freeway traffic. There are lots of relatively affordable hotel choices near here if you book in advance, but the Residence Inn offers large rooms (the smallest has a pull-out sofa and queen bed with a kitchenette) and a full hot breakfast (included) that gives families a great head start. 321 Ikea Way, Burbank. marriott.com

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